Spirit Baptism: The Wesleyan View

Having examined the Pentecostal and Charismatic positions on Baptism in the Holy Spirit, is it necessary to further analyze the general Wesleyan tradition for its position as well? With both of these movements acknowledged as children of Wesley, it is often assumed that their views mirror those of the parent but as with human children, this is certainly not the case. The thread of Wesleyan thought runs through numerous ministries so it will be necessary to speak in generalities that may be superceded by doctrinal distinctives within a particular denomination. After all, Wesley’s influence runs through such wide ranging bodies as the United Methodist Church, the Nazarenes, AME, countless Holiness ministries, and the Salvation Army. It is also crucial to note that Wesleyan Christianity has been, and continues to be, inherently practical and its primary concerns have been the preaching of the message of Salvation and in teaching the principles of Holy Living (Buschart, Protestant Traditions). In other words, theology is the servant of ministry and the practice of theological inquiry is driven by the requirements of answering questions related to daily living as a Christian.

A hallmark of Wesleyan tradition is the ideal of Entire Sanctification; the call to live a life of sanctified holiness which manifests through loving deeds. The message of the Wesley’s, in John’s preaching and Charles’ hymns, is holiness. The work of the Holy Spirit in this is to transform imputed righteousness into imparted righteousness, that is, not only can one be set aside as holy through the saving work of Christ but one can become holy in day to day living. Wesley is quick to note that this process of sanctification or perfection, as it is sometimes called, is ongoing through the life of the Christian and does not meet its final conclusion until the moment of glory. It is here that the idea of Spirit Baptism enters the discussion though it is far from a universal topic. Most classical Wesleyans associate perfection/sanctification with a ‘second blessing’ or a distinct work of God separate from conversion. The Church of the Nazarene, for example, teaches that entire sanctification is “wrought instantaneously by faith, preceded by entire consecration.” (Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene) Especially in those traditions that were born in the 19th century Holiness movement, this second blessing is associated with baptism of the Holy Spirit. Verses that we have already examined such as Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:1-21 are found again to form the foundation of this belief in a distinct experience that is subsequent to conversion.

Holiness is the charism received by the Christian at the moment of this second blessing say the Wesleyans (contra tongues and prophecy). The Holy Spirit cleanses the believer from their sin, enabling them to live Christlike lives moving consistently toward greater holiness. By His grace and power, people are enabled to restore the image of the God of Love within them and present an image that cries “Be holy as I am holy.” The Spirit-driven process of ongoing sanctification is not only evidence to the Christian of the Lord’s work in them but a proclamation to the world that they too can partake in the restoration offered by the Loving God.   

Find other views on Spirit Baptism here.

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Spirit Baptism: The Charismatic View

The Charismatic movement within the Christian Body traces it roots to a renewal that swept through the Church in the 1960s and 70s. The name of this broadly ecumenical movement derives from the Greek word translated as “gifts”, charisma (χάρισμα), while its theological roots were planted by early Pentecostal tradition. While many people consider Pentecostal and Charismatic believers to be one and the same, the Charismatic theological framework is not as dogmatic with regards to the subsequence of the Baptism in the Spirit and the evidence of tongues. Settled on the reality of Spirit Baptism and the need to practice all of the New Testament spiritual gifts including prophecy, discernment, tongues, healing, and miracles, Charismatics are nonetheless liberal in the belief as to when the baptism occurs and what gifts are evidenced and allow a wide range of belief on these matters. Making the Charismatic view even more unusual in Christian history is that the movement largely has not been known for creating new churches of like minded believers. The Charismatic believer will often be a force for change, or renewal, within the broader Catholic and Protestant bodies.

Since there is no single Charismatic position on spirit baptism, its effects, or its timing, how can we understand what it means to be a Charismatic believer? Perhaps the best framework in which to find the answers is found by viewing Spirit Baptism as a metaphor with multiple dimensions rather than a doctrine. Larry Hart categorizes the Baptism as (1) Jesus’ eschatological redemptive work; (2) Christian initiation; (3) the Christian life; and (4) empowerment for Christian mission and ministry. All of these factors contribute to an overall pneumatology and experience. Searching the Bible to understand the Charismatic worldview takes us far ranging from the book of Acts, as each author emphasized a different dimension of the Spirit’s work and effect. This counters the criticism often leveled at the Pentecostal reliance on the narrative passages  in Acts by including the Johanine and Pauline corpus in the mix. “All that Jesus has done as the Messiah (Jewish language), the Christ (Greek language), in his earthly ministry and since his ascension–is subsumed under the Spirit baptism rubric.” (Hart) In other words, the Baptism in the Spirit has a place and is effectual in every aspect of our Christian life from initiation through the progression of sanctification and in the empowerment of our ministry.

This broad range of experience in the Charismatic viewpoint lessens the reliance on a specific timing and a single crisis event. Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is a defining moment for the Christian, however and whenever it is experienced. Rather than a single moment in time, the Charismatic confirms the continual outworking of the Spirit in the process of sanctification and in the receipt of power for ministry. The expansive collection of views on the timing of the Baptism extends to the views of evidence in tongues. The view of speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence of Spirit Baptism is a Pentecostal doctrinal distinctive. Charismatics characteristically have a wide range of views on this gift, ranging from being like-minded with the Pentecostal to the viewing of empowerment for all of the Gifts as evidence of the Baptism. The Charismatic typically looks for all of the gifts mentioned in the Bible to be distributed throughout the body rather than seeking the monolithic practice of a single gift. Within the Body, some should speak in tongues and some should heal and some should express wisdom, etc. Requiring tongues to be the sole evidence of Spiritual indwelling runs contrary to Scripture according to the Charismatic viewpoint.

Charismatic believers are dispersed throughout the Body in a way that mimics Paul’s teaching on the Gifts of the Spirit. All Christians will receive the Spirit Baptism for empowerment in their lives; it is releasing ourselves to the experience that sets the Charismatic apart. As the Church is surrendered to this empowerment, further revival will be the evidence of the Father’s glory, the Son’s loving sacrifice, and the Spirit’s work. The combination of a head and heart Christianity is especially attractive in this postmodern culture as more and more people look for something more than facts that feed their intellect.

Other views on Spirit Baptism can be found here.

Spirit Baptism: The Pentecostal View

“The person and the work of the Holy Spirit constitute a central and pervasive emphasis in Pentecostal theology.” (Buschart, Exploring Protestant Traditions) Of all members of the Christian body, the Pentecostal description applies to those who established the doctrine of a second baptism in the Holy Spirit along with evidence of that baptism as seen in the evidence of speaking in tongues. Pentecostals maintain that Spirit Baptism is normative for all Christians and that the crisis event is subsequent to the moment of conversion. Because of all that naturally flows from the Baptism, this tenet is central to Pentecostal doctrine and forms its heart. It is rooted in God’s promise as enunciated by the prophet Joel (2:28-29)

‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

The narrative passages in Acts build the foundation for the Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit Baptism. As mentioned in my earlier post on the Evangelical position, receiving the the Holy Spirit is a common thread through almost all of the Body. The timing of receiving the Spirit is what sets the Pentecostal apart. Jesus’ disciples are seen as having entered the new covenant (i.e. been converted) by the death of Christ (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 9:11-29, 10:10, cf Jeremiah 31:31-34) and in the opening chapters of Acts, the disciples are seen as waiting in the upper room for the gift that the Father would visit upon them as promised by the Lord (Acts 1:4). As the Church, they engage in the selection of new leadership (1:16-26) and practice constant prayer (1:14). This prayer serves as a prelude to the receipt of the Spirit, famously recorded at Pentecost in Acts 2. It is this pattern, repeated again in the chapters of Acts that follow that lead the Pentecostal believer to establish it as normative. [ Phillip and the Samaritans – believed and were baptized 8:12 >> Peter & John lay hands on them and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit 8:14-17. Saul’s Conversion – accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior by his obedience 9:6 >> Ananias prays for him and he receives the Holy Spirit 9:17. The Gentile Believers – 11:15-17 Peter once again recounts the Holy Spirit coming upon those who have already believed (Aorist Active Participle – vv 17 pisteusasin “having believed”)]

Pentecostalism takes it name from the watershed event in Acts 2 and also sees a secondary event that follows the Spirit Baptism as being normative in the believer who receives the gift; the evidence of speaking in tongues. We see this phenomenon (non-pejorative usage e.g. Williams Renewal Theology V.2) in verse 2:4, preceding Peter’s address to the multitude (2:14-36), after the Spirit had been poured out on the Gentile believers (10:45-46), and when Paul lays hands on the Ephesian believers 19:6. It is implied elsewhere, including the Paul’s reference to the gift (1 Cor 14:18) even though Acts is silent on the practice at his Baptism. The Assemblies of God Fundamental Beliefs contain this reference to the gift:  

8. The Initial Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance.

  • Acts 2:4 [NIV]

The speaking in tongues in this instance is the same in essence as the gift of tongues, but is different in purpose and use.

  • 1 Corinthians 12:4-10 [NIV]
  • 1 Corinthians 12:28 [NIV]

What is the purpose of Spirit Baptism, according to our Pentecostal brethren? It is a point of empowerment for greater witness on behalf of and in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The Spirit has certainly moved within the Church, stirring revival among Pentecostal believers and energizing them for growth and tireless missionary works.

Spirit Baptism: An Evangelical Reformed Perspective

We begin our examination of the doctrine of Spirit Baptism among various Christian groups by first discovering how the dominant (numerically speaking) mainline Evangelical protestant strain stands on the idea. The issue at hand is not the existence or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but whether or not there is an experience subsequent to one’s conversion and baptism by water that empowers the Christian to service and/or ministry. The typical Reformed position on Baptism in the Spirit is that it occurs at the time of conversion once and forever. There is no “second blessing” as enunciated in Pentecostal and Holiness theological frameworks.

There is no denial that the the gift of the Paraclete was promised by the Father throughout the Old Testament and will be received by believers under the new covenant. Joel 2:28-29 gives one of the earliest examples:

Joel 2:28 ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Isaiah also mentions the promised coming of the Spirit:

Isaiah 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

When we turn to the New Testament, we see this promise enacted in the passages mentioned in the earlier article ‘Where Do We Find Baptism in the Spirit?‘ The question for the Evangelical is how to interpret these passages. Are they to be read as normative, that is, as the standard experience to be expected, for the Christian life? Gordon Fee gives the answer that “unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is merely narrated or described can never function in a normative way. (Fee, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth) Fee’s point is that unless the Lukan corpus was written with an explicit intent to be didactic it cannot be utilized to establish precedent for the future. The conclusion then is that the Baptism of the Spirit occurring subsequent to water baptism is not expected to be a normative experience. Grudem suggests that the ‘Pentecost’ experiences of the disciples were unique to that period in history. What happened for them at the recorded points happens for modern believers (and the Corinthian believers) at conversion. (Grudem, Systematic Theology)

What of the gift of tongues that some Pentecostal theology extends as proof of indwelling of the Spirit? If we put aside the cessationist discussion, we should determine if tongues was meant to be a universal gift of the Holy Spirit. The answer, if experience is not the normative foundation of theology as Reformed theologians say, is easily deduced from the Pauline passages regarding the distribution of gifts. Stott puts it best when he concludes “we must always remember that the Holy Spirit is concerned for the church as well as for individual Christians. So we must rejoice equally in his charis (grace) given to all, which makes us one, and in his charismata (gifts) distributed to all, which makes us different. The unity and the diversity of the church are both by his appointment.” (Stott, Baptism and Fullness)

The Reformed Church in practice most closely aligns with the Pauline exhortation in Ephesians (5:18) Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Paul uses a present tense imperative verb giving the meaning of one being continually filled with the Holy Spirit. Rather than a single point of experience, the filling of the Spirit is to occur on a daily basis, constantly being refreshed for greater ministry. It is a process of the ongoing sanctification of the believer, renewed through repentance, thanksgiving, and worship. This should not be read to indicate that Christians leak or diminish in capacity for the Holy Spirit. The fullness of the Spirit indicates an ever expanding capacity for more filling by the spirit, in addition to what one already experiences.

Where Do We Find "Baptism in the Spirit"?

In order to develop an understanding of the doctrine of spirit baptism, we must explore the different contexts in which the event occurs or is alluded to within the context of the biblical record. There are seven passages in the New Testament where we see someone baptized in the Holy Spirit. Depending on the translation, we may read the dative preposition en (as in en pneumati) translated as ‘with’ or ‘in’ giving us the phrases ‘in the Spirit’ or ‘with the Spirit’. Both are grammatically acceptable and are used interchangeably in the discussions of this topic. The first quartet of verses finds John the Baptist speaking of the Lord and pointing forward to a time in which He will baptize people with the Holy Spirit:

    Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

    Mark 1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

    Luke 3:16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

    John 1:33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

The next pair of verses refer directly to Pentecost.

    Acts 1:5 [Jesus says] For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

    Acts 11:16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

The final passage comes from Paul in his writings to the the Corinthians. There is an exegetical question about whether or not this refers to the same action as in the other verses.

    1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

A cognate activity also found in Scripture is found in those verses which refer to being ‘filled with the Spirit.’ In the biblical context, those filled with the Holy Spirit exhibit the experiential elements of the filling as demonstrated in a supernatural enablement to witness for the Lord. In the Gospel of Luke, there are three verbal phrases and one of the noun cognate ‘full of the spirit’, the result of the action:

    Luke 1:15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.

    Luke 1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

    Luke 1:67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

    Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,

In the Acts of the Apostles:

    Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

    Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!

    Acts 4:31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

    Acts 9:17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord– Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here– has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

    Acts 13:9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said,

    Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Finally, there is a part of a well known passage in Ephesians:

    Ephesians 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

As we explore this topic further, other passages will be introduced in which various groups find similar meaning. We will stop here for the time being as the next step is to explore the variety of views that are held on this topic, starting with the dominant evangelical position. Until then, be at peace.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Spirit Baptism is a doctrine on which entire movements in the Body of Christ are established while being totally ignored or mentioned in passing by other parts. While it is not among the essentials mentioned by Augustine when he said “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love”, the belief in a second baptism and the resulting display of charisms can become a divisive issue. After recently sharing worship and fellowship with a Pentecostal church in which the gift of tongues was practiced, I’ve been moved to do a series of posts on this doctrine. I’ll look at how various groups within the Church view the work of the Holy Spirit and specifically, how they view the belief in a second Spirit Baptism.

As with all things, it’s important to define terms. Pentecostal and Charismatic are often lumped together but there are important differences that all should recognize in terms of how they view Spirit Baptism and the practice of the spiritual gifts. Pentecostals trace their lineage back to the lat 1800’s or early 1900’s in either the U.K. (Keswick) or the United States (Topeka, Kansas) depending on their historical reach. This movement holds to the doctrines of a second baptism in the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion, evidence of that baptism through the practice of glossolalia (the Gift of Tongues), and the pursuit and practice of all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible. Charismatic congregations are a more recent addition to the Body, forming during the charismatic renewal of the 1960s and 1970s. These brothers and sisters seek to practice all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture including prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation, and distinguishing between spirits. They differ among churches on their positions on Spirit Baptism. A third movement has appeared on the scene since the 1980s led by C. Peter Wagner that is often labeled the “third wave.” While spiritual gifts are the focus of this movement, their position on Spirit Baptism is that it is a common event for all Christians and occurs at the moment of conversion.

Spirit Baptism is defined as a dramatic second experience that occurs after a Christian’s initial conversion. Following a water baptism of repentance, this second baptism results for the believer in a new infusion of spiritual gifts, most frequently the gift of tongues. Scripturally, it is supported by John 20:22 which tells of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance and reads:

  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

and verses in Acts such as 1:4-5:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have hear me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

The namesake event occurs after the disciples had obeyed Jesus and waited in Jerusalem for ten days. On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3-4):

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

This event is linked to the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12.

Should all Christians be reading these passages as normative? How should we consider the experiences of those who claim a second baptism? Glossolalia? We’ll explore these questions and many others in the weeks to come.

Be blessed.