Baptism with the Holy Spirit


The doctrine of the baptism with the Holy Spirit has been the subject of contentious disagreement in contemporary Christian culture. Broadly the debate centers on one’s view of the doctrine of subsequence. [1] A doctrine that argues the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not concurrent with, but rather subsequent to regeneration. [2] Beginning in the twentieth century the emergence of Pentecostalism brought to the Christian forefront the doctrine of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. With supporters advocating the Spirit baptism is a second experience subsequent to salvation. Pentecostal theology makes a significant departure from classical Christian theology and distorts the intention of the Spirit baptism. Therefore, this post will refute the doctrine of subsequence and argue the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be a singular event occurring at conversion with subsequent experiences being fillings of the Holy Spirit.


Position

The position of this essay is in agreement with Gregg Allison that, “baptism with the Spirit is the work of Jesus Christ in which he pours out the Spirit on new believers, thereby incorporating them into his body, the church.” [3] It is a singular event equally experienced by all new covenant believers. Moreover, it is a distinguishable act of Christ separate from regeneration, but not subsequent to regeneration. This section will first demonstrate the Spirit baptism is intended to inaugurate the new covenant age of creating a multiethnic church (Eph 2:15). Secondly, evidence will prove later experiences of being filled with the Holy Spirit are not synonymous with the initial baptism of the Holy Spirit.


The Intention of Spirit Baptism

The intention of baptism with the Holy Spirit is twofold. First, the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost inaugurated the new covenant era in redemptive history. Christ has accomplished His redemptive work through the atonement, resurrection, ascension and ­­­glorification. In Acts 2:1-4 Christ now fulfills His promise to send and to place the Spirit in the new covenant believer (John 7:37-39; 14:17; 16:7). As predicted by Old Testament prophets an unprecedented new outpouring of the Holy Spirit transitions the people of God into the age to come at Pentecost (Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 39:29). The experience of the advent of the Holy Spirit is the birth of the church age and guarantee of their future inheritance (Eph 1:13).


Secondly, the intention of the Spirit baptism is to make believers a part of the church, one body in Christ. [4] Paul gives a definitive argument for this position, “for in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). This text demonstrates that upon administration of the baptism of the Holy Spirit Christ incorporates believers into the church regardless of demographic background. This view is consistent with the other six explicit references to baptism with the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). Pentecostal theology protests this interpretation due to the ambiguity of various English translations that indicate the Spirit is the agent. However, Wayne Grudem grammatically discredits the Pentecostal objection by noting, “to be baptized ‘by’ someone in the New Testament is always expressed by the preposition hypo (by) followed by a genitive noun.”[5] Furthermore, this incorporation into the body is demonstrated to be distinct from, but simultaneous with salvation. Peter preaches that upon repentance an individual experiences two supernatural acts, salvation and reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:28). Allison rightly recognizes this as the initial experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit at conversion. [6]


The Intention of Spirit Filling

The filling of the Spirit is not the same as the initial baptism of the Holy Spirit that occurs at conversion. The Spirit filling, rather, is a separate reoccurring event when the believer experiences a fullness of the Spirit in preparation for a specific task. [7] Frequently, Scripture displays subsequent fillings of the Spirit after the initial baptism of the Holy Spirit when believers are “empowered for specific, even extraordinary, ministry” (Acts 4:8; 4:31; 7:55; 13:52). [8] Unlike Spirit baptism, which often is a non-experiential sovereign act at conversion, the filling of the Spirit is experiential and demonstrable. Christians are never commanded to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. However, Paul commands the Ephesians to be filled with the Holy Spirit for the purpose of displaying the supernatural overflow of the Spirit’s work in the life of the individual (Eph 5:18). Unfortunately, Pentecostal theology does not differentiate between these distinct experiences resulting in distortion of the doctrine of the baptism with the Spirit.


Response to Problematic Texts

In this section three problematic texts used by Pentecostals to support a subsequent baptism with the Holy Spirit will be analyzed. The evidence will reveal these passages are not to be understood as regulatory practice. They are, however, non-normative experiences supporting this essay’s position of the new covenant inauguration of a multiethnic church.

Acts 2:1-4

Pentecostals argue the Jewish disciples present at Pentecost had “already entered into a new life in Christ.” [9] However, the disciples in Acts 2:1-4 where not yet new covenant believers. In defense of his denial of the doctrine of subsequence Allison rightly defines Christian as a member of the new covenant, which is inaugurated by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. [10] What occurs in Acts 2:1-4 is the birth of the new covenant church. The 120 disciples of Christ present in the narrative are old covenant believers who are living in a unique transitional period in redemptive history. By faith the disciples trusted in the Messiah for salvation like other old covenant believers. They experienced, however, new covenant conversion when regenerated by the Spirit and baptized by Christ with the Spirit at Pentecost marking the advent of the new covenant era (Acts 11:17).


Acts 8:14-17

Imperative to accurate interpretation of this passage is an affirmation that Acts is a chronicle of the transitional period in redemptive history. God is birthing the new covenant multiethnic church. The delayed reception of the baptism with the Holy Spirit for the Samaritans is an atypical act authenticating the new covenant realities.[11] Here God is granting an apostolic validation by Peter and John that Samaritans are equally included in the new covenant church. This validation serves to refute the Jewish exclusiveness that plagued the early church. John Polhill refers to this narrative as the “Samaritan Pentecost” noting, “it is a major stage of salvation history. The Spirit as it were indicated in a visible manifestation the divine approval of this new missionary step beyond Judaism.” [12] A similar argument should be made for a “Gentile Pentecost” when Cornelius and his household are baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48).


Acts 19:1-7

Testimony of the Gospel and Holy Spirit has yet to reach disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. The reality that John’s message had been fulfilled in Christ, including the outpouring of the Spirit remains unknown to these twelve disciples (Luke 3:16). “The real deficiency of these twelve or so was not their baptism. It was much more serious. They failed to recognize Jesus as the one whom John had proclaimed, as the promised Messiah.” [13] In other words, these men were not new covenant, regenerate believers. Therefore, the narrative of Acts 19:1-7 is not a case for delayed baptism with the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, it is evidence that Jesus administers baptism of the Holy Spirit in concurrence with the Holy Spirit’s act of regeneration.


Conclusion

Most assuredly many Pentecostal believers will claim to have received a baptism with the Holy Spirit subsequent to their conversion. However, this essay has demonstrated that the experience of these individuals is not the initial baptism with the Holy Spirit when Christ joins them to the new covenant church. For that experience was a singular event that occurred concurrent with regeneration. Rather, their experience is best understood as a renewed filling of the Spirit resulting in tangible manifestations of the Spirit’s presence (Eph 5:18-21).


[1] Emphasis is given to the doctrine of subsequence with little attention given to the doctrine of separability. This is because of the agreement between Gregg Allison and J. Rodman Williams on the doctrine of separability. The disagreement is on when the separate event of the Spirit baptism occurs. See Gregg R. Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” SBJT 16.4 (2012): 14. [2] Ibid., 8. [3] Ibid., 11. [4] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2016) 926. [5] See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 768. [6] Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 12. [7] Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, 927. [8] Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 14. [9] Williams, Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective. Vol. 2, 187. [10] Allison, “Baptism with and Filling of the Holy Spirit,” 12. [11] Ibid., 14. [12] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 218. [13] Ibid., 399.