A brief evaluation of key New Testament texts towards an experiential Spirit baptism.
Spirit baptism or ‘baptism in the Spirit’, is both a metaphor and an experience which has led to the formation of different and varying doctrinal positions on it formulated by various denominations. In the scope of this essay, the traditional Pentecostal understanding is contrasted with that of the non-Pentecostal evangelical tradition. Spirit baptism has been the ‘crown jewel’ of Pentecostalism with its emphasis on power to witness and speaking in tongues. Pentecostal identity and ideology ‘are based at least partly on a particular relationship between biblical texts and the experiences of Christians as transmitted via life stories’ (Andersson, 2014, p. 113). What is imperative is that one doesn’t allow experience to formulate doctrine, but unfortunately this is what has happened, and so has overruled sound exegesis.
The Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit baptism is primarily derived from Luke-Acts and is stressed to be subsequent to salvation and evidenced by speaking in tongues. Most scholars understand the Spirit in Luke-Acts as what Judaism calls ‘the Spirit of Prophecy’. Jews in Luke’s day considered the Spirit to be the source of ‘charismatic revelation, wisdom, invasive prophetic speech and invasive charismatic praise’ (Turner, 2015, p. 104). In the ‘broader context of the New Testament, Spirit baptism is a fluid metaphor surrounded by ambiguous imagery that suggests broader boundaries pneumatologically than Spirit empowerment’ (Macchia, 2006, p. 14). Such a view undoubtedly has influenced non-Pentecostals by contrast, to understand Spirit baptism to occur simultaneously with conversion and often without the need of any external evidence. However, what lies at the heart of this issue is not merely a question of timing, but also evidence of what constitutes biblical Spirit baptism. In understanding Spirit baptism, it is paramount that as a concept it is recognized as being both exegetical and existential. Therefore it is necessary to ‘take each author and book separately and to (attempt to) outline his or its particular theological emphases’ (Dunn, 2010, p. 39). While this important subject can be emotive and unfortunately divisive, ‘middle-ground’ can be reached, respecting hermeneutics, while encouraging ‘Biblical evidence’ to be desired and experienced. To achieve such an outcome will involve evaluating the relevance of Luke-Acts in formulating a theological perspective on Spirit baptism. The question of whether Christ’s anointing by the Spirit serves as a paradigm for believers must be considered, and also His breathing on the disciples to receive the Spirit to determine if it justifies a subsequent Spirit baptism to salvation. Spirit receptions in Acts are also scrutinised as well as Paul’s understanding of Spirit baptism. Once the relevant data is evaluated in the light of Luke and Paul’s perspectives, it is hoped that their personal emphases can be harmonised and culminate in a proposed and challenging way forward.
What is Spirit baptism?
Spirit baptism is understood differently by different denominations. For example, John Wesley believed it was a second act of grace which was for the purpose of ‘entire sanctification’ or ‘Christian perfection’, which ‘eradicates indwelling or inbred sin and roots out all sinful motives from the believer’s heart instantaneously’ (Lederle, 1988, p. 10). To bring the debate into focus necessitates a contrast between the views of Pentecostals and non-Pentecostal evangelicals.
It was John the Baptist who introduced the concept of being baptised in the Spirit. With the River Jordan as his backdrop, he contrasted his baptising in water with the coming of Christ who would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). The verb ‘to baptise’ means to immerse and so in effect, John was saying to the people that what he was doing to them in water, Christ would do to them in the Holy Spirit. It is significant the baptism metaphor is selected to describe a future experience of the Spirit. Caird writes:
A metaphor is the transference of a term from one referent with which it naturally belongs to a second referent, in order that the second may be illuminated by comparison with the first or by being ‘seen as’ the first. It continues to be a living metaphor just as long as speaker and hearer are aware of the double reference, and while this is the case the connotation or sense of the word remains unchanged (Caird, 1980, p. 66).
Without pressing the metaphor of baptism too far, the idea of immersion hints at the possibility that Spirit baptism is experiential. Can one be immersed in something and be unaware of it? Cyrillius wrote ‘for as he who plunges into the waters and is baptised and is encompassed on all sides by the waters, so were they also baptised completely by the Holy Ghost’ (Cyrillius, 1885, p. 227).
Upon being anointed with the Spirit and undergoing ministry, Jesus (the baptizer in the Holy Spirit) informed His disciples that they would be baptised in the Holy Spirit and that this would be a clothing of power from on high (Luke 24:49). He went on to say that this power would enable the disciples to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). It is these two statements that provide the Pentecostal with the understanding that Spirit baptism is an empowering to be a witness for Christ. This position is reinforced by an analogy, which is predicated on the premise that Christ’s disciples had experienced salvation and subsequently were baptised in the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Furthermore, it is stated that the Apostles in Acts had a two-stage experience because ‘they became believers before the Spirit’s full new-covenant ministry in this world began’ (Ferguson, 2008, p. 73). Such a two-stage reception of the Spirit (salvation and Spirit baptism) is further understood to be repeated throughout Acts.
Non-Pentecostals primarily base their position on Paul’s understanding of the Spirit, especially on the truth that ‘in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:13 English Standard Version). The logical interpretation is that one becomes a member of the body of Christ at salvation and therefore one must be baptised in the Spirit simultaneously. An appeal is also made to the fact that if ‘anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him’ (Rom. 8:9b).
This reasoning and interpretation appear to exclude an experiential and subsequent aspect to Spirit baptism, and so for many, it’s ‘not a second and subsequent experience enjoyed by some Christians, but rather is the initial experience enjoyed by all’ (Stott, 2006, p. 52). The Pentecostal would disagree based upon Spirit receptions in Luke-Acts and indeed Christ’s reception of the Spirit following His baptism. Pentecostals have often been charged with being elitist either because of their view of Spirit baptism or because they speak in tongues. However, while that may be true, in reality ‘their universal expectation of baptism in the Spirit for people of all genders, races, classes, and intelligences actually makes the Pentecostal position thoroughly opposed to any elitism’ (Clifton, 2007, p. 17).
Christ’s reception of the Spirit (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10)
Christ’s reception of the Spirit is often cited as an analogy to help bolster the case for a subsequent empowering of the Spirit distinct from conversion. Just as Christ who was conceived by the Spirit and later received an empowering, so the believer who has received the Spirit at salvation, goes on to be baptised in the Spirit for service. A couple of problems present themselves. Firstly, Jesus didn’t undergo conversion, and He wasn’t baptised in the Spirit, but rather anointed by the Spirit. Secondly, Christ Himself is the one who will baptise people in the Spirit. While the church needs to be empowered by the Spirit as Christ was, this analogy breaks down and therefore cannot be used to justify a subsequent Spirit baptism.
A Johannine Pentecost? (John 20:22)
Acting on Jesus’ command, the disciples waited in Jerusalem to be ‘clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49) which culminated on the day of Pentecost, as the Spirit was poured out and 120 people began to speak in other tongues (Acts 2:4). Afterwards, Peter (who had denied Christ) preached with boldness and power which resulted in 3000 responding to his message (2:14-41). For many, this transformation in Peter and indeed the disciples who received the Spirit, contributes to and justifies a two-stage experience. For the events of Pentecost to be allowed to support a two-stage experience for today’s church, it is suggested that the disciples underwent conversion when Jesus earlier breathed on them and said ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22). Again this reasoning is not without problems. Firstly not all the disciples were present when Jesus breathed on them. Thomas wasn’t there. Secondly, this was a small, private and intimate gathering where Jesus was physically present, whereas on Pentecost it was a public event with Jesus physically absent. It is significant to note that even though Jesus breathed on them, the disciples still lived in fear behind closed doors (John 20:19) and Peter went back to his profession as a fisherman (21:3) (conduct hardly conducive to having received the Spirit). It seems unlikely that the disciples on this occasion were converted as they already were pronounced ‘clean’ (13:10) and their names were written in Heaven (Luke 10:20). However, it is misleading to think that these disciples were ‘saved’ like believers today, given the fact that Jesus had departed from them physically at His ascension during which time the Spirit had not yet been given. Intimate communion with God and Christ according to John is only possible through the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-26), and such is what salvation is (17:3). To take this gathering of the disciples with Christ breathing on them and link it with Pentecost cannot be used as a precedent to justify a two-stage reception of the Spirit.
The relevance of Luke-Acts
Both Pentecostals and non-Pentecostal evangelicals will state that Luke-Acts is relevant to the debate but for very different reasons. Pentecostals see Luke’s writings as a means to justify their doctrine and experience whereas non-Pentecostals will argue that Luke was not writing theology, but ‘historical narrative’ and so his work cannot be used to build a doctrine. Luke was compiling history but was doing so with the intention ‘to teach his readers what he believed God was accomplishing in the world and what God was commanding believers to do in and through the events he narrated’ (Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, & Ecklebarger, 1993, p. 345). The genre of Luke-Acts is ‘historical narrative’, but according to Stronstad, ‘Luke reports sacred history and therefore writes with didactic and theological purposes’ (Stronstad, 2012, p. xiii). The importance of historical narrative cannot be dismissed in a cavalier fashion concerning Luke’s reporting of Spirit baptism. Paul also appealed to the Old Testament in writing his epistles and cited the example of Abraham (Rom.4:17) and Israel’s wilderness wanderings as instruction for the church (1 Cor.10:11). Historical narrative falls into the category of ‘all Scripture’ which Paul states is ‘profitable for teaching’ (2 Tim.3:16). According to Howard Marshall Luke was a historian but also ‘modern research has emphasized that he was a theologian’ (Marshall, 1970, p. 52) – a fact also concurred by James Dunn (Dunn, 2010, p. 205). In contrast to Paul, Spirit baptism for Luke is ‘missiological rather than soteriological in nature’ (R. P. Menzies, 2008, p. 86).
Pentecost (Acts 2)
To Pentecostals, the day of Pentecost is ‘both (italics in original) a key event in salvation history and (italics in original) a dimension of empowerment essential to the church’s completing her mission’ (Del Colle et al., 2004, p. 116). It was the outpouring of the Spirit as the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy which marked this day as unique, coupled with the phenomena of the ‘mighty rushing wind’ and ‘speaking in tongues’ (Acts 2:2-4). Jesus interpreted Pentecost as ‘both an abiding concept in order that disciples may be ‘clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49) and as the reception of the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:8) (Haya-Prats, 2011, p. 30). The use of the reference to ‘the Last days’, ‘means Pentecost is part (italics in original) of the promised end-time salvation (not its beginning) along with those wonders and signs, also indicated in Joel’s oracle, which Luke believed to have been partially fulfilled in the ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus’ (Turner, 2015, p. 353). It is significant that Luke uses seven terms to describe the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. They were ‘baptized in the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 11:16); the Spirit ‘came upon’ them (1:8; 19:6); they were ‘filled’ (2:4); the Spirit was ‘poured out’ (2:17,18, 33; 10:45); they received the Spirit (2:38; 8:15, 17, 19; 10:47; 19:2); the Spirit was given (8:18; 11:17) and the Spirit ‘fell’ upon them (8:16; 10;44; 11:15) (Del Colle et al., 2004, p. 119). In other words, ‘the Pentecost narrative is the story of the transfer of the Charismatic Spirit from Jesus to the disciples’ (Stronstad, 2012, p. 55). The events of Pentecost are often used to justify a two-stage experience based on the argument that the disciples were already ‘saved’ and subsequently received the Spirit. According to Stronstad, ‘Luke parallels the Spirit baptism with the inaugural anointing of Jesus by the Holy Spirit’ (Stronstad, 2012, p. 58). While it is true that the disciples were ‘saved’ in the sense that they had their sins forgiven, they had not experienced salvation in the sense that believers today have post-Pentecost. When one is converted post-Pentecost, the Spirit is received to dwell within, but for the disciples, Pentecost was their first and only reception of the Spirit, although they had experienced Him through Christ’s ministry while He was with them on earth. Their reception of the Spirit on Pentecost was dynamic and experiential, and the uniqueness of Pentecost should be considered in that it was the day that the ascended Christ poured out the Holy Spirit.
The Samaritans experience (Acts 8:5-25)
This incident is one that strengthens the Pentecostal’s claim that a Spirit baptism is subsequent to salvation. What keeps their argument intact is the belief that the Samaritans were already believers and that here is a clear biblical post-Pentecost precedent which allows for a subsequent empowering. Not all however readily accept the fact the Samaritans were believers. Their understanding of the risen Christ whom Philip preached would have been problematic because ‘Samaritans did not share a messianic expectation with the Jews’ (Fitzmyer, 1988, p. 402). However, they responded to Philip’s message and were baptised. To suggest that they weren’t converted would in effect be undermining Philip’s integrity and discernment in allowing water baptism. Keener rightly asks that ‘if these baptized believers who received God’s message with joy were not converted, is anyone in the entire Book of Acts converted’ (Keener, 2001, p. 163)?
For those who acknowledge that the Samaritans had undergone conversion, there is a debate as to why the Spirit was withheld from them initially. One suggestion is that the disciples received the Spirit at their baptism followed by a further experience of a charismatic endowment when the Apostles laid hands on them. Turner disagrees and states that ‘Acts 2:38-39 can thus hardly be made the guarantee of a non-charismatic gift of the Spirit which automatically attaches to baptism’ (Turner, 2015, p. 368). Luke understood the gift imparted by the laying on of hands (8:17-18) in parallel to the occasion of Pentecost, and thus the promise of Acts 2:38-39 to be fulfilled only after the arrival of the apostles (2:1-13) (Turner, 2015, p. 369). A credible reason for the delay is because of the hostilities which existed between the Jews and the Samaritans, which meant the Jerusalem church needed to be satisfied that the Samaritans were converted. To achieve this required apostolic confirmation hence Peter and John’s visit and the Spirit being withheld until their arrival and prayers. An alternate view is that Peter and John didn’t lay hands on the Samaritans for the purpose of healing, but to form part of a commissioning ceremony to incorporate the Samaritans into the missionary enterprise of the Church (R. P. Menzies, 2004, p. 212).
Another question for consideration is why Philip could not have prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Spirit? After all, he had prayed successfully for healing, and there were many miracles. Perhaps such apostolic confirmation was needed due to the uniqueness of ‘tongues’ as evidence of these first Samaritans’ reception of the Spirit. While no evidence is explicitly mentioned, Simon evidently saw something which aroused a selfish desire within him causing him to want to purchase the ability to impart the Spirit as he had witnessed the Apostles do (Acts 8:18-19). Incidentally, if Spirit baptism is synonymous with conversion, one might wonder that when Simon offered to buy the ability to impart it through the laying on of hands, why Peter did not tell him that such was not necessary if this dynamic, charismatic experience occurs at conversion. Most likely Peter was so incensed at the condition of Simon’s heart that to discuss the impartation of the Spirit was not appropriate. If Philip had prayed for the Samaritans and they received the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues, some Jewish believers may have had doubts as to the authenticity of their experience. A similar case could be put forward regarding Cornelius who lived in Caesarea as did Philip. Philip had a proven track-record in evangelism and yet when God was about to bring salvation to Cornelius and his Gentile household, He bypassed Philip the evangelist and chose Peter the Apostle. Luke recorded the Apostles laying hands on the Samaritans ‘to make sure that they had received the Spirit’ (Keener, 2001, p. 168) and because that ‘they regarded receiving the Spirit in this empowerment sense as normative, something Christians need to have’ (Keener, 2001, p. 168). After these first Samaritans had received the Spirit, Luke mentions no repeat of this delayed reception when Peter and John continued preaching the gospel in Samaritan villages (Acts 8:25) and so further suggests that this initial delay was an anomaly.
Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-30)
It is suggested that Saul of Tarsus converted on the road to Damascus and received the Spirit days later when Ananias laid hands on him. If true, then Paul received the Spirit subsequent to conversion. However, this cannot be proved but seems more likely that his conversion was a protracted process stretching over a few days reaching its completion when he was instructed to ‘rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name’ (Acts 22:16). While Luke does not record any outward evidence regarding Paul’s reception of the Spirit, Paul evidently exercised a ministry confirmed by signs and wonders. It may be that due to the privacy of Saul’s encounter with Ananias that the evidence of ‘tongues’ either was not present or simply not recorded in contrast with its appropriateness in ‘assemblies of the community’ (Haya-Prats, 2011, p. 116). By his admission, Paul spoke in tongues also and so most likely also, had an experiential Spirit baptism.
Cornelius (Acts 10)
Again, crucial to the debate is the question of whether or not Cornelius was already converted before Peter arrived at his home. If so, then there is a strong case for a subsequent Spirit empowering. If however Cornelius only became a believer when Peter preached, then there is a precedent for a dynamic experiential Spirit baptism at conversion. A careful reading of the text shows that while being a devout man, Cornelius wasn’t converted. The fact that Peter preached the gospel and that Cornelius was told in a vision that Peter would tell him words whereby he and his household might be saved (Acts 11:14) demonstrates that he was not converted before Peter’s arrival. When Peter later tells of this incident to the Jerusalem church (11:1-18), they acknowledge that if Cornelius and his household received the Spirit, then God has granted them the same repentance previously only known to Israel (Acts 5.31-32). Furthermore, the Jerusalem church recognized that God has ‘set them on the same path leading to ‘life’’ (Turner, 2015, p. 382). When Peter preached to Cornelius and his household, ‘the Holy Spirit fell on them’ (11:15) which was evidenced by speaking in tongues and praising God (10:46). As a result, they were ‘granted repentance that leads to life’ (11:18) causing Peter to remember and equate this occurrence with Pentecost (11:16). It’s interesting to note that Peter remembered Jesus’ words based on John the Baptist’s promise: ‘You will be baptized in the Spirit’ (1:5) which suggests that the term itself was not commonly used in the church (Turner, 2015, p. 386 387). On this occasion, Spirit baptism occurred with outward evidence at conversion.
The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:1-7)
Although these individuals are called ‘disciples’, they are not believers as ultimately they receive Christian baptism. It would appear that they were disciples of John the Baptist and may not have been aware that ‘the Coming One’ whom John spoke of had indeed actually come. When Paul speaks to them about Christ, they respond to the message and are subsequently baptised. Paul then lays his hands on them, and they receive the Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:6). At first glance, it could be argued that their Spirit baptism came after conversion albeit almost immediately. If there was a slight delay in receiving the Spirit after believing on Christ, then a subsequent experience could be justified. From the outset, if Paul assumed they were Christians, it appeared that he concluded that if they had not received the Spirit when they were converted, then something was amiss regarding their water baptism (19:2-3). Should this assessment be accurate, then it is very telling, as when it is considered in conjunction with 2:38-39, conversion followed by water baptism would also include the gift of the Spirit. It also implies that this was not presupposed if evidence of the Spirit was lacking.
Luke’s understanding of salvation
Upon considering Spirit receptions in Acts, it is challenging to present a dogmatic assertion that they are always subsequent to conversion and therefore secondary experiences. It’s necessary to ascertain what ‘salvation’ meant to Luke to advance the premise of a subsequent Spirit baptism. If salvation only involved having one’s sins forgiven and being accepted by God, then a subsequent Spirit empowering would be plausible. However, if salvation means nothing more than the forgiveness of sins and a place in the church, then it ‘barely advances beyond authentic Judaism’ (Turner, 2000, p. 19). Luke understands the Spirit to be the source of Israel’s restoration. Jesus instructed His disciples to stay in Jerusalem where they would receive the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). The notion of waiting to receive the Spirit is an allusion to Isa. 32:15 with reference to the Spirit ‘poured upon us from on high’ and also to 44:3 thus further anticipating the Spirit as the source of Israel’s salvation and restoration.
Paul’s understanding of Spirit reception
Unlike Luke, Paul does not primarily emphasise a Spirit empowering experience for the believer. That doesn’t mean, he didn’t believe or accept such an experience. Spirit baptism as Paul understands it, occurs at conversion and makes one a member of the church (1 Cor.12:13). Petts states that the Greek preposition ‘εἷς’ (eis) translated ‘in’ ‘often carries the force of ‘for the purpose of’ or ‘with a view to’, ‘with respect to’’ and so concludes that Spirit baptism is for the one body of Christ (Petts, 1988, p. 93). Grudem however in referring to 1 Cor. 10:2 suggests that the cloud and the sea that ‘are the ‘elements’ that surrounded or overwhelmed the people of Israel and Moses (italics in original) means the new life of participation in the Mosaic covenant and fellowship of God’s people’ (Grudem, 1994, p. 768). He suggests that there were not two locations for the same baptism, but one was the element in which they were baptised and the other was the location in which they found themselves after the baptism. By applying this to 12:13, Paul is saying that the Spirit is the element in which the individual is baptised, and the church is the location he finds himself in after Spirit baptism (Grudem, 1994, p. 768). The only reference in Paul’s writings which closely resembles terminology about Spirit baptism is 12:13. He also states that one cannot belong to Christ without having the Spirit (Rom. 8:9b).
For Paul, Spirit baptism begins at conversion. However, he would understand it to include what could be construed as ‘life in the Spirit’ encompassing all of the Spirit’s activity in the life of the individual believer and the church right up to and including ‘the new creation to come’ (Macchia, 2006, p. 15). Activities such as bearing fruit (Gal.5: 22, 23) pouring out God’s love, cultivating intimacy (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6) and manifesting gifts (1 Cor. 12: 7-11). Perhaps that is why there is no command in Scripture to be baptised in the Spirit as Spirit baptism occurs at conversion whereas there is a command to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18).
Luke and Paul contrasted
In contrast to Luke, Paul’s view of Spirit baptism is much broader and includes Luke’s emphasis on an empowering experience. While it could be argued that Luke’s emphasis on Spirit baptism might be narrow and limited, ‘the word ‘baptize’ means to bring into organic union, or under the influence of anything which has power to effect a change’ (Gaebelein, 1962, pp. 37, 38). Although there are other aspects of the Spirit’s activity in Luke, his emphasis is on an empowering for service. Irrespective of their distinct emphases there is nevertheless, harmony between Luke and Paul.
Given Paul’s broader view, it’s natural that many non-Pentecostals would gravitate towards him to perhaps justify the reason not to pursue Spirit manifestations in the church and a Spirit baptism with outward evidence as Luke emphasises. However, Paul encourages such manifestations both in the church and the life of the individual (1 Cor. 14:1; 5, 18, 39). To the Galatians, he posed the question: ‘Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith’ (Gal. 3:2)? He encouraged the Corinthians to desire the gifts of the Spirit (14:1) and the Ephesians to be continually filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and expect outward, corresponding evidence. To the churches which Paul wrote to ‘a charismatic dimension was a normal phenomenon in the reception of the Spirit’ (Fee, 1991, p. 99). The inherent problem is when one attempts to understand Luke’s emphasis through Paul and vice-versa. Both authors know of only one reception of the Spirit which Luke refers to as ‘baptism in the Spirit’.
Evidence accompanying Spirit reception in Luke
Upon looking at the various Spirit receptions recorded in Acts, it is apparent that on each occasion, receiving the Spirit was not a quiet affair. There was outward evidence such as speaking in tongues, prophesying and spontaneous praise (Acts 2:4; 11; 10:46; 19:6). Luke also demonstrates in his gospel that when one is filled with the Spirit, there is an overflow of prophetic utterance or praise (Luke 1:41-42; 67). Is this data sufficient to build a case for an experiential Spirit baptism?
Luke does have a theological intent in his writing and emphasises a Spirit reception which is attested by outward evidence. It could be argued that each occurrence he cites was a definite moment in the expansion of the church and should not be taken as normative. Douglas Bozung notes that ‘in each instance in which tongues speaking is explicitly associated with the reception of the Spirit in Acts it has to do with a different group of people each time’ (Bozung, 2004, p. 95). While there is merit in this reasoning, it must be reiterated that he also shows evidence of prophecy and praise with Spirit fillings in his gospel and not just the phenomenon of speaking in tongues in Acts.
Obviously, Pentecost was a unique event and cannot be repeated, but there is no reason why Spirit reception cannot still be evidenced by speaking in tongues and praising God. On the day of Pentecost, Peter urged the people to ‘repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38). Non-Pentecostals willingly accept these words of Peter’ as being normative for church practice today. Inherent in 2:38 is the implication that outward phenomena such as tongues and prophecy can be excluded and also that there need be no delay in Spirit reception after repenting and believing. Against this premise is the fact that when Peter expounds on what just has happened following the Spirit’s outpouring accompanied by the wind and tongues of fire, he cites Joel’s prophecy to put such in context. He could have quoted from Ezekiel which would have taken the emphasis off ‘prophetic speech’ and focussed on ‘conversion-initiation’ but instead cited Joel for emphasis and intent.
The Spirit is eschatological and so is for ‘the last days’ and also prophetic (dreams, visions, and prophesying) (2:17). There is a universal dimension to the Spirit being outpoured encompassing young and old; male and female and slaves and free (2:17-18). Furthermore, Joel’s prophecy contains two elements, namely the gift of the Spirit of prophecy (2:28) and the offer of Salvation to those who call on the name of the Lord (2:32). The reception of the Spirit as stated in 2:39, it could be argued, refers to both the offer of Salvation and a subsequent empowering, without suggesting they are identical (W. W. Menzies & Menzies, 2000, p. 78). Given Peter’s citing from Joel regarding the Spirit, his exhortation to the people in 2:38, 39 cannot, therefore, exclude the expectation and anticipation of an experiential reception of the Spirit with the possibility of being accompanied by tongues, praise or prophecy. Problems arise when there is a ‘prejudicial attempt to drive a wedge between receiving the Spirit by faith and receiving the Spirit by experience’ (Stronstad, 2012, p. 96).
Evidence accompanying Spirit reception in Paul
Paul’s only closest reference to Spirit baptism is in 1 Cor. 12:13 which demonstrates, that one is baptised in the Spirit at conversion, while also becoming a member of the body of Christ. He doesn’t expand by stating whether or not Spirit baptism at conversion is experiential in contrast with Luke’s emphasis. What is apparent is that ‘he endorsed the notion of a dynamic experience of the Holy Spirit which transcended boundaries of race, class, culture and status’ (Thisleton, 2000, p. 999). Dunn also notes that conversion-initiation in 12:13 is ‘thought of as something dynamic’ (Dunn, 2010, p. xv). However, given the Corinthian context, Paul stresses the diversity which the Spirit brings to the local church and included is a reference to speaking in tongues, prophecy and other Spirit manifestations (12:7-10). While the thrust of Paul’s argument is diversity and not uniformity, implying that not all speak in tongues and prophesy, he does, however, expect such gifts of the Spirit to be manifested when the church assembles (12:7-10; 14:26).
In writing that not all speak in tongues and prophesy even though all are baptized in the Spirit suggests that there can be no dogmatism for either being initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism. That said, he does encourage each believer to speak in tongues and indeed prophesy (14:1; 5; 39). He admitted that speaking in tongues was a regular practice in his devotional life (14:18) and encouraged the Corinthians to cultivate it both privately and publicly in conjunction with the gift of interpretation (14:13). Whether or not such gifts like tongues and prophecy were experienced by some upon Spirit baptism at conversion is not stated, but is a possibility. In writing to the Ephesians, he commands them to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Eph. 5:18). This command is given in the passive voice thus effectively saying ‘allow the Spirit to fill you’ and it is spoken in the plural meaning that it is universal (Del Colle et al., 2004, p. 162). McDonnell notes that Spirit baptism was an integral part of becoming a Christian and such candidates for Christian initiation were told to ‘esteem the charisms’ and expect them with the understanding that they would be imparted during the initiation (McDonnell, 1999, p. 133).
Given the context of the Corinthian church, it seems probable that Spirit baptism for them was experiential to enable each believer to become a functioning member of the body of Christ at conversion. Evidence suggests that ‘Paul was the first Christian to attribute soteriological significance to the gift of the Spirit and that his insight did not impact non-Pauline sectors of the early church until after the writing of Luke-Acts (probably around AD 70)’ (R. P. Menzies, 2004, p. 252). That being the case, the church from its infancy ‘knew only of ‘a level of Spirit empowerment subsequent to [or at least logically distinct from] regeneration’ (R. P. Menzies, 2004, p. 252).
The outpouring of the Spirit has ‘its essence in divine love’ (Macchia, 2006, p. 15). In the context of the letter to the Romans, Paul writes that upon conversion, the Spirit pours out the love of God in the individual’s ‘heart’ (Rom. 5:5). Given that the ‘heart’ which is the inward man and comprises emotions and the will, it seems likely that when the Spirit pours out God’s love into the ‘heart’, it implies an experiential dimension to conversion. While Paul describes experiencing God’s love for the believer through the Spirit, the believer can reciprocate and love God through the same Spirit. In Romans, the Spirit is ‘the Spirit of adoption’ and causes the believer to cry out ‘Abba Father’ (Rom.8:15). When such intimacy is taken in conjunction with Gal. 4:6, the language of Christ praying in Gethsemane is reproduced and echoed by the Spirit in the believer’s ‘heart’. Intimacy for God and the desire to love Him even though He is not visible is made possible through the Spirit (1 Pet.1:8). An unbeliever cannot and does not love God, but when converted and having received the Spirit such love is possible and inevitable (1 John 4:10; 19).
According to Paul, Spirit baptism occurs at conversion and the Spirit pours out God’s love into the believers ‘heart’ while also instilling a love of God. This experience of God’s love leading to cultivating intimacy is a subjective experience as well as an objective truth. What is significant is that sandwiched between the Spirit’s manifestations and the facilitation of them in 1 Cor.12 and 14 is a chapter stressing the importance of God’s love. It is the pursuit of God’s love which creates an environment conducive for the manifestation of the Spirit be it through the gift of tongues or prophecy. Paul’s command to desire spiritual gifts and his appreciation of the gift of tongues in his life, coupled with his encouragement to others to seek such, suggests he expects an experiential Spirit baptism upon conversion. Even if he didn’t expect phenomena such as tongues or prophecy as evidence of Spirit reception, he expected God’s love to be poured out which paves the way for manifestations like tongues, prophecy, etc. Macchia notes that Pentecostals are justified in ‘calling Christians to a Spirit baptism as a fresh experience of power for witness with charismatic signs following’ (Macchia, 2006, p. 60).
If all Spirit receptions documented in Acts are experiential and evidenced with what could be deemed ‘Charismatic Phenomena’, why is this not occurring today at conversion but later?
One solution could be that Spirit baptism and Spirit empowering, while occurring simultaneously, could be understood to be two separate activities. According to Zuber, Spirit baptism has no outward manifestation and is below the ‘level of consciousness’ while empowering is observable (Zuber, 2006, pp. 15, 16). Both Luke and Paul refer to subsequent fillings which could be construed as ‘empowerment’, but there is nothing to suggest that empowerment at conversion with the phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’ cannot be as a result of Spirit baptism as in the case of Cornelius and his household. ‘Separability’ and ‘subsequence’ are terms frequently used to describe the Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism and together imply an empowerment at some point after conversion. Douglas Oss allows for flexibility and points out:
Pentecostals historically have emphasized that this experience is available from the moment the Holy Spirit indwells the believer, and their testimonies often speak of being both saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit all at once, while responding to an invitation for salvation. Perhaps an apt expression of the Pentecostal view, then, is ‘extra-conversion experience’ (Jr., Saucy, Storms, & Oss, 1996, p. 242).
Paul though appears not to separate conversion from Spirit baptism and doesn’t preclude the possibility of them being experiential. Continual fillings of the Spirit while characteristic and reminiscent of occurrences in Acts, which Pentecostals call ‘Spirit baptism’, obviously are subsequent. Loder comments that ‘the issue of separability focuses on the nature of these experiences, while the issue of subsequence focuses on the timing’ (Loder, 2002, p. 76). While many Pentecostals appeal to the Samaritan event as the ‘norm’ to justify a subsequent Spirit baptism to conversion, one could equally appeal to Cornelius’ Spirit reception which poses the question of how should one respond to Cornelius receiving the Spirit at conversion with a charismatic dimension reminiscent of what happened on Pentecost?
Some issues arise at such a question. Firstly many sincere believers don’t believe that gifts such as tongues and prophecy are for today’s church and since they don’t believe in their relevance, naturally such are not sought nor anticipated and expected. Does that mean that they are not genuinely converted? Secondly what should be understood regarding the pouring out of God’s love into the new convert’s ‘heart’? God’s love poured out must surely effect change! While this is most certainly so, what of the absence of an apparent change of character in one who professes faith in Christ? It might be argued that such a person didn’t repent of sin and wholeheartedly believe in Christ and so wasn’t converted, to begin with. By the same token, there should be of course time to see ‘fruit’ blossom in the new convert’s life. Thirdly, if Spirit baptism is described as a filling of the Spirit and given the fact that the church is commanded to be continually filled with the Spirit with ensuing evidence, why is Spirit baptism (which could be said to be the first filling (Acts 2:4)) often lacking an experiential dimension? The effect of being ‘filled’ is to ‘be possessed, permeated, and dominated by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Arlington, 1981, p. 7). Outward evidence of being filled with the Spirit as cited by Paul is ‘speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord’ (Eph. 5:19). Luke records that a filling of the Spirit enabled the preaching of the ‘word’ with boldness (Acts 4:31), and moved Paul to pronounce blindness on Elymas (13:9).
Given that Paul and Luke both record outward evidence of the Spirit’s filling, it seems that a non-experiential Spirit baptism is alien to their understanding. That doesn’t mean that that the Spirit isn’t indwelling an individual if he isn’t experiencing a continual ‘filling’ accompanied by evidence. A lack of a Biblical experience may be due to a few reasons such as maybe subsequent fillings aren’t expected or sought. Lastly, what is to be made of the fact that for those who do believe in an experiential Spirit baptism and phenomena such as tongues and prophecy, but experience such at a later time subsequent to conversion? Given Wesley’s understanding of Spirit baptism to be ‘entire sanctification’, he allowed the possibility of this to occur at the moment of conversion, but recognized that this was not the norm, but rather to be a subsequent experience (Del Colle et al., 2004, p. 40). Perhaps this reasoning might help the church harmonize Luke and Paul’s emphases on Spirit baptism.
It’s important to be cognizant of the fact that the ‘New Testament documents are for the most part written to first generation adult converts and therefore simply do not describe or address the needs of the second and third generations’ (Fee, 1991, p. 118). As Paul’s letters were written to Spirit baptized believers he did not address the issues in detail concerning their initial reception. Second and third generation converts which grow up in ‘Christian’ homes and follow the faith of their parents at perhaps a young age don’t usually undergo what could be construed as a dynamic conversion experience. Their circumstances in undergoing conversion were in a very different context from those first generation converts recorded in Acts who at a unique time in history ‘called upon the name of the Lord’ to be saved as opposed to even today’s common practice of saying ‘the sinner’s prayer’. Those first adult converts who called on the name of the Lord and who were aware of the power of the Spirit being manifest through the Apostles, and the importance of receiving the Spirit, possibly had their expectations raised which culminated in a dynamic Spirit baptism at conversion. While such received the Spirit at conversion, today there is often no anticipation of empowerment at that moment or indeed accompanying evidence such as ‘tongues’ or prophecy.
Usually what occurs is that a convert at some point in life, often when a crisis occurs or dissatisfaction in seeing that what is recorded in Acts isn’t happening in his experience, necessitates and prompts a seeking and calling out to God for to be filled with the Spirit. A problem which ensues following such a ‘filling’ is that of poor exegesis as this ‘filling’ is called Spirit baptism and is justified by appealing to events in Acts such as the Samaritans receiving the Spirit subsequent to conversion. Perhaps it might be appropriate to ‘view the Pentecostal experience of Spirit baptism as empowerment for witness as a ‘release’ of an already-indwelling Spirit in life’ (Macchia, 2006, p. 77). Such terminology is both practical and theological as the Spirit does not depart from the believer only to return when a ‘filling’ is necessary. This confusion has arisen due to the imagery of being ‘baptised in the Spirit’, the Spirit being ‘poured out’ and the Spirit ‘coming/falling’ upon individuals which simply are figurative means of describing an overwhelming experience of the Spirit who was already presently indwelling them.
A proposed solution
Given that Luke and Paul emphasise different aspects of Spirit baptism, perhaps it could be theologised as ‘soteriologically and charismatically defined, an event that has more than one dimension because it is eschatological in nature and not wholly defined by notions of Christian initiation’ (Macchia, 2006, p. 16). While both may have a unity of doctrine and authority as inspired writers, it ‘is a unity-in-diversity, a unity of underlying doctrine but difference in perspective due to the differing purposes, styles, and types of literature’(Jackson, 1989, p. 336). For Luke Spirit baptism is a vocation – an empowering to be a witness for Christ, attested by phenomena such as tongues, prophecy and of course invasive praise. He gives no such hint that such outward expressions are somehow to diminish and therefore should not be expected to occur today. One crucial point that must be noted is that Luke only understands Spirit reception to occur just once in the life of the believer. Subsequent fillings can happen, but there is just one initial Spirit reception. While many today subscribe to a two-stage pneumatology, Luke clearly did not. Had Luke envisaged such, Turner states that:
It would raise serious questions about why he has passed over in total silence that all-important gift of the Spirit which brings salvation and life, just to give such exclusive prominence to what is theologically merely a secondary empowering for service (Turner, 2001, p. 268).
Although Luke writes of only one Spirit reception, he did recognize the Spirit at work in people’s lives before Spirit reception (Atkinson, 2011, p. 81). An example would be Cornelius and Saul, who both received visions (Luke attributes visions to the Spirit (Acts 2:17)) prior to receiving the Spirit. Given that the Spirit was at work in some people’s coming to faith before their Spirit reception could be considered not to be ‘a two-stage reception, but a two (or more) stage work’ (Atkinson, 2011, p. 90). However such examples don’t explicitly state that the Spirit first indwelt these individuals before ‘coming upon’ them. Pentecostals have sometimes accused non-Pentecostals of reading Acts through Pauline lenses, but it seems that they are likewise guilty by presupposing two Spirit-receptions – the first at conversion and a subsequent second for empowering. Luke’s emphasis is on simply one dynamic, empowering Spirit reception.
Paul’s understanding is much broader and encompasses general life in the Spirit which includes Luke’s empowering dimension but also tongues, prophecy and other spiritual gifts and of course sanctification (2 Thess. 2:13) and the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:22-23). Should there be an over-emphasis on power, it becomes ‘too easy for unsanctified power drives in the convert to be mixed with spirit-power, and for a kind of spiritual tycoon to emerge’ (Hocken, 1985, p. 127). Paul reminds us that the ‘love of God’ is poured out into the believer’s ‘heart’ by the Spirit while also placing a love for God to cultivate intimacy with Him. Love outpoured by the Spirit occurs at conversion giving credence to an experiential Spirit baptism.
It needs to be further noted that both Luke and Paul understand the term of ‘receiving’ the Spirit quite differently. Luke presents it to mean ‘empowering’ as he does with Spirit baptism, whereas Paul understands it as Christian initiation. Given the differences in interpretation of Spirit baptism and receiving the Spirit, can there be possible ‘middle- ground’ as an alternative to the standard position of ‘agreeing to disagree’? When asked what does Spirit baptism mean, perhaps an appropriate initial response might be to supply both Luke and Paul’s independent understanding and emphasis while seeking to demonstrate that they can be harmonised. For example in answering such a question, one could say that he/she was baptised in the Spirit at conversion, and equally, another could say that he/she was baptised in the Spirit upon experiencing an empowerment for ministry, perhaps even speaking in other tongues. Both answers are Biblically correct reflecting both Paul and Luke’s emphases.
Could this whole debate come down to a matter of semantics? Hart asks if Pentecostals and Charismatics ‘have a right experience by a wrong name’ (Del Colle et al., 2004, p. 107)? It seems plausible that Luke and Paul’s different emphases may simply be purely linguistic and not conceptual. Atkinson uses a hypothetical situation of a woman individual coming to belief in Christ and suggests:
Luke’s concept (italics in original) would include the idea that the Spirit was involved throughout the process. The preacher from whom she heard the gospel was Spirit-filled; Jesus opened her heart to the message by his Spirit; perhaps (let us say) a vision played its part in the process, and this was granted to her by the Spirit. And then, weeks later, she received that experience, which would be ongoing, whereby she felt the immediate glorious presence of God in her life, found herself expressing praise and perhaps prophecy in words she had never learned, and discovered in the days ahead that she had a new boldness to share her faith with others (Atkinson, 2011, p. 119).
While acknowledging the role of the Spirit in leading up to this woman’s conversion, Luke would only use the term of ‘receiving the Spirit’ to describe the dynamic experience which occurred later. Paul would certainly be in agreement insofar as the Spirit’s role before and post-conversion but would apply the term of ‘Spirit reception’ to describe her initial coming to faith and not the dynamic experience afterwards. While this hypothetical illustration serves to highlight the contrasts, it doesn’t state whether or not this woman would have received the Spirit upon conversion and before she had the subsequent empowering. Atkinson, to be fair, cannot supply that information because Luke only knows of one Spirit reception for the believer.
While not compromising the experiential dimension of Spirit baptism, a choice of words and terms could be modified to appear less pejorative and more disarming to engage and indeed present a challenge to seek a biblical experience. It would be somewhat remiss not to state the necessity for the need to be continually filled with the Spirit and of course to read and study the Scriptures. Continual study and infilling of the Spirit are essential for Christian development as people who have received Spirit baptism and witnessed marked initial changes in their lives and have experienced power for service, haven’t exhibited ongoing personal growth over the long term (Duggan, 1985, p. 135).
To state that Spirit baptism should be experiential at conversion is an argument from silence. However, it’s equally an argument from silence to suggest it doesn’t have to be. Given the evidence from Luke that includes the norm of Acts 2:38, 39, coupled with Paul’s letters, a good case can be made for an experiential Spirit baptism. Many Pentecostals are of the view that speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of receiving Spirit baptism. That is rather a strong statement especially as the word ‘initial’ is added. It could be argued that this is tantamount to making a ‘universal claim about the epistemological activities of those interested in determining whether someone is baptized in the Spirit’ (Wiebe, 1984, p. 468). Epistemological means that ‘one event is taken as providing grounds for believing that another event has occurred’ (Wiebe, 1984, p. 465). Luke and Paul don’t make any such definitive statement that ‘tongues’ is the initial physical evidence that one had received Spirit baptism. While Luke records occasions where people spoke in tongues upon Spirit reception, this is circumstantial evidence and not definitive as it is simply not Luke’s intent to record such events to teach what the evidence for Spirit baptism is.
While allowing for the freedom of the Spirit, ‘Luke’s Charismatic theology is characterized by an Old Testament heritage, an experiential dimension, frequent prophetic activity, and no temporal limitations’ (Stronstad, 2012, p. 96). Amos Yong proposes that this metaphor of baptism of the Holy Spirit be retrieved ‘to capture the dynamic and full experience of Christians salvation not only in terms of dying with Christ but also in terms of being raised with him to do the things that he did’ (Yong, 2005, p. 101). This sentiment is further echoed by Macchia who writes that ‘Spirit baptism is a baptism into the love of God that sanctifies, renews, and empowers until Spirit baptism turns all of creation into the final dwelling place of God’ (Macchia, 2006, p. 60). Although Paul and Luke have different emphases on Spirit baptism, Scripture offers no such command to be baptised in the Spirit thus implying that it is synonymous with conversion. There is though a command to be filled with the Spirit which is accompanied by evidence. On a cautionary note, experiential evidence must not be allowed ‘the pride of place over Scriptures in places where Scripture does not give us a direct statement’ (Del Colle et al., 2004, p. 96).
Keener reminds us that ‘Acts summons us to a Spirit-empowered life, by whatever initial and continuing experiences we are introduced into it’ (Keener, 2001, p. 167). However, if Luke’s distinct emphasis on ‘pneumatology is blurred and the Pentecostal gift identified with conversion, this missiological focus is lost’ (W. W. Menzies & Menzies, 2000, p. 83) and will inevitably diminish one’s sense of expectation’ (W. W. Menzies & Menzies, 2000, p. 83). To conclude, it is the reception of the Spirit which makes a person a Christian (Rom.8:9) and it is an experiential Spirit baptism which answers the question: How does one know if and when he has received the Spirit (Dunn, 2010, p. 229)? Although sharing different emphases and not always being definitive, it would seem that both Luke and Paul do envisage and expect an experiential Spirit baptism either at conversion or sometime afterwards.
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