The term ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is used by Pentecostalists and some charismatics to refer to a ‘second blessing’ of the Christian subsequent to the experience of conversion. It is seen as a full reception of, or release by, the Holy Spirit, issuing in the exercise of any of a number of ‘spiritual gifts’ including, for many, the gift of tongues.
This understanding is attended by a number of problems.
1. The expression ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ (or something similar) occurs some seven times in the New Testament. Six refer to John the Baptist’s contrast between his preparatory heralding ministry, baptizing ‘with water’, and Jesus’ coming Messianic ministry, baptizing ‘with the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). The term is also used by Paul in 1 Cor 12:13, where he affirms that all have been baptised in the Holy Spirit. (Note that v30 of the same chapter implies that not all spoke in tongues, so, as most now recognise, it is impossible to make tongues the touchstone of Spirit-baptism.)
2. The imagery of ‘baptism’ is strongly associated with the idea of ‘initiation’. Therefore the ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is best understood as the reception of the Holy Spirit by every believer at the time of his or her new birth. As John Stott explains, ‘The ‘baptism’ of the Spirit is identical with the ‘gift’ of the Spirit,…it is one of the distinctive blessings of the new convenant, and, because it is an initial blessing, is also a universal blessing for members of the covenant…So then, whatever post-conversion experiences there may be…’baptism with the Spirit’ cannot be the right expression to use for them.’ (Baptism and Fullness, 43f.)
3. Proponents of the doctrine of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as a ‘second blessing’ point out that in Acts the fullness of the Spirit often follows conversion to Christ after some period of time. However, the reason for the two-stage experience in apostolic days was that many had become believers before the Spirit’s New-Covenant ministry began. The apostles themselves clearly expected others to enjoy the fullness of the Spirit’s ministry from conversion onwards, Acts 2:38; 5:32.
4. At the outset of the charismatic movement in this country, David Watson and others had a conversation with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, at which the latter declared, “Gentlemen, I believe that you have been baptised with the Holy Spirit!” On later reflection, however, Watson concluded that the good doctor’s ‘diagnosis’ should have been, “You have been filled with the Holy Spirit” (You Are My God, 55). By 1981 a report into the Charismatic Movement in the Church of England could note that ‘most Anglican charismatics are now very cautious about any concept of a two-stage initiation connected with their experience.’ (The Charismatic Movement in the Church of England, 57f). Accordingly, many teachers within the Pentecostal tradition (particularly those associated with the so-called ‘Third Wave’) now agree that the baptism in the Spirit occurs at conversion, not as a second work of grace. (So Grudem, Systematic Theology, ch. 39). They would also tend to agree that any stereotyping of Christian experience into two distinct stages is pastorally divisive, implying a separate class of elite Christians. Our teaching should be “one baptism, many fillings.”
5. None of the above, however, should obscure the fact that many professing Christians are living their lives at a level far below what could be considered ‘normal’ from a New Testament point of view. While it is important for us not to mis-name the desired enrichment as ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’, it is far more important for us seek the enrichment itself; for each of us to earnestly desire to ‘keep on being filled with the Spirit’ (Eph 5:18).