Skip to main content

Baptism in the Spirit and The UCCF Doctrinal Basis of Fellowship

Recently I've had emails from a colleague who probably wouldn't call himself a charismatic, and from a student worker who belongs to the same family of churches as I do both asking me what to make of the UCCF doctrinal basis of fellowship (DBF) and the charismatic doctrine of baptism in the Spirit. People from different parts of the evangelical church asking similar questions.
1. One asks whether a belief in Baptism in the Spirit means we're saying the gospel isn't enough... if people need something more. 
2. The other has questions about whether the DBF is saying that every Christian, by having the Holy Spirit, automatically has power for change and mission.
They both want unity but aren't sure if that's possible. I commend both for their doctrinal carefulness, concern for the gospel and God's people. What can we say? 

Common ground is a good place to start! The gospel is enough for salvation and for the Christian life. Anything other than that amounts to a denial of the gospel. We begin with the cross, go on with the cross; we begin with the Spirit and we go on with the Spirit - to paraphrase Galatians 3. Yet, we all tend to think something is lacking in terms of the application of the gospel. We all want to grow and expect and experience progress. Every Christian cries "More!" Put this in the terms of Colossians 2:6-7 and we can call that being built up and deeper rooted in the gospel. There is a lack if this hasn't happened - it happens by continuing in the gospel once received. 

The question is: how?

My answer is that it comes by the work of the Holy Spirit and his work in relation to realising our union with Christ. This is God's gracious gift to us - offered to all if not received fully by all. Where do I get this from Biblically? In the Book of Acts we see a recognisable and reportable experience of the Holy Spirit that doesn't necessarily happen at conversion. One name for this is Baptism in the Spirit.

Some reply that we can't make Acts normative for Christian life today - but that would necessitate not using Acts to argue for persuasive and reasonable evangelism either. Acts is messy and distancing ourselves from it is over simplistic.

Does the DBF conflict with the doctrine of Baptism in the Spirit?
Point i. The Holy Spirit lives in all those he has regenerated. He makes them increasingly Christlike in character and behaviour and gives them power for their witness in the world.
The charismatic notes that the DBF says all Christians have the Spirit - full stop - new sentence: the Spirit gives power for change and witness. What's missing is an omission of detail as to how, but not a denial that some detail is needed. Newfrontiers leader Matt Partridge notes:
Now let’s be clear, Romans 8:9 teaches that ‘if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ’. Our salvation is only achieved by the supernatural Spirit of God, convicting and regenerating us. There is no other way to be saved. But is that it? Does our experience of the Spirit, through conversion, fully represent the expectations painted for us in the New Testament? The Bible clearly presents a work of the Spirit at conversion but also a filling or baptising with the Spirit as a distinct event.
I'm not all that sure what a non-charismatic will argue for as the explanation. An answer is needed - where's the power, where's the change, where's the transformation... 

What's clear is that if you make it a matter of human effort then you step outside the bounds of the DBF, if it depends on the grace of God and the finished work of Christ and the present work of the Spirit then you're standing well within it.

What about teaching this in a CU? 

The UCCF doctrinal basis of fellowship is necessarily brief for the sake of inclusivity. It makes some exclusive moves but seeks to avoid any unnecessary divisions, it avoids any unnecessary breaks of fellowship. Some of us like the idea of being the rebel in the room - but if you hold to the DBF you do belong however "edgy" you'd like to think you are. The charismatic and the non-charismatic both equally belong and both will struggle at times and be uncomfortable with some things if real unity is happening.

In a CU you can teach on secondary issues - but you can't insist that being in the CU means you should agree on the secondary subject. The fellowship works in two ways - we agree to agree on what is primary, and we agree to disagree on what is (very important) but secondary.

So long as secondary issues are considered in love and with an open Bible then its entirely fine to talk about them. Worth bearing in mind the danger of getting caught up in endless arguments instead of getting on mission together...  but there's room to talk, just as there is plenty of room for diversity of convictions and practice between and within CUs. You want to go out and pray for non-Christians on campus (as a charismatic might) then you can. You want to insist that everyone must? You can't. You want to use Two Ways To Live, you can. You want to insist everyone does, you can't.

The context varies drastically in CUs - some are very charismatic, some are not. Likewise among UCCF staff who you'll find as members of a whole range of different kinds of churches. The terms of unity remain the same. The DBF facilitates such inconsistency  and diversity. And it tells me that the last thing I want to do is to promote exclusion of those who belong or provoke self-exclusion (1 Cor 12). The way to that isn't to pretend there are no differences but to embrace them, and so have a robust and open unity which isn't merely formal and paper-thin. The basis is the gospel - the result is friendship, fellowship, relationship, partnership, with the Triune God and his people - and his massive mission of self-giving love to his world to be part of.

Others probably have different ways of working this out in practice, but this is my take... Keep big on the gospel and therefore embracing of diversity and abounding in love and you can do whatever you like.


  1. Great post. Difficult topic handled really well. Thanks.

  2. I've become increasingly aware that a lot of people I mix with (NFI, other Charismatics and some more conservative types) tend to use different words to actually mean the same thing. So I'm far more comfortable with the phrase 'being filled with the Spirit' for what you're describing above but when I speak to an NFI colleague I often find that we're basically meaning the same thing when says 'baptism in the Spirit'.

  3. Relationship helps doesn't it! Not all differences disappear but misunderstandings or suspicions tend to dissolve when we know, respect and love one another.

  4. Thanks for holding your nerve; for thinking clearly; for writing graciously.

  5. Hi Dave,

    Thoughtful post. I hope you don't mind me asking a question here, especially since it's not really a 'how does this foit with UCCF doctrine/ practice?' sort of question. If it's out of the bounds for this post, ignore it, and I won't be offended.

    So, if you're saying baptism in the Spirit fits in with Colossians 2:6-7, which is something ongoing, not something a Christian simply gets in one event, then there must be not one distinct event called baptism in the Spirit, but lots and lots? In fact, every time we are experiencing growth, and Spirit-strengthened union with Christ, that's 'baptism in the Spirit,' right? Or have I misunderstood you there?

    Yours in Christ,

  6. I think I'm arguing mostly from Colossians that we all believe in "more"...

    I think my preference is probably to speak of one Baptism in the Spirit and of repeated filling.. and that that should probably happen very near conversion if the baby is rightly delivered (just as getting water-baptised should ideally also be while still relatively young as a beliver). But, that often it's a much later thing...

  7. Thanks Dave, that's very useful. I've been thinking though...

    We often talk as if primary and secondary issues sat in two hermetically sealed boxes, so that it was okay to disagree on secondaries so long as we agreed on the gospel. But it strikes me that the secondaries are really further definitions of what we mean when we say the primaries. (Does that make sense?) This throws up difficulties - for example, the Presbyterian and I both say that people are saved by grace through faith (primary truth!), but I can't see how his secondary idea of infant baptism can fail to contradict this, and he can't see how my idea of adult baptism can possibly be in line with it. Our ideas about baptism are a further definition of what we mean when we say 'saved by grace through faith'. Which seems to me to have at least two implications...
    1. We can't just live and let live, but have to keep challenging each other with the gospel, showing how our secondary positions flow from the primaries (whilst all the time ensuring that the primaries remain primary in our minds, and therefore getting on with the mission).
    2. We have to actually trust each other that we really do believe the gospel - because it will often look to us as if the other person doesn't believe it as we understand it. Better, we are forced to trust God for the other person as well as for ourselves...

    Not sure if any of that made sense at all...

  8. I agree wholeheartedly with Daniel's two points.

  9. Dave,

    Thanks for the reply, I see now more what you're saying.

    I think it does highlight the angst conservatives (like me) feel sometimes over the baptism of the Spirit thing though, in that Colossians 2:6-7 describes a process that all have access to - that is, the way to make progress in the Christian life is the same as the way in. So, although Colossians 2:6-7 gives us a concept of a more, of gradation, or progress in Christ, it is progress open to all who have received Christ, not to all who have received Christ plus had a particular experience on top of that - which is what is sometimes felt 'the charismatic position' (as if there were one, I know, I know...) boils down to.

    I think that's where the charge of denying the sufficiency of the gospel is often coming from. For Paul, it seems, the normative conversion experience (receiving Christ) is the gateway into the process of maturation, there isn't another experience needed on top of that (whatever we may call it).

    In which case, what 'is' baptism in the Spirit? Is it a second receiving of Christ? If so, how is it distinguished from the ongoing receiving of Christ that Colossians 2:6-7 talks about (in which case, we're talking about multiple, daily, every-week-at-church, baptisms in the Spirit going on for us all).

    Don't want to be like a dog with a bone here. I am genuinely trying to understand, engage, grapple, hear etc.

  10. I hear you genuinely and am happy to talk on this, both for the sake of unity and for clarity and in hope that we might know Him.

    I see what you're saying - but I'm not sure anyone said anything about baptism in the Spirit being something that isn't available to all? We're talking about the work of the same Spirit by whom we believe the gospel, graciously working in us...

    I guess in part we have - that there is more to have - deeper roots, being built higher, and various other ways of putting it. And we have in Acts a recognisable giving of the Holy Spirit that is a mark of the gospel having come to people. And I think we can say that happens at or very close to conversion, or seemingly in some cases very much later...

    ...and if a Christian is lacking power to change or witness then perhaps what's needed is a work of the Spirit in them, the application of what is already theirs...

  11. Thanks, you are being patient and I appreciate it.

    I see what you're saying. I just think it is difficult to insert a 'one-off' distinct event into the process language of Colossians 2:6-7, that's all I'm saying [by contrast, it's easy to see how Colossians fits with 'going on being filled'], especially if this one-off event is necessary for change.

    Colossians is saying 'you received Christ, that's all you need - the rest is this ongoing process of digging down deeper, walking in union with him, being strengthened in the faith as you were taught, etc.' To fit with what you're saying, Paul's logic can't work, because they also need a one-off distinct event on top of reception of Christ (which, yes, is of the same nature and kind as the digging down deeper roots type thing so is not a 'gospel-plus' thing, but is still, nevertheless, distinct from the ongoing process type stuff Colossians 2:6-7 is describing, is it not [if not then how is it distinct from ongoing filling with the Spirit]?).

    I know you could say in response that I need to account for Acts... :)

  12. I know you could say in response that I need to account for Acts... :) ...well, like, yeah...

  13. which I'd reply you might need to account for 1 Cor 12:13. :)

    Not that I came here to 'exchange verses' with you! :)

    Anyway, the reasons in my previous comments are why I'm still attracted to views that see what we find (sometimes) happening in Acts re. baptism of the Spirit as exceptional rather than normative (preferably one that engages with the issue of covenantal transition, and the HS's ministry in the OT, etc.). It fits, I'd argue, with an approach that lets the clearer illuminate the less clear.

    Thanks for conversing.

  14. Much more fun this way that pretending there's no issue and sweeping it all under the carpet.

  15. Dave - thanks so much! Your stuff on working this out in the CU context put things more eloquently than I could. I actually read it all out loud!

  16. Pete: I consider you to be the unseen co-author of this kind of post.

  17. Dave, thanks, this is very helpful. I think unity is much more easily achieved when difference is understood clearly rather than denied. I trust this piece will help in that.

    Also helpful to realise that it is easier to have much wider diversity in a CU than in a church. You can disagree on much of the practice of the gifts of the Spirit, as they are clearly to be practised within the context of the church under the oversight of the elders, and not in the CU. The tension will increase if people see their primary locus of discipleship as being the CU rather than the church.

  18. Perhaps Matthew 12 is helpful here.

    It is the Spirit of God who will kick out the demons who have taken you hostage in your own house and clean the place up, but that is not the same, once he has done the evicting and tidying work, of inviting him to come and live in with you.

    Personally, I prefer to use the term "receiving" the Holy Spirit when it comes to any post conversion experiences, as "Baptism of the Spirit" does appear, in a simple reading, to refer overwhelmingly to conversion.

  19. That seems good language from Acts 10, and allows some systematising of Acts and 1 Cor 12 language.

  20. Perhaps Leviticus 8 is another helpful paradigm, since we are the new royal priesthood.

    Baptism of the Spirit = Washing/new birth/raised up with Christ
    Receiving the Spirit = Anointing/Fellowship/Set apart for service.

    Those two things can happen at the same time, like a two-in-one, wash-and-go experience, but not necessarily, and they should not be confused.

  21. Sweet, you appear to be a genius.

    Seriously though, this is fantastically useful.

  22. So - am I to understand that there are a group of people united with Christ who don't have fellowship with him and are not equipped to serve him?

  23. ..Mo, I think the answer is there shouldn't be, but there could be. And pastorally, when talking with some Christians you get the impression that's what they might say of themselves.

    Was waiting for you.

  24. Interesting post. I love the promotion of talking about our disagreements in unity. I think it shows our gospel unity is weak, if we are scared to broach topics we disagree on from time to time, in suitable arenas.

    So with that said, a couple of things:

    First, how would you interact with the main substantive case (directly below) for the Holy Spirit descending in Acts post conversion, not being normative? (BTW I guess you’ve heard it before, and some actual questions to engage with are below the mini selective Acts walk through.)

    Key verse is Acts 1:8, which is used by many to help structure the book, showing the advance of the gospel.
    "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

    Given the progression of the gospel message we see the apostles, as the first believers (Jerusalem), receive the Spirit at Pentecost when He comes. Acts 2:1-13
    Then in Acts 8:14-17 the Spirit comes to those in Samaria v14.
    Then we have Acts 10:34-48, and the Spirit descends on the Gentiles.
    All these events are witnessed by the apostles, who see powerful visual demonstrations that God's new people, are believers from whatever ethnic background.

    We lose the starkness of how amazing it is as a gentile to receive these blessings (maybe we should meditate more on Ephesians 2:11-22), but 10:45 shows how amazed the people were that even the Gentiles could receive the HS.

    Given the incredulity, and the desire to create a multi-ethnic body, this seems to make a lot of sense of why God delayed real Christians from receiving the Spirit. And given that all the other conversions (‘anomaly’ explained below) are reported without any gap between conversion and receiving the Spirit, and that this fits better with the rest of the NT teaching on who a Christian is; is it not most likely that these were one off events?

    The slight anomaly is in Acts 19:1-7, where we see it happen a fourth time. But here it is apparent that the people don't know the whole gospel, they have just got John the Baptist's message of repentance for sins, and so they receive the Spirit, when they are told (and Baptised) of Jesus.

    I think this shows us that Spirit Baptism happens at conversion for all true Christians, and so often won't look anything like the Acts examples. (NB: Context wise the tongues in the Acts examples also seem to be Foreign Languages that haven't been learnt, being spoken)

    If you agree, then why use the language that is most closely linked with what could be called Pentecostal Second Blessing theology, which mainly teaches the need for a Baptism with the Spirit that will be marked by angelic tongue speaking, even to the Jesus believing? Does it not cause confusion? Is it a Biblically faithful to talk about receiving the Spirit?

  25. Eek, that was long, sorry.

    Second, to come on to your key concern, which is how are we to change, to have ‘more’ be better Christians etc.
    I am sure almost all non-Charismatics will say the power and change comes by the Spirit, but how is still the question. Do we need more of him? Do we need to have some new experience? etc
    Now I am not that convinced of either of those, but spent much time tying myself up in knots, with the whole ‘if the Spirit needs to change me, but I can’t just sit back and make it happen, what do I do?’ dilemma.

    I thought Jerry Bridges was brilliant on this at this year’s NWA. He said you pray, and then you go on in faithful obedience. Here faithful means you are obedient in faith, ie because of your faith in Jesus as Saviour and that the HS will change you, you go and work at living a changed life. This would seem to fit better with Col 2:6-7. Stay in Christ, but walk in Christ, ie have your faith by the Spirit’s power leading you to live a changed life.
    Is there not a danger that the Spirit Baptism route encourages a more of a wait around for God to do something, while you can do very little?

    Hope that's clear, concise and loving enough, thoughts?


  26. Seems to me that what we need is more of the Christ we already have. How do we gain more of him? By his Spirit. How? Seemingly in Acts we receive the Spirit graciously by someone praying for you or when the word of God is read/preached. So the answer is sort of read the Bible and pray but the goal is to apply the gospel to life, to know more the Spirit's work in us, to know the Son and his Father... So it's nothing different than being caught up in the life of the Triune God which is what the gospel does.

  27. I feel like I'm joining this debate quite late - apologies for being slow on the uptake as ever.

    Without dealing with the particular issue I think I find this section of your post quite difficult...

    "Some reply that we can't make Acts normative for Christian life today - but that would necessitate not using Acts to argue for persuasive and reasonable evangelism either. Acts is messy and distancing ourselves from it is over simplistic."

    Logically this doesn't work. Saying Acts is not normative does NOT mean you can't use it to argue for persuasive and reasonable evangelism. The whole Bible is "messy" in the same way as Acts and if you apply this logic you'll end up spitting in blind people's eyes and insisting that women wear hats to church.

    The Bible is a theological book historically located and I need to take that seriously when I read all of it. So it remains that the big problem for the view of baptism in the Spirit that you argue for is that it appears only as a historical observation of a turning point in salvation history and is not taught as normative experience anywhere else in the Bible.

    Hope that's helpful even if the horse bolted ages ago!


  28. Steve - you're very welcome.

    I agree we need to be careful - but when I hear someone say off hand... we can do what Paul did in Athens but we better not do what he did in say, Ephesus....

    God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them - Acts 19:11-12

    I want to ask why we draw the line... though quite what we would do with the hankerchiefs bit I really don't know!

    I wonder why we want to draw such distance, between the church then and the church now. And if the only real difference is that we have the canon now, and that the first apostles have gone I'm still not sure that makes enough difference... especially if we're talking about the work of the third person of the Trinity.

  29. Spotted these comments and it brought to mind this post I read recently which I thought was really excellent.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"Big eyes full of wonder"

Books. Fiction. Libraries. Second only to churches as are the best gateways in your community to ultimate reality and new possibilities.

Our local library has just re-opened after refurbishment, and I love that our boys have spent several mornings there during the summer holidays, discovering some wonderful new stories.

I realised a few months back that I wasn't reading enough fiction. My work necessitates reading a lot of non-fiction, a mix of historical and contemporary thinking, biblical studies and theology. But fiction is the cinderella. Easily overlooked, and yet able to awaken my imagination and show me the way things are meant to be.

So I've picked up a few more lately - bought and borrowed. Not every book attempted flies, and that's ok. These have been winners though.

Ink. This is Alice Broadway's debut novel. It's young adult fiction and tells the story of Leora who lives in a world where the events of your life are tattooed on your skin. Nothing gets hid…

Uniquely Matthew

Reading gospel accounts in parallel is sometimes used to blur the differences in perspective between the evangelists, seeking to harmonise the texts and find a definitive historical account of what happened. No such thing exists because every account is biased and limited. You simply can't record everything. You have to hold a vantage point. And that's not a problem.

Matthew, Mark and Luke take a very different vantage point to John who was of course an eyewitness himself of the events. Comparing the text of Matthew, Mark and Luke across the death and resurrection of Jesus yields two steps.

Firstly, the common ground. All three accounts tell of...
Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross…. · Jesus labelled as King of the Jews…. · Criminals crucified with Jesus… · Darkness in the daytime… · Jesus' loud final cry… The women who witnessed Jesus death, and Jesus' burial… · The tomb lent to Jesus by Joseph of Arimithea… · The women who went to the tomb on the morning of the…

Songs we're singing in Church

Christians are a singing people, it's part of what we do when we gather.

Our church meets morning an evening on a Sunday - normally using 5 songs in each service. So, over the year that's about 520 song-slots available. The report from the database system we use ( tells us that in the past year we've sung about 150 different songs.

Our current most used song has been sung 11 times in the last year, just under once a month. Our top 10 are used about every 6 weeks. By #30 we're talking about songs used every two months. The tail is long and includes loads of classic hymns from across the centuries, plus other songs from the past 40 years, that we have used around once a term or less.

1. Rejoice - Dustin Kensrue

2. Come Praise & Glorify - Bob Kauflin

3. Man of Sorrows - Hillsong

4. Cornerstone - Hillsong

Rejoice was a song I didn't previously know, along with a couple of others that have quickly become firm favourites for me: Chri…