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I don't believe in "the baptism of the Spirit"

I've spoken about this earlier this year in Baptism in the Spirit and the UCCF doctrinal basis, but I've been reflecting again on the subject and besides what's blogged five months ago is quickly forgotten...

Terms in the New Testament are used in different ways, and the New Testament certainly speaks in Acts of people "receiving the Spirit" and of the "seal of the Spirit" in Ephesians and of having being baptised with the Spirit in 1 Corinthians. These seem to be described as normal Christian experiences that are part of the Christian life, as indeed baptism in water is, though plenty of Christians are not baptised in water, yet. There's a good case that baptism in the Spirit and in water (in either order) should happen close to if not at conversion - why wait... though many do wait.

John said that Jesus would baptise with the Spirit, as did Jesus (Mark 1:8, Acts 1:5). Peter uses the term for what happened when he preached in Cornelius' house and the Spirit fell on those listening to the gospel (Acts 10:45, 11:16). And Jesus says, ask and you'll receive the Spirit (Luke 11). There does seem to be some distinction Biblically between having the Spirit which is just being a Christian (in a Romans 8 sense), and an observable experience of particularly receiving the Spirit which brings power and praise and gifting - all of grace - to the Christian (which we see in Acts for example).

Language of Baptism does imply a one-time event and one that can be recognised, as Peter does with the household of Cornelius. The Bible also speaks of going on being filled in Ephesians, and Jesus spoke in John 7:37-38 of those who thirst having streams of living water welling up within them - the latter happening as we believe the Scriptures in what they say about Jesus (i.e. continuing faith in the gospel). As we come to the gospel and apprehend Christ we should come expecting the Spirit to 'bubble up' within us.

Some object:

I've not experienced this, therefore it doesn't happen.
That's an argument from experience and all it proves is that you may not have been baptised with the Spirit, not that you shouldn't be or couldn't be.

Isn't this a Galatian or Colossian heresy of "Gospel plus"?
To deal with Galatia, the whole problem in Galatia was people starting with the Spirit and then abandoning the Spirit in favour of works. Any receiving of the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, being fallen on by the Spirit or being baptised in the Spirit is more of the Spirit not of something other. And would be by faith through grace. Our question should be, if I'm not receiving the Spirit am I departing from the gospel...
To Colossae, there was a gospel-plus mentality there that said "start with Jesus and then add spiritual experiences, hidden knowledge or rules". This isn't that. This isn't pursue an experience, it's know the person of the Spirit more fully in your life. I think the way Paul would describe receiving more of the Spirit to the Colossians would be in 2:6-7 - "just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him". Receiving Christ is something that happens by faith as is receiving Christ (Galatians 3:2). The pouring out of the Spirit isn't a swerve from the gospel but a journey deeper into it.

Are you saying those baptised in the Spirit are better Christians?
No, all in Christianity is of grace. But, we all want to know God better and progress in our relationship with him. I want to know the Lord better today than this time last year. And the more of the Spirit's work in my life the more I'll be humbled and self-forgetful.

I remember years ago a colleague saying how someone had taught at a student meeting on the sufficiency of the cross and then the worship leader struck up Tim Hughes' song "There must be more than this..." which had seemed kind of inappropriate. Actually though, the sufficiency of the cross says you can have much more of God. There must not be more than the cross, but therefore there must be more of God for us to know - since the way is open, the curtain is torn, the Spirit is poured out.

(this next bit is derived from David Watson, One in the Spirit from UCCF Conference in the early 1970s)
How do we receive the Spirit?Repenting in response to hearing the gospel (Acts 2v38),
Or, Ask in the Father in the name of the Son (Luke 11v1-13) ** The Lord’s Prayer is an ABBA prayer – use your Sonship to receive the Holy Spirit.
Or, Hear the word of the gospel (Acts 10v44, 11v15) – the gospel that catches you up into the life of God, and as you hear the Spirit might fall on you. Your heart changed on the spot. Your eyes opened. Praise and joy overflowing, and even stepping into Spiritual gifts like worshipping with the gift of tongues
Or, Thirst/desire after the righteousness of Christ (Matt 5v6),
Or, By the laying on of hands (Acts 8v7, 9v17, 19v6)
Or, Hearing the gospel with faith (Galatians 3v2)
Notice here that it’s not one-size-fits all – but the initiative comes from God – the gracious answer to a prayer, something that happens as the word is preached. This is always a grace not a reward or a work.

Q2: How do you know if you have been?
Seemingly, others can tell (Acts 10v45)
Or, Speaking the gift of tongues and praise to God for his gospel (Acts 10v46)
Or, Comfort and encouragement in the gospel. (Acts 9v31)
Or, Power to speak the gospel (Acts 1v8)
Or, Ability to speak in other languages to people about Jesus (Acts 2v4)
Or, Speaking in tongues, prophesying (Acts 19v6)
Or, Galatians 5 – love, peace, patience, joy… etc. Changed character – over time.
Again not one size fits all - but always of grace, and always to a higher view of Christ expressed in changed character, worship and evangelism. We need more of the Holy Spirit.
There may be other questions (comments are open), but as for me and my house - we love the gospel and therefore want to pursue more of the Spirit's work in our lives, and so we want to be about the gospel and be believing God, thirsting for him, for we can do nothing ourselves.

Richard Sibbes “we may see that those that do not desire the presence of Christ are those the wind of the Holy Spirit never blew upon… It is from the Spirit that we desire more of the Spirit, and from the presence of Christ that we desire a further presence and communion with him” (Bowels Opened Sermon 1)


  1. So, I want to come right out and say that I think this is very serious error. I hope you won't take that amiss, because I hope that if I said something that you thought was directing me away from the truth as it is in Jesus you'd care enough to do the same.

    Quite simply, according to 1 Cor 12:13, we're baptised by the Spirit into the one body of Christ. No baptism in the Spirit, no membership in the body. Therefore, no salvation. For the NT, baptism in the Spirit is the great unifying factor between Christians, and this teaching makes it instead a dividing line.

    This is not to deny your essential point that there is always more to experience, and that we should seek that experience. (What exactly the experience is, well, we might debate that). But bottom line: no union with Christ without baptism in the Spirit. And I think that means there is a need to rethink how you're using the language here.

    Come back at me - I'm interested to see how you've arrived at the position you have...

  2. fair enough at one level - I'd say and hope that your last paragraph is true of me and my house too...
    but you see, i'm not 100% sure how distinct baptism of spirit is from conversion... so i'm pretty sure I've experienced it! but i don't necessarily think we can be too categorical about what people experience...

  3. Mark - I'm not sure it should be particularly "distinct" from getting converted, in the sense that baptism in water didn't ought to be that distinct either... an ideal world seems to be either someone gets noticably baptised in the Spirit as they're converted - while the gospel is preached (as in Acts 10-11), or very soon after by someone praying for them.... and then an ongoing filling with the Spirit... which I'm not sure is a particularly controversial thought.

    Dan, I'd have put money on you being the first to comment! :) Always appreciate your interaction, though I can't imagine we'll ever agree on this one. I guess I'm trying to argue the term is used more variably than is often said, and that it's not a threat to the gospel (as it is sometimes made to seem). I guess I'm struggling to escape the notion of an observable experience that we find in Acts particularly, which is described variously as receiving/being fallen on/baptised in the Spirit - which seems close to salvation but not exactly the same as...

  4. Daniel,

    What if 1 Corinthians 12:13 is a similar passage to Romans 6? Paul speaks equally unequivocably about how we were baptised into the death of Christ, but it is clearly dependent upon actually entering into baptism, which is something that was a definite objective and subjective experience.

    Similarly, I would argue from Acts that baptism in the Spirit was always a definite experience, both objective and subjective. Paul expected people to be able to say whether it had happened in their life, and Philip knew that it hadn't happened in Samaria.

    If this is so, then 1 Corinthians 12:13 is Paul writing to a group that he had evangelised and discipled, and could have been certain that they had received this baptism, and so able to write "we were all baptised in one Spirit". We cannot be so certain these days as we have centuries of people not experiencing the baptism as Acts seems to depict it.

    Just my tuppence :)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I'm with Dan on this one, to some extent. Dave, your theology is not radically different to mine, but you use a different language, and here it's possibly dangerously misleading. When I was at uni, I went to a church that was emerging out of a 'conservative' position to a more middle-of-the-road one on this issue, and now I go to a church that's in the New Wine/Alpha strand of Anglicanism. I spent a lot of time misunderstanding people as they spoke a completely different set of Christian jargon, phrased stuff in ways I wouldn't and so on. It caused a lot of friction as they kept rubbing me up the wrong way with the way stuff was said (there are still things, even though I understand them now a lot better, but I'm a lot happier now the language barrier is gone).

    A lot of this charismatic/conservative divide is due to shibboleths, and to a great extent this is just a shibboleth. However, this does go a bit further than a different word for the same thing - it's the wrong word, a misleading word.

    PS. A quick skim/search of Acts in the ESV says that the experience you describe is never described with baptism words - filling, coming on, falling on, stuff like that, but not baptism words.

  7. Peter uses baptism in Acts 11 to describe Acts 10, in the ESV.

    I agree language is often the issue - but talking about it tends to help with that!

  8. Jon, 1 Cor 12 could work like that - but just bear in mind that baptism in the Spirit here is also baptism into the body. So, no Spirit baptism, no unity with Christ. This is a problem.

    Dave, I guess fundamentally I don't think Acts ought to be read that way, and that's one of the main reasons why - despite being a 'continuationist' on gifts - I feel more and more certain I'm not a 'charismatic'. Still, I don't deny that baptism in the Spirit is an experience; I just think it's the experience of coming to faith! The tongues etc in Acts I see as epiphenomena of conversion; they don't seem to me to be presented as normative.

    One practical danger here (and practical implications are important) is that - on your understanding - you can say 'you should be baptised in the Spirit close to your conversion', but you can't make it happen. Expectation will tend to manufacture experience, however - as an example, I look back at my 'testimony' and see it as largely a product of what I had been told conversion was like, although the experience was very real to me at the time. So if you're wrong - and I think you are - there is the danger of manufacturing false experiences.

    Maybe we won't ever agree on this, but I'm reluctant to throw in the towel - we have Scripture, after all, and the Holy Spirit - or at least you have the Holy Spirit ;o) So we should be able to make progress...

  9. I don't want to manufacture an experience, but equally if we set our expectations lower than what we find in the Bible we'll prove our case too because rarely will people seek what they don't think can happen...

    Experience must be tested, and ultimately I don't want to chase experience - but I do want to know the Lord better. And it seems, in Acts at least, that the Holy Spirit has an observable ministry with varying impact upon people - and that to expect to see something of the same isn't unrealistic, or I hope dangerous.

    If our question is really, can the events in Acts be in anyway normative for today then we may be on more fruitful ground for discussion - it's a wider question but one that cashes out one way or another in what a normal Christian experience today should look like. I see people taking various approaches to Acts, I see the Pillar Commentary bending over backwards to make exceptions of all sorts of things, I see the Richard Cunningham happily advocating that Paul's approach in Athens is normal, and appropriating various other portions of Acts as normal too.

  10. Jon, I think you're begging the question of the definition of "Spirit baptism." Is it more or less the way you're interpreting it, or could there be other aspects? (i.e., the Spirit may baptize us into the body of Christ; he may also baptize us with power.)

    Dave, et al., One passage I haven't seen in the discussion (unless I passed over it) is Acts 19:1-7. Paul found some Ephesian "disciples" who knew only "John's baptism." After hearing Paul expand on the meaning of discipleship (though they were already "disciples"), "they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus." Subsequently the Spirit "came on them," etc.

    So as "disciples" they could have been "baptized by one Spirit into one body" (1 Cor 12:13) before receiving additional teaching and then the Spirit-baptism manifested in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:6)

    This is basically what happened to me about 30 years ago in the charismatic renewal. There were spiritual realities I had already experienced (e.g., baptized into one body) followed by additional teaching and the experience of being baptized with the Spirit. Most of my experience follows the narrative in Acts, though in my case there was no instant manifestation of speaking in tongues or prophesying.

    Is that making an historical account normative? Yes and no. I should also mention that I was water-baptized after I had been baptized with the Spirit, about three years after, in fact. All the elements eventually fell in place, but not by following some template from Acts.

  11. Dave, you're quite right that the question of how we ought to read Acts is a very important one. Just to clarify, it isn't a case of 'Acts is normative today' versus 'Acts (or parts thereof) are irrelevant'. I've heard some people from broadly your neck of the theological woods who have put it in broadly those terms, and I think it's misleading. The actual question is much more complex, and takes us right back to 'what does Luke think he's writing here?' and therefore 'what is his intention in writing it?' I think the answers to those questions ought to put us in a place where the relationship between the church now and the church then is one of descent, not direct identity. Of course, that makes the question of how much of the 'Acts experience' we should expect today a much more complex one.

    I think there is also a less 'biblicist' question that needs to be answered - the systematic theology question, if you like. In this connection, the central question is about the relationship between the Word (and therefore the word) and the Spirit. I worry that your view separates Christ from his Spirit in our experience, and that can't help but have knock on effects in our theology. I'm not saying you yourself - or newfrontiers as a movement - suffer from all the errors which I think logically proceed from that separation. But I think there is a danger there.

    At some point I need to write a post along the lines of 'why I am not a charismatic'. When I do I'd love to get your comments!

  12. And Dave T, I guess I'd argue that the disciples who only knew the baptism of John weren't Christians yet. Incidentally, I'd say the same for Jesus' disciples before Pentecost...

  13. I agree - getting to Luke's intention, what story he's telling is key, and then subsequently we can begin to discern what might happen now that happened then. Complex but possible to discern, and even from a surface look, for whatever emphases Luke is making, Acts does give us an account of events in the early church, so we have to ask: either was that just then and not now, in which case why? Or, as Luke tells the story of the progress of the gospel, is what we see happening what we might expect to happen today?

    I think I'm taking a very connected view of Christ and the Spirit though I'm prepared to admit I might be living in some sort of inconsistency which I'd be keen to discover...

    To the DT comment, I appreciate thats why this looks like a major concern since in your terms I guess the "charismatic" is arguing not that something is missing but that the non-charismatic is not even a Christian. I want to, and think we can, frame that differently and say this is a key part of growth in Christ, thoroughly connected to Christ and the gospel, which we should all seek. Important to see what we are saying and what we're not saying...

  14. Well you know how to kick hornets' nests, don't you Dave? One of my concerns here was prompted for me by Jonathan Edwards who noted that it was frequent in his day for people to say that the Holy Spirit only works secretly, silently and undiscernibly so that, in practice, there is no discerning by sense between the operation of the Spirit and that of our own minds. ie there is no subjective experience that accompanies objective being baptised by the Spirit into Christ.

    A view he strongly rejected in these words: "if grace be indeed owing to the powerful and efficacious operation of an extrinsic agent, or divine efficient outside of ourselves, why is it unreasonable to suppose it should seem to be so, to them who are subjects of it?" (On Religious Affections Section 4) Indeed!

    I do sense that in this discussion and others like it there are several linked issues that it is easy to confuse: being precise about biblical language and how it is used, biblical experience and what we should or should not anticipate today (regardless of what you call it), whether certain experiences are (a) Christian (b) to be desired (c) should be normative. I certainly know some who, in confusing the first two, are suspicious of seeking more of the work of the Holy Spirit because they feel they need to be precise about the categories and language used first. And are so concerned about the language used by others they disagree with that they never get around to seeking.

    In this case the argument from lack of experience is often given an apparently biblical gloss - I need to see it in the Bible first or I won't pursue it (or will deny it). But that then begs the question about whether we really want to see things in the Bible that our outside our cultural spectacles. To change the example, a paedobaptist friend recently said to me "the New Testament hardly mentions baptism, so let's not debate it in case we fall out." Pure sophistry! I asked if he had counted the number of times the New Testament mentions it and it was very obvious that there were no theological underpinnings at all. Merely the trotted out formula of an interpretive community that knows what it thinks and isn't up for being questioned. But it advanced an apparently biblical justification for not being questioned.

    I think I often discern the same in discussions about the Spirit. "I don't get from the scriptures exactly how He works" is no justification for not seeking.

  15. Dave - I missed that Acts 11 one. However reading Acts 10, I can't see anything that shows that it is different to what Dan or I consider to be baptism with the Spirit (regeneration), with specifically pentecostal outward signs to show clearly to Peter and the others that these, the first gentiles (a special case, even if Acts is completely normative), were saved just like them.

    Given that not all speak in tongues and not all prophecy, when baptism of the spirit occurs it doesn't have to be these more obviously seen gifts that give outward testimony, but, of course, it can be.

    Marcus, I can't see how the latter half of your comment is continuing on the discussion we're having in this thread - it reads much more like a bit of poisoning the well against those you disagree with.

    P.S. Acts being normative sounds a bit like Samuel being normative (with pre-incarnation, etc provisos) to me. Both are histories. Now there's a lot of interpretation by experience by both sides on here - what is needed, as has been said, we need to be looking at how Luke puts emphasis and so on to try and get what he is trying to convey - sometimes it might just be "this is what happened then" and at other times it might be "this is what happens when x occurs"

  16. As a good former Relay worker, I should say I've always found Grudem helpful on this. His view, as I recall it: let's call it filling with the Spirit. Let's say that often it *does* accompany conversion, but not always, that sometimes it *does* come with speaking in tongues, but not always, and that it in no way separates two classes of Christians who "have the Spirit" and "don't". As we mature as Christians we experience more of the Spirit's work, and that sometimes this comes in quite a dramatic way, but not always, and that some people call this baptism in the Spirit, but that the more common biblical term would be something like "filling" with the Spirit. I think that's probably more "charismatic" than some conservative speakers I've heard on this, but I'm happy with it and definitely want to be "keep on being filled" with the Spirit more and more, and in a way that is experienced too.

    What I want to ask is, for those who talk about baptism in the Spirit as an event potentially separate from conversion, but seem to describe it in a similar way to the above, is the main distinction that it's a one-off event? What else is gained by using the language of baptism rather than of filling? Because I would share Daniel's concerns about the use of language here.

    That said, I very much agree with Marcus that there are those who get so caught up in what the right language to use is that they throw the baby out with the bathwater and don't look for the Spirit's work in their life, or underplay what can be expected. (In fact, I had a discussion with Marcus once in which he encouraged me to think I might be doing something similar on a similar issue of language... and I was.)

  17. Chris Wooldridge posted on Facebook (couldn't comment here for some reason...)

    I think that the words of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones would have contributed well to this discussion (though I wasn't able to post a comment for some reason):

    "Now, here it seems to me is something that is there, plain and clear, on the very surface of this whole subject and yet people get confused over it, and quote 1 Corinthians 12:13 - 'For by one Spirit we are all baptized'. Of course we are. Our being baptized into the body of Christ is the work of the Spirit, as regeneration is his work, but this is something entirely different; this is Christ baptizing us with the Holy Spirit. And I am suggesting that this is something which is therefore obviously distinct from and separate from becoming a Christian, being regenerate, having the Holy Spirit dwelling within you. I am putting it like this - you can be a child of God and yet not be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

    Taken from 'Joy Unspeakable: Power and Renewal in the Holy Spirit'.

  18. Si, I wasn't trying to poison the well, but am not immune from doing so unintentionally. The point of my second half was to question the methodological basis of the discussion.

    I believe that there are several distinct starting points among evangelicals that are not carefully articulated but frequently control the routes through the conversation we consider to be valid or invalid. ie, our presuppositions (and the underlying theology) control our approach to both the text, and to experience.

    I thought I was appealing for careful honesty about presuppositions so that when we find ourselves disagreeing about the text or about experience we are actually disagreeing about those things rather than only admitting to the table things that our prior commitments allow us to.

    Not sure I am making myself any clearer, so better stop!


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