Holy Spirit Baptism

One of the constant demands made upon Jesus Christ during his ministry here on earth was that he give men a “sign.” – Apparently, the religious leaders of that time had decided that when the true Messiah would come, He would give them some phenomenal signs to prove His claim to the Messiahship. When He failed to satisfy their curiosity they forthrightly rejected Him! Among His own band of disciples was another man who had a problem of believing without a.sign—a sign which he himself prescribed: “Unless I see . . . I will not believe.” We have known him for centuries as “doubting Thomas.”

Today, however, that clamoring after a “sign” has returned—returned under the name of Pentecostalism and Neo-Pentecostalism. For those unfamiliar with these two terms, Pentecostalism refers mainly to a religious movement which began at the turn of the present twentieth century which teaches that the ideal for all Christian believers is a repetition today of the many complex Pentecost experiences present in the early New Testament Church. Neo (meaning new) Pentecostalism is actually a term coined some years ago by Russell T. Hitt to indicate the spread of this religious movement to the established churches, including Roman Catholic and Christian Reformed.

At the very heart of NeoPentecostalism is the teaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And the most important text is I Corinthians 12:13. In general, advocates of this movement understand this verse to teach that distinct from and almost always subsequent to a person’s conversion, a person must be baptized by the Holy Spirit, as a “second blessing,” which baptism fills the person‘s life completely in a manner never known before and which empowers him or her for witness and service. The “first blessing” would be understood as the reception of the Holy Spirit at the time of one’s regeneration and conversion, etc. Hence, all Christians are urged to seek such a Spirit-Baptism! While it is acknowledged that this Spirit-baptism is not necessary for our salvation, it is taught that Christians without this experience are missing a very important link in their relationship with Christ.

It is our purpose, however, to test these teachings exclusively by the Word of God. At the outset, we wish to make clear that we recognize our Neo-Pentecostal friends as our fellow-believers but must add at once that it is our conviction, on the basis of Scripture and the Creeds, that they misunderstand, misappropriate, misuse, and misapply the Scriptures. What does the ward of God have to teach about baptism in the Holy Spirit?

Not in Scripture – Immediately it must be observed that the term or expression “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” which is so much used is not in the Word of God. I repeat, it does not occur in the New Testament. When, for example, we turn to the Gospels the only possible reference might be in Matthew 3:1, where John the Baptist prophesies, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” After that one reference it is never mentioned again in the Gospels—and in that one instance the reference indisputably is to the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Proceeding to the Book of Acts we find that the doctrine as such is never discussed. In Acts 1:5 the record reads that the Lord Jesus immediately prior to His ascension repeated the prophecy of John the Baptist and added the qualification “not many days from now.” Clearly a prophecy of Pentecost and nothing else! An outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was unique, unrepeatable and once for all! The only other reference in the book of Acts is found in Acts 11:16 where Peter in recounting the descent of the Holy Spirit at the home of Cornelius repeats the prophecy of John and this descent of the Holy Spirit was not at all like the kind of “Spiritbaptism” our Neo-Pentecostal friends talk about for it occurred Simultaneously with his regeneration and conversion and not as a later and second blessing.

So we tum quickly to the New Testament Epistles! There are still a multitude of unanswered questions that crowd our minds but we are literally amazed to find that the Epistles of Paul, John, and Peter, contain only one reference and that in the text, I Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” That fact alone, namely, its extreme scarcity, ought to immediately put us on our guard. In this twelfth chapter of First Corinthians Paul specifically supplies the reason: “The body is one . . . because in one spirit were we all baptized into one body.” In this Spirit-baptism the child of God is made an organic part of the body of Christ whose purpose is to join us to Christ as Christ is joined to the Father. We are baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ but never is it said that we are baptized into the Holy Spirit!

We are left, therefore, with but one conclusion that the Neo-Pentecostal teaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second blessing is not in agreement with Scripture. Its teaching is at complete variance with that found in the Gospels, in the Book of Acts and in I Corinthians.

Four problems – From Scriptural practice we tum to four very obvious problems that we face in connection with this Neo-Pentecostal teaching:

1. First, consider the complete absence of any New Testament command to seek this “secondblessing” of the Holy Spirit. “We are never told, commanded, or urged to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” (William Criswell, The Holy Spirit in Today’s World, p. 113). The idea is alien to the Bible. Nowhere do we find the apostles of our Lord instructing believers to seek such a baptism.

We need not seek it, pray for it, try to achieve it or receive it because we already have the Holy Spirit. If we are in the Lord Jesus Christ we have the Holy Spirit. Since Pentecost, the message of the Gospel is believe and receive. All who believe receive the Holy Spirit.

2. Second, all receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not just some. Isnt that precisely what Paul says in the text? Notice: “In one spirit were we all baptized into one body.” All, not just some of us! In these very plain words Paul teaches that everyone who has been baptized into Christ has been Spirit-baptized. And mind you he is writing this to a troubled, disordered, and carnal church. They were divided there about preachers, doctrine, practices, and discipline; yet the apostle states that they had all been baptized by the Holy Spirit in the moment of their rebirth or regeneration. 3. Third, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a once-forall operation. John 14: 16 promises: “And I will pray the Father and he shall give you another Comforter that he may abide with you forever.” Never-never is it remotely suggested that there will be for some or many of us as individuals a second Pentecost. The blessed Spirit of Jesus is here with us now! If this could be repeated, it would mean that a person could be placed in the body of Christ, then removed from it, and then reinstated by a second baptism. The Greek verb Paul uses in I Corinthians 12:13 is in the aorist tense, the Greek way of expressing a once-for-all experience. 4. Fourth, the baptism of the Spirit is His sovereign decision, not ours. Don‘t ever make the mistake of separating this text from the context, most particularly from that which immediately precedes. In the previous twelfth verse we are expressly taught that the Holy Spirit distributes His gifts “to each one indiVidually as He wills.” (Italics mine.) As He wills, not as we will in other words, it is His Sovereign right to withhold or bestow them. It is not for us to choose some gift, say the second blessing of the Spirit as it is called, or the gift of tongues or of prophecy, etc., and look to the Holy Spirit through prayers, tears, through sighing or waiting, to impart the self-chosen gift to us. No, emphatically no! No, as Reformed believers we believe that the Word of God teaches that the Holy Spirit is sovereign in the whole matter.

Scriptural preferences – There are, however, finally, Scriptural preferences. To quote Dr. Criswell in his powerful book on the Holy Spirit once more, “While there is no command, ever, to be baptized by the Holy Spirit, there is a distinct injunction for every believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (The Holy Spirit in Today’s World, p. 122). Times without number the expression occurs in Scripture, “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” And the injunction is plainly stated in Ephesians 5:18 that we all must be tilled with the Holy Spirit. So, while there is but one baptism at the time of our regeneration and conversion there are many fillings. And this is the prerogative of not just a few believers but of all!

The “filling” is power itself, it is victory, conquest, march, everything that the Christian needs to do valiant service for the Master. For an illustration compare Peter the Coward with Peter the Bold in the book of Acts. The obvious change from Peter the “chicken” in Matthew 26 to Peter the “lion” on the day of Pentecost. Peter was certainly a converted man before his denial, but with the filling of the Spirit he was transformed into a man with unusual power in witnessing and in missionary conquest. To be filled, therefore, with the Holy Spirit as the Scripture’s command means is that we are to be so controlled and motivated with the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit that our whole being is one perpetual psalm of praise and service to God. And this command is addressed not only to the pastor, the elder and deacon, and the Sunday School teacher, but to every Christian and to every church member—all Christians everywhere and through all times and generations.

In that we join with every Pentecostal and NeoPentecostal this world knows today in praying fervently and daily, “O God, do it again! Again and yet again!” Fill us with the “Power and the Presence” of the Holy Spirit.

Some years ago when the saintly Bishop Moule returned from the Holy Land and Rome where he had been on vacation he told of a sight that he had witnessed in Rome that had made a great impression on him. He had stopped to watch a group of workmen who were removing some of the debris of some old ruins and noted the difficulty they were having to move a huge rock that lay in their way. It was covered with t11e dirt and trash of the centuries but finally the men managed to pry it loose from its setting and roll it over. Immediately a beautiful spring of water gushed forth and began bubbling its way down the hill. For ages it had been there dormant, buried away beneath the dirt and rubble that had kept it from expressing itself. And now when the way was cleared it was ready to give itself for the blessing of humanity.

How true a picture that is of many professing Christians. We are so cluttered with trivial things that we have considered important that, it seems the Holy Spirit finds it almost impossible to express God‘s love and mercy through us. The possibility and potential of the Holy Spirit’s power and grace is there all the time but He is given no outlet. If we could but clear away with God‘s help the useless and harmful trash, His beauty and love would gush forth to bless us and all with whom we come in contact.

Garrett H. Stoutmeyer is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.