The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: What Does it Mean? (III)

IV. Resolution

So there are the two positions -the Pentecostal and the classical Protestant. Both agree that the Holy Spirit is the One who gives believers power and transforms them into the image of Christ. Both agree that today many believers do quench the Spirit. The question is, “How may His power be appropriated?” Pentecostals answer, “Be baptized with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues; after the initial experience, exercise the gifts of the Spirit that you have been given,” Protestants answer, “You have been baptized with the Holy Spirit into Christ. Now be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit.” Or, seeing that the filling of the Holy Spirit is the work of God, not something we achieve by working ourselves into the proper mood, one might advise, “Look on what God has done and trust in Him to empower you in your work.” Each side, as we have seen, has reasons for holding the view that it does.

Is the dispute only over whether to use the word “baptized” or “filled” in describing the same experience? Then it would not be very important. But I think that the difference in terminology indicates, in this case, a difference in attitude toward the experience. The theology of sanctification is inevitably affected by one’s decision on the issue of “baptism” vs. “filling.” Is belief in Christ sufficient for our sanctification, or is there something more to be done? Does one need a second, post-conversion experience to be a first-rate Christian? And arc there two classes of Christians, one inferior to the other? The Pentecostal view cannot easily avoid making a church within the church by separating Christians into superior and inferior classes.

A. The unity of the church

Now I will explain my decision. I think that the classical Protestant view is right. It is necessary, for one thing, to preserve the unity of the church. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all …” (Eph. 4:4–6). In particular there is one baptism. One might object that Paul’s statement is addressed only to those believers who are baptized with the Holy Spirit. But such argumentation ignores the fact that the unity of one Spirit and one baptism is on the same level as unity in the “one hope to which we are called.” And surely all believers have the same hope of salvation in Christ.

B. Sanctification

Secondly, it seems to me that the Protestant view, rather than the Pentecostal, agrees with the Scriptural view on sanctification. It is Jesus Christ who sanctifies by his death and resurrection, who is, in fact, our sanctification (I Cor. 1:30). Our sanctification is accomplished by seeing that Christ has accomplished it! Having died with Christ (Rom. 6:4), we now find our resources in Christ. “For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Col. 2:9–10). “You have come to fulness,” involving a perfect participle, implies that the action is a past complete action whose effect extends to the present. The argument is that you need no additional esoteric teaching from the gnostics (or from whatever false teachers there are), because everything necessary for salvation, for sanctification, and for fulness of knowledge you have already obtained, in principle, when you received Christ, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

It is not a large step, it seems to me, to apply this teaching of the Epistle to the Colossians to the Pentecostals. To those who today offer us a second experience, an initiation to the inner ring of Christianity, as the gnosties claimed to initiate to an inner ring, we reply that in receiving Christ we have already received everything; in particular, we have received the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal might reply, “Very true. But it is necessary to appropriate Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit as it is necessary to appropriate the other promises of the Christian life. The reason for lack of life among Christians is lack of appropriation of what truly belongs to them in Christ.”

Of course everyone must agree that this is the problem with today’s Christians. Where, then, is the disagreement? It is a question of what one means by “appropriation.” Do we do something, or do we see, acknowledge, and rely on what God has already done in Christ? The Pentecostal, with his emphasis on prayer, or receptivity, or speaking in tongues, or yieldedness, can hardly avoid saying that one must do something. The next step is to say, or at least imply, that something has objectively, positionally changed about the believer when he “appropriates” the gift of the Holy Spirit. One progresses from one level to a higher level. The picture of Colossians is not a two-level Christianity, where one goes from one level to another by some spiritual experience. As a matter of fact, one of the purposes of the letter is to combat this very idea.

There remains an objection from the Pentecostal side: “Paul did not distinguish two levels, because it was understood, in those days, that when people became believers, they would have hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit. Only later does two-level Christianity arise.” However, let it be said that if Pentecostals use that argument, there is nothing that Paul could say that would dissuade them from their own position. He could say bluntly that every Christian has the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), and that is no argument, because it was in fact true at the time he wrote it, though possibly not true now. They have made it impossible for Scripture to contradict their doctrine, by saying that every contrary Scriptural teaching on the Holy Spirit applies only to New Testament times.

However, one cannot do this, especially with doctrinal passages. Let me illustrate this from Galatians. Paul says, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26). It is not, “You all have faith, and, as a matter of fact, you are all sons of God,” but “you are sons of God by means of, in virtue of your faith.” If every believer happens to be a son of God in Paul’s time, and yet need not necessarily be so, then Paul’s statement “through faith” is wrong. Again, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6). Paul says “because.” It is not that the two things, being sons and having the Spirit sent to you, happen to go together for the Galatians, but they are causally related. It must therefore be true today, no less than then, that if I am a son, God has sent the Spirit into my heart. To sum up: when we are dealing with a doctrinal passage, when Paul reasons, since you are this, you are that, the same reasoning must hold today. Paul is not merely observing states of affairs, but deducing them. The doctrinal passages are therefore applicable to Christians today.

Let us see where this leads us in the Galatians passage. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are sons of God (Gal. 3:26, John 1:12). They are heirs (Gal. 4:7). Heirs to what? The inheritance they receive, according to Gal. 3:18, is the inheritance given to Abraham by a promise. What was the promise? The promise of blessing to Abraham, including, in the New Testament Age, the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:14). Thus the Spirit is given to those who believe in Christ. “He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you” does so because of your faith (Gal. 3:5). God must give the Spirit because He has promised to do so in Abraham. In other words, it is the miracle-working power of the Spirit, among many other blessings, which is available to sons of God. They have it because they are sons. The “because” is wrong if it does not apply to us today. We today have the same Spirit, in power, because we are sons.

Thus Galatians 3 proves that the Spirit is given in power through faith in Jesus Christ alone, through what is called “saving faith.” This can be seen in another way. There is only one kind of faith spoken of in Galatians 3, faith in Jesus Christ and his work. This is the faith which contrasts with works of the law (Gal. 3:2), faith in virtue of which God works miracles and gives the Spirit (Gal. 3:5), faith that gave Abraham righteousness before God (Gal. 3:6–7), faith by which we receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal. 3:14), faith by which we are justified (Gal. 3:24), faith by which we are sons of God (Gal. 3:26). By this faith we are baptized into Christ (Gal. 3;27) and are one with Christ (Gal. 3:28–29). In Galatians 3 Paul so intertwines the passages on justification and the passages on the giving of the Spirit and unity with Christ, that it must be apparent that it is the same faith that does all. The conclusion is, if we have faith in Christ, we have all the resources of Christ, and we have the power of the Holy Spirit. No second experience is necessary, then or today. Galatians 3 really leaves no other choice for a man who does not deliberately impose his own theology on it.

On this question of sanctification the Pentecostal-classical Protestant dispute is very like the older dispute between Wesleyan and Reformed theologians. Is there a second experience of sanctification which we ought to pass through? I have argued above that such a requirement cannot be found in SCripture. and that Cal. 3 and Col. 2 especially argue against it. Cary N. Weisiger, III (“The Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification.” Christianity Today, Xl No. 23 (Sept. 1, 1967) and C. C. Berkouwer (Faith and Sanctification) treat the question more thoroughly. Weisiger observes, “…the fault lies mainly in description, and description is powerfully influenced by temperament, habit, and type of experience.” In particular. many have truly had a transforming experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit suddenly, at a point of crisis; it has been a turning point of their lives. Others have grown gradually and peacefully into a fuller spiritual life. 11lC fault arises only if we assume that others’ experiences must be like ours, and make it a requirement for spiritual maturity that they pass through our experience.

Let us, then. rejoice with our brothers in whom God has worked a sudden transformation by filling with the Spirit, acknowledging that it is a real work of God; let us rejoice no less with those on whom God has moved quite peacefully, acknowledging that this is no less the work of God; let us pray that we all may be continually filled with the Spirit, by whatever ways God works in each.

C. New Testament use of “baptism” and “tongue”

There are some other points where, it seems to me. the Pentecostal position is weak. First, there is the issue of baptism. The Pentecostal usually takes the position that there are two baptisms, one where the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ at conversion (1 Cor. 12:13) and another where Jesus baptizes with, or in, the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, Mark 1:8). However. the Creek phrases in these passages are very similar. pointing, I think, rather to only one baptism, where Jesus Christ baptizes us with the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. The phrase is always “baptize with (en) the Holy Spirit,” even in 1 Cor. 12:13. The only distinction found is between baptism with emphasis on the physical act (“baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus”) and baptism with emphasis on the spiritual process which water-baptism symbolizes (“baptism with the Holy Spirit”).

Secondly, there is the issue of speaking in tongues. The Pentecostal position is that speaking in tongues. if not the invariable sign of baptism with the Holy Spirit. is at least the usual sign. But T Cor. 12:30 says clearly. “Do all speak with tongues?” the implied answer being “No” (Greek has me before the question, the sign that the answer is “no”). Tongues is one of many gifts of the Spirit, and is nowhere singled out for particular emphasis (though the subject of tongues and prophecy is dealt with extensively in 1 Cor. 14 because of the particular problems of the Corinthian church). Hence we may expect today, as then, that many people will have other gifts without the gift of tongues.

The Pentecostal reply is, “We must distinguish between the sign of tongues (e.g., Pentecost) given to all, and the gift of tongues (I Cor. 12:30) given to some.” This distinction was explained earlier. However, such a distinction is a pure imposition on Scripture; the Bible itself gives no support for it. The Greek phrase is “speak with a tongue (laloun glosse),” when referring to a single occasion, and “speak with tongues (laloun glossais),” when referring to the gift. or to a number of occasions, or to a number of speakers. The gift is also called “kinds of tongues (gene glosson),” or simply “tongues (glossai).” This holds true in both Acts and I Corinthians.

D. Conclusion

The main argument against the Pentecostal position is the teaching of books like Galatians and Colossians on how we receive the Holy Spirit. But the Pentecostal position is also weak in requiring distinctions between two kinds of baptism and between two kinds of tongue-speaking, distinctions that are not supported by any difference in phraseology of the Bible. Bather some have invented the distinctions to save a position which they had already arrived at without a thorough examination of Scripture.

However, we can sympathize with Pentecostals in some things. First, from their viewpoint Pentecostal doctrine offers a simple, plausible explanation of the deadness of many of today’s churches, and a simple remedy for it—the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If untrue, it is still a very attractive. satisfying answer to have. Finally, one can only commend Pentecostals’ concern for recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit, for getting belief in miracles back into the church, and for heart-level Christianity generally.


Berkouwer, G. C. Faith and Sanctification. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Willliam B. Eerdmans; Publishing Company, 1952.—Pr

Brumback, Carl. What Meaneth This? A Pentecostal Answer to a Pentecostal Question. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1947. –Pe

Farrell, Frank. “Outburst of Tongues: the New Penetration,” Christianity Today, VII (Sept. 13, 1963), pp. 3–7. –Pr

Hoekema, Anthony A. What About Tongue-Speaking? Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966. –Pr

Horton, Harold. The Gifts of the Spirit. London: Assemblies of God Publishing House, 1962. –Pe

McCrossan, T. J. Speaking With Other Tongues: Sign or Gift Which? Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Publications, Inc., n.d.

Murray, J. S. “What We Can Learn from Pentecostal Churches,” Christianity Today, XI (June 9, 1967), p . 10. –Pr

Riggs, Ralph M. The Spirit Himself. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1949. –Pe

Sherill, John L. They Speak With Other Tongues. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964. –Pe

Stiles, J. E. The Gift of the Holy Spirit. Burbank, California: Mrs. J. E. Stiles, n.d. –Pe

Stott, John R. W. The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit. Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964. –Pr

Weisiger, Cary N., III. “The Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification,” Christianity Today, XI (Sept. 1, 1967), insert. –Pr …In the Last Days…, An Early History of the Assemblies of God. Springfield, Mo.; Assemblies of God International Headquarters, 1962. –Pe

Pe = Pentecostal, Pr = classical Protestant.

Mr. Vern S. Poythress is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University. A member of the Baptist Church, he was converted to the Reformed faith through reading Calvin’s INSTITUTES. In this series of articles, he presents the baptism of the Holy Spirit first from the pentecostal position., then from the Reformed position, and finally he gives cogent reasons from Scripture why the Reformed position is to be preferred.