Rethinking the Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Part I

Let me say a few words of introduction for this series.

First, my early Christian life was in the Pentecostal church. I was taught the classic Pentecostal doctrine on the baptism of the Spirit and handed the typical proof texts from Acts to prove that speaking in tongues was the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit and it is a second-work of grace or subsequent to salvation (or words to that effect).

Admittedly, the Pentecostal line of argument is quite convincing and I purchased it. But that was before I learned to read the New Testament chronologically. And without a chronological understanding of the New Testament, well, you can prove almost anything by proof texting.

Many years ago I became unconvinced of the Pentecostal viewpoint, while still holding to the belief — as well as experiencing it — that the Holy Spirit hasn’t gone to sleep and all the gifts of the Spirit are still in operation today.

Two things caused me to begin doubting the Pentecostal version:

1. I witnessed firsthand many people who were strongly coached to speak in tongues. So much so that it was close to forcing them to do so. This was very different from how I envisioned it in Acts. I never saw any evidence that the apostles coached or forced people to speak in tongues. Rather, speaking in tongues always happened spontaneously in Acts without human intervention or facilitation, beyond the laying on of hands.

2. Some of the most powerful people in the Spirit that I’ve ever met or known never spoke in tongues. These people clearly had the power of God and were very effective in evangelism as well as possessing deep spiritual insight.

Second, many scholars have pointed out that the phrases “baptism in the Spirit,” “baptism with the Spirit,” and “baptism of the Spirit” are all synonyms in the New Testament. You can’t convincingly slice these up into different baptisms by using the Greek and that’s why different translations use of/with/in for the same texts.

Third, many Christians have bitterly divided over their understanding of the baptism of the Spirit. In some movements, the so-called “baptism of the Spirit” has become a gimmick, a product to sell, and an elite experience that has separated God’s people into the “have’s” and the “have-not’s.”

In other quarters, certain teachings on Spirit baptism have created counterfeit spiritual experiences, exaggerations, and many excesses which have hurt the body of Christ. (You can learn more about this by reading on the accounts of the Welsh Revival and the Azusa Street Revival. See Frank Bartleman’s book, Another Wave Rolls In for the story of Azusa.)

In this series, I’ll share some of the conclusions I’ve reached from my study of the New Testament, my observations, and my personal experience.

I’m monumentally disinterested in a mindy debate over this subject. I realize that some people will disagree and that’s fine with me. I don’t get paid for convincing anyone. I’ve just been asked this questions dozens of times from readers and now I’m finally getting around to answering them.

If you happen to challenge what I write (which is fine), be prepared to get some push-back from me, especially if you’ve not done your homework. And realize that this is a series. So all of it will unfold in due course. Resist the temptation, therefore, to jump the gun too early.

At the same time, I could be completely wrong in my views. I claim no immaculate perception . . . and neither should you.

Part II tomorrow . . .

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Comments

  1. Kaleb Riley says

    Frank,

    Love your books. Jesus Manifesto and Jesus a Theography have blessed me.

    Quick question, wondering if you will touch on the controversy behind “earnestly desiring (pursuing) the gifts,” (1 Cor. 14) and how that can be used as an argument for the “coaching aspect” you mentioned.

    Have had a number of theological debates over that specific verse and would love for you to touch on this for those who are of the “coaching type.” ;)

    • says

      Hi Kaleb: Thanks. I’ve never heard this argument before, but it appears to be a royal stretch to me. I don’t see how anything in 1 Cor. 14 can be used as a pretext for telling people how to speak in tongues.

  2. True says

    I just read Part I of this series, and I look forward to reading all the other “parts”. I left the Missionary Baptist church to join with the Word of Faith-Charismatic-God Wants You Rich mega church. I swallowed the baptism in/of/with the Holy Spirit doctrine, hook line and sinker. As a matter of fact, I was the coveted prayer leader in the particular mega church my family and I attended. What I now realize is that I was in search of a deeper understanding of and a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. Didn’t care much though for the other false doctrines, namely all the false teachings on how to get rich by giving away all my money. I haven’t attended a big-box church in 2 years, and I am still searching for a real church gathering. I am trying hard not to die out here in the wilderness, but lately, I find it increasingly difficult to pray in tongues because it conjures up comical images of the “fall down club”. Charismatics and Pentecostals know what I mean. I suppose it was easier for me to pray in tongues while dwelling amongst others who did on a regular basis. Thanks Mr. Viola for writing this series.

  3. says

    I’m coming here from Modern Reject’s “Friday Findings”; my family is part of the Cottrells’ house church.

    This is helpful on two dimensions:
    1. I was coached during college to speak in tongues. It felt so off that I went home and showered. Later, when I was by myself, the Lord gave me the gift.

    2. I’ve found the gifting necessary for me to truly weed through everything and ascertain what the Lord is saying; I’ve used this to encourage others to seek the gift themselves (but I never force them, of course). I look forward to reading if you include this in your series: is tongues is the “best” way to hear from God because it allows the Spirit to pray and get through to the issue.

  4. says

    Frank,
    I am hooked! I look forward to reading your series and understanding your point of view. I grew up in predominantly Pentacostal & Charismatic congregations, so I understand the baggage and lack of true understanding that can be associated with the concept.

  5. Lisa says

    Thank you. This is fabulous. I was an AOG pastor for a number of years, and really struggled when I filled out my credential form addressing the issue of speaking in tongues, as I never really towed the party line. Great series.

  6. Harry Court says

    Greetings Frank,
    Neither people being coached repeat after me “rub bub bubb, who stola my honda” to speak in tongues (that’s parotting) and nor a person who moves in spiritual gifts with no initial evidence should influence us in our rejection or accepatance of any doctrine.

    Scripture must drive doctrinal understanding. Pentecostals are experience based people hence confusion and extremes.

    • says

      Yes, but Scripture isn’t understood in a bubble or a vacuum. Interpretation is required. Further, a person’s experience can cause a person to question a doctrine and revise their theology, and that’s healthy as far as I’m concerned. If not, one can accept ideas that aren’t rooted in concrete reality. Check out the rest of the series to see the biblical outworking.

  7. Gerald Crees says

    Thank you Frank for diving into this subject. Having believed the Pentecostal doctrine that tongues is the evidence of being filled with the Spirit, I am now questioning it and will be looking forward to your posts. My greatest concern is that I see many people who are obviously filled with the Spirit who do not speak in tongues. I have witnessed the frequent “encouragement” given to speak in tongues as if this was the all important point of faith. And I have seen the have/have not situation that results from an emphasis on the doctrine. Some were despondent that they did not speak in tongues and thought God was slighting them for some reason. Thanks for your help.

  8. Margie says

    I look forward to the series. I look forward to your insights as well as the comments by my brothers and sisters in Christ. May there be peace in the discussions.

  9. says

    After reading “Revise Us Again”, I think we have the similar views on this. I also came from a pentecostal church. Something I noticed, only on rare occasions did the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” point to Christ. The majority of the time, the focus was on humans and what they were doing.

  10. Ron says

    I am reminded of some words, from way back, of an old Presbyterian minister that went something like this: as soon as Jesus went to heaven, men began to tie His religion up.

  11. Teague McKamey says

    My background is in the “charismatic” church so I was brought up in the baptism being a second experience like you. I’ve come to see Pentecost (Acts 2) as Christ being anointed with the Holy Spirit. We share in that anointing because it flows down from Jesus, our head (Psalm 133). Our faith in this reality can be expressed in many ways, including laying on of hands. (Acts 10, for instance, shows a group of people filled with the Holy Spirit just while listening to Peter preach). It’s unfortunate we are divisive about our experience of the Holy Spirit instead of united in our faith that we are anointed with the Holy Spirit in Christ. The Holy Spirit wants us focused on Christ, not arguments about how He is received. I’m glad you’re talking about this important topic!

  12. Robyn G says

    Born & raised to be very cautious of “charasmatics” then as a teen spent some time with a pentacostal youth group and relished in the emotion of my love for Christ and had an “experience” that soon after I wasn’t sure may have been “peer encouraged.” Very intrigued by the subject and what you have to say…but resolved long ago not to agonize over this subject…God will give me what God wants to give me…gifts are bestowed freely…not merited…not worked for…and certainly not to be heralded like a trophy or used to measure ourselves. That said, I forever am grateful for that summer with my Assembly of God believers and no longer fear expressing emotion in my spiritual life….opening my mind and heart to TRUTH :)

  13. EA Bussey says

    Amazing timing! We were just discussing this during family quiet time this morning. Looking forward to your insights. It is a subject I have studied and prayed over quite often.

  14. CatherineS says

    I am so looking forward to this series. As a former Southern Baptist/Pentecostal/Mennonite :-) who left organized religion to follow Christ as a part of an organic church, the Lord has been continually challenging my husband and me — as well as our entire group — to take a hard look at pretty much everything we’ve been taught. We were “baptized in the Spirit” years ago, but we’ve been questioning what that really means, no longer taking anything for granted or feeling that we’ve got all the answers. We desire a greater revealing of Christ in our lives, and I have no doubt that ridding us of the preconceived notions we’ve had for so long is one way the Lord is doing that.

    I do have one question for you, though: What does it mean to have a “mindy debate”?

  15. says

    Thanks Bro for looking into this important aspect of being a child of God. And a gift is a gift, something not forced to be given!
    Looking forward to your posts.
    God bless
    Herman

  16. Paul Castleman says

    By the way…I am looking forward to this series Frank!! Thanks for you dedication and readiness to tackle these issues!!

  17. George says

    Frank,
    I am looking forward to this series. Given that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, is critical in many a pentecostal and charismatic experience, I would be interested in knowing how you are “rethinking” this issue. I have always suspected there is more to it than we know in the pentecostal arena. Keep up the good work bro!

  18. says

    Frank, as a professional pastor in exile, I was ‘ordained’ by a Pentecostal denomination in the States and spent over a decade in New England. Every year I had to sign my renewal papers signifying that I agreed that the baptism in the Holy Spirit has the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues. If I did not check that little box, I was out. Well, it’s been over six years since I left the professional clergy of my own accord and I cannot wait to read your series. The bottom line, really, when one reads the NT is that you simply cannot be a Chrsitian unless you are filled with the Spirit. Ready and waiting Frank. We need to hear this. :-)

  19. says

    Frank, this series is already fascinating from reading the responses to your just saying that you are going to say something about the baptism within the Holy Spirit, without having even said it yet. Many of the responses already show an anticipatory “positioning” for a doctrinal rebuttal “just in case.” Some almost sound like warnings … “remember there are not of people who think this way,” “remember this is the doctrine of …..,” “let me already find something you said that needs correction.” I recognize these saber rattlings because I would have done even more, myself, in younger years. I have overcome a background that is as constraining as yours, but opposite in orientation — pure and simple cessationism, especially Spirit baptism. I now understand that all Christians have been baptized within the Holy Spirit.

    I appeal to brothers and sisters in Christ that we use this series as an opportunity to search for the truth, not tell everyone else to listen up because we are the ones who have already found it and therefore need to protect it. If this is a “debate,” as one comment said, we will gain little from this exchange. One reason the book of Acts was written and preserved for us is to show that the church was established and continued in the unity of the Spirit, which is what we are to maintain (Eph. 4:3). The Holy Spirit is not controversial; humans are controversial, if we choose to be. Let’s choose not to be.

    The baptism within the Holy Spirit is central to the promise of the Father. May we use this discussion as an opportunity to focus, not just on the promise, but more, in unity, on the Father behind the promise.

    Frank, I would be curious what you think of the New Creation and Acts discussions, which include baptism within the Holy Spirit, on the web site referenced by this comment. Email me if you would prefer to not say it in public.

    Thanks for leading this.

  20. Shane Anderson says

    Frank,
    I’m looking forward to this series. I have some teachings at home by Derrick Prince in which he explores various doctrines. (I was raised Baptist in a very Jesus-rich atmosphere, but was introduced to the concept of spiritual gifts in a Four Square Gospel church my family attended for a time.)
    My wife and I were encouraged by a lot of Prince’s teachings until we came to his teachings on the filling of the Spirit and tongues. We earnestly prayed to receive the gift, but never did.
    I came to the conclusion that I believe in spiritual gifts because I believe in the gift-giver Himself, Jesus Christ. I wish I exercised tongues, but I will be happy with whatever gift He pours out of this clay vessel. It will be great to gain your perspective as I enjoy getting to know you more through each writing.
    I’ve been exposed to the whole “you’re not saved if you don’t speak in tongues” thing from one church, then we went across the street to hear “those that teach spiritual gifts (such as tongues) are heretics and should question their election.” Can’t we all just get along?
    You’re brave for taking this on… and I would have to think just a like masochistic. :) Love you, brother.

  21. " bapticostal " says

    Grew up free will Baptist later joined a charismatic church . both sides can prove a point but all i know is i just wanna go home lol.. looking forward to this read i debt get hung up on theology any more . Seems you can either be too spiritual or not enough.

  22. Brian Mavis says

    Frank,
    I appreciate your irenic spirit as much as your thoughtful insights.
    Sincerely,
    Brian
    P.S. I like your haircut too. =-]

  23. says

    I came to the faith in a pentecostal church also, loved the experience, I look fondly on the majority of that experience, but theology was overlooked in the area of spiritual gifts. I appreciate being taught and challenged outside of the pentecostal circle, God is gracious. I look forward to the series.

  24. Sally Roach says

    My dad, an evangelical type, was sort of an in your face guy who was always on the right side of any theological argument. When my sister and I were “baptized in the Holy Spirit” as adults, he came unglued over it. Then, he got the baptism. For a while, he was the most humble and gentle in spirit I had ever seen him be. But eventually, he became argumentative again, only this time you better darn sure be speaking in tongues or you were just wrong. I do still use my prayer language, or whatever you call it, but I stay away from pentecostal and charismatic churches now. They wore me out.

  25. says

    Something I’ve been wondering about lately regarding the Holy Spirit is whether baptism and filling are the same thing, or different things. If baptism means immersion, to me, that signifies something “outside” of a person, something that surrounds a person, something that a person is “in”. Filling seems more internal. I wouldn’t say that it’s one or the other, either, but that both are necessary. I just wonder if there is something to this train of thought I’ve had or if I am off-base.

      • Angela says

        Good! I was raised Pentecostal but started rethinking this topic at a very young age. A missionary who discovered the organic growth of the church in Korea mentioned once that ‘baptism in water means a very different thing than being filled with water.’ I have long noticed that being filled with the Spirit is the much more often used scripture terminology, and is in fact the terminology usually used in Acts of all those remarkable encounters with the Spirit. (Acts 2:4, 4:31, 6:3,8:15-16, 9:17, 10:44, 11:15-17, 11;24, 19:6)

        Look forward to your insights, Frank, which are always helpful.

  26. Justin Fowler says

    Frank,

    It is so great to see you covering this topic. I myself suffered from the excesses and harms of this doctrine, and have sadly helped in doing so in the past. Since then, my girlfriend was also rather roughly handled by my parents due to their judgment that we are “unequally yoked” since I have that particular gift and she doesn’t. I pointed out that not all accounts speak of tongues occurring at baptism and my dad simply slid in a huge a priori assumption that they must have anyway. It was pretty horrible.

    Thank God for your earnest study and insight. Appreciate you, brother. :)
    Justin

  27. says

    Frank,
    When I read your announcement post about the upcoming “Rethinking the Baptism…,” I had no idea where you going with this, but I also had no idea about the explained doctrine you have described regarding a dual Baptism. To take the words with, in, and of, and use those words to divide the Life-giving Spirit in us is quite shocking to me. I’ll not pretend to understand it, because I had no idea that this divisive teaching existed. I never give it any thought at all, but I do not speak in tongues, nor do I desire to speak in tongues, my only desire is to know Him. I look forward to your next post.

  28. says

    Frank,

    I am really looking forward to reading your thoughts on this topic, for a couple reasons. Firstly, I have enjoyed reading your blog and listening to your sermons over the past few months, and i respect your opinion and passion greatly. Secondly, your journey is somewhat the mirror opposite of mine. i was saved and trained in a cessationist Baptist background, including an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies. Shortly thereafter, I found myself in a Vineyard church, with classic ‘Third Wave’ pneumatology. This is where I have been for the last two decades, as it just makes more sense to me than either the Pentecostal second blessing or the cessationist designation of the Holy Spirit to silent partner of the Trinity.

  29. James Glynn says

    What you are writing is very important, and I believe I’m with you…as I usually am in the things you write. Still, I think you should concentrate on some of your reasons and forget others.

    1) About people who are coached. YES keep following that one; it’s a travesty, like people being pushed down and calling it slain in the Spirit.

    2) Anointed Christians who do not speak in tongues. Well, that’s true, but don’t know if that means they shouldn’t. I know many people who have great wisdom or high anointing in one of five-fold ministries, but are WAY OFF in some significant ways. God doesn’t remove all our other gifts just because we are missing one!

    3) Yes, whatever you uncover in looking at Greek NT meanings, that would be helpful.

    4) Christians divide over every ridiculous issue, like how often and what method to receive Communion, but we don’t question whether we should or not simply because it’s a divisive issue.

    5) Again, simply because counterfeit experiences grow up around authentic ones can always be accounted either to us being human, or to the demons who are always trying to twist and destroy that which God made beautiful.

    Concentrate on the irrefutable arguments. I’m following you, as I believe you are a most powerful corrective and re-formative voice to the Church today.

    Blessings always,
    Jim Glynn

    • says

      Thx. for the comment. There is not such thing as an irrefutable argument. Every argument has a refutation, even though it may be weak to some. I’m not out to convince anyone. Just answering a question. ;-)

  30. says

    Frank, I often enjoy reading your insights. I think if you’re going to take this on, I would remind you that groups like the Christian & Missionary Alliance – teach the doctrine of subsequence – that we are indwelt (baptized by the Holy Spirit through the church – sanctification/regeneration) by the Holy Spirit at conversion, but that there is a subsequent(initial “crisis” and ongoing) baptism-filling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer that can only occur after conversion (even if in very close proximity.) Tongues or other gifts may be part of the initial subsequent relationship of empowerment for mission – so we would be affirm the baptism of the spirit. But not tongues as THE or only “initial physical evidence.”

    The biggest arguments from those that see Luke in Luke-Acts showing a different theology of the Spirit than Paul. Not forcing Luke through Paul. Rather affirming Paul speaks from a salvation/sanctification view and only uses the baptism/filling phrase two times. Paul also is more inward life and church-life focused in his teaching on the Holy Spirit.

    Whereas Luke, in speaking of the Spirit, is not generally talking about salvation/sanctification but the charismatic dimensions of power for mission/staying power in the world. Luke is mission focused in teaching about the Holy Spirit. Particularly Luke focuses on speech gifts – tongues, prophecy, empowered proclamation. Some also say Paul nods at this in discussion of speech gifts in the church too – the radical language of egalitarian speech in tongues, prophecy, etc.

    Coincidentally churches and individuals that welcome subsequence and seek baptism-filling (charismatic dimensions with an outward focus) tend be common at the being of mystical and renewal movements through out history. Openness to a new and growing relationship with the Spirit in speech gifts seems to be a connection.

    Books that have been quite helpful are “Baptism in the Spirit: Luke-Acts and the Dunn Debate” by William P. Atkinson, the new 2nd Ed. of Roger Stronstad’s “The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke”, and of course anything in Eerdman’s Pentecostal Manifesto’s series – and to the point of your critiques: James KA Smiths “Thinking in Tongues” really drives the boat home – his 5 Key Aspects of a Pentecostal Worldview and his chapter on tongues as a language of resistance and it’s critique of power.

    Keep in mind nearly 800 million of us are pentecost/charismatic, “P” pentecostal and it’s the part of the church that is growing most globally, rapidly and diversely (multi-form, multi-vocal). Also the sad news is most US pentecostals have lost their core theology to vanilla attractional evangelicalism. Or have never learned their own theological worldview from the early church/eastern church and have blindly uptaken the neo-reformed fundamentalist theology around them which does not even possess the language to speak of the worldview under pentecostal/mystical theology.

    Anyway, looking forward to see if you bring anything new to the debate.

  31. David says

    Frank,

    I’d be interested to know what you think of Gordon Fee’s magisterial book, “God’s Empowering Presence”, which seeks, at an academic level, to understand Paul’s pneumatology by exegeting his letters chronologically. (Fee’s focus is simultaneously broader: more than just “baptism in the Spirit”, and narrower: just Paul’s writings, than yours in this series.)

    All for His glory!

    David

  32. says

    Dear Frank,

    I am very much with you on your post! Thank you for tackeling this very important topic. I am eagerly looking forward to your thoughts on this!

    Greetings and blessings,

    Dom

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