"We believe that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is the bestowing of the believer
with power to be an effective witness for Christ. This experience is distinct
from and subsequent to, the new birth; is received by faith, and is accompanied
by the manifestation of speaking in tongues as the spirit gives utterance, as
the initial evidence…"
"The Holy Spirit’s Baptisms’ relevance to today" has been a debate raging in theological circles for millennia. On the one extreme, there are those who feel that the gifts of the Spirit were for the early church and Apostles only. At the other end of the spectrum there are those for whom Spirit Baptism evidenced by Tongues is the only true sign of a believer. Ironically what has seemed the cause of so much division was meant for the unity of the Church.
Is the Holy Spirit Baptism for today? It is every Christian’s duty to search these matters out for themselves. While people should make up their own mind, the final arbiter of truth must be the Bible.
This essay seeks to argue for the relevance of Holy Spirit Baptism on three grounds;
- Firstly, the Testimony of the New Testament
- Secondly, the Testimony of the Old Testament
- The Testimony of the Believer
The two Testaments are however discussed quite differently. It has been said that the Old Testament is the New Concealed, while the New Testament is the Old revealed. We will examine some of the types and shadows in the Old Testament, which clearly point to New Testament truth. Through unraveling this mystery it is hoped that some light will be shed on Gods intention in sending the Holy Spirit. A better understanding of His distinctive nature, purpose and character should assist us in determining if Holy Spirit Baptism is part of the normal pattern for Christian life.
The Charismatic movement has been much maligned. It has been seen as prone to excess and given to extremes. Whilst this criticism has in many cases been warranted, the critics have tended to become reactionary, closing their eyes to much of what the scriptures have to say about the work of the Holy Spirit.
Many conservative, evangelical, Bible believing Christians have migrated nearer to the middle ground. They maintain that Biblical Christianity is supernatural, not only in word, but in practice. They maintain that the reality of the spiritual realm is woven through the pages of the word of God.
The stakes in this debate are high. At issue is the relevance of the Church. How does the church remain distinct from rotary clubs or humanitarian organizations? It must be empowered by the living God.
Rev Dr Kent Hodge puts it this way;
"Should the Church be relevant to the market place? Yes. We are relevant when we
start with biblical theology, when we start with the Bible. We are not relevant
by becoming part of the world."
Following Christ’s death and resurrection, believers across the pages of Acts enjoyed a distinct experience of the Baptism in the Spirit. This baptism did not follow any particularly rigid pattern or form. Sometimes it followed water baptism, sometimes by the laying on of hands. At times, the Baptism in the Spirit was conterminous with conversion or profession of faith and at times not. (Acts 9:17, Acts 10:47, Acts 19:1-6) The usual first evidence of this Baptism was glossolalia.
Ken Smith in his criticism of Pentecostalism summarizes the Pentecostal position this way;
"That which is given to the believer at salvation through the indwelling Holy
Spirit and on the basis of being in Christ, is sought in another distinct and
usually post-conversion experience, according to the teaching of
Whilst the discrete nature of Holy Spirit Baptism is a topic of some debate amongst theologians, a full examination here would be an essay in itself. Suffice to say to say there is no reason why Acts should not form the normative pattern for Christians now as it did then. While some commentators maintain that we cannot appropriate the same authority that the early Christians enjoyed, this would be difficult to justify from scripture.
The charge that it is only the book of Acts in the New Testament that attests to the Baptism in the Spirit ignores the volumes Paul writes to the Church at Corinth. Paul exhorted the Christians there to "not be ignorant about spiritual gifts." 1 Cor 12:1 He placed the gifts firmly in the context of agape love. In the same way this agape love flows unceasingly from the heart of God, so too do the Charismata. There is no logical reason otherwise.
The New Testament is clear that the foundation of the church is to be the apostles and prophets. Every generation this same pattern needs to be followed. There are those with an apostolic or prophetic calling in God who are necessary for the proper functioning of The body of Christ. God chooses to work in partnership with us. What a privilege. What a responsibility.
To properly minister in the church and equip the saints for the work of ministry requires a dependence upon and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. If we rely upon our own efforts and wisdom the church will never be anything more than a social club that discusses dead religion. The Church belongs to God. He builds, nurtures and sustains it by his supernatural power. Our choice is to build by his pattern or not.
Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain. Ps 127:1
Perhaps the most convincing argument for the relevance of Holy Spirit Baptism would be its prevalence throughout the whole of scripture. If it can be shown that the work of the Spirit of God is interwoven consistently throughout Gods word, we would do well to take note of the pattern and form of this instruction.
The New Testament understands the purpose of the OT to be for our instruction. The patterns, types and shadows are numerous and varied, but are consistent in their pointing to;
Christ and His redemptive work,
- The work of the Holy Spirit
- The second coming of Christ
By way of example, we will now examine some Old Testament metaphors for Gods interaction with man.
The Triune God
Three is a significant number in scripture.
"But the significance of three as a literary motif is not purely arbitrary. Three is the minimum number necessary to establish a pattern of occurrences. A single event can be a pure chance; a pair can be a mere coincidence, but three consecutive occurrences of a single event serve as a rhetorical sign indicating special significance. (1 Sam 3:8)… Three speaks of the totality and sufficiency of the work of Jesus Christ. …Three connotes significance, sufficiency and completeness."
In the Old Testament, the Tetragrammaton is referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We see that God is Father, Son and Spirit. He also created humankind in His image or likeness.
"Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them
rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over
all the earth," Ge 1:26
Many commentators take this to point to the triune nature of man. That man is a three-part being; that he is a spirit, has a soul and lives in a body.
Keep the Feasts
In the Hebrew calendar, God ordains seven feasts or festivals, four minor feasts and three majors. These are Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. In 1 Corinthians 5:8 Paul exhorts us, in the light of what Jesus has done on our behalf, to keep celebrating the feasts but in another form, not with external religiosity, but with the sincere offering of our whole being yielded to God.
"Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice
and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth".
If we were to keep the feasts nowadays, as Paul encourages us, how would we do it?
What would they represent?
Passover speaks of Gods sovereign redemptive plan to send the paschal Lamb, Jesus. It points to the cross of Christ, his suffering death and resurrection. Passover speaks of Christ taking the wrath of God upon himself, of dealing once for all with the issue of sin. The Old Testament shadow is seen in the Passover and subsequent Exodus from Egypt.
The Old Testament Pentecost feast was a celebration of the giving of the law. Nowadays we have the law of God written upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The New Testament equivalent would be becoming a member of the body of Christ and using the gifts He gives to serve the body.
Pentecost was also a time when at Mount Sinai the Hebrews became a nation. When they came out of Egypt the Israelites did not know how to live. They still carried an Egyptian mindset and values with them. God intervened and gave them the law showing them who they were to be, a distinct and holy people, separated to God.
"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."
The feast of Tabernacles speaks of the entry into the Promised Land. It is a festival of harvest (ingathering) and proclamation. This speaks to the Christians today of the return of Christ to live amongst his people and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit was given as a gift to the Church and must be accepted as such by believers. It was this quality Christ refers to in Mark 10:15.
"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."Mark 10:15
The renowned Pentecostal intellectual Oral Roberts put it this way;
"You cannot merit the Holy Ghost but you can receive him as a "gift" from the
father. Knowing this has been a real blessing to me in helping others receive.
It does away with straining and begging God. It puts you in a relaxed and
receptive mood with childlike dependence upon Jesus to give you what the father
has promised to "give" you."
The work of the Holy Spirit cannot be seen on isolation from the broader purposes of God. God’s divine purpose was that we become his sons and daughters and in so doing He would be glorified. Ephesians tells us of the Holy Spirits equipping;
"to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be
built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son
of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the
waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and
craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
Instead, speaking the truth
in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is,
Christ." Eph 4:12-15
As created beings, we need our creator to guide and sustain us throughout the various stages of the journey we find ourselves in. We desperately need the empowerment the Holy spirit brings to continue in Gods will and to do the works he has planned in advance for us to do. The key to the sanctified life is a vital and intimate relationship with daddy God. Paul frequently illustrates this point when he talks about sonship.
Sonship in biblical times was related to the will of the father. A child may be a boy born into a family, but was not a son until his father specially chose him. He may even choose two sons, one from his family and one from his own. The sons inherit the family business. There is a sense of authority, an ability to govern.
By this same process of sovereign choice, we are chosen by God to be co-heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:17, 29), in fact we are told that all creation is waiting in eager expectation, and travailing as in childbirth waiting for the true sons of God to be revealed.(Romans 8:23)
The person of the Holy Spirit plays a key role in confirming the fact that we are in fact the sons of God. It is also the key to transforming the old nature from death to life. The clearest definition of what it means to be a Christian is summed up in Romans.
"Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the Sons of God" Romans 8:14
What then should we conclude from all this? We have examined the New Testament record, which clearly portrays Holy Spirit Baptism as a key component of the life of the early church. The argument has been put forward that Acts forms the normative pattern for Christian life. As Christians, we are to walk in the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit.
We went on to examine the witness of the Old Testament. Scripturally, we examined evidence of the trinity, the triune nature of God. As we are made in his image we deduced that we are a three part being, body soul and spirit. We see that the role and nature of the Holy Spirit is evident in the Old Testament. It is this nature (which does not change), from which the Holy Spirits actions emerge.
We saw how Paul encourages us to keep the essence of the feasts, one being Pentecost. The purpose and meaning behind the feast of Pentecost was examined.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence for the need for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit today is His role in the life of the believer. The fact that we need to work in partnership with the Holy Spirit to fulfill the purposes God has set. How are we to Glorify God without His Holy Spirit resident within us? How are we to prophesy without Him speaking through us? If it is still Gods intention for us to take the gospel to the lost, His Holy Spirit will empower us to do this. The Spirit is central in fulfilling both the Great commission and Great Commandments.
What other conclusion can be drawn but that Holy Spirit Baptism is for Today.
Assemblies of God Australia United Constitution. 1993.
Hodge, Kent. Pentecostal Theology. 2004. Gift Prints Associates. Benin City, Nigeria.
Roberts, Oral. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit and the value of speaking in tongues today. 1964. Oral Roberts. Tulsa, Oklahoma
Ryken Wilhoit and Longman. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.1998. InterVarsity Press.Liecester,England.
Smith, Ken. Charismatic Distinctives; Biblical perspectives on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and extra-Biblical revelation. 1999. Dimmock Print. Maitland, NSW.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. 1995. The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids MI