Baptism in the Spirit

Reformed guys tend to argue that the baptism in the Spirit is equivalent to the work of the Spirit in us called ‘regeneration’, or the ‘new birth’. From this they deduce that all believers in Jesus (those who are genuinely born again) have already been baptised in the Spirit.

Depending on their particular degree of conservatism, they may argue for fresh fillings of the Holy Spirit as something experiential and known to you, the recipient, (check out some ‘Third Wave’ Reformed Charismatics like Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms). Or, they may simply not expect any felt experience of the Spirit whatsoever in the Christian life. You get it all at conversion. No doubt there are many nuanced positions somewhere in between.

The view that the baptism in the Spirit is something separate from conversion is not so popular among the Reformed. Lloyd-Jones held this view, and was a bit of lone voice in his day. More recently Terry Virgo and the Newfrontiers movement of churches have taken the same line as Lloyd-Jones, expecting and experiencing the baptism of the Spirit for individuals, and many fresh waves of his power as a movement of churches.

Now, the more conservative Reformed tend to be nervous that we might create two classes of Christians if we follow Lloyd-Jones – those who have not been baptised in the Spirit, and those who have. They will go to 1 Cor 12:13 (“For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit…”) and the basic argument is that, since all the Corinthians had drunk of one Spirit, they had all been baptised in the Spirit at conversion.

I don’t see the logic. Paul is obviously writing to a church he planted (see Acts 18:1ff) and we know it was his practice to pray for all his converts to receive the Spirit (see Acts 19:1-7). So it simply doesn’t make sense to argue that baptism is regeneration based on the fact that all the Corinthians had received the Spirit. The alternative (that some had not received the Spirit) was unthinkable to Paul, since he went out of his way to make sure all believers had received the Spirit (Acts 19:2).

But not only is the case for baptism-in-the-Spirit = regeneration pretty flimsy if built on this verse, the whole drift of the book of Acts points to the doctrine that baptism in the Spirit is something separate to and distinct from conversion.

Take Acts 8 as an example. Philip preaches the gospel in Samaria, and they believe. Later, Peter and John come down and find that they haven’t received the Spirit, so they pray for them and they do. Two things are hugely important and striking from this passage:

1. The Samaritans are called believers in 8:12, and they’ve been baptised in water, but they receive the Spirit later when Peter and John pray for them (8:15, 17). Therefore, being born again does not equate to receiving the Spirit, though the new birth / regeneration is, of course, the work of the Spirit.

2. When they receive the Spirit it is such a remarkable event (details not provided) that Simon Magus, an ex-magician, wants to pay good money to have the gift that Peter and John seem to have of touching people, and those people receiving the Spirit (8:17). If it were an invisible work of God, he would hardly want to part with his cash (8:19-20); that would be a pretty rubbish magic trick.

Simon was clearly wrong in his motive, and Peter tells him so. But we shouldn’t miss the underlying point – receiving the Spirit in the book of Acts was a felt experience, so remarkable and obvious that people knew if they had or had not received the Spirit, and observers could even see it happen.

I’m getting a bit off track with the second point, and so want to get back to underlining the first; receiving the Spirit is not the same thing as being born again. Now, I’ve heard the argument that says that since this was the first time the gospel had gone to Samaria their experience was unique. Like the experience of the disciples in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, this was a turning point in history. As the gospel went out in successive phases from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, then the ends of the earth, so did the promise of the Spirit. Therefore, it is concluded that the experience of these early believers should not be expected today. No, today it happens differently. Today, regeneration is baptism in the Spirit.

Huh? I’m sorry, but that simply isn’t a Biblical argument. You’ll never find a verse or passage to support the idea that “It was different then”, and it doesn’t make sense anyway. Of course, it fits nicely with church history and the weight of teaching through the centuries, where most of the dead guys we respect did not think there was an experience of the Spirit after conversion. But even so, it’s not Biblical. Dead guys are wrong sometimes.

Conclusion; Every new believer should be prayed for to receive the Spirit as part of the normal Christian birthing process (usually just before or just after baptism) and they should know when it has happened to them.

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