Baptism in the Holy Spirit Redux

It has been a while since I last posted anything on Baptism in the Holy Spirit. The topic has come up again recently in my reading so perhaps its time to post some more thoughts.

First of all, I finally got round to reading Jesse Philips paper on Subsequence. Don’t be put off by the fact that this is just an undergraduate essay – this is a very mature and persuasive defense of the Pentecostal view of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as subsequent to regeneration (without insisting on tongues as an evidence). I will also be hoping to engage with Simon Ponsonby’s modified third wave view in his “God Inside Out” book at some point on my blog.

But today I just want to share some recent thoughts on the meaning of the word “baptism” and “filling”, when applied to the Holy Spirit.

It is universally agreed that whatever Baptism in the Holy Spirit (BHS) refers to, it can also be described with a number of equivalent terms – “clothed with power”, “received the Spirit”, “filled with the Spirit”, “fallen on them” and so on. In other words, BHS was not a technical term in the minds of the NT writers, but a descriptive term – describing the nature of the event.

Baptism of course literally means “plunging”, “immersion” etc. But we also seem to have attached the meaning of “initiation” to it. i.e. BHS is the “initial” reception or power encounter with the HS.

But what if the NT writers who use the term BHS are not thinking of “initiation” at all, but simply drawing on the metaphor of the Spirit as water. This image has good biblical pedigree both in the OT and NT (c.f. Isa 44:3, John 4:14, 7:38-39). I recently noticed that every single reference to BHS also includes a mention of baptism in water in the very same verse/sentence. See (Matt 3:11,16; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16,21; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 2:38; 8:16; 10:47; 11:16; 19:2-5).

The one exception is of course the famous 1 Cor 12:13, which nevertheless also picks up the image of the Spirit as water saying “we were all made to drink of one Spirit”.

Could we therefore argue that when the terms “baptism” and (I also think) “filling” are used in relation to the Spirit, we are to think primarily of the following imagery – ourselves as a cup / vessel, and the Spirit as water.

Mark 7:4 says that the Pharisees had various customs including washing cups, literally “baptising cups”. I fill a cup when I pour water into it to drink. I baptise it when I put it into the washing up bowl to be cleaned. If a cup is filled, then it must be deliberately tipped over for anything to flow out. If a cup is baptised, then it can’t help but overflow as it comes back out the water.

If this is indeed the picture that the NT writers have in their minds as they use terms such as baptism in the Holy Spirit and filling with the Spirit then perhaps I can draw the following implications from the analogy…

“Baptism in the Holy Spirit” then refers to such an overwhelming flooding of the Spirit that something flows out. Pentecostals say tongues, I would say some form of speech – tongues, prophecy, praise, crying “Abba Father”, preaching, witness etc. BHS always entails being “filled”, and thus can be spoken of in such a way.

Being “filled with the Spirit” however can also refer to something that is, externally speaking, not so dramatic, such as when a cup is filled with water from a jug. It speaks of the Spirit giving us that internal joy and spiritual resource that enables us to pour ourselves out in ministry, witness, service, but may not necessarily overflow at the very moment of filling. It is this filling that we are to continually seek (Eph 5:18), which may of course entail a power encounter (i.e. a baptism) or may simply be a “filling”.

According to this scheme therefore, a person is regenerated by a work of the Spirit and indeed filled with the Spirit at conversion but may not necessarily be simultaneously “baptised”. If a new convert had never experienced a “baptism” in the Spirit, (though they may have been filled), the church leaders would naturally lay hands on them and pray for them that they would receive this experience that brings assurance and propels into ministry and mission.

Hence 1 Cor 12:13 speaks to a normal charismatic church – all have known this “baptising” into the Spirit. As a believer goes on in their Christian life, they are to seek regular (daily) fillings with the Spirit, and God in his grace may occasionally also baptise (immerse) them subsequent times in his Spirit in a way that again results in spontaneous vocal overflow.

I realise that in saying that I’ve probably made myself unpopular with both Pentecostals (because on this view you could be baptised in the Holy Spirit multiple times), and with third wave (because the BHS is not equivalent to conversion). As usual I welcome comments. I’m sure there are plenty of objections you can come up with. I might turn this into a more formal essay at some point, but I will let my ideas be refined by criticism first.

9 thoughts on “Baptism in the Holy Spirit Redux

  1. “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” then refers to such an overwhelming flooding of the Spirit that something flows out”

    This is an excellent and well-thought out essay. I must admit my hackles were bristling when I began to read. I think that those of us holding a traditional Pentecostal/Charismatic view are in danger of getting too defensive about a downgrading of the nature of the event – whenever it is and whatever it is.

    You’ve taken an excellent step back and removed the controversy in your mind over the “when” issue and focused more on the “what” issue and it presents some really interesting possibilities.

    “It is this filling that we are to continually seek (Eph 5:18), which may of course entail a power encounter (i.e. a baptism) or may simply be a “filling”

    I must admit I have really struggled with this concept that “filling” seems to be slightly “less” than the baptism in the Spirit but I really appreciate your argument that it is a filling we should be seeking which may entail a baptism of power as a grace gift from God.

    Excellent thoughts – given me much to think about and contemplate!!

  2. Hi Mark,

    Long time no post – sorry!

    Interesting essay. My thoughts on all this have changed so much that some of the ideas you mention just seem quite ‘alien’ to me now!

    Interestingly, in the Orthodox church the sacrament of ‘Chrismation’ (Greek for ‘Anointing’) immediately follows that of Baptism, and is a ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit for the one who has just been joined to Christ in Baptism. This is an ancient practice (as with much in the Orthodox church!) and so the notion of:

    a) Needing to be ‘baptised’ in the Spirit
    b) And of it following Baptism in Water

    Appear to go back a long way!

    Of course, the language of ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ is something which was picked up mainly by the Pentecostals and is something which is a sort of ‘codeword’ for a type of ‘super’-natural experience (either tongues, or some other sort of unusual manifestation).

    I’m more inclined these days to see this experiencialism as a sort of ‘feasting’ on God for those coming out of a great theological ‘fast’ of Western rationalism. One can not deny the experience and passion, but it is interesting to see that – for many centuaries prior to this particular western charismatic movement – this understanding of the ‘baptism’ of the Spirit wasn’t always so.

    I agree that the NT metaphor links into ‘water’ images (inc. Jesus’ own words to the Samaritan woman about ‘living water’), but we need to be careful about how we handle baptism language, especially since Jesus somewhat transformed the previous Jewish understanding of ‘baptism’ and made it something much more than just a ‘dunking’ in water!

  3. thanks, interesting comments, and good to hear from you again (though I must confess to getting a bit lost trying to understand what that Orthodox guy you linked to was saying)

    what actually happens / is said in the “chrismation”? is it a ceremony?

  4. Hi Mark,

    Sorry about the comprehension problems! Sometimes, I wonder if this is because the ‘paradigm’ is so alien to mainstream western Christian thought, that it can take quite some chewing over to be able to ‘see’ what’s being proposed. What did you find confusing?

    Chrismation is a sacramental act which immediately follows on from baptism. The freshly baptised person (usually an infant) is anointed with a blessed oil (on face and limbs I seem to remember), which is accompanied by some sort of prayer. Baptism-Chrismation is thus a two-fold act which occurs on the same ‘occasion’.

    In the medieval western church, this practice was split into two separate acts on two different occasions. This gave rise to what we now call ‘confirmation’, but the oil has been dispensed with and it’s the Bishop who lays his hands on the person. However, confirmation is also seen as the Catholic/Anglican equivalent of ‘baptism in the Spirit’.

    Neither in Orthodox Chrismation nor Catholic/Anglican confirmation is it common for any particularly ‘spectacular’ phenomena to occur (although my own confirmation was a very powerful and ‘deep’ experience).

  5. thanks Tom,
    I’ve done a bit more work on it, but I need to work through some counter-arguments from Michael Green’s book on the Holy Spirit before I go too much further with this idea

  6. I just want to thank you for the work you put into this blog. I only discovered it the other day, and I’ve absolutely loved working my way through all the resources. Thank you so much for it.

  7. Pingback: Book Review – More (Simon Ponsonby)

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