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.