…one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5)
What is Baptism in the Holy Spirit? You may have heard this term before, and you may even use this term or know someone that does. What does it mean? Is it Scriptural? Is it something we should be using?
It’s a complicated issue, not in the least because many times the debate over “baptism in the Holy Spirit“ is conflated with the debate over supernatural spiritual gifts. There is a debate in Christendom over whether or not spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing continue to be present in the church in the post-Apostolic age. People that believe supernatural spiritual gifts are no longer in use are commonly referred to as cessationists. They believe that after the so-called Apostolic age those spiritual gifts are no longer needed and therefor they have ceased.
The Lutheran Church is not officially cessationist, though some people think it should be. There are many Lutheran pastors who accept that there is room within Lutheran theology to believe that some supernatural spiritual gifts are still occasionally given to people in the body of the church. Nevertheless, we are not charismatic. While we leave open the door of possibility that people can and do receive these gifts, we still do not believe that they are something that should be a focus of our faith. They should not ever be seen as something upon which salvation is based or Christian faith is judged. The question remains, even if we do believe in spiritual gifting, should we be using a term like “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” and should we be seeking after said baptism?
The term does actually appear in scripture, which is one of the arguments for using it. Of course, there is disagreement over how it is used in Scripture, to what it refers, and how those references should be interpreted. There are people that believe so-called baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate baptism which brings supernatural spiritual gifts. Those people have texts which they believe show us that the early church used, believed in and understood baptism in the Holy Spirit in the same way in which modern charismatics do. Most of their texts are anecdotal, by which I mean they are a recounting of events that happened, which are believed to be examples that baptism in the Holy Spirit should be used in the way charismatics do. What I believe they do not have is any direct and clear teaching that supersedes other direct and clear teachings that tell us there is not a separate baptism in the Holy Spirit.
This is just a blog, and not a theological treatise, therefore I don’t have the time or the space to review, reinterpret and rebut each passage charismatics use to promote baptism in the Holy Spirit. Instead I will do two things. First, I will simply say that we interpret those passages differently than they do. We believe most of those stories and examples are referring to specific cases or something specific was being demonstrated and that these events were not meant to be an example for all time of how the spirit comes to us. Some of these texts refer to people who only received John’s baptism. Some were people who had been baptized in the name of Jesus prior to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. And some of these examples had specifically to do with the inclusion of Gentiles in the church in which God wanted to make clear the point that the Spirit comes to the Gentiles too. Either way, we don’t think they mean what the charismatics do.
Second, I will share with you a few verses that I believe are very clear and direct teachings that say there is only one baptism and in that baptism we already received the Spirit. The first and most obvious passage is from Ephesians where Paul is teaching us how we are unified as Christians through “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” In light of such a clearly worded and direct teaching such as this, I don’t understand how we could possibly believe that there are in fact two baptisms, a water baptism followed by a potential baptism in the Holy Spirit that only some receive. Not only would this contradict the idea that there is one baptism by literally creating two separate baptisms, but it would also go against the spirit of unity that Paul was talking about since only some people receive this supposed second baptism.
This is further reinforced in the apostle Paul‘s teachings regarding spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians. Again, in a very clear and direct manner, without much interpretation involved, he insists that we have one spirit. We all have this same spirit, and we have it based on faith. For no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the power of this same spirit. We have this equality in the spirit regardless of whether or not we have otherwise received a supernatural spiritual gift.
Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
In addition, the scriptures also make it clear that we receive the spirit in water baptism. Acts 2:38-39 says, “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Furthermore, scripture also states that forgiveness and salvation come through baptism (1 Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16, etc.), and we know also from Scripture that you cannot have forgiveness and salvation unless you also have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you (1 Corinthians 12:3).
I personally believe that God can still give supernatural spiritual gifts even in the post-Apostolic age. And I believe that is scriptural. I also believe it is scriptural to desire those gifts since the apostle Paul enjoins us to eagerly do so in 1 Corinthian‘s 12:31. We must still be cautious, however, not to give them undo importance. They are not a means of grace or salvation. They do not make someone more holy, more spiritual, or more Christian than someone who does not have them. Even when supernatural spiritual gifts are genuinely present, we are not, according to the same teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians, to allow them to become a source of division, or to create different classes of Christians. Therefor, even when we properly understand and apply the “greater gifts,” I do not believe we should use the term baptism in the Holy Spirit to describe how we receive them.
I believe using the phrase “baptism in the Holy Spirit” to refer to a different baptism through which we receive supernatural spiritual gifts sends the wrong message. It teaches that there are in fact two baptisms in opposition to scripture which clearly teaches we are united by one baptism. I also believe it does exactly what the apostle Paul warns us not to do. It creates different classes of Christians, some whom are supposedly more spiritual than others because they have received this supposed special baptism. And I believe it takes away from where our focus should be, which is on the sacramental gift of water baptism, in which we receive the same spirit, receive forgiveness of sins won by Christ, and are adopted into the family of God, becoming his people.
If you have received or been gifted with a supernatural spiritual gift, you may certainly count that as a blessing. If you have not, remember that God has still gifted and blessed you in other ways. But in either case, remember that we continue to share one Lord, one faith and one baptism.