Many Christians say that after conversion every believer needs the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”. Is this true and what is it?
A cardinal doctrine held by so–called charismatic Christians is the need for a “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, meaning an ecstatic experience usually accompanied by “speaking in tongues”. Until the believer has had this experience, he is viewed as incomplete or immature.
However, despite common usage, the expression “baptism of the Holy Spirit” occurs nowhere in Scripture. The correct expression is “baptism with the Holy Spirit”. (Greek en: with or in the power of). In the four occurrences in the Gospels, (Matt. 3: 11; Mark 1: 8; Luke 3: 16: John 1: 33), this baptism is contrasted with John’s baptism : John baptised “with water”, but “he (Christ) shall baptise you with [the] Holy Spirit and fire”, (Matt. 3:11). Using “of” in “baptism of the Holy Spirit” implies that the Holy Spirit is the One that baptises just as John was the baptiser in the “baptism of John”, (Matt. 21: 25). The testimony of Scripture is that it is Christ who baptises, never the Holy Spirit: “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding on him, he it is who baptises with [the] Holy Spirit”, (John 1: 33).
John’s words are also rarely quoted in full as given by Matthew or Luke. (Mark and John being brief). Matt. 3: 11, 12: “he shall baptise you with [the] Holy Spirit and fire; whose winnowing fan [is] in his hand, and he shall thoroughly purge his threshing floor, and shall gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable”. Now to whom is John speaking? Not Christians but Jews! Those who could claim “We have Abraham for [our] father”, (Luke 3: 8). Next, what do these words mean? While John baptised all who came, (Luke 3: 21), making no discrimination, (though he gave the sternest of warnings Luke 3: 8, 9), the Lord would do the opposite as the imagery of the threshing floor shows. There was to be a separation in Israel of the wheat from the chaff. This took place at Pentecost when the remnant in Israel were baptised with the Holy Spirit, thus forming the Assembly, (Acts 2: 2–4). The Lord had gathered His wheat into the garner. The fire of judgement would come for the nation later.
What happened in Acts 2: was distinctive and the language is correspondingly distinct. Peter tells the nation that what had occurred was in keeping with Joel’s prophesy: “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh:....”,(Acts 2: 17). The only other occasion when the Spirit is said to be poured out is Acts 10: 45 when the Gentiles were introduced into the Assembly. (Tit. 3: 5, 6 is general). The act of pouring is entirely in keeping with the act of baptising with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 11: 15, Peter recounting the entrance of the Gentiles, says “as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them even as upon us also at the beginning”. Note the words “even as upon us also at the beginning”. Peter ignores every other occasion between Acts 2 and Acts 10 when the Holy Spirit had been received, (such as Acts 2: 37–41; 5: 14; 8: 17; 8: 35–39; 9: 1–17; 9: 42, 43), and identifies this initial reception of the Spirit by the Gentiles with that of the remnant in Israel in Acts 2. These are the only two occasions when the Holy Spirit is poured out, and what does Peter go on to say in Acts 11: 16? “I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John baptised with water, but ye shall be baptised with [the] Holy Spirit”. He refers to the Lord’s own word in Acts 1: 5 confirming the Baptist’s prophecy in the Gospels. Thus the inauguration of the Assembly with Jews at Pentecost and the initial entrance of the Gentiles later are the only two occasions when the “baptism with [the] Holy Spirit” occurred. It was initial and can never be repeated. This is what Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 12: 13: “For also in [the power of] one Spirit we have all been baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks,....”. Whatever it is that some claim to experience today, it is not the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Today believers receive the Holy Spirit when they believe. There is no such thing as a second blessing. I may not realise immediately the extent of my blessing, but that is another matter entirely. So what of these Charismatic claims of spiritual experiences? The vital difference between their viewpoint and mine is that they use experience to interpret Scripture, whereas I use Scripture to interpret experience. Unconsciously by so doing, they put experience on a higher level than God’s Word, and that is ultimately fatal. Experiences are not infallible and can be deceptive: they do not necessarily originate with God. God’s Word is infallible. We should test experience by the Bible and not the Bible by experience. Some of the Charismatic movement, though not all, have become so infatuated with their experiences, that they say they no longer need the Bible. Such experiences have then become fatal!