Drenched with The Spirit: Theological Reflections on the Charismatic Movement
What are we to think of the charismatic movement? What are we to think of speaking in tongues? What are we to think of continued prophecy? These kinds of questions seem to surface with ever greater urgency in today’s theological climate. Perhaps this is partly due to the increased appreciation of the subjective and the emotional, both in society at large and in the church. It would be too easy, however, to write off the charismatic movement as being in tune with the general drift of society. Reformed churches cannot afford to ignore the charismatic movement or to close their eyes to its dramatic impact, also on our own tradition. Only carefully construed biblical and theological answers will do.
I will pay attention to some exegetical and theological questions surrounding the issues raised by the charismatic movement. To do this, we will start with Spirit baptism. Spirit baptism is something which many charismatics regard as the foundation of the distinctives of their theology. This Spirit baptism is often seen as a spiritual experience which comes after faith, as a second experience which initiates a second, richly rewarding, and more mature stage of one’s spiritual walk of life. Prophecy and tongues are usually regarded as the results of this second blessing which a believer may experience. Therefore, questions about tongues and prophecy are inseparable from the issue of Spirit baptism. What is Spirit baptism? Is it indeed a second blessing in addition to the gift of the Holy Spirit in regeneration? Can we still expect Spirit baptism today? These are the questions that must be asked first.
In particular, two contentious questions have to be raised:
Is Spirit baptism a second blessing in addition to the gift of faith?
And is the experience of Spirit baptism something which a Christian must still expect today?
Many charismatics will answer both questions in the affirmative. If, indeed, Spirit baptism is an additional blessing – one which moreover is normative for today – then it is reasonable to also expect tongues-speaking today. On the other hand, if Spirit baptism is identical to regeneration, or if it is something clearly tied to the early phase of the history of the New Testament church, then this gift of tongues is out of bounds for today. In the meantime, a positive answer to the first question does not necessarily entail a positive answer to the second. If Spirit baptism is a second blessing it does not automatically follow that such a second blessing can still be expected today.
The Holy Spirit in All Believers
Many discussions on this topic centre around three or four passages in the book of Acts where the Holy Spirit is poured out. The question is often asked: Were the Samaritans (Acts 8), was Cornelius (Acts 10), and were the Ephesians (Acts 19) already believers when they received the Holy Spirit? If they were not, it becomes more difficult to make a distinction between the initial gift of faith and Spirit baptism. This would mean that faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit coincide, that both would stand at the beginning of the Christian life. In that case, every believer could say with Lord’s Day 20 that the Holy Spirit is also given to me. If, however, the Samaritans, Cornelius and the Ephesian disciples were believers already before they received the Holy Spirit, a separation between faith and Spirit baptism becomes a possibility. In that case it becomes more questionable whether or not every believer has received the Holy Spirit. In fact, this may well lead to a distinction between two different groups, two different levels of Christians: one with and one without the experience of Spirit baptism.
While these passages warrant attention, it is nevertheless a good rule of thumb to first come to an understanding of how the Scriptures usually speak about the gift of the Holy Spirit and about Spirit baptism, and only then to look at specific examples that are mentioned in the book of Acts. If the overwhelming picture of Scripture is one in which every believer has received the Holy Spirit, this should make one careful not to make a few examples in the book of Acts the foundation for an overall teaching of a second blessing. Therefore, John Stott rightly comments, “(I)t is a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation to begin with the general, not the special.”1
Let us, therefore, have a look at the general picture first. There should be no doubt that every believer in the new dispensation has received the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament prophets clearly foretold the liberal outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29; Joel 2:28). Christ himself, in his discourse in the upper room, promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples (John 14:18-23; 16:7-8). All believers have been born again (John 3:3-8). All believers are children of God through the work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:6). All believers have received the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5; 8:9, 14; Galatians 5:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; 1 John 3:24; 4:13). The body of each believer, as well as the church as a whole, are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:22). The Holy Spirit is the pledge of our eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:11; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5).2
These texts are not usually the focus of discussion in the matter of Spirit baptism. Still, the attention to the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” should not be the sole point of attention. It is good to emphasize from the start that every believer has received the Holy Spirit. For how can Spirit baptism be a second blessing, how can it be the gate to a second stage in the life of a Christian if every believer has received the Holy Spirit? If every believer has received the Holy Spirit there cannot possibly be any believer still waiting for a second baptism. There can be no two-tiered approach to the Christian life.
This means that in their zeal for certain gifts Christians should be careful not to ask for the Holy Spirit as if he had not yet been given. To pray for a rich measure of the Holy Spirit, for a more powerful working of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, or to be filled with the Holy Spirit, is something else. Also, if there is a clear need for certain gifts, the apostle Paul encourages us to pray for them, especially for the greater gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1, 5, 39).3Still, it remains important to distinguish such prayers for a particular working of the Holy Spirit from a prayer for the Holy Spirit as such. Nowhere does Scripture give any indication that the latter is something which a Christian must ask for. The simple reason is this: Every Christian already has received the Spirit.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit
Of course, somebody might wish to argue: If every Christian has received the Holy Spirit does this necessarily mean that every Christian has also experienced Spirit baptism? Perhaps there is a difference between the two. Perhaps the Spirit is indeed given to every Christian as he is regenerated at the beginning of his Christian life, but does this exclude the richer and separate experience of Spirit baptism? Could there not be a second stage in the life of a Christian? This means that our discussion should now focus on the question whether Spirit baptism is identical to the Holy Spirit being given in regeneration or whether it is an additional blessing.
The phrase “being baptized with the Holy Spirit” occurs seven times in the New Testament (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:15; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Let us have a look at these passages. The phrase is first of all connected to the event at Pentecost. When Jesus ascended to heaven He reminded His disciples to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). In all four gospel accounts, we read that John the Baptist foretold this baptism with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33).
In the five passages mentioned so far, baptism with the Holy Spirit is connected to the day of Pentecost. However, Spirit baptism is also something which occurs after Pentecost. When Peter came to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea he remembered the words of his Lord at the time of His ascension: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as He had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 11:15). This is the sixth occurrence of the expression “being baptized” with the Holy Spirit. Peter’s words indicate a close similarity between what happened on the day of Pentecost and on the day that Cornelius came to faith in Christ: On both occasions the Holy Spirit “fell” on people;4and on both occasions the words of the ascending Lord were fulfilled.
The Unity of the Church
A final text which speaks of Spirit baptism is 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For we were all baptized with one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free men – and we were all drenched with the one Spirit.”5As he does elsewhere, so also here the apostle disqualifies all distinctions that are irrelevant when it comes to faith in Christ, such as racial, social, and gender distinctions (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:17-24; Galatians 3:28). In this connection, the apostle states in Galatians 3:26-27: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” In other words, the distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are irrelevant when it comes to the one baptism in which all believers share. This mention of baptism alongside the unity of racial and social groups is found both in Galatians 3:26-28 and in 1 Corinthians 12:13.
This baptism is something in which all believers share. Baptism means to be washed with the Holy Spirit, “to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and sanctified to be members of Christ” (LD 26). When Paul says that all were drenched with one Spirit he refers back to an image which Isaiah used: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground. I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants” (44:3). The promised Holy Spirit is like a refreshing shower, an abundance of water pouring down from heaven. The result is that life begins to blossom. The church will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams (44:5). It means that the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field (32:15).
The apostle Paul picks up on the agricultural images of Isaiah. When the Corinthians came to faith, when they were baptized into the one body of the church, they were drenched with the one Spirit.6They had the Spirit poured onto them like a rain shower. Since all were baptized with the Spirit and all were drenched with the Spirit it is impossible to restrict Spirit baptism to some believers. Paul emphasizes the unity of the church. This unity comes from baptism, which symbolizes baptism with the Holy Spirit.7This baptism is a blessing. But it is not a second blessing which comes with certain gifts, such as prophecy and speaking in tongues.8The blessing of Spirit baptism does not refer to certain gifts in the plural, but it speaks of the one gift of the Holy Spirit in the singular. John Stott aptly concludes: “Thus the gift of the Spirit (God’s gift of the Spirit to us) creates the church’s unity, while the gifts of the Spirit (the Holy Spirit’s gifts to us) diversify the church’s ministry.”9
This conclusion does raise a number of questions. 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the only place where the apostle Paul speaks of being baptized with the Spirit. By using this terminology he clearly refers back to its use by John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and Peter. Yet, there is a difference. John the Baptist and our Lord spoke of Spirit baptism in connection with Pentecost. Peter, who speaks of it in connection with Cornelius’ conversion, also refers back to Pentecost. Paul, however, connects Spirit baptism to regeneration and the initiation into the church by water baptism. Does this mean that Spirit baptism is not the same for the apostle Paul as it is for the rest of the New Testament? If this is not so, then how does Paul’s use of this concept relate to its use in the gospels and in the book of Acts? Or, to put it differently: How does the event of Pentecost (the first six occurrences of Spirit baptism) relate to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit by faith (the last occurrence of Spirit baptism)? And what is the real significance of Pentecost?
The Spirit in Samaria and Caesarea
All believers have received the Holy Spirit. All believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit. This is the clear teaching of the apostle Paul. This teaching forms the solid bedrock for the unity of the church. The church is not divided between those who have and those who have not been baptized with the Holy Spirit. These were the conclusions arrived at last time. This position does raise a number of questions, however, questions that charismatics will be quick to point out. How are we supposed to square the narratives in Acts with the above position? If it is really true that Paul regards Spirit baptism not as a second blessing but as the initial onetime gift of the Holy Spirit, does this not conflict with the book of Acts? Does Luke’s account not connect Spirit baptism with the event of Pentecost, rather than with regeneration? Moreover, is it not true that Spirit baptism in Acts usually follows after faith? The gift of the Holy Spirit seems to be a second blessing there.
“To the Ends of the Earth”
The first instance where Spirit baptism seems to be a second stage that follows faith is in chapter 8 in connection with a city in Samaria. Here the Holy Spirit appears to be given to people who are already believers. Does this not indicate that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a second blessing? In answering this question, the place of this particular event within the book of Acts may not be ignored. Already in chapter 1:7, the ascending Lord says to His disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This verse contains the program for the remainder of the book. Throughout Acts, the gospel of the kingdom of God spreads further: from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. In the conclusion of the book, Paul is in Rome (“the ends of the earth”). Then salvation is sent to the Gentiles, and Paul preaches the kingdom of God boldly and without hindrance (28:28, 31).10
Before arriving at this stage, Luke first describes how the Holy Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem, and how three thousand came to faith through the preaching of Peter (Acts 2). Luke then continues to describe how the gospel took a foothold in Jerusalem (Acts 3-7). In the beginning of Acts 8 God’s Word informs us how “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (8:1). By means of a persecution, the risen Lord brought to further fulfilment His promise which He had made when he ascended. The kingdom of God reached its second phase: Judea and Samaria. It is at this point that we read the story of Philip’s mission work among the Samaritans. His work went accompanied with the “attestation” of signs. Through Philip’s preaching people came to faith, so that they were baptized. Also Simon the Sorcerer “believed and was baptized” (8:12-13).
Philip in Samaria
At this point Peter and John went down to see what was going on in Samaria. The reason can hardly be that the apostles did not trust what Philip was doing.11After all, Philip was one of the seven who were “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). Rather, Peter and John went “when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God” (8:14). The apostles were obviously aware that a critical stage in the spread of the gospel of God’s kingdom had now been reached: the gospel had gone from Jerusalem to Samaria. At this point, a delegation from the apostles themselves came from Jerusalem to pray for the Samaritans and to lay their hands on them, so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (8:15-17).
Had the Samaritans really come to faith prior to the apostle’s arrival in Samaria? Many, often including Reformed scholars, do not think so. After all, the Samaritans were not the only ones who had come to faith and who had been baptized. Simon the Sorcerer had also come to faith. He had also been baptized (8:13). When he wanted to buy the ability to give the Spirit by the laying on of hands, however, it became clear that he was not a true believer at all (8:19,21).12Moreover, the same Samaritans who first gave all their attention to Simon now gave exactly the same kind of attention to Philip. Some draw from this the conclusion that the Samaritans’ attention to Philip was not an indication of true faith.13The Samaritans displayed the same kind of superficial mass hysteria toward Philip as they had previously shown toward Simon the Sorcerer. This means that only after the apostles laid their hands on them did they receive the Spirit and so came to true faith.14
However, there are a number of problems with this position.15In the first place, the arguments used to disqualify the faith of the Samaritans are not as strong as they may perhaps seem. The similarity between the description of Simon’s “faith” and the faith of the Samaritans proves nothing. Some of this vocabulary is used not just for the Samaritans and for Simon, but also for Lydia who certainly did have true faith.16In addition, the similarity in description may simply mean that it seemed that Simon the Sorcerer had the same true faith which the other Samaritans did have. As it turned out, this initially favourable impression of Simon’s faith subsequently appeared to be unwarranted. Furthermore, if Philip had the Samaritans baptized, do we really have to suppose that he was wrong in doing so? The text gives no indication that this is the case. Finally, while some exegetes are of the opinion that the Samaritans received faith after the apostles placed their hands on them, this makes the role of this symbolic act too important. Faith came through the preaching of the Word by Philip, rather than by the outward laying on of hands.
Extension of Pentecost
The conclusion must be, therefore, that the Samaritans believed before being baptized with the Holy Spirit. This may seem like a significant concession to the charismatic position. Does Reformed theology have to be embarrassed by such a separation between faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit? Does it indicate that Spirit baptism is a second gift, after all? Again, the structure of the book of Acts must be kept in mind. What is happening here is that the kingdom of God now extends even to the Samaritans. To be sure, they already had faith. This means that they had already experienced the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. But then again, so had the 120 who were baptized with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As a matter of fact, throughout the period of the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was already at work in the hearts of all true believers. In other words, the question concerning the time difference between faith and Spirit baptism is a question not only when the gospel spreads to the wider circle of the Samaritans in Acts 8. It is a question which the events of Pentecost themselves raise. What is happening in Acts 8, is an extension of Pentecost from the circle of Jerusalem to the circle of Samaria.17 There is an expansion, a transition, from the first circle to the second. This also explains the involvement of the apostles in the delegation of Peter and John. The apostles themselves, as commissioned by Christ, had the task to proclaim the gospel (Acts 1:8). None of the Jewish believers would ever be able to say that the church outside Judea lacked the apostolic foundation. The laying on of hands indicates the apostolic authority, which ultimately is the authority of the ascended Christ.18
"Cornelius in Caesarea"
A similar breakthrough in the spread of the kingdom of God may be noted in the story about the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10-11). Although a Roman, Cornelius had started to follow the Jewish religious way of life. He and his family were “devout and God-fearing” (10:2, 22, 35).“19He prayed to God and gave alms to the poor (10:2, 4). These appear to be indications that Cornelius, just as the Old Testament saints, had faith. Before visiting Cornelius at Caesarea, Peter was already shown in a vision that the distinction between clean and unclean food had disappeared (10:9-16). The next day he came to Cornelius’ house. Peter appears to have understood the vision, for he said to the people present: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (10:28). Peter now realized “how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right” (10:34-35). Again, therefore, the context is one in which the kingdom of God extended to another circle: from the circle of Jerusalem (Acts 2), to that of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8), now to the Gentiles.20While Peter was preaching to Cornelius and his family and friends, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. After receiving the Holy Spirit, they were baptized (10:47-48).21A number of times, Peter expressed that this was similar to what happened on the day of Pentecost (10:47; 11:15, 17).22
Is there a time difference here between faith and baptism on the one hand, and the gift of the Holy Spirit on the other hand? Cornelius was already a God-fearer, and the Lord took note of his lifestyle. Cornelius had been tied to the Old Testament form of worship as he saw it among the Jews. However, like the Jews on the day of Pentecost, he still had not been transferred from this tie to the Old Testament worship of God to a connection with the risen and ascended Lord. It must be concluded that there is, in a sense, a separation between faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit, both in the case of the Samaritans and in the case of Cornelius. To be sure, there is a slight difference between the two events. While there was a lack of apostolic presence in Samaria, there is no such lack in Caesarea. Peter is immediately there. No delegation from Jerusalem is necessary this time. If anybody wanted to argue that the Gentiles did not really share in the blessings of the gospel, the apostle Peter himself was there to rebut the charge. This is precisely what he did when, upon his return in Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him for eating with uncircumcised men (11:2-3). After Peter explained what happened, there were no further objections. Instead they said: “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (11:18).
The following conclusions may be drawn from the above:
In both cases (Acts 8 and 10), there was a widening of the circle of the kingdom of God: in the former case to Samaria, and in the latter case to the Gentiles.
The Samaritans needed the apostolic presence before receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this way, they were properly incorporated into the church of the ascended Lord, built on the apostolic foundation. This was not necessary in the case of Cornelius’ household, where the apostle Peter himself was immediately present.
Cornelius’ household – like the Jews on the day of Pentecost – had to be transferred from the Old Testament dispensation to the New Testament dispensation of the Spirit of the ascended Lord.
Considering these very specific salvation-historical circumstances it can hardly be argued that the course of events in Samaria and Caesarea is still normative for the church today. These two events, therefore, do not form an argument for two distinct blessings of the Holy Spirit. A provisional answer to the two questions raised at the beginning of the article can now be given. Is Spirit baptism a second blessing, in addition to the gift of faith? If it is, is it still normative today? Spirit baptism is a second blessing only in a very limited sense. It is additional in the salvation-historical sense of the word. It is an additional gift only where faith still had to be transferred from the old to the new dispensation. There it would be a gift of the ascended Lord. There it would be tied to the apostolic foundation. There the gospel of the kingdom of God would spread from the one religio-geographical circle to the next. These particular transitional circumstances no longer pertain today. Considering this very limited sense in which Spirit baptism was a second blessing, the evidence thus far points in the direction that it is no second blessing for which we must look today.
Spirit Baptism as a Dual Transition
We looked at chapters 8 and 10 of the book of Acts. It became clear that these two passages do not support the theory of a second blessing for which we must still look today. Such a claim does not do justice to the particular transitional character in which the people of Samaria and Caesarea found themselves. A third passage in the book of Acts to which charismatics appeal is found in chapter 19: the experience of the twelve disciples in Ephesus. When Paul was there during his third missionary journey, Apollos had just moved away from there to Corinth. While he was still in Ephesus, he had “taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). When Priscilla and Aquilla came into contact with Apollos, they instructed him further. Yet, it is no wonder that when Paul came to Ephesus he found these twelve disciples who had never even heard that there was a Holy Spirit and who had received John’s baptism (19:2-4).23
When Paul found “some disciples” in Ephesus who “believed,” the question is whether this means that they were Christians (19:1-2). The word “disciples” does not necessarily speak of people who have committed themselves to Christ. Also, the case of Simon the Sorcerer already indicates that Luke does not consider every “believer” a true believer. Furthermore, these disciples’ lack of knowledge with regard to the Holy Spirit makes clear that an essential aspect of their faith was lacking. Their connection with John the Baptist tied them positively to the Old Testament dispensation (cf. Matthew 11:11). Paul’s very question “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” may well reveal a certain suspicion on his part (19:2): Were these “believers” indeed believers in the full New Testament sense of the word? Had they indeed truly become part of the New Testament church of the ascended Lord? After all, why would Paul have to ask about the Holy Spirit if he did not question their faith at all? Most likely he had received certain indications that there was something lacking in these “believers.”24
The answer of the twelve disciples confirmed Paul’s suspicion: They had not even heard that the Holy Spirit had come. Stott rightly challenges the charismatic assumption that the Ephesian disciples were Christians before they received the Holy Spirit. He poses the astute question: “(I)s it seriously maintained that people who have never heard of the Holy Spirit, nor been baptized in the name of Jesus, nor even apparently believed in Jesus, were true Christian disciples? Surely not.” 25The result of Paul’s conversation with these disciples was that they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus, and that they then received the Holy Spirit and started speaking in tongues and prophesying after Paul had placed his hands on them.
What this all means is that it is not enough to simply ask whether or not the twelve Ephesian disciples had faith. The question regarding the nature of their faith must be asked. Once this is done it becomes clear that just like the Jews on the day of Pentecost, and just like Cornelius in Caesarea, these disciples still had to make an important transition. They had to be transferred from the Old Testament to the New Testament dispensation.26This again indicates that the salvation-historical character of the events must be kept in mind before deciding that they are still normative for the church today.
It may be concluded that the charismatic believer cannot appeal to the book of Acts. None of the passages appealed to – Acts 8, 10-11, 19 – prove that today’s Christian can expect a time-lapse between faith and Spirit baptism. The experiences of the Samaritans, of Cornelius and his family and friends, and of the Ephesian disciples indicate instead that Spirit baptism marked the beginning of the New Testament believer’s walk of faith in the ascended Lord, just as it does in 1 Corinthians 12:13. It was connected with tongues (and prophecy), both in Caesarea and in Ephesus (Acts 10:46; 19:6). In both instances Spirit baptism was also connected with water baptism, although there appears to be some flexibility here: In Caesarea baptism followed the gift of the Spirit, while it preceded the gift of the Spirit in Ephesus. This flexibility should caution us not to make too much of the exact order. The point is that both water baptism and Spirit baptism mark conversion and entry into the New Testament church of Christ.
What is Pentecost?
This still leaves us with the apparent dilemma. Paul connects Spirit baptism with initial conversion and with initiation into the church (1 Corinthians 12:13). Peter, however, makes clear that this gift of the Spirit is the same as the initial outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost on people who are believers already (Acts 10-11). How are we to rhyme these two facts? Does it mean that the day of Pentecost marked regeneration for the 120 disciples? This seems farfetched. Their obedient expectation of the Holy Spirit in the upper room shows that they were believers already. What is more, none of the Old Testament believers experienced a baptism with the Spirit. Yet the Holy Spirit gave all of them true faith. How can Spirit baptism be identical to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Paul), while it is the same as what happened at Pentecost (Acts)?
This question forces us to take another look at the event of Pentecost. What happened on the day of Pentecost? Stott suggests that Pentecost has three meanings:
the inauguration of the Messianic age in fulfilment of the long-promised outpouring of the Spirit;
the fulfilment of Jesus’ special promises in the upper room; and
the first “revival” in the history of the Christian church.
Stott considers the first two of these meanings as clearly unrepeatable, “as unrepeatable as the Saviour’s death, resurrection and ascension which preceded it.”27He does not regard the third significance as normative either, even though it has repeated itself from time to time.
Hendriks likewise emphasizes the redemptive-historical aspect of the events of Pentecost. It is a fulfilment of Jesus’ promise to his disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5); of John’s announcement of the coming baptism with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33); and of the Old Testament prophecies about the outpouring of the Spirit (Isaiah 32:15; Joel 2:28; Zechariah 12:10). Hendriks points to two elements that are new at Pentecost:
a richer presence of the Spirit than in the old dispensation (an outpouring); and
an extension of the gift of the Spirit to all (Acts 2:4).
The Spirit now comes to live in the congregation.28
Floor interprets the Pentecost event as the fulfilment of the law as given at Sinai. The wind and the tongues are reminiscent of the Sinai event (Hebrews 12:18). Thus, “the coming of the Holy Spirit was also the fulfilment of the covenant treaty at Sinai. The coming of the Holy Spirit realizes what had been the actual intent of the Sinai event.”29
In an excellent description of Pentecost, Floor considers it as a salvic event. The book of Acts is concerned with the spread of the gospel of the kingdom of God. Christ is the exalted and ascended king at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33). Before Pentecost, the Spirit’s presence was not yet that of the crowned Lord, Jesus Christ. Christ now furthers his kingdom on earth through the indwelling of the Spirit. While God lived in the tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament, in the New Testament the indwelling of God has become more personal, more intimate. Floor then concludes that Pentecost is unrepeatable in the history of salvation. Yet, a baptism with the Holy Spirit must also take place in the order of salvation, in the life of every believer. This Spirit baptism is identical to regeneration. Finally, Floor points out that also the power which comes with the Holy Spirit is a new element in the New Testament (Luke 4:14; 24:49; Acts 1:8; 10:38; 2 Timothy 1:7).30
The redemptive-historical character of Pentecost, to which both Stott and Hendriks draw our attention, can indeed scarcely be overlooked. This element fits within the framework of the book of Acts, which is structured around the extension of the kingdom of God from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. At the beginning of this program, the ascended King and Lord pours out his Spirit and so ushers in the beginning of the age of the Spirit. It is an age in which there will be a richer and a more intimate indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each and every believer. This means that Pentecost, as the inauguration of the new age of the Spirit, and as the beginning of the spread of God’s kingdom beyond the Jewish nation, cannot be repeated. It is only repeated to transfer certain groups of people from the old into the new dispensation – the Samaritans, the Gentiles, and a group of disciples who only knew the baptism of John.
Spirit baptism in these cases was part and parcel of a decisive event in salvation history, namely, the breakthrough of the gospel, the extension of the kingdom of God from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Spirit baptism clearly marked the decisive moment in the lives of the people who experienced this. The 120 disciples were Old Testament believers when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. The Samaritans were believers when they received the Holy Spirit. Cornelius was a pious and God-fearing man when he was baptized with the Holy Spirit. And also the twelve Ephesian disciples had some association with John the Baptist when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Historical and Personal Category
The phenomenon of Spirit baptism in the book of Acts does not need to be problematic for the Reformed tradition. There is no difficulty once it is understood that this gift of the Spirit entails a dual transition. In all four cases described in the book of Acts, the transition still had to be made to the New Testament age of the Spirit, to the church of the New Testament, which had become a distinctly Christian church. Faith, from now on, would only be faith if it would be faith in Christ, the ascended King of the church. It was this King who would pour out his Spirit. The book of Acts is the book of the acts of Jesus (1:1). Only since the day of Pentecost is the work of the Spirit the work of the ascended Lord and King. Moreover, in the first three of these cases this gift of the Spirit also marked a transition to a wider circle in the extension of the kingdom of God. Neither of these two transitions really apply anymore after the period of the book of Acts. Then the gospel of the kingdom of God has – at least within the book of Acts and in principle – reached the ends of the earth. When the Corinthians came to faith they no longer needed to be transferred from the old age to the new.31
Their regeneration, their baptism with the Spirit of the ascended Lord, immediately placed them into the New Testament church of Christ. The Corinthians – unlike the 120 disciples, Cornelius and the twelve disciples in Ephesus – never had to make that transition from the old to the new. They were, so to speak, “brand new” Christians, without any attachment to the Old Testament dispensation. This explains why their baptism with the Spirit is identical to regeneration and membership of the church (1 Corinthians 12:13). This is also the norm for the church today. There is no second blessing. Every believer has been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Every believer is a “brand new” Christian through the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is an explanation
which does justice to the redemptive-historical emphasis of the book of Acts;
which explains how in the book of Acts the Spirit can be given to people who already have some kind of faith, while in the rest of the New Testament all believers have the Spirit; and
which explains how Spirit baptism can be a salvation historical category in the book of Acts and a personal category in Paul. Thus, Spirit baptism is something which marked Pentecost, which marked the initiation into the church by the Samaritans, the Caesareans and the Ephesians, and which marks the beginning of every Christian life since that time.32