Baptism in the Holy Spirit

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Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Although this term has been used in various ways in American religious history, its contemporary association is usually with the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. American Pentecostals are accustomed almost exclusively to baptism by immersion in water on profession of faith. They use the phrase "baptism in (or with or of) the Holy Spirit" to describe another distinct experience that they visualize as an immersion in the Holy Spirit.

Since this is a spiritual experience, they proclaim as its evidence the outward sign of speaking in tongues. They derive this doctrine from the New Testament book of Acts. In the account of the Pentecost in Acts 2, the writer records that those who received the Holy Spirit spoke in other languages. Acts records other instances in which reception of the Holy Spirit was evidenced by speaking in tongues. From the passages Pentecostals have constructed their theology of tongues speech as the "immediate uniform initial physical evidence" of baptism in the Holy Spirit. They make a distinction between baptism with the Holy Spirit (accompanied by evidential tongues) and the gifts of the Spirit cited in I Corinthians 12 (of which speaking in tongues is but one).

While Charismatic Christians often speak in tongues, they tend on the whole to be less dogmatic about tongues speech as the uniform evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit. They are also likely to prefer the language of "filling" to that of baptism. While Pentecostals have a low-church ecclesiology and may accept rebaptism, charismatics have often been reluctant to diminish the significance of their water baptism by expecting another baptism of any sort. Such people may refer more readily to being "filled" with the Spirit, in reference to the biblical image of the Old Testament woman pouring oil into empty vessels. While Pentecostals also find this metaphor appealing, they use it more readily for fillings with the Spirit subsequent to their baptism in the Spirit.

For Pentecostals, baptism with the Holy Spirit is primarily an "enduement with power for service." They make a close association between this baptism and their effectiveness in evangelism and other forms of Christian service. In this, they adhere closely to the views of some late-nineteenth-century non-Pentecostal advocates of a distinct baptism or filling with the Holy Spirit. One of these non-Pentecostals, Moody Bible Institute Superintendent R. A. Torrey, argued that one needed this baptism before undertaking any form of Christian work. However, Torrey differed from Pentecostals on the evidence required. Whereas he took the experience by faith, Pentecostals affirmed the need for a particular sign. One danger in the Pentecostal view, Torrey and others after him insisted, was seeking the sign.

Pentecostals also teach that baptism with the Holy Spirit has a relationship to holiness. For some Pentecostals, Spirit baptism follows the second blessing—an experience of entire sanctification that prepares the believer to receive what Pentecostals call simply "the baptism." Those Pentecostals who view sanctification as progressive rather than instantaneous also urge adherents to pursue holiness. Among early Pentecostals, baptism with the Holy Spirit followed seasons of prayerful, repentant waiting, known as tarrying. At the end of the century, this practice has generally been replaced by teaching on how to receive baptism with the Holy Spirit. In Pentecostal denominations, this still includes speaking in tongues. In other settings, it may not.

While Pentecostal denominations continue to urge members to seek baptism in the Holy Spirit, surveys indicate that many members never receive it. Denominations' wording on evidence is more contested within these groups than ever, as newer Charismatic and other movements exercise spiritual gifts without insisting on any one as evidence or without referencing a doctrine of Holy Spirit baptism. Theologians have challenged the validity of theology constructed on historical narratives. The experience around which Pentecostals built their movement is less central in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles at the end of the century than it was at the beginning or in the middle. Superseded by other signs of spirit possession, especially being "slain in the spirit," "holy laughter," and prophetic utterances (often offered by people who attend "schools of the prophets"), the traditional Pentecostal teaching on baptism with the Holy Spirit, with its evidential tongues and connotations of empowerment and holiness, is associated more with the past than with the present. For increasing numbers who embrace this spirituality, any spiritual gift or numerous "manifestations" may attest the Holy Spirit's empowerment. Outside of Pentecostal denominations, the term "baptism in the Holy Spirit" is not necessarily at the core of Charismatic spirituality. In the new century, notions of "filling," "possessing," "receiving," and "yielding" may be more cogent than the older language of baptism.

See alsoCatholic Charismatic Renewal; Charismatic Movement; Glossolalia; Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity; Spirit Possession.


Bennett, Dennis, and Rita Bennett. The Holy Spirit andYou. 1971.

Christenson, Larry. The Charismatic Renewal Among Lutherans. 1976.

Hamilton, Michael, ed. The Charismatic Movement. 1975.

Hayford, Jack. The Beauty of Spiritual Language. 1976.

Horton, Stanley. What the Bible Has to Say About the HolySpirit. 1976.

McDonnell, Killian. The Holy Spirit and Power: The Catholic Charismatic Renewal. 1975.

Synan, Vinson. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. 1997.

Edith L. Blumhofer

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Baptism in the Holy Spirit

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