Thursday, October 14, 2010

I don't believe in "the baptism of the Spirit"

I've spoken about this earlier this year in Baptism in the Spirit and the UCCF doctrinal basis, but I've been reflecting again on the subject and besides what's blogged five months ago is quickly forgotten...

Terms in the New Testament are used in different ways, and the New Testament certainly speaks in Acts of people "receiving the Spirit" and of the "seal of the Spirit" in Ephesians and of having being baptised with the Spirit in 1 Corinthians. These seem to be described as normal Christian experiences that are part of the Christian life, as indeed baptism in water is, though plenty of Christians are not baptised in water, yet. There's a good case that baptism in the Spirit and in water (in either order) should happen close to if not at conversion - why wait... though many do wait.

John said that Jesus would baptise with the Spirit, as did Jesus (Mark 1:8, Acts 1:5). Peter uses the term for what happened when he preached in Cornelius' house and the Spirit fell on those listening to the gospel (Acts 10:45, 11:16). And Jesus says, ask and you'll receive the Spirit (Luke 11). There does seem to be some distinction Biblically between having the Spirit which is just being a Christian (in a Romans 8 sense), and an observable experience of particularly receiving the Spirit which brings power and praise and gifting - all of grace - to the Christian (which we see in Acts for example).

Language of Baptism does imply a one-time event and one that can be recognised, as Peter does with the household of Cornelius. The Bible also speaks of going on being filled in Ephesians, and Jesus spoke in John 7:37-38 of those who thirst having streams of living water welling up within them - the latter happening as we believe the Scriptures in what they say about Jesus (i.e. continuing faith in the gospel). As we come to the gospel and apprehend Christ we should come expecting the Spirit to 'bubble up' within us.

Some object:

I've not experienced this, therefore it doesn't happen.
That's an argument from experience and all it proves is that you may not have been baptised with the Spirit, not that you shouldn't be or couldn't be.

Isn't this a Galatian or Colossian heresy of "Gospel plus"?
To deal with Galatia, the whole problem in Galatia was people starting with the Spirit and then abandoning the Spirit in favour of works. Any receiving of the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, being fallen on by the Spirit or being baptised in the Spirit is more of the Spirit not of something other. And would be by faith through grace. Our question should be, if I'm not receiving the Spirit am I departing from the gospel...
To Colossae, there was a gospel-plus mentality there that said "start with Jesus and then add spiritual experiences, hidden knowledge or rules". This isn't that. This isn't pursue an experience, it's know the person of the Spirit more fully in your life. I think the way Paul would describe receiving more of the Spirit to the Colossians would be in 2:6-7 - "just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him". Receiving Christ is something that happens by faith as is receiving Christ (Galatians 3:2). The pouring out of the Spirit isn't a swerve from the gospel but a journey deeper into it.

Are you saying those baptised in the Spirit are better Christians?
No, all in Christianity is of grace. But, we all want to know God better and progress in our relationship with him. I want to know the Lord better today than this time last year. And the more of the Spirit's work in my life the more I'll be humbled and self-forgetful.

I remember years ago a colleague saying how someone had taught at a student meeting on the sufficiency of the cross and then the worship leader struck up Tim Hughes' song "There must be more than this..." which had seemed kind of inappropriate. Actually though, the sufficiency of the cross says you can have much more of God. There must not be more than the cross, but therefore there must be more of God for us to know - since the way is open, the curtain is torn, the Spirit is poured out.

(this next bit is derived from David Watson, One in the Spirit from UCCF Conference in the early 1970s)
How do we receive the Spirit?Repenting in response to hearing the gospel (Acts 2v38),
Or, Ask in the Father in the name of the Son (Luke 11v1-13) ** The Lord’s Prayer is an ABBA prayer – use your Sonship to receive the Holy Spirit.
Or, Hear the word of the gospel (Acts 10v44, 11v15) – the gospel that catches you up into the life of God, and as you hear the Spirit might fall on you. Your heart changed on the spot. Your eyes opened. Praise and joy overflowing, and even stepping into Spiritual gifts like worshipping with the gift of tongues
Or, Thirst/desire after the righteousness of Christ (Matt 5v6),
Or, By the laying on of hands (Acts 8v7, 9v17, 19v6)
Or, Hearing the gospel with faith (Galatians 3v2)
Notice here that it’s not one-size-fits all – but the initiative comes from God – the gracious answer to a prayer, something that happens as the word is preached. This is always a grace not a reward or a work.

Q2: How do you know if you have been?
Seemingly, others can tell (Acts 10v45)
Or, Speaking the gift of tongues and praise to God for his gospel (Acts 10v46)
Or, Comfort and encouragement in the gospel. (Acts 9v31)
Or, Power to speak the gospel (Acts 1v8)
Or, Ability to speak in other languages to people about Jesus (Acts 2v4)
Or, Speaking in tongues, prophesying (Acts 19v6)
Or, Galatians 5 – love, peace, patience, joy… etc. Changed character – over time.
Again not one size fits all - but always of grace, and always to a higher view of Christ expressed in changed character, worship and evangelism. We need more of the Holy Spirit.
There may be other questions (comments are open), but as for me and my house - we love the gospel and therefore want to pursue more of the Spirit's work in our lives, and so we want to be about the gospel and be believing God, thirsting for him, for we can do nothing ourselves.

Richard Sibbes “we may see that those that do not desire the presence of Christ are those the wind of the Holy Spirit never blew upon… It is from the Spirit that we desire more of the Spirit, and from the presence of Christ that we desire a further presence and communion with him” (Bowels Opened Sermon 1)