Should Christians pursue a subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit after their initial salvation experience in Christ? Many churches teach that a “second blessing” after salvation signifies the greatest honor for a Christian, and is usually thought to be accompanied by speaking in tongues. This understanding of a subsequent baptism in the Spirit is not a uniform teaching unique to just the Pentecostal or Charismatic movements, but has crossed virtually every denominational line. Therefore, there are a variety of flavors for understanding the ministries of the Holy Spirit.
Part of the confusion stems from the various ways the work of the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament. The language of “baptism” in the Spirit and “receiving” the Spirit and being “filled” with the Spirit makes us wonder if there is any crossover with these terms. We then read experiential accounts, especially in the book of Acts, where people were mightily transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Southern Baptists have not been unaffected by these discussions. Issues related to a “private prayer language” that is believed to come through the ministry of the Holy Spirit has caused dissension not only in our churches, but also in SBC entities. Nevertheless, Baptists have traditionally held to a single baptism experience in the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. That is also my personal belief. I will briefly explain why and then provide one obvious push-back to my position.
There is sufficient teaching from multiple texts to indicate a single baptism in the Spirit. I will list three here.
1 Corinthians 12:13 – “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Paul describes all the believers in Corinth as being baptized in one Spirit into one body. The only reasonable reading of this text is to understand the “all baptized” language to indicate every convert in Christ was immediately baptized by one Spirit. In other words, if there were those who had not yet experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, then Paul’s declaration that “all” had been baptized in one Spirit would not be correct.
Ephesians 1:13-14 – “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Since the Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation, the idea of a subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit would render those who have not received that baptism “unsealed” in their salvation when they placed faith in Christ. Notice the pattern – when you believed…you were sealed. Belief in Christ and being sealed by the Spirit occur simultaneously.
Romans 8:9 – You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
If a person truly belongs to Christ, then they have the Spirit. If they don’t have the Spirit, then they don’t belong to Christ. Thus, for a person to place faith in Christ but then wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit necessarily means they are not truly a Christian until their subsequent baptism. But that is contrary to every description of faith in the New Testament.
Now for some push back. Acts 8 provides an extraordinary account of Samaritan believers receiving the Holy Spirit well after they believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is the text:
“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” Acts 8:14-17
So, if we receive the Holy Spirit immediately upon our confession of faith, how do we explain the account in Acts 8?
Answer: I don’t know.
I have read several explanations for Acts 8 and all of them seem to fall short in one way or another. Here are a few things that I find to be helpful, but probably none of these points will persuade someone who is convinced of the second blessing doctrine.
First is the existence of two different kinds of teaching in the New Testament relating to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Some of the teachings are propositional while others are experiential, written in narrative form. Both are authoritative and without error, but both might not be meant to convey truths that are ongoing for every experience of regeneration. In other words, a one-time experience specific to a Samaritan context in Acts 8 might not be (and I would argue, isn’t) a normative experience of the Holy Spirit, especially if we find propositional teaching elsewhere in the NT to the contrary. So, we can’t take one experience out of context of the Bible’s repeated teaching.
Second, some will argue that the Samaritans in Acts 8 were not truly believers until Peter and John arrived. Thus, there never was a gap between their confession of faith and their baptism in the Holy Spirit because they did not believe until the apostles arrived! But I find this unconvincing. There is nothing in Acts 8 to suggest their belief in the gospel under Philip’s preaching was anything but sincere.
Third, the book of Acts is an exciting history of the church during the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Some of what we see unfold in people’s lives during this time must be understood in this transitional context (for example, the experience of Pentecost). Although we must not deny the credibility of the Acts 8 account or its importance, we should nevertheless be cautious of seeing it as the normative pattern that will be repeated in every believer’s salvation experience.
Fourth, it is no coincidence that Peter (along with John) is the apostle who arrives in Samaria. Following the flow of the third point above, Peter was the apostle who was appointed by Christ to be the key figure in the early church. It was Peter who was preaching at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the Jews. Peter was in Cornelius’ house when the Holy Spirit was given to the Gentiles. And in Acts 8, Peter was present when the Holy Spirit was given to the Samaritans. With this transition from old to new, and with Christ’s command to make disciples in “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth,” it makes sense that Peter, an apostle and pillar of the church, was present in each of those three key moments. Keep in mind that Philip in Acts 8 is not the apostle Philip. This is Philip “the evangelist” and did not carry the same early authority as did the apostles of Jesus.
When we consider the teaching of the Bible as a whole on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we should avoid reading too much into a singular experience in Samaria during the transitionary time of the early church. Nevertheless, the account will remain puzzling for Bible readers and will keep us digging deeper for truth. Which, I think, is healthy no matter what.