Baptism With The Holy Spirit

In Christian theologybaptism with the Holy Spirit, also called baptism in the Holy Spirit or baptism in the Holy Ghost, has been interpreted by different Christian denominations and traditions in a variety of ways due to differences in the doctrines of salvation and ecclesiology. It is frequently associated with incorporation into the Christian Church, the bestowal of spiritual gifts, and empowerment for Christian ministry. Spirit baptism has been variously defined as part of the sacraments of initiation into the church, as being synonymous with regeneration, and as being synonymous with Christian perfection that empowers a person for Christian life and service. The term baptism with the Holy Spirit originates in the New Testament, and all Christian traditions accept it as a theological concept.

Prior to the 18th century, most denominations believed that Christians received baptism with the Holy Spirit either upon conversion and regeneration or through rites of Christian initiation, such as water baptism and confirmation. Emerging in the mid-18th century, Methodism (inclusive of the holiness movement) affirms the possibility of entire sanctification as a second work of grace, which it teaches is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The 20th century saw the spread of Pentecostal churches, which identified a baptism of the Holy Spirit with glossolalia, the belief that this is an experience distinct from Christian initiation has come into increasing prominence.

Methodists often seek the new birth and entire sanctification at the mourners' bench or chancel rails during services held in local churches, tent revivals and camp meetings (pictured are people praying at Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Pasadena).

Methodists often seek the new birth and entire sanctification at the mourners’ bench or chancel rails during services held in local churches, tent revivals and camp meetings.

Biblical description

Old Covenant background

Further information: Holy Spirit in Judaism

In Christian theology, the work of the Holy Spirit under the Old Covenant is viewed as less extensive than that under the New Covenant inaugurated on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit was restricted to certain chosen individuals, such as high priests and prophets. Often termed the “spirit of prophecy” in rabbinic writings, the Holy Spirit was closely associated with prophecy and divine inspiration. It was anticipated that in the future messianic age God would pour out his spirit upon all of Israel, which would become a nation of prophets.

Canonical gospels

While the exact phrase “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is not found in the New Testament, two forms of the phrase are found in the canonical gospels using the verb “baptize”, from the Greek word baptizein meaning to “immerse” or “plunge”. The baptism was spoken about by John the Baptist, who contrasted his water baptism for the forgiveness of sins with the baptism of Jesus. In Mark 1 and John 1, the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus “will baptize in (the) Holy Spirit”; while in Matthew 3 and Luke 3, he “will baptize with Holy Spirit and fire”.

Jesus is considered the first person to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus during his baptism and anointed him with power. Afterward, Jesus began his ministry and displayed his power by casting out demons, healing the sick, and teaching with authority.

Acts of the Apostles

The phrase “baptized in the Holy Spirit” occurs two times in Acts of the Apostles, first in Acts 1:4–5 and second in Acts 11:16. Other terminology is used in Acts to indicate Spirit baptism, such as “filled”. “Baptized in the Spirit” indicates an outward immersion into the reality of the Holy Spirit, while “filled with the Spirit” suggests an internal diffusion. Both terms speak to the totality of receiving the Spirit. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is described in various places as the Spirit “poured out upon”, “falling upon”, “coming upon” people. To “pour out” suggests abundance and reflects John 3:34, “God gives the Spirit without limit”. Another expression, “come upon” is related to a statement by Jesus in Luke 24:49, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high”. The language of “come on” and “clothed with” suggest possession by and endowment with the Holy Spirit.

The narrative of Acts begins after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The resurrected Jesus directed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism in the Holy Spirit and promised, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”. After his ascension, he was given authority to pour out the Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament, the messianic expectations found in early Judaism were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts. The Christian community was gathered together in Jerusalem when a sound from heaven like rushing wind was heard and tongues like tongues of flame rested on everyone. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues, miraculously praising God in foreign languages. A crowd gathered and was addressed by the Apostle Peter who stated that the occurrence was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy”. He then explained how the Spirit came to be poured out, recounting Jesus’ ministry and passion and then proclaiming his resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of God. In response, the crowd asked Peter what they should do. He responded that they should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter finished his speech stating that the promise “is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself”.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs elsewhere in Acts. The gospel had been proclaimed in Samaria and the apostles Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem. The new believers had been baptized in water, but the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on them. The Samaritans received the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid their hands on them. The Apostle Paul was also filled with the Holy Spirit when Ananias of Damascus laid hands on him, and afterwards Paul was baptized with water.

Later in Acts, Peter preached the gospel to the household of Cornelius the Centurion, a gentile. While he preached, the Holy Spirit fell on the gentiles, and they began to speak in tongues. The Jewish believers with Peter were amazed, and the household was water baptized. While the apostle Paul was in Ephesus, he found disciples there and discovered that they did not know of the existence of the Holy Spirit and had only received John the Baptist’s baptism. After baptizing them in Jesus’ name, Paul laid his hands on them, and they began to speak in tongues and prophesy.


Early Christianity

In the early Church, the laying on of hands on the newly baptized to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit was the origin of the sacrament of confirmation. In the Eastern church, confirmation continued to be celebrated immediately after water baptism. The two rites were separated in the Western church. According to Pentecostal historian H. Vinson Synan, “the basic premise of Pentecostalism, that one may receive later effusions of the Spirit after initiation/conversion, can be clearly traced in Christian history to the beginnings of the rite of confirmation in the Western churches”.

Reformation era and Puritanism (16th and 17th centuries)

Huldrych Zwingli, a leading Protestant Reformer in Switzerland, taught three distinct baptisms: water baptism, teaching baptism (having been educated about the Christian religion) and Spirit baptism. While full baptism included all three, Zwingli emphasized that the external baptisms of water and teaching could not provide salvation. The inner baptism of the Spirit alone could save because it conferred faith. According to Zwingli, the three baptisms could be given separately; Spirit baptism could occur first or last in the sequence.

Many Puritans believed that the conversion experience was followed by a later and distinct experience of the Holy Spirit. This experience was characterized by receiving assurance of one’s salvation. English Puritan Thomas Goodwin equated this experience with the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the “seal of the Spirit” referenced in Ephesians 1.

Early Methodism and the Holiness Movement (18th and 19th centuries)

A Methodist camp meeting in 1819 (hand colored)

Methodist preachers are known for promulgating the doctrines of the new birth and entire sanctification to the public at events such as tent revivals and camp meetings, which they believe is the reason that God raised them up into existence.

Synan traces the influence of Catholic and Anglican mystical traditions on John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection or entire sanctification, from which Pentecostal beliefs on Spirit baptism developed. Furthermore, theologian James Dunn notes early Methodist beliefs can be directly linked to Puritan teaching on the Holy Spirit.

Wesley taught that while the new birth was the start of the Christian life, but “inbred sin” remained and must be removed through Christian perfection, which he stated had instantaneous and gradual aspects. John Fletcher, Wesley’s designated successor, called Christian perfection a “baptism in the Holy Spirit“. On the subject, Fletcher wrote:

Lastly: if we will attain the full power of godliness, and be peaceable as the Prince of Peace, and merciful as our heavenly Father, let us go on to the perfection and glory of Christianity; let us enter the full dispensation of the Spirit. Till we live in the pentecostal glory of the Church: till we are baptized with the Holy Ghost: till the Spirit of burning and the fire of Divine love have melted us down, and we have been truly cast into the softest mould of the Gospel: till we can say with St. Paul, “We have received the Spirit of love, of power, and of a sound mind;” till then we shall be carnal rather than spiritual believers.

In mid-19th century America, the Wesleyan holiness movement that had adherents both within and outside mainline Methodism began to teach that entire sanctification was less a process and emphasized the instantaneous aspect of Wesley’s doctrine, which one entered into by faith at a definite moment in time. This second blessing (or second work of grace), as it was commonly called, allowed Christians to be freed from the power of sin. Among adherents of the holiness movement, baptism in the Holy Spirit was synonymous with second blessing sanctification.

John Wesley’s Checks to Antinomianism later became a standard for Pentecostally-inclined holiness teachers.

Keswick higher life movement (19th century)

After his conversion in 1821, Presbyterian minister and revivalist Charles Grandison Finney experienced what he called “baptism in the Holy Spirit” accompanied by “unutterable gushings” of praise. Finney and other Reformed writers, known as Oberlin perfectionists, agreed that there was a life altering experience after conversion, but unlike their Wesleyan holiness counterparts, they conceived of it as an ongoing process enabling believers to devote themselves wholly to Christ’s service. Similarly, the English Higher Life movement taught that the second blessing was an “enduement of power”. According to this view, Spirit baptism gave Christians the ability to be witnesses for the gospel and to perform Christian service. Wesleyan teachers emphasized purity while Oberlin and higher life advocates stressed power as the defining outcome of Spirit baptism.

20th century

In the early 1890s, R.C. Horner, a Canadian holiness evangelist, introduced a theological distinction that would be important for the development of Pentecostalism. He argued in his books Pentecost (1891) and Bible Doctrines (1909) that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was not synonymous with the second blessing but was actually a third work of grace subsequent to salvation and sanctification that empowered the believer for service. Charles Fox Parham would build on this doctrinal foundation when he identified speaking in tongues as the Bible evidence of Spirit baptism.


The diverse views on Spirit-baptism held among Christian traditions can be categorized into three main groups. These are baptism with the Spirit as sacramental initiation (Orthodox and Catholic churches), regeneration (Reformed tradition), and empowerment for witness and vocation (Pentecostals and charismatics).

Sacramental initiation

Eastern Orthodoxy

Main article: Chrismation

Orthodox Churches believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit is conferred with water baptism. The individual is anointed with oil (chrism) immediately after baptism. According to Cyril of Jerusalem:

This holy ointment is no more simple ointment, nor (so to say) common, after the invocation, but the gift of Christ; and by the presence of His Godhead, it causes in us the Holy Ghost. It is symbolically applied to thy forehead and thy other senses and while thy body is anointed with visible ointment, thy soul is sanctified by the Holy and life-giving Spirit.


Main article: Sacraments of the Catholic Church § Sacraments of initiation
See also: Confirmation in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church teaches that baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist—the sacraments of Christian initiation—lay the foundations of the Christian life. The Christian life is based on baptism. It is “the gateway to life in the Spirit” and “signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit”. The post-baptismal anointing (Chrismation in the Eastern churches) signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit and announces a second anointing to be conferred later in confirmation that completes the baptismal anointing.

Confirmation, then, is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. When confirmed, Catholics receive the “special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost”. For the confirmand it increases the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), unites more fully to Christ and the Church, and gives strength to confess Christ and defend the faith. The rite of confirmation orients toward mission, and many liturgical texts remind the initiate that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be used for service to the church and the world.

New Apostolic Church

The New Apostolic Church believes that baptism in the Holy Spirit is a second step after the Holy Baptism with Water. It also referred to as the Holy Sealing. It is a sacrament through which the believer, through the laying on of hands and the prayer of an apostle, receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. The death out of water and spirit, which was begun in the Holy Baptism with Water, is completed through the Holy Sealing.


Main article: Regeneration in Theology

The main position on Spirit baptism among the Reformed churches, dispensationalists, and many Baptists is that the baptism with the Holy Spirit occurs simultaneously with regeneration, when those who have faith in Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit and are incorporated into the body of Christ.


Methodist and Holiness Christianity

Main article: Christian perfection

Within Methodism (inclusive of the holiness movement), baptism with the Holy Spirit has often been linked to living a sanctified life. The United Methodist Church has a sacramental view of baptism and confirmation, in which the believer receives and is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, respectively. At the same time, the United Methodist Confession of Faith affirms Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection (also known as entire sanctification), the second work of grace:

Entire sanctification is a state of perfect love, righteousness and true holiness which every regenerate believer may obtain by being delivered from the power of sin, by loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and by loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. Through faith in Jesus Christ this gracious gift may be received in this life both gradually and instantaneously, and should be sought earnestly by every child of God.

In holiness movement within mainline Methodism and outside of it, entire sanctification is emphasized as a definite experience linked to baptism with the Holy Spirit:

2.9 ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION As all justified believers are sanctified in Christ (I Cor. 1:2; 1:30), so all may be sanctified by Christ (Eph 5:25, 26; Heb. 13:12). Entire sanctification follows regeneration as circumcision follows birth. It is to enable us to “Love the Lord thy God with all thine heart” (Deut. 30:6). By this circumcision ” made without hands”, the “body of the sins of the flesh” is put off (Col. 2:11). Love is made perfect (I John 4:17); Holiness is perfected (II Cor. 7:1).

2.9.1 Relationship to Regeneration. Entire sanctification is subsequent to regeneration (John 17:9 -17) and is effected by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16. 17: I Pet. 1:2; Rom 15:16). It is for all believers (John 17:20; I Thess. 4:2, 7; 5:23, 24), and is an instantaneous experience, received by faith (Acts 2:1-4; 15:8, 9). It cleanses the heart of the recipient from all sin (I John 1:7, 9; Acts 15:8, 9), sets him apart and endows him with power for the accomplishment of all to which he is called (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8).

2.9.2 Evidence of the Experience. Those who teach that some special phenomena such as speaking with unknown tongues constitutes a witness to the Baptism with the Spirit expose themselves and their hearers to peril of dangerous fanaticism. Perhaps no wiser counsel has been given on this matter then that of John Wesley who wrote long before the modern “tongues” movement appeared: “The grounds of a thousand mistakes is the not considering, deeply that love is the highest gift of God – humble, gentle, patient love – that all visions, revelation, manifestations whatsoever are little things compared to love. It were well you should be thoroughly sensible of this. The heaven of heavens is love. There is nothing higher in religion; there is in effect, nothing else. If you look for anything but more love you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way. And when you are asking others, “Have you received this or that blessing,” if you mean anything but more love you, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing but more of that love described in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. You can go no higher than this till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.” ―Doctrine, Pilgrim Holiness Church

According to the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene, sanctification is a work of God after regeneration “which transforms believers into the likeness of Christ” and is made possible by “initial sanctification” (which occurs simultaneously with regeneration and justification), entire sanctification, and “the continued perfecting work of the Holy Spirit culminating in glorification”. Entire sanctification (as opposed to initial sanctification) is an act of God in which a believer is made free from original sin and able to devote him or herself entirely to God:

It is wrought by the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service.


Classical Pentecostalism

In classical Pentecostalism, the baptism with the Holy Spirit is understood to be a separate and distinct experience occurring sometime after regeneration. Influenced by the Holiness movement, baptism with the Holy Spirit was regarded by the first Pentecostals as being the third work of grace, following the new birth (first work of grace) and entire sanctification (second work of grace). Baptism with the Holy Spirit is an empowering experience, equipping Spirit-filled believers for witness and ministry. Extending from this is the belief that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament are to be sought and exercised to build up the church. Pentecostals believe that Spirit baptism will be accompanied by the physical evidence of speaking in tongues (glossolalia).

According to Pentecostal biblical interpretation, the Gospel of John 20:22 shows that the disciples of Jesus were already born again before the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost. They then cite biblical examples in the Book of Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19 to show that it was common in the New Testament for Spirit baptism to occur after conversion. In following the biblical pattern, they argue, Christians today should also pray for this baptism which results in greater power for ministry and witness.

On the subject of Spirit baptism, Donald Gee wrote of the Christians on the Day of Pentecost:

With them it was not mere intellectual assent to some article in a creed defining an orthodox doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. Neither were they satisfied to acquiescence to a vague idea that in some indefinite manner the Holy Spirit had been imparted to them upon conversion. They gladly and thankfully recognized His gracious operations in their regeneration and sanctification, but their own personal reception of the Holy Spirit was an intensely vivid experience. They knew when He came, where He came, and how he came. Nothing reveals this more than Paul’s searching question to certain disciples whom he immediately sensed to be spiritually lacking in a vital part of their Christian inheritance—’Have ye received the Holy Ghost?’ (Acts 19:2). The challenge was to experience, not to doctrine. How significant! An Ephesian ‘Pentecost’ speedily rectified their shortcoming, and it was an experience as vivid as all the rest had received—’They spake with tongues and prophesied.’

In Pentecostal experience, Spirit baptism can be quite dramatic, as shown by William Durham’s account of his Spirit baptism:

I was overcome by the mighty fulness of power and went down under it. For three hours He wrought wonderfully in me. My body was worked in sections, a section at a time. And even the skin on my face was jerked and shaken, and finally I felt my lower jaw begin to quiver in a strange way. This continued for some little time, when finally my throat began to enlarge and I felt my vocal organs being, as it were, drawn into a different shape. O how strange and wonderful it was! and how blessed it was to be thus in the hands of God. And last of all I felt my tongue begin to move and my lips to produce strange sounds which did not originate in my mind.

In some accounts of Spirit baptism, Pentecostals report receiving visions, such as the account of Lucy Leatherman, an Azusa Street participant:

While seeking for the Baptism with the Holy Ghost in Los Angeles, after Sister Ferrell [sic] laid hands on me I praised and praised God and saw my Savior in the heavens. And as I praised, I came closer and closer and I was so small. By and by I swept into the wound in His side, and He was not only in me but I in Him, and there I found that rest that passeth all understanding, and He said to me, you are in the bosom of the Father. He said I was clothed upon and in the secret place of the Most High. But I said, Father, I want the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the heavens opened and I was overshadowed, and such power came upon me and went through me. He said, Praise Me, and when I did, angels came and ministered unto me. I was passive in His hands working on my vocal cords, and I realized they were loosing me. I began to praise Him in an unknown language.


Main article: Charismatic Christianity

Charismatics trace their historical origins to the charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s. They are distinguished from Pentecostals because they tend to allow for differing viewpoints on whether Spirit baptism is subsequent to conversion and whether tongues is always a sign of receiving the baptism.

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal believes that there is a further experience of empowerment with the Holy Spirit. As stated by Rev. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, “baptism in the Spirit is not a sacrament, but it is related to a sacrament…to the sacraments of Christian initiation. The baptism in the Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation”. Emphasis of the event is on the release of existing spiritual gifts already given to the individual through baptism in water and confirmation.

During the 1980s, another renewal movement emerged called the “Third Wave of the Holy Spirit” (the first wave was Pentecostalism and the second wave was the charismatic movement). Third wave charismatics stress that the preaching of the gospel, following the New Testament pattern, should be accompanied by “signs, wonders, and miracles”. They believe that all Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit at conversion, and prefer to call subsequent experiences as “filling” with the Holy Spirit. John Wimber and the Vineyard churches are most prominently associated with this label.


Main article: Confirmation (Latter Day Saints)

In the Latter Day Saint movement, the “Baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost” refers to the experience of one who undergoes the ordinance of confirmation with the laying on of hands to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It follows baptism in water and is essential to salvation. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the privilege of receiving inspiration, divine manifestations, direction, spiritual gifts, and other blessings from the Holy Spirit (see Gifts of the Spirit in Mormonism). It begins the lifetime process of sanctification.

Bible references

Matthew 3:11: …He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…”

Mark 1:8: …He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…”

Luke 3:16: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit…”

Luke 3:22: “…and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”

Luke 11:13: “…how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 24:49: …stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (see fulfillment in Acts 2).

John 1:33: …the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4–5: …the Promise of the Father…”; …you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…”

Acts 2:1–4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages…”

Acts 2:14–18: …I will pour out my Spirit…” (quoting Joel 2:28–29).

Acts 4:31: …they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…”

Acts 8:14–17: …prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit…”; …as yet the Spirit had not yet come upon any of them…”; …they received the Holy Spirit…”; …the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands….”

Acts 9:17: …Jesus…has sent me…that you may…be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 10:44–48: “The Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word…”; …the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out…”; …people who have received the Holy Spirit…”

Acts 11:15–16: “…the Spirit fell upon them…”; …you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…”

Acts 15:8: “God…testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us”

Acts 19:1–6: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit…?”; …the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied…”

1 Cor 12:13: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free…”

Gal 3:2: “Did you receive the Spirit…by believing what you heard?”

Eph 1:13: “…marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit”

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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