Holy Spirit Baptism: The basis of Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism is a movement with a unique theology regarding 'baptism of the Holy Spirit'. Pentecostalism teaches that baptism with the Spirit is a post-conversion experience of empowerment for supernatural Christian living, with speaking in tongues as the initial evidence. What is the basis for this belief within Pentecostalism?

The main Scriptural basis for the two stage experience of the Holy Spirit (being firstly, regeneration and secondly, baptism in the Spirit) in traditional Pentecostal doctrine is the narrative accounts in the book of Acts: The day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-42); the Samaritans (Acts 8:4-24); Saul (Acts 9:1-19); Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48); and Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). Other New Testament verses used frequently in teaching on ‘baptism in the Spirit’ include Luke’s reference to Jesus’ statement that God is ready to ‘give the Holy Spirit to those who ask’ (Luke 11:13) and Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:18 that Christians should ‘be filled with the Spirit'.

However Pentecostals have maintained that their doctrine surrounding Spirit-baptism depends on the book of Acts, and insist therefore that correct understanding of the five mentioned passages is crucial. Pentecostals contend that in each of these cases the groups of people concerned were believers who had already experienced regeneration before their experience of baptism in the Spirit:

The day of Pentecost, Acts 2:1-42

In Acts 2:1-42, the group of 120 who were meeting together on the day of Pentecost were ‘believers’ (Acts 1:15). Pentecostals hold that the group (including the 12 Apostles) had already received the Spirit (in the new covenant sense) before their experience of baptism in the Spirit. Pentecostals believe this occurred before Jesus’ ascension when he breathed on his disciples and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22).

The Samaritans, Acts 8:4-24

In Acts 8:4-24, the Samaritans had ‘believed Philip’ and been baptised in water before Peter and John prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:12-15). Pentecostals believe that these Samaritans were converted under Philip’s ministry and that their reception of the Spirit at the laying on of the Apostle’s hands was a separate and distinct experience.

Saul, Acts 9:1-19

In Acts 9:1-19, Saul sees a vision in which Jesus reveals himself as the Lord whom Saul had been persecuting (Acts 9:5-6). Pentecostals maintain that Paul experienced conversion at this time but then 3 days later when Ananias prayed for him (that he might be “filled with the Holy Spirit”) he experienced Spirit-baptism as a second work of the Spirit.

Cornelius’ household, Acts 10:1-48

In Acts 10:1-48 Cornelius’ household begin speaking in tongues and praising God while Peter was still preaching the gospel to them (Acts 10:44-46). Although in this instance the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit occurred at the same time as conversion (it was not subsequent), Pentecostals believe that there is nonetheless a logical distinction between them (separability).

John's disciples in Ephesus, Acts 19:1-7

In Acts 19:1-7 Paul meet a group of believers who had repented under John the Baptist. Paul baptises them in the name of the Lord Jesus after telling them the gospel and when he places his hands on them they speak in tongues. Pentecostals believe that these disciples experienced regeneration (at least momentarily) before the Holy Spirit came on them at the laying on of Paul’s hands. Although subsequence may not necessarily be apparent, baptism in the Spirit (at the laying on of the Apostles hands) may be viewed as logically separable to their conversion (before their baptism in water).

In each of the Acts texts listed Pentecostalism holds that the people concerned were ‘Christians’ before their experience of Spirit-baptism. Pentecostals believe that baptism in the Spirit is subsequent in 3 of the cases (Pentecost, Samaria, Paul) and logically separable in the remaining 2 cases (Cornelius, Ephesians). The conclusion they draw is that (at the very least) there are instances in Luke’s accounts when time separates the Spirit’s work in the conversion and Spirit-baptism of individuals. Since Luke shows that conversion/regeneration and Spirit-baptism can be separate experiences (in time) they are therefore distinctive experiences (in identity).

Pentecostals see Luke in the narratives of the book of Acts describing a pattern in which conversion is separate from baptism in the Spirit. They therefore further believe that Luke intends in these narratives to demonstrate a normative pattern for Christian experience in all times and as a result maintain that present day Christians should expect the same pattern of experience in their lives.

More on this topic

Baptism in the Spirit: What the Scriptures say

Filled with the Spirit: Pentecostal experiences

Baptism in the Spirit: What Pentecostals believe | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.