Holy Spirit Baptism: What Pentecostals believe

The defining belief of Pentecostalism is that an experience of the Holy Spirit, often referred to as ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit,’ is available to Christians to empower them with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This second experience (which is usually subsequent to conversion but always logically distinct from conversion) should be normative for every Christian. It goes without saying, however, that according to Pentecostalism not all Christians are ‘baptised in the Spirit.’ This is the position held by denominations such as the Assemblies of God, which also emphasise that this experience is always accompanied by the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues.


There are a mixture of terms used interchangably to refer to this experience within the movement. The phrase ‘baptism in the Spirit’ serves as an umbrella term. Other phrases derived from the language of Scripture include the ‘filling' of the Spirit, the ‘receiving' of the Spirit, the 'pouring out' of the Spirit, the Spirit 'falling upon' or 'coming on.' Another example of a phrase commonly used to refer to this experience is the 'empowering' of the Spirit. (E.g. "Have you been 'empowered' by the Spirit?')


Few Pentecostals view this experience in terms of the initial reception (or indwelling) of the Holy Spirit although the phraseology of reception is often used when describing it. Less commonly, some Pentecostals speak of a special experience for the believer after conversion when the love of God is felt for them in a unique way. Adoption terminology is used, conveying the view that there comes a time in a Christian’s life when they ‘come of age’ and experience the ‘Spirit of sonship’ in a new way. However the Pentecostal consensus nowadays holds that this experience is associated with the reception of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians.


The doctrine of a second blessing or experience of the Spirit for Christians emerged before the close of the 19th century. It has its roots in the eighteenth-century Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification, which taught that sanctification involves a second blessing as an experience of the Spirit distinct from conversion. When this doctrine spread to America it inspired the Holiness movement, which reformed Wesleyan theology on the second blessing by teaching that Spirit-baptism was the second experience to empower Christians for miraculous evangelisation. It was during this time that the emphasis within the Holiness movement shifted from sanctification and holiness to ‘empowerment’ for service.

The historical situation at the turn of the nineteenth-century encouraged the appearance of Pentecostalism, which taught that Spirit-baptism is a post-conversion experience of empowerment for supernatural Christian living. Many modern Pentecostals today believe that their experience of ‘baptised in the Spirit’ equipped them with special gifts of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, others believe that when they were ‘filled with the Spirit’ they received the Spirit's ‘power to be a witness’ according to Acts 1:8.


There are slight differences within the movement regarding how ‘baptism in the Spirit’ is received. Usually Pentecostal teaching insists that the blessing needs to be actively sought from God. This may be done by praying and waiting at length. However others maintain that this blessing is immediately available to every Christian; one only need ask and act accordingly in faith.


Pentecostalism has formulated a number of doctrines associated with this position on 'baptism in the Spirit.' The doctrine of separability is the long held belief of Pentecostalism that Spirit-baptism is a distinct and unique experience from conversion (or regeneration); that is, it is separate to regeneration (the experience of Spirit-baptism can be separated from the experience of conversion). This belief entails the conviction that Spirit-baptism is dissimilar to regeneration in nature and identity.

Again, the doctrine of subsequence is the additional belief that this work of the Spirit follows regeneration in time (or at least, in order). However, the doctrine of separability does not depend on the doctrine of subsequence, because two events may be simultaneous though discrete in character. This is why the Assemblies of God's stated position, for example, is that baptism in the Spirit usually follows (subsequence) the experience of new birth but is always distinct from it (separability).


Has God really promised Christians who have received the Spirit a second reception of the Spirit? What is the case against the Pentecostal view that baptism in the Spirit is a second experience subsequent to conversion? In the future posts we’ll talk about the specific teaching of the New Testament regarding Christian blessings, baptism and the Spirit.

More on this topic

Tongues and Spirit-baptism: What Pentecostals believe

Baptism in the Spirit: The basis of Pentecostalism

Filled with the Spirit: Pentecostal experiences

Defining Pentecostalism | 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.