Sometimes I think Pentecostals should just give up on talking about Spirit baptism. The students who sit in my classes and were raised in Pentecostal churches are confused about the whole thing. And I’ve had people crying in my office because they want to experience it, but haven’t.
And, of course, some Christians think it’s just stupid.
But, there it is in the Bible. Staring back at us. Calling us to something more.
Jesus obviously cared about it. He told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they were baptized in the Spirit (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:5).
Other than that, why do Pentecostals care so much about Spirit baptism?
It’s not just tongues. Nope.
I was 14 years old when I had the experience that Pentecostals call Spirit baptism. I was at church camp, the only possible place where anything spiritually good can happen. 🙂
The steel concave walls made the sanctuary, or tabernacle, as we called it, look more like a steel barn than a church. The preaching finished and the Pastor issued an altar call. I walked to the front and stood there singing the slow worship choruses as the band played their guitars and the keyboard on stage.
As I stood there with my hands raised and eyes closed, someone approached me. “Are you here because you want to be baptized in the Holy Spirit?”
I wasn’t too sure what he meant, but it sounded good. After all, I eagerly desired to have “more of God,” as the preachers put it.
He lead me in a prayer: “God, I ask you to now baptize me in the Spirit.” I thought this meant being slain in the Spirit, so I let myself fall backwards. He was kind enough to catch me. (Give me a break, I was 14.)
As I laid there on the cold, musty carpet, I must have remembered a sermon or something because somehow I realized that Spirit baptism wasn’t the same as being slain in the Spirit.
I think I prayed the prayer again. Then . . . Peace. Love.
And as a result, I will
It was as though I had been released from a spiritual slingshot of growth.
My parents often came into my room late at night to turn the light off because I had fallen asleep reading my Bible. I spent an hour in prayer every morning as I walked door-to-door around the neighborhood delivering the local newspaper.
My wife remembers watching me and my pale, blond-haired friend (you know who you are) at church with our arms raised in worship as high as they would go.
And I wore a big wooden cross around my neck that was formed out of the letters jeSus (now it hangs on my wife’s mirror). Friends at school had no doubt I was a Christian, and I had the privilege of leading a few people to faith in Christ before I graduated from High School and made the long drive to Bible College.
And now I’m a Pentecostal theology professor. (And so utterly grateful for my “job” at Horizon College & Seminary!)
Way back in 1906 when the Pentecostal movement was still in its infancy, one participant in the Azusa Street revival exclaimed, “It was a baptism of love. Such abounding love! Such compassion seemed to almost kill me with its sweetness! People don’t know what they are doing when they stand out against it. . . .This baptism fills us with divine love” (see this and other testimonies here).
Or, in other words, as my own Pentecostal denomination states it, through Spirit baptism “the believer comes to know Christ in a more intimate way and receives power to witness and grow spiritually.”
In case you missed it, it isn’t just about tongues.
But, if you are anxiously wondering, yes, I did pray in tongues that night at church camp.
In the many years since I attended that camp, my thinking about Spirit baptism has expanded, but I still value the post-conversion experience of being baptized in the Spirit.
If you want to read more about how my thoughts about Spirit baptism have evolved, see especially my articles:
- Spirit Baptism and the Intensity of the Spirit (a little dense, but well worth the effort)
- The Holy Spirit and Eschatology—with Implications for Ministry and the Doctrine of Spirit Baptism (a comparatively easy read)
I’ve also written a couple blog posts on the topic:
- Tongues is NOT the Only Sign of Spirit Baptism
- Misunderstanding Tongues as “Initial Evidence” of Spirit Baptism
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at how many questions people submitted about Spirit baptism. I will not write every post on the topic, but it is going to come up a lot. You asked for it!
Question: What is your story of Spirit baptism? What has it meant for you?