• Eric Carpenter

Recovering the Biblical Ministry of Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Part 5: PRACTICE

Josiah assisted in a church plant because he felt that was his calling after he had finished seminary a few years before. It was a difficult experience, as first calls can be, and Josiah stepped away from church planting when we hired him as our associate pastor. Though he was a bit wounded, he still had a passion for Jesus and longed to serve him. Josiah was young but gifted and we thought that he could serve in some key areas for us and would benefit from learning our Word-rooted, Kingdom-minded, Spirit-empowered culture.

Josiah jumped right in. He especially enjoyed our “Kingdom Courses” where he learned how we spoke and ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit for the Kingdom of God. On our Holy Spirit retreat Josiah not only asked others to pray for him to be baptized/filled with the Spirit, but he was also praying the same for others. He loved the experience. He had even quietly received the gift of tongues while there.

Today, Josiah is serving as a bi-vocational church planter. The empowering work of the Spirit is very evident in his life and ministry, continuing to fan into flame his preaching and teaching. Josiah operates in various gifts of the Spirit such as words of knowledge and words of wisdom, especially as he prays for people. Josiah also seems to have a real anointing in his discipleship and outreach to others.

Can you envision having a church full of Josiahs? Not that all members would be gifted in exactly the same way as Josiah, but that all would have experienced the baptism of the Spirit? They would regularly receive Spirit refreshing, filling and equipping to advance God’s kingdom.

Does this sound like too audacious of a vision? I believe this was and is central to Christ’s vision for the Church. There is a reason he tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4). Jesus revealed to us that this Spirit-empowering work not only started the Church (Acts 2:1-13), but that the Spirit was meant to be the Church’s ongoing power supply (Acts 3:1-10).

The early church not only believed, understood and experienced Spirit baptism, they developed practices rooted in it. In the early church, we see three foundational practices regarding Spirit baptism:

1. Teaching

2. Invitation

3. Prayer (especially with the laying on of hands)

If we are going to recover the biblical ministry of baptism in the Holy Spirit, then we need to begin to incorporate these three foundational practices in our churches.

1. Consistent Biblical Teaching on Spirit Baptism and Fillings

When Paul went to Ephesus he encountered some disciples there. He had a question for them, “‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 19:2)

I fear that this is just like much of the western church. Of course most Christians today have heard of the Holy Spirit, but they have not received good biblical teaching. (Not only that, but they haven’t experienced the power of the Spirit, but we’ll get to that later.) To regain Spirit baptism, we need to begin with solid teaching from the Word of God.

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms[1], of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. Hebrews 6:1-2 (NKJV)

The author of Hebrews was speaking to Christians that had already received these principles of Christ. I am concerned that we have many Christians today who have not received these foundational teachings. We need to teach clearly and consistently “the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands.

a. The Teaching Vocabulary of Inward and Outward Works

Language is so very important to any subject, but especially surrounding a more debated topic as the work and person of the Spirit. In our faith community we use the terms: inward and outward works of the Spirit.

The inward work is about: new life/identity in Christ; character and progressive (not immediate) sanctification; and intimacy/presence. Passages like John 3:1-21 talk of being born again. Identity passages like Romans 8:1-17 speak to who we are in Christ. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:13-26 illustrates character building. We emphasize that you cannot be a Christian without the Spirit (Romans 8:9b). So if you are born again, you have the Spirit of God. But we also teach that there is more (Acts 8:4-17) and this “more” is offered to everyone.

The outward work is about: baptisms and repeated fillings; gifts of the Spirit (charisma); the voice of the Spirit (guidance); and the witness of the Spirit through us as in preaching and evangelism. As we teach, we emphasize that Spirit baptism can be and often is separate from conversion. Another emphasis is that gift of tongues can be a sign but is not the required sign of receiving Spirit baptism (Luke 3:21-22, Acts 2:4; 8:14-17). Some teaching is offered on the so-called manifestation gifts of the Spirit. We focus on Paul’s instructions about those gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Listening prayer is another practice utilized as we seek to grow in discerning the voice of the Spirit (1 Samuel 3, Philip in Acts 8:26-40). We also talk about empowered (by the Spirit) acts of kindness through contemporary stories and biblical accounts like Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4:1-42); Peter, Aeneas and Tabitha (Acts 9:32-43).

We all need to remember that empowered ministry is new to many Christians, both young and old. This is not a “one and done” teaching strategy. There has to be creative repetition or our traditional culture will not change. Of course, teaching happens in a variety of locations: Sunday services, Sunday school, retreats, courses and more discipleship settings.

b. The Teaching Vocabulary of the Fruit/Christmas Tree

There is a foundational life shape or picture that communicates the two-fold work of the Holy Spirit—Spirit born and Spirit baptized. We call this the Fruit/Christmas Tree of the Spirit.[2]

Picture a tree with fruit (see Figure 1). This tree represents the inward work of the Spirit as in Galatians 5:22-25. Think about the slow growth of a piece of fruit (like an apple) on a tree. This is analogous with God’s work on our character, our sanctification. Over a Christian lifetime we cooperate with the Spirit’s transformation of our ruined soul.

But don’t stop here. There is more. Next comes Acts 8:14-17. Just as the apostles believed there was more to the Spirit’s work, so do we. If the inward work is about the

presence of the Spirit in developing our character, the outward work is about power to carry out his Kingdom ministry.

Now picture Christmas presents at the base of the tree (see Figure 2). This could also be draw simply by hand). These presents represent the outward work of the Spirit as in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Gifts differ from fruit. Gifts are given by the Holy Spirit for the ministry of the church and can be opened as we minister. These gifts flow from Spirit baptism and the ongoing fillings of the Holy Spirit.

2. Invitation(s) for Spirit Baptism and Subsequent Fillings

We can’t simply teach about Spirit baptism, the invitation must apply to both initial baptism as well as ongoing fillings. Paul told Christians in Ephesus (and we know they would have been Spirit born and baptized under Paul’s ministry):

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit… Ephesians 5:18

It is clear from the special command form of the Greek word for filled (be being filled)[3] that Paul had in mind the ongoing filling and empowerment of disciples. He invited them to be filled, not just once, but again and again. He urged the Ephesians to keep on being filled. Those who were filled at Pentecost (Acts 2:4) experienced the empowering filling of the Spirit again and again as they spread the Good News.

Paul also taught the Christians in Corinth:

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 1 Corinthians 12:13

Here Paul explained the work of the Spirit not as a one-time experience but as ongoing, one that we drink from again and again. The Message renders this in a beautiful way, implying how we must drink many times at his fountain in order to be sustained in the Spirit.

Each of us is now part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. 1 Corinthians 12:13b (MSG)

I always try to apply this to myself first. I want to be filled with the Spirit, especially in ministry times such as preaching, counseling or writing. Often an Elder or two pray over me before such ministry. I often pray the same thing for others when they are to preach or teach or step into ministry.

I also seek to drink of the Spirit on a daily basis, usually in the morning. We are called to live a different kind of life—life in God’s kingdom. We all know we can’t do it in our own strength. This Kingdom life is one filled with his presence and power. You and I need to drink of his Spirit every day. My hope is that once Christians understand that this ministry of the Holy Spirit is not meant to be a once-for-all thing, they would ask for his filling on a regular basis.

Let us regularly give this invitation for Spirit baptism and ongoing fillings. Normally we do this during our Sunday morning services. Sometimes during our worship through music, sometimes at the end of the service. At our retreats this invitation is always given. Now we are beginning to do it more and more in our smaller gatherings. We want to take every opportunity to model the ongoing filling of the Spirit corporately, so that people will begin to live it out individually.

3. Prayer

Often it is the Evangelical way to teach and preach well, but then neglect a time of prayer ministry. This won’t work with Spirit baptism and filling(s). We need to not only teach and instruct, but then apply the truths of scripture in a prayer ministry time.

Let us first say that although some would argue otherwise, there really is no magic formula for receiving Spirit baptism and filling(s). In many Pentecostal circles you will hear this fourfold formula:

1. confess and repent of all known sin

2. commit every area of your life to Christ

3. yielding or surrender the leadership of your life to him

4. believe in his empowering work.[4]

I think all of these things are good. They will promote the work of the Spirit in our lives in a variety of ways. However, scripture indicates that Spirit baptism comes in a variety of ways. There is no specific pattern for prayer. All it takes is a heart that is soft towards God and asking for more of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

I like the story of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. Apparently, Peter was too long-winded for the Holy Spirit, so the Spirit decided not to wait for Peter to finish. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” (Acts 10:44) Therefore, we must be hesitant about requiring certain signs and steps when it comes to Spirit baptism.

a. The Laying on of Hands with Accompanying Prayer

Although there is no specific formula, we do see a practice that seems to go along with receiving Spirit baptism—the laying on of hands. This is not in every instance of Spirit baptism so it should not be legalistically applied, but I think it is worth noting. Look at some of these examples:

  • Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:17

  • Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:17

  • When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Acts 19:6

Yes, there are instances where no one is placing hands on someone (Acts 10:44) but the early church often included this in their practice of praying for the empowerment of the Spirit. I think we should include it as well. In addition, we do have Old Testament examples of laying on of hands for special ministry tasks, e.g. kings and prophets. The difference in Old and New Testament examples, of course, is that the Old normally used this practice for leaders while the New opens up empowerment to everyone.

b. The Prayer of Faith—but not for a sign

Yes, we pray (often placing our hands on one another), but we don’t get hung up on signs. I have seen a variety of things happen that would indicate the Spirit’s baptism and filling: speaking in tongues, being overwhelmed in the Spirit, laughing with immense joy, crying from a sense of his abiding love. Sometimes, however, I don’t see any outward signs. And I am okay with that.

c. The Prayer of Blessing and the Hot Seat

We practice this prayer ministry in two ways. The first one is what we have come to affectionately call the Hot Seat.[5] We invite the person asking for the baptism or filling of the Spirit to sit in a chair in the middle of the pray-ers. Placing our hands on the person, we listen to God first and then pray. Often we pray for healing for one another in this manner as well (James 5:13-26). This allows us to tarry or wait on the Lord for the person. Sometimes during special services or in our Kingdom classes, when we have more time, we will pray over folks and take a longer time.

The second way is a shorter version of the first. Generally during or after the Sunday services, when we don’t have a long time and much space, we just do a prayer of blessing. Our intent is still praying for a fresh infilling or blessing of the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t require a certain time span or even much space!

A Final Challenge: Empowering our People and our Churches

Can you imagine if our churches began to really live out this ministry of Spirit baptism and ongoing filling(s)? What a tremendous impact it would have on every aspect of church life! Don’t you agree that it would be the beginning of renewal and revival? Just what the Lord wants to bring to His Bride.

I challenge you to join me in claiming this amazing promise from our Lord:

For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. John 3:34

Christ has ascended to the right hand of the Father, and he continues to give his Spirit without limit. The challenge is to claim this promise together—again and again.

[1] Some translations choose to translate the Greek word baptismos as something other than baptisms. For example, NIV translates it cleansings rites and the ESV translates it as washings. The KJV, the NKJV, the NLT and The Message all stick to the most natural translation, i.e. the plural of baptism, baptisms. Were cleansing rites really part of the foundational teaching of the early church alongside repentance, faith, resurrection and judgement? I don’t think so. Were simple water and Spirit baptism? Yes.

[2] I am indebted to Zeb Bradford Long, executive director of Presbyterian-Reformed Ministries International, for the idea of the Fruit/Christmas tree as presented in the "Dunamis Course: Experiencing the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit" (PRMI, 2002).

[3] Present passive imperative.

[4] After this, in many Pentecostal circles, you will be encouraged to start moving your tongue and urged to cooperate with the Spirit by speaking in tongues. But that assumes that speaking in tongues is equivalent to baptism in the Spirit. In our faith community we don’t practice this because we don’t believe it to be biblical. For more discussion on this point, see my article “Rediscovering the Ministry of Baptism in the Holy Spirit Part 4: Polemics.”

[5] I have tried to change the name to the Prayer Chair but it seems that people just like Hot Seat.

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