Friday, October 07, 2011

Spirit Baptism--The Historic Baptist view, part 1

          Spirit baptism is an important Biblical doctrine.  Wrong views of the event do not only constitute Pneumatological error, but lead to various other errors in systematic theology, such as false ecclesiology (developing, e. g., from a wrong view of 1 Corinthians 12:13).  Furthermore, incorrect views of the baptism of the Holy Ghost lead to confusion in the intensely practical matter of sanctification.  Entire religious movements, such as Pentecostalism, have arisen in large part from unbiblical views of Spirit baptism.  Thus, one’s ability to glorify God, and to love Him with the heart, soul, and mind, is strengthened by a correct comprehension of Spirit baptism, and weakened by erroneous views of it.

 Statement of views

Many conflicting views of Spirit baptism compete for adherents in the modern religious milieu.  One prominent view, which will be referenced below as the post-conversion special power (PCP) view, affirms that the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which it avers continues to take place today, occurs subsequently to the point of conversion in the life of some, but not all, Christians.  The baptism is said to bestow a variety of special benefits or powers.  The adumbration of these benefits or powers varies greatly based on the theological paradigm of specific PCP advocates.[1]  In contrast, what this composition will term the universal-church dispensational (UCD) view holds[2] that at the moment of faith and regeneration, the Holy Spirit baptizes a believer into the universal, invisible church, the body of Christ.[3]  The UCD and PCP views[4] agree that Spirit baptism continues to take place today, but the UCD position, contrary to the PCP, affirms that all believers have been Spirit-baptized, and maintains that Spirit baptism is not intrinsically connected with any visible signs or special powers. 
         A third view, which will be termed the historic Baptist view,[5] affirms that the baptism of the Holy Ghost is a phenomenon restricted to the first century and connected with the sending of the Holy Spirit by Christ on the day of Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts.  This position, contrary to both the UCD and PCP doctrines, denies that anyone receives Spirit baptism today, although it affirms that the Holy Spirit indwells all believers immediately at the point of faith and regeneration (Romans 8:9, 14; Galatians 4:5-6).  In agreement with the PCP position but against the UCD view, the historic Baptist position affirms that the Bible teaches that Spirit baptism took place after regeneration.  In agreement with some PCP advocates, the historic Baptist position connects Spirit baptism with miracles, signs, and wonders.  Furthermore, while advocates of the historic Baptist position agree that Scripture contains dispensational distinctions,[6] their ecclesiology, against the UCD doctrine and the generality of PCP advocates,[7] denies that the doctrine of a universal, invisible church is Scriptural, affirming instead that the word church pertains solely to the local, visible assembly. Since the doctrine of a universal, invisible church, developed especially by Augustine of Hippo in his battles against the Anabaptist Donatists and assumed within the Protestant movement by the Magisterial Reformers, is the position of almost all non-Baptist, Protestant religious denominations, this third view is held nearly exclusively by Baptists.  Thus, it is properly termed Baptist.  Furthermore, since many modern Baptists, especially those who have abandoned the militant separatism of the New Testament, are influenced more by the broad spectrum of Protestant evangelicalism than by classical Baptist systematics, and have consequently abandoned much historic Baptist doctrine and practice, including its position on Spirit baptism, in favor of UCD or PCP positions, this third position is properly termed historic among Baptists because of its historical dominance in past centuries, despite its decline among many today that claim the Baptist name.

Note that this complete study, with all it parts, is available by clicking here.


[1] Some of the major divisions of the post-conversion special power position are: 1.) The Wesleyan view, which connected Spirit baptism with an experience of entire sanctification and perfect love; 2.) A large variety of Methodist and revivalist views, which developed from the Wesleyan doctrine, such as the doctrine of the Oberlin evangelist and Pelagian Charles Finney’s belief that Spirit baptism brought special holiness and empowerment, a view that influenced the post-conversion empowerment views of Spirit baptism held by men such as D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, and John R. Rice.  The early Keswick employment of Spirit baptism language for what it later generally called Spirit filling also bears a substantial relationship to the earlier Oberlin position.   3.) The classical Pentecostal view, which developed under Wesleyan, Methodist, and revivalist influences, connects the baptism with the ability to speak in tongues. 4.) The Oneness Pentecostal view, which likewise associates the baptism and tongues speaking, but affirms that it is absolutely necessary to salvation and that it occurs only after one has believed, repented, and been baptized with a “Jesus only” formula in order to obtain the remission of sins.  It should be noted that this fourth view is somewhat different from the first three divisions listed in that it affirms that all Christians receive Spirit baptism, because nobody who has not, after being baptized with a “Jesus only” formula, received the Spirit and spoken in tongues is a Christian.  Also, no true Christian can hold view four, as it entirely corrupts the gospel and is accursed (Galatians 1:8-9), while true believers can hold the first three views, although they are erroneous.  Note also pgs. 9-14, Holy Spirit Baptism, Anthony A. Hoekema (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972) for the special benefits and powers bestowed in what the book terms the Neo-Pentecostal view.
[2] Disagreements among UCDs exist, although the divisions are not as wide as the chasms that separate proponents of many of the subdivisions in the PCP position.  See “Dispensationalists and Spirit Baptism,” Larry D. Pettegrew, Master’s Seminary Journal 8 (Spring 1997): 29-46.
[3] In the words of Lewis Sperry Chafer (Systematic Theology: Pneumatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1976 (reprint ed.), pgs. 142-143, vol. 6, chap. 11): “[T]he Spirit’s baptism . . . is a joining of the believer to, the bringing into, the Body of Christ—in other words, the forming of that organic relation between Christ and the believer which is expressed by the words in Christ and which is the ground of the Christian’s positions and possessions. . . . The members are a unity, being in one Body . . . joined to its Head . . . [t]hey are said to be baptized into this Body by one Spirit. . . . The central truth is that one Spirit baptizes all—every believer—into the one Body.  What is thus accomplished for every believer is a part of his very salvation, else it could not include each one.”
[4]             Individual advocates of the UCD or PCP position are also referenced below as UCDs or PCPs.
[5] Documentation for the affirmation that this is the classical Baptist position will appear in later posts.  Note the brief exposition of the historic Baptist view in Landmarks of Baptist Doctrine, Robert Sargent (Oak Harbor, WA: Bible Baptist Church Publications, n. d.), vol. II:4, pgs. 293-299.
[6] Baptists believed in doctrines connected with modern dispensationalism before the days of John Darby and the popularization of the system within Protestantism;  thus history documents, e. g., that English Baptist pastor Benjamin Keach was put on trial in the 1600s as a heretic because he believed in a literal millennium (see The Baptist Heritage Journal, Vol. 1, #1, Baptist Heritage Press, 1991, “The Tryal of Mr. Benjamin Keach,” pg. 129-140).
[7] While the overwhelming majority of advocates of the PCP doctrine believe in a universal, invisible church, such an ecclesiological position is not key to their position on Spirit baptism, as it is to the UCD.  If there is no universal, invisible church, the UCD position is absolutely impossible.


Part 2:


Lance Ketchum said...

There seems to be little interest in (and less teaching on) the doctrine of the Holy Spirit among fundamentalist and IFB.

Anonymous said...

I have followed some of your posts on the universal church (not all, so if this is already addressed elsewhere, forgive me). While I understand some of your reasoning, I'm a little lost on parts of it.

1.Am I understanding correctly that you believe the word "church" refers only to a local assembly and not to the world wide body of believers?

2. I had always understood that "the bride of Christ" was the church universal, that is, all believers from all time from all places. How do you define/explain "bride of Christ"?

3. If a person from your local assembly happens to be elsewhere on a particular Sunday, is that person still considered a part of your church during that time? In other words, is church limited only to those actually assembling in the same place?

4. When your church celebrates the Lord's table (communion), is it limited to only folks from your local assembly, or can visitors who are also believers partake? Does your definition of church exclude from the Lord's table, or is it inclusive?

Thanks for helping me understand your position more clearly.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Those questions may have been meant for me, but this is Thomas Ross' post, so I'm going to have him answer your questions.

Thomas Ross said...

Dear Anonymous,

#1: all believers worldwide are the family of God, but the word "church" means "assembly," and it is not universal or invisible. The word study "Ecclesia" by B. H. Carroll (linked to by Pastor Brandenburg a few posts ago and also at explains this well.

#2: There are different aspects of the bride metaphor. At I have an article entitled "Thoughts on the Bride of Christ" that deals with this question.

#3. A member of the assembly is still a member, but he is not assembling if he isn't there.

#4: Bethel Baptist Church in El Sobrante practices closed communion, which is not exclusive, but includes in its communion the entire assembly, the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16-17).

You're welcome. I hope the brief responses and the links to more detailed further information helps.

Gary said...

What is your scripture reference for the gifts only meant for the 1st century christian?

Thomas Ross said...

Dear Gary,

Ephesians 2:20 indicates that the apostles and prophets were the foundation of the church, and the signs of the apostles (2 Cor 12:12) ceased with the death of the apostles. I would also encourage you to read the following article:


Lance Ketchum said...

Brother Ross,

Are you implying that the baptism with the Holy Spirit ceased with the cessation of sign gifts such as tongues and special revelatory knowledge through prophecy?

Do you hold to the Baptist Bride position of the Church?

Brother Brandenburg,

Are you a "Brider"?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Bro Ketchum,

I'm pretty sure Thomas and I are on the same page on this one, but I believe that Spirit baptism was a historic event, finished in the book of Acts. I don't believe that the cessation of the sign gifts relates directly to it. The Holy Spirit came, that was authenticated by signs and wonders. That was the baptism that John the Baptist and Jesus prophesied. I'm sure he'll be defending that position in weeks to come.

Regarding being a Baptist Brider, I don't usually mind being called that, because people normally don't know what they are saying when they call me that, and they mean nothing more than local only in my ecclesiology. However, as I understand it, I am not a Baptist brider, because I believe that "bride" is a metaphor used in the NT for more than just the church. It is used of the church, but in Revelation, when the New Jerusalem comes down like a bride, it is obvious that isn't the church, so I don't believe that the bride is the church, but a metaphor to describe the church in certain passages. I hope that is clear.

Gary said...

Brother Thomas,

I spent the day reading over the web site that you recommended and while it was very well laid out, I disagree with the writer's conclusion. It would take to long to discuss the differences, as the PDF was 48 pages long, but maybe we can touch on some of them in your part 2 or 3.
In reference to your last comment to me, are you inferring that the signs and wonders were done only by or in the presence of the apostles? How do you explain 1 Cor. 12:28?

Thank you for the time that you have put into this subject, I look forward to reading part 2.

Lance Ketchum said...

Brother Brandenburg,

I too am local church only for this dispensation. However, do you make a distinction between the "general assembly" (Hebrews 12:23) in the "church of the firstborn" (Hebrews 12:25)as this refers to the Kingdom Age assembly? In other words, do you make a distinction between the "general assembly" in the Kingdom Age and the local assembly in the Church Age?

Thomas Ross said...

Dear Bro Ketchum,

The following series of posts on Spirit baptism should very fully answer your question, as should the entirety of my paper on Spirit baptism on my website in the Pneumatology section, but, briefly, baptism with the Spirit was synonymous with the sending of the Comforter (Jn 14-16), and that took place in the first century.

I believe that the bride metaphor is employed for special closeness; Israel was the wife/bride in the OT, as the nation was God’s institution and had special closeness to Jehovah that, say, a saved Gentile outside the physical seed of Abraham and land of Israel did not have. In the NT, Scripture teaches that, on earth, each true church is Christ’s bride (2 Cor 11:2). In the eternal state, all in the New Jerusalem—all believers—have special closeness to the Triune God and thus the inhabitants of the city are called the bride/wife in the eternal state.


1 Cor 12:28 teaches that various spiritual gifts existed in the first century church. It neither affirms nor denies that all of those gifts would continue for the entirety of this dispensation. Since there are no more apostles and prophets, the foundation of the church having been completely laid, it is obvious that at least some of the gifts in 1 Cor 12:28 have ceased. I do not believe that only the twelve Apostles did miracles, although I do believe that is is difficult to prove that anyone who was not either an apostle or had hands laid on him by an apostle did any miracles.

J. R. Miller said...

Hi, you wrote, "If there is no universal, invisible church, the UCD position is absolutely impossible."

So then is it also correct that the Historic Baptist view you have outlined is only held by those who reject a Universal Church? Or are there variations among those who hold to this theology?

Thomas Ross said...

Yes, it would be very difficult to hold this view and hold to a universal church also.

I would encourage you to check out "Ecclesia" at for a comprehensive study of the word "church" (Gk. ekklesia) in the NT and the LXX. Thanks for commenting.

Joe Miller said...

Great. thanks for confirming my understanding. Blessings.