Historic Baptist support for a first century fulfillment of Spirit baptism and for interpreting 1 Corinthians 12:13 as a reference to the church ordinances
While many in modern times have not given the view maintained above much consideration, and an unfortunately large number of advocates of both the PCP (post-conversion power) and UCD (universal church dispensational) doctrine have never even heard of the historic Baptist position on Spirit baptism, the view of 1 Corinthians 12:13 expounded above, where the passage is considered as a reference to the church ordinances of baptism and the Supper, has strong Baptist support historically.[i] Indeed, the fulfillment of Spirit baptism as a past event that ended in the first century is an important Baptist position in the history of doctrine.
In 1802, Pastor T. B. Montanye, representing the “elders and messengers of the Philadelphia Association,” wrote the work “On the Baptism of the Holy Ghost” as a circular letter, which was “signed by order of the Association” by the Association moderator.[ii] This letter, as representative of the beliefs of the most influential Baptist body of the time, is worth quoting at some length. The letter stated:
The Baptism of the Holy Ghost . . . was never inculcated . . . [as] the work of regeneration and sanctification . . . in the Gospel, and we think ought not to be considered as constituting any part in the office work of the Divine Spirit in renewing the heart. . . . [O]ur respected [non-Baptist but Christian] friends . . . may be regenerated, and enjoy the highest consolation in the sweet incomes of the Holy Comforter, and the most sensible communion with Christ; yet as all this does not constitute the baptism of the Holy Spirit, nor is designed by it in the sacred Scriptures, it follows of consequence, that, rejecting the water baptism, they have no baptism whatever, and ought cheerfully to submit to that prescribed in the example of Jesus Christ. . . . [T]here is no well founded evidence of [the] present existence . . . of the baptism of the Holy Ghost . . . The term baptism of the Holy Ghost . . . was first taught by the harbinger of Jesus Christ, Matthew 3:11, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” . . . the accomplishment of the promise made by Jesus Christ [of Spirit baptism was in] . . . Acts 2:16-22 . . . [as predicted in] Luke 24:49 . . . Acts 1:4, 5 . . . [and it was] the ground on which the apostles went to Jerusalem, and there in holy concert joined in prayer and supplication for the accomplishment of such qualifying aid, to [promulgate] the knowledge of their exalted Redeemer. . . .
The nature of this baptism, most clearly evinces it to be distinct, and materially different from that of regeneration. The one a still small voice, saying “this is the way;” the other, that of “a rushing mighty wind.” One invisible, “A white stone, and a new name given, which no man knew save he that had received it;” the other, to be seen, “Cloven tongues of fire sat on them.” One internal, filling the heart with secret consolation, joy, and pleasure; the other external, “The whole house where they were sitting.”
This renders the term baptism proper, because they were immersed in the fountain of the Spirit, and thereby made partakers of such extraordinary and miraculous influence, as in regeneration and conversion were never promised.[iii] . . .
The subjects of this baptism differ essentially from those of regeneration. The work of grace is upon the hearts of the unregenerated, bringing them from a state of moral death to life, from darkness to light, and from the power of sin, and service of Satan, to the liberty of the gospel, and the enjoyment of fellowship with God. Whereas, the baptism of the Holy Ghost was upon the apostles; who, having experienced the work of grace upon their souls, and being thereby made partakers of all that is peculiar to regeneration, could not be regenerated by the descent of the sacred Spirit, which being a work only once in the divine life, could not be effected again. . . .
Here it is proper to remove some apparent difficulties, which are a means of puzzling the minds of many. First, what baptism the apostle denominates one baptism? We answer, The instituted appointment of Jesus Christ, which he authorized after his resurrection, which remains a standing ordinance in the church, and which Peter, when filled with the Holy Ghost, enjoined on Cornelius and the rest of the believing Gentiles, even after they were baptized with the Holy Spirit; though the baptism of the Spirit was never an essential prerequisite to water baptism[.] . . . [I]n 1 Corinthians 12:13 . . . there seems no absurdity in saying that the same Spirit influences all nations to yield an obedience to the instituted appointments of Jesus Christ, and so come [by immersion in water] into the union of the body the church. As for sundry other Scriptures, such as Romans 6:3, 4; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21; Galatians 3:27; they have an evident relation to water baptism, and are no way connected with, nor yet refer to, the work of grace in the heart. . . .
We . . . leave you to [some closing] further instruction. 1.) That though regeneration and sanctification be essential to the character of a Christian, yet neither of them constitute the baptism of the Holy Ghost. 2.) However much you may enjoy of the Spirit, as the Spirit of life, light, and love; you have no Scripture grounds to call this the inward baptism, and so the one baptism, and thereby live in the neglect of the appointments of Jesus Christ. 3.) That as the baptism of the Holy Ghost was given for the confirmation of the gospel dispensation, it has effected its design; the sacred prophecy is fulfilled, and it has ceased. 4.) That as [this] extraordinary work, and no other, is known in the gospel as the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and that took place after faith in Christ, or regeneration, we have no right to call regeneration baptism. 5.) Though we are the hopeful subjects of divine grace, and live in the smiles of heaven; it is both our duty and privilege to submit to the appointments of Jesus Christ, as laid down in his word.
And now, dear brethren, you may perceive, that our intention is not to deny any of the blessed operations of the holy Ghost upon the human mind; but to distinguish between truth and error. . . . And as churches, we would exhort you to live in the Spirit, and grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed until the day of redemption. In the mean time, pray for us, that as instrumental of your joy, you and we may honor our profession by holy living, in the smiles of God’s gracious Spirit.
The historical fulfillment of Spirit baptism was affirmed with striking clarity in 1802 by the Philadelphia Association. A position very similar to that advocated in this composition, and very different from both the PCP and UCD view, was thus the official doctrine of the most influential body of American Baptists in that era. Similarly, Texas Baptists of the 19th century believed:
When the Holy Spirit came with power upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2), and fell on the house of Cornelius (Acts 11:15-16), while Peter preached to them, it was called a baptism of the Holy Spirit. In both cases, and all cases of such baptism, speaking with tongues followed. . . . The ordinary operation of the Holy Spirit in the first century, in the regeneration and conversion of men was [not] called a baptism . . . of the Spirit. . . . To speak of the operation of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and conversion as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, is both unscriptural and misleading. For it is not a baptism, even figuratively.[iv]
Considering specifically 1 Corinthians 12:13, one notes that the Baptist Confession of 1527 affirmed the faith of all Baptists accepting the document that being “baptized into one body” referred to that immersion in water by which one joined the membership of the local, visible assembly:
In the first place, mark this concerning baptism: Baptism should be given to all those who have learned repentance and change of life, and believe in truth that their sins have been taken away through Christ; and to all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to be buried with him in death, that with him they may rise; and to all those who with such intention themselves desire and request it of us. By this is excluded all infant baptism, the Pope’s highest and first abomination. . . . In the second place, we were united concerning excommunication, as follows: Excommunication should be pronounced on all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk in his commandments, and on all those who have been baptized into one body of Christ, and who call themselves brothers and sisters, and yet slip away and fall into sin and are overtaken unawares. . . . Thirdly, we were one and agreed concerning breaking of bread, as follows: All who would break one bread for a memorial of the broken body of Christ, and all who would drink one draught as a memorial of the poured out blood of Christ should beforehand be united to one body of Christ; that is, to the Church of God, of which the head is Christ, to wit, by baptism.[v]
The pastor of the first American Baptist church, John Clarke,[vi] believed that 1 Corinthians 12:13 referred to immersion in water, and gave no indication that he believed that Spirit baptism was still going on after the first century:
Believer’s baptism by immersion was a cardinal tenet of Clarke’s church way. . . . Clarke wrote only of water baptism. Although he spoke of being filled with the Holy Spirit, he never suggested a “baptism of the Spirit.” . . . [I]n his discussion of 1 Corinthians 12:13 . . . Clarke glossed . . . it as “knit together in one by his Spirit.”[vii]
A historical fulfillment and cessation of Spirit baptism, and a view of 1 Corinthians 12:13 as a reference to immersion in water and the Lord’s Supper, was advocated in 1828 by the congregations of the Georgia Baptist Association, which affirmed that the “plain” interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 was one which read the verse as a reference to the church ordinances:
The Georgia Baptist Association of Elders and Brethren, to the Churches which they represent, send Christian salutation [in 1828]: . . . We now advance some plain Bible proof of that gospel order observed by us. . . . We believe that water baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are ordinances of the Lord, and are to be continued till his second coming. That true believers in Jesus Christ are the only subjects of baptism, and that dipping is the mode. That none but regularly baptized church members have a right to commune at the Lord’s Table. In vindication of these doctrines we bring the following plain scriptures: . . . For by one spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one spirit.”[viii]
Similar declarations from other Baptist groups of that era and afterwards are found:
For we believe that Christian baptism is the first ordinance a believer ought to comply with; and persons cannot become regular church members without first being baptized according to the word of God. This appears from the conduct of the apostles in the first gathering of the churches of Jesus Christ. Acts 2:41, 42. They that gladly received the word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they (i. e., those baptized) continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Also it is said, “By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:13. That is, by the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit we are all baptized into one body, i. e. the church. And we cannot find from the Holy Scriptures, and we think no man can, that since the ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, that any were received members of the visible church before they submitted to the ordinance of baptism.[ix]
A belief that Spirit baptism ceased in the first century, and that 1 Corinthians 12:13 refers to immersion in water and the ordinance of communion, is not a new view among Baptists. Many of the Lord’s churches have demonstrably held this view of the verse for centuries.
Note that this complete study, with all it parts and with additional material not reproduced on this blog in this series, is available by clicking here.
[i] Of course, this does not mean that all Baptists, or all Baptist churches in all ages, believed exactly the position proposed above. Such doctrinal harmony will only be achieved when all the saints are gathered, free from sin and in resurrected, glorified bodies, into the future heavenly assembly.
One should also consider that the historic Baptist view of Spirit baptism was very prominent during times of Spirit-led revival among Baptists. Holding the Biblical, Baptist view of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, rather than a PCP or UCD position, contributes to the cause of revival.
[ii] The letter by T. B. Montanye, from the minutes of the October 5-7 meeting of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, is found on pgs. 415-420 of the Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, A. D. Gillette. elec. acc. Baptist History Collection, ver. 1. Paris, AK: Baptist Standard Bearer, 2005.
[iii] In the omitted section the letter argues that “whatever any Christian may have gained in the experience of grace, he has no right to the term, baptized by the Spirit, unless such a person professing this miraculous attainment, for no other is called the baptism of the Holy Ghost, prove it by signs and wonders, as did the primitive Christians.”
[iv] Pg. 481, Texas Historical and Biographical Magazine, vol. 1, ed. John B. Link (1825-1894), elec. acc. Baptist History Collection CD ver. 1.0. Paris, AK: Baptist Standard Bearer, 2005.
[v] Pgs. 535-536, A History of the Baptists, vol. 2, Thomas Armitage, quoting the Confession of 1527, by (prob.) Michael Sattler. elec. acc. Baptist History Collection CD.
[vi] John Clarke appears to have established a real Baptist church in America the year before Roger Williams, for less than a year, adopted Baptist sentiments and, practicing se-baptism before going off into the “seeker” heresy of the day, created a “Baptist” church that never started any other churches in America and from which American Baptists by no means are derived. See The First Baptist Church in America Not Founded by Roger Williams, J. R. Graves & S. Adlam. Texarkana, TX: Bogard Press, 1995. (reprint of 1928 2nd ed.).
[vii] pg. 103, Chapter 11, “A Baptist Theology and Church Way,” in John Clarke (1609-1676): Pioneer in American Medicine, Democratic Ideals, and Champion of Religions Liberty, Louis Franklin Asher. Pittsburg, PA: Dorrance Publishing, 1997. Elec. acc. Baptist History Collection CD.
[viii] pgs. 175-181, History of the Georgia Baptist Association, Jesse Mercer. Washington, GA, pub. 1838. Elec. acc. Baptist History Collection CD.
It would not be valid to conclude that these Georgian Baptists did not believe that 1 Corinthians 12:13a referred to the Holy Spirit because of the lack of capitalization in this document. Capitalization conventions of the present time are notably different in past centuries. One notes, for example, in this same book, sentences such as “We believe that all those who were chosen in Christ, will be effectually called, regenerated, converted, sanctified, and supported by the spirit and power of God, so that they shall persevere in grace, and not one of them be finally lost” (pg. 25), “Their hope of success was founded upon the promise and spirit of the Lord” (pg. 30), “It is not assuming to much to say, that a large proportion of the Mission ardour which is felt by thousands, may be traced to the influences of the spirit of our GOD on the heart of our excellent brother Dr. WILLIAM CAREY” (pg. 44), “Consider, we beseech you, if there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the spirit, if any bowels and mercies, the situation, of many parts of our land” (pg. 106), “[A]n inspired Apostle, who had been himself, the happy subject, in a special manner, of the gracious influence of the spirit of God, and thereby made a true convert” (pg. 135), etc. Sometimes references to the Holy Spirit received capitalization, and sometimes they did not, but this did not make references in sentences such as those above concerning the “spirit . . . of God” or “the spirit of the Lord” or “the spirit of our God” speech about anyone or anything less than the Holy Ghost of God.
[ix] pg. 13, “Preface.” A Concise History of the Kehukee Baptist Association, Lemuel Burkitt & Jesse Read, rev. Henry L. Burkitt, pub. 1850. Elec. acc. Baptist History Collection, ver. 1. Paris, AK: Baptist Standard Bearer, 2005.