Is the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” a Second Blessing Experience? (#4)

Fired up by enthusiasm, the theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” is taking over the globe. But what is it exactly? (photo credit: Getty Images, Economist magazine)

Fourth in a multipart blog series….

So, how did we get from the sacrament of confirmation or chrismation, from the early church, to contemporary Pentecostalism? The key to this is understanding the idea of a “second blessing” experience, in the life of a believer. The “second blessing” has a history stemming back to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. Wesley had been an Anglican missionary in the early 18th century, in the English colony of Georgia. But in these early years, he considered himself to be mostly a failure, even from the very start.

On the ocean voyage across the Atlantic from England, Wesley’s ship was in a severe storm. But there was a group of Moravian missionaries on board that same ship, who calmly sang hymns and songs to God, praying for their safety, as their boat began to groan and crack under the beating of the pounding waves and swelling sea.

Wesley, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck. This missionary was completely scared to death. He and the Moravians survived the storm, but Wesley knew that they had some kind of peace and spiritual courage that he lacked. It was not until Wesley returned a few years later to England, where at a Bible study lecture, he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” He was never the same after that moment, experiencing great power in delivering hundreds and hundreds of sermons that fueled the fires of the Great Awakening in England.

John Wesley, the 18th century evangelical leader, whose heart was “strangely warmed,” years after he had committed himself to follow Christ.

The Holiness movement in 19th century followed the theological lead set by John Wesley, and they began to speak of an experience with the Holy Spirit after conversion as a “second blessing.” It is therefore no surprise that William J. Seymour, and other leaders of the 20th century Pentecostal revival, built their theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” on the foundations of the Wesleyan inspired Holiness movement. It bears repeating that these early, pre-Pentecostalism advocates of a “second blessing” were not “charismatic” in the sense of possessing the gift of “speaking in tongues,” or other miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

Furthermore, as briefly mentioned in the last blog post, these Holiness groups were not the only ones who believed in “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” as a “second blessing.” Prior to Wesley, various Puritan thinkers in the 17th and 18th centuries also made a distinction between becoming a Christian and “the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”  Even though the Holiness movement, through groups like the Nazarenes and the Church of God, directly led towards contemporary Pentecostalism, in a way that the Puritan movement did not, it is helpful to examine this particular Puritan theology in some detail. A more recent example of this early, Puritan-inspired view can be found in the great 20th century Welsh pastor, Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Puritan Sealer. (credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a college student wrestling with “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” a set of posthumous lectures in book form was released that dwelt on this very topic. In Joy Unspeakable: Power and Renewal in the Holy Spirit, Martyn Lloyd-Jones disputed the traditional view of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” as being synonymous with becoming a Christian, otherwise known as regeneration, or popularly called, becoming “born again.” What makes Lloyd-Jones argument so intriguing is that the great Doctor never considered himself to be a “Pentecostal” or a “charismatic.”1

To make his case, Lloyd-Jones raised several examples of how the Holy Spirit came upon people, who were already believers, in the Book of Acts. In addition to the previously discussed Pentecost, from the last blog post, I will focus on two episodes in Acts, for the sake of brevity.

In looking at Acts 8:5-17 again, Philip the evangelist preaches to the Samaritans, and many believed. But what follows grabs our attention:

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit“(Acts 8:14-17 ESV).

Lloyd-Jones observes that these Samaritans had converted to Christ, including the experience of water baptism, but they had yet to receive “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” (p. 26ff).

In Acts 19, we read of Paul’s missionary journey to Ephesus, in Gentile territory.

“And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.“(Acts 19:1-6 ESV).

Again, Lloyd-Jones points out that these were believers before they received the Holy Spirit (p. 29-31). It would appear from what the good Doctor has presented that “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” follows after becoming a Christian.

John R. W. Stott on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Nevertheless, we should take note of an Old Testament proverb to give us a broader perspective:

The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him.
“(Proverbs 18:17 ESV).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was not the only great British Bible teacher of the 20th century to address this issue. Anglican rector John R. W. Stott delivered a famous series of lectures in 1964, to address some concerns with the charismatic renewal movement in Britain at the time. Stott published his sermons in Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today, with a second edition in 1975, and this important book has never gone out of print since.

In contrast to Lloyd-Jones, Stott observes that the narrative portions of the Book of Acts should derive their meaning from the didactic parts of the New Testament, not the other way around. In other words, when we read about the events described in the Book of Acts, we must interpret the events as essentially descriptive, as opposed to being prescriptive, for all believers at all times and places. Instead, we should look to the specific New Testament teachings that address “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” and not try to tease too much out of basically historical narratives (Stott, p. 15).

The primary didactic text, as we examined before, is from the Apostle Paul’s direct teaching on the Holy Spirit and the nature of baptism:

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit”(1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV, my emphasis)

For Stott, Paul is directly tying “Spirit baptism” with becoming a Christian. The two can not be separated. The Spirit unites all Christians together. He can not and does not divide Christians into two separate groups: one being baptized in the Spirit, and the other not being baptized in the Spirit. The Spirit is the great unifier, by the very nature and function of the Holy Spirit (Stott, p. 39).

Lloyd-Jones vs. Stott, on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Lloyd-Jones raises a subtle exegetical distinction here to refute Stott’s argument. For Lloyd-Jones, the 1 Corinthians 12:13 passage talks about being baptized by the Holy Spirit, where the Spirit does bring about regeneration in all believers. The other occurrences of “Spirit baptism” are about Christ baptizing believers in or with the Holy Spirit, a different type of experience (Lloyd-Jones, p 23). So, in the case of Paul, it is the Spirit who baptizes. In all of the other cases, such as in Acts, it is Christ who baptizes. Contrast the wording of the ESV (referenced above), with the way that the NIV 2011 has it in Paul’s verse:

“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 NIV, my emphasis).

Stott, on the other hand, dismisses this kind of argument as “special pleading.”2 Stott observes that the Greek expression regarding “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is found in seven places in the New Testament (Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16 and 1 Corinthians 12:13):

“The Greek expression is precisely the same in all seven occurrences, and therefore, a priori, as a sound principle of interpretation, it should be taken to refer to the same baptism experience in each verse. The burden of proof rests with those who deny it.” (Stott, pp. 38-40).

In other words, in all seven cases, it is Christ who is the one baptizing believers in or with the Holy Spirit. Christ is always the actor, and the Spirit is the always the one in whom the believers are being baptized.

John R. W. Stott. Open to the charismatic movement… yet cautious.

So, then, how does Stott deal with the claim that the Holy Spirit was received after the conversion experience of believers, several times in the Book of Acts? Stott’s answer is that in each case, the circumstances are abnormal. In the Acts 8 story, the believers were the first Samaritans to come to Christ. Samaritans were regarded as suspect with their apprehension of Judaism, so it is reasonable to have questions as to how they received the news about Jesus. It would have been important for Peter and John to visit these new believers, to help them understand who the Holy Spirit was and is.

In the case of Ephesus in Acts 19, the “believers” here were not necessarily believers in Christ, prior to Paul’s arrival. They were followers of John the Baptist, but they had not fully grasped the message of the Gospel in full, before meeting Paul. Both of these cases speak to situations in the New Testament era that do not have a specific parallel today. Therefore, these cases are unusual, non-repeatable circumstances that should not be used as a paradigm for determining normal Christian experience 2000 years later.

To make the point more explicit, the Apostle Paul’s didactic teaching spells out what is effectively unexplained in Acts, thus establishing the pattern that the church should follow today:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.“(Romans 8:9 ESV).

If Spirit baptism is the initiatory experience of the Spirit, then it would be impossible to call someone a Christian, unless they have been baptized in the Spirit.3

Which Way is Right? Lloyd-Jones vs. Stott?

So, what does one do with these different views? Both Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John R. W. Stott are spiritual giants, in my opinion, and when I first read these books some 30+ years ago, I was indeed perplexed, if not downright confused. Both arguments can not be right, as they are mutually contradictory. Either “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” happens at conversion, or it does not. Both sides present their cases well. Perhaps we should just place this debate in the “agree to disagree” category and leave it at that. Or, it could be possible, that some further analysis is required, to help resolve this difficulty?

Stott’s argument for dismissing the special events in the Book of Acts as being non-normative for today, does not persuade everyone. On this, it would appear that Martyn Lloyd-Jones perspective would have the upper hand. I can understand why. However, I ultimately find Stott’s argument, for inseparably linking “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” with conversion/regeneration, to be more convincing than Lloyd-Jones’ case for separation. Lloyd-Jones’ argument that there is a difference between baptism by the Holy Spirt and baptism with/in the Holy Spirit by Christ seems artificial, and lacking evidential support.  Overall, I believe Stott is still on the right track, and I will attempt to explain why in the upcoming blog posts, in this series.4


1. A common misperception with Martyn Lloyd-Jones posthumous work, Unspeakable Joy, was that Lloyd-Jones wanted to hide the fact that he had become, or wanted to become, a charismatic, but that he was fearful to let his cessationist colleagues know of his change of position. This is why Unspeakable Joy was published after his death and not before. This perception turns out to be false, according to Iain Murray, one of Lloyd-Jones’ biographers, in an article I found several years ago, which I am not able to reference currently. The material in Unspeakable Joy is actually from sermons delivered by Lloyd-Jones, some twenty years prior to his death, so these were not new ideas to Lloyd-Jones’ hearers. Martin Lloyd-Jones main concern with “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” was that it should be properly associated with the sealing of the Spirit, as a means to give assurance to the believer, and not with any particular association with charismatic gifts. Nevertheless, many scholars, both charismatic and non-charismatic, view Martyn Lloyd-Jones argument in Unspeakable Joy to be one of the best defenses of the view that Spirit baptism is not synonymous with becoming a Christian. 

2. The situation is not helped by Bible translations, such as the King James (KJV), NIV, and NASB, that indicate that we are baptized “by” one Spirit, as opposed to being baptized “in” or “with” the Spirit, as in other cases in Scripture. The ESV and the NET Bible stick with “in” one Spirit. To translate with “by” can give the impression that Paul’s thought in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is at variance with how “Spirit baptism” is understood elsewhere. But as Leon Morris shows, “by one Spirit” is really “in one Spirit.”  The grammatical construction is identical to what is found in Matthew 3:11 , and other like passages. Christ baptizes “with” or “in” water, but it could just as easily be interpreted as Christ baptizing “by” water (Leon Morris, Tyndale NT Commentary, First Corinthians, p. 171). Christ can baptize “by” the Spirit just as well as He can baptize “in” or “with” the Spirit. There is no justifiable reason to suggest that Paul is making some distinction between being baptized by Christ, as in Acts, versus baptized by the Holy Spirit, other than to fit within some preconceived interpretive paradigm. 

3. John R. W. Stott’s view, that “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” happens at the moment of conversion, is the traditional view associated with most evangelical Protestants. Stott’s view assumes that that work of the Spirit is involved in the heart of the believer at the very beginning of their journey with Christ (John 3:3-8). Christians become children of God, by adoption, by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our hearts (Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:14-15). So when Bible teachers start equating “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” with something other than actually becoming a Christian, it can get really confusing. But to their credit, these Bible teachers are trying to take into account the narratives in the Book of Acts, where Luke often describes an experience with the Spirit (“baptized in the Holy Spirit,” “receive the Holy Spirit”) as happening after the believer believes the Gospel. 

4. It bears mentioning, that there is yet another possible solution as to why there was a delay between the conversion of the Samaritans, in Acts 8, and their receiving of the Holy Spirit. Some theologians call this the “Samaritan Riddle.” Throughout the Book of Acts, until the Apostle Paul takes center stage, Peter is in the position of being the evangelist par excellence. In every case where Peter preached the Gospel to a new group, as at Pentecost, in Acts 2, and with Cornelius, and his Gentile household, in Acts 10, the coming of the Holy Spirit came upon converted believers immediately. However, note that it was Philip who originally preached the Gospel to the Samaritans, and not Peter. Unitarian theologian Kermit Zarley argues that in the early part of Acts, the coming of the Holy Spirit was always associated with Peter’s preaching. Zarley suggests, in Solving the Samaritan Riddle, that this emphasis on Peter is there because Peter was granted the keys to the kingdom, in Matthew 16:18-19. Zarley believes that the giving of keys, by Christ, gave Peter a temporary power to impart the Holy Spirit on groups of new believers, and that the exercise of this power ended after Acts 10. For Zarley, this view goes against the standard Roman Catholic view of the Matthew text, whereby Christ declares Peter to be the first pope, and that all subsequent holders of the papal office permanently retain that power. It also goes against the standard Protestant view that identifies the keys to the kingdom, not with Peter himself as a person, but rather, with the message that Peter is preaching.  Though I am not wholly persuaded, Zarley’s proposal is still intriguing.  

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

One response to “Is the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” a Second Blessing Experience? (#4)

  • Mary

    Just a note to mention that, it’s not only Peter who lays on hands to impart the Holy Spirit, but Peter and John in the Samaritan case, and later in the book of Acts, Paul (as in your quote of Acts 19 above). This is why the confirmation/chrismation event in liturgical churches is associated with the blessing of the local bishop, representative of the apostles, but not just Peter, upon the new believer. (Philip was not the Philip of of the 12 apostles but was the deacon Philip.) Technically, in a liturgical church, anyone can baptize another person with water (usually only recommended in the case of a life-threatening emergency), but the seal of the Holy Spirit is a physical way to show the importance of being united to the Church. After Jesus, I believe it’s only the apostles who ever laid hands on people, and then the presbyters they ordained. This is ideally done immediately after baptism, but that’s not always possible.


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