While trying to get a lunch time nap today I had an interesting thought that might shed some light on the relationship between the baptism of the Spirit and conversion. Briefly, there is a tension between how conversion and the reception of the Spirit is presented in Acts and how it is presented in 1 Corinthians. In Acts some individuals received the Spirit minutes, days, or even weeks after believing in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul writes “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.” This seems to indicate that every believer is baptized in the Spirit at conversion. Pentecostals and Charismatics line up with the Acts view. They then have to interpret the 1 Corinthians passage in ways that, to my mind, aren’t reasonable. Third Wave Charismatics and all other evangelicals that I know of line up with the 1 Corinthians view. But they then have to create stories to address the various accounts in Acts, which I also don’t find reasonable.
At lunch I asked myself whether Paul could have said what he did 1 Cor. 12:13 to the Samarian believers after Peter and John prayed for them. Here is the passage:
Acts 8:14-17 “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.”
I think the answer would be yes, Paul could have said “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” to the Samarian church. My point is that if we allow this verse to apply to believers who receive the Spirit after conversion then the insistence that this verse means that Christians are baptized in the Spirit at conversion goes away. This also removes the need to reinterpret the passages in Acts.
I may be missing something as I just thought of this. The issues are that a person can’t be a Christian if they haven’t received the Spirit, and I don’t want people to lose assurance. On the other hand, the Spirit is essential to Christianity and I don’t want people to simply assume the Spirit and thereby remove him from the practice of Christianity, meaning we do things in our own strength and call that Spirit empowerment.
The verse in the NT that does say we receive the Spirit at conversion is Galatians 3:2 “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (with the implication that they received it by faith.) Many would therefore say that the reception of the Spirit is different than the baptism of the Spirit, which they conceive as a later empowering. This doesn’t seem right to me.
So in the end I don’t have answers, just questions. No view that I’m aware of is without difficulties. Hopefully this post stimulates thought on this issue.