I spent the first 36 years of my life in a charismatic environment. When you’re in it for so long, and especially since childhood, it’s so easy just to accept everything you’re used to seeing every week as the way things are supposed to be.
In the last 15 or so years, however, I began to search the Scriptures and see how what I believed lined up with God’s Word. I no longer just accepted things just because “we’ve always done ‘em that way.” You can imagine, being in that environment for so long, I’ve seen the gamut of stuff that the Holy Spirit has been credited/blamed for. Everything from the Word of Faith teaching (the first thing to get thrown out of my theology) to the renewal movement with all its laughing, falling, barking, and other weird manifestations. It was a journey for me. I didn’t (indeed couldn’t) tackle everything at once to compare it to the Word of God, but as God brought it up, I would scrutinize it. Some stuff stayed in my theology, some stuff stayed but received a different focus, and some stuff went.
Concerning the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I want to say a few things:
1. First, from the standpoint of a charismatic believer earlier in my life, I always noticed how the evangelical nay-sayers would totally miss the point whenever they preached against the Baptism. They always said that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit happens when you become a believer and that’s all the Holy Spirit you will get. They used Scripture to back it up, usually the in 1 Corinthians 12, but also the one in Ephesians where it says “one baptism…” My argument was, “They’re missing the whole point.” I never argued with the doctrine of being baptized into the Body of Christ. I understood that. And I never argued against being one Body. I knew that as well. To me, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a separate work…an anointing for service. It was to be seen as what it was…being immersed, not into the Body by the Holy Spirit, but into the very power of the Holy Spirit Himself. In other words, the use of the word “baptism” was being used in it’s general definition sense, not specific verbiage from Scripture. So in my mind, the arguments against the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” were all being argued from the wrong vantage point and in the wrong context. It was arguing about two completely different things altogether, and I felt like the “other side” never understood.
2. But later in life, I had an increased discomfort with the whole premise of the argument. I began to question what our version of the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” was for. I never saw anybody actually do anything with it except “give” it to others who wanted it and seek to have entertainment in a Sunday service. I started to notice that my fellow charismatic friends and churches were focusing too much on the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit and less on Jesus Christ and the true mission of the church. For so long I thought the mission of the church was to move past the “elementary” fundamentals of salvation and get on with meatier stuff like being filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesying, seeing miracles and healing the sick, etc. To me, the definition of a good Sunday service was when the preacher never got to his message because the Holy Spirit broke out all over and people were falling down. But God began to deal with my heart in many different ways. This process was not the result of being swayed by someone else’s teaching. It was God dealing with my heart personally over a long period of time.
3. Today, I still believe in being continually filled with the Holy Spirit as it says in Ephesians. I still believe in healing and miracles. I still believe in speaking in tongues, although not in the same manner as what you might see in a typical charismatic church. But to me, those things are a byproduct of the ministry of the Holy Spirit given whenever He wills, and not something we can conjure up. I personally believe most of the true bona fide miracles and healings you would probably see today happen on the mission field in unreached countries. They are used to validate the message of the gospel, as they always were in the New Testament, and not for a Sunday morning circus.
But above all, I think the verbiage is the true demon here. I think if we get all hung up on the name “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” we’re only reinforcing division in the Body of Christ, which is completely contrary to the whole point of the Scriptures that talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the first place such as 1 Corinthians 12. I find it rather sad that charismatic churches throw 1 Corinthians 12 in people’s faces in order to prove their side about spiritual gifts when in fact the context was actually written to correct people just like them who were all out of balance and causing divisions in the church. Frankly, I think it’s important to distinguish the difference in verbiage according to Scripture, while still acknowledging that there are true subsequent encounters with the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life. But they shouldn’t be named “the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
In conclusion, I think we are safer using Scriptural verbiage for unity’s sake and being careful to love one another in the process. Why else would God put 1 Corinthians 13 right in the middle between the two chapters that talk about spiritual gifts? Furthermore, I truly believe our focus should be on Jesus, for that’s Who the Bible says the Holy Spirit speaks of and glorifies. And if we truly do have the mind of Christ, our hearts would be broken for the lost, the widows and orphans, the poor, and making sure that the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit throughout the world. That’s why He came. That’s why He died. And that’s why he has given us the Holy Spirit in the first place.