A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 4
By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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3 | 4 |
5 | 6 |
7 | 8 |
9 | 10 |
11 | 12 | 13
| 14 |
15 | 16 | Conclusion
| Abbreviations |
THE PERSON AND WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
With Special Reference to "The Baptism
in the Holy Spirit"
Excerpts from a report adopted by the General Assembly of the
former Presbyterian Church, U.S. (Southern), in 19711
Certain Contemporary Experiences of the Spirit
A. There are a number of people in historic Protestant churches- -and
most recently in the Roman Catholic Church- -who have had an experience
which they call "the baptism of (with, in) the Holy Spirit,"
or sometimes "the filling of (with) the Holy Spirit." This
experience has been so meaningful and vivid to those who have gone through
it that they have difficulty putting it into words: "a new relationship,
a deeper encounter, a closer walk." Many speak of it primarily
as an extraordinary sense of God's reality and presence, and lay claim
to a praise and adoration of God hitherto unknown to them. At the same
time they often testify to a new bond of community with those who have
had the same experience, and a heightened desire and capacity to bear
witness to the gospel. In all aspects of life they claim a deeper love,
joy, and peace.
Frequently they testify to a multiplicity of "charismata,"
such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and so on. Many claim
that speaking in tongues was the primary manifestation of their "filling"
or "baptism," for it has been either an immediate accompaniment
of their experience or has followed some time later. They usually disclaim
an interest in the spectacular as such; rather, their testimony is to
the reality of God, a deeper awareness of His presence, and the wonder
that the Holy Spirit has filled their being.
As these people seek to understand what has happened to them, they
generally speak of it as an occurrence within their Christian life.
Usually they think of themselves as having been believers for a long
time; hence, they do not interpret this experience as entrance into
faith but as something beyond. Sometimes they speak of salvation and
being "filled with the Spirit." They claim that both could
(and sometimes do) occur at the same moment, but for most of them there
has been a separation in time. Frequently this "baptism with the
Spirit" has occurred after the laying on of hands; but this is
not true in all cases. For most of these people the testimony is that-
-with or without the laying on of hands- -the experience occurred after
extended prayer and seeking. Some speak of this event as a transition
within their Christian experience, from the state of Christ's (or the
Spirit's) being with them to His being in them. Others say that the
transition is rather to be understood as a fuller realization of what
was already within them. In any case, these people feel sure that they
have entered into a new and exciting life in the Spirit.
B. The events which we have enumerated have raised some critical problems
for our Church, and especially for those congregations in which the
events have occurred. In the first place, we have tended to stress the
work of the Spirit in the life of the believer as uniting the believer
to Christ and thereby bringing to him God's grace in salvation. Justification
has been viewed as the initial work of the Spirit in applying to man
the benefits of Christ's work, and sanctification as the ongoing work
of the Spirit in completing the divine purpose by transforming a human
life more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. But in this contemporary
experience of the Spirit there seems to be testimony to an additional
working of the Spirit that goes beyond the initiation of Christian life
(justification) and its progress (sanctification)- -a "baptism"
or "filling" with the Holy Spirit. The critical question here
is how, in the light of the Biblical witness and the Reformed tradition,
this understanding is to be adjudged.
In the second place, problems of another kind also arise from the situation
to which we have referred. When some members of a congregation claim
special pneumatic experiences, or claim extraordinary gifts- -e.g.,
healing, speaking in tongues- -the peace, unity, and fellowship of the
Church may be seriously jeopardized. Differing views of the Spirit and
His work may give rise to a schism between those who claim a Spirit
baptism and those who do not, or between those who recognize the validity
of such claims and those who do not. Obviously our Church ought to provide
some guidance in these matters where strong differences of opinion may
result in contention and the disruption of the Church's work.
Manifestly, any valid guidance that can be given on this, or on any
other subject, must be derived from the teachings of Scripture, and
must be evaluated in the light of the Standards of our church. We shall
therefore attempt to sketch what the Old and the New Testaments have
to say with regard to the Spirit, and then to examine the teachings
of the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms, before proceeding to
V Concluding Observations
An evaluation of contemporary events involving a "baptism of
the Holy Spirit" must begin, as the structure of the report implies,
with the guidance furnished us by the Scriptures. At the same time we
are called upon to give serious heed to the doctrinal Standards3
of our denomination. Likewise it is imperative that we seek to understand
what is deeply involved, and at stake for those who claim to have had
such a "baptism" within their Christian experience, and particular
"charismatic" manifestations. The Scriptures remain our primary
source; yet our understanding of Scripture depends upon the illumination
provided by the Spirit Himself.
Our study of the Old and New Testaments, however, has revealed no single
consistent doctrine of the Spirit which is now immediately applicable
to the contemporary situation; nor has it furnished us with a simple
straight line of doctrinal development in this regard. Moreover, we
must avoid the temptation to improve on the concept of the Spirit through
any speculative theory drawn from other sources. Hence, our point of
departure in this task can be no other than the New Testament's close
identification of the Spirit with Jesus Christ. As Christians we must
be guided first of all by God's self-revelation in Christ, testing our
understanding by the Scripture's testimony to Him who is our Lord.
A. As we seek to give an expression of our faith in the Holy Spirit
that will be an aid in comprehending the experiences which have prompted
the present study, there are several basic principles which we must
bear in mind. First, as the Scriptures repeatedly affirm, the Holy Spirit
is the Spirit of the holy God, the God of the Bible. All our speech
about the Holy Spirit is therefore speech about God. We shall make no
attempt to define the concept of "spirit" in general and then
move to an understanding of the Holy Spirit based on our ideas about
the essential properties or characteristics of "spirit." Rather,
our task is to discern the meaning of God's action, in the person of
His Spirit, in the lives of His people.
Second, as the New Testament makes clear, and as Calvin aptly reminds
us (Institutes, 3.1.4), there is no understanding of the Spirit apart
from faith. This means that all our statements about the Holy Spirit
are in essence affirmations of faith. They are not "factual"
statements in the sense that they purport to give objective data or
information which may then be tested for accuracy by scientific means.
In speaking of the Holy Spirit we speak from faith to faith.
Third, since the Holy Spirit is the spirit of the God whom we know
only through Jesus Christ, we are compelled, in regard to the contemporary
spiritual phenomena, to "test the spirits to see whether they are
of God" by the measure of their confession of Jesus Christ (1 John
4:1-3). Nothing that contradicts what we see in Christ can rightly be
regarded as the activity of the Spirit; on the other hand, whatever
bears witness to Christ and His work of the redemption of mankind exhibits
the incontrovertible evidence of the Spirit's presence.
B. With the foregoing principles in mind, and with constant reference
to the Biblical teachings, the Standards of our Church, and the contemporary
situation, the Permanent Theological Committee offers the following
statement for the guidance of the Assembly.
1. The greatest emphasis in the Bible, and the most prominent aspect
of our Reformed tradition, is to be found in the work of the Spirit
in bestowing upon man all the benefits of God which come to him in Jesus
Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ is the way whereby all benefits are received,
such as justification, sanctification, and eternal life (1 Cor. 6:11;
John 3:16; Confession of Faith, 14.2), and through the Holy Spirit this
salvation is a reality.
2. The Holy Spirit accordingly dwells in all who thus believe. If anyone
does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Rom.
8:9). Thus it is impossible to speak of a transition within Christian
existence from the state of Spirit's being with to being in. The Spirit
indwells all Christians.
3. Baptism with water is a means of grace whereby the grace of salvation
is not only offered but conferred by the Holy Spirit (Confession, 30.6).
However, according to the Confession, the significance of baptism is
not tied to the moment of administration, for, though God's saving grace
is conferred thereby, such grace may become efficacious at a later time,
or it may have become efficacious earlier. For example, there are those
who do not come to an appropriation of this grace (especially if baptized
in infancy) until a later date. Calvin speaks (particularly regarding
infants) of being "baptized into future repentance and faith"
(Institutes 4.20), and urges that this should fire us with greater zeal
for renewal in later years. From this perspective it is possible to
say that baptism with water may very well be separated from salvation,
or at least from full entrance upon it. Though baptism is a channel
of God's grace, this grace is not automatically efficacious. Accordingly,
there may be special need in the Reformed tradition to lay stress on
later occasions (such as entrance into communicant membership) on which
God's grace may also be appropriated. Reformed teaching about baptism
must be held in creative tension with all that is also said about the
importance of conversion and regeneration, and the practice of our church
should be in harmony therewith.
4. "Baptism with the Holy Spirit," as the Book of Acts portrays
it, is a phrase which refers most often to the empowering of those who
believe to share in the mission of Jesus Christ. The significance of
"baptism with the Spirit" is also represented in terms such
as "outpouring," "falling upon," "filling,"
and "receiving," being for the most part attempts to depict
that action of God whereby believers are enabled to give expression
to the gospel through extraordinary praise, powerful witness, and boldness
of action. Accordingly, those who speak of such a "baptism with
the Spirit," and who give evidence of this special empowering work
of the Spirit, can claim Scriptural support. Further, since "baptism
in the Spirit" may not be at the same time as baptism with water
and/or conversion, we need to be open-minded toward those today who
claim an intervening period of time. If this experience signifies in
some sense a deepening of faith and awareness of God's presence and
power, we may be grateful.
5. We are called upon to recognize a work of the Spirit which involves
the application of special gifts and benefits to the members of Christ's
church. The Confession of Faith suggests this in Chapter 9.4, where,
following the paragraph on the Spirit's work in redemption, the words,
in part, read, "He calls and anoints ministers for their holy office,
qualifies all other officers in the church for their special work, and
imparts various gifts and graces to its members." Here is a special
work of the Holy Spirit of calling and anointing that is peculiarly
related to the life of the believing community. We would add that it
is important for the church constantly to bear this work of the Holy
Spirit in mind so that there will be a continuing readiness for, and
recognition of, the calling, the qualifying, and the imparting of the
gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit to the community of faith. Both
a fresh confrontation with the biblical record and contemporary spiritual
experience, we believe, are bringing us into a fuller understanding
of the work of the Holy Spirit.
6. The "baptism of the Holy Spirit" may be signified by
certain pneumatic phenomena, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy
(Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6). In the Old Testament, as we have noted, the
Spirit is understood at times as an invading power, a charismatic fury;
also it is frequently associated with ecstatic prophecy. However, since
the Spirit came only to certain exceptional persons, this was quite
limited. With the New Testament dispensation the Spirit is now available
to all who believe in Jesus Christ. Hence such signs of this invading
power as ecstatic language and prophecy could occur with anyone who
has experienced this visitation. Clearly it would be a mistake to say
that all upon whom the Spirit comes must manifest specific pneumatic
phenomena. The Spirit usually manifests Himself in other ways. However,
that such extraordinary manifestations may occur- -and in so doing give
evidence of the Spirit's working- -is quite in accord with the witness
of the New Testament.
7. There may be further bestowal of the Holy Spirit. "Baptism
with the Spirit" signifies the initial outpouring of God's Spirit
wherein the community and/or person is filled with the presence and
power of God. But also there may be later bestowal in such fashion as
o signify implementation of the original event, whether or not accompanied
by pneumatic phenomena (cf. Acts 2:4 with 4:31). This renewed activity
of the Spirit ought not to be designated "baptism" (at least,
the New Testament never uses this term for it), but as "filling,"
wherein the empowering Spirit moves to renew the believer and believing
8. The bestowal and reception of the Spirit, or the gifts of the Spirit,
does not signify a higher level of spirituality nor ought it to suggest
that some Christians have more of the Holy Spirit than others. Such
expressions as "baptism," "filling," and the like
point rather to the Spirit's implementing activity; endowment for the
witness to the gospel. The Spirit is active in all believers, and they
may be "filled" with the Spirit in various ways for the mission
of the Church. It should be added that such expressions as "having"
or "filled with" the Spirit are not to be construed as obviating
the possibility and actuality of growth in grace and knowledge.
9. Both the coming of the Spirit Himself and the various abilities
or charismata which He may bestow upon people are, above all, to be
received as the benefits of God's free grace. Neither the Spirit, then,
nor His gifts may be considered "possessions" of the believer;
he does not own them, nor can he presume that they are, or will be,
at all times (or at any given time) available. Each occasion on which
the Spirit's presence is known or His gifts made manifest is to be an
occasion for new thanksgiving and praise to God. Hence, there should
be no jeopardizing of the peace, unity, and fellowship of the Church
because of special experiences of the Holy Spirit, but a rejoicing together
in all those ways whereby God leads His people into fuller apprehension
of the riches of His grace.
10. An experience of the Spirit can neither be validated as such,
nor evaluated with respect to its theological significance, by any scientific
(i.e., psychological, sociological, etc.) means. It is to be acknowledged
that such events, just as any other human events, may become the legitimate
objects of scientific inquiry. But regardless of the scientific conclusions
which may be reached, the question of the theological significance of
the phenomena will remain, and it may be answered only within the context
of the Christian faith. The Corinthians' ability to speak in tongues,
for example, may have a perfectly good psychological explanation; but
whether the Spirit of Jesus Christ was active in the phenomenon is a
question which neither psychology nor any other science can answer.
But this conclusion leads also to the observation that the extraordinary
or unusual nature of an experience (and the same would apply to gifts)
is no criterion by which to judge its significance for faith. Ecstasy
is not in itself an unambiguous occurrence. Not every dramatic event,
experience, or ecstasy is necessarily a work of the Spirit.
11. It is clear the there is Biblical and Reformed witness concerning
baptism of the Holy Spirit and special endowment of the Holy Spirit
in the believing community. Of course, it is impossible to make any
general pronouncement concerning the validity of particular claims made,
since multiple factors may be at work. But where there is divisiveness,
judgment (expressed or implied) on the lives of others, an attitude
of pride or boasting, etc., the Spirit of God is not at work. However,
where such an experience gives evidence of an empowering and renewing
work of Christ in the life of the individual and the Church, it may
be acknowledged with gratitude. This means above all that Christ should
be glorified, His own Spirit made manifest in human lives, and the Church
edified. For such evidences of the presence of the Holy Spirit the Church
complete copy of the report may be found in Presence,
Power, Praise: Documents on the Charismatic Renewal, edited
by Kilian McDonnell, 1:287-317.
reasons of space I will omit sections II, III, and IV dealing respectively
with the Old Testament, New Testament, and Church Standards. However,
those sections are well worth reading because they provide a valuable
biblical and ecclesiastical foundation.
Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
remark: This report is highly significant in that it officially recognizes
a "special empowering work of the Spirit" and that "baptism
with the Spirit may not be at the same time as baptism with water and/or
conversion" (B. 4 above). Moreover, the report closes quite positively
with the statement that "where such an experience gives evidence
of an empowering and renewing work of Christ in the life of the individual
and the Churcit may be acknowledged with gratitude" (B. 11). This
is indeed an extraordinary step ahead for a Presbyterian denomination!
Chapters: 1 |
2 | 3 |
4 | 5 |
6 | 7 |
8 | 9 |
10 | 11 | 12
| 13 |
14 | 15 |
16 | Conclusion
Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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