Sunday, March 02, 2008

On Charismatism: Second baptism of the Spirit?

[continued from here, here, here, here, here and here]

As we finish the Word-faith sub-series, let us continue on with the main topic — that of the topic of the Gifts of the Spirit. Before we discuss that, it would be wise however to look into the related doctrine of the second baptism of the Holy Spirit, but even before this let us look into the doctrine of regeneration, the so-called "first baptism" of the Holy Spirit.


The doctrine of regeneration has to do with soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation. Therefore, one's view of salvation WILL inform one's view of regeneration, and as I will make clear later, will hence inform one's view of the so-called second baptism. It is thus necessary that we look into this doctrine of first-importance, which though basic is sadly opposed in various quarters of Christianity, and nowhere more so in Charismatic Arminian circles.

Regeneration is the doctrine of the new birth in Christ. It is that which is prophesized in Ez. 36: 26-27 and taught by Jesus in Jn. 3:5-8, where it is stated in the less technical term 'born-again'. Regeneration thus refer to the act of God whereby God changes the human heart by exchanging the heart of stone for a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26), thus giving rise to new spiritual birth (born again). In the epistles, it is also stated that everyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Such an action is divinely-initiated and depends on the sovereign good pleasure of God, as Jesus taught through the metaphor of the wind which blow wherever it wishes (Jn. 3:8).

From the metaphor of the changing of hearts, and of the new creation which the work of regeneration accomplishes, it can be seen that regeneration changes people in their entire beings, even their will. For someone who has a heart of flesh can now feel God's heartbeart and discern His truth whereas previously He is unable to do so. And the contrast between the person pre-regenerated and post-regenerated is so striking that 2 Cor. 5:17 likens it to a total re-creation of the person in his created essence, such is the extent of the transformation which is wrought by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we were also once children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), dead in trespassers and sins (Eph. 2:1), but God made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5). The process of regeneration is of God from beginning to end, and it totally transforms a person from a God-hater dead in their sins and trespasses to a God-lover who is alive to the things of God.

Now, the issue of regeneration as being an unilateral action undertaken by God through the power of the Holy Spirit is not disputed within historic evangelicalism, and not by the Wesleyans arminians either. What is disputed is the order between regeneration and faith. The Arminians believe that faith preceds regeneration, whereas we believe and the Scripture teaches that regeneration preceeds faith (which incidentally is the meaning of the Chinese phrase in the Monergism dot com banner: 重生先于信心 — regeneration preceeds faith). For in Eph. 2:1,5, it can be seen that regeneration occurs while we sinners were yet dead, and dead men cannot have faith! Similarly, utilizing Jn. 3:3, how can sinners enter the kingdom of God if they cannot see it? Yet this sight is granted to them by the process of regeneration. And therefore regeneration preceeds faith.

Now, since regeneration is a unilateral action undertaken by God, and faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9), regeneration itself is monergistic, which is to say that salvation is wholly the work of one person, God. The salvation of any believer from the beginning till the end is the work of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit changes the heart of the person such that the person is able to exercise faith (which is a gift of God) to choose God. Nay, such a person WILL choose Christ and will not reject Him because they have been irresistably drawn to God (Jn. 6:37, 44). There is absolutely no possibility of such a person rejecting the grace of God and thus remaining unsaved.

We have seen that the process of regeneration is initiated by God through the person of the Holy Spirit, has the effect of transforming a person, and is not resistable by the person who will turn to Christ. Furthermore, since it preceeds faith, nobody who is a true believer will not experience the process of regeneration, for in salvation they will be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

With this, let us look into the doctrine of the Second Baptism of the Holy Spirit.


The second baptism of the Holy Spirit started with the Pentecostal movement and through her into all her spiritual progeny, both ortodox and heretical. Historically, it is an outgrowth of the Wesleyan Holiness movement and its emphasis on piety in a form of perfectionism. What is teaches therefore is in line with the pietism of that movement from which it originated.

The doctrine of the Second Baptism of the Holy Spirit therefore follows the pattern of pietism and perfectionism in its formulation. It teaches that true believers (Christians who have been regenerated ie gone through the "first baptism") will have to experience a second baptism of the Holy Spirit in which they wil be empowered for ministry and holy living. Of course, there are various nuances of this doctrine, like the teaching that it is definitely accompanied with the speaking in tongues etc, and it is counter-productive to go through each of them. Rather, the core teaching of this baptism of the Holy Spirit, in order to be termed the "Second Baptism", is that it is an experience altogether separate from regeneration and thus salvation (the "First Baptism"), and without it Christians are saved yet not fully empowered for minstry and Christian living.

Now, we must of course note that not all who call themselves Charismatics believe in this doctrine (ie the Reformed Charismatics), but most Pentecostals/Charismatics do. For example, the largest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God states in their official document that

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a vital experience of the Christian life. It is a special work of the Spirit beyond salvation (Bold added)

And the Foursquare Gospel denomination teaches that:

We believe that the baptism in the Holy Spirit empowers believers ... (Bold added)

The black Pentecostal Church of God in Christ denomination believes that:

We believe that the Baptism of the Holy Ghost is an experience subsequent to conversion and sanctification... (Bold added)

Closer to home, the Charismatic Church of Singapore believes

... in the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which empowers the believer ... (Bold added)

It can therefore be seen that all of them without fail believe that the second baptism of the Holy Spirit is an experience which happens to believers apart from their conversion experience. And it is this doctrine that we would now evalute, firstly according to Scripture and secondly based on the foundation of the doctrine of regeneration which we have already expounded on.


The question must be asked as to the biblical basis for such a second baptism of the Holy Spirit. Where is such a doctrine found in Scripture? Here it would be instrumental that we remind ourselves of the foundation of the doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture which we have already established earlier. Therefore, we must look to Scripture alone and not our experiences when we evaluate this doctrine.

The next thing we must take note of is that we should not derive our doctrine from narratives such as Acts, which seems to be the modus operandi of a lot of Pentecostal/Charismatic teachers, for narratives are not self-interpreting. What narratives can prove is that such a thing did happen, but it cannot establish why it happened, whether such an event is normative, or even the correct interpretation of such an event, since narratives of Scripture are not exhaustive. For example, only 2 times in the book of Acts is the gifts of tongues mentioned in conjunction with the baptism of the Holy Spirit (the case of the Centurion Cornelius — Acts 10, and the case of the disciples of John — Acts 19:5-6), yet somehow these two recorded instances prove that the speaking of tongues as a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is normative for all Christians? It can therefore be seen that whatever the truth regarding tongues, it is totally untrue that the narratives of Acts can be used to prove their being normative for the early church, only that it happened twice before in such a manner. Narratives are not self-interpreting, and never can be. Rather, they are always interpreted using a hermentical grid which can be based on the Scriptures, on experience, Tradition or anything else. And therefore, appeal to the narratives of Acts to prove a doctrine is invalid, and always so.

This is of course not to say that narratives are useless, for they must be explained. Rather, they function as facts which must be interpreted, and therefore challenges any and every hermeneutical grid adopted to interpret them consistently in the light of Scripture, failing which they falsify those grids which fail the test. We would therefore interpret the narrative accordingly; not as self-interpreting texts, but as facts to challenge the grids we use.

A look at all of Scripture would prove that there are few non-narrative text in the entirety of Scripture which teaches the doctrine of the Second Baptism of the Holy Spirit. One text which comes close is that seen in Eph. 5:18, which says

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Eph. 5:18)

The problem begins however when we look to interpreting this text? Does this text teach the Second Baptism? No, it doesn't teach it nor against it, for it simply command believers to be filled with the Spirit; when such an infilling happens is not stated, so any attempt to use this as a proof-text for the doctrine of the Second Baptism is an eisegetical reading into the text. Furthermore, the mode in the Greek is an emphatic imperative, which basically means that the literal rendering is in the continuous tense as in "Be being kept filled with the Spirit"[1], and therefore this cannot prove the Second Baptism at all since Paul is exhorting his readers to continue to be filled, not to 'change' their status from 'unfilled' to 'filled'.

The second text which seems to promotes the Second Baptism is Mt. 3:11 (also found in Lk. 3:16), which states

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Mt. 3:11)

Firstly, the fact of the matter is that this is talking about John's baptism, which is NOT the same as Christian baptism. Secondly, it does not state that the baptism 'with the Holy Spirit and fire' which Jesus would baptize His followers with is different from Christian baptism, or that it is the same. So, this text does not prove anything with regards to the Second Baptism.

And so is it that we look into the narratives of Acts. The first instance occurs in the beginning at Pentecost itself (Acts 2), when all the believers then were baptized into the Holy Spirit with the utterance of tongues (we shall tackle the tongues issue later. Since these were indeed true believers of Christ, it is reasoned that Pentecost is the first instance of the Second Baptism.

Such a reasoning, however, fails to take into account the reality of the transition period which is the time of Acts. As Jesus Himself taught:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (Jn. 16:7)

Thus, we can see that it is the fact of this Second Baptism in Acts 2 cannot be proven to be normative for Christians today, for the simple fact that while Jesus is around, the Holy Spirit will not come in and baptize believers, which He intially did at Pentecost (after Jesus has ascended) and therefore this narrative in Acts 2 cannot be used to prove the doctrine of Second Baptism.

The next instance, which is the most convincing, seems to prove the Second Baptism is Acts 8 with the example of the Samarians, as it is written

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)

This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of interpretation, for how should one interpret this text? The typical Pentecostal/Charismatic explanation is that the plain meaning of the text is that the Samarian Christians became Christians (first baptism) and were water baptized, and later on when Peter and John came, they impart to them the Second Baptism of the Holy Spirit. All of this of course sounds fair enough, until one realizes that this probably refers to the visible impartation of the Gifts of the Spirit rather than any baptism of the Holy Spirit (and these two are distinct). That this interpretation is prefered over the Second Baptism one is due to the fact that the Apostle's laying of hand leading to the reception of the Holy Spirit leads to the impartation of the sign gifts which are visible as Simon Magus can see the change in those who have received the Gifts of the Spirit through the laying on of the Apostles' hands and he coveted them (Acts 8:18-19). Another reason why such an impartation of the Gifts are delayed is because Philip was not an Apostle, and as such in order to show the reality that the Apostes are the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20), and that they are the ones to loose the Gospel to others (Mt. 18:18), and therefore the release of the gifts of the Spirit to people of mixed Jewish descent must wait for the Apostles to arrive in order to accomplish it (The Release to the Gentiles must wait for the time of the Apostle Peter and Cornelius cf Acts 10).

I would of course admit that such an interpretation is not clearly seen in the text of Acts 8. However, it is most definitely a very plausible one, and one consistent with the overall flow of the entirety of Scripture (Tota Scriptura). It must need be mentioned here that as long as there is a highly plausible explanation for the narrative account, such an explanation would suffice, for as it has been mentioned and would be repeated again, narratives are not sef-interpreting. Rather, as long as the hermeneutical grid is self-consistent and gives a highly plausible explanation of the narrative account, it passes the test of the narrative.

The last account which can be used as a proof-text for the Second Baptism is Acts 19:4-5. However, this is a weak example since the mention is of John's baptism, the last and greatest of the Old Covenant prophets. Even if it were Christian baptism however, it would have the same answer as the example of Pentecost which we have looked at previously, and therefore the proof-text fails.


So what constitutes this hermeneutical grid which has been often referred to as we look at the narrative accounts in Acts. This grid is one which s informed from Soteriology, and therefore Systematic Theology in general. As I have mentioned earlier, one's view of the doctrine of Regeneration WILL influence one's view of the doctrine of the Second Baptism. And this is because of the harmonizing effect of systematizing theology into a logically coherent system of absolute truth as stated in the Scripture. If one holds to the biblical doctrine of Regeneration, then the entire idea of the Second Baptism is wrong since it contradicts the doctrine of monergistic regeneration. The Holy Spirit is already involved in the process of the so-called "first baptism" — regeneration, and since regeneration preeceeds faith, ALL true belivers have the Holy Spirit within them. Furthermore, as we have seen, regeneration has already turned the Christian from being an unregenerate God-hating pagan to someone who loves the Lord, so most definitely ALL true believers love the Lord to some degree or another. So the only thing left that can be given at any so-called Second Baptism are the Gifts of the Spirit, especially with regards to the sign-gifts. But if we were to postulate that these gifts are given at the Second Baptism, then are we saying that without the Second Baptism, Christians do not possess any spiritual gifts? This would promote the error of Pietism and create two classes of Christians: one with the gifts and one without. Yet Scripture refutes such a concept as it maintains that each believer is given a gift for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). And if one were to maintain that all Christians will most definitely have both baptisms, then what is the waiting time between them? Will there be a time when a Christian can be saved yet lacking spiritual gifts? And what about a large number of believers throughout history who never had such experiences?

The next issue is the term "baptism" to describe the giving of the Gifts of the Spirit. The reason why the term "baptism" is used in the first place is because of the Baptist definition of baptism as being an ordinance signifying union with Christ, and thus the term is co-opted to describe the "Second Baptism". Yet, even if the Baptist definition was adopted, since the believer already has union with the Holy Spirit at conversion through the process of regeneration, then how can the giving of the Gifts be called "baptism"? Any so-called differentiation between "baptism of the Spirit" and "baptism by the Spirit" etc. is just plain semantics without any basis whatsoever in Scripture or in Systematic Theology.

Therefore, with this Scriptural hermeneutical grid which has been proven to be consistent with the narrative accounts, it can be seen that the doctrine of the Second Baptism is not supported by Scripture, and in fact contradicts Scripture when Scripture is considered in its totality (which is what Systematic Theology is: the proclamation of logical biblical truths according to the totality of Scripture). As such, Christians should rightfully reject such a teaching as being unscriptural and contrary to the Scriptures. As written, we believe in 'one baptism' only (Eph. 4:5), which is the baptism which signifies the regeneration and salvation of new brethren by the Holy Spirit into the Kingdom of God.

With this, let us go into the topic of the Gifts of the Spirit proper.

[to be continued]


[1] John MacArthur, Be filled with the Spirit - part 1 (

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