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Does the Bible teach that Christians are to seek a distinct, secondary work of grace known as the "baptism of the Holy Spirit"? If not, then what is "baptism of the Holy Spirit," particularly as revealed in the book of Acts? If so, is it always accompanied by speaking in tongues?
All Christians believe in the present work of the Holy Spirit in the world, church and lives of individuals. This was promised in the Old Testament as the gift of the last days (Joel 2:28—32), foretold by John the Baptist as a gift to be bestowed by Jesus (Mark 1:8; John 1:33), described by Jesus as his intention to give his disciples upon his return to the Father (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7; Acts 1:4-5), celebrated by the apostles and appealed to in their application of Christ's work among the varied peoples of God in the New Testament epistles and letters. The Holy Spirit is confessed in the historic Christian creeds and is understood to be a full person in the Trinity.

As one pursues the particular ways in which the Holy Spirit interacts with the world and Christians today, however, different Christians come to varying conclusions. I think an answer to your question should look at three perspectives: first, the Holy Spirit accomplishes a wide variety of ministries and services to the church and individual; second, there is disagreement over how to best describe those varied works; and third, Christians who anticipate the work of the Holy Spirit differently and describe the work of the Holy Spirit differently need to find helpful ways to talk with one another.

The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the gathered disciples on the day of Pentecost. This was Jesus' gift to the church, which he promised before his ascension, and which served as a sign that he had returned to the Father and had taken his place at the right hand of power. This gift of the Holy Spirit was accompanied by several dramatic and noticeable signs: tongues of fire, strong wind, the appearance of drunkenness, speaking in other tongues (at least most of which were known languages), and a sermon by an emboldened Peter, which included strong conviction of sin and led to the conversion of 3,000 people. Here it is important to recognize that the gift was the Holy Spirit, and that the presence of the Holy Spirit was marked in a variety of ways. In every account of the Holy Spirit's outpouring in Acts, the same Spirit is testified to by at least one of several signs. There is no single sign that always accompanies the coming of the Spirit, and there is no biblical command to seek any particular sign. The sign is proof that the gift of the Holy Spirit has come. The sign is not the gift itself.

The Bible attributes a wide range of activities and functions to the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the New Testament describes a range of ways in which the Holy Spirit empowers God's people to grow in Christ-likeness and to build up the church. Within the wide range of gifts and graces, some of those actions are more extraordinary and some are less extraordinary. They are each the work of the Spirit. There is no higher value on those that are more extraordinary, even though they are more noticeable. Selecting one expression of the Spirit's presence as the single establishing proof of the Spirit's presence, especially when no single sign is presented in Scripture in such a way, is to fail to appreciate the full work of the Spirit in the lives of Christians and the church. It is like the error that unbelievers make when they take the sun and the rain for granted, and fail to praise God for these regular expressions of his kindness.

The events of Acts show the significant advances in church history that were accomplished as the ascended Jesus demonstrated his trustworthiness and power by pouring out the promised Holy Spirit upon his people, signaling that the new age had indeed dawned. It is significant that the Holy Spirit was poured out in dramatic ways when the gospel reached each of the four geographical foci of Acts 1:8. Again, there is some overlap of the experiences recorded in these accounts, but there is no single sign that is pointed to as the proof that the Spirit is now present. Likewise, there are no encouragements in the Epistles to seek a "second baptism" in the Holy Spirit, though Christians are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit in an ongoing way. In other words, we are continually to allow the Spirit we received at conversion to transform our lives for our own good and for the good of the church.

Generally speaking, different Christian groups emphasize either the more historical elements of the Acts accounts, or the more personal aspects of the Acts accounts. Both emphases are present, and both can be affirmed in some ways. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was and is a global event in the accomplishment of salvation that has definite ongoing implications and blessings. Yet, like Peter's sermon on Pentecost, to be saved we must repent and be baptized. Peter goes on to describe that the promised Holy Spirit, manifested so dramatically before their eyes, was for them and their children. Scripture does not say that all of these converts spoke in tongues when they received the Holy Spirit, nor does it say that Peter encouraged them to do so. There is also no clear textual evidence that they did not speak in tongues. That this detail is not mentioned indicates that Luke, the author of Acts, did not think it was important to know whether or not they all spoke in tongues. This implies that Luke did not believe it was necessary or important for all believers to speak in tongues.

This question is often tied to the issue of the range of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are still in operation at the present time. As mentioned, all Christians believe the Holy Spirit works in a wide variety of ways, enabling and empowering the church to accomplish the work of growing and expanding the kingdom of God. The Reformed tradition has said fairly consistently that some of the Spirit's gifts were specifically given to establish the church at its beginning, and that after this goal was met, those gifts ceased to be given by the Sovereign Spirit. Other Christians anticipate that all the gifts listed in the Bible will be at times operative in the ongoing life of the church. Many Christians appeal to their experiences to support both views. Regardless of one's view of the continuation of some subset of the Spirit's gifts, the fact that Scripture testifies to the wide variety of the Spirit's gifts and graces should caution us away from making any one example of the Spirit's presence normative for all Christians. Likewise, it should caution us not to be so quick to conclude that the Sovereign Spirit could not or would not grant a gift that is beyond our present experience or expectation.

It is often the case that the life of faith with Christ is marked by moments of intense experiences of God's presence and power. It is often the case that there are other periods in the believer's life that are marked more by the absence of such events. For those marked experiences we should give thanks to God. Yet we must avoid the danger of thinking that the graces that God gives to one Christian are normative for all Christians. It is understandable that people would want others to share in their experience of God. Yet, it is unscriptural and harmful to allow the extraordinary moments of God's kindness to become the primary definitions of life with God. God grants far more than two works of grace in the life of believers. Moreover, all Christians should recognize that our experiences do not imply that God will provide these same experiences to others.

So, in talking with Christians who disagree, we should be quick to affirm the work of God in their life, and also to pray and ask God to be more at work in our lives — in the full range of ways that Scripture describes. We should also recognize that to disagree with another person's description of their experience is not to deny the reality of their experience. For instance, to deny that a fellow believer has spoken in tongues in the same way tongues were manifested in the New Testament is not necessarily to deny that the speaker had a genuine encounter with God that was manifested in a verbal manner. In all things, it is important that Christians appreciate and pray for the gift of unity that only the Spirit can create and maintain.

In summary, every believer in the church should long and pray for the Holy Spirit's gifting (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1) for the building up of the church (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:26). We should be cautious, remembering that not every claim of spiritual gifting is valid (Deut. 18:20-22; Acts 19:13-16; 1 John 4:1) and not every use is appropriate (1 Cor. 13:1-3; 14:6-19,27-31). Nevertheless, it would be a serious overreaction to deny the many legitimate manifestations of the Spirit's power in his work and gifting of believers (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19-21). The Spirit of God is our foretaste of our future inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:13-14). We should long to see his ministry among us and to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit in our lives day by day (Gal. 5:22-25).

Answer by Christopher Caudle

Christopher Caudle is Assistant Pastor of New Covenant Church in Winter Springs, FL.