WE BELIEVE BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT IS AN ENDOWMENT OF POWER.
We believe the Holy Spirit indwells all believers. In saying that, we are simply agreeing with something all Christians believe. However, Christ Church, like many Christian churches around the world, teaches that believers can experience a baptism in the Holy Spirit. We believe this to be biblically sound and historically defensible, though we realize not all Christians agree with us on this point.
The most ancient Christian groups have traditionally acknowledged the coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of a believer ceremonially. Western churches, such as Roman Catholics and Anglicans, thus observe a ritual called confirmation. The Eastern Orthodox churches call a similar ritual chrismation. These ancient ceremonies derive from spiritual practices established in the early centuries of our faith, long before Christians began to divide one from another. This is at least a hint about how early Christians viewed the work of the Holy Spirit as something vital and natural to their personal spiritual experience. It also implies that early Christians expected some sort of event through which they would be introduced to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Although some Christians argue that these ceremonies are little more than dead rituals, it is important to note that ritualistic observances arise from living experience. They do not just emerge out of nothing.
We do not build Christian doctrine on either metaphor or religious rite. However, these ancient confirmation rituals—existing in so many different kinds of Christian communities—do seem to grow out of a common early record of the church’s experience with the Holy Spirit, witnessed in the Book of Acts.
To cite one example among many, when Philip preached to the Samaritans, St. Luke makes the comment, “All who believed his message were baptized” (Acts 8). St. Luke continues to say that “the Holy Spirit had come upon none of them.”
For those who do not believe in an experience with the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion, this is a problematic passage.
If the Samaritans truly believed and had been baptized, had they not demonstrated sufficient obedience to the gospel? Why then was Philip dissatisfied with their conversion? What was lacking in the Samaritan Christian experience that caused him to call for the apostles? Further, when the apostles arrived at Samaria and laid their hands on the believers that they might be filled with the Spirit, what exactly happened?
Whatever did happen, Simon the magician, a man accustomed to all sorts of extravagant theatrics and mystical mumbo jumbo, was impressed (Acts 8:14–25). He certainly wanted to purchase the apostles’ ability to confer the Holy Spirit on people.
What exactly did Simon see?
This passage becomes less troublesome when we view it the light of other passages. Taken together, the pattern for initiation into faith throughout the Book of Acts consists of conversion, baptism, and an experience with the Holy Spirit.22 Even the Apostle Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, was sent to Ananias, “that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17).
Some discredit any expectation of a subsequent encounter with the Holy Spirit by saying one cannot develop doctrine from the Book of Acts, but that seems to deliberately sidestep the issue. Why shouldn’t we consult the earliest existing record of the Church’s spiritual experiences to establish the boundaries of our own spirituality?
Judges and lawyers draw inferences about contemporary cases from the historical legal record. They build their cases from older examples of legal decisions and apply what they discover to the contemporary situations they face. We do the same when we read the New Testament epistles in light of the concrete examples offered by the Church’s actual practices in the Book of Acts.
Consider, for example, how the Apostle Paul asked the believers in Ephesus, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” (Acts 19). He was responding to a similar situation Philip faced in Samaria. The Apostle Paul’s response to that situation was much like Philip’s and much unlike that of some contemporary Christians. The Apostle Paul wanted to know why the Ephesians, although believing Christians, had not yet experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Given the context of these passages, the evidence for an encounter with the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion seems strong. Traditionally, Pentecostals refer to this encounter as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, though other traditions may use different terminology to describe the same event. We do our best not to be contentious about this matter. However, we do insist that a living awareness of and participation in the work of the Holy Spirit is available to all God’s children who ask for this in faith. We do not wish to argue about what this awareness is called or how it is theologically explained. Like so much of our spiritual life, one must “taste and see” (Psalm 34:8).
The central work of the Holy Spirit in the believer is to form in them the character of Christ. The Book of Galatians tells us the Holy Spirit produces spiritual fruit in all those who belong to Him. This fruit is the personality and character of Jesus. All Christians agree on this point.
At Christ Church, we teach that believers not only need the character of Christ but also the power of Christ. Although we are aware of bogus healings, fraudulent claims of supernatural power, and so forth, we also have been witnesses of the genuine works of the Holy Spirit. As a result of this openness to the Holy Spirit, many nations long resistant to the gospel have turned to Christ. For these reasons, we attempt to remain open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our local church and in our individual lives.
One major component of the contemporary charismatic movement has been a new openness to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Such gifts often arrest the attention of unbelievers and prepare them to receive the preaching of the gospel. The contemporary renewal of spiritual gifts has reminded us that we cannot accomplish God’s work “by power, nor yet by might, but only by the Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). That is why this church gratefully acknowledges the continuing importance of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in the life of the Church and the world.
At the same time, we realize that the spiritual gifts most essential to the work of God are not always the more exotic ones, and neither biblical list of spiritual gifts is exhaustive (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12–14).
While we believe in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we also realize that undisciplined religious passion can do great harm. Therefore, even authentic manifestations of the Holy Spirit require maturity, discipleship, and accountability.
The Holy Spirit’s gifts seem easier to develop than His fruit (Galatians 5:22–23). So, we include in this article a caution: while the gifts and calling of the Holy Spirit are to be developed and encouraged, they also must be developed within the local church and are subject to the legitimate authorities of that church.