I was preaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit yesterday and got all sorts of theological questions afterwards, so thought that this might be a good blog topic. Despite the fact that my church is a pentecostal church and always has been, there seems to be some confusion among some of the people on this matter. I think it would be fair to say that that is often the case. Even among my students at a pentecostal seminary there is sometimes a great deal of confusion on this the most defining aspect of pentecostalism. What I discovered in teaching the book of Acts last year, was that much of my students' perceptions regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit came from testimonies rather than Scripture. While there's nothing wrong with testimonies, the problem is when we start building doctrine on them, or generalising from one person's experience to say that everyone must experience the same thing in the same way. It is only that which is Scriptural which can be applied across the board to everyone; we cannot impose our experiences (or even our interpretations of our experiences) as binding on others. To do so would be to set up our perception as a higher authority than God's Word.
Unfortunately, this can all too easily become the case with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. By focusing on what what people have 'experienced', we completely change the focus. Students have told me that you know that you're baptised in the Spirit when you feel 'heat' or 'electricity'. In casual conversations I've noticed that some people take these as not only the evidence, but also basically the purpose of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit! Yet not a single one of the Acts accounts mentions either of these. These are 'proofs' taken from someone's experience rather than Scripture. This type of mistake causes many problems and can cause people to doubt that they have been baptised in the Spirit, simply because they did not have such an intense emotional experience as someone else. The whole thing becomes incredibly subjective; rather than focusing on the fact that the crucified and glorified Christ pours out His Spirit on His people, such thinking turns our focus to our own emotional experiences. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit then becomes something centred on man rather than Christ.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is not just an experience for experience's sake. It is when Christ pours out the Holy Spirit upon the believer to empower and equip him for Christ's service. It is Christ who is central. It's all about Him, not about what we 'feel'. Yes, our feelings are important, but they are not all-important. Christ is more important than feelings. Scripture is more authoritative than feelings. Let's keep our priorities straight.
I'll come back to this over the next few days.