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Baptism in the Spirit: Is it Normal to Receive At or After Conversion?



The reason knowing what is normative is important is because what is normative becomes the standard and should be sought by everyone. For example, new birth is the normative standard for salvation. Therefore, anyone desiring to become a Christian must seek new birth. Likewise, even though there are differences regarding water baptism’s meaning and mode, all Christians should seek water baptism. It is normative. Regarding the Baptism with the Spirit, what is normative? Should all Christians seek a post conversion baptism with the Spirit, or should all Christians confess that they received the Baptism with the Spirit at conversion?

Charismatics teach it is normative to seek Spirit baptism after conversion. Noncharismatics teach it is normative to receive it at conversion. Determining which of these is normative is made more difficult by what it implies regarding the other. If charismatics are correct then that implies that noncharismatics who don’t seek a post conversion Spirit baptism are living a subnormal Christianity. On the other hand, if noncharismatics are correct then that implies that charismatics who claim a post conversion Spirit baptism are living an abnormal Christianity. Unfortunately, charismatics have communicated to noncharismatics that they think they are subnormal. Likewise, noncharismatics have communicated to charismatics that they think they are abnormal.

Often the doctrinal discussions are lost in the heated feelings that arise when one is viewed as subnormal or abnormal. This makes discussion of what is normative very difficult. What is normative should never be used to determine if one is subnormal or abnormal, but should set a scriptural pattern for all to seek.


Two Principles of Normative

An example of the debate surrounding what charismatics and noncharismatics believe to be normative Spirit baptism is found in John MacArthur’s book Charismatic Chaos. Let us take a look at how this cessasionist noncharismatic defines normative Spirit baptism and evaluate his position in light of Scripture.

There are two principles that MacArthur uses to determine his definition of normative. His first principle is that “the only teachings in the Book of Acts that can be called normative for the church are those that are explicitly confirmed elsewhere in scripture.”1 And his second principle is that “in order for something to be normative, it has to be common to everyone.”2

Based upon the first principle, that the only normative experiences in Acts are those taught in other scripture, MacArthur asserts that other scriptures teach that the Spirit baptism occurs at conversion:

1 Corinthians 12:13 makes clear, Spirit baptism is actually an integral part of every Christian’s salvation experience. Paul wrote, “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”3

In further elaboration on this passage MacArthur changes the word “by” to “with” so that the passage reads “with one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”4 This change effects the meaning of the passage. By changing it to “with” the passage implies that at conversion every believer is baptized with the Spirit rather than by the Spirit. While it should not be assumed that MacArthur speaks for any position but his own, this distinction of changing “by” to “with” is common among noncharismatic cessationists who believe there is no post-conversion Spirit baptism.5


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Category: Spirit, Summer 1999

About the Author: Michael D. Peters has ministered among charismatic and noncharismatic Christians for over twenty-five years. For the past 14 years (as of Fall 1998) he has pastored Christ the King Covenant Church in Webster Groves, Missouri. He hold a Masters in Theology from Covenant Theological Seminary and is presently pursuing a doctorate in historical theology at Saint Louis University.

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