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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Means

That there may be such a delay in many instances is found in the Catholic traditional practice of baptism and later confirmation (the latter sometimes called “the sacrament of the gift of the Holy Spirit” or “the Pentecostal sacrament”), and also in the teaching and experience of large numbers in the contemporary move of the Spirit. In the latter case there is abundant testimony to a reception of the Holy Spirit that frequently takes place some time later than baptism in water; and, indeed, rather than this being an exceptional thing, it quite often occurs.8  Thus—in light of much tradition and experience—the Samaritan happening is a continuing reality.

One other account in Acts likewise specifically shows water baptism as preceding the gift of the Holy Spirit, namely, that of Paul and the Ephesians. We have noted that the Ephesians had earlier been baptized “into John’s baptism,” but they had not received Christian baptism. So it is that after Paul’s words the Ephesians “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19:5-6). It is to be observed that, unlike the situation in Samaria, there are no several days’ delay between the Ephesians’ Christian baptism and their receiving the Holy Spirit. Still there is some chronological separation, however brief, between the rite of water baptism and the laying on of hands. Once again—as in the case of Peter’s message to the Jerusalem multitude with baptism following, and as in the case of the Samaritans—the administration of baptism precedes the gift of the Holy Spirit.9

Second, water baptism may follow the gift of the Holy Spirit. On first hearing, this may seem a bit surprising in light of the aforementioned incidents, and especially in view of Peter’s words at Pentecost which show an order of repentance, baptism in the name of Christ, and the reception of the Holy Spirit. However, it is apparent that the previous instances are by no means definitive, nor are Peter’s words a prescription of the way it always happens. This we shall observe by turning to two other accounts.

The first of these is the narrative of Peter’s ministry at Caesarea. As we have seen earlier, while Peter was still delivering his message, the Holy Spirit suddenly fell upon the centurion and those gathered together with him (Acts 10:44). Obviously there had been no water baptism of any kind. However, it is not disregarded, for shortly thereafter Peter declares: “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And acting on his own declaration, Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:47-48). Thus water baptism in this case unmistakably follows upon receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit

The other incident concerns Anania’s ministry to Saul of Tarsus. Ananias lays hands on Saul that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). The next verse reads: “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized.” Hence it is subsequent to Saul’s receiving the Holy Spirit that he is baptized in water by Ananias.

What has been described about water baptism following the gift of the Holy Spirit is not at all unusual in our time. Many persons who have come to a living faith in Christ and the reception of the Holy Spirit have thereafter been baptized in water.10  Often this stems from an intense desire to “go all the way with Christ,” to participate corporally in His death and resurrection, to be wholly united to Him. Moreover, such baptism is seldom viewed as optional. Christ instituted it,11 Peter commanded it (see above)—it belongs to Christian initiation and discipleship. So when one adds command to desire, if such persons have not before been baptized in water, it is quite likely to follow!12

We may properly raise a question about the 120 who were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. What about their water baptism? This is not an easy question to answer. Though doubtless many13 (like the later Ephesians) had participated in John’s baptism, it is obvious they had not been baptized in Jesus’ name before the event of Pentecost. Hence, the 120 would seem to fall into the same category as Saul of Tarsus and the Caesareans who without Christian baptism received the Holy Spirit. However, unlike in the narratives of Saul and the Caesareans, the Scriptures do not specify that after the 120 had been filled with the Spirit they were baptized in Jesus’ name. Quite possibly they were so baptized, along with the 3000 later that day (Peter may have commanded it as he did later with the Caesareans), but there is no clear-cut statement to that effect. It may have been, on the other hand, because of their unique position as original disciples, who existentially were participants in Christ’s death and resurrection (living through Good Friday and Easter) and recipients of His life-bestowing forgiveness, that they needed no further tangible rite. For in a certain sense, even more intensely than others after them, they had been baptized into Jesus’ reality. In any event, whatever may be the right answer to the question of whether or not the original 120 later received water baptism in Jesus’ name, they were similar to Saul of Tarsus and the Caesareans in that they received the Holy Spirit prior to any possible Christian water baptism.

Third—and following upon what has just been said—water baptism is neither a precondition nor a channel for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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Category: Fall 2003, Spirit

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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