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Overview: the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

The baptism in the Holy Spirit: what is it and who can experience it?

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared in AG Our Distinctive Doctrine, available from My Healthy Church.

Few church doctrines have generated more questions and controversy. The debate started at the miracle at Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. Observers of that premier event asked questions and the apostle Peter preached a sermon to supply answers. He directed his listeners back to the Old Testament prophets for enlightenment about the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the history of the Church, the wind of the Spirit was never still. From Tertullian in the 2nd century to Symeon in the 10th, John Wesley in the 18th, and American revivalists in the 19th, the people of God experienced mighty manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

But one of the greatest outpourings of the Spirit began early in the 20th century. Several small holiness groups whose members were seeking a fuller experience with God witnessed a renewal of the Holy Spirit's gifts. In their meetings they saw miracles similar to those recorded in the Book of Acts. Those who experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues, gave prophecies, prayed for the sick with miraculous results, and began a new surge of missionary ministry that soon reached around the world.

These 20th-century Pentecostals understood their spiritual experiences to be a fulfillment of Jesus' promise in Acts 1:4, 5. They believed that this "promise of the Father" was an experience that "all believers are entitled to, should ardently expect, and earnestly seek" (P.C. Nelson, Bible Doctrines, p. 77.). Their emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Spirit sparked controversy with nearly all established religious groups. The Pentecostals were ridiculed and cast out of established churches.

Yet the revival grew. These "holy rollers" built brush arbors and rented store-front buildings for their services. Miracles of healing and deliverance drew crowds. The curious who came to scoff often stayed to pray. At first the crowds were largely poor and dispossessed, but as the miracles continued, their ranks were swelled by business and professional people.

During the next 50 years Pentecostals worked to build churches and establish colleges to train their ministers. They organized Sunday schools and sent missionaries. Yet they never lost their emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in people's lives.

Then in the 1960s another wave of revival spread the blessings of Pentecost. Many Lutherans began speaking in tongues and praying for the sick. Many Roman Catholics raised their hands in worship and prayed in the Spirit. Upon Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Brethren, Disciples of Christ -- the wind of the Spirit was blowing across the entire spectrum of the Church.

Today believers from all fellowships who are serious about their faith are looking again at the "promise of the Father." This experience, distinct from and following salvation, brings the believer into the richness of the Spirit-filled life.

See also:

FAQ: Baptism in the Holy Spirit

FAQ: Speaking in Tongues