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Is Spirit Baptism a One-Time Event?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 | Comments (10)

At the heart of the controversy over charismatic theology and practice is a simple question: What is the nature and purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Is Spirit baptism an internal, one-time event that occurs at the moment of salvation, or is it a subsequent event that’s manifest through ecstatic expressions of tongues, signs, and special revelation?

In the following audio clip, John MacArthur explains from the Bible the nature of Spirit baptism, and how it is brought about in the lives of believers.

By categorizing Christian conversion and baptism in the Holy Spirit as two separate works of God, charismatics have created for themselves two separate classes of Christians. The Strange Fire conference will bring necessary correction to this false dichotomy by carefully examining what Scripture teaches about the work of the Spirit. For more information about Strange Fire, please visit the conference website.

GTY Staff


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#4  Posted by Jn Bolt  |  Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 8:11 AM


Thank you for tackling this issue. As someone who works in a missionary context, I see the bad fruit of this false dichotomy and other false teachings within the charismatic movement. Orthodoxy must not only teach what is right but also correct what is wrong.

–J.N. Bolt

#5  Posted by Melanie Raccanello  |  Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 8:17 AM

My family and I have been very interested in this conference/blog as we have been attending a Pentecostal church recently but we are questioning some of what we have seen and heard. My son has also spent some time with a very popular local charismatic movement where he had seen some very concerning practices. I am very interested to hear both sides of the debate and have appreciated this blog very much. I understand John to say that at Pentecost the disciples were not seeking anything, but in Luke 24:49 it says, "And behold I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with the power from on high." This tells me they were indeed seeking or waiting for something. John also says the baptism happens at the moment of salvation but Acts 8:15 -16 says, "...who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For he had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."

#7  Posted by Ambrose Adolph  |  Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Awaiting is not the same as SEEKING. They knew the Holy Spirit was going to come as promised by the Lord, and were awaiting. But they were not seeking anything.

#8  Posted by Chad Stafford  |  Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 1:07 PM

There is gross ignorance with regard to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit within Pentecostal circles. The subject is often taken for granted and when it is taught upon - phrases like "tongues", "baptism with the Holy Spirit", "fruit of the Spirit", and "gifts of tongues" are often used interchangeably to all in reference to the "baptism with the Holy Spirit". This is basic Biblical error often resulting in erroneous teaching. These unclear teachings only create further confusion about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. After many years in the movement and working for more than a few pastors I have never heard a thoroughly cogent explanation of the differing roles of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

Beyond this is the taboo issue of whether the promise of the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire mentioned by John the Baptist in Luke 3 and Mark 1 applies to future Christian generations or not. Clearly, Pentecostals and Charismatics believe that the promise is for Christians in all eras based upon Luke 3, Acts 1:8, 2:38, Acts 10, and others. These passages are the primary basis of all Pentecostal doctrine regarding the Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

The key questions for me are:

1) Is Acts 1:8 referring to all Christians in all ages to come OR simply to the original 12 disciples and the early Christians that followed them? If the latter, when did the promise cease to apply?

2) Is the term "gift of the Holy Spirit" referring to a separate act apart from salvation (aka) the "baptism with the Holy Spirit"? If the word "gift" actually means "baptism" why does Acts 2 not use those specific words so as not to confound the reader. It clearly says, “38 Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

3) Finally, is "the promise" that is made to all who are afar off a reference to the "baptism with the Holy Spirit" OR the seal of the Holy Spirit at salvation? Is the reference to "gift" which occurs in other passages as well meant to be used interchangeably with "baptism"?

4) Are tongues necessary in the modern age? Tongues - referred to in Acts 2, 10 and other places - is considered to be the initial evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit by most Pentecostals. According to Pentecostal theologians, this is because no other passages in Acts or the NT ever indicate otherwise therefore it must be true for all cases.

5) Finally, in Luke 3 and Mark 1 this baptism with the Holy Spirit is referred to as the "baptism with the Holy Spirit" NOT "baptism OF the Holy Spirit". This is an important distinction because Christ is the baptizer - not the Holy Spirit according to Luke 3. I believe the above blog article uses the term "baptism OF the Holy Spirit".

Thank you for taking up this issue.

#9  Posted by Keith Stokes  |  Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 7:37 PM

Man's biggest enemy to the true God is himself. Man will never fail to deny God's Holiness and what is truly required for salvation in favor of making a god that fits their liking, A god that doesn't make one guilty or answerable to God. If one truly came to the true God, he would have to admit he is sinner worthy of nothing but condemnation without God's grace...

#10  Posted by Troy Brown  |  Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 7:48 PM

Thank you Dr Macarthur for your dedication in teaching God's Holy word. Almost at the end of your book "Charismatic Chaos" very insightful, Love it... Praise God for men like you and your ministry as well.

#11  Posted by Melanie Raccanello  |  Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 8:01 AM

Yes, Ambrose you are right, seeking and awaiting are not the same... thank you for your thoughts. However, the two verses I gave indicate that baptism in the Holy Spirit and getting saved are two different things that do not happen simultaneously.

#13  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 2:31 PM


Maybe it means the apostles prayed for their hearts to be opened to Christ. It wouldn’t be surprising if they received some instruction to understand the gospel better. Maybe it happened in the same way Apollos was instructed. I see it this way, they were not saved at the time Peter and John got there.

#14  Posted by William Tantum  |  Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Melanie, I see that the issue you are describing could lead one to believe that conversion and the baptism of the Holy Spirit can occur separately all the time. If you understand this verse in context of the passage, you will note that there was an issue with a man named Simon who others believed had divine power and may have believed him to be empowered by God. This appears clearly to be the reason why God did not send the Holy Spirit until Peter and John placed hands them - God wanted everyone to know that these two apostles had the authority to speak for God. The delay was to distinguish between God's apostles and this evil sorcerer who demonstrated a different power. In this context it is clear that the delay had a godly purpose.

#15  Posted by Fred Butler  |  Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 6:28 AM

Chad, #8

You ask some good questions, but it is difficult to address all of them thoroughly in the comments of a blog.

If I may, let me direct you to some resources that may help you, as well as any readers who may be interested.

Obviously, the first place I would recommend is the sermon archive here at GTY. John has preached on a number of those passages you raise questions about. For example, Acts 1:8 and Luke 3. I would encourage you to search for those passages and either download the message or read the attending transcript. I think John would answer a lot of what you ask.

Also, John has dealt with the subject of Spirit baptism in a number of Q&As and stand alone messages. Go to the GTY home page, and at the top in the search bar, just type "Baptism in the Spirit." The first 10 or so hits you will get will send you to a number of messages in which John addressed this subject.

I would also recommend a couple of books to you. The first is one from a former TMS professor, Larry Pettegrew, entitled, "The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit." It just recently came back into print with Kress Biblical Publishers,

Dr. Pettegrew covers a number of issues relating to the work of the Spirit in baptism and filling.

A second book is by Jim Hamilton called "God's Indwelling Presence"

Both of those books helped shape my thinking on this subject, and as you point out, a lot of our misconceptions about spirit baptism is due in part to our gross ignorance on the subject. I think both of those men would help extinguish such ignorance.