Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Baptism with the Holy Spirit and with Fire
In non-sacramental church traditions, there is often a distinction made between baptism of the Holy Spirit and water baptism. Baptism with water, beginning with John’s baptism prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, is a symbolic act wherein one’s conversion is symbolized through immersion. It is a sign of dying to the old self and rising to the new. There is a separate baptism identified with the Holy Spirit which is a Spirit wrought act separate from the water applied. In the Reformed tradition, the Spirit’s work of regeneration is symbolized and sealed through water but is enacted by the Holy Spirit apart from the sacramental act. In contemporary Pentecostal theology, baptism with the Holy Spirit is a separate action from both water baptism and regeneration, often identified with the manifestation of glossalalia.
The exegetical evidence does not support a division between water baptism and a later baptism with the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament water baptism, regeneration, and baptism with the Spirit are synonymous acts. Severing the link between these acts of God is unwarranted and unfaithful to the text.
All three synoptic Gospels record the account of John the Baptist and the distinction he makes between his own baptism and a later baptism. In the Matthean account it is written, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11) Some interpreters promote the view that this text is making a distinction between water and Spirit baptisms. However, this approach does not take Matthews entire Gospel into account regarding how Matthew himself writes of the fulfillment of John’s statement. The distinction is not between a symbolic baptism by water and a spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit, but between John’s baptism of repentance and the church’s Trinitarian baptism.
Baptism serves in a chiastic structure in Matthew’s Gospel. Prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is the account of John’s baptism of repentance. The theme of repentance characterizes both John and Jesus’ ministry prior to the crucifixion. By accepting John’s baptism, Jesus indentifies himself as a member of sinful Israel in need of repentance, though without personal sin. Identifying himself with Israel, Jesus proclaims repentance and forgiveness until his crucifixion. After the resurrection, the ministry of Jesus is to be carried out through the church empowered by the sending of the Paraclete. Matthew summarizes the mission of the church in these familiar words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Baptism is of the essence of the church and characterizes its mission.
Matthew introduces Jesus’ ministry with John’s baptism, a baptism of repentance. He points his readers forward to a greater baptism which he calls one of the Holy Spirit and fire. As Jesus raises from the dead and prepares to leave his disciples at his ascension, he gives the command to baptize in the Triune name. This baptism is to characterize the ministry of the church. By placing the introduction of Triune baptism at the end of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew intends this as the fulfillment of the prediction of John that one would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Both baptisms serve as bookends to Jesus’ ministry. John’s baptism of repentance characterizes and initiates Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus then ends his ministry with the command to baptize in the Triune name characterizing the mission of the church.
The division between baptism with the Holy Spirit is redemptive historical rather than existential. It is a historia salutis issue rather than an ordo salutis one. The baptism of the Holy Spirit which John predicts is not a baptism devoid of water, but occurs through the means of water by which the Holy Spirit is delivered.