When John baptized Jesus, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus as a dove.
Colleen was a bright, happy Christian teenager before she went away to a Christian experience weekend. She returned home brighter, happier and more confi dent in her faith. As a child, she had been baptized in The United Methodist Church, completed confi rmation at the age of 12 and joined the church. However, her weekend experience moved her closer to Christ. She was holier, stronger and more self-controlled. As her older brother, I waited for the glow to go away—but it never did. My sister had changed as a result of the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
THE HOLY SPIRIT PROMISED AND PRESENT
In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon particular individuals—prophets, priests and kings. The prophet Joel anticipated the day when the Messiah would give the Holy Spirit to everyone (Joel 2:28). In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, John the baptizer called everyone to repentance and offered a baptism for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fi re.” (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:11, NRSV) When John baptized Jesus, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus as a dove, and a voice came from heaven saying “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22) The same was true for my sister. She experienced a deep awareness that she was a beloved daughter of God.
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
The story of Pentecost ties together John’s prophecy that Jesus would baptize his followers “with the Holy Spirit and fi re;” and Jesus’ post-Resurrection commission to “Go ... make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit....” (Matthew 28:19-20). Acts 1:4-11 and Acts 2:1-4 tell of the fulfillment of the promise and command as 3,000 people believed in Jesus Christ, repented of their sins and received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-41). However, the baptism in the Holy Spirit was accompanied with testing. The church “born” at Pentecost had problems. Ananias and Sapphira lied about the amount of money they gave to the church, racism emerged as Hellenistic widows did not receive the same support given to Hebrew widows, and the evangelist in Ephesus failed to explain the essential role of the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, the early church understood that Christian life is life in the Spirit–there is no such thing as a Spirit-less Christian (Romans 8:1-11). New life in Christ came with a clear sense of adoption, identity and mission as beloved children of God intended to do the will of God (Romans 8:12-17).
The early Christians knew every believer had at least one spiritual gift and every gift was intended “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). While more than 20 gifts of the Spirit were identified in the early pastoral letters (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4), there was no agreed listing. Spiritual gifts are not the same as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). Every Christian was encouraged to know and value spiritual gifts; however, spiritual gifts without the spiritual fruit of love are worthless (1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14).
THE WESLEYAN UNDERSTANDING
In the early Methodist movement, as in the early church, the Wesley brothers found that the baptism of repentance from sin and the desire for salvation from sin (justifying grace) was separated from the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire leading to spiritual maturity (sanctifying grace). John and Charles Wesley wanted everyone to understand and experience the joy of full salvation, growth in grace and perfect love for God and neighbor (Christian perfection). They wrote sermons and hymns to help the people of their time understand the difference.
WHAT DOES THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH TEACH?
From the beginning, The United Methodist Church has taught and encouraged every child of God to receive every gift of God, including gifts of the Spirit. The denomination’s most specific teaching is found in The Book of Resolutions Guidelines: The UMC and the Charismatic Movement. It provides clear definitions of important terms and provides biblical, historical and theological context.
The Rev. Thomas R. Albin is director of spiritual formation and congregational life for The Upper Room, Discipleship Ministries. This article was originally published in Interpreter magazine, May-June 2011.