Blog 341: The Infilling of the Holy Spirit After Conversion

Writer Roger E. Olson wrote the following blog (which I agree with). As Pentecost Sunday has just occurred (on May 28th), this article is worth reading. Olson writes,

‘Unfortunately, Pentecost Sunday is not a major Christian holy day; many(North) American churches ignore it entirely. Those churches that do mention it hardly know what to do with it. They may read the story of the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in the so-called “Upper Room” in Acts 2. But many wince when they come to the part about speaking in other tongues. And that because of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. Most non-Pentecostal, non-charismatic Christians have thrown the baby of the Holy Spirit and her gifts out with the bath water of stereotyped fanaticism (“charismania”).

Here I only want to focus on one belief that I have kept from my Pentecostal upbringing and early education—the infilling of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion-regeneration. But I also want to emphasize that this doctrine and experience is not unique to Pentecostals. A few years ago the pastor of a large First Baptist Church in Texas gave me a copy of a sermon preached by Texas Baptist/Southern Baptist grandee B. H. Carroll in the late 19th century. There Carroll emphasized to Baptist preachers, pastors and other ministers that they needed the infilling of the Holy Spirit after conversion in order to have effective ministries. He made no mention of speaking in tongues.

Pentecostals were not the first Christians to believe in or teach or experience the subsequent-to-conversion infilling of the Holy Spirit (sometimes mistakenly called “baptism of the Holy Spirit”). Many non-Pentecostal, non-charismatic Christians have taught it and believed in it and sought it and experienced it including most Holiness Christians (outside of the Pentecostal movement). During the 19th century, before the birth of the Pentecostal movement, most Holiness Christians and leaders of the “healing movement” believed in it and taught it and experienced it.

I once attended an evangelism training meeting led by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, where he “led” us (about 250 people) in experiencing the infilling of the Holy Spirit. We were all already converted and regenerated. Bright made absolutely clear that we needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to be powerful and effective witnesses for Jesus Christ.

Many Keswick teachers, speakers and writers believed in this “second blessing” without speaking in tongues. What was and remains unique about Pentecostals is their belief that speaking in tongues is “the initial, physical evidence” of this second blessing.

So what is the “second blessing” for? Jesus told his disciples, after he imparted the Holy Spirit to them, to go to Jerusalem and wait for an enduement with power to be his witnesses throughout the world. Although they already had the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence, imparted by Jesus, on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit “fell” on them with signs and wonders “like a rushing, mighty wind” and they became a force that turned the world upside down.

During my years of teaching theology to mostly Baptist students I have been asked by many of them why their Christian lives were dull and why they were beset by doubts and why they found it difficult to witness and why they did not experience growth in their discipleship. I told them that they probably lacked the “power they had at Pentecost” and needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Now I confess that, out of cowardice, because I was teaching in Baptist institutions of higher education, I failed to go further, lay hands on them, and pray for them to be filled. I told them to go to their pastors and ask for such. Those who reported back to me usually said their pastors didn’t know what they were asking for and did nothing.

In spite of B. H. Carroll’s preaching about the subsequent-to-conversion infilling of the Holy Spirit, and in spite of evangelical leaders like Bill Bright who believed in that experience, most Baptists and other Protestants want little or nothing to do with the Holy Spirit and especially the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Their scholars argued that every Christian is “filled with the Holy Spirit” at conversion-regeneration. That is obviously not the case.

I’m familiar with all the arguments against what I am talking about here. Allegedly, for example, promoting such a “second blessing” risks creating two “classes” of Christians—one merely forgiven and the other forgiven and “better.” That is not necessary. Much depends on how the second blessing is taught. Yes, receiving the infilling of the Holy Spirit will make you a “better” (more powerful, joyful, gifted) Christian that YOU were before, but it will not necessarily make you better or higher than someone else who has not yet received the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

The best book about the Holy Spirit I have ever read was written by my late friend, Clark Pinnock and is entitled “Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit” (IVP). There the charismatic Baptist theologian (who, by the way, attended the Toronto Airport Vineyard church on Sunday evenings) wrote about the infilling of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion-regeneration but not as a once-only event but as repeatable. He also wrote about speaking in tongues as “normal but not the norm.” It’s a great book and I recommend it highly.

This Pentecostal Sunday (every Pentecostal Sunday), seek the infilling of the Holy Spirit for power for witness and service and for joy in serving Jesus Christ.

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