I recently did some study on the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and was quite challenged by the emphasis on UNITY that seemed so prevalent. I though it was somewhat ironic since the Holy Spirit is often a more divisive topic than unifying topic in current ‘Christianity’. What follows below is a part of my study and focuses singularly on the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and its effect on the local church.
Although the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been interpreted and explained in a variety of, often contradictory, ways, the Bible makes enough specific reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit to form an accurate understanding of what it is and what it means in the life of a believer. The primary questions that need to be answered are: “Who have and have not experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit?” and “What happens to the person during the baptism of the Holy Spirit?” First of all, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a current reality in the New Testament church. If 1 Corinthians 12:13 is viewed as the primary passage on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, then it is clear that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a current reality for every believer living after the day of Pentecost (John Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, 139). By stating that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a current reality for every believer implies that every believer has already been baptized by the Holy Spirit and that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not an event that occurs some time after salvation as a second and more profound endowment of the Holy Spirit. Although the Corinthian church was engrossed in many sins of disunity, immorality and worldliness, Paul reminds them in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that they still are those who are in the body of Christ because of their baptism by the Holy Spirit. This is also what might be behind Paul’s thinking when he writes to the Ephesian church and states in chapter 4:5 that every believer is characterized by one baptism. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is therefore not something that is only true of a ‘holier’ subset of believers, but is true for every regenerate person. Although the Holy Spirit purifies the believers on an ongoing basis by His indwelling and filling, the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs in the context of conversion and justification, and not of sanctification. Walvoord points out that the Bible never teaches that the baptism of the Holy Spirit needs to be sought after and pursued as should daily spiritual growth and sanctification (Walvoord, p. 140).
Secondly, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the means by which a believer is placed in the body of Christ. Romans 5:12 makes the claim that all believers are “one body in Christ”. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 argues that we are one body because of our participation in Christ – we are Christ’s body (12:27). And it is all because of the baptism of Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 states that all believers are “baptized into one body”. As such, the Holy Spirit brings unity to an otherwise very diverse community of individuals. “Before salvation the individual was in Adam … [but in] salvation, the believer is removed from his position in Adam, and he is placed in Christ.” (Walvoord, p. 141) The baptism of the Holy Spirit then, is primarily identification with Christ. This fits in well with the rest of the New Testament’s teaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This spiritual baptism is the very thrust of Paul’s exhortation in Romans 6:1-4 for all believers to strive against sin.
A Biblical and workable definition for the baptism of the Holy Spirit can therefore be formulated as follows: The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the means of permanently placing every believer into the body of Christ by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at the point of conversion and as such is a partaker of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But, where does UNITY tie in with all of this?
In the New Testament churches unity was often disrupted based on Jewish or Gentile ethnicity. Darrell Bock argues from Acts 11:16 that if the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in the same way as the Jews did, then the Gentiles are part of the same body of Christ, and as such, there should be no more division based on their ethnicity. He shows that the Holy Spirit was the unifying factor for the inclusion of Gentiles as the people of God (Darell Bock, Acts BECNT, 409). In Ephesians 2 Paul argues that the dividing wall between the people of Israel and the Gentiles is now broken down. The reason for the removal of division is given in verse 18: “for through Him we both [Israelite and Gentile] have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” As such, the various groups in the church in Ephesus were exhorted in chapter 4:3 to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Church unity therefore, is the unity that pertains to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is “the key to the unity and [is] integral to a harmonious diversity.”(Graham Cole, He Who Gives Life, 220) This unity is not only between individuals and God, but the “union by the Spirit … brings us into relationship … to one another as Christ’s body.”(Cole, p. 241) This unity is of a very unique nature. Nowhere in Scripture does unity have the extent and significance as it does in the New Testament church. The Holy Spirit’s work at the day of Pentecost created a community of believers which was “marked by unprecedented unity.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 646) Stressing the unifying emphasis of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Walvoord defines the baptism of the Holy Spirit in these words: “baptism is, then, the work of the Holy Spirit forming and adding to the living unity of the church.” ( Walvoord, p. 141)
A quick scan through the New Testament regarding the relationship between the unity of the church and the work of the Holy Spirit yields the following significant terms. 2 Corinthians 13:14 talks about the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that extends to all in the church; Ephesians 4:3 exhorts all believers to preserve the unity of the Spirit; and Galatians 5:20 mentions some of the fruit of the flesh which includes divisions and factions that are diametrically opposed to being led by the Spirit and exhibiting the peace of the Spirit when walking and living in the Spirit (verses 18-26).
The emphasis of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is therefore the unity of the body of Christ and not a more-spiritual state or more prolific exercise of the spiritual gifts.
So why does the topic of the Holy Spirit and the discussion of spiritual gifts bring more division than unity in the body of Christ? I dare say it is because of an inaccurately and unBiblical understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. When personal desires and motives cloud or even re-interpret the Biblical revelation of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, then the disruptive works of the flesh will show itself in our churches and lives. When practises rightly, spiritual gifts will bring each member in the body to a greater, not lesser unity. Do your activities in the church encourage unity or disunity?