John Wesley's Views of Spirit Baptism Accurately Reflect New Testament Teaching
Joseph D. McPherson
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2010. Volume 28.
Date Posted Nov, 2010

Frustration is sometimes expressed by various ones in the holiness movement, who lament what they feel to be an inadequate emphasis given to the baptism of the Holy Spirit within the overall teachings of Mr. Wesley and early Methodists. Dr. Herbert McGonigle, among others, bemoans not only the lack of prominence given by Wesley to the baptism of the Holy Spirit but his refusal also to make it synonymous with entire sanctification.

Dr. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, however, comes to the defense of the founder of Methodism by stating that "Wesley's rejection of the use of the term baptism in relation to entire sanctification was not a rejection of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in every step in Christian life, nor a defective view of sanctification. . . . Wesley," she continues, "simply did not find Scriptural warrant or theological necessity for making that identification."

Interestingly enough, Mr. Wesley, in his lifetime, is not found to have received criticism for giving insufficient emphasis to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, a partial defense of himself against today's critics might be found in his description of "The Character of a Methodist." Therein he assures his readers that neither he nor his Methodists "affect to use any particular expressions of Scripture more frequently than others, unless they are such as are more frequently used by the inspired writers themselves." In other words, Wesley made it a practice to give greatest emphasis to that which the Scriptures gave most attention and less emphasis to those terms and issues found less often in Holy Writ.

Keeping in mind Wesley's efforts to maintain a balance of Scriptural emphasis in his teaching and preaching, the attentive reader of the New Testament will find very little reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit beyond Luke's accounts recorded in the Book of Acts. Rather, we find the epistles full of instruction for the perfecting of believers and various helps in their advancement of inward and outward holiness of life. One never finds believers commanded nor even exhorted to seek a baptism of the Spirit.

To the Corinthian believers, who cannot be said to have yet experienced entire sanctification at the time he wrote, Paul assuredly states: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body . . . and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:13). He here refers to Spirit baptism as an initiatory event wherein the believer finds entrance into the true Church and kingdom of heaven by Spiritual birth or regeneration. In response to Jesus' promise to his disciples that they should "be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence," Mr. Wesley says, "And so are all true believers, to the end of the world." Here we see the founder of Methodism in full accordance with the above statement of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians.

Having received the Spirit in their initial experience of the new birth or regeneration, St. Paul does exhort the Ephesian converts to be always "filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5:18).

Although such terms as "sanctify" and "sanctification" are more often found in the epistles, they should not necessarily be considered synonymous in meaning with a second work of grace. Mr. Wesley observes that "the term sanctified is continually applied by St. Paul to all that were justified. That by this term alone, he rarely, if ever, means ‘saved from all sin.' That, consequently, it is not proper to use it in that sense, without adding the word wholly, entirely, or the like."

We read in Acts 8, that after Philip's initial efforts in the evangelization of the Samaritans, the apostles in Jerusalem sent two of their number to Samaria to complete what was spiritually lacking. The Samaritans had "heard the word of God" and were "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus," but had not yet "received the Holy Ghost." It was with a sense of urgency that Peter and John were sent to pray and lay hands on them with the result that they promptly received [or were baptized with] the Holy Ghost.

Again, we read in the opening verses of Acts 19 that St. Paul found a dozen Ephesians who had previously submitted to John's baptism of repentance but had as yet little knowledge of a believer's privileges of enjoying the inward presence of the Holy Ghost. Again, without hesitation but with a sense of urgency, St. Paul baptized with water these men in the name of the Lord Jesus and then laid hands upon them with the result that "the Holy Ghost came on them."

It is important to observe both the urgency and swiftness by which the apostles, Peter, John and Paul rendered themselves as God's instruments in the baptism of the Samaritans and Ephesians by the Holy Spirit. Given the fact that most would not judge the Corinthian believers to be entirely sanctified at the time Paul wrote to them; and given the fact that St. Paul had spent eighteen months with the Corinthian church prior to writing his two epistles, can it be supposed that he had never prayed and laid hands upon them during that entire year and a half for their receiving of a baptism in the Holy Ghost?

Some today would doubtlessly suggest that the baptism of the Holy Spirit would have been the most natural and effective answer to the spiritual problems of the Corinthians. Surprisingly, Paul never once suggests this to be an answer. Rather, he repeatedly reminds them that they were "in Christ Jesus" and that the "Spirit of God" presently "dwelt in them" (1 Cor 1:30; 3:16, 23; 6:11, 19; 12:13 and 2 Cor 13:5). Both of Paul's epistles to the Corinthians are full of directives designed for the correction and instruction of believers in practical matters of holy living. Before he closes his second letter, however, he expresses a wish for their "perfection" (2 Cor 13:9, 11).

Near the end of his first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul prays that "the very God of peace sanctify [them] wholly" (1 Thess. 5:23). Surprisingly, however, in no part of his two letters to these Thessalonian believers does he mention the need of being baptized in Holy Spirit.

The Galatian church had its share of spiritual deficiencies and would not be considered a body of believers who were entirely sanctified. Nevertheless, we do not find Paul urging them to seek a baptism of the Spirit. Rather he reminds them that they had once "received the Spirit" and at an earlier time had "begun in the Spirit,."

In none of the New Testament epistles, whether written by Paul, Peter, James or John do we find believers urged to seek a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Why should it then be thought that Mr. Wesley was somehow flawed when limiting his use of the term, baptism of the Holy Spirit?

We conclude that the problem arises when making the assumption that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always synonymous with a second work of grace in entire sanctification. Neither the New Testament nor Mr. Wesley made such an assumption. Rather, we find that both water baptism and Spirit baptism are initiatory events- water baptism being an outward symbol of the inward work of Spirit baptism and the very entrance into the Church and body of believers. It was not only Wesley who held this view but also the Church Fathers, Reformers and all early Methodists.

Editorial Note: For over twenty years Joe McPherson has contributed articles to a denominational magazine which claims to be Wesleyan Methodist. The previous article was the second one rejected by its editor because he did not find it to be scriptural, although he conceded it was Wesleyan. As you re-read the article, I believe you will find it to be both scriptural and true to Wesleyan teaching. For it to be rejected by a leader who is supposed to know and uphold Wesleyan doctrine illustrates why so much confusion exists today within the "holiness" movement. The Fundamental Wesleyan Society is offering $100 to anyone who can demonstrate that Mr. McPherson's use of Scripture or his citation of early Methodist doctrine are inaccurate. We did not have any takers on his first article. See our website for more details.