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On Baptism


On Baptism

Hye Sung

By Hye Sung

Charismatic movements throughout Church history have identified water-baptism as a charismatic experience, an awakening or activating experience that stirs up the gift of God within and enables a believer to walk in the power of Christ’s ministry.

Quakerism has never practiced water-baptism. From the beginning, baptism was seen as an inward work of God. Water-baptism was seen as empty ritualism that gave a false sense of spiritual security to those in the corrupt established churches. But even though Friends do not practice water-baptism, the Friends view of baptism shares some dimensions with that of Charismatics.

Isaac Penington wrote, “The promise of receiving the Spirit is upon believing, and it extendeth to every one that believeth. ‘He that believeth on me,’ as the scripture hath said, ‘out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water;’ but this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive…but every one received so much of the Spirit as to make him a son, and to cry Abba, Father, and to wash him.”

This initial baptism of the Spirit draws Christians into discipleship. But it doesn’t end there. Early Friends testified to the power of their conversion, often counting it as a mystical and at times ecstatic experience that brought them into discipleship under Christ. But they also saw it as a crucifixion of false desires and sin. Many spoke of a “baptism of death” and an “inward cross.”

George Fox wrote that this “baptism… plunges down sin and corruption, which hath gotten up by disobedience and transgression.” Ann Branson was in agreement with Fox, writing in 1833, “We must experience the refining, cleansing operation of his baptism–the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, purging the temple of our hearts from all that his righteous controversy is with, before He will deign to own us before his Father and the holy angels.”

19th century Friend Job Scott wrote the following in his journal, revealing the sanctifying suffering seen as baptism: “Though Jesus has once passed through it all, and trod the winepress alone, he has not thereby exempted us from the like baptisms. On the contrary, he queried with those who seemed desirous to sit with him in his kingdom, ‘Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ These are the terms still. It is true, remission of sins that are past, is only through his blood; but as to actual sanctification, it is they only who suffer with him that can reign with him.”

Joseph Gurney describes being baptized in the Spirit as “trembl[ing] under an awful feeling of the power and the holiness of Jehovah.” He went on to explain the sobering and convicting experience found in the baptism, calling it a “living sense of his holiness… an awful remembrance of the doctrine, that God is light, and that in him there is no darkness at all” and that through this baptism “we begin to see our own alienation from him, while we are dead in trespasses and sin; then do we begin to perceive the sinfulness of sin; then are we brought to a trembling sense of the malignity of this worst of all evils.”

Much of how Gurney describes this baptism lines up with historical Pentecostal theology. In 1833 at Bishopsgate Street Meetinghouse, Gurney spoke of the empowering nature of this baptism of love, as he explained that the apostles “were baptized of the great Baptizer… with the Holy Ghost and with fire; their hearts were indeed warm with the Saviour’s love, they knew the pure flame of his love to burn up the chaff within them, and were constrained by the strongest of motives to turn their backs on a world lying in wickedness, and to take up their cross and follow Jesus.”

Frank Bartleman, an early Pentecostal leader, wrote in his account of Azusa Street that the Spirit manifested most clearly in this revival through love: “Divine love was wonderfully manifest in the meetings. They would not even allow an unkind word said against their opposers or the churches.  The message was ‘the love of God.’ It was a sort of ‘first love’ of the early church returned. The ‘baptism,’ as we received it in the beginning, did not allow us to think, speak or hear evil of any man. The Spirit was very sensitive, tender as a dove.”

According to Gurney and early Pentecostals like Bartleman, the love of God imparted through the baptism fueled the work of the Church. Though many early Pentecostals believed that tongues were the initial evidence of the baptism, there was a consensus that love was the primary and greatest result of this baptism.

J. Rodman Williams shares the account of Lutheran Renewal pastor Erwin Prange in Renewal Theology: “How could a man think he was passing out the bread of life every Sunday and still remain so utterly hungry himself? I was empty, and I knew it. This was the end of the line.” So writes Prange about his situation as a Lutheran pastor in his first parish. Then “all at once a voice seemed to come from nowhere and everything… The gift is already yours. Reach out and take it.” As Prange then stretched out his hands toward the altar, palms up, jaws tightening, and mouth open, “in an instant, there was a sudden shift of dimensions, and God became real. A spirit of pure love pervaded the church and drenched me like rain. He was beating in my heart, flowing through my blood, breathing in my lungs, and thinking in my brain. Every cell in my body, every nerve end, tingled with the fire of His presence.”

This seems similar to the accounts of some Friends. Though traditional Quaker theology tends to see the Spirit-baptism in terms of the progressive saving work of the Spirit, there remains a charismatic element, as it is often seen as experiential and empowering for ministry. What binds the theology of baptism among both Charismatics and Quakers, then, is that it fills one with love and the fruit of it is love.