Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Varying Views of Spirit Baptism: An Analysis of Speech-Acts toward Ecumenical Dialogue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Varying Views of Spirit Baptism: An Analysis of Speech-Acts toward Ecumenical Dialogue

Article excerpt


Often, different religious communities will employ similar terms with different understandings and practices of meaning. These differences can lead to confusion in ecumenical engagement. The term "baptized by the Spirit" leads to such confusion when used in Baptist or Pentecostal communities. This work offers a comparison of such a term between the two communities, utilizing writings of Geertz, Lindbeck, and McClendon. In such a comparison the reader will find that the understanding of the term varies to such a degree that when claiming a Christian identity it is essential in the Baptist community, while in the Pentecostal community the practice of the term is important but not essential.


In October, 2011, over 300 Christians from around the world gathered in Manado, Indonesia, for the second Global Christian Forum. (1) Christians representing many of the traditional movements and denominations as well as those from more Evangelical and Pentecostal branches all gathered for the sake of working toward a greater sense of unity within a very real theological and ecclesiastical diversity. During this conference two Pentecostal scholars, Michelle Moran, President of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, and Opoku Onyinah, Chairperson of the Church of Pentecost Worldwide, presented papers articulating the unique aspects of the Pentecostal experience. (2) Onyinah defined Pentecostalism as "churches and movements that emphasize the working of the Holy Spirit," thereby suggesting that non-Pentecostal churches do not consider or emphasize the role and activity of the Holy Spirit in a similar manner. Moran's paper discussed the "grace of the baptism in the Holy Spirit," so as to suggest that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was an event that was completely separate from the baptism of water normally associated with conversion. Such statements point to a common difficulty that occurs in ecumenical contexts: common terms used differently by different Christian communities. An awareness of the role and activity of the Holy Spirit is a strong part of most Christian traditions--but not in the same way as understood in Pentecostal traditions. When similar terms hold different meanings in different communities, confusion and potential conflict often result.

Tension between denominations and movements often stems from differing theological convictions around a similar term. Such misunderstandings occur not only with terms used by the Pentecostal community but also with many shared terms commonly used by different Christian communities. A methodology employing a thick description, a pragmatic approach and taxonomy to speech-acts, and an understanding of how those speech-acts point to specific convictions of the community can help assuage confusion due to misunderstandings.

Such a methodology is developed through the writings of three people: Clifford Geertz, George Lindbeck, and .lames Wm. McClendon. This methodology embraces a nonfoundational approach to theology, arguing that claims need not be justified by a greater source of truth or a larger truth-claim. Rather, truth can exist simply within the context of the community from which the claim is made. With a nonfoundational approach, one does not consider a source of truth independently of the community but, instead, recognizes the formative texts of the community, focusing on language (broadly construed) as clues toward understanding the social context of the claims of truth, the convictions connected with those truths, and the way they exist within the community. (3) This approach and understanding of the use and convictions of similar terms in different communities offer grounds through which comparison can occur.

In this essay such a methodology will be applied to the term "baptism of the Spirit" and the way it is understood in Baptist and Pentecostal communities. It is not my intention to offer a substantial conclusion concerning the comparison of the uses of the term "baptism of the Spirit" but, instead, to offer an introductory look at the use of the term in each community and to compare those specific uses. …

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