Evangelical or Pentecostal Soteriology?: The Biblical Pattern of Conversion
There are several competing views within Christendom in regards to the nature and means to salvation. Among these, Evangelical soteriology1 and Pentecostal soteriology2 stand out as two of the most influential. Each is very different in its interpretation of Scripture. Evangelical soteriology maintains that one is saved when they initially place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. The infilling of the Spirit is understood to occur simultaneous to initial faith. Water baptism is subsequent to salvation, being an outward sign of an already accomplished inward work. Pentecostal soteriology, on the other hand, maintains that one is saved only after having believed, repented, been baptized, and filled with the Spirit. The infilling of the Spirit is understood as subsequent to initial faith, evidenced by speaking in other tongues. Baptism involves both the forgiveness of sins and death to sin's dominion over our lives, and thus is part of salvation, not subsequent to it.
It is apparent that these two views have little in common. The question facing every believer today is Which of these two views is supported by Scripture? Which soteriology better incorporates all of the relevant data with the least amount of difficulties?
Evangelicals argue their case by citing a host of Scriptures that teach we are saved by faith. A few of them are as follows:
Luke 8:11-12 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then comes the devil, and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
John 1:12-13 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 3:15-16 That whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 6:40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which sees the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life:
John 6:47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believes on me has everlasting life.
Acts 13:38-39 Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
Acts 15:9-11 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you tempt God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Acts 16: 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house.
Acts 20: 1 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 26:16-18 But rise, and stand upon your feet: for I have appeared unto you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto you; delivering you from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send you, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Romans 3: 25-28 Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Galatians 3:6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.
Pentecostals argue their case by citing passages that connect the forgiveness of sins with baptism and describe the Spirit infilling as subsequent to initial faith:
Mark 16:16 He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that does not believe shall be damned.
John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (NKJV)
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Titus 3:5 He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (NIV)
I Peter 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (RSV)
Acts 8:12, 14 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John, who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
Acts 19:4-6 Then Paul said, "John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.3
Ephesians 1:13 In whom you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise. (See my article titled Is Ephesians 1:13 a Monkey-Wrench for Tongues?
Are we to believe that the Bible is contradicting itself, offering two different ways to salvation, or is there an explanation for the seemingly different teachings of Scripture on the issue of salvation? Is baptism for the forgiveness of sins in opposition to salvation by faith? Is Spirit infilling subsequent to initial faith or simultaneous to it? The remainder of this article will examine the Biblical data in an attempt to determine whether Evangelical or Pentecostal soteriology better explains the entire corpus of Biblical data. I believe it will be demonstrated that Pentecostal soteriology more accurately reflects the Biblical data than does Evangelical soteriology.
The Logic of Evangelical Soteriology
Why is it that Evangelicals teach baptism is not necessary for salvation? While there are several passages that connect baptism with the forgiveness of sins and salvation, great attempts are made to lessen their force because such a view of baptism does not fit Evangelical soteriology. Starting from the foundation that one is saved upon their initial faith in Christ, it becomes readily apparent why Evangelicals try so hard to reinterpret the passages that connect baptism with the forgiveness of sins. It is recognized that one cannot be saved without having first been forgiven. This being so, the remission of sins must occur at initial faith, for that is the point at which one is saved. It would be problematic to confess baptism for the forgiveness of sins and salvation at initial faith, because one would only be baptized after their initial faith in Christ. If one is saved at initial faith, they must of necessity have had their sins forgiven already, and thus baptism cannot be for the remission of their sins because that has already happened! So what is the Evangelical conclusion? Baptism is said to be an outward sign of an inward work that already happened at initial faith, having nothing to do with forgiveness of sins or salvation.
While this conclusion fits nicely with Evangelical soteriology, it cannot be justified from Scripture. Romans 6, for example, is clear that baptism performs a spiritual work in the life of the believer. In baptism we are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection, and die to the dominion of sin in our lives (Romans 6:3-8). These spiritual realities are specifically said to be received "by baptism" (Romans 6:4), expressing instrumentality or means. There is no other way to receive these spiritual blessings apart from baptism. Baptism is not just an outward sign of an inward work, but baptism accomplishes an inward work. See my article titled When Does Our Death to Sin Occur?
The same goes for Spirit infilling. Why is it that Evangelical soteriology maintains that one receives the Spirit at initial faith? I would argue that this conclusion is rooted in their foundational presupposition that one is saved at initial faith, more so than in any particular passage of Scripture.4 Scripture is clear that one must receive the Spirit to be Christ's (Romans 8:9, 11), and yet Evangelicalism teaches that one is saved at initial faith. What is the Evangelical conclusion, then? If one must have the Spirit to be saved, and salvation occurs at initial faith, then one must receive the Spirit at initial faith. This conclusion fits their theological system, being a logical outflow from their foundational premise, but as we shall soon see it cannot be justified from Scripture.
If we can find examples in Scripture where people receive the Spirit subsequent to initial faith, we can be assured that initial faith is not the point at which we receive the Spirit, and thus initial faith is not the totality of the salvation experience. If it can at all be shown that the Bible connects the forgiveness of sins with the act of baptism, and if it can at all be shown that there was ever a time that someone received the Spirit subsequent to initial faith, then the entirety of Evangelical soteriology is suspect.
Receiving the Spirit: "Simultaneous With," or "Subsequent to" Initial Faith?
Of the several passages that could be discussed to address this issue we will focus our attention on Acts 8 because this passage most clearly reveals several important things about receiving the Spirit: 1. One does not receive the Spirit simultaneous to their initial faith in Christ, but subsequent to the same; 2. One does not necessarily receive the Spirit at baptism; 3. There is an immediate, observable, external, and objective sign that occurs when one receives the Spirit.
Philip was the first to preach the Gospel to the Samaritan people. There was a powerful testimony to Christ's power in that city, for many experienced miraculous healings and deliverance from demonic possession, bringing much joy to the city (Acts 8:6-8). As a result of the preaching and demonstration of the Word of God we are told that the Samaritans believed and were baptized (Acts 8:12). Notice, however, that Luke specifically states that the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen upon any of the Samaritan believers (Acts 8:14)! If Evangelical soteriology is true, and one receives the Spirit at initial faith, the fact that they had already believed would have de facto meant they were Spirit filled. To the contrary, they had yet to receive the Spirit.
What are we to conclude from this? We can do no less than conclude that one does not receive the Spirit at their point of initial faith in Christ, nor at baptism,5 for the Samaritans had both believed and been baptized but still did not receive the Spirit. They received the Spirit subsequent to their initial faith in Christ, not simultaneous to it. This one observation alone demands that we reject the tenet of Evangelical soteriology that says one receives the Spirit at the point of initial faith. Initial faith cannot be the totality of the salvation experience if receiving the Spirit is subsequent to initial faith, and Spirit infilling is necessary for salvation.6
What Does it Mean to be "Saved by Faith"
Evangelical soteriology is inherently flawed, and cannot account for the Biblical data in regards to baptism and Spirit infilling because they have misunderstood the meaning of salvation by faith. They conclude that when the Bible says we are saved by faith that it refers to the point in time at which we are saved, rather than the manner in which we receive salvation. They fail to see that faith is the means by which we receive the forgiveness of sins in baptism (Mark 16:16), and that the justification that comes by faith is received in the new birth (Tit 3:4-7; I Corinthians 6:11). It is because Evangelicals understand salvation by faith to refer to a point in time, rather than the manner of receiving that they have to explain away the Scriptures that connect salvation with baptism and the new birth with justification; have to explain away John 3:5 as referring to natural birth; and have to do the tango with passages such as Acts 8, Acts 19, and Ephesians 1:13 that clearly demonstrate that we receive the Spirit after our initial faith, not simultaneous to it. The Evangelical doctrine of salvation has misunderstood the Biblical meaning of saving faith, and thus has misunderstood the nature and means of salvation itself.
Yes, we are saved by faith, but "by" must be understood properly. "By" is being used instrumentally, meaning faith is the instrument to salvation. We repent by means of faith, are baptized by means of faith, receive the Spirit by means of faith, and continue to live for Christ by means of faith. Evangelicals have to redefine the purpose of baptism and reassign the timing of Spirit infilling because they have misunderstood 'being saved by faith' to mean the point in time at which one is saved rather than the manner in which one is saved. Because this misunderstanding lies at the heart of all Evangelical soteriology, the rest of the theological construct falls with it.
Receiving the Spirit: Subjective Feeling or Objective Knowing?
Not only does Acts 8 clearly demonstrate that Spirit infilling is subsequent to initial faith, but it also tells us a little something about what happens when one receives the Spirit. As mentioned earlier, when Philip preached to the Samaritans he was well aware of the fact that none of them had received the Spirit, even after believing on Christ and being baptized in His name. We must ask ourselves How was it that Philip knew the Samaritans had not yet received the Holy Spirit? If receiving the Spirit is merely a subjective experience one has with Christ, as Evangelicals have made it out to be, then Philip could not have known one way or another whether or not they had received the Spirit. The only way he could have known is by the Samaritans' admission to him that they did not feel Christ in their heart, but no such admission is noted or even indicated. After all, how is it possible to tell what has happened in someone's heart, at least initially? We are not able to judge the reality of a subjective experience. We are bound to the testimony of the one professing it.
I would argue that Philip knew the Samaritans had not received the Spirit because he was looking for some sign that would indicate they had, which sign he did not see. It was the absence of the external, visible, and objective sign that let him know the Samaritans had not received the Spirit.
There is a turn in the story. When Peter and John came down from Jerusalem and prayed for the Samaritans, suddenly they received the Spirit (Acts 8:17). How was it that they knew this? How did they know that the Samaritans now had the Spirit, but had not received it just five minutes prior? There must have been some immediate, external, observable, and objective sign that appeared, confirming to the apostles that the Samaritans had just received the Spirit. It was the absence of the sign that let Philip know they still needed the Spirit infilling, and it was the presence of the sign that let the apostles know they just received the Spirit.
Whatever this sign was it was so great that Simon offered the apostles money to buy the ability to lay hands on people for them to receive the Spirit (Acts 8:18-19). It must have been greater than the ability to make the lame walk and cast out devils, for Simon passed up the opportunity to buy gifts such as these (Acts 8:6-7). It is more than obvious that what happened when the Samaritans received the Spirit was not just a bunch of people smiling and saying, "Praise God, I just received Jesus into my heart." Any soteriology must acknowledge that the infilling of the Spirit is not without some sort of immediate, external, objective, and observable sign. Evangelical soteriology falls short again, because they have no immediate way to tell whether or not one has received the Spirit. They could not, like Philip, preach to a people and know that they had not received the Spirit even after believing and being baptized, for if Philip were an Evangelical he would have left the city before they were truly filled with the Spirit, falsely believing that they already received the Spirit when they initially put their faith in Christ.
It is common for Evangelicals to argue that the fruit of the Spirit is the evidence of Spirit infilling. Yes, the fruit of the Spirit will develop in people's lives and evidence the presence of the Spirit, but that is not an initial indicator of Spirit infilling. Whatever the apostles were looking for was an immediate sign. There is no way that we could instantaneously know when someone has received the Spirit based on the fruit of the Spirit. The development of the fruit of the Spirit takes time, yet it is obvious from Acts 8 that the indication was immediate.
Space does not permit to examine Acts 2, 10, and 19, but an examination of those passages reveals the same thing about the Spirit infilling that is revealed in Acts 8 (See my article titled Are Tongues the Only Unique Sign of Receiving the Holy Spirit?). In every episode where Luke described what happened when one received the Spirit he included some sort of immediate, external, and objective sign. We have every reason, then, to conclude that there is some sort of immediate, objective, and observable evidence that will accompany one's reception of the Spirit, that is subsequent to faith.7 Can Evangelical soteriology account for this? No. It is entirely subjective. There is no immediate, external, objective, and observable sign in Evangelical doctrine/experience. Neither can Evangelical soteriology account for the fact that in Scripture people did not receive the Spirit at initial faith.
Illegitimate Use of Acts?
Some will argue that Acts is not a mere history of the church, and neither was it intended to tell people how to be saved, and thus we are not justified in building a soteriology from the limited number of conversion episodes in Acts. There is some truth to the facts of this argument, but I believe the conclusion is unreasonable. It is true that Acts is not just history; it is theological history. In a theological history the author has a theological purpose for the historical details recorded. The thesis of Acts is to demonstrate how the gospel spread from Jerusalem to Samaria to the ends of the earth as Jesus had predicted it would (Acts 1:8, which the author demonstrates by Paul arriving in Rome). This is why Luke chose to show the examples of people receiving the Holy Spirit from different ethnic groups. First it was the Jews (Jerusalem-Acts 2), then the Samaritans (Samaria-Acts 8), then the Gentiles (ends of the earth-Acts 10, 19).
If the author had a theological purpose for citing specific occasions when people received the Holy Spirit, it would make sense for the author to include only a limited number of conversion experiences. The book of Acts was not intended to record every instance wherein people were born again. Luke was selective in the episodes he chose to record, but this is true of everything he chose to record. He had to be selective because of the nature of his work, coupled with his extremely limited space. Luke only chose those episodes that fit his theological purpose.
Should the limited number of conversions lead us to conclude that the conversions were not normative? I would argue not. Only a predisposition to reject the conversion pattern we find in Acts would cause one to use the limited references of people receiving the Spirit to argue that these were only special occasions rather than a few of the thousands of normative occasions that followed the exact same pattern.8 Evangelicalism does have such a predisposition, because the conversion experiences in Acts do not fit with, and even contradict Evangelical soteriology at points.
It is also true that Acts was not written specifically for the purpose of telling us how to be saved, nor to inform us about what happens when one receives the Spirit, but when it does speak to these things we are not unjustified in drawing conclusions from it. Genesis was never intended to be a science textbook, yet when it speaks to issues of science we are obliged to believe them as truth unless we have reason to interpret them otherwise. In the same way, the book of Acts, while not intended to be a textbook on soteriology, when it speaks to such issues we are obliged to take them at face value unless we have an exegetical reason to do otherwise. It is obvious that Luke was interested in showing the spread of and response to the Gospel throughout the book. Much of what he recorded was the preaching of the Gospel, the content of what was preached, the response of the people, and a description of what happened when they believed. These things, while not the purpose of the book, were crucial to demonstrating his purpose, and therefore should be taken seriously.
Why should it be thought illegitimate to use the book of Acts to discover what happens at conversion, or what happens when one receives the Spirit if Acts is the only book in the NT where we actually see people being saved? The Gospels talked about salvation, the epistles explained salvation to saved people, but the only place we see people experiencing new covenant salvation, and the only place we find the content of the message preached to sinners, is the book of Acts. Even if its main theological purpose was not a book of soteriology, or a "how-to" book, we cannot ignore the events that speak to these issues without violating common sense.
Even if Evangelicals wish to claim that we cannot take the conversion experiences in Acts as normative, they must reckon with the fact that there were times in real-life in which people were not saved according to the Evangelical pattern (at initial faith). If we find several "exceptions" in Scripture to the Evangelical pattern, thus demonstrating that one does not necessarily receive the Spirit and experience salvation at initial faith, how can Evangelicals be so sure that everyone receives the Spirit/salvation at their point of initial faith in our day? How can they be so sure that the evidence that one has the Spirit lies in the fact that they have believed? For all we know our conversion experience could be like that found in Acts 8 or Acts 19-even though we have believed we have not yet received the Spirit. If conversions can still follow the Biblical pattern (and there is no exegetical basis to argue that they cannot) one could never be assured that they have received the Spirit simply because they have come to trust God for their salvation, because it would not always be true that one receives the Spirit at initial faith. If even one person has ever received the Spirit subsequent to initial faith, it demonstrates that we cannot conclude that one must have the Spirit simply because they have believed on Jesus Christ. There must be some other indicator that we have received the Spirit.9
Even if Evangelicals continue to argue that we cannot take Acts as normative, they must admit that only Pentecostal soteriology has Biblical examples where their soteriology was demonstrated and experienced in the real world. Evangelical theology has no real-life demonstration of their soteriology in Scripture. We never see anyone experiencing salvation like Evangelicals say salvation is experienced. Not only is Evangelical soteriology not normative, Biblically speaking, but it is nonexistent. This should cause us to raise an eyebrow toward Evangelicalism.
In conclusion, we must confess that that receiving the Spirit does not occur at initial faith. We must confess that something immediate, external, objective, and observable happens when one receives the Spirit. Which soteriology embraces these two truths, Pentecostal or Evangelical soteriology? Only Pentecostal soteriology maintains both truths. Evangelicalism fails on both accounts.
While there are many sincere Evangelicals, their doctrine does not match Scripture, and therefore neither does their experience. We can love them, and can grant to them that they have made the first step toward God in their initial faith, but there is more beyond that. Being born again is more than initial faith. Being born again involves water and Spirit baptism, both of which are received by faith, yet subsequent to initial faith.
Acts 2:38, Baptism and Remission of Sins
Is Baptism Essential?
"Romans 6-8: The Believer's Relationship to Sin in Light of the Union" in The Believer's Union With Christ
1. Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation.
2. Within Pentecostalism there are various teachings on the doctrine of salvation. Many Pentecostals, commonly referred to as Charismatics, differ little from Evangelicals in their soteriology. Other Pentecostals, such as Oneness Pentecostals, differ greatly from Evangelical soteriology. When I speak of "Pentecostal soteriology" I am specifically referring to Oneness Pentecostal soteriology.
3. There was at least some lapse in time between the point at which the Ephesians believed and the time that they received the Spirit because they believed, then got baptized, and yet Paul still had to lay his hands on them for them to receive the Spirit. Even if the lapse in time was a mere five minutes, they did not receive the Spirit at the point of initial faith.
4. I do not wish to portray the idea that this tenet of Evangelical soteriology has no basis in Scripture whatsoever. They do have Scriptural references to support their conclusions, but it is my contention that their interpretation of those passages, and their conclusions about the timing of the Spirit infilling are more determined by their underlying presupposition that one is saved at the point of initial faith than it is by those passages. While there are plenty of passages in Scripture that connect Spirit infilling with faith/belief, they do not speak of the timing at which one receives the Spirit. To determine the timing of Spirit infilling requires more than the simple mention of receiving the Spirit in connection with faith. There is no question that one receives the Spirit by faith, or that the Spirit is given to those who believe; the question is whether the Spirit is given at the point of one's initial faith, or if it is received by faith at some point in time subsequent to initial faith.
5. This is not to say that receiving the Spirit cannot happen in baptism, or that it cannot happen prior to baptism. After all, Cornelius's household received the Spirit prior to being baptized (Acts 10). What this is to say is that the reception of the Spirit is not intrinsically connected with baptism as some churches teach. Acts 8 makes it clear that baptism is not the evidence that one has received the Spirit.
6. Acts 19 and Eph 1:13 also argue for the reception of the Spirit subsequent to faith, not simultaneously with the same.
7. Seeing that tongues are the only evidence common to all the episodes in Acts wherein signs were listed, there is a strong argument that tongues are the unique sign that one has received the Spirit. (See my article titled Are Tongues the Only Unique Sign of Receiving the Holy Spirit?). Now some may want to question whether or not tongues are the only unique evidence that one has received the Spirit, but one thing we cannot disagree on is the fact that receiving the Spirit is not simultaneous with initial faith, and that there is some sort of immediate, observable, and objective indicator that one has received the Spirit.
8. If we were to record a history of the 20th century church, surely we would be selective in the conversion experiences we chose to record. If we were limited in space as was Luke, we may not record any more conversions than did he. This would not mean, however, that the conversions we recorded were unique, not fitting into the normal conversion pattern. It would only mean that we were limited in space, and thus recorded particular conversions that were pertinent to the purpose of our writing. To say that Luke would have needed to record an entire book full of conversion experiences for us to take those experiences as normative is to demand something of Luke that we would not demand of ourselves.
9. I believe the universal indicator that one has received the Spirit is tongues. See my article titled Are Tongues the Only Unique Sign of Receiving the Holy Spirit?
IBS | Statement of Faith | Home
| Browse by Author | Q
Links | Virtual Classroom | Copyright | Submitting Articles | Search