Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition: The Baptism of Love

In my second post of my series “Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition” (the first being found here), I wanted to explore the Quaker view of baptism and its connections to charismatic spirituality.

Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church

Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

—Paul, Ephesians 3:18-19

One of the doctrinal distinctives of early Quakerism was the belief that the baptism Christians should receive is Christ’s baptism of the Spirit rather than John’s baptism of water. Robert Barclay, early Quaker apologist and theologian, summed up the Quaker view of baptism with 1 Peter 3:21: “baptism, which [the water] prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Accordingly, John’s water baptism is seen as a ritual that points to a higher and greater baptism, that being Christ’s, which offers “a good conscience, through the resurrection of Christ.” In this baptism, we can experience the grace of Christ.

Charismatic movements throughout Church history have nuanced baptism differently, almost always stressing the importance of water-baptism and often defining the water-baptism as a charismatic experience in itself. That said, a baptism of the Spirit has been vital to such movements, especially in its more modern forms. The charismatic view of this baptism is more so 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, on the other hand, has never practiced water-baptism. From the beginning, baptism was seen as an inward work of God rather than an outward rite. The water-baptism was seen as empty ritualism that gave a false sense of spiritual security to those in the corrupt established churches. James Nayler wrote in response to the accusations coming from the established churches, “The saints’ baptism was by one Spirit into one body… but thine is without in carnal water.”

Though Friends do not practice water-baptism, the Friends view of baptism has several dimensions to it, some of which are shared with Charismatics.

Friends on Baptism

Image Credit: Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections

Image Credit: Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections

Isaac Penington wrote of a baptism received upon coming to faith in Jesus, which is the aspect of Spirit-baptism that Evangelicals most deeply explore. He 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 Friends stress that in no way does the experience of the Spirit end there. Both Paul and Peter were recorded to have received multiple fillings of the Spirit, indicating that experiencing the baptism or filling of the Spirit can continually occur. Paul even encouraged believers to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), revealing that believers should continually experience the Spirit’s filling and that one receives the filling in cooperation with, or in yielding to, God.

This baptism is written to be one of “Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11), which is later revealed by the 120 disciples on Pentecost to be a baptism of power. 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. The baptism of the Spirit grants “power from on high” (Luke 24:49) so disciples may manifest the Kingdom. Not only was this an empowering experience for early Quakers, but also often seen as a crucifixion of false desires and sin. Many spoke of a “baptism of death” and an “inward cross”, revealing the refining, and sometimes painful, aspect of this baptism. Only through this baptism of death can one experience the power of resurrection.

George Fox wrote that this “baptism… plunges down sin and corruption, which hath gotten up by disobedience and transgression.” In other words, this baptism was seen as sanctifying, cleansing people of their crooked ways. Ann Branson, a Quaker minister, 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.”

Friends often seemed to see this cleansing from the Spirit as experienced through suffering. Suffering was often embraced as the providential work of God in a believer’s life. Isaac Penington wrote, “The power and Spirit of the Lord, which cleanseth away all this rubbish, will make his truth shine, his church shine, his suffering lambs, that come out of the great tribulation, shine more than ever before.”

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 wine press 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 may be a controversial Friend, but his words on baptism give a very full definition to the Spirit-baptism.

In his sermon in 1838 at Arch Street Meetinghouse, he 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.”

In that same sermon, he explained that this baptism of holiness was also one of love:

“And yet, friends, there is a being baptized into a sense, not only of the holiness, but of the love of God. O yes, we may well be melted into tenderness, when we offend the immutable Jehovah, the God of holiness, who condescends to plead with his transgressing children, as a father pleads with his dear son or daughter!”

Early Pentecostals on Spirit-Baptism

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.

Modern Pentecostal theologian Frank D. Macchia wrote in his book “Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology“:

“The Spirit who mediated the love between the Father and the Son is now poured out so as to draw humanity into the koinonia of God and to gift and empower the church to participate in the mission of God in the world.”

Like Agnes Ozman, Pandita Ramabai, William Seymour, and other early Pentecostals, Macchia believes the “Spirit baptism is a baptism into divine love” and the greatest evidence of this baptism being unselfish love. Though many early Pentecostals believed that tongues was the initial evidence of the baptism, there was a consensus that love was the primary and greatest result of this baptism.

Macchia argues that “if Spirit baptism is ever to reconnect to sanctification and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, it will do so with the help of Spirit baptism conceived as a participation in the love of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This Pentecostal vision of Spirit-baptism includes growing in holiness, being supernaturally empowered, but at the heart of it is love.

Testimonies of receiving the Spirit of Love in the Spirit-baptism was and is common in modern charismatic movements. 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, like Job Scott, who wrote in his journal of a baptism that was experienced as overwhelming love.

“Ninth month, 1st, the Lord, the God of my life, was graciously pleased to fill my soul with the overflowing of Divine love, and inshinings of Divine light, which continued with me until late in the night, and wherein I have been much instructed. And, O Lord, my God! I humbly crave of thee to enable me, rightly to settle, or to have and know through thy help rightly settled in my mind, every rule, limit, and regulation of life; and that thou wouldest steadily hold my hand, and guide my feet in ways that will please thee, until every such rule and limitation, receive the sanction in my heart of a divine law, that is not to be broken against forever; yea, until a confirmed and habitual observance of them, shall have conformed my whole life thereunto; and therein to thy Divine will, and heavenly image. Amen!”

This recorded “divine visitation” of Scott reveals the variety of baptisms experiences among Friends. Not every baptism was one of suffering and tribulation, but some were pure ecstasies. That is not to say that such experiences were normative. What ties all these baptisms together was the love of God. As Paul put it, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) To know the Cross of Christ or to experience the perfecting work of the inward Teacher through baptism is to know and experience the love of God. Even if baptisms may be refining in the most painful sense, Hebrews 12:6 explains that this too is out of love, “because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

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 to this baptism, as it is often seen as experiential and empowering for ministry. What binds the theology of baptism among both Charismatics and Quakers is that it fills one with love and the fruit of it is love. Perhaps both baptisms could qualify as what sociologist Margaret Poloma calls “godly love”, which is the experience of God’s love driving people to work towards justice and live out of love for their fellow child of God. If these baptisms are continual and at the core of the Christian experience, as Friends preached, then theologian Karl Barth was right in saying that “the Christian life begins with love [and] it also ends with love.”

3 thoughts on “Quakerism as a Charismatic Tradition: The Baptism of Love

  1. A friend (who is a minster) shared with me these words many years ago in regards to water baptism. She believes the incarnate word is mingled into amniotic fluid of the growing fetus. And the word never leaves the body. I love the words by Job Scott, shared with us by Hye Sung Francis Gehring Friend Job who wrote “Lord, the God of my life, was graciously pleased to fill my soul with the overflowing of Divine love, and inshinings of Divine light, which continued with me until late in the night, and wherein I have been much instructed. And, O Lord, my God! I humbly crave of thee to enable me, rightly to settle, or to have and know through thy help rightly settled in my mind, every rule, limit, and regulation of life; and that thou wouldest steadily hold my hand, and guide my feet in ways that will please thee, until every such rule and limitation, receive the sanction in my heart of a divine law, that is not to be broken against forever; yea, until a confirmed and habitual observance of them, shall have conformed my whole life thereunto; and therein to thy Divine will, and heavenly image. Amen!”
    Can you imagine these words of thanksgiving being our first prayer in utero?

    Like

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