‘While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said “Can anyone keep these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.’ (Acts 10)
The baptism registers over the 30 years 1960-1990 were think, the numbers regularly attending public worship were few. What was happening? Those families who had brought infants for baptism still, in the main, lived in the parish, their children now going to the local primary or secondary schools. But neither parents nor children attended for worship.
The quotation from scripture above clearly records that before baptism by water was to be given, the participation of the Holy Spirit was to be seen. This participation was not to be understood as a ‘feeling’ but as a conscious awareness of God’s reality, clearly visible to all who looked on, breaking into the life of a person.
The expectation that this would happen today had to be taught regularly from the scripture, not only to those who were inquirers, but also to those who were already disciples and were not looking for a closer experience of God in their lives, as well as to those who thought they knew God because they had been attending worship for a number of years. A complete change in thinking had to be brought about by looking for revelation on what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus, based on scriptural teaching on prayer and the primary need for repentance and the new birth.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on me in 1979, but my thinking, based on Church of England practice, did not allow me to ask for water baptism as a sign of what had taken place until the Holy Spirit had renewed my mind (Romans 12:2). My personal experience enabled me to see clearly the way the Holy Spirit was working in the congregation.
Long-standing members of the church who began to experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which was accompanied by signs and wonders (praising God and speaking in tongues). They began to ask for baptism by water as a public witness to what had happened to them. Others, who had come more recently to find God, experienced the same and also asked for water baptism. Of these, some had not been baptised by water, and others had been baptised as infants. There was no way to identify any difference between the two groups - none of them could remember being baptise in water, but all could now be seen to be gloriously alive in the Holy Spirit. As Peter said, ‘who was I to refuse them?’
The results of strongly discouraging applications for infant baptism and ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit, both by clergy and laity alike, totally changed the expectations of the life of the church, both within the body and in the local community.
Something was happening! God was at work and it could be seen. Some rejoiced; some turned away. But this is what Jesus warned us about (Mark 6:1-13 & 6:30-31). ‘Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’ (Matthew 5:12).