Questions and Responses
Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services
We cannot limit baptism in the Holy Spirit to those who have been prayed over with a laying on of hands. The fundamental reason is that baptism in the Holy Spirit is an act of the risen Lord that cannot be planned, organized or predicted. This point is linked to the fact that the Charismatic Renewal does not have members. Fundamentally, the Charismatic Renewal is not a movement in the sense of an organized movement with membership and conditions of membership. It is a movement in the wider (and sociological) sense of a current of new life that is prior to all organization, but which later acquires organized forms of expression.
If baptism in the Holy Spirit is a sovereign grace of the risen Lord (Scripture describes Jesus as “the one who baptizes with Holy Spirit” John 1: 31), then what is the point of organizing Life in the Spirit seminars? And why do we lay hands on people to receive this grace? I see three main reasons why going through this seminar is highly appropriate for those open to new life in the Holy Spirit:
1. To provide an ecclesial and community context for receiving this grace. This is a protection against understanding baptism in the Spirit wrongly as just an individual grace that has no intrinsic connection with the Church. This is also why it is very appropriate that a priest or a deacon play a definite role in the praying over.
2. To help recipients to understand what is being offered by the Lord, to understand its relationship to sacramental baptism, to deepen the candidate’s faith-expectation, and help her/him be open to all that the Lord will give.
3. To ensure that those prayed over have a right disposition and that they have repented for all serious sin. When people with serious unrepented sin in their lives are prayed with for baptism in the Holy Spirit, several dangers follow: first, there is an ambiguity in what they experience, so that they easily attribute to the Holy Spirit things that arise from or are influenced by their sin patterns; second, they bring this ambiguity into the meetings of the community or prayer group that they join. The French- language seminars produced in Benin by Jean Pliya, provide an excellent example, as in Africa leaders constantly face people with a background in witchcraft and dealings with the occult. But this is an increasing problem also in Western societies.
Because baptism in the Spirit is an act of the risen Lord, we cannot say that everyone prayed over is baptized in the Spirit. That would be like turning the praying over into a sacrament. To lay on hands expresses visibly a communal prayer for the Lord to pour out this grace. All prayers of petition have a particular strength when made by two or more. As Jesus said, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18: 19–20). When we pray for the Holy Spirit, we know that the Father desires more than anything else to pour out his Holy Spirit
upon his children. After Jesus tells the disciples, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11: 9), he says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11: 13). The heavenly Father, who is a loving Father beyond all earthly imagining, is longing for us to turn to him to ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. People know that they have been baptized in the Spirit by its rich effects and fruits. At its heart is a new level of knowledge of Jesus as Saviour and Lord. There is a love for Scripture, a facility to hear the Lord and a receptivity to exercise charisms of the Spirit. But people may not experience anything during the praying over.
Should Life in the Spirit seminars with the laying on of hands be made obligatory for people joining a charismatic group or community? The leaders of a community have every right to decide the appropriate patterns of formation for new people who join. This is necessary in communities in which formation is followed by explicit forms of commitment. But in small groups, maybe served by a core group, it is less appropriate and can impose a top-heavy structure on what does not yet need more structuring. But the leaders that organize Life in the Spirit seminars should never say that someone who has not been through such a seminar with a laying on of hands cannot have been baptized in the Spirit.