KEY THOT: The Holy Spirit is sovereign in its ministry of salvation. While we would like to insist He obeys our rules and rites, He can easily overturn them as He pleases. As in the case of Cornelius’ household, they received the Spirit of life before they were baptized. To insist that regeneration is impossible apart from baptism is to ignore the evidence of Scripture and to deny the sovereignty of the God in saving the lost. While the normal conversion pattern is reception of the Spirit at water baptism (Acts 2:38; 8:14-17; 19:1-6), yet God is not bound to any pattern. Not only Cornelius’ household, but the apostle Paul (Saul) himself received the Spirit before he was baptized: “And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized” (Acts 9:17-18).
Even in Alpha, we see many who have believed in Jesus receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit before they were even baptized. To deny they have received salvation and the Spirit is to deny the evidence of Scripture and experience of real life ministry. However, in the case of Cornelius and Paul, the water baptism was administered as soon as the believer has received the Spirit of life. In my current church, new converts are baptized after 6 weeks of post-Alpha nurture/baptism instruction. In fact, there is nothing to stop an Alpha convert to be baptized immediately after Alpha, since Alpha itself is similar to most baptism course in many churches.
When I first started running Alpha in 1996, I soon realized that it could replace our usual baptism course. As soon as the Alpha course ended, new converts were challenged to be baptized the week after Alpha celebration. They attended one Saturday afternoon baptism retreat to receive basic instruction on baptism, denominational distinctives and membership obligations. Then the Alpha converts were baptized the next day on Sunday.
Let’s not be entangled in denominational debates but press on to obey the Great Commission as the days left to do so are shortening: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). In fact, the word for me in 2017 is "Accelerate!" We are looking to do 3 Alpha runs per year, not twice as is the current year plan.
Father, what a joy and privilege to witness Your Spirit’s life-transforming work among those who did not know You. Thank You for the salvation of all who attended Alpha, wherever the course may be run. Amen.