Question: "What is the baptism of love?"

Answer: The “baptism of love” is spoken of in Charismatic culture, and the concept is promoted by the Bethel Church of Redding, California. The idea behind the teaching of the “baptism of love” is that believers need to seek an experience of intimacy with God that surpasses knowledge of Him. In addition to being baptized with water, and in addition to being baptized by the Spirit, we should also be baptized in love.

The Bible has much to say about love, of course, but the “baptism of love” is not mentioned in the Bible. According to those who teach this doctrine, a “baptism of love” is a transformative experience in which God’s love washes over a believer, filling him or her with supernatural love and a yearning to spend time in Jesus’ presence. During a “baptism of love,” physical healing and other miracles are to be expected. And from that point on, the person who is “baptized in love” will exude love to everyone he or she meets.

One author describes her “baptism of love” experience: “One great wave after another of irresistible longing rolled over me, just to look into the face of my beloved Master. . . . I just let my heart go out in deep desire till I lay with alert yet restful anticipation, listening for the blessed voice that I knew so well to say, ‘Come.’ . . . I have never been the same person since, for there was reflected into my very being such an overwhelming love for souls that I did not know what to do with it” (Helm, Kathryn, The Lure of Divine Love, 1929, chapter XXVIII).

Some who teach the “baptism of love” use the Song of Solomon to envision Jesus as a marriage partner to whom we must open our hearts and whose love we must experience. In this way, “baptism of love” teaching resembles the bridal paradigm. Others associate the “baptism of love” with an end-times movement of God that will usher in an era of Spirit-filled manifestations to rival that of the early church. In this way, the “baptism of love” doctrine corresponds with Latter Rain teaching.

If we can separate the term baptism of love from its Charismatic connotations, we can say that the idea of being “immersed in God’s love” could be a valid metaphor for living and walking in love (see Ephesians 5:2 and 2 John 1:6). Love is the greatest gift (1 Corinthians 13:13). Without it we are nothing (verses 2–3).

Love for one another is the mark that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). God, whose very nature is love (1 John 4:8), demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son to die for our sins (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

The Bible speaks of being baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ—an act that takes place at the moment of salvation (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Bible speaks of believers being baptized in water as a sign of their commitment to Christ and new life in Him (Acts 10:47). But the Bible nowhere speaks of a separate “baptism of love” in which a Christian reaches new levels of intimacy with Jesus and feels bigger jolts of power. God can do His transforming work with or without emotional experiences or exhilarating tipping points.

Do we need God’s love? Absolutely. Paul prayed that the church would “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). Do we experience God’s love in “waves” that wash over us or that stir our spirits in mystical ways? Not necessarily. God has told us that His love is a fruit of the Spirit, along with joy, peace, self-control, and the rest (Galatians 5:22–23). As we yield to the Spirit, we will be filled with His love, and then we go about the business of loving others.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to “feel” God’s love. But to seek a “baptism of love” goes beyond what the Bible teaches. The idea that we need another experience in order to fully obey God’s commands is wrong. We already have “everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:21–22).