Ecclesiology: Doctrine of the Church
The church began on the day of Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit in its new work of sealing and permanently indwelling believers.
The church is built by Jesus Christ; it is not a purely human organization.
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:17-19)
The Church is the body of Christ; it belongs to him and is an intimate part of him.
The purpose of the church is clear, from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ himself:
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
It is a grave mistake when the church takes as its primary role the care of believers, focusing inward on building itself up and strengthening itself. The modern church's focus on self-help programs and programs for building healthy families, healthy kids, and healthy finances and the popularity of such books and videos in the stores and catalogues of Christendom is an indication of a severe lack of health in the body of Christ. Certainly, the body comes together to be built up in the faith, but the purpose for all the teaching, the training and the fellowship is to empower and aid in the mission goal: evangelization. A church that forgets its prime purpose, that focuses all efforts on fortress here and now and us against the world, group hug time, has one foot in the grave. All activities of the church should be evaluated in the light of whether they aid or fail to aid or perhaps even hinder the work of spreading the gospel.
3. Church Government
Although it has lead to heated and even violent confrontations in the history of the church, one would be foolish not to admit that the text of Scripture is not entirely clear on just how the church was supposed to organize and structure itself. Good arguments, frankly, can be made for each form and in the history of the church and even in the current church one will find all three organizations used. Each form seems to have strengths and weaknesses. As a Baptist, my favor falls with the last of the three: congregational. But lets examine each of these three in turn, and discuss how each works in practice.
a. Hierarchical or Episcopal Form of Government
This is the form of organization used by the Roman Catholic church; one also finds it in the Eastern Orthodox churches and for that matter in several Protestant churches, as for instance the Anglican Church (or Episcopal Church in the United States), and the Methodist Episcopal church. Some non-denominational churches essentially have this framework; a somewhat well-known example would be Grace Community Church, pastored by John McCarther.
Such a church recognizes a bishop or church leader by some other designation, who has power by virtue of his office of directing the local church.
b. Representative or Presbyterian form of government
Obviously this is the organizational style used by the Presbyterian and Reform churches; it recognizes the authority of duly appointed representatives of local churches, usually grouped geographically. Often representatives of a local group (called a presbytery) of churches come under the supervision and direction of a larger body, or synod, and in turn the synod comes under the larger body of a general assembly. While rules and extent of power vary, the idea is that duly appointed representatives constitute the authority of the church.
c. Congregational Form of Government.
The Baptists, the Disciples Churches, and the Congregationalists practice this style of organization, where each local church governs itself by means of democratic structures. The authority remains with the local congregation, and important matters are decided by the congregation without respect to authority of other churches or officials.
While local churches may be subject to some degree to higher bodies, committees, or officials, the concept of a congregational church is that a local congregation determines its own affairs, elects and ordains its own ministers, and directs the use of its own treasury.
Historical Overview of the Church
It is a valuable thing, and useful to coming to a better understanding of the church, if we examine its history, the rise of the various sects, the various heretical movements, and the growth of denominationalism. In this light, we must ask the question and attempt to find an answer to whether the splintering of the church, especially over the last five hundred years is a good thing or a very bad thing. And furthermore, how does it relate to the question of Jesus' prayer in John 17:
I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled...
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:11,12, 20-23)
Can there be unity in diversity? What are some of the major issues that have, and likely in the future will continue to divide the churches?
In the early church, all three forms of church government can be discerned, and so the conclusion would seem wise that any one of the three forms can be considered appropriate and to have scriptural warrant. It seems likely that the reason for the disagreements over church structure are exactly because the Scriptures are ambivalent. Therefore, this seems to be a matter best handled according to the principles of Romans 14. That is, the form of government is a matter of conscience.
The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which is simply the word for an "assembly" of citizens in the Classical period. In the Septuagint, the term was used for the general assembly of the Jewish people, especially when gathered for a religious purpose such as to listen to the Law (see Deut. 9:10, 18:16). In the New Testament, the term ekklesia is used of the entire body of believers throughout the world, as for instance in Matthew 16:18, but it is also used of the believers in a particular area (as in Acts 5:11) and for a group meeting in a particular house (see Romans 16:5).
It should be noted that the basic form of the services and the structure of the buildings used for the services ended up being modeled along the lines of the Jewish Synagogues. This is not surprising since the earliest Christians were all Jewish.
Although various controversies threatened the unity of the church in the early centuries, the heretical movements were for the most part kept at bay, and the church remained an organized whole until the split in 1054 AD between what became the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. To a large extent, the reason for the split can be traced back to the split in the Roman Empire under Constantine and following emperors into a Western and Eastern Empire with separate capitals. The Eastern Church to the present day has remained unified (the different designations, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and the like merely refer to organizational blocks based on national lines; it does not reflect any actual division or difference in doctrines). The Western Church however, has continued to fragment, especially beginning in the 16th century with the Reformation. The rise of nationalism, combined with corruption in the church and its drift from genuine faith, conspired to give fertile ground to attempts at reform; the negative reaction of those in authority to the reform precipitated the schisms, which to this day remain permanent.
Within Protestantism, further fragmentation has occurred over the question of just how much needed to be reformed. The principle doctrinal causes for division have surrounded the question of the nature of the Lord's supper, the form of baptism, and the form of church government. Other divisions have occurred as a result of nationalism. In the twentieth century, further division has erupted over the question of the reliability and authority of the Bible and the question of tongues, the so-called Charismatic renewal.
Modern attempts at ecumenism have had limited success; differences of opinion over both minor and significant doctrinal matters make complete reunification unlikely. However, some limited cooperation may be successful, since for the most part the Protestant churches have all kept in common what became the three pillars of the Reformation: salvation by grace through faith, scripture as the sole authority for life and faith, and the priesthood of the believers.
Membership in the Church
There are a number of places in the New Testament where the term "church" (ekklesia) is clearly not used in the sense of a local congregation. In this case, the universal church (also sometimes called the invisible church and the catholic church - with catholic used in its original sense of "universal" rather than its more common modern use of the specific church headed in Rome) is a spiritual organism with Christ as its Head and all believers as its members. Some disagreement exists among Christians as to exactly who makes up this universal church, with some insisting it includes all believers from the creation of Adam and Eve till the end of time, and others narrowing it to encompass only those from the time of Pentecost to the moment of the Rapture. The decision one makes in regards to whether Old Testament believers are included (and for that matter believers from the time of the millennium) relate to the view one takes regarding the nature of Israel and its relationship to the Church. This will be discussed in some detail below.
In any case, the Church belongs to Christ according to Matthew 16:18; He is described as its head (Ephesians 1:20-23). He gave the church gifts (Ephesians 4:8-11), and he is preparing the Church to become his bride without blot or blemish (Ephesians 5:26-27).
There have been some individuals and some groups that have tried to deny that there is such a thing as a "universal" church made up of all believers of all ages distinct from local churches. Lightner writes:
Rarely is the term universal church used by these people. Occasionally the body of Christ may be referred to, but it is used to describe the sum total of all the New Testament local churches. In this view, when one becomes a Christian, he becomes a member of the family of God, the spiritual kingdom of God, but not the universal invisible church. In other words, no one is a member of the body of Christ who is not a member of a local church. To them the local church is the body of Christ, and vice versa.
But as Lightner also points out, the denial of a universal church creates some problems with the following passages:
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men) - remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:11-17)
There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men."
(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions ? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:4-16)
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:23-27)
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect... (Hebrews 12:22-23)
Some of the groups which have denied the concept of a universal church separate from the visible local churches are The Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that no one can be a part of Christ's mystical body who is not a member of the visible Roman Catholic Church; also, several independent fundamental Baptist groups such as Old Landmarkism, Bible Baptists, Missionary Baptists, and the North American Baptist Association think the same way, and will often limit the body of Christ to being only those who belong to Baptist Churches.
There is a wide range of opinion over just what constitutes a functioning, New Testament Church. Generally, however, it would have to be agreed that the statement of Christ in Matthew 18 gives a minimum description:
"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:19-20)
Beyond this, the question is how much organization is needed for this group to be considered a church and not simply an accidental gathering? Or is there a distinction? One would suspect that the amount of organization needed would vary depending upon the number of people that have gathered together. If it is a small group, the organizational needs would be minimal. The larger the group, the more complex the organization will have to become to insure that all the needs are being met. As an example, consider the calling of the six to help in the distribution of food to the poor helenized Jews that were apparently being neglected. Need lead to an increase in the bureaucracy.
One might give, as a minimum, the following as indications that a local church has come into existence:
1) regular called meetings. The early church met together on a regular basis for "the breaking of bread, fellowship, and instruction" (Acts 2:42)
2) the membership is made up of those who are Christians, that is, those who have made a profession of faith and have been baptized (Acts 2:41, Romans 10:9-10)
3) Devotion to one another, that is a level of commitment to one another and the group which raises the gathering above an informal "getting together". (Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 16:15)
Church as the Body of Christ
1. The church is described in Ephesians 4:11-16 as comprising individuals who have spiritual gifts.
2. The members are appointed by Christ to specific service in keeping with the gifts they've been given.
3. The body is a living organism, united forever with Christ. It is composed of people of all sexes, races, nations, cultures and social classes (Ephesians 1:23; 2:15-16; 3:6; 4:12-16; 5:30). There is no division or distinction in the body of Christ between Jew, Gentile, Slave or Free, Male or Female. All are one in Christ. (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11 )
Ordinances and Sacraments
In Protestantism, there are generally only two recognized ordinances or sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. In Catholicism there are seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist (Lord's Supper), penance, holy orders (ordination as deacon, priest, or bishop), matrimony, and extreme unction (last rites). Protestantism generally recognizes only baptism and the Lord's supper as special ordinances. Some groups will also add foot-washing to this list.
What is the difference between a sacrament and an ordinance? Both words are used by Protestants and Catholics. According to the Roman Catholic Council of Trent, a sacrament is "something presented to the senses, which has the power, by divine institution, not only of signifying, but also of efficiently conveying grace." Ordinance, on the other hand, is usually defined as simply as a "prescribed rite or practice," without the added baggage of conveying grace to the participant. However, on a general basis, most people do not make a careful distinction between the two terms, and they have, for most people, become virtually synonymous. For clarity's sake, however, this book will refer to them as ordinances, to distinguish them from the Roman Catholic conception.
The Nature of Baptism
Baptism has its origin in Jewish practice, and in fact it is still used as a rite for those who convert to Judaism. In Judaism, ancient and modern, it is practiced by full immersion. In Christianity, there has been a wide range of practice, everything from sprinkling, to pouring to full immersion. And even within each of these three major modes of baptism, there has been variation. For instance, if you immerse someone, to you lay them back, drop them straight down, or push them forward? And then is a person to be dunked once, or three times - once each for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
Needless to say the questions of how and who should be baptized have been contentious within Christianity and people were killed for their beliefs on the subject. The reader should understand that I am a Baptist, therefore, I believe that the proper mode for baptism is by immersion, and that baptism should be performed only upon those who have made a profession of faith.
Having said that, then let's look at the subject in a little greater detail, beginning with arguments for non-immersion:
1. The Greek word baptizo has a secondary meaning: "to bring under the influence of."
2. If baptism illustrates the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon a person, then certainly pouring or sprinkling water on top of a person's head better illustrates that phenomenon.
3. How practical would it have been to immerse the three thousand who converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41)? When the Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized, would there have been enough water in the desert to immerse him (Acts 8:38)? Would there have been enough water inside Cornelius' house for his family to be immersed when they converted in Acts 10:47? How about the household of the jailer in Acts 16:33? After all, people didn't have bathtubs in those days.
4. In Hebrews 9:10 the word baptism is used for various Old Testament rituals, some of which involved sprinkling. So how can it be argued that the word always means immersion?
5. There is another Greek word which unambiguously means "to dip". Why was that word not chosen if immersion is what is intended with the word "baptize?"
In answer to these points, a good Baptist would respond:
1. "Immerse" is the primary meaning of the word baptizo. Additionally, the prepositions which are used with it in the New Testament - "into" and "out of" - make greatest sense if the person is being dunked "into" the water and then being brought up "out of" the water.
2. As already mentioned, baptism grew out of the Jewish practice of dunking people who converted to Judaism. The only difference between the Jewish practice and the Christian practice is that Jewish proselytes dunk themselves.
3. Immersion better pictures the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and the Christian's death to his old ways and resurrection to a new life in Christ (Romans 6:1-4 and Colossians 2:10-12)
4. Immersion was the universal practice of the early church and all the examples of baptism in the New Testament either demand or most assuredly permit immersion. It is obvious that it is possible to dunk three thousand people, especially if you have several people performing the ritual at several of the pools available in Jerusalem. The Ethiopian Eunuch made the statement, "look, here's water" (Acts 8:36); then it says they went into the water and came out of the water. Obviously there was enough to dunk him in it. Why go into it if it wasn't to get dunked? Likewise with Cornelius and the jailer; houses did have wells, pools, and fountains. Plus, the text doesn't demand that they were actually baptized inside the houses. They may have gone to a pool or fountain in the public square.
5. Just as Greek has other words for "immerse" we can also argue that it has other words that clearly mean "pour" or "sprinkle". Why weren't those words chosen?
6. It is interesting to note that the Eastern Orthodox churches - who have been using Greek continuously since the first century, baptize by immersion rather than sprinkling or pouring.
The second question about baptism is just who can be baptized. Specifically, should infants be baptized? The arguments in favor of the practice are three:
1. An analogy is made between baptism and circumcision, which was performed on infants; as circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant, so baptism becomes the sign of the New Covenant.
2. In Acts 16:33 it tells us that the jailer's entire household was baptized. That would surely, therefore, have included infants.
3. Finally, the New Testament appears to promise the sanctification of families with only one believing parent, therefore, surely, baptizing them would be appropriate (1 Corinthians 7:14).
In response, one can point out the following:
1. The New Testament does not make a connection between Baptism and circumcision. In fact, Paul argues that circumcision is of no value (1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:2-6, 6:15). Why would it be necessary to replace something that has been superseded by the "circumcision of the heart" of the New Covenant (Romans 2:28-29.
2. It is a bit of a leap, I think, to assume that when Cornelius' household, or the jailer's household were baptized, that that automatically included infants. We don't know these people's ages, so their children could easily have all been older. And in any case, it is clear from its usage that baptism was reserved for those who had made a profession of faith, something an infant certainly could not do.
What about rebaptism? Baptists are frequently criticized for this practice - because we do not recognize infant baptisms as valid. It should be noticed that there is scriptural precedent for rebaptising people. Take a look at Acts 19:1-7, where the disciples of John, having been baptized by John, are baptized a second time, in the name of Jesus:
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"
"John's baptism," they replied.
Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.
What Does Baptism Do?
Are we saved by grace through faith in the Son of God, secure in his finished work on the Cross? Or is there something more that must be done, like being baptized, for instance? The Los Angeles Church of Christ and its related groups across the country (such as the New York Church of Christ and the church in York) would have us believe that without baptism an individual cannot be saved.
I would like to start out by explaining what salvation is and how we obtain it. Salvation is God coming to humanity and giving it the way to regain fellowship with him by making amends for Adam's sin in the garden. The reason God comes to us is because we cannot go to him; there is nothing we can possibly do to earn forgiveness from God, even if we had a million years to do it. God's nature demands righteousness and detests sin. Since we are sinners by nature, God and human beings cannot unite together in eternal fellowship until the sin problem is done away with. The only one able to pay the price that sin demands is God, and that's why Jesus came and died in our place and took the punishment which was justly ours. The life of the Son of God was an infinite, eternal, sinless life, alone able to bear an almost infinite amount of sin from billions of sinners. Let us see how human beings stand up to God without his grace and the finished work of Christ on the cross:
God looks down from heaven on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalms 53:2-3)
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
Who can say, "I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin"? (Proverbs 20:9)
There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
As you can see, a human being on his or her own does not impress God in the least. In fact, human beings would seem to be in a more or less hopeless condition.
Yet, what about the argument that a person participates in his or her salvation by having faith? Isn't a believer supplying his own faith?
At first, this might seem right and reasonable, until one asks the question: just where does this faith come from? Is it really from the individual himself - or is its origin elsewhere? Let's see what Scripture has to say on the subject:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Romans 12:3; emphasis added.)
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)
As can be seen, faith is something that God gives us; it is not something that we have on our own. It's time to let God's word explain salvation and how we are justified by God:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ....
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession-to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:4-9, 11-14)
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:30-32)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:3-7)
I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. (Galatians 1:14-17)
We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:20-21)
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing-if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Galatians 3:1-6)
But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:22-25)
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)
"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life." (John 6:44-47)
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:21-31)
Who has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, (2 Timothy 1:9)
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:28-29)
"Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39)
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. (John 3:36)
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
The verses just go on and on.
So, what about all the verses that speak about baptism - especially those that seem to teach that we must be baptized in order to be saved? After an in-depth study of these verses, I think that one can understand what they mean. The verses on baptism (listed below), speak of the baptism of John, as the L.A. Church of Christ would say, and not Jesus' command in Matthew 28:19: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Therefore, these verses have no bearing on the L.A. Church of Christ argument, since John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, Jesus (Acts. 19:5)
Verses on the baptism of John:
Mat. 3:6-7, 13-17
Mark 1:4-5, 9
Luke 3:7, 12, 21
John 3:22-23, 26
The following verses speak of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in contrast to the water baptism of John:
Acts 1:5, 15
In these verses, the surrounding contexts makes clear that they had already believed, and their belief was the determining factor in their salvation.
Acts 8:36, 38
If one would take the time to look at all the verses mentioned on baptism and their surrounding contexts, it is clear that belief was always first and salvation is a reaction from believing the gospel. Baptism is clearly something done because of being saved, not something done in order to be saved.
The following verses, I believe, need to be answered one by one:
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
This verse is resolved when we consider the possible meaning of being baptized "for" the remission of sins, in the light of its usage, the whole context, and the rest of scripture. Consider the following: first, the word "for" (Greek, eis) can mean "with a view to" or even "because of". In this case, water baptism would happen because they had been saved, not in order to be saved.
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' (Acts 22:16)
This verse seems to be saying that baptism washes away Paul's sins. However, when the verse is diagrammed, it clearly does not say that. There are two important imperatives ("be baptized" and "wash") and two participles ("having arisen" and "having called") in the verse and they pair off like this: "arise, having been baptized; wash away your sins, having called on the Lord's name." In other words, the washing away of sins and the baptism are not connected as cause and effect. The arising is due to baptism having occurred, and the washing away of sins is due to having called on the Lord's name.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)
Mark 16:16 is not well-attested by the best Greek manuscripts and was most likely not part of the original text of Mark. At best, it would be risky to build a doctrine of baptism being necessary for salvation on such a debated text. If it is inspired, then it would be well for those who teach baptismal regeneration to notice that baptism is omitted from the last part of verse 16. All it took to be condemned was not to believe, not whether you were baptized.
Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)
having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)
These verses do not teach baptismal regeneration, but are simply a symbolic reference to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and how it is that believers participate in it. We as Christians need to spend a little more time in studying the contexts of Scripture and less time in the concentration on isolated verses.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19)
This verse tells us nothing about baptism for salvation. What it does tell us is that Christians are to make disciples, which simply means to make other Christians, or other followers of Christ. The baptizing of these disciples is an outward response to an inward change. Baptism is the result, the consequence of salvation and not a part of it nor a cause of it.
He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)
This verse taken alone might seem to say that John taught baptism for the purpose of forgiving sins. But as we look at Acts 19:4, we discover that John's baptism was a baptism of repentance, and that those who participated in the baptism were to be looking to the one coming after John, and were to believe in him - that is, to believe in Jesus. Since this is John's baptism and not the one given in Matthew 28:19, a member of the Church of Christ movement shouldn't have any problem with the way I handled this verse.
and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21)
As we read this verse in its context we see that it is Jesus that has died for our sins, not baptism (1 Peter 3:18). The baptism that saves us is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the water we are submerged under. Baptism is a symbol, an outward sign of our salvation, just as circumcision was an outward sign of being God's chosen people. Remember, they became his before they were circumcised; they were not circumcised so that he would choose them. Consider the words of Herbert Wilson in The Teacher's Commentary:
Verse 21 teaches that the water of the flood has its counterpart in the water of baptism. Lest his readers should misunderstand his reference to baptism: (1) Baptism does not actually put away the filth of the flesh (v. 21b) - either literally or spiritually. It is only a symbol of cleansing. (2) Baptism is "the answer of a good conscience toward God" (v. 21c). This may be interpreted to mean "the craving for a conscience right with God" (Goodspeed) or "the appeal made to God by a good conscience" (NEB). Many see in the expression the idea of a pledge (made in baptism) to maintain a good conscience before God..."
"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'" (John 3:4-7)
Verse five is sometimes used to demonstrate the idea of baptismal regeneration. The difficulty with such an interpretation is that verse six makes clear that the water spoken of in verse five is the water of natural birth. Water baptism is simply not in view in the passage, and in fact the term baptism itself never even appears. Jesus instead is concentrating on the idea of being born a second time, "of the Spirit" - which is an act of God.
God sent his disciples out into the world to spread the gospel, or good news (euangelion) which is not baptizing along with faith in the Lord through reading the Bible, and building your own faith, but it is the Lord's finished work on the Cross, his death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. It is God's work, not ours. I think 1 Corinthians 1:17 makes it clear that the gospel and baptism are two different things:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel - not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
And here is an instance of people already being filled with the Holy Spirit (and therefore clearly Christians) before they were baptized:
"Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10:47-48)
The biggest problem the proponents of baptism for salvation face is a contradiction with the Old Testament. Salvation for people in the Old Testament was the same as it is for those of us of the New Testament era. No one can argue that people in the Old Testament were saved by keeping the law or through the sacrifices. The author of Hebrews is absolutely clear:
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the reality themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. but those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)
Notice again what Paul said in Galatians 2:21:
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
If salvation could have been obtained through observing the law or through the sacrifices, then the Father would never have bothered to send the Son to die on the cross. What would have been the point?
It is instructive to notice that God saved the people from Egyptian bondage, a picture of God's ability to save from sin; then they passed through the Red Sea (which 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 compares to baptism) and then the law was given. Salvation first, then obedience. The law is the consequence of salvation. Reread Ephesians 2:8-10 and notice the cause and effect.
The nature of God's grace in salvation is very clear in the Old Testament. An excellent demonstration of this can be had by comparing Genesis 19 which contains the story of Lot and Sodom and Gomorra, with what Peter says in 2 Peter 2:7-8, where Lot is called "a righteous man." It would be hard, if not impossible, to demonstrate any "righteous" behavior on Lot's part. The only reason he is righteous is because of Ephesians 2:8-10 (salvation by grace, through faith.) Other Old Testament characters could be examined. A good exercise would be to look at the list in Hebrews 11 of people of faith, and then look in the Old Testament to see how they actually lived. If their salvation was dependent on their goodness, then they are all without hope.
There is simply no room in the Bible, Old or New Testament, for the idea that being good, or doing works (which baptism becomes if it is necessary for salvation), makes us acceptable to God.
The arguments used by those who believe salvation is through baptism, or that baptism is required for salvation are similar to the arguments used by those who believed circumcision was necessary for salvation, or before becoming a Christian.
In fact, the basis for making baptism necessary for infants and regeneration is derived from the concept of circumcision, largely on the basis of Colossians 2:11-14:
In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Yet to identify circumcision with baptism and make it a sacrament or a necessity of salvation is false, because if we do identify it with circumcision, then look at the trouble that causes - because look at Paul's criticism of circumcision:
The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:27-29)
Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. (Romans 4:9-11)
Notice what Paul had to say about those who wanted to circumcise all the time:
Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:11-12)
Therefore, to those who believe they must be baptized, we could say, paraphrasing Paul, "I wish they would go the whole way and drown themselves!"
The Nature of the Lord's Supper
Historically, this has gone by several names: Eucharist (from Greek eucharistia, meaning "thanksgiving"), the Latin Mass, the Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, and the breaking of the bread. Groups have excommunicated and killed one another over whether communion could be taken in both kinds, who could perform the ceremony, and what happened when the one officiating announced "this is my blood" and "this is my body."
In Catholicism, it is taught that the bread and wine become transformed upon the pronouncement of the priest, into the actual body and blood of Jesus. That is, that the bread and wine undergo a physical change. The technical term for this doctrinal stance is "transubstantiation." It is founded upon a literal understanding of Christ's words. The story is told of a Catholic Priest talking to a fundamentalist: "I take Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:24 at face value, literally, and you criticize me for it. But when I want to take Genesis 1 figuratively, you criticize me for that. Make up your mind!"
Lutherans believe that the participant in the Lord's supper takes the true body and blood of Jesus "in, with and under" the bread and wine, though there is no physical change in the elements. This approach is called "consubstantiation."
In the Reformed churches, they believe that the elements do constitute a means of grace through the partaking of them. The believe that there is a spiritual presence of Christ in the bread and wine, but no real, physical presence.
In all the preceding viewpoints, the taking of the Lord's supper is a means of receiving grace - that is, there is a real, spiritual benefit, that contributes to an individual's salvation.
The most radical wing of Protestantism, as developed by Zwingli (a reformer in Zurich, Switzerland) and then followed by others, rejects any such notion that salvation or grace are obtained from participating in the Lord's Supper. Instead, he and those who followed him believe that the Lord's Supper is simply a memorial; this view is based on 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 and Luke 22:19; "Do this in remembrance of me." The phrase "this is my body", "this is my blood" is thus taken to be metaphor, which seems the most obvious and likely way of taking it, especially when one considers that in 1 Corinthians 11:25 Jesus says "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." No one, that I'm aware of, takes it that the cup Jesus used is what is meant by the New Covenant; it is simply metaphor. It is as serious a methodological error to literalize what should be taken allegorically as it is to allegorize what should be taken literally.
One added point should be made: the contents of the cup. Some groups, most notably Baptists in the United States, tend to use grape juice instead of wine in their communion services. This is a relatively late practice, the consequence of the temperance movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historically, the practice of the churches has been consistently to use actual wine, and that was, of course, what was being used by Jesus and his disciples, since the Lord's supper appears to have originated in the context of the Passover Seder, where wine is an important element. In fact, this wasn't even a question or an issue until the arrival of the temperance movements.
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