Nonsense, Easter, Empty Tombs, Stones

tombA Friend of mine asked/mentioned on a social media site, “One thing I never understood about the story though. Why was the giant stone rolled to the side of the tomb? He didn’t need a doorway. In the next few days, if you read the scripture there are several instances where Jesus “appears” which it makes it sound like he was spirit?

Ok, let me answer your question with a question—or two or three! You said you never understood … So let me ask you what is understandable, what makes sense in the entire story? The answer is ‘nothing.’

The Roman guard was not going to let a, for lack of a better word, prisoner—at least a body under their watch—escape. They would have received the death penalty for such. Yet, they shook and became like dead men.

That the stone was rolled away would have been a supernatural feat. We would have never been able to roll the stone away. It would have weighed several tons. It sat in a trench and rolled down to cover the entrance. Yet, the Greek implies that it was not rolled—either left or right—in the trench; it was rolled outward away from the tomb. This would not have been an easy task for men.

Who were the first to discover the risen Christ? Women. Women were tasked with telling the others that the Christ had been raised. A woman was not a believed or relied on source in the ancient world. They could not testify in a court of law; and now they are given the burden of telling everyone that Christ has risen in the middle of history not at the end of time! Probably why in Mark’s gospel they don’t tell anyone! Who would have believed them!

First, while Jews, and Jews alone, believed in a bodily resurrection, they believed it would come at the end of history. The resurrection of the Christ came in the middle of history. And the women? As the women went to the tomb they said there was an earthquake. That was the stone being rolled away—the angel sat on the stone. I’m 99.44/100th percent sure the stone was rolled away so the witnesses could know that what had happened had indeed happened.

The Jews had had many people come and claim to be the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel. They had been put to death. Jesus was no different. He came made his claim and was put to death. They did not expect a resurrection, not until the end of time when everyone would be resurrected. Women were not reliable witnesses. Romans are not going to let a body under their watch disappear (remember these were highly trained fighting men).

Nothing in the story makes sense. But, then it does. As other messiah want-to-bes had come and gone, Jesus, the true Messiah, had to rise. What he accomplished, he accomplished on the cross on ‘Good Friday.’ After his death the world was a different place. God’s new creation was taking place. The resurrection was the proof of what had happen on Friday!

Now, I believe Jesus was raised before the stone was rolled away. It was rolled away so that it could be shown to be empty. But, something needs to be remembered. While did have those ‘spirit’ aspect like being able to appear in places, he also had a physicality ae to tough the wounds. This suggest some type of human body. Also, He had to appear somewhat human as he was mistaken for the gardener. The fact that the disciples didn’t recognize him walking down the road doesn’t point to him being changed so much as it points to them not expecting him to be raised!

When he ascended into Heaven some of earth went to Heaven; some days later when the Holy Spirit came down (Acts 2) some of Heaven came to earth. I think we too often we think of dying and going to heaven as the end. But if we follow Christ’s example, we will die and be with our Lord for a period of time and then there will be the resurrection. Our bodies will be raised on a New Earth with a New Heaven. So, Heaven is great place to visit but it’s not the final stop.  And nothing in these stories makes sense because it was something the world had never seen and will never see again! And, if everything made perfect sense there would be no room for faith.

May our faith guide us through this Eastertide as we move forward to Pentecost.

 

Until next time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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Decisions, Decisions, Decision

baptism1Did you ever have to make up your mind? Decisions surround us. All through the day we make tons of them; some we make unconsciously. According to UNC TV we make on the average 35,000 conscious decisions during a day. Psychology Today suggest that we make a decision every two seconds. I actually think a bit more than I every thought I did! And making  decision to do one thing is also a decision to not do something else. As Rolheiser put it, “Every choice is a thousand renunciations. To choose one thing is to turn one’s back on many others.”  Yet, with all of the decisions we make, they each carry consequences.

In his book, Decision Points, George W. Bush started out by addressing his alcohol problem. But he ends the chapter writing, “There’s no way to know where my life would have headed if I hadn’t made the decision to quit drinking. But I am certain that I would not be recording these thoughts as a former governor of Texas and president of the United States.”

As we are in the Season of Lent, a season where we reflect on our baptisms, or prepare to be baptized; we reflect on the greatest decision we can/will/have ever make (made)! It is the decision that changes our lives. As Pope John Paul II put it, “Baptism frees man from original sin and forgives his sins, saves him from slavery to evil and is a sign of his rebirth in the Holy Spirit, it imparts to him a new life.”

Before we made that decision to be baptized we were lost in sin. One of the most powerful autobiographies I have ever read, St. Patrick’s Confessio, started off liked this, “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers.” There is where we are without baptism: a sinner, the least of all believers. We are the least of all because we stand apart from God.

But, there was good news in the form of the Gospel of God, the Gospel about his Son. The ‘gospel,’ euangelion <Greek>, was a proclamation. Usually it meant a royal proclamation such as a royal birthday, or a new king had ascended to the throne. In the case of the gospel of God, the gospel about his Son, the proclamation was that something had happened on the cross that first Good Friday by six o’clock in the afternoon. And, as a result the world was now a different place. And as sinners, that new world is the place that our baptism offers to us. Three days later when Christ was resurrected, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it gave us the proof of what happened on the cross that Friday afternoon. The world changed. That was the proclamation. For us the proclamation is that we can take part in that new world. And, it is through baptism that we take our place in that new world.

In our baptism we take part in the death of the Christ. St. Paul wrote to the church in Rome, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were indeed buried with Him through baptism into his death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).  As Paul continued, ‘our old self was crucified with Him so that our sinful body might be done away with” (v.6). Baptism changes “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner,” to, “My name is Patrick. I am a child of God.”

Baptism saved us (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism clothed us in Christ (Galatians 3:27). Baptism filled us with the Holy Spirit (Acts 3:28). Baptism allowed us to walk in a newness of Life (Romans 6:4). While there are many sacraments, baptism is THE sacrament. For without it it is impossible to partake in any other sacrament.

Lent is a time to reflect back on our baptism. And while we may make 35,000 decisions a day, while we may make a decision every two seconds, and while with each decision we make there is a renunciation of a thousand other possible decisions, every decision we make pales in comparison of that one decision we made to be baptized. While Lent is a good time to reflect on that decision, it should also be remembered with every other decision of the year because “By Baptism we are made flesh of the Crucified” (St. Leo). As St. Maximilian Kolbe put it, “The soul is regenerated in the sacred waters of baptism and thus becomes God’s child.” Decisions come and go. But one decision, the decision to be baptized, should transform our lives like no other.

 

Until Next Time May The Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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A Cross, Some Thoughts, Surveying the Wondrous Cross

goodfridayOne of the most popular pieces of jewelry is a cross. Not just among the religious, mind you, but among society in general. They come form the plain and simply to the most diamond studded bling. Even among denominations that only a few years ago might have shunned the wearing of such a sacred symbol, crosses adorn the necks, the ears, and anywhere else they can find to put one—on jewelry that is! We glamorize the cross on everything but seem to somewhat gloss over it in our churches. Sure, we sing a few songs such as the ‘Old Rugged Cross,’ or, ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.’ But for the most part we skip past the cross and get right to the resurrection.

            As we hold our blingy crosses in such high esteem, even being proud when we see others adorned with them, for the First Century Jew, or anyone else for that matter, the cross was not the pretty thing we have made it out to be. The cross was a scary symbol. It represented the most horrid way a man could die. As one walked down the first century road, they could see the sights of the dying hung on the cross. Maybe the stench of rotting flesh filled the air. Buzzards would have been circling, waiting for the precise, right moment to swoop down for the awaiting feast. Flies would been buzzing around and maggots filling the open wounds. A deterrent to crime. An example set for one not to rebel against the empire. Yes, the cross.

            Yet too often we want to, in our we want it right now mental, go straight on to the resurrection. But, it was the cross on that—what has come to be called Good Friday—afternoon that changed the world. For St. Paul, he maintained that when in Corinth he vowed to know nothing but Christ and Christ crucified. It was not the resurrection—Sunday morning—it was Friday afternoon. Sadly, we look closer at the resurrection and skim the wondrous cross that changed the creation that God had once called ‘good,’ but had strayed from God’s will and way.

            While we look at the crosses we have around our necks, pierced in our ears, tattooed on our bodies, we forget what the cross symbolized to the Jewish people. We tend to forget that it was the cross, the wondrous cross, that on a Friday afternoon, changed the world. It was because of the cross that the proclamation ‘Surely, this man was the Son of God,’ not the resurrection, though by the resurrection He was declared to be the Son of God by the Holy Spirit.

            The Cross changed the world. The Cross made way for us to walk in the new earth, the future, while still living in the present. The Cross, the Wonderous, Old Rugged Cross, changed the world; the resurrection was the proof that it had happened.

 

Collect for Good Friday:

Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness; for your tender mercies’ sake. Amen.

 

Until next time, may the God Lord bless and keep you!

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LENT, ASH WEDNESDAY: I’M GIVING UP MAYONNAISE!

ashwednesdayThe time of Lent is again upon us. And, for many it is the time where we give up something. For the next 46 days we ‘fast.’ We give up something. And, it is my plan to give up mayonnaise. Of course, of the 46 days, six are Sundays of which we are under no obligation to fast, so I can eat mayonnaise on those days—should I so choose. Yet, as I detest mayonnaise I believe I shall not partake of this food—I use the word loosely—on those days on which I could actually eat it. Sadly, that is the attitude with which many enter into the Lenten fast.

Our time of fasting during the Lenten period should be a time of bring us closer to God. Amos has called on us to “Seek the Lord” (Amos 5:6, ESV). We need to be clearing out the clutter that is causing us to spend less time with our God. Some many times in our busy lives, when time is tight, it is God who gets pushed by the wayside. Thus, our fast should be one that turns our eyes upon Jesus. As Paul wrote in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Our fast then needs to draw us closer to the Lord. As we await that day when we celebrate what the Lord has done, the day when the Lord changed the world on the Cross and gave proof of that change by his resurrection.

It was the Cross that changed the world. On that day the world became a new place. We have the evidence of this when Paul wrote to the church in Corinth that he resolved to know nothing while he was in Corinth except “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The proof of what happened on that Cross became manifest three days later when the Christ “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of Holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).

Our Lenten Fast then helps us to seek the Lord. It helps us to run the race with endurance. It should more clearly help us to see the world that came to be on a Friday afternoon on a Cross. Our fast helps to bring into focus the work of Jesus on the Cross.

John preached a baptism of repentance. And our Lenten fast should be a type of repentance. It is not a fast that turns us back from where we came; it is a fast that turns us to where we should go. We fast from what tends to take away our time from focus on God. It is a fast that helps us to turn to Him, to seek Him. It is a fast that doesn’t weaken us but strengthens us to run the race with endurance. As John preached a baptism of repentance, our Lenten fast turns our eyes toward, helps us more fully seek, the one who was raised by the same Holy Spirit by which we are baptized. It is not enough for us to simply turn our eyes from the things of which we fast; we must in the Spirit turn our eyes unto Him.

Of course, I am not giving up mayonnaise for Lent; I never eat the nasty mess to start with! As a matter of fact, eating mayonnaise, I feel, would probably send me on to the heavenly realm! But, I ask at this Lenten period, allow your fast to be one that draws you ever so closer to God. Seek Him and allow your fast to allow you to run the race with endurance. Turn from the world and walk in the Spirit by which you are indwelled.  As you seek God, humble yourselves so that you may be exalted (Luke 18:14). Allow the Holy Spirit to take you on a pilgrimage during Lent that takes you to the Cross of Christ with a proclamation that surely this man really is the son of God!

 

Until next time, may the good Lord bless and keep you!

(For those of you on FaceBook I will see you in April)

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Where Have All The Boys and Girls Gone?

jesus the teacherNothing is ‘black and white’ any longer it seems. The lines have all been blurred. Even in places where the lines could never be blurred, they have been blurred: the sexes. I recently watched an interview of a lady—a psychologist no less—who was raising her child to be neither boy or girl. When the child would ask if he/she was a boy or a girl, the mother would reply, “Whatever you want to be.” We live in a time where gender-lines are as blurred to the point that you never know whether to say yes sir or ye ma’am. The gender-lines are so blurred that US magazine’s woman of the year was a man. No, it’s not the Twilight Zone; it’s the 21st Century. And, in many cases the church is not combating the problem, it is embracing the culture.

Wayne Grudem writes, “The church has been called to counter and bless the culture, not to copy and baptize it. All too often our churches reflect, rather than constructively engage, worldly culture.”[1] Christian Headlines reports that the Baptist church has ordained its first openly transgender pastor.[2] CNN reported in 2010, that the Episcopal Church had ordained its first openly lesbian bishop.[3] Writing in 2006, Grudem simply did not know how true his words were, and would become.

Homes are broken often leading to single parent situations where the child may not have role models of the sex opposite the parent with which he/she lives. Some children are brought up by two parents of the same sex. Television shows flaunt and glamour these alternative lifestyles. And the church, the lighthouse, the guidepost, for the world has all too often has bought into society instead of acting to show society a better. Little Johnny can be all that he can be, and he might just be doing it in a dress, with mutilated genitalia, in a church near you, unless the church steps up and teaches biblical manhood and womanhood.

While the Western church seems willing to allow societal norms to change its stance on many issues, the African church seems to be prepared to take a stronger stance. Father Raphael Adebayo from the Catholic church of Saint Agnes in the Nigerian city of Lagos asserts, “It is impossible for the Church to support something that does not please God. It is clear that homosexuality is an abomination.”[4] We needn’t read further than Genesis 1 to see God’s intended sexual order for his creation: Male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). And, in Genesis 2 we also see God’s intended picture of marriage: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24, ESV). God created man and woman. And, they were created for each other.

God created both male and female. He created them for each other. And, he did not create male for male, or female for female. Nor did he create male to become female or female to become male. Yet, in western society there seems to be an abandonment of absolute truth in favor of a relative truth which allows that anything goes. Corradi writes that the new societal delusion is “that gender is a social construct rather than a biological fact. This is the notion that there are no biologically determined characteristics of either sex.”[5] Corradi goes onto to write, “In fact there are no ‘opposite sexes,’ only a gender spectrum between femaleness and maleness (hence the prefix “trans-” in “transgender”), and one may choose to identify oneself with any point on the continuum, or to remain undecided.”[6] Rubano argues that argues that a pastoral sensibility should take into account research into ‘gender creativity’—a term coined by Diane Ehrensaft, adapted from Wincott’s phrase ‘individual creativity’—which would allow for children places of worship to be better sanctuaries for authentic living. He writes, “One way this pastoral sensibility can be expressed is through a gender-creative reading of scripture as a model for advocacy on behalf of gender-nonconforming children.”[7] But, we abandon the created order and throw out biblical manhood and womanhood considering Romans 1:18:  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (ESV)? Do we change the word and give approval of such practices in light of Romans 1:32: Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (ESV)?

What does this mean for the church? I worship in what most would call a medium size church, The Church of the Redeemer Anglican Church in Camden, North Carolina. To our east is Elizabeth City, North Carolina; and to our south, the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Both host gay pride events. So, while our church is not in some great metropolitan city, these issues knock at our door, as it knocks at the door of a good many churches. We handle it by making sure with our most vulnerable to fall to deceptive doctrine, we start early teaching biblical manhood and womanhood. Grudem writes, “If we write off, ignore, or distort the Bible’s teaching on gender roles, then we are bound to do so with everything the Bible teaches.”[8] In this era where gender confusion runs amok we cannot afford to do anything less. As schools become more liberal in teaching ‘alternative’ lifestyles and genders on a daily basis, the church has to step up and teach biblical lifestyles—through all of its flawed characters—on its one day a week. It is essential that while preach/teach the way of salvation there be discipleship among all the church members. And, we bring them all back to the order of creation.

Former Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright asserts, “The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.”[9] Our teachings of the generations that will follow us has to be based on the goodness of the original creation. But, we have to be teaching and countering the teaching that comes from the world with the teaching that comes from above. As Wright wrote, “We need to let Paul remind us, precisely when major cultural change is upon us, that our confidence is not in the solidity of Western culture or the basic goodness of modern democracy. Our confidence is in Jesus and him alone.”[10] We have to teach as in many ways society has taken a head start in the indoctrination race.

We pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in Heaven,” but is the church acting in such a way that God’s will is being done? In our quest to bring more people into the Kingdom are we allowing the church to mirror society as opposed to changing the world to look like a Kingdom that operates by God’s will? To accept both the homosexual lifestyle and the transgender lifestyle into the church is to change God’s word and to change his bride into what God intended as sin. As these issues become more common place in society, and as the western world tries to change countries in the East to be more like the West, maybe it’s time for the church in the West to look to the church in the East for a biblical understanding of these not so tough issues.

 

Until next time May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1] Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), Kindle Location 173.

[2] http://www.christianheadlines.com/blog/baptist-church-ordains-first-openly-transgender-preacher.html

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/15/episcopal.lesbian.bishop/index.html

[4] http://www.dw.com/en/little-support-by-african-churches-for-gay-rights/a-16408405.

[5] Richard Corradi, “Transgender Delusion,” First Things 256 (October 2015): 17.

[6] Corradi, 18.

[7] Craig Rubano, “Where Do the Mermaids Stand? Toward a Gender Creative Pastoral Sensibility,” Pastoral Psychology 65 (2016): 822-823.

[8] Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), Kindle Location 178-179.

[9] https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/06/n-t-wrights-argument-against-same-sex-marriage.

[10] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (New York: Harper Collins, 2014), 185.

Have We Neglected Going Down In The River?

alexDr. John Mark Hicks makes that claim that for the early church being a Christian meant one was baptized and that it was understood that if one was not a Christian one was not baptized.[1] As well, Bruce contends, “the idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply not entertained in the New Testament.”[2] Yet, in recent years the same case cannot be made. Baptism has been reduced by many simply to an initiatory rite for church membership, membership into a local church body. Yet, looking at the biblical record shows baptism to be something more than just a rite of passage into a church membership. It has to be remembered that “church membership,” in its current/modern understanding is quite different than what it would have meant in Frist Century, Second Temple Judaism.  While the Bible presents baptism as a salvific event, a sacrament, the modern church has reduced the salvific event to a prayer that is never found in scripture. The biblical record shows baptism, when coupled with belief, to be the event whereby salvation occurs.

Preliminary Concerns:

Before diving into the waters of biblical baptism there are a few preliminary concerns that need to be addressed: The thief on the cross and the definition of church.

For most people “the thief on the cross” provides the test case for baptism not being an essential for the salvation event. Without rehashing a story known to all, a few brief details will be given to set the story given in Luke 23. The “thief” was crucified beside Christ. In his last minutes he asked Christ to remember him when he, Christ, comes into his kingdom. Christ answers by assuring him that he would that day be in paradise with Christ.

Two points of clarification are all that need be made about the thief to dispel that he represents salvation apart from baptism. First, the command for baptism was given by the risen Christ in Matthew 28. So, at the time of the thief’s death there was no command to be baptized. A second point, and a major point, is that the thief, just as Christ, died under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was not in force until the death of its mediator, Christ: Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.  For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.  For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. (Hebrews 9: 15-17).[3]

Another argument could be put forth that it is known whether the thief was baptized or not.  While some may argue that the thief did not have time to get off the cross and be baptized, it cannot be said that he was not baptized before going to the cross. It is biblical record that both the disciples of John the immerser and the disciples of Jesus were both baptizing. So it could well have been that the thief was a baptized person. This case is weak an unprovable, and the first two provide enough emphasis to disqualify the thief as a test case, a scriptural proof, that baptism is not essential for a true New Covenant conversion.

The experience of the thief would best be seen, as Schroeder writes, “When Jesus responds, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise,’ the ‘today’ focuses not only on what awaits the repentant criminal, but equally on what Jesus is accomplishing, namely, coming into his kingdom. ‘Today, Jesus is dying with sinners.”[4] Instead of viewing the thief as a proof text for the lack of necessity of baptism, it is best viewed as centered on the work of Christ.

Of equal concern is the definition of the word “church.” The term is use almost without thought while its meaning seems to dangle in the undefined. For purposes of this paper church will be defined in two ways. Designated by a capital “C” it will represent the church universal: the entire body of Christ. When written with a lower case “c” it will represent the local church: the place where believers meet typically on, but not limited to, a Sunday morning. As some claim baptism to be an initiatory rite into one or both of these the definitions will aid in the understanding.

ACTS 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21

No matter who one interprets Acts 2:38, those who were baptized that day were added to the Church or the church.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Peter, through a sermon, explains to those present what has just happened. After his sermon, he is asked what they must do now. Peter’s response, “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).  Without consulting commentaries or journals it seems that apart from baptism there is no remission of sin. Yet, many, in order to safeguard “salvation by grace alone, have diminished the phrase. Gaertner writes, “This position disregards the very common use of eis in the New Testament to mean ‘for the purpose of, in order to.’ In Matthew 26:28 where this exact phrase appears, Jesus says his blood is poured out’ for (eis) the forgiveness of sins. It would be absurd to argue that the phrase means ‘because of’ and that Jesus’ blood was poured out because sins had already been forgiven.”[5] Gaertner continued writing, “Whatever Peter says about the forgiveness of sins follows from both imperatives. Just as repentance is needed “for the purpose of” the forgiveness of sins, so is baptism. This position need not rob the plan of salvation of its basis in the grace of God. Both imperatives expect action to be taken on the part of the sinner. [6] For Gaertner, whatever repentance means in the salvation process, baptism means the same.

Horton on the other hand, takes the position of baptism “because of  … .” Horton writes, “That is, they must repent first, then [Peter] would baptize them. We are saved  by grace through faith, not through baptism. After repentance, water baptism becomes a ‘pledge’ or testimony, of a good conscience that has already been cleansed.”[7]

The problem with Horton’s assessment is he works to hard to protect a doctrine instead of letting scripture say what is says. Instead of allowing scripture to set doctrine, he is good with the idea of letting doctrine set what scripture says. As has been shown earlier the error in this line of exegesis, his outcome fails to take into account other scripture which declares that baptism does in fact now save.

Peter wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). For Peter, salvation happened at the baptism event. Black asserts, “any view of baptism which finds it a rather embarrassing ceremonial extra, irrelevant to Christian salvation, is not doing justice to New Testament teaching.”[8] This, a ceremonial act, it is what much of modern Christianity has reduced the sacrament of baptism to. Bock backs this statement writing, “The act of baptism portrays a washing and signifies what repentance produces, cleansing.”[9] But, can repentance by itself produce such an event? A Radical Islamic Terrorist known for the murder of Christians may repent from murder; he may stop murdering. Yet, he has made no profession of Christ or been baptized. Has his repentance alone saved him? To answer this question one need look no farther than the case of the Apostle Paul.

 

Paul of Tarsus

 

Paul himself claimed to be the chief of sinners. Yet, on the Damascus road he had an encounter with the risen Christ. Two points need to be made here. First, Paul, or Saul as he was known at that time, was on a mission to persecute Christians. And, after his encounter with Christ that mission was thwarted. One need not look too far to see that there was repentance. If this was the only story available about Paul, the outcome would have to be that he had relented. But, the story of Paul goes a bit farther. Paul was told to go on to Damascus. When there, in his own words, “Ananias came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name’ (Acts 22:13-16, emphasis added).

For Paul, the sins were not washed away until the baptism. Paul’s account of his salvation affirms Acts 2:38:

Acts 2:38                          Paul’s Salvation account

Repent                              Repented

Be Baptized                      Was Baptized

Remission of Sins              Sins Washed Away

 

These elements in Paul’s conversion can be found throughout the New Covenant writings as well as early church writings. And, it has to be remembered that it was Paul gave the doctrine of salvation by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). Man, in an attempt to clarify what was never murky has come upon and taught something never taught or implied in scripture.  If baptism is relegated to a “work” repentance has to be given the same status; Acts 2:38 presents them on an even keel where salvation is concerned. In all fairness to the question, repentance is much more of a work than baptism. One has to work at repentance; one simply submits to baptism.

The biblical case has been made that apart from belief AND baptism there is now salvation. At baptism sins are washed away. Apart from baptism there is no biblical case that can be made for remission of sins. All New Covenant conversions contain baptism either directly stated or implicit.  As Cukrowski sums it up, “Luke’s exclusive mention of one of these three items is not a denial of the other two. Thus, in writing to a Christian audience, Luke presumes that his readers know an obedient response to God involves faith, repentance, and baptism.”[10] The question now turns onto church membership.

 

Big “C” or Little “c”

Acts 2:41 reads, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” The question then that has to be answered, and is the subject and summation of a rather lengthy introduction of sorts, is simply, “where were they added?”

One could throw out all commentaries and writings and from a simple reading of Acts come to the logical conclusion that the souls added were simply added to the number of souls saved. There are roughly 15 language groups mentioned in Acts chapter 2. Each of these groups in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Pentecost being one of three feast that required the Jew to travel to Jerusalem. Logically speaking, if they traveled there, they would again travel home. If the souls added were added to a local church—if baptism was simply an initiatory rite into local church membership—which local church were they added to, the church in Jerusalem or the church from where they came?

The problem with this is there were no local churches from where they came—nor even in Jerusalem for that matter as this was the day the church was born! At best, Luke presents a beginning of sorts to a budding community of people who have repented and been baptized. But, the community that Luke follows at this point is one that remains in Jerusalem. While the others who were added would have went on their way setting up communities in their native lands. For Jervell these souls were added to the “flock of disciples.”[11] Horton seems to agree using an upper case “C,” “we can be sure that all three thousand new believers were added to the Church received the of the Father as Peter said they would and were filled with the Spirit, speaking in other tongues as in Acts 2:4” (emphasis added).[12] The second part of Horton’s quote cannot be defended and is in itself a research paper. The point though being, there was no church at this time for these souls to be added. Yet, there was a Church. If the doctrine is based on biblical record, from Acts 2:41 the only conclusion that can be drawn is baptism was into the Church, the Body of Christ universal.

Another biblical case against baptism being an initiatory rite in to local church membership presents itself a few chapters later.

In Acts 8 the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian is told.  Phillip is sent by the Spirit to a desert place. Here he sees and Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah. When Phillip asked the Ethiopian if he understands what he is reading, the Ethiopian responds asking how can he if he has no-one to teach him. From here, Luke says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). From Isaiah Phillip taught, or as the NASB translates it preached, Jesus. That alone is nothing to add to the current discussion. Yyet, what follows is. Luke wrote, “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38). One is left with the question, which local church was the Ethiopian baptized into membership with? He did not travel back to Jerusalem to be a part of the church there. There is one point to be made from the story: If Jesus is preached baptism is a part of the preaching. The only church in view is the Church universal. The pericope is not designed to show how one enters into a local church, but to show the spread of the gospel. As Polhill puts is a eunuch, a black, a Gentile is baptized into the Body of Christ.[13] This helps to fill out the road map of the gospel laid out in Acts 1:8— But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (emphasis added).

There were no churches in Ethiopia at this time. So, the question that has to be asked is was the Ethiopian baptized into church or Church? The story of the Eunuch was never about local church membership. It is a story to show the growth of the gospel. It shows the spread of the gospel passing barriers. Salvation, and thus Church membership, is not limited to Jews, but is now open to all people. Paul says this is the mystery of the New Covenant, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). Luke is not concerned with membership into some local country club called the church; his concern is the Body of Christ, the universal Church.

Looking back at the Apostle Paul’s own conversion leaves the question of which local church was his baptism an initiatory rite for granting entrance? Looking back, Paul was converted in Damascus. Yet, there was no church in Damascus at the time. Into which church then Paul granted membership?

The only answer in the case of Paul can be that his baptism put him in the Church universal, not a local church establishment—they were non-existent. At best, where Paul is concerned, local church membership could be argued for Antioch, and even this is a weak argument. Acts 13 shows a local body of believers called the church at Antioch. Luke writes, “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1-3, NIV). While the case can weakly be made that Paul could have been a member of the body at Antioch as they seem to be the sending church for the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, scripture shows Paul was not baptized to be a member there. It would be a much better explanation to say Paul was baptized into the universal Church and spent time with the local body at Antioch. The biblical record suggests that baptism is into the universal Church and the believer places his membership where he decides to worship.

 

A Few Loose Ends

Believer’s baptism should be accepted as the norm. Without belief baptism is simply getting wet. This should disavow any doctrine of infant baptism. If one is to believe and repent how can an infant participate?

If baptism is simply an initiatory rite for church membership why are people not re-baptized when they move from one city another and begin going to a new church? It seems this practice alone ‘shoots in the foot’ the doctrine that baptism is for local church membership. Iit alone suggests that there is something deeper in the ordinance of baptism; it suggest that baptism is into the Church Universal.

Common, modern, practice has relegated salvation to a stock prayer recited by the new believer. The prayer has come to be known as the Sinner’s Prayer. Yet, said prayer is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures. This, though, is the common path to salvation. Baptism then is relegated as a secondary thought to gain admission into a local church fellowship. This differs vastly from the biblical picture that has been presented. For the biblical record does not view baptism as a rite or ordinance, but sees baptism as a sacrament. It is the only sacrament the Bible records.

 

Conclusion

 

No matter what ideas and doctrines man forms, the biblical record will always have precedence, as it should. From before the death of Christ, and the command to baptize, a thief was saved. He was saved just as any Old Covenant person would have been saved. After his resurrection Christ gave the command to baptize. And, on that first Pentecost after His resurrection the command was put into action. Yet, with no local churches it cannot be successfully argued that the command to be baptize was for admission into a local church. Numbers were added that day but not to a local church; numbers were added to the Universal Church, the Body of Christ.

From that first Pentecost the gospel spread, as Christ had said in Acts 1:8 it would. Starting with an Ethiopian, Christ was preached and he asked to be baptized. The argument cannot be made that it was into a local church as there were none in Ethiopia. He was baptized into the Universal Church, the Body of Christ.

Paul, formerly Saul, of Tarsus was encountered. On his way to Damascus he met the risen Christ. He repented and was subsequently baptized. His baptism was not for admission to a local church. The biblical record shows it was to wash his sins away. Paul’s baptism was not for entrance into a local church; his baptism was into the Universal Church, the body of Christ.

Baptism, when coupled with belief, is the salvific event. While man has formed doctrines to down play the event and make it an initiatory rite into local church membership, the Bible never places it in such a position. In the Bible baptism is never an ordinance or rite; it is always a sacrament. Too many, and too often, theologians have only looked at scripture through the lens of the Reformation theologians and endeavored to protect a doctrine of grace and faith alone. The Bible, on the other hand, puts forth the doctrine of grace and faith alone and has baptism as a part of that equation. Simply stated, baptism is not an initiatory rite into a local church membership, it is part of the salvation event into the Universal Church, the body of Christ.

Collect for Baptism:

Heavenly Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit
you give to your faithful people new life in the water of baptism.
Guide and strengthen us by the same Spirit,
that we who are born again may serve you in faith and love,
and grow into the full stature of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit
now and for ever. Amen.

 

Until Next Time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1] John Mark Hicks, Down In The River to Pray (Abilene: Leafwood, 2012), 181.

 

[2] F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 77.

[3] All verses Holy Bible English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[4] Edward Schroeder, “Luke’s Gospel through a Systematic Lens,” in Currents in Theology and Mission 3, no. 6 (1976): 340.

[5] Dennis Gaertner, Acts (Joplin: College Press, 1993), S Acts 2:38.

 

[6]Ibid.

[7] Stanley Horton, Acts (Springfield: Logion, 1981), 79.

[8] Allen Black and Mark C. Black, 1 & 2 Peter (Joplin: College Press, 1998), S. 1 Peter 3:21.

 

[9] Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 142.

[10] Ken Cukrowski, “What Must I do To Be Saved?” in Fanning the Flames: Probing the Issues in Acts ed.

Mark E. Moore (Joplin: College Press, 2003), 297.

[11] Jervel quoted in Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 146.

 

[12] Horton, 82.

[13] John Polhill, Acts (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 226.

When In Rome (part1): Euangelion

ColosseumNight2More has been written about the book of Romans than possibly any book of the Bible—with the possible exception of Revelation. From Augustine to Luther the book has been credited with the turning around of lives.  And early one St. Paul makes known one of the main themes of the epistle: the gospel. The Greek word he uses is euangelion, which simply translates as good news. Paul makes it known that he was set apart for the Gospel, the Good news, the euangelion, of God. Over the years the gospel –especially in the modern western church, the euangelion, has been watered down to simply believe in Jesus and go to be with God when you die, a sort of fire insurance. And while that might be a part of its message, is that the good news, the euangelion, that Paul was proclaiming to the church in Rome?

            In 1st century usage, the euangelion meant something different than its modern usage. The good news was a proclamation. It was a proclamation that something had happened, and because that something had happened something else would happen. It could be the accession or birthday of a ruler or emperor.[1] When Nero ascended there would have been a proclamation of this good news—this euangelion. And the good news, the euangelion, that St. Paul is proclaiming to the church in Rome is that we have a new King—his name is Jesus. N. T. Wright asserts, “Jesus saw himself as a prophet announcing and inaugurating the kingdom of YHWH; he believed himself to be Israel’s true Messiah; he believed that the kingdom would be brought about by means of his own death at the hands of the pagans. He believed, that is, that the message of the Isaianic herald was coming true at last: Israel’s god was becoming king, ‘Babylon’ was being defeated, and the exile was over at last.”[2] While Israel was back from physical exile, they were still under the Roman rule. Now, the true King had returned and Israel was at last returned from exile. Jesus the Christ was King of Heaven and earth.

            For the Gentiles—the church in Rome was made of both Jews and Gentiles, they can now be grafted into the covenant with the Jews (Romans 11). As well it allows the Gentiles to return from exile: their exile from God due to sin. But, now the good news, the euangelion, that Paul proclaims to the church in Rome is that there is a new King, an eternal King, of Heaven and earth. And because there is a new King has returned Heaven and earth have come together. Both Jew and Gentile are welcomed into the covenant. The Jew has returned from exile as the King has returned for the Gentile their exile from sin is possible. The age to come has been inaugurated. Our exile is over. When we celebrate the Eucharist we taste the new world and of which we are a part.

            Paul was not ashamed, or as Krister Stendahl writes afraid[3], to proclaim the new King to the people who shouted we have no king but Caesar and to those in the town where the Caesar resided. Why then do we hesitate so often to so do?

 

Until next time may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You: All Y’all!

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[1] N. T. Wright, Romans (Nashville: Abingdon Press: 2002), 415. 

[2] N. T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God V2: Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), Kindle Location 12380-12394.

 

[3] Krister Stendahl, Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) Kindle Location 309.