HERE’S THE DEAL JOB!

job5Job chapter 8 brings in one of my favorite characters: Bildad the Shuhite. It was always the running gag in seminary to ask the incoming freshmen who has the shortest character in the Bible. Of course they would always answer together, “Zacchaeus!” We would correct them right away that it was Bildad, as he was only a Shuhite—a Shoe Height—[insert groan]. But, as chapter 8 seems to bear out, Bildad was short—short in his dealing with Job’s circumstance.

Bildad begins with a technique familiar to Israeli wisdom literature: attack that last speaker’s speech. And in true form and fashion Bildad attacks and does not seem to let up until possibly at the end. If it was thought that Eliphaz was easy on Job, after reading chapter 8 no-one will make that assertion about Bildad.

“How long will you say these things and the words of your mouth be a great wind?” Bildad could have well said, “Come on Job, how much longer are you going to continue speaking all this nonsense?”  Job follows it up with a question—possibly a rhetorical question—asking, “Does God pervert justice?” Yet, that is not exactly Job’s complaint. Job’s lament was that God was treating him rather harshly.

Bildad differs from Eliphaz though in his appeal is to past history and nature to justify his message 8-10. Eliphaz justified his message recanting a dream. Then, in verses 11-19, Blidad launches into a series of rhetorical questions (11-13) and answers/explanations (14-19) to begin closing out his speech.  The bottom line of Bildad’s speech however, is summed up in verse 20: Behold, God will not reject a blameless man [remember we have been told that Job is blameless], nor take the hands of the evildoers. If we think of Israel as the legalists that they have always been made out to be, this might bear some weight. But we have to actually see Israel as they were; they were never ones who believed their salvation was in perfect Law keeping. There was atonement for sins in Israel. Yet, it must be remembered that this story comes before the Law and possibly Israel. So, while we have been told that Job is blameless, there were none who were blameless before God. And, this statement by Bildad, in all his bluntness and shortness sets the stage for Job’s reply in chapter 9.

COLLECT FOR TODAY:

Lord God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ triumphed over the powers of death and prepared for us our place in the new Jerusalem: Grant that we, who have this day given thanks for his resurrection, may praise you in that City of which he is the light, and where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

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

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GOD, SAY WHAT?

Looking at Job Chapter Seven

 

saywhatJob begins chapter 7 continuing his discourse; yet the recipient will seem to change. While chapter 6 had Job responding somewhat to Eliphaz, chapter 7  Job’s peroration will become aimed at God. While verse 2:22 asserts, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong,” the reader now has to determine if the same can be true after reading chapter seven.

            The first pericope of chapter 7 (vv.1-6) begin with the parallelism that is common to Hebrew poetry and has been a feature of the book of Job. Verses 1 and 2 form individual parallel lines while verse 5 and 6 perform the same. Yet, tuck neatly in the middle of all the parallelism are verse 3 and 4. They are written in another vice of Hebrew poetry: chiasm. And, their place in the middle points to Job’s emotional state—because of the misfortunes mentioned in the surrounding verses [this is brought out by the use of conjunction ‘so’ beginning verse 3] (1-2;5-6).

Verses 3 and 4 and their chiastic structure:

             A1                                 B1

V3. so I am allotted         months of emptiness

              B2                                                  A2

      And nights of misery      are appointed me.

 

The center of the chiasm points to emptiness and misery as the emotional components of Job’s current life. Job interestingly forms the next pericope of 7 (7-10) into 2 chiasms—7-8 form the first while 9-10 form the later.

 

 

Verses 7-8:

              A1                                                                              B1

7 Remember that my life is but a breath   my eye will never again see good.

                B2                                                                           A2

8 The eye of him who sees me            will behold me no more.

 

For Job, a man whose life is emptiness and misery, his eyes will never see good again, nor will the eyes of him who sees him—while many attribute the ‘eyes of him who sees me’ as being God, it almost seems a better interpretation to see the ‘eyes …’ as anyone who now sees job including his friends who are taking part in the discussion. If we believe to be able to see all then we would have to concede that God would be able to see Job in sheol—see him anymore, his life is but a breath and will be no more. While it is tempting to want to make an appeal to James 4:14 when interpreting  ‘life is but a breath,’ we should refrain from using the New Testament in interpreting Job—a case could be made however when handling James 4:14 to make an appeal to Job 7:7.

Verse 9-10’

             A1                                                                                  B1

  1. As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to sheol does not come up,

             B2                                                                                  A2

  1. He returns to no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore.

 

 

We now have a man whose life is misery and emptiness, whose eye will never see good any longer, nor will anyone see him any longer because when one goes to sheol—this is not hell but simply the place of the dead—he does not anymore return [This predates resurrection theologies]. Because of this Job feels unrestrained in addressing God at t he beginning of the final pericope of verse 7: “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth.”

            For Job, all of his problems are coming from God, and God does not—in Job’s eyes—want to let up. Job makes this clear in the last pericope of chapter 7.  Job, for all of his problems simply needs a break. He can’t sleep because—in his opinion—God sends bad dreams (v.14). Job just wants God to back off for long enough for him (Job) to swallow his spit (v.19).

            But, what is very interesting in this final passage is this man Job, who is upright and blameless, who is so upright that he makes sacrifices on behalf of his children in case they might have sinned, has now to come to the conclusion that he has sinned and that is the reason for his problems. He seems to have taken Eliphaz’s cause and effect theory to heart: Verse 20- Why do you not pardon my transgressions and take away my iniquity?

            Job has come from being upright to believe he has sinned so bad that God now is tormenting him. And for Job this torment will go on until death—For now I shall lie in the earth, you will seek me, but I shall not be (v.21).

            While we always speak of the “patience of Job,” as we read more into Job that patience seems to have been replaced with bitterness. Job sees himself as man tormented by God. As a result, he lives a life of emptiness and misery—remember this is a man who sum five chapters earlier had it all and was upright before God—he will go to the grave in this condition and all he wants is just a break for the amount of time it would take to swallow his spit.

            We have all been in that situation where it seemed that the ‘bad’ would not let up. It is at that time that cheerful hymns just do not seem to comfort. And, like Job, we seem to feel like the good and gracious God has it out for us. As well, we have all probably been angry at God. And Job is not the only person in the Bible who has felt betrayed by the almighty. Jerimiah said:

 

 

            O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived;

                You over powered me and prevailed.

            I am ridiculed all day long;

              Everyone mocks me (Jeremiah 20:7).

 

Bad things happen in a good world and to good people. There are not always, though they definitely can be, the result of cause and effect. And, we will at times get mad at God. As I have been meditating on this chapter, over in England baby Charlie Gard is dying—as a result of a genetic condition [there have been many court cases about him receiving help that would not help him], and it would be safe to assume that his parents, if they are Christians, might have a bit of anger directed towards God. Why would you God not step in and heal this genetic problem; why would you God not allow him to cross the big pond for treatment in the USA; Why would you not step in and let him come home and be well; why would you not step in and let him come home to die? The questions could go on and on, but the point is we all can get angry at God. Some people might not express it as forcefully as Job, while others might express it stronger. But, not matter how it is expressed, we have to see God as sovereign over all creation. We have to remember the word’s that Job has seemed to have forgotten, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil [at this point he has not attributed the evil to God] (v. 2:10)? The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord (1:21).

We serve a good God in an evil world. We, like Job, will receive good. But, like Job, we also will receive bad. While we love God, just like the family member we love, we will at times feel angry his way. But in all things we should remember, blessed be the name of the Lord.

 

Collect for today:

O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week to come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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

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GOD’S INFINITY: QUALATATIVE OR QUANTATATIVE?

handsIt is understood that God is all powerful as well as all knowing. The question that has to be answered is ‘how,’ in what capacity is God’s infinity to be understood?

No scripture confesses that “God does not know all things,”[1] wrote Ron Highfield. This statement while seemingly true, and I believe it is true, seems innocent. But, when we say God knows all things, the question that comes to mind is what “all” does God know and when does he know? Did God know of the Paris or San Bernardino terrorist attacks before they happened? Or, did God know about them perfectly as the unfolded, whereas man knew of them in some partial form as they transpired?

What needs to be separated and understood is do we speak of God’s infinity as quantitative or qualitative?  But can God’s perfect knowledge be limited to ‘what can be known at a given time.’ This allows God to respond to man’s actions and God’s infinite knowledge can remain intact. Right now it is 12:40 am. God has perfect knowledge of 12:40 am. But there is no knowledge of 12:41 as it is not yet 12:41. Thus God’s knowledge is perfect and up to date. Hmmm? God has perfect and infinite knowledge of everything that is; but can/does he have knowledge of what is not? 12:41 is not yet here so can there be any knowledge of it? God knows all things that can be known at any given time.

Psalm 147 states, “… his understanding is beyond measure.” But the question that has to be answered is this quantitative or qualitative? Can God know what is yet unknown, when he created beings with free-will? It seems that God’s infinite knowledge is best to be seen as qualitative. God can and does know everything at any given point perfectly. He knows everything there is to know about whatever there is to know at any given time. But, being as the future is not a point in time (the future is not anything, nothing is anything until the time it comes into being), in fact the future may not even come to pass, God’s knowledge is perfect and infinite in what can be know. His infinite knowledge is in regards to what is, as what is not cannot be known; the minute it become known it is.  It is unlimited in that God can and does know everything that can be known—what is knowable. It is infinite in quality in that God knows perfect. He is not bogged down in his knowledge with pre-conceived notions. The Apostle Paul wrote that now he—in essence mankind—knows ‘in part’ but at some later time the ‘partial things will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).  God’s knowledge is not partial as is man’s. Everything that is ‘knowable’ God knows and perfectly whereas man only knows in part and even then that knowledge is clouded. There is a difference in the quality of the knowledge. This allows for man’s free-will and God’s infinite knowledge—qualitative—both to remain intact.

Important for understanding evil is understanding God’s providence. It has to be understood that God can know infinitely everything that is knowable; he can do infinitely everything that is logically doable. Yet, man’s free-will choice is something not known even when man commits to it—though the intent can be known, it is only knowable when man engages his free-will choice. God’s immanence— immanence means that God is present to and in the natural order, human nature, and history[2]—has to also be kept in the equation. Understanding God’s infinite knowledge as qualitative as opposed to quantitative keeps God’s immanence in proper check for to venture to far along the lines of quantitative can led on to pantheism. Feinberg asserts, “As Barth frequently reminds us, in Christ God both draws near to us but remains also hidden. God is veiled in his unveiling and unveiled in his hiddenness”[3]

It can be argued then that God cannot control every event, as wells, it can be argued that God does not control every event. Both lead to their own particular conundrums. If it is argued that God cannot control every event then the conclusion can be drawn that God is not all powerful. If research then concludes that God does not control every event then it could be argued that God does not care. It would be hard to see a symbol of a benevolent God a God that does not care. Yet, if the free-will defense is factored into the equation the results change.

If man acts upon his own free-will it does not limit the power of God for God can act in response to what is knowable. It also sets up the premise that it is not God who does not care but man. For God has set his ways in the heart of man; man chooses to act contrary to God’s ways. Yet, when man engages a plan of evil God can and does act. There is an immense difference in the fact that God does not control every event and in that God cannot control every event.

King writes, “The Christian religion, in the modern period has been its failure to deal adequately with the problem of evil. Innocent suffering both as a result of natural calamity and human malevolence is presumed to count decisively against the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent God. A ‘God of Love’ such as Christians profess to worship, surely would not permit such wanton destruction of human life as represented by the Lisbon earthquake or the Holocaust.”[4]

Yet, when God’s omnipotence is seen as qualitative as opposed to quantitative this situation does not exist. God has the power to work in everything that is logically doable—it is not logical to stop a tsunami before it happens as it is not known until it happens, until it becomes known. Yet, God can, and does, work in all these situations.

The free-will defense keeps man’s free-will intact and as well keeps God’sinfinite knowledge and power both intact. As Plantiga asserts, “A world where creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil: and he can’t give these creatures their freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”[5]

While Bonting believes in the existence of evil, it is creatio ex nihilo where he has the problem. “In my view the commonly accepted creation theology, creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”), is at fault because it implies that God created everything, including evil.”[6] Geisler combats this problem writing, “God made evil possible by creating free creatures; they are responsible for making it actual.”[7] He continues, “Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will.”[8]

With God controlling everything can there be free-will? With God controlling everything can there be real love for God, or is simple forced, built in, robot love? God created man with free-will; with free-will cane the possibility of man doing evil. For God to stop man from doing evil would be to go against the very order, free-will, that God created. With God’s infinite knowledge he can know everything that is knowable, and know it perfectly. With his infinite power he can do everything that is logically doable. God (1) cannot know evil until it happens because before it happens it is not knowable and (2) God cannot not stop the evil of man—even when it is knowable—because to do so would be to go against what he created and called good—freewill-beings.

For Plantinga, “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.”[9] Geisler sums it up well writing, “So more properly speaking, omnipotence means God can do anything that is possible to do, not what is impossible or contradictory. Given that He has willed to create free creatures, it would go against His own will to destroy our free will. There are some things even God cannot do. He cannot force anyone to freely accept Him. Forced freedom is a contradiction in terms.”[10]

Collect:

Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world
may be peaceably governed by thy providence; and that thy
Church may joyfully serve thee in confidence and serenity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

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

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[1]William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield;  Gregory A. Boyd, Paul Kjoss  Helseth, Four Views on Divine Providence (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), Kindle Location 2788.

[2] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 29.

[3] Feinberg, 31. Referencing Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, part 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), pp. 368-372.

.[4] Robert King, “Review of Diogenes Allen’s The Traces of God,Princeton Seminary Review, vol. 3, no. 3 1982, 336.

  [5] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 30

[6] Sjoerd L. Bonting, “The Problem of Evil,” Sewanee Theological Review 47, no. 4 (2014):405.

[7] Geisler, 31.

[8] Geisler, 37.

[9] Plantinga, Chapter 4 under The Free Will Defense.

[10] Geisler, 38.

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!

sign

[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.