unique perspectives from six people

Friday, April 24, 2015

How Important is Style in Worship?

For those who know me personally, there is no surprise.  I’m a worship leader for my church but also, by vocation, a risk manager.  And recently, I’ve been considering how common the subject of “style” in our worship services has become in church conversations.  Though the Worship Wars have ended for the most part, each church still wrestles uniquely with how now to worship together as a congregation…regardless of who won the war.

And just like the aftermath of a real war, when peace is achieved it comes with a cost.  The victors typically gain the most while paying a bitter price.  In the same way, the vanquished often lose a great deal more but agree to peace so as to avoid total devastation.  Nonetheless, as a result of peace, both the victors and the vanquished must attempt to live together from that point forward.

Having begun leading worship in early 2000, I was oblivious to much of the “battle” that had occurred within churches regarding worship styles.  I remember reading about and learning about the large-scale disagreements over worship, but everywhere I went as a bi-vocational worship leader – I was sought after without argument.  For me, this implies that I was brought onboard at a church after the battle was over.  Luckily for me...I had somehow avoided the battle-field.

Now, after volunteering and working in churches for the past fifteen years, I’ve experienced enough dissatisfaction from congregants over my style of leading music to know that living under the rule of peace isn’t without struggles.  And after some of my recent circumstances and conversations, I wanted to understand why this was (is) so important.  Why have we fought over the style of music in church worship services?  And so naturally, as a risk manager, I opened a spreadsheet and started thinking about the numbers.  There must be a practical explanation for why the style of worship is so important...right?  Imagine the next few paragraphs as a conversation between you and me…

For simplicity, let us evaluate worship in its two primary components: content and style.  Described in another way, the “what, why, when and who” are the content.  And the “how” is the style.  Without much trouble, if each of these five descriptors represents a piece of the pie, then the style of our worship only contributes 20% to the total experience of worship.  I find that pies make things easier to understand, don’t you?

OK, if we stopped here then it would make sense for at least 20% of our conversations about worship to be centered on the style (the “how”).  And though small, 20% does represent a meaningful amount of consideration.  But I was still unsettled…

Let’s think about the style of music in worship from the context of our lives.  Our congregational “worship services” typically last about an hour.  And most churches are only singing or worshipping through music for around thirty minutes.  That means we are really only talking about thirty minutes of the week (let’s face it, most people don’t go to morning and evening services).  This amount of time in congregational worship represents a minuscule 0.5% of most people’s waking hours for the week.   Notice the position of the decimal…this is a really small amount.

Then, if you consider the importance of style in worship being 20%, times the 0.5% of waking hours for most people…the result is less than one tenth of one percent (0.08928571428571430% for anyone whose actually performing the calculations with me).

What does this figure represent?  If we were talking dollars and cents, it wouldn’t even constitute a penny.  It wouldn’t even represent one-tenth of a penny.  That’s pretty small, no?  I think I’m satisfied now.  When we consider our spiritual act of worship, an extremely minuscule amount should be dedicated to the consideration of style. I, personally, needed this perspective.  

As a worship leader, I honestly think that what I’m doing for thirty minutes on Sunday morning is having too much value placed upon it…it is over-valued and overly relied-upon (if not also overly criticized).  If each person was living a fully satisfied life of worship, then our satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with the musical style employed on Sunday morning would be a very small component in the overall worship equation.

Please don’t mistake my introspective point as disdain for the role of worship leaders.  The point I’m making is that the style of worship is relatively unimportant.  The content of worship, on the converse, is vitally important – both toward the effectiveness of the congregational worship service and toward the pursuit of being a worshipper of God in all aspects of life.  The value I find in being a worship leader is not that I get to establish the style of music played on Sunday mornings, but that I get to challenge congregants “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1) 

Friday, April 17, 2015

On the Kingdom of God and How Homosexuals and the Divorced Will Be First In Line if They Love the Lord.


My good friend Matthew said it correctly – that forgiveness is available for those who repent.  More specifically, I believe repentance means that I’ve turned away from my sin.  The following question becomes obvious, “Can a person be repentant – truly having a contrite heart and a broken spirit – without subsequently changing their behavior?”  And if I’m not repentant, then can I be part of the Kingdom of God?

My invitation to the Kingdom of God is the result of unmerited grace. It is undeserved.  I’ve done nothing to earn this gift from God.  In this respect, salvation and forgiveness aren’t exactly the same.    If there were *actions* required for salvation, then we would no longer be saved by grace through faith – but by our works – and we’d hear lots of boasting about this, for sure. 
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.  Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB)
We typically speak of repentance in reference to our single sinful acts – each trespass requires a contrite request for forgiveness…and if you missed one sin in your list of requests for forgiveness (or simply forgot about one), then oops…off to Hell you go.  But Jesus didn’t teach us to pray like that.  He said, “…And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  This is a very general prayer for forgiveness, indicating a constant *attitude* of repentance and an equal willingness to forgive others. 

In this context, can I have a constant attitude of repentance while I remain in the state of sinfulness?  Considering that we remain in the flesh – and will inevitably sin, I expect that this tension will always remain.  Paul says the same about his own struggles with sin:
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.  
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  Romans 7:15-8:4 (NASB)
This is an amazing gift we’ve been given.  How beautiful, that even in my sinfulness, Christ Jesus came and set me free from the Law, which was my condemnation.  Some people might not even be able to comprehend how amazing is the gift of Christ.  And with that, some people might not even believe that such a gift exists.  Certainly I have to DO SOMETHING after I’ve been invited into the Kingdom of God, right?!?!  I’ve got to live right and pray and tell others about God and go do mission work and really DO STUFF, right?  By our own actions, the only thing we can earn is death.  Its simple…by our own works – even our good works, we abide with the Law and cannot be set free. 
...Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: ‘Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; For I am accomplishing a work in your days, A work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you.’ Acts 13:37-41 (NASB)
I love the last part of that grouping of verses…in that the only WORK that matters is the one being done by God.  There is no contradiction on this topic in the Bible – we cannot be made righteous, entering the Kingdom of God by our own good works or by our abstinence from sin.  There is a wonderful story in Luke where Jesus forgives the sins of a woman, simply because she loved him so much:
“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”  Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Luke 7:41-48
This woman wasn’t forgiven because she asked for forgiveness…and she didn’t repent of her MANY sins.  She isn’t recorded confessing those sins publicly.  The focus of this verse is clearly that people – people who are unable to obtain forgiveness on their own, LOVE Jesus because He has already forgiven them of their MANY SINS. 

I find it valuable that He specifies that the woman had many sins.  And in this regard, she loved Him all the more because her debt was very large.  We become a stumbling block when we make repentance a prerequisite of obtaining Jesus’ love.  This is important, though…because when we do seek forgiveness, the Bible says it is assured.  And repentance is a part of the ongoing process of sanctification, but certainly not a prerequisite to salvation - but, in fact, it is the result.  We repent because "His word" is in us.
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.  1 John 1:8-10 (NASB)
Salvation is a free gift available to ALL who believe.  Luckily for me, that includes homosexuals and the divorced/remarried, among others…
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18 (NASB) 
I looked up the word, “whoever” in this passage using my Strong’s dictionary.  This is a pretty all-encompassing word.



Let’s not try to exclude anyone from this good news.  And then let the work of the Holy Spirit take root in all of us, sparking us all to repentance.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Conservative Christians Ignore the Cultural Context of the Bible Regarding Women - Part One

What are the consequences of reading the Bible with knowledge of the historical context in which it was written? Our challenge as modern-day Christians is to read and pray through the words of the Bible with an understanding that we are not the first-hearers of these words. How does the recognition of second-hearing change how we apply the Word of God to our lives? Admittedly, the Gospel doesn’t transform into a different document when we understand it’s historical context. Paul’s letters to the early churches don’t morph into a “bible-code” or hidden meaning when we know more about Jewish cultural norms.

There is no hidden meaning necessary to understand the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. And Jesus is pretty straightforward with His words and actions, telling us that love is the most important of all the commandments. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, 
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Even when the religious leaders were trying to trap him, Jesus was clear in his response,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘ You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).  

Paul agrees on the importance of love when he testifies,
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
If love is so important, then we must remain with love while we search the scriptures. If we pursue knowledge in these matters without the banner of love, then our result is just a “clanging cymbal”.

We must guard ourselves against dismissing important instructions through a strict reliance on love…loving the Lord with everything; loving our neighbor as I would love myself. When we read the Bible with knowledge of it’s historical context we will be able to distinguish between those instructions given with contextually-specific reasons and those instructions in the Bible which were intended to live beyond culture and momentary context.  Always remember love.

How will we know which verses were intended for a specific audience, though? How will we prevent ourselves from dismissing instructions that were intended to remain for all time - applying even in the ages to follow? How will we refrain from dismissing everything in the future that doesn’t align with the culture of first-century Judaism?

My fear is that Christians in our hesitancy over these same questions have refrained from accepting the impact of the Bible’s historical context on the application of scripture. If we understand the historical context of the Bible, then we must interpret the written words accordingly. There is a personal responsibility laid upon us with this requirement. If the New Testament must be interpreted through the lens of first-century Jewish culture, then failing to do so means we’ve failed to understand those passages requiring such contextual explanation. 

For example, in Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable of the “Sower and the Seeds”. If the reader is not familiar with farming or the concept of seeds and different types of soil, then the meaning of the passage isn’t fully comprehendible. Likewise, instructions given from Paul to the early church aren’t fully understood without context. His instructions regarding women are primarily founded in the patriarchal society of the first-century. So when he tells women to “be silent in the church” and to cover their heads - we cannot understand the “why” without also understanding the context of a woman’s role in Jewish society.

Regarding women, the entirety of the Bible was written during a time of history when men were rulers and authorities over women - as dictated by the weight of Jewish culture and tradition. Particularly, women were viewed as property and used in the process of transferring inheritance (think arranged marriages). During the first century, women were reviled as lesser creations. In Luke 18:11, we see a Pharisee praying these words: 
‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’ 
This prayer is similar to a common Jewish prayer - common even to this day: 
“Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile. Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave. Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.”
There are countless passages in the Bible where women are treated as an inferior creation. The most detestable is in Judges 19, where some of the inhabitants of the Jewish city of Gibeah are demanding to have sexual relations with a man who has sought refuge for the night, but the owner of the house at which he is staying offers his virgin daughter and the traveler’s concubine to them instead…both of whom the detestable men of the city rape all night long. Upon the traveler’s return home, he cuts his concubine into twelve pieces and scatters her across Israel. The acts of the men of Gibeah are looked on with disdain, for sure. But the attitude of the man in Judges 19 is common an example of how Jewish men viewed women as dispensable.

Now, let's re-read the passages of the New Testament regarding women with this in mind.  Paul’s instructions to the early church regarding women were obviously situated in the cultural context of female inferiority.  In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul clearly says, 
“The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”  
Have we accepted part of this teaching but rejected other parts selectively?  Certainly.  There are obviously historical cultural implications which allow modern readers to exist in churches where women are allowed to speak aloud.  We do not follow the tradition of first-century Judaism being described by Paul in this passage.  In 1 Timothy 2:9, Paul instructs women again:
“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.”  
Of course we want all people to dress modestly, but according to this instruction, women cannot have braided hair or wear gold or pearls. We obviously recognize that there is historical cultural context here…as most women in our churches wear expensive clothing (compared to 99% of the world) and even wear jewelry. We do not follow the tradition of first century Judaism being described by Paul in this passage.  Nonetheless, later in the same chapter of 1 Timothy 2 (verse 12), Paul gives instructions that we like to keep to this day:
“But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”  
While we understand the instructions in verse nine are subject to historical cultural context, we miss that point in verse twelve.  But then again, in verse fifteen, we are somehow able to understand the application of culture when Paul says:
“But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self- restraint.”  
It seems as though we apply our understanding of cultural context as it suits us - not as a universal concept.  Again in 1 Timothy 3:12, we go back to a literal reading of the instruction - instead of recognizing the cultural implications.  In this verse, Paul says: 
“Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.”  
Remember, in first century Jewish culture, women would not be seen as viable options for leadership.  But is that same cultural prohibition still in place today?  Certainly not!  Yet we still force instructions given within a specific historical and cultural context to apply to our modern churches.  Even worse, we have gone further in the legalistic practices of our modern churches toward the exclusion of women.  

Citing 1 Timothy 2:12, we prevent women from having authority over men.  For this reason - in many churches only men can be ushers; only men can serve communion; only men can pray during services.  But do these activities imply or require authority?  Certainly not!  But we limit the involvement of women in the same first-century Jewish-sense, even though our modern society fosters equal rights.

In the following chapters of this series, I will review the context of other passages in the New Testament where we have errantly limited the role of women based on a selective application of historical, cultural context. Jesus definitely didn’t consider women inferior creatures, so the second chapter of this series will address how Jesus’ words counterbalance the cultural constraints of his disciples and the apostle Paul. The final chapter will address the consequences of accepting such a view of the Bible’s cultural context. I have prayerfully considered these passages and am cautiously prepared to accept these consequences - both practical and personal.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Law of Baptism - Part Four (Conclusion)

FOREWORD:

I was recently given for consideration a challenging article on the topic of baptism written by Lacy Crowell. Lacy graduated from Bear Valley Bible Institute and is clearly guided with humble and pure intent by Church of Christ doctrine.  I encourage you to read her article carefully and prayerfully before continuing with my response to her article.


After you’ve read her article – please come back to this document and share with me in the process of evaluating such a theology of salvation through baptism – what I will call the “law of Baptism”.  My article is not intended as an argument with Mrs. Crowell and is more reflective of my own personal study and evaluation of the passages being used by ambassadors of the “Church of Christ” in their attempt to exclude other Christians from salvation who have not been baptized – or baptized properly.

I’ve divided this response into four parts – because so much scripture is involved.

Part One

Part Two


PART FOUR (CONCLUSION):


If we are attempting to establish and follow the rules and requirements of baptism – what I have consistently called the “law of Baptism”, then these are the requirements we must follow:

From all of the referenced passages, in addition to being baptized, to be saved we must also:
  1. Receive the Spirit through the laying on of hands.
  2. Literally re-enact Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
  3. Be circumcised.
  4. Hear words spoken in our own native tongue
  5. Sell our possessions and give to those in need.
  6. Make a pledge of a clear conscience toward God
  7. Be fully immersed in the water.

This is an interesting list of requirements.  I don’t dislike all of them.  And honestly, I totally understand everyone of these things – after all, they are directly from the Bible.

Now let me reference some of my own favorite scripture on this topic:

When speaking to Nicodemus on this topic, Jesus emphasizes the birth of the Spirit, thus the importance of receiving the Holy Spirit – not just of being baptized.  And as we’ve seen in various prior references, the Spirit didn’t come as a result of baptism – often happening before the baptism occurred.
“Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are 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.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8 NIV)
 Then, when the rich young ruler asked Jesus about this topic, we have an entirely different response – sell all of your possessions and give to the poor.  Jesus says nothing of baptism being necessary to inherit eternal life.  Why aren’t we all living under this requirement for salvation??
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22 NIV)
Finally, Romans 10 is a pretty direct statement about faith being the only necessary requirement for salvation.
“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:8-13 NIV)
This passage clearly states that salvation comes to those who call upon the name of the Lord. 
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14 NIV)
Paul doesn’t go on to say, “and how will they be saved if they aren’t baptized?”  For he has already quoted Joel saying this simple statement – “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  

Let’s not add anymore requirements to salvation – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)”

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Law of Baptism - Part Three

FOREWORD:

I was recently given for consideration a challenging article on the topic of baptism written by Lacy Crowell. Lacy graduated from Bear Valley Bible Institute and is clearly guided with humble and pure intent by Church of Christ doctrine.  I encourage you to read her article carefully and prayerfully before continuing with my response to her article.


After you’ve read her article – please come back to this document and share with me in the process of evaluating such a theology of salvation through baptism – what I will call the “law of Baptism”.  My article is not intended as an argument with Mrs. Crowell and is more reflective of my own personal study and evaluation of the passages being used by ambassadors of the “Church of Christ” in their attempt to exclude other Christians from salvation who have not been baptized – or baptized properly.

I’ve divided this response into four parts – because so much scripture is involved.

Part One

Part Two

PART THREE:

There are a number of scripture references made by Crowell at this point – these references are surely made to solidify her point that baptism is necessary for salvation.  But in all of these examples given, baptism occurs after the message of the good news is received and “belief” is assured.  Because these scriptures are not specifically discussed by Crowell, I will also not specifically address how they do not support the necessity of baptism for salvation (though they obviously reflect that baptism is important).  That being said, there is one passage in particular referenced by Crowell which I find very interesting – Acts 10:48.  Here is the passage she references – with some context:
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their 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 10:44-48 NIV)” 
In this passage, the people are clearly baptized – but the chronology of events is important if we want to establish a “law of Baptism”:
  1. The Holy Spirit came on those who heard the message Peter was preaching.
  2. The circumcised believers were surprised because Gentiles were given the Holy Spirit without circumcision. 
  3. Peter stated that nothing could prevent them from being baptized – as they had already received the Holy Spirit.
  4. The people were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
It is obvious that the Holy Spirit was given without the need for baptism.  And clearly, the baptism happened after these people received the Holy Spirit. Even more, the believers originally expected that circumcision was necessary for salvation…much like Crowell considers that baptism is necessary for salvation.  This irony shouldn’t be dismissed. 

The next passage presented in the defense baptism as necessary for salvation is 1 Peter 3:21.  In this context, Crowell goes so far as to ask and answer a rhetorical question subsequent to this verse, “What does this passage say saves us? Baptism.”  Here is the passage with some context:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:18-21 NIV)”
What a cool passage? Christ’s death and resurrection was proclaimed to the people who were destroyed in the flood of Noah.  Amazingly, the water that destroyed so many sinful people – those not saved in the ark – is symbolized in the baptism that now saves us.  And there it is – baptism “saves” us.  But what is the last statement in verse 21? 
“…It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21b)”
 So is it baptism that saves us? Baptism saves us…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So which of these things is the critical ingredient for salvation?  Is the importance of baptism equal to the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  Surely not!

Even more, Peter clearly states that baptism isn’t significant because of the literal “removal of dirt” but because of a “pledge of a clear conscience toward God”.  There it is – according to this passage, the singular act in baptism that “saves” us is the “pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” 

If we are trying to establish a “law of Baptism”, then we must make a pledge of a clear conscience toward God.  As Peter states, the water is symbolic – even clearly stating that the washing off of the “dirt” isn’t what gives salvation.  It is the pledge made through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that saves us. Not the water…and not even the re-enactment we complete in baptism of Jesus death, burial and resurrection…

Next, Ephesians 4 is referenced so as to illustrate how those people not saved according to the “law of Baptism” are excluded from Christ.  Crowell states accordingly, “If someone has been baptized, but not in the way and for the reasons described in Scripture, they have not experienced the one baptism and are not yet in Christ.”  Here is the passage Crowell uses to exclude those who haven’t yet met the requirements of the law:
 “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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. (Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV)”
What is the purpose of this passage?  The context and content of the passage is clearly on how we are to be humble and gentle, patient – bearing with each other in love.  Furthermore, the passage tells us to make “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

The context of the statement “one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” was written to the church at Ephesus so as to help unify them – not so as to give the church at Ephesus ammunition on how to exclude others in the faith who didn’t receive salvation according to the “law of Baptism”. 

Here is the crux of the point – Crowell seeks to divide and exclude members from the body of Christ using a passage that was intended to unite and create peace among the fellowship.  This mis-application of the passage is the result of reading into the text a bias toward the singular importance of baptism for salvation.

Finally, in the last two paragraphs of the article there is a general discussion on the transliteration of the Greek word from which we derive the word, “Baptize”.  Crowell correctly states that this word means “to immerse”, but subsequently uses the Ephesians 4 passage to state that anyone who doesn’t get “immersed” hasn’t followed the “law of Baptism” and has therefore not experienced true baptism and is ultimately not in Christ.