unique perspectives from six people

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.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Law of Baptism - Part Two

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 was posted yesterday - I've provided it here, for anyone who hasn't yet read it.

PART TWO:

The author’s next scripture reference is the baptism described in Romans 6 as “a literal re-enactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ”. 

I am very humbled by this passage – so will approach it with an extra measure of carefulness.  Here is a summary of what Paul says in Romans 6 – the chronology of events is less important, but I’ve kept my notes in order, nonetheless.  Also, because the first verse of chapter 6 refers to what was previously just stated, I’ve included the last few verses of chapter 5 in my summary.  
  • Grace through righteousness brings eternal life through Jesus. From this passage alone, we see the formula: Grace + Righteousness + Jesus = Eternal Life
  • Sinning more doesn’t increase the grace applied to us because righteousness is also part of the equation.
  • Paul reminds us of baptism in two components – death and resurrection.
  • We are united with Christ in this baptism…so that in his death, our sinful life dies. And because we are united with Christ, we also are resurrected as he was.
  • Paul says those “who were baptized” were also “buried” and “raised from the dead”.  He then states that we were “crucified with him [Jesus]” so that the old self has died and we are now free from sin.
  • Paul reminds us that Christ has conquered death – conquering it for all of us. 
  • For this reason we should live as if we are dead to sin and alive in Christ.
  • If we are dead to sin, we should stop submitting ourselves to it.
  • We are no longer to live as slaves to sin because we are no longer under the law – but under grace.
  • That said, we are slaves to the “one you [we] obey”.  Obey sin and die or obey righteousness and live.
  • Paul expects that we have obedience “from your heart the pattern of teaching” of Jesus Christ.
  • Paul admits that he is making an analogy using the terms of slavery. 
  • We should be ashamed of the acts we committed while we were slaves to sin.
  • Those acts resulted in our death.
  • But – praise the Lord – we’ve been set free from that sin and can now receive the benefit of being slaves to God – holiness, which leads to eternal life. 
  • The formula is restated in last two verses:
  • In verse 22 we have this concept – being slave to sin results in death.  But being slave to righteousness leads to eternal life.
  • And in verse 23 we have this concept – God’s gift (grace) is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Again, Paul is not specifically giving instructions on the importance of baptism in this chapter.  He speaks purposefully about baptism in verses 3 & 4 – using our baptism in Christ as a poignant method of illustrating how we are unified with him in death and resurrection.  But the purpose of that statement is not to emphasize the importance of baptism – but to illustrate the overarching themes of God’s grace, our newfound allegiance to righteousness and the result which is eternal life.

Now, if we were seeking to establish a “law of Baptism”, then we must consider some additional concepts.  First, as Crowell states, baptism “is a literal re-enactment…” So we must properly follow the steps so as to get this right.  And if we are to literally re-enact Christ’s death, burial and resurrection – then should we not all actually be crucified, buried and physically resurrected so as to receive salvation?  Literal means literal.  

Next, Crowell clarifies that through baptism we “contact the blood of Christ”.  OK…so we aren’t literally crucified, etc.  But there does appear to be some symbolism being used here.  If not, then to "come into contact with the blood of Christ" would imply that the baptismal water literally turns to blood?!?  Honestly, every literal explanation of this is really weird.  

Paul’s baptism – along with all of those people on record being baptized in the name of Jesus – were not literally crucified, buried and resurrected.   Jesus was.  Therefore, the concept of baptism is loaded with analogies…and Paul mentions it in Chapter 6 of Romans so as to bring our minds back to how we are unified with Christ. He is not mentioning baptism here so as to draw a literal example of how it works…  If he was, then we should all literally be crucified, buried and resurrected so as to receive salvation.  Even more, if Paul was trying to communicate to us about the “law of Baptism” in Romans 6, then the other themes in the chapter about God’s gift of grace, the pattern of our hearts toward righteousness and eternal life through Jesus Christ would be necessarily minimized and in their place, the importance of baptism would be obvious.

In Romans 6, should we focus on the details of the baptismal analogy Paul used to describe the grace and gift of God – or should we focus on the gift itself?  If we make a law of Baptism from this passage, then we will certainly miss out on being “slaves to righteousness leading to holiness” – which then leads to eternal life through Jesus Christ.

The next passage referenced is a very brief mention of Colossians 2:12 to support the idea of a literal baptism being necessary for salvation.  Here is Colossians 2:11-12 for just a bit more context:

“In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12 NIV)”

Because of the time we devoted to the Romans 6 reference, I will address this passage very briefly…

Is the circumcision being referenced in verse 11 also to be a literal re-enactment?  Certainly not.  This verse is an analogy of how Christ removes the sin of our flesh.  If we accept that Christ does this without the need of our actual re-enactment of the event of circumcision, then why would we – in the very next verse – attempt to make a literal application for the necessity of baptism to accomplish the purpose of receiving salvation?  There is no justification to interpret two sister-passages differently.

Nonetheless, if we are attempting to use Colossians 2:12 to establish a “law of Baptism”, then the literal act of baptism must also be preceded with the literal act of circumcision.  Have fun with that.  You can't take one verse literally and not the other.  And while this is pretty rough for men (no pun intended), I feel even worse for women - who, no matter how hard they try, because circumcision is impossible...salvation just doesn't apply to them according to this passage.  Unless we see the figurative language being used here, circumcision and baptism are both literally required for salvation.

Next, we have Acts 2.  This is a beautiful example of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Crowell references this chapter as an example of how baptism is the conduit for all conversions in the New Testament (along with a slew of other verse citations).  Focusing primarily on Acts 2, she states, “In fact, every time we see a conversion in the New Testament, it is through baptism…”

First, read all of Acts 2.  As I first stated, this chapter is an example of the power of the Holy Spirit – not intended a lesson on the importance of baptism.  Peter didn’t spend an afternoon trying to convince people that baptism was how they’d be saved.  Instead, he laid out – in each person’s own natural language – how their experience at pentecost was a fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s words (from Joel 2:28-32).  Interestingly, the final words of Joel, quoted by Peter, are this:

‘And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Acts 2:21 NIV)

These words don’t say anything about the necessity of baptism. 

Further in Acts 2, Peter assures the Jewish listeners that  “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36 NIV).  In response to this sermon, they were “cut to the heart”.  So Peter tells them “…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 NIV)

And finally, this is the single verse referenced by Crowell to indicate that baptism is necessary for salvation:

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41 NIV)”

This is important – Crowell improperly paraphrased verse 41.  Here is the statement quoted from her article:

“Verse 41 tells us that GOD added those who were baptized that day to the church.” [italics mine]

Read the verse again more slowly – and without bias. 

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41 NIV)” [emphasis mine]

To focus on the word baptism and therefore exclude the phrase “accepted his message” unduly places importance on one concept in the place of the other. And because Peter wasn’t trying to preach a sermon about baptism – the whole idea of focusing singularly on that verse from this chapter to claim the necessity of baptism misses the point of Peter’s testimony about Jesus and the foreknowledge of God throughout history.

But if we wanted to establish a “law of Baptism” from this chapter, then we should also require re-enactment of all the other circumstances of that particular event.  Here, everyone heard the words spoken in their own native tongue.  Also, later in verse 45 of the same chapter, everyone was selling their possessions and giving to anyone who had need.  We cannot create a law from that chapter regarding Baptism if we are unwilling to also create a law from that same chapter regarding the hearing of the word in our own language, the selling of our possessions and giving to the poor.

At this point, if we want to make baptism "required", then there are lots of other works we must do so as to be properly saved.  And very quickly, the Law of Baptism starts to sound a lot like a new way to be saved by "the Law".

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Law of Baptism - Part One

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 the first part of 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:

The first passage referenced by Crowell on the topic of baptism is Acts 9, where we have the story of Saul on the road to Damascus.  He is blinded by a light from Heaven, encounters Jesus on the road and then remains blind for three days. 

What is the purpose of this passage?  While baptism occurs in the passage, it is a single word from a single sentence.  And if we aren’t trying to read into the text a meaning based on our existing biases, then the passage is most obviously about how God chose Saul for the purpose of proclaiming his “…name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15, NIV)
The purpose of this passage is NOT to establish a “law of Baptism” nor was it to lay out the rules for the order of operations for receiving salvation. But if we wanted to make a rule based on the events of this passage, there are several things that happened chronologically and need to be repeated so as to fulfill such a law:

  1. First, Saul was blinded by an earthly encounter with Jesus.
  2. Then it is recorded that Ananias placed his hands on Saul and that Ananias spoke Jesus’ message to Saul. 
  3. After these events, Saul regained his sight.
  4. Next, Saul was baptized.
  5. Finally, after he was baptized, Saul ate and regained his strength.
We know that Ananias was sent to Saul so that he would “see again and be filled with the Holy Spirt.” (Acts 9:17, NIV).  Regrettably, for the purposes of establishing a “law of Baptism”, we aren’t given the chronology of when Saul received the Holy Spirit in this passage.  Did Saul receive the Holy Spirit after Ananias placed his hands on him and spoke the message to him?  That is apparently what caused Saul to regain his sight…  Or was the Holy Spirit given to Saul after baptism?  Or was there something special about eating after baptism? These things are written down…so they are obviously worth having been recorded.

In the end, Paul does get baptized – so it is surely important – but we cannot state from the description of the events in this passage that baptism was the action that “saved” Saul.

Next in Crowell’s article on Baptism, Matthew 7 is referenced as evidence that many will be denied salvation – even though they claimed to believe in Jesus.  Nonetheless, it is important to take the entire chapter in context.  Here is a summary of the chapter’s events in chronological order (but please also read it for yourself):
  1. Jesus tells the people that they will be judged by the same measure they use to judge others.
  2. Jesus calls out hypocrites who point out the faults of others without first dealing with their own sins. 
  3. Jesus states that God will give generously to those who ask from Him.
  4. Jesus summarizes the Law and the Prophets by this phrase, “…do to others what you would have them do to you…”
  5. Jesus warns against taking the easy path…and states clearly that the way to life is only discovered by a few (“the narrow gate”).
  6. Jesus warns that false prophets will come, but says that we will be able to discern between true and false prophets by their fruits.
  7. Jesus further states that many will say “Lord, Lord” even performing signs and miracles “in his  name”, but Jesus will tell them on that day, “…I never knew you…” (Matthew 7:23, NIV)
  8. Of those who say, “Lord, Lord”, only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 7:21, NIV).
  9. The chapter ends with Jesus urging people to to put his words into practice.  Warning that those who do not put his words into practice will be washed away like a house built on sand – while those who do put his words into practice will stand firm during the storm.
  10. Finally, people were amazed at his words. 
This chapter has nothing to do with baptism, but the author of the article references the chapter to support the concept that many who expect to be saved will – in fact – be denied by Jesus.  In the context of her article, at least some of those people who expect to be saved will be denied by Jesus because their baptism was incorrect or non-existent.  

But in the immediate context of this verse, Jesus is speaking about false prophets.  Giving us instructions on how to discern between the good and the bad through their fruits – not through their baptism.  And then he states that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mathew 7:21, NIV).  This statement would most naturally be referring to those false prophets whose fruits weren’t aligned with the Father in heaven.  

Nonetheless, the only stated requirement for entering the kingdom of heaven – as clearly described by this passage – is to “do the will of the Father”.  In this regard, baptism isn’t even mentioned.  

The next scripture referenced in Crowell's article is Acts 22:16, which according to the Crowll “defines calling on the name of the Lord as being done through the act of baptism, not through saying a prayer.”

But Paul isn’t giving specific instructions about baptism instructions in this passage.  In the context of Acts 22, Paul is recounting this very same experience on the road to Damascus when at the end of his story, he states that Ananias told him, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’ (Acts 22:16 NIV) [emphasis mine].

In the same sense that Paul is not speaking here so as to give instructions on baptism, this is also clearly not intended to be a formal definition of the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” as Mrs. Crowell indicates.  Paul did not precede his testimony with, “Here is how and why you should call upon the name of the Lord through baptism…”  Interestingly, the addition of the phrase, “calling on his name” does tell us the type of baptism Paul received. And to the primary and the secondary readers, this qualifier tells us that Paul was baptized in Jesus’ name.  There are other places in the New Testament where the “name” used in baptism is called into question.  

And while Mrs. Crowell doesn’t reference this next passage, I have investigated Acts 19 because of the similarity of “calling on the name of the Lord” used in Acts 22..  In Acts 19, Paul encountered some men who were alreaady baptized but had not received the Holy Spirit.  After a quick conversation, he recognized that they were baptized in John’s name and didn’t even know about the Holy Spirit – which is given by Jesus.  Here’s how the events go down:
"So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 19:3-5 NIV)
And there it is –  “He [John] told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” (v. 4)  And still, quite obviously, baptism happens immediately after belief.  The two seem to go together.

The most intriguing part of this story is the very next verse:
“When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:6 NIV)
Here is the summarized chronology of events from this story in the first part of Acts 19:
  1. Paul asked the disciples if they had received the Holy Spirit “when they believed” (v. 2)
  2. Here it is important to note that Paul asks these men expectantly – expecting that when they believed, they should also have received the Holy Spirit.
  3. They answered “No” because they didn’t even know about the Spirit.
  4. Paul explains to them the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus.  Afterward, they are immediately baptized IN JESUS’ NAME (not BY Jesus).
  5. Finally, Paul lays hands upon them and they receive the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues and then prophecy.
If we are trying to establish a “law of Baptism”, then things just got more complicated.  In this passage, the Holy Spirit isn’t received through baptism – but through the laying on of hands.

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This is part one of a four-part response to the use of scripture and conclusions in the article "What About Baptism?" written by Lacy Crowell.  Her original article can be found here: http://comefillyourcup.com/2013/09/09/what-about-baptism/