Friday, August 09, 2013

False Accusation

When I served as Minister of Adult Education at First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio, I designed the church's first website. Part of that website was an "Ask Mike" opportunity for those who surfed to the site. Here is one of the questions and my response:

Since there are seven baptisms in Scripture, why does the Church of Christ/Christian Church see only water baptism?

There are indeed seven (7) baptisms listed in Scripture. They are:
  • Baptism in the cloud, 1 Cor. 10:1-4
  • Baptism of suffering, Matt. 20:20-33
  • Baptism of John the Baptizer, Matt. 3:1-8
  • Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Matt. 3:11, Acts 2:4, Joel 2:20
  • Baptism by the Holy Spirit into one body, Eph. 4:5, 1 Cor. 12:13
  • Baptism in water, Acts 16:33 and a host of other passages
  • Baptism by or in fire, alluded to in Matt. 3:12, 2 Thess. 1:8

As I answer the question, I will refer to these by number. Baptism 1 is a type or precurser of Christian baptism. Israel were "under the cloud" and "passed through the sea" identifying with Moses. In Christian baptism, the believer identifies with Christ. In Baptism 2, Jesus queries His disciples whether or not they can face the overwhelming (baptism means to dip, plunge, immerse; it can mean to overwhelm or cover) suffering He would face at the cross. In that passage does not refer to an ordinance at all but to something Jesus would face. Baptism 3 is the baptism of John the Baptizer. This was not a baptism for the remission of sins but unto the remission of sins. John's baptism was insufficient as an identification with Christ as seen in Acts 19:1-7. Baptism 7 refers to future judgment, a judgment meted out on God's enemies not His disciples. This leaves Baptisms 4-6 and I will deal with those shortly.

The Church of Christ/Christian Church holds to the necessity of water baptism because this was the undisputed practice of the early church. From the book of Acts, it is apparent that once an individual placed their faith in Christ they neither ate a bite, slept a wink, nor let much time elapse before they were immersed in water (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:36-38; 10:47-48; 16:15, 33; 19:1-7; 22:16). That early Christians were typically immersed (baptized) in water is borne out in a non-scriptural but historical document dating from the first century. The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles clearly states that a believer is to be immersed in water. This seems to handle Baptism 6 quite well, but what about Baptisms 4-5?

First, I must state that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with miraculous manifestations. Such manifestations have everything to do with confirmation of the message being delivered (see Mark 16:17, Heb. 2:1-4). Outside of the Corinthian correspondence, which was written to an unspiritual and divided congregation, reference to miraculous gifts occurs only four times and these are found in Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10-11, and Acts 19. In my judgment, such outbreaks confirmed the message when first preached (Acts 2), when it first went to a racially mixed audience - the Samaritans (Acts 8), when it first went to a Gentile audience (Acts 10-11), and when Paul ministered to Apollos and others who followed John the Baptizer (Acts 19).

What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit then? I argue that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is synonymous with the "gift of the Holy Spirit." It is my understanding that when a person is immersed in water for the remission of sins, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The timing is important here. The immersion in water and the reception of the Holy Spirit occur simultaneously and can be seen as one process. While often overlooked by many and explained away by others, John 3:5 bears directly to this process. Jesus told Nicodemus that to see God an individual must be born again. In John 3:5 he says that the process of being born again is a process involving two equal "elements" - water and Spirit. A careful reading of Colossians 2:12-13 supports this contention. The following illustrates my contention:

"When you were dead in your sins...."
"God made you alive with Christ...."
"...having been buried with him in baptism...."
"...raised with him through your faith in the power of God..."

The spiritually dead person is buried in water and through or because of ... faith is raised a living, born again, believer.

Something happens in the act of baptism. We know immersion in water "saves" only because it is the answer of a good conscience (an act of faith) and not the removal of "dirt from the body" (see 1 Pet. 4:20-21). Titus 3:5 outlines the whole process for us. In that verse, Paul writes, "He saved us through the washing of rebirth (water baptism) and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior." My conclusion is this: The believer is immersed in water and the Holy Spirit at the same time - one process, one baptismal act. While the individual portrays outwardly what he believes - Jesus's death, burial, and resurrection on his behalf - the Holy Spirit is effecting a cleansing inwardly. What makes it all work is faith. Nothing happens without faith! Therefore, one can rightly say with Paul, "You are justified by faith and not by works" (Rom. 4, Eph. 2). The baptized believer is justified (declared innocent) and sanctified (set apart) because of their faith.

There are those who erroneously believe the Church of Christ/Christian Church believe in baptismal regeneration. In the sense the accusation is made, that is untrue. In a very real sense, however, it is true that the Holy Spirit regenerates the believer who is baptized into Christ. Baptism is the when not the why this occurs.

This is where I still stand as of today (8/9/13). It is interesting that during my brief stint with Christ's Church of the Valley I was called to task by Peter Strubhar (at the request of Don Wilson, I'm sure) and was accused of teaching baptismal regeneration. I probably did teach that when I first got out of Bible College but I grew past that in a big way. I point this out here because so many of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ are adopting the Zwinglian (Evangelical) view of the purpose of baptism that it is frightening. Strubhar, a Baptist, was ignorant of what I really taught and could only see it through his Evangelical filters. 

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