Acts 2:38, a second look


I just read a post at http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/ that prompted this post. You should visit Keith’s blog and read some of his stuff, especially the latest post. He poses the question “Is an imperative always a command?” He then takes a look at Acts 2:38. His take is interesting to say the least. All of his posts are excellent reading.

Acts 2:38. Is there any church of Christ/Christian church member who has not heard scores of sermons on this foundational verse? Perhaps you can answer some questions.

  • In the verse there are two imperatives “repent” and “be baptised”. Since “repent”, “repentance”, etc. are mentioned far, far more than baptism, why is the emphasis of perhaps 99% of all lessons on this verse focused on baptism rather than “repent”?
  • In my view, an improper empasis on baptism can result in a person trusting an event rather than a person, the Lord Jesus. Isn’t baptism meaningless unless one has truely “changed his or her mind” (repented) about the course of their life?
  • Is it possible that we might have misunderstood the meaning of Acts 2:38? The gift of the Holy Spirit is a promised result of obeying these two imperatives, or commands. In Peter’s own words later, he connected the gift of the Holy Spirit, not to baptism but to “belief”, which is the flip side of repentance. ““Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47) In the next chapter Peter defends his action of baptizing Gentiles. His clear answer was “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15,17)

Is it possible that many of us have put the gospel cart before the horse?

His peace,
Royce Ogle

 

 

 

The effective (or ineffective) church of the 21st century


Over at http://www.kinneymabry.blogspot.com  (Preacherman’s blog) he recently posted under this title ”

“What does the church need to do to thrive in the 21st century?”

Several people left comments, some were pretty good, some were not. The common thread of thought coming from the commenters seemed to be “Today’s church must get our of our comfort zones, the confines of our comfy buildings, and actually impact the communities we are supposed to serve.” And I don’t disagree at all. I do believe the problems with many of our churches lie much deeper than how we choose to serve others or deliver our message. Yes, every congregation should be making a “salt and light” impact on their neighbors, there is no room for debate on this. And, we can all agree that we need to get our message out to the “unchurched” or “unsaved” (you choose the term..) and not expect them to come to us crying out “Sirs, what must we do?”.

I suggest that before we appoint another committee to study the matter of the most efficient way to minister that we set some things straight first.

1. The world needs Christ more than it needs the “Church”!   I will not claim that my research is “scientific” but I have done some observation on purpose. After looking at sermon topics, Bible study titles, resources offered, etc. on both church websites and personal websites (including blogs), and reading the stories that get the most response from “brotherhood” publications, I have concluded that churches of Christ preach “Church” more than “Christ”. This is a trend that must be reversed.

2. Our churches must stop preaching a “gospel system” in favor of preaching a gracious Saviour.  On many church websites you can find the “5 step plan of salvation”, but precious little about our Lord Jesus Christ. Not long ago I visited “Apologetics Press” and read item # 8 of the 9 items under the label “What we believe” and I was astonished to find this statement which I quote:
    “Salvation is by means of obedience to the Gospel system, involving faith in God and Christ,    repentance from sin, confession of faith, and immersion in water for remission of past sins, coupled with a life of growing consecration and dedication.” (emphasis mine)

 Far too many of our churches have the same flawed theology. One only has to pause and think for a moment to realize that the “Gospel System” that is so important that some suggest we should surrender obedience to it, rather than to Jesus Christ himself, was invented in the early 1800’s. Peter, Paul and their contemporaries did not have a copy of the New Testament from which they could lift convenient passages to fit their view of how a sinner is saved. If any honest observer will read the Acts and the remainder of the New Testament they will find that the gospel message was about a Person, not about a Plan, it was centered on a Saviour, not a System.

3. Our worship must be centered upon a unique Person, not upon a uniform Pattern.  Modern day Pharacees have disgraced and deluted true worship in Spirit and in Truth so that instead of being from the heart it is from the head, and instead of being a delight it has become a duty. What happens on Sunday morning in many of our congregations is predictable, and appears to be done by religeous robots, going through the motions, doing all the right things in an almost mechanical way.

I am sure some of you have heard about the man who said loudly “Praise the Lord” and “Amen” in response to the singing and the sermon. Some godly coC elders cornered the fellow after the invitation and inquired about his insulting outbursts. He replied “Well, I’ve got the Spirit and I’m happy in the Lord”. The good elder said in response, ” Will you didn’t get it here, so be quiet”. Could this story be true in your church? 

4. We must become a people who find their identity in Christ and not in how we “do church”.   When we can say honestly we are who we are because of what God has done in Christ on our behalf, rather than striving to become who we hope to be, we are only then ready to give our lost neighbor a valid message of the very good news about Jesus.

I believe with all my soul that the greatest need in our churches is teaching our people who they are in Christ, that they are complete in Him, have a living hope that cannot be taken away, and are hidden with Christ in God, not based on their performance but upon His.

One preacher asked a large Sunday school class are you “walking in the Spirit” and they to the last one had no idea what he was talking about. The Christian life is not about rules to follow but about righteousness by faith. It is not what have “I” done but about what “He” has done on my behalf. In view of what He has accomplished apart from my effort and yours, what is my response and yours in our day to day living before a watching world? To whom do we yield?

Paul was the most educated of all the apostles, he graduated from the best religeous schools, he had the right blood line, he had strictly followed the Law, he possessed knowledge and human wisdom beyond his fellows, but in view of all these facts Paul said “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8,9) Should we not be willing to put away our preferences, our human desires, our pride, perhaps some of our traditions, so that we “may gain Christ” too?

In my view, only after we have started to live out Romans chapter 12 are we credentialed to go out and change our world. Men and women are made fit for heaven one heart at a time by hearing the same message Phillip preached to the Ethopian eunich from the prophet Isiah, “Jesus” was the message. Our problem is we want to do the work of God using the resources and in the energy of human flesh. Perhaps it would be good for us to “go wait” in prayer to be endued with Power from on high so that our ministries and message might be confirmed in “the power and demonstration of the Holy Ghost”, (I Cor 2:4,5) rather than depending on human wisdom.

We must be a people on mission with God in His ministry of Reconciliation. Our task is not to “correct” everyone else in the world who claims Christ as Lord, but to publish the very good news about Jesus both with our lips and our lives. We must make known the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life because He is the only way to the Father. Only when you and I personally know the Resurrection can we save men from death.

Our challenge in 2008 is to try to really “restore” the ancient church’s way of doing business. We are only kidding ourselves if we think that “we” alone are right and that everything “New Testament” runs down hill from Resortation churches.

His peace,
Royce Ogle

 

 

God-with-us


It is a wonderful thing, but an odd thing, that the Creator God would love His creatures so that He would choose to come and live among them on planet earth. I can’t imagine an earthly king who would one day say to himself “I think it would be good to go out of  the palace, through the courts, and out the gate and go live with the commoners“. Such an idea flies in the face of reason. Why would royalty desire the humble means of those poor souls who are only a harvest away from starvation? How could the one whose servants stand at the ready to care for every detail of need want to come and make his abode with the lowly?

Ah, Christmas, the season when we remember the time when earth was interrupted by the birth of a baby boy. His first hours were lived in the most humble setting, a cattle stall with the smell of dung and odor of the animals near by. Yet this child was a King whose birth had been foretold by the prophets, long years ago. His mother was told He would save His people from their sins, and Matthew reminded the readers of his book that according to Isaiah his name would mean “God-with-us”.

The wonder of Christmas is that not only did a King come for a visit but He came on a mission. Men and women and boys and girls were groping along in the darkness of their sins with no hope of life after the earthly tent was finally folded. But He appeared…”To save His people from their sins”. His life would be short by today’s standards but it was one that perfectly met every holy demand of God the Father’s law. His ministry would be to the human trash of the day to heal brokenness, to give sight to the blind, to make cripples run, jump, and shout for joy. He would raise the dead, feed thousands with enough for only a few.

He would break all the rules of religion, he would squash racial divides, he would talk to the wind….and it would listen. He would round up some unlikely candidates to help Him with His mission. The twelve were truly a cross section of the lower rungs of society. He would laugh and love with them, eat with them, pray with them, minister with them, and then be abandoned by them and even denied and betrayed by them. But, oh how He loved them. But the wonder of this One is that He loved everyone intensely. And, He would die to prove it.

A child was born, a son given, a life lived, a live given. He defeated the forces of darkness by defeating death, by satisfying God’s demands about sin and its penalty, and offers to all who will accept the gift, eternal life. He is the only human who could have justly condemned, but He didn’t come for that. For you see, people were already condemned. No, He came to give life, and forgiveness, and peace.

There are still those who deny Him. Some even declare with their lips that He never even existed. But every one of them declares His life and death every time they write a date on a check, or a note to a friend. No other person in human history has been so opposed as this man. The ultimate oddity is that this man of all men who ever lived would have had opposition. He only gave, and gave, and then gave Himself as a complete payment for every man’s sins and today lives so we too can live.

God-with-us! Merry Christmas.

His peace,
Royce Ogle

3 Baptisms in Acts 2


 

Based largely on one statement in Ephesians 4 many Bible teachers insist that there is only one baptism in the New Testament, water baptism. The passage states “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”(Ephesians 4:4-6) The words I have in bold fonts are the focus. If taken out of context and used as a stand-alone text many verses in the Bible can be construed to mean any number of things which are not true. This is one of those examples. The context is “unity” among believers and here Paul is attempting to get everyone on the same page. The baptism referred to here is almost certainly believer’s baptism in water. The point is that we who are saved share a common faith, in a common God, and have had a common baptism. We are together as one in Christ.

 

In the 2nd chapter of Acts there are clearly two distinct baptisms and another implied. There are 3 specific baptisms related to every believer. Unfortunately not all believers experience them the way God designed.

 

The first of these three baptisms is mentioned by John the Baptist and recorded in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16. The Luke passage says “John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The “He” of this verse is Jesus. Later Jesus commands the disciples in Luke 24:49 “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” They did wait as instructed and Acts 2 gives us the story of the sound of a rushing wind, tongues as of fire, and preaching in different languages with great power. When Peter recounted these events to the Jewish brothers as he defended baptizing Gentiles he said to them “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
(Acts 11:15-18) So according to Peter the first baptism in Acts 2 is the “baptism with the Holy Spirit”.

 

In the act of this baptism, Jesus is the baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the medium. Jesus is the “who” and the Holy Spirit is the “what”. (It is worthy of notice that Peter’s testimony was that he received the gift “when (he) believed on the Lord Jesus Christ”. And further those who were saved had been “granted repentance unto life”. Is it possible then that the more important word in Acts 2:38 is “repent” rather than “baptized”?)

 

Most of our Pentecostal and charismatic friends teach that the Holy Spirit is the one who does the baptizing which is only one of their mistakes on the subject of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Among those mistakes is that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in addition may teach that the sin nature inherent in the flesh is completely eradicated in conjunction with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both are false and easy enough for almost any Bible student to refute.

 

The 2nd baptism is the one that gets most of the attention, baptism in water. When Jesus gave the great command of the great commission He said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Here the Scriptures cannot be clearer. 1. Go make disciples. 2. Baptizing them (disciples) 3. Teaching them (disciples). The disciples were to make more disciples by preaching the gospel, baptizing those who believed it, and then teaching them to obey all that Jesus had commanded. Interestingly, no plan for world evangelism has been devised that beats that plan. It is the only one that is tested and proven and mandated by Jesus Himself. It worked in Acts 2, it worked with the man from Ethiopia, it worked with the house of Cornelius, and it worked for the Apostle Paul. Preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) in the power of the Holy Spirit, baptize those who believe, and then teach them to be obedient to all Christ taught. This is not complicated.

 

In this baptism the baptizer is the disciples, Apostles, or any other believer, and the medium is water. The “who” is the person immersing the new believer and the “what” is water. Water baptism in the New Testament is clearly immersion. I can find no other method. Baptism is only for believers. It is only for those who believe the facts of the gospel or “good news” about Christ. The criteria is not church membership, what one believes ought to be said at baptisms, or even what one believes about baptism.

 

What about “baptism for the remission of sins”? John the Baptist baptized “unto repentance”, (Matthew 3:11). His water baptism was not actual “repentance” but was “unto” repentance. Those he baptized desired to be identified with the community of faith who had chosen to repent (change their minds) and follow the one who would come, of whom John preached. Being immersed in water was not the cause of repentance; it said to the onlookers “I have repented”. In exactly the same way baptism “for” the remission of sins is not a mechanical action that obligates God to forgive sins in conjunction with immersion. Over 50 times in the New Testament it is made plain that salvation is by faith. Obedience always comes after faith in Christ, not before. The “natural” or unregenerate mind is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can he be (Romans 8:7). Those who teach that no person can be saved until he or she is immersed also teach that only after baptism will they receive the Holy Spirit. That is inconsistent with Peter’s statement quoted above when he declared clearly that he received the Holy Spirit when he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and the experience of Cornelius and those at his house.

 

When the believer is immersed in water he is saying to the world and to God, I am dying to myself and my way of doing things and I am being raised to live my life God’s way. We thus reenact the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and are “marked out” as followers of Jesus and of the household of faith. Water baptism never stands alone and one baptized 100 times will still be lost if he or she did not first have faith in Christ. In baptism we look to Christ and what He accomplished on our behalf when He died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead. Water baptism does not join us to the church nor does it join us to God but it does cry out to a watching world “I belong to Christ and I purpose to live only for Him!” So we correctly sometimes say he or she was “baptized into Christ”. Of course we speak figuratively just as we do when we eat the bread and drink the cup. We are not literally eating the body of Christ or drinking His blood. We know that we receive Him by faith, not by physical eating. The symbols are not nearly as important as what they represent. We might eat unleavened bread, a cracker, or some other bread. And, we likely drink Welch’s grape juice, or perhaps even wine, but not literal blood. So the elements of the supper, when we commune with our Lord and His people, only represent His body broken for us and His blood shed for us until He comes.

 

In my view, water baptism is much the same. We are not literally dying when we go under the water, we are symbolically dying. We are “baptized into His death” in a figurative way, we are not literally dead as He was. We are symbolizing our death to self and sin and our being raised to live the new life He gives. Thus it was necessary for Paul to say right after he talked about being “baptized into His death”, “reckon yourselves to be dead” (Romans 6:11). We are baptized “for the remission of our sins” by submitting to immersion in the watery grave of baptism.

 Just as Adam was our head before we became Christians so now Christ is the “new Adam”, our federal head. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all live (1 Corinthians 15:22). Because Christ is now our representative, when He died we died with Him (2 Timothy 2:11), and when He was raised we were raised with Him. Baptism is a beautiful and holy reenactment of those truths. Thus our eternal salvation was completed before we were born, completely outside of us or our abilities. “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him,We shall also live with Him.”(2 Timothy 2:11) 

There is a 3rd baptism that took place in Acts 2 and following in the story of the growth of the church of Christ is the world. I call your attention to 1 Corinthians 12:13. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit”. It is the blessed Holy Spirit who regenerates and creates a “new creature”. It is the third Person of the godhead who causes one to be “born from above”. And, it is He (the Holy Spirit) who places that person into the body of Christ, the universal church of Christ on earth and in heaven.

 

Here the baptizer is the Holy Spirit and the medium is the body of Christ. The “who” is the Holy Spirit and the “what” is the body of Christ.

 

  1. Baptism by Jesus with the Holy Spirit. The result is an empowered witness to Christ.
  2. Baptism by Christians of disciples in water in obedience to Jesus command in Matthew 28. The result is the identification of the disciple with Christ, with the body of believers, and separation from the world.
  3. Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. The result is the new disciple is “one” with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with every other believer. The Holy Spirit Himself is God’s guarantee that person is safe for eternity. 

I know many who read this will disagree with my conclusions. That is fine with me. I only ask this of you. Do I have as much right, and responsibility, as any other Christian to search the Scriptures and then teach what I find there? And, when we disagree shouldn’t we do so in a gracious way? Without question we should.

 

Next post: “How to grow a 1st Century church in the 21st Century”

 

Grace to you,

Royce Ogle