Archive for November, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration…too little, too late?

This Declaration, recently signed by Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical church representatives seeks to convey a steadfast resolve on the part of these churches to defend against abortion, same sex marriage, and preserve freedom of religion. Unfortunately, many of these same signers have serious  differences in regard to soteriology as well as doctrine, and besides that, much of this is simply politically motivated (note the large number of anti- Global Warming scientists included as endorsers). You might say it is a re-made version of the Moral Majority movemnet. Too bad statistics do not prove there really is a true moral majority in America.

One of the key statements in the Life section of this document states “Although public sentiment has moved in a pro-life direction, we note with sadness that pro-abortion ideology prevails today in our government. The present administration is led and staffed by those who want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development, and who want to provide abortions at taxpayer expense. Majorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion views.”

Why, pray tell, do these ecumenical folk think this is the case? The very people who answer in the affirmative to pollsters concerning right to life, seem to vote pro-choice, or not at all. That, my friends, is why we have a Pro-Choice government in place. People wearing the badge of Christianity, but not the evidence of it in their lives and affections, have either voted in or surrendered the offices of state to the Pro-Choice politicians because they are themselves, immoral, selfish, covetous lovers of money more than God.

No declaration will fix the eternally significant harvest that the liberal and seeker-minded Laodicean churches have produced with their watered down ‘gospel’. There are far too many people in America who claim Jesus as their “friend”, their “homey”, their benefactor, their “fixer”, but so very few who consider Him Lord and God of their lives. Most who claim the name of Christian are so far removed from even the most basic tenets of godly living and selfless service to Him who died for them, that the very name of Jesus is blasphemed because of it.

Only a return to preaching the foolishness of the cross, the ignominious death of God in human form for the sake of unworthy sinners will awaken men and women to their true state before God. Too many preachers and teachers fail to make their hearers aware of their hopelessness and their guilt before an Almighty God. Too many have consider their accountants the true measurers of the power of God and the efficacy of their sermons. If it doesn’t draw crowds or bring in sheaves of cash, then it isn’t “effective” evangelism. May I remind them that feces also draw crowds….of flies. Too many mistake crowds for churches.

Gone are the days when men relied on the Word of God to do the convicting and convincing.  Simply read John 16:8-10 again. The Holy Spirit is who convicts and convinces people of their need of a Saviour.  Scripture says “As many as received Him (accepted the truth of what He claimed), to them gave He the right to become sons of God.”

Where is it heard that men ask, as they did Peter, “What must we do to be saved?”  How many come to a true conviction in their hearts that were it not for the death and suffering of God’s Christ they would have no standing at all before a wrathful God? Too many American versions of Christianity make piety and striving to live a godly life a vain thing.  Most church goers claim they love Jesus and are born again, but the facts of the society we live in prove this a lie. Emotionally charged and feel-good worship services are self-serving and give too many a false sense of peace and security. “We’re all sinners!” is the war cry of most assemblies, rather than glorying in the freedom from bondage to sin that true faith and obedience bring. What incentive do most churches give anyone to question their sincerity or indeed the very basis of their professed faith? If Christians are no better morally or ethically than the non-believer, with what will you convince non-believers of the power of God to change lives?

No, the church has to return to preaching the power of Christ to save from sin; not simply that God forgives, but that God empowers men to forgive also. Not that God will make everything better, but that life becomes worth living when lived for a righteous and holy King. Not that Jesus wants you to be successful, but that Jesus was successful in liberating those who put their entire life and future into His hands from death and condemnation. Not that we are free to sin because we are forgiven, but that we are free to choose the right and not the wrong because we cannot bear to shame our King.

No declaration or Ecumenical statement will solve this dilemma. Only God’s Holy Spirit and unfettered preaching of His Holy Word as the Word of God in truth will change double-minded professors into real believers.

 

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Faith Alone? What does God say?

Water is a very powerful element. It can save a life or destroy it. It can convey good health or transport deadly bacteria. It washes away dirt and historical records. Water, in many ways, is very much a representation of good and evil.

Anyone who has read my previous articles knows that I have struggled mightily with this issue. And I have come to a simple conclusion: If the Bible says it and repeats it, then it is what it is.  I was almost persuaded that we are “saved by faith alone”, but scripture does not support this. Remember, David says “The sum of your word is truth”.

In the Old Testament, we find water turned to blood as a plague against Egypt (Exodus 7). Later God instruct the priests thus: “and he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedar wood, and with the hyssop, and with the scarlet: ” Lev 14:52.  Leviticus 14:1-5 involves the procedure of blood being spilled over running water for the cleansing of leprosy. In Ezekiel God speaks to Israel and says “Then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.”  (Ezekiel 16:9 ASV)

The Word says that God destroyed the evil world that was in Noah’s day….with water. That is, God cleansed the world of sin with the Flood.

The Word says that God destroyed an anti-type of sin, the Egyptian army….with water. The Bible makes clear that, just like God’s promise concerning our sins, “not one of them remained”. I heard an old church of Christ preacher, Marshall Keeble, in a rare recording of a sermon, explain that thinking one can be saved just by believing Jesus Christ died for you is like washing a load of dirty clothes with just detergent. It doesn’t do any good if you don’t include….water! Perhaps that seems presumptuous to say, but read what John says:

This is he who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” (1 John 5:6-8 ESV)

Who are you going to believe? Your preacher? A theologian? Or John the beloved; who saw, worked with, ate with, was taught by and physically touched the Savior? In the New Testament, we see John emphasize the connection between the two again: ” howbeit one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and straightway there came out blood and water. ” (John 19:34 ASV). Then the Hebrews writer says “For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses unto all the people according to the law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people” (Hebrews 9:19 ASV)

Why does anyone honestly think Paul says “not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit“? (Titus 3:5 ASV)  Baptism is referred to here, make no mistake!

Baptism is not a work! The baptized person submits to the process that is plainly ordained by Christ Jesus “to fulfill ALL righteousness”. And again, in Hebrews we read ” let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 ASV). Where is sprinkling effected? In the heart by the Holy Spirit. What is washed? Our body is! And, as Peter tries so hard to make clear, it’s not about washing off dirt from off the outside of our bodies, but it’s an appeal for a cleansed conscience! (1 Peter 3:21) How do we get a clear conscience?  When we believe our sins are forgiven and forgotten!!

Now, I admit, it probably makes no sense to most that God would care whether our bodies are washed in baptism or not, but Christ insisted on it, as did ALL the Apostles. If water was just symbolic, why is it so prevalent? The Israelites passed through water two times. Once for each generation; the first generation, which were rejected by God, were first baptized through the Red Sea, into Moses. The next generation, under 18 at the time God rejected the original bunch, had to pass through the Jordan river in order to inherit the Promised Land. These things are symbols of spiritual truths. Jesus did not spiritualize the water. He actually submitted to it, by John’s baptism, to show His approval of it and declared it a necessity (Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-16).

Marshall Keeble also told a couple of great stories about baptisms, where the person being baptized “got it”. Keep in mind that these stories hark back to the pre-civil rights movement days as I paraphrase what Marshall said:

One old black lady, who apparently worked for some rich folk, was considered a very good woman and was referred to by all as “mother”. However, when she heard the gospel preached concerning the need for belief, repentance, followed by baptism, she showed a remarkable understanding of the purpose of baptism. She had some ladies go to her place and bring back her wedding dress, a white silk dress she had married her now dead husband in. With their help she got that dress on and, as she prepared to enter the river they were baptizing her in, some friends were saying “You’re going to ruin that beautiful dress gettin’ into that muddy water!” She replied “I married my first husband in this dress and now I’m marrying one much greater than he was!” She understood that baptism meant she was going to be wed to Christ, and be raised a new woman in Him.

Water is regularly combined with blood in both the Old and New testaments. When Jesus told Nicodemus that a man must be born again of water and Spirit, I have heard intelligent men say “That refers to the afterbirth, or amniotic fluid from childbirth.” I say, they are twisting scripture. If Jesus meant water from your mother’s womb, don’t you think He’d have said “born of woman” instead of being supposedly ambiguous with just “water”? Besides, it is a fact thta most women do not experience their water “breaking” before giving birth. Most often the amniotic sac is expelled intact after the birth. And often it is hardly looking like water, being colored anything from milky, greenish, yellowish, or reddish. I don’t believe Jesus was stating the obvious here (that a person has to become a living human being before they can be “born again”) when He said “of water”.

I have heard references made to the idea that making baptism a requirement is just like the Judaizers claiming a person couldn’t be saved if they weren’t circumcised. Let’s just stop for a second and think this through. First, it was established in the first great counsel described in Acts  15, that circumcision was not required for salvation.  Secondly, if baptism, as taught by many Reformed teachers, was the replacement for circumcision, don’t you think that would have been brought up? As well, if baptism wasn’t necessary sacrament, why is it never openly challenged by anyone in the Bible?

Yet Paul plainly says “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:9-12 ESV)

One baptism = the simultaneous spiritual circumcision and physical dunking working together to perform a work of God. The Holy Spirit peforms the circumcision “made without hands”, that is, inwardly. We cannot be buried by any means other than immersion. We cannot be raised from a sprinkling or pouring, either.

I read another person’s explanation that it was only because Jews were used to baptism being a proper means of cleansing (as after a woman giving birth) that it was natural “for them” to assume baptism did something truly cleansing.

That’s saying that Peter gave more importance to baptism than was necessary simply because of his Jewish background. Was he, or was he not, a disciple of the One and Only Christ? Who would know better than a former disciple, and present tense Apostle, whether baptism was necessary? Why on earth would Peter even allude to baptism’s saving effect if it was not so? Or if there was any possibility that those baptized believers he was writing to might have misunderstood it?

Take away the parenthetical and he’s saying “Baptism now saves you through the resurrection of Christ.” That means, plainly, that baptism saves us because Jesus was raised from the dead. And because Jesus commands it “in faith”.

There are those who will say this represents the baptism of the Spirit. Their logic, then, escapes me! How can baptism of the Spirit be a representation of being buried and resurrected? As the verse I quoted says “having been buried with Him in baptism, you were raised with Him through faith. “with Him” is significant, because it implies that we were doing something with/like Jesus through baptism. The symbolism is very powerful, but also very pointed.

The first part, burial in baptism, is what man does. The second part, which is the first resurrection (John 5:25 , Rev 20:4-6), is done as a result of faith, inwardly, when we are also physically raised from the water of baptism. These coincide, which is also why Jesus said “Unless a man is born of water AND spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

If Jesus, in His Great Commission had said “He that believes and is circumcised shall be saved” do you honestly think  people would try to say things like “He doesn’t mean physical circumcision, it’s a spiritual thing”. Well, I do believe people would say that!

What about this? If Jesus said “he that believes and is tattooed”? do you think preachers and scholars would dance around that? I do! My point is this: I believe that if Jesus said it, He meant it, and if He meant baptized with the Holy Spirit, He would have said that. Paul re-baptized the disciples of John in Acts 19 and they then received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again, note the disciples under Philip; they were baptized and then received the Holy Spirit when the Apostles arrived to lay hands on them. True, Cornelius and his friends and family were baptized in the Holy Spirit before they were baptized, but Peter commanded that they be baptized. Unlike in Acts 15:24 where the elders and Apostles said, concerning the Judaizers of the circumcision, “to whom we gave no commandment” .

Some say that using the story of Naaman, from 2 Kings 5, is a bad analogy, but I disagree. Naaman also thought that washing himself in the muddy Jordan made absolutely no sense, but it wasn’t until he did what God told him through Elisha to do, that he was cleansed. Jesus made a point of it, saying “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:27) I think Jesus was emphasizing that only those who truly are willing to do what God tells them to do will be saved. Many regard baptism as a secondary thing, but will not even cross the line to say that baptism isn’t necessary. Why is that? If baptism isn’t part of becoming a new creature, part of the new birth, why do they shrink from saying it’s not important? Because, in their heart of hearts, they are like Naaman. They can’t see how it fits in with faith alone, but God wants obedience, too. They will say, a Christian who won’t be baptized is not a true Christian, but then negate that by saying baptism isn’t part of salvation.

Now, I confess, I had a hard time with this when I first perceived it, before I aligned myself with the churches of Christ. I just had this overwhelming sense, from what little I had read of the Bible, that after I repented of my sins and asked God to forgive by believing on Christ Jesus, I was under a real burden to be baptized ASAP. I did not get baptized as soon as I felt led to because I didn’t even know that baptism was something that could be done unscheduled. I admit also, that I did not feel safe in my salvation until I was baptized. Many things and thoughts tried to dissuade me from being baptized, but thankfully, my wife invited all her family and friend to witness this and I could not have backed out anyway. I remember asking people at the church I was attending what would happen if I died before I was baptized. Of course, they used the “thief” example (below), but it didn’t convince me for long.  I didn’t feel like baptism would save me, so much as it would “seal” me, or make me complete. And I say that to emphasize that I do not believe baptism of itself can save anyone. Only a repentant, believing person who has confessed to God they are a sinner can be saved. Baptism is the part of the new covenant where we are “united with Him” (Romans 6:5) and our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16).

Of course we have the example of the thief on the cross. But, no one can prove that that man wasn’t baptized for the remission of sins by John the baptist earlier. I can’t prove that he was. But, one thing is sure: only God in Christ can make an exception, just like Enoch and Elijah were exempted from the law of sin and death and did not die, but were apparently translated into another sphere. God IS sovereign. That is why we must obey His commandments through Christ. And baptism into the NAME of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit IS a commandment. Jesus said “Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” and I believe that means we must keep our reading of the Word uncomplicated. I hate it when people bend over backwards to say that the word for, in the phrase “for the forgiveness (or remission) of sins” in Acts 2:38 is like saying “wanted for bank robbery” as in for sins already forgiven. Why would Peter also tell them to repent if their sins were already forgiven them?

The argument that Paul distanced himself from baptism in 1 Corinthians 1 is false. He was simply saying he was glad he didn’t have people creating a sect around him because he had baptized them. If anything this shows how important the early church believed baptism was! They were not saying “I am of Apollos because he preaches the way I like” or “I like the way they do communion”. No, they knew that they were baptized into Christ by these men but, made the mistake of thinking who baptized them was more important that Who they were baptized into!

Baptism by itself regenerates no one except when it is in concert with the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:6). To make baptism simply an outward symbol means one has to spiritualize the entire New Testament  and it’s many, many references to baptism as essential and cooperative. What convinced me beyond any doubt was this simple fact: Philip was sent by the Holy Spirit to meet the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. The Holy Spirit  “caught Philip away” only AFTER the eunuch had the gospel preached to him and he was willingly baptized. If that isn’t plain enough for you, I don’t know how you will ever understand that this simple thing is associated with every single conversion story in the book of Acts and that means God was making it inexcusably plain to anyone with an honest heart.

Comments are welcome and disputations encouraged, but only if you use the Word and not just human logic.