Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some Things Are Absolutely Necessary

The Absolute Necessity of Water Baptism in Jesus’ Name

Recently I was asked to write about the necessity of Jesus Name baptism. I have had the prior fortune of being able to present the necessity of baptism by complete submergence before a secular, community college class without creating expected controversy. Surprisingly, most of the students admitted 'they had no idea.' Perhaps we will revisit that experience in a subsequent post on baptism, in general. However, due to limited space, a few assumptions have been made as this particular post was written. First, I have assumed that the reader believes the Bible to be the infallible Word of God. Second, the reader is assumed to be asking ‘inquisitive’ questions rather than ‘interrogative’ questions regarding baptism, out of a sincere desire to discover truth. Lastly, I am assuming that the reader already believes in water baptism by complete emersion – excusing the need here for further focused proof.

It is my attempt to rightly divide Scripture to reveal truth, and persuade the reader that baptism in Jesus’ Name is absolutely necessary in order to obey and complete the second essential step of salvation, and for one’s sins to be remitted.

For the sake of context, we are obligated to consider at least a very brief portion of church history. This insight will better enable us to assimilate the date, time, origin and reason for the existence of the controversy (if there can possibly be any) surrounding baptism. After saying “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18), Jesus instructed His disciples to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The argument made by proponents of ‘title’ baptism stems from their sole focus on and misinterpretation of the ‘Great Commission’ recorded in Matthew 28:19 – a verse that many scholars believe was inserted by the Catholic Church, and not part of the original canon. This is a key mistake, as one of the principles of hermeneutics is that ‘every Scripture on any given subject must be considered in the light of every Scripture on that subject.’ If this principle were correctly applied in the subject area of baptism, there would be no question. Nonetheless, we will assume that Matthew 28:19 was in fact part of the original canon, acknowledge and attempt to answer the question at hand.

The question we will aim to answer is, “What did Jesus mean when He said to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost?” Although there is no other Scriptural evidence for baptism in the titles, Trinitarians would argue that Jesus meant for the church to literally baptize converts pronouncing, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” Oneness believers refute that argument by recognizing the obvious, which is that titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not names at all – a pivotal point, as there is power in the Name! Listed below are several Scriptural excerpts of Christ’s exact teachings. The context of Scripture provides a pure platform for advocacy and strict adherence to baptism in Jesus’ name by revealing to us the Oneness of God, and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

In John 10:25-26 Jesus said, “I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me (Jesus). But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” In John 10:30 Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.’ In John 14: 9 Jesus said, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” Future reference in this post to Philip’s subsequent preaching and mode of baptism practiced proves Philip understood that Jesus was the Father.

In John 6:69 Simon Peter answers Jesus by saying, “And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” We will return to and expound on Peter’s revelation of Jesus.

In John 14:26 Jesus said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Not only does Jesus mention that the Father (whom we’ve established to be Jesus) will send the Holy Ghost in His name (Jesus), He ascribes gender (He) to the Holy Ghost, and gives him animation, so to speak, by saying that the Holy Ghost will teach you all things. The implication here is that when Jesus ascends in to Heaven, it will be His Spirit that returns and brings to the remembrance of His disciples His previous teachings.

In Luke 24:47 Jesus said, “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name (Christ’s name – Jesus) among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48). Again, here, Jesus clearly articulates that repentance and remission of sins – which is accomplished through baptism – should be preached in His name, not in his titles, roles or anthropomorphic modes of revelation! As an aside, church history is a tremendous compliment to Scripture – and there are numerous writings by early church fathers dating back to AD 160-AD 220 which substantiate water baptism in the name of Jesus as the authentic formula used by the New Testament church (Tertullian, Augustine, etc.).

Ironically, the generic formula for baptism in the titles (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) was not officially accepted until A.D. 325, when the Catholic Church organized the Nycean Council in an ecumenical effort to universalize (the word Catholic means universal) baptism itself. If we are basing our doctrinal belief on a timeline of truth, we must trace truth back to its origin and not compromise for a more modern, acceptable, contemporary evolution.

I will concede momentarily that traditions are difficult to part with, particularly when they have been established over hundreds of years. This is why Paul said, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him (Jesus Christ) dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” Colossians 2:8-9)! Nonetheless, our quest is not to justify or even to eliminate tradition, but rather to search out seminal truth.

The sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew records a series of iconic questions that capture an exchange between Simon Bar-jona and the Son of the living God. Ignoring what everybody else called Him and the various cases of mistaken identity referenced by the other disciples (Elijah, a prophet sent from God, etc.), Jesus specifically asked Simon “Who do you say that I am?” When Simon verbalized his revelation and identified Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” his own identity was transformed. In one conversation the foundation for the church was laid and the identity of the I AM forever revealed. In one encounter, Simon took on a new name (Peter), and the three keys to the kingdom of Heaven were placed into his possession.

Shortly thereafter, on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached a convicting message of promise and responsibility that pricked the heart of his audience, spurred them into action and compelled them to ask “What shall we do?” Their interest afforded Peter the opportunity to then furnish three, newly acquired keys for the first time. Eloquently, and under the anointing, Peter unlocked the door to salvation and answered their question by exhorting the upper room gathering to; 1) “Repent”, 2) to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” and 3) to “receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” – acts of faith and obedience that would empower them to effectively save themselves from the present “untoward generation” (Acts 2:38, 40).

The very next verse (Acts 2:41) reveals the results of the profound simplicity of the power of the preached Word when coupled with belief and action. Everyone within ear shot was convicted by Paul’s message– but not everyone received the word. It is worth mentioning that the Gospel is confrontational – it challenges the status quo of ecumenical religion and confronts the convenient doctrine of relevance and community acceptance.

In one of Jesus’ parables, the king said “many are called, but few are chosen.” This precise statement was made after the king disposed a wedding attendant into outer darkness for failure to put on garments appropriate for the occasion (Matthew 22:14). Then, Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to this parable! Later Paul wrote to the church at Galatia, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Many are called, but few are chosen, yet much of the selection process has to do with choices we make after the initial call. In the same vein James wrote, “be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your ownselves” (James 1:22). Just as there is a difference between hearing and listening, there is a difference between hearing and receiving. To hear is to acknowledge sound, to listen is to recognize words, but to receive is to believe those words. James admonished the New Testament church to guard themselves against getting to the place where they could hear the Word, and abstain from acting on what they had heard. Such ability is the art of ignorance (the state of those who either lack knowledge, or choose to ignore it), the result of rebellion, and the beginning of the end for those who deceive themselves beyond belief.

As the book of Acts will show us, the power of the Gospel is displayed when the Word is received. As established, to receive is to believe. Thus, belief brings with it required behavior – or action. Once again, it was James who said “faith without works is dead” – and who compared faith, or belief, apart from action, to a dead and spiritless body (James 2:26)! James also said, “I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Sure, it’s possible to act out of obedience, and not truly believe – but it’s impossible to sincerely believe and not act accordingly! This is why Apostolic preaching always demands a verdict (leads people to a decision) – and is why those who received the word (or believed), obeyed Peter’s doctrinal instruction and were baptized according to his prescription. Amazingly, approximately three thousand souls were ‘added’ to the church in one day! If there were any questions as to the method of baptism and the appropriate name to be pronounced in baptism, you would think someone would have questioned Peter. At the very least, surely one of the other eleven would have provided clarification and, if the clarification were needed, undoubtedly it too would have been recorded in Scripture!

Not only were throngs of people baptized in Jesus’ name, they “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42), further indication of their belief. Their receiving the Word was not temporal or conditional, it was continual, and the faith (or belief) they professed was substantiated, made manifest and sustained by their behavior, obedience and action.

The book of Acts, which records the actions of Jesus Christ through the Apostles, is replete with many infallible proofs. Likewise, “when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). Later on in the same chapter, “when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John” (Acts 8:14). When Peter and John arrived in Samaria they discovered that the Samaritans had not received the Holy Ghost yet, and had only been baptized “in the Name of the Lord Jesus” up until that point (Acts 8:16). It was after Philip read the account of Calvary and preached about Jesus that the Ethiopian eunuch stopped his chariot by certain water and asked Philip to baptize him. Philip agreed to baptize him on the condition that he believed with all his heart. It was only when the eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”, that Philip agreed to baptize him - and they “went down both into the water” (Acts 8:29-38).

There is no record of Philip indoctrinating the eunuch with the unknowable mystery of a triune Godhead. No! He simply and unquestionable preached to him, Jesus. After all, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under Heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)!

Philip was not the only one who preached the necessity of baptism in Jesus’ Name. In Acts chapter ten Peter preached “To Him (Jesus) give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). To underscore the point previously made that belief requires action, virtually everyone in Christendom would agree that baptism, in one form or another, is required for atonement, the washing away of one’s sins. Contrarily, no one with any credibility would conclude from Acts 10:43 that anyone who merely believes in Christ, whether they are baptized or not, can receive remission of sins. This would make null and void the necessity of baptism, and completely contradict Peter’s Day of Pentecost sermon, not to mention the emphatic letter he wrote to Timothy saying “baptism doth also now save us” (I Peter 3:21). The implied and agreed upon action or formula, required by the believer for remission of sins, following repentance, is baptism. To confirm and quell any doubt, verse 48 documents that Philip “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48). Most denominations accept a baptismal formula using three titles, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but what about the apparent, face-value mandate by Philip to baptize in “the Name of the Lord?” Is not Lord a title also? Of course it is, but the argument is moot when you correctly acknowledge that the initial instruction was to baptize in “the name of the Lord,” not the title itself.

There have always been those who ignorantly reject and oppose the propagation of the gospel through private interpretation. This is how Saul, prior to his conversion, could imprison New Testament Christians in the name of Christ! Even with the tables turned, on the other side of the revelation of who Jesus Christ was and is, Paul (formerly Saul) found himself imprisoned, along with Silas. His firsthand experience dolling out persecution on the saints was not enough to deter him from preaching a message of truth - because there is power in the Name! Like the response of those who “gladly received the word” from Peter on the Day of Pentecost, the guards also asked Paul and Silas, “what must I do to be saved”’ Their response was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:30-31). Outside the Catholic Church, no other protestant believer would interpret this verse to mean that one could believe and secure salvation for someone else. This would conflict with Paul’s writings to the Romans, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him (Jesus Christ) by baptism…that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Obviously, Paul and Silas’ statement included further instruction. Verse 33 demonstrates that the jailor’s acted on his belief in the Lord Jesus Christ by having Paul and Silas baptize him and his entire family!

While in the city of Ephesus, Paul inquired of a few who professed to follow Christ as to whether or not they had received the Holy Ghost. To Paul’s surprise, they had not even heard of the Holy Ghost before. So, he worked the plan of salvation backwards, step by step, and asked if they had at least been baptized. When they assured Paul that they had, according to John’s baptism of repentance, Paul preached to them that they should “believe on Him which should come after (John the Baptist), that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:1-5).

In Acts 9:34 Peter said unto a man named Aeneas, “Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed,” and Aeneas arose immediately. In Acts chapter 16 there is a record of a young girl who was possessed with a demon. Paul and Silas prayed, and the spirit came out the same hour’ after they commanded it to depart “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Evidently, the possessed girl must have been in debt as a frequent client and contributor to the local soothsayers’ profitable business, for when they saw that she was delivered, and realized that the hope of their gains was gone, they turned Paul and Silas into the magistrates. Notice the timeless irony of their indictment, “These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans” (Acts 16:16-21). Here again we have an instance where the Romans (birthplace of the Catholic Church) were unable to receive the Word, regardless of the powerful results.

I am very intrigued how mainstream Christianity can out of the corner of one side of their mouth recognize the healing power of His Name when it comes to physical ailment and the delivering power of His name when it comes to demon possession, but out of the other side, deny the power thereof when it comes to water baptism and remission of sins.

Paul was adamant about the name of Jesus Christ. Apparently, his reputation as a man of God in the city of Corinth caused certain followers to follow him. So much so, that the church loyalties were divided between Paul, Apollos, Cephas and even Christ! We see this today, a form of preacher religion; thousands of Christians fill pews on Sundays and follow popular televangelists and church pastors, never taking the time to search the Scriptures for themselves to sort out what they believe. Paul quickly put a halt to this practice saying, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you…lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name” (I Corinthians 1:12-15). The inference Paul makes is that he did not die on the cross, Jesus did, and he did not espouse the heresy of baptism in the name of anyone other than He who was crucified! We catch a closer glimpse of the radical revelation Paul had about the Name, when we read where he said, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).

Can there be any doubt then as to what name Paul baptized in?

Nowhere in the Bible can you find one instance, outside of Matthew 28:19, where anyone was baptized in the titles. Yet, we have just explored multiple instances where the apostles preached the Name and where believers were repeatedly baptized in the name of Jesus!

The Scriptures we have dissected during this short discourse have answered the question as to the necessity of baptism in Jesus Name. That being said, I realize that for some, even having considered Christ’s teachings, weighing all that is in the balance and eternally at stake, the simple truth is still too difficult to believe.

Regardless, the Gospel always demands a verdict, and exposed truth always leads pulls its audience towards a decision. The question is not about the necessity of water baptism in Jesus’ Name, but rather whether or not the plain, fundamental truth of water baptism in Jesus Name is too difficult for the inquisitive to receive. Or, is it that the admission of one’s folly, the sacrifice of one’s pride and the prospective (for some inevitable) pain of separation from one’s family, church and tradition, at the heart of the matter, too great for the argumentative to admit and difficult for the interrogative to deny? That is a legitimate question also.

Now, have you been baptized in Jesus’ Name, since you first believed? That is the question.

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