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Baptism: Water and Spirit

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Question #1: 

Hi Dr. Luginbill, An acquaintance of mine is a Christian and is struggling with baptism right now. She was confirmed and sprinkled in the Catholic Church as a child, just going through the motions without any real convictions. So I believe that it's necessary for her to be baptized again. I have not mentioned it to her, though, because if she also decides that it is necessary, I want it to be because of the Spirit's influence in her life, not mine. But she brought it up the other day, and I think that the Spirit has been speaking to her about this. So, I know that you would say that she should do whatever the Spirit leads her to do, but aside from that, do you think that a new baptism is necessary?

Thanks for always being available.

Response #1:  

I was sprinkled as a baby, confirmed as an adolescent, and dunked as an adult. However, over the years, my studies of the Bible have led me to doubt the necessity of water baptism in the Christian era at all from a scriptural standpoint. This is a long and involved set of arguments and analyses of pertinent passages, but suffice it to say that in my considered view water baptism always refers to John's baptism of repentance (a technically pre-cross ritual), whereas all other doctrinal discussions of baptism in the New Testament refer to Spirit baptism, a post-cross reality (including Matt.28:16-20 which while pre-cross looks forward to the coming of the Spirit and frames the issue in a way the apostles can accept at that point but be able to understand fully after the coming of the Spirit at the first Pentecost). The many water baptisms in the book of Acts are part and parcel of the transitional apostolic period, wherein we find many things (e.g., behaviors, activities, rituals, applications, miracles, gifts and their functions) which are not doctrinally dispositive for the post-apostolic period in which we now live.

In my experience, observation, and analysis of church history, neither the continuation of water baptism (in whatever mode), nor baptism as an experience for individual Christians has ever done any particular good, although historically and personally, individually and collectively, it has certainly done a lot of harm. So to be quite honest about it, I don't think it is necessary for any Christian to be water baptized, since, as a Christian, they have already been baptized with the Spirit (Rom.8:9), truly the "one and only baptism" which responds to our "one and only faith" in our "one and only Lord" (Eph.4:5). The mind-set of adding non-biblical ritual to the Christian life is always a dangerous thing since ritual inevitably metastasizes and wins out over truth in the end in such cases (cf. the R.C. church). Two points which always seem confirm my reading of scripture on this subject are 1) the inability of any group of which I am aware that water-baptizes to explain satisfactorily why it is necessary, what it accomplishes, and what it represents in a way that is consistent with scripture (indeed, almost all groups have different answers to this set of questions and often change their explanations in part or in whole with the passage of time), and 2) the fact that the subject of water-baptism never seems to come up without a good deal of fear and guilt, emotions that are completely inconsistent with our security through faith in Christ and the unconditional grace we have through Him. To me, though certainly not decisive as an argument, this phenomenon does set off "warning bells" that in turn suggest something is not right. Everything in the New Testament shouts grace over legalism and the new reality over the old ritual, but water-baptism cuts against this grain, and I think the fact that there is so much division and disagreement over the form of its implementation is a good indication that we only have it at all because of tradition trumping scripture.

I certainly understand that most of my brothers and sisters have a different point of view and I try to avoid getting up on the soap-box on this issue. I suppose one could argue: "it can't hurt, therefore if there is any question about it, we better do it, and, anyway, people have always done it, so let's be safe and do it too." However, it is also true that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and in terms of legalism that is most definitely true. It is hard to see how we can say and feel that "people have to be water-baptized" and maintain at the same time that it has nothing to do with salvation. Of course, it has nothing to do with salvation, but if we give the opposite impression through stressing some necessity for it (and of course there are plenty of groups out there who do preach "no salvation without water-baptism"), it is hard to see how those who listen to us won't get just that opposite impression. The next thing you know, we will be imparting some sort of magical power through communion (or possibly some essential and necessary special provision). Sooner or later we have the R.C. church (or worse).

You can get all of the specifics at this link which in turn will link through to all the major files on the subject: "Baptism and following Jesus".

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Hi Bob,

Just letting you know that I really appreciate your correspondence with me. I know that you go even farther than I do away from an undue emphasis on water baptism as relating to salvation. I refuse to budge from my belief that I am saved by grace alone through faith alone, not a dead faith, to be sure, but one that produces good works as Gods Spirit works in our hearts.

The moment we rely on any ceremony or good work (though we indeed should do good works) to get saved or stay saved...be it restitution, tithing, helping Katrina victims, baptism, circumcision, fasting, keeping our confession of sins up to date, loving our wives and children, being willing to suffer persecution or martyrdom for the faith....we place ourselves under obligation to keep the WHOLE Law of God perfectly, 24/7... an extremely dangerous proposition since we need only stumble at one point to be guilty on all counts. Though we deliver our body to be burned, yet have not (perfect) love, it profits us nothing. I know something of the TERROR of thinking I might not be saved and wondering if I would go to hell if I die. As long as I desire to call on the Lord and ask to be set free from the power of my sins, and really mean it... I am saved. The desire and power to believe on Jesus Christ for salvation from the power of sin is not something our old nature is capable of doing. It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.


Response #2: 

May I add a hearty "Amen!" to your soliloquy? The Lord knows who are truly His (2Tim.2:19). Likewise, all we who believe in Him cry out in faith to God "Abba, Father!", for the Spirit Himself testifies to our hearts that we are indeed His children (Rom.8:15-16; cf. Gal.4:6). We know that we believe in the One who died for us; therefore we are saved, and that salvation has the effect of motivating us under the leadership of the Spirit to walk faithfully after Jesus day by day, even if we occasionally slip, even if we occasionally stumble, even if we occasionally fall - for though the righteous man falls seven times, God will continue to lift up those of genuine faith (Prov.24:16).

On water baptism, yes, I have been pretty forthright about it, and have much more to say on the subject. I am not on a crusade against water baptism. It served a purpose under the Law as a sign of the coming end of the Law in the person of the Messiah who is the end of Law for all who believe, looking to God for righteousness instead of to their own efforts (Rom.10:4). But today, as I have said elsewhere, since "John's baptism" has been superseded by the baptism of the Spirit, water baptism only serves to confuse the issue of Spirit baptism, and, potentially, also that of salvation (especially if there is any intimation that such water baptism plays any role whatsoever in salvation which, of course, it most certainly does not). What water baptism does do is to afford groups who practice it a Christian "identity card" that is within their power to grant or withhold or even take back. Some groups actually issue certificates, and, of course, the Roman Catholics can "take it back" (excommunication) and in their case one also has to keep "firming it up" through mass and eventually the last rites. And if in Protestant groups someone feels they've "lost it", then the group can always re-baptize. This gives any group who chooses to avail

themselves of it a very powerful tool to manipulate the emotions of followers, past, present, and future, for to the extent that they suggest salvation depends upon what they are dishing (or have dished) out, then to that extent the believer is tied to them because of what they have done (or will do) on that person's behalf. But if salvation really did depend upon some ritual the absence of which would doom us, then all the teachings of grace and faith with which the Bible is completely consistent would be pointless (even the Law has as its purpose the teaching of universal inability to be saved without grace and faith; e.g., Rom.3:20).

It is possible to fulfill the "great commission" of Matthew 28:19-20 without water, but not without the gospel message and the Holy Spirit. When I consider the great "concern" that many water baptizers have about whether their brothers and sisters in Christ have been baptized, and whether it has been done "correctly", this attitude of pressing necessity over the "if" and "how" of water baptism seems to me to run contrary to Paul's words in 1st Corinthians. For when Paul says at 1Cor.1:16 "I don't remember whether or not I baptized anybody else", wouldn't it be a real act of negligence on his part not to take whatever means necessary to make positively sure that every believer in Corinth had been water baptized, if indeed water baptism were important (let alone necessary for salvation)? But in fact, Paul, the greatest evangelist and Bible teacher of all time, was "not sent to baptize [with water]" (1Cor.1:17). And as we read further in 1st Corinthians, we discover what is really on Paul's mind here:

And [so] my speaking and my teaching [to you were] not in persuasive words [emanating] from [human] wisdom, but [they came to you] through the manifestation of the Spirit and His power, so that your faith might stand not on human wisdom but on God's power.
1st Corinthians 2:4-5

The baptism of the Spirit and the power of the truth – God's wisdom as revealed in the gospel, the quintessential truth of the Word of God – is what Paul knows and teaches to be the bedrock of salvation and the believers continuing walk in the Lord, not a one-time only ritual whose primary application was the preparation of the hearts of the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah and the transition from the Law which foreshadowed Him to the reality of Him, His person and His work on the cross. How ironic, how sad that for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ this ritual has become an unnecessary stumbling block leading back to a reliance upon superseded ritual when we have before us all the grace and glory of the completed Word of God beckoning us to step forward in faith into the glorious freedom of the sons of God – that freedom is where we ought to "stand fast" (Gal.5:1; cf. Rom.8:21), and not on any ritual, now matter how wonderful its past biblical pedigree.

May you continue to stand fast in the freedom and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In Him.

Bob L.

Question #3:

Dear Bob,

Please consider Peter's very first sermon on the first day of the establishment of God's church on the Day of Pentecost (by the way in the Greek this is in the imperative, it is not a suggestion or a maybe you should do this ... it was a command).

Acts 2:37 "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' (i.e. in the Greek meaning to be spared or saved). v38. Peter replied, #1. "Repent (i.e. turn from your ways) and be #2. baptized (i.e. in the Greek it means fully immersed) every one of you, a). in the name of Jesus Christ, b). for the forgiveness of your sins. And c). you will receive the gift (i.e. it is a gift - it wasn't earned) of the Holy Spirit."

Bob, since [1 corth. 14:33] says: "God is not the author of confusion ... in all churches of the saints," it is clear to me that he tells us point blank that we pass over from death into life and from darkness into light when we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And verse 47 says: "Those who accepted his message (i.e. agreed to the terms of what was expected of them - to repent and be baptized) were baptized , and about three thousand were added to their number that day (i.e. were added to the church/kingdom when they were baptized!). Now, since Dt. 4:2 and Rev. 22:18,19 state that whoever "adds to" or "subtract from the Word of God" will be under a curse, I would be very careful of countering the Word of God.

Bob, remember this, #1. Jesus began his ministry at His baptism, remember what He said to John the Baptist (Matt.3:14) when John the Baptist said, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied: "Let it be so now, it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness (i.e. all enter the church/kingdom at baptism - and so must the son of man to show even God incarnate submits to His own command of baptism for all who will enter the church/kingdom!)

Remember also Bob, Jesus' ministry with his disciples (later apostles) was that of baptizing the lost and remember also Bob, Jesus' last commandment on earth before he ascended to Heaven, (Mark 16: 15,16 )He said: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe (i.e. and in the Greek ... is not baptized) will be condemned."

Now Bob, I for one do not want to tell Jesus/God at resurrection/judgment when I am facing Him one-on-one that I decided to teach others something different then His commandments because I thought He didn't know what He was talking about! Since, evidently you are a learned man (having the title of Doctor), it will be easy for you to understand these simple scriptures. Jesus says: "...the scripture cannot be broken" and Paul says: "All scripture is God-breathed" ...and John says: "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says I know him, but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him"...AND ... Romans 8:11 indicates that the Holy Spirit is our ticket to Heaven: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.""

I can go on and on about this, but, lets just stick to Peters command of baptism in Acts 2:38 and Jesus' last commandment on earth before His ascension (Mark 1: 15,16) ... that baptism is necessary for salvation................. that is what you need to explain away ....WITHOUT ADDING TO OR SUBTRACTING FROM THE WORD .... I await your reply

His and your servant, a watchman of His Word,

Response #3:

Thank you for your thoughtful e-mail. Baptism is a complicated subject – much more so than many people seem to understand – because the symbol of water baptism and the ritual of water baptism apply properly before the cross and Pentecost as a call to repentance to the Jewish people in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Clearly, John' s baptism has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus' water baptism which was followed by [the public manifestation of] His Spirit baptism is different from any other baptism in world history (i.e., He had no sin of which to repent, and He had no need to demonstrate faith in Himself). Following the cross, the coming of the Spirit and the revelation of the truth in a more precise way, the actual baptism of the Spirit becomes dominant over the ritual of water baptism, applying to those of all nations who turn to the Lord (cf. the Ephesian disciples who had been water-baptized but hadn't even yet heard of Spirit baptism: Acts 19:1-7). As Paul says in Ephesians 4:5, just as there is only one faith, so there is only one baptism – and what other single baptism could this be other than that of the Spirit?

I do believe the scriptures – they and the living Word they reveal are my life. It is true that some are very simple and easy to understand, but the fact is that just because some human being says "this is the simple answer and interpretation of this verse" does not necessarily make it so, even if that person is good-hearted. Scripture means what it means, and if we have not done our homework and have instead incorrectly understood what something means, then we should seek with all due diligence to find out what it truly means. If we do not, even in the face of evidence and the prompting of the Spirit, then all our "good intentions" do not excuse our error.

Anyway, you and I are at least in agreement on one point: there is a lot of scriptural information to be considered on this topic, so it is best to stick to one single point, one single scripture at a time (for example, Mark 16: 15-16 is not a part of the canon but a later addition; check the best MSS). In my experience, when there is doctrinal disagreement, any other course of action inevitably results in the two parties talking past each other. So I accept your proposed format for discussion.

Much of what you say about Peter's actions and words in Acts 2:37 is true. However, there is more to consider. For one thing, the book of Acts is a historical book rather than an epistle. That is to say, as part of the Word of God it accurately relates what happened, but does not necessarily pronounce all that happened as acceptable or right (just as the book of Samuel does not necessarily endorse everything that, say, king Saul did). In chapter one, for example, Peter, without any divine command to do so, decides of his own accord that Judas must be replaced. We know without any doubt, however, that there are only 12 apostles of the Lamb (cf. Rev. 21:14), and that the twelfth is the apostle Paul, not Matthias (cf. Acts 9:15-16, and see the link: "Matthias"). So while what Peter did in chapter one may not have been sinfully wrong, it does certainly show that he had some growing and some learning to do, and we see this same process of "progressive revelation" at work throughout the book of Acts and especially in Peter's case. The fact that he tells the assembled at Pentecost to be baptized is no surprise since he is talking to a wholly Jewish (and Jewish proselyte) audience who are very familiar with the baptism of John and its connection to Jesus of Nazareth, and since he and his fellow apostles/disciples had been water baptizing throughout Jesus' earthly ministry for many years. Things had changed dramatically after the cross and with the coming of the Spirit, but it would take some time before he and the other believers fully "got it" – and indeed before they were capable of "getting it". For example, that salvation would now spread widely among the gentiles was a difficult thing for these Jewish believers to grasp. The explains by the why God in His grace allowed a period of time, the apostolic period, for the gradual implementation of this new reality (e.g., the gentiles did not initially receive the Spirit upon faith in Christ though they later would).

Before I go on with that point, let us consider what else Peter has to say. He tells the crowd 1) to repent; 2) to be baptized "in the Name of Jesus for the forgiveness of you sins"; 3) that "and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit".

Now repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the process of water baptism to demonstrate this repentance and forgiveness was exactly what John had been commissioned to teach and administer so that Peter is doing nothing here but continuing the same old water baptism practice designed for the restoration of the Jewish people in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. What is new, what is different, what is as yet not completely digested by Peter and his fellows is the coming of the Spirit and its implications (for the ritual of water baptism and for many other things as well) – and why should it have been, since it had only happened that morning and apparently came as a complete surprise, despite Jesus' preparation of His disciples for just this event. Salvation has now been accomplished so that instead of the ritual of the water we now have the actual gift of the Spirit. So whatever Peter may have thought at this earliest point in the Church age about any supposed need for water baptism, he does not in fact directly connect the water and the Spirit, but rather merely conflates the former ritual and the new reality.

So in Acts 2:37, Peter very naturally does two essential things: 1) he encourages the crowd to put their faith in Jesus (which in the context of their experience involves the ritual of water baptism); 2) he tells them that if they do, they too will receive the Holy Spirit, just as they see has happened for those who are already believers. What Peter does not do here is directly connect the giving of the Spirit with water baptism. Rather, it is the "calling on the Name of Jesus", that is, the conceiving and expression of a genuine faith in Christ (naturally dependent upon first changing one's mind or repenting), that is the key to receiving the Spirit (not participation in some ritual).

There are many ways to show the validity of this interpretation but perhaps the clearest is Acts 10. Since in this "ping-pong" discussion it is now my turn to suggest a passage for consideration, let us consider what happens there. As soon as the gentile believers hear the gospel and believe, God pours out the Spirit upon them – without any water, without any ritual (Acts 10:44-46). Now beyond all argument, if the gift of the Spirit only comes during the process of water baptism, this passage cannot be explained. It is very true that in the next two verses Peter orders them to be water baptized – after they already have the Spirit and so beyond all question are already believers fully accepted by the Lord – but here again we have a description of him being behind the "learning curve" for God has just undeniably demonstrated that water is no part of the equation: what counts is genuine faith in Christ after which the Spirit is given, simple as that. Now we cannot fault Peter for persisting in the water ritual – even though it never had anything to do with the Spirit. But we should recognize this for what it is, namely, the perpetuation of a ritual whose true application was to Israel before the Messiah which encouraged and demonstrated repentance, not to the Church at large after the cross and after Pentecost and certainly having nothing to do with salvation or the gift of the Spirit which accompanies salvation.

Indeed, I myself am inclined not to deliberately make an issue of this at all, and for all who, like Peter, wish to continue the ritual of water baptism I take no offense. But to me it is important that in doing so 1) they understand the nature of the ritual, i.e., that it is John's baptism of repentance which is being reproduced; 2) that they do not place any undo and unscriptural emphasis upon it (like wrongly suggesting that water baptism is necessary for salvation, or for the receipt of the Holy Spirit, or for the communication of some special form or grace or any other such thing); and 3) that they do not use it as a means of guilt-manipulation. Sadly, in most groups where water baptism is practiced, at least as far as I have seen, at least one and sometimes all three of the above are violated. Water baptism adds nothing to the Christian experience (Jesus is talking about Spirit baptism in Matthew 28:19-20), but has the potential to do much spiritual damage when it is incorrectly understood, explained or applied.

In the One through faith in whom we have the Spirit, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #4:

Dear Doctor:

Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit comes to man at his full emersion baptism. Why do you subtract from the Word by not teaching therefore that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Please don't ignore this pointed scriptural question but address why you feel you know more than what the scriptures teach and have chosen to "subtract from the Word" by suggesting in your writings that adult full emersion baptism isn't necessary.

Respectfully submitted, in Christ,

His and your servant,

Response #4:

If I may ask you a question in return, where does scripture teach that "the Holy Spirit comes to man at his full immersion baptism"?

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill


Question #5:

Dear Robert:

Please stop kicking against the goads? Please keep this in mind as you read: Only apostles had the right to determine unilaterally: doctrine, policy, decision and interpretation of scripture and they received this through the Holy Spirit of God. You are sadly in error on several points:

#1. The point of Jesus' baptism is His "submission" … for when God incarnate submits to baptism … it clearly shows that no one is exempt! Jesus was making a "point" … it has nothing to do with Jesus having any sins! God Himself was establishing the pattern to be followed for all those seeking to enter the church & kingdom. Therefore, why would any one dare attempt to enter the church/kingdom by any other way than that established by God?

#2. You ask: "What other single baptism could this be other than that of the Spirit?" Well, Peter answers that question: (1 Peter 3:21) "…and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you, also- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him." Did you get that? When we are baptized, it symbolizes that we took part in Jesus' death, resurrection and His present ruling in Heaven (i.e. He is the first fruit … when we are baptized, we are baptized into Him and become a part of Him and He is in us by the Holy Spirit, which comes to us at baptism!)

#3. You say: "The book of Acts is a historical book rather than an epistle." Note – I think you mean no doctrine is present in Acts. Once again, you are in error. (2 Timothy 3:16) says: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." The importance of the book of Acts is that it explains explicitly how one enters the church & kingdom – through submission to baptism as the Lord gave us His example!

#4. You say: "Things had changed dramatically after the cross and with the coming of the Spirit, but it would take some time before he (i.e. Peter) and the other believers fully "got it". Wrong again! Peter was told by Jesus that when the helper, the counselor came He would explain all things to them! Robert, if you believe that Peter and the other Apostles didn't know what they were doing with the help of the Holy Spirit, than you are not believing in the Word of God and if you are not believing that "All Scripture is God-breathed" than you are not a true Christian! Christian are those who submit to every Word of God …. Not those who think they can pick and choose what they want to believe and practice … for … those so called Christian would be "adding to" and "subtracting from the Word of God." (Dt. 4:2; Rev. 22:18,19).

#5. Once again, you do not believe God's Holy Spirit was leading the Apostle Peter when you say: "Once again Peter was behind the learning curve for God has just undeniably demonstrated that water is no part of the equation…" Note – You say this in reference to (Acts 10:44-46). Robert you do not understand the difference between the "Ontological gift" of the Holy Spirit and the "Phonological gifts" of the Holy Spirit. The Ontological gift (note – gift is singular) of the Holy Spirit is the generic Holy Spirit that we all receive at full emersion baptism and the Phonological gifts (note – gifts is plural) of the Holy Spirit are those extraordinary (sometimes miraculous) gifts that God gives to certain individuals on unique occasions when God wants it to be known that what just happened was from God and not from man. The Phonological gifts were present at Pentecost for example to show they came from God; they were present when the gentile were accepted into the church & kingdom at Cornelius' House and they were present in Acts 19: 1-7 when Paul instructed that the Holy Spirit only comes when baptized into Jesus and not John's baptism. Once again, the Holy Spirit comes at Jesus' baptism and the preceding examples indicate that at key times God would have phonological gifts present to indicate that what was happening was in deed coming from God and not from man! In all phonological cases, baptism by water immediately preceded the gifts or came within a few seconds after exhibiting the phonological gifts! Once again, you stand corrected!

Lastly, you say: "I myself am inclined not to make an issue of this ritual of water baptism at all…" … the reason of course is the burden of scriptural proof that stands up against you!

You and I will only agree if we both accept "all" of God's Word as "God-breathed." As it is now…. I do …. BUT ….. you pick and choose! I see part of your stubbornness due to PRIDE. I have read much of what you write on your web pages, one thing hits me right in the face, and that is the Pride. You never once "qualify" any thing that you say. You speak as if you are God (robbing God of his glory) and you infer that unless one agrees with you, they are outside the body of Christ. The two greatest commandments are loving God (vertically) and loving ones neighbor (horizontally). Scripture indicates one cannot love God without showing love for his neighbor. If one never says: this is my opinion, or this scripture seems to say to me, etc., etc, one infers that he speaks for God hence robbing God of His glory and at the same time, when one doesn't qualify what they are saying, they drive a wedge between themselves and the brothers by inferring if we don't agree with you, we are outside the body of Christ. Pride in its rawest form is this: Wanting things my way! I have attempted to share with you what the Holy Spirit has shared with me over the last 25 years of study. I sense that you can learn nothing from anyone because pride prevents your heart from listening. If you allow your heart to listen to what is being said here, and be a Berian and check the scripture without prejudice, the Holy Spirit will help you liked he helped Peter. Maybe the reason you are not willing to accept what is being shared here, is that you haven't submitted to water baptism and receiving the gift (and the help) of the Holy Spirit? This is something worth thinking about.

Once again, this is my understanding which I feel I have been encouraged by the Holy Spirit to share with you for your betterment.

Respectfully submitted, His and your servant, a watchman of His Word,

Response #5:

You write, "only apostles had the right to determine unilaterally: doctrine, policy, decision and interpretation of scripture and they received this through the Holy Spirit of God". How true! I assume that you are not claiming to have apostolic authority. Therefore this principle applies equally to us both. As to the point by point:

#1. You write that the "The point of Jesus' baptism is His "submission"". Scripture does not say precisely why Jesus insisted on being baptized, but I do agree that His baptism was symbolic of His submission to the will and the plan of God for His life, that is, for the purpose for which He was sent into this world, namely, to die for our sins. Jesus had no sin, so His going into the water (where the sins of the world had been symbolically 'washed off') is a clear symbol of Him identifying Himself with those sins in the taking on of those sins in the darkness on the cross (He calls the cross a "baptism": Mk.10:38-39; Lk.12:50); and the appearance of the Spirit and the voice of the Father proclaiming His victory upon His coming up out of the water is a clear picture not only of His empowerment by the Spirit, but of His resurrection and the glorification that would follow the cross (Lk.3:22). Therefore the symbolism of Jesus' baptism is unique. This doesn't establish any kind of a "pattern" because only Jesus was without sin, and only He went to the cross, and only He has been resurrected so far. The coming of the Spirit upon Him was a tangible demonstration and real harbinger of what we have to look forward to when we believe, namely, the gift of the Spirit which could not be given until Christ had been glorified (Jn.7:39). As for "entering the kingdom of heaven", Jesus told us "I am the way and the truth and the life" (Jn.14:6); salvation comes through faith in Him, not through water baptism. Matt.28:19-20, in addition to referring to Spirit baptism, is addressed to the apostles and is talking about evangelism which produces faith and the baptizing of the new believers into the Persons of the Trinity which now results (Rom.8:9; see the link: "The Great Commission").

#2. Here is a correct translation of 1st Peter 3:21 directly from the Greek text:

And it is this true baptism [of the Spirit] which saves you (lit. as an "antitype" or analogy to the ark's bringing of "salvation through water"). Not any [literal] washing away of filth from your flesh, but an appeal to God for a clean conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (i.e., repentance and faith result in Spirit baptism).
1st Peter 3:21

The word "water" does not occur in any of the manuscripts, major or minor, and not even the KJV uses the word. The NIV, from which it seems you have drawn your quotation, is notorious for putting things in which aren't there. Occasionally, this helps to clarify an elliptical text, but at other times, as here, it substitutes the interpretation of the translator for what the Bible actually says. Peter's whole point in this passage cannot be understood apart from a consideration of the beginning of his analogy in verse 18 where He tells us that our Lord, while put to death "in His body" was made alive "by the Spirit". The whole point, therefore, is of the supremacy of the Spirit over the flesh and the material things of this world. In other words, as applied to our discussion, the baptism of the Spirit is indispensable, while earthly rituals which only represent spiritual realities are far less so: "not the washing off of filth from your flesh" (water baptism) "but an appeal to God for a clean conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (i.e., repentance and faith result in Spirit baptism) is what saves us. For more on this passage, please see the link: "The Baptism which now Saves You"

#3. Of course the book of Acts is the Word of God (as I said); of course it is "profitable for teaching and reproof". But that does not mean that one can throw hermeneutics out the window when one attempts to interpret the book. Acts is historical. That means that it records what happened accurately. Now since human beings are sinful by nature, any book that records accurately human actions is going to capture at least some actions which are not in the will of God (and so should not be taken as acceptable to God). I gave you the example of the election of Matthias. Everyone who has read the Bible understands that Jesus picked the 12, and also that Jesus picked Paul. So how can Matthias be an apostle? Clearly he cannot and is not. Paul went up to Jerusalem and subsidized the dedication of several young men in a Jewish rite which is just the sort of thing he later criticizes severely in the book of Hebrews. Therefore what Peter did in Acts 1, while understandable and perhaps forgivable, was nevertheless not necessarily a pattern that we are meant to repeat. Every incident reported in Acts has to be interpreted individually.

#4. Beyond all argument, we all have to grow in faith, knowledge and practice. No one in the history of the world was ever given the truth on a silver platter. Even our Lord, though without fault and sin of omission or commission in any way, had to "learn [what] obedience [required] through what He suffered" (Heb.5:8); even Jesus had to grow up and learn the truth of scripture (cf. His quotations of Deuteronomy to the devil: Matt.4:1-10). He continued to prepare spiritually and was 30 years old before He began His earthly ministry that would end in our salvation at Calvary. Peter, therefore, cannot be an exception to this universal pattern, so that we can say with full assurance his understanding of all of the implications of the coming of Spirit was not complete the day it happened based upon his previous understanding of the Old Testament regime (as he himself certainly implies at 1Pet.1:10-12; cf. 2Pet.3:`6). Paul tells us in Galatians that Peter was wrong in respect to his legalistic behavior at Antioch – and that was well after most of these early examples of water baptism (Gal.2:11-16). Peter, in short, while one of the greatest believers who ever lived, was not perfect, and in the book of Acts we are given to witness his growth, as for example the education he receives from God about going in to the gentiles – he already had the Spirit, but he didn't yet understand the principle of the expansion of the gospel to the entire world (Acts 10). We all have to grow spiritually, and we all do so through the Spirit with the Word – there is no other way (and that was true for the greatest believers in history, for the apostles, and even for our Lord in His humanity).

#5. "Ontological gift" VS. "Phonological gifts": Peter says "they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have" (Acts 10:47); in verse 44 it says "the Holy Spirit came upon them"; and in verse 45 it says "the gift (singular) of the Holy Spirit had been poured out". Nowhere does scripture make the kind of distinction that you are trying to make. There is no way that the passage in Acts 10 could make it any clearer that these gentiles received the exact same Spirit baptism "just as we have". The events in Cornelius' house are precisely parallel to what happened at Pentecost (this is the gentile Pentecost). Spirit baptism follows genuine faith in Jesus Christ. It is all about spiritual reality, not ritual.

#6. Pride and prejudice: We can all afford to be more humble. But I do object to your evidence for the terrible pride you seem to find in my studies. I have spent longer than the 25 years you rely upon working on this ministry; I took the trouble to give up a career, go back to school, get a second B.A., two M.A.s, and a Ph.D. precisely so that I might be properly equipped to do what I am doing. In all of this, I have always sought to put the scripture first, not what I "want" - and believe me when I say that there have been many times when I have had to get rid of preconceived ideas and prejudices when it came to what I had thought the Bible said on particular subjects before I found out the truth (and there was often a "price to pay" in fellowship for these changes). Getting to the truth is not automatic. I am happy that you are sharing, but in the end it is not about you or me but about the truth of the Word of God. It has always been my policy to try and get to heart of the truth on any particular matter and when I have to share that truth. When I do write, therefore, I do write as with authority for that authority is scripture's authority and not my own. I make a definite point as you can see from this correspondence ever to provide the scriptures, the arguments, the parallels, and analysis that form the basis for what I write. If a person wants to disagree, that is fine. If they want to do it directly to me, I am here ready to defend my positions and also to receive instructions in the event that I have overlooked something and gotten something wrong.

What I would wish to say to you on all this is that I very well understand the temptation of wanting to have something like water-baptism as a tangible building block for faith. This is a very natural human thing, and the reason why the Roman Catholic church, for example, has so many of them. The problem is that our faith has to based on spiritual truth, not man-made rituals. There were many rituals in Old Testament times, and reviving them is a mistake (cf. the book of Hebrews). I have indeed been water-baptized (by both sprinkling, re-sprinkling, and full immersion), and I can tell you from the heart that these were nothing but stumbling blocks and added nothing to my spiritual life. In a way, they were insults to the Spirit by whom I had been sealed in Jesus Christ from the moment I first put my faith in Him. Water baptism, when people make an issue of it and claim that it is any way necessary for salvation or spiritual growth, is an invitation to the worst sort of legalism.

As to motivations, I am willing to wait for the final judgment when the secrets of all hearts are revealed. I would ask you to consider doing the same. If we wish to be His servants, that requires many things, many sacrifices, but beyond everything else it requires a dedication to following His truth, the truth of the Word of God, what that is in fact, regardless of what we may think or hope it to be.

Respectfully submitted in the Name and in the cause of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #6:

Hi again Doc!

Is the Great Commission for all believers? Or just pastors?

Response #6:

The term, "the Great Commission" is, of course, not in the Bible. Jesus gave quite a number of commands to the apostles in the last days leading up to His passion and also after the resurrection. Matthew 28:18-20, which is often dubbed "the Great Commission", has gotten much more play that the other words of our Lord, especially in Baptist circles, but there is no good reason to put more emphasis upon this passage than on, say, John chapter 21. If scripture is true, and it is, then there will be no contradictions between passages correctly understood. I think the reason that the end of Matthew is so emphasized by many is twofold:

1) Matthew 28:18-20 is often (wrongly) taken to be a support for water baptism. But of course the Church is empowered by the baptism of the Spirit, and it was this baptism that John's baptism looked forward to (i.e., "I baptize you with water, but [Jesus] will baptize you with the Spirit and with fire": Matt.3:11; Lk.3:16). Spirit baptism which places us into union with Christ, His "Name" or Person, is what is in view in Matthew 28:18-20.

2) Matthew 28:18-20 is often (correctly) taken as a mandate to evangelize the gentiles and not just the Jews. However, this passage is about more than just personal evangelism and exotic missions activity. At the core of this passage is "making them students/disciples" and "teaching them", something that is generally entirely overlooked. This "commission" envisions not only the entrance into the state of initial faith in Christ, but the provision of a system of support for the spiritual growth necessary for becoming spiritually mature and solid in the faith. The main gripe I have with "Great Commission" teaching is that the way it is generally interpreted is "give the gospel and then baptize with water when they believe", whereas in fact the passage means "lead to Christ (which results in the gift of the Spirit) and then give the spiritual food they need to grow". The idea that we are supposed to tell someone how to enter into Christ but not teach them how to follow Him thereafter through teaching them everything about the Bible is not only non-biblical but very dangerous. This practice has led to many evangelists counting coup over all the believers they've "made", when these people are only going to fall away for lack of spiritual food and direction very shortly afterwards.

So to answer your question, leading people to the Lord and helping them grow spiritually is the task of the entire Body of Christ – that's God's plan for the Church. We all have a role to play, with different gifts from the Spirit, different ministries from our Lord, and different effects of those ministries from the Father (1Cor.12:4-6). Matthew 28:18-20 is saying the same things that the entire rest of the New Testament (and the Bible as a whole, for that matter) is saying: once you believe and grow up yourself, help others do likewise. In so doing, there will be different jobs for each of us to do. Not everyone is an evangelist. Not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone is supposed to be a missionary to some foreign country (and especially not a two week missionary). So while I have no problem with a statement that says "the Great Commission is for us all" in principle, in very many cases I would strenuously object to many of the suppositions which I know from experience lie below the surface of this non-biblical phrase.

In our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #7:

I would think that most people don't agree with infant baptism, but I did ask several friends to give an overview of it, because in their opinion it's just a difference of interpretation of scripture

(hermeneutics) and should viewed as such and not as something that would keep a Baptist from taking communion with, say a devout Presbyterian who has been baptized as an infant. He said:

"I would like to see scriptural evidence for infant baptism, then after the scriptures have been presented in support of infant baptism, I will definitely listen to outside sources. The idea that I have is that you must be a strong adherent to "Tradition" to be able support infant baptism. And I have an aversion to tradition for the sake of tradition."

Response #7:

I'm not an advocate of water baptism period since it was a transitional ritual that has now been superseded by the baptism of the Spirit (i.e., "For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Spirit not many days from now": Acts 1:5). I don't know of any evidence whatsoever for infant baptism. But the fact that throughout the great majority of the Christian centuries nearly all baptism was infant baptism (except in the case of conversions) does speak to my point that putting any stock in water baptism is a mistake (see the link: Is water baptism required for Christians today?). For over a thousand years almost no adult Christians were water baptized and it didn't stop faith or the Faith. The Reformation brought adult baptism back because of the problem with the symbolism of infant baptism (i.e., no free will could be involved on the child's part), but they would have done better to pay attention to our Lord's words and stop doing the one without replacing it with the other (in my view, for what it's worth). As it is, water baptism, and arguments over its modes, types, meaning, etc. have done more to split the Church and separate believers over what is really a non-issue (except to the degree that people erroneously think it is necessary) than possibly any other single non-biblically authorized ritual.

There is one body and One Spirit - just as when you were called it was in one hope that you were called. There is One Lord [Jesus Christ], one faith, one baptism. (i.e., if not of the Spirit, then what?). There is One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6 

In Jesus who is the truth,

Bob L.

Question #8:

I have never been baptized before and was thinking about doing it. I have been saved for a few years now but have held back. Is there a time limit wherein we should be baptized? Or should we be baptized immediately following conversion?

Response #8:

Actually, as a believer in Jesus Christ you have already been baptized – with the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:9-11). The baptism of the Spirit is the baptism that the greatest water-baptizer of all prophesied, for although John baptized with water, John prophesied that Jesus would forgo the water baptism he was doing and instead "baptize you with the Spirit" (Matt.3:11). And Jesus has baptized us with the Spirit according to His promise to the apostles just prior to His ascension (Acts 1:8; cf. Acts 2). Since we have the important baptism, the baptism of power and reality wherein God the Holy Spirit lives in us, it begs the question of what point there may now be to being water baptized. Many point to "the Great Commission", but as I have detailed before, the baptism in Matthew 28:19 is also the baptism of the Spirit which occurs when we "make a disciple" of someone by leading them to Jesus Christ. That is why Paul can say "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel" (1Cor.1:17), because in preaching the gospel hearing leads to faith and faith to reception of the Spirit. Water baptism is John's baptism and the time and place and essential meaning of that ministry which "prepared the way" for the Messiah, looking forward to His revelation has long since passed (since Jesus has been revealed, died for us, and has been resurrected, ascended and seated at the Father's right hand). Those who water-baptize today generally cannot give a good explanation of the symbolism or purpose for it because there is in fact no current purpose and therefore any symbolism has to be invented, not being biblical. For this reason, I cannot recommend water baptism. As it is currently employed in the church-visible, it is very often used as a means of control rather than being endued with any true spiritual significance (i.e., it has become a hoop to jump through). If you are saved, why do you need the water? And if you are not saved, the water will not help – only faith in Jesus can help. While the argument may perhaps be made that water baptism "can't do any harm", that is not necessarily the case. To the extent that a person is "guilted into it" or actually believes it has something to do with salvation or spirituality, the negative spiritual consequences will be there – it's just a matter of degrees. This is another topic upon which I have spilled much ink. Please see the following links:

Baptism and following Jesus

One Baptism

The Baptism which now Saves You

Is baptism necessary for salvation?

Is water baptism required for Christians today?

Foot-washing, Bitter Herbs, Baptism, and Borrowed Faith.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from speaking in tongues.

An Extended Conversation about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Sin, Baptism, and the Book of Revelation.

Baptism and Salvation

Does baptism play a role in being born again?

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #9:

I have a question on baptism. I understand that baptizing is the 1st step in obedience, after showing meet for repentance just as John the Baptist declared. Is it true that baptizing someone while they're living in sin is human reasoning, and is not found in the Bible? And what if the person says they're saved and living in sin, but wants to be baptized?

Response #9:

In my view the question is moot because water baptism went out with the apostles (actually, went out before they did). Water baptism was a very temporary and early apostolic means of mediating the baptism of the Spirit. I do not believe there is a place for it in the Church today. John told us that Jesus would "baptize with the Spirit" and that is indeed what Jesus did (He never baptized anyone with water Himself: Jn.4:2). As the Church developed, the Spirit began to be given even without water baptism (cf. Peter and Cornelius and his household), so that by the time of writing of 1st Corinthians, Paul is clearly dismissive of the practice. That is, Jesus sent Paul to proclaim the gospel (whereby the Spirit is received), not to baptize with water (which leads to the conclusion that baptizing with water is not part of the gospel: 1Cor.1:17). By the time of Acts 19:1-7, for example, we find that the entire reason why Paul interrogates people about baptism is not to make sure they have been immersed in water (that is John's baptism which looked forward to the coming of the Messiah who by this time had come, had lived, had died on the cross, had been resurrected, ascended into the presence of the Father and been glorified), but to make sure they had received the Holy Spirit. By the time of Romans 8:10, Paul can say that everyone who is a believer has the Spirit (so that even within Paul's lifetime the "mediation" aspect had been replaced by what would be the universal experience in the Church after the apostles: universal Spirit baptism on faith in Christ). That is how things stand today. There is only "one baptism" (Eph.4:5) – the baptism of the Holy Spirit which all believers experience upon faith in Jesus producing 1) our unification with Christ (the "by the Spirit" part = in Christ/one with Christ/union with Christ) and 2) the indwelling of the Spirit within us (the "with the Spirit" part = unction/sealing/pledge).

While water baptism may not be wrong per se, it is certainly used in very disturbing ways by all groups of which I am aware who (wrongly) teach its necessity. Our Lord, in Matthew 28:19, anticipates the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, and this, in my view, is the reason why He uses the unique wording which indicates not some formula to be pronounced, but rather our actually being entered "into the Person" of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – something that can only be done by God. This was mediated by the apostles (to whom this command is given) during the early days of the Church in order to establish their authority, but as pointed out above can be seen to be happening automatically upon faith in Christ even before the end of the book of Acts. There is, of course, much more to say on this somewhat thorny subject, and not all I have to say is yet "in print", but please do have a look at the following links:

Baptism and following Jesus

The Baptism which now Saves You

Is baptism necessary for salvation?

Is water baptism required for Christians today?

Foot-washing, Bitter Herbs, Baptism, and Borrowed Faith.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from speaking in tongues.

An Extended Conversation about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Sin, Baptism, and the Book of Revelation.

Baptism and Salvation

Does baptism play a role in being born again?


In our Lord.

Bob L.

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