By Ed Stevens
"Study to show thyself approved unto God,
a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,
rightly dividing the Word of truth."
II Tim. 2:15
SCIENCE AND RELIGION which occupy men's thoughts and actions so extensively,
stand in glaring contrast as to all important issue
of unity of mind and endeavor. While professing
Christendom in multitudinous religious organizations
and sects is filled with confusion and
discord, in the realm of science
mutual agreement and cooperation is
generally found to prevail. There is really no excuse for
such delinquency in religion and the cause of
it is not hard to find. The Bible
repeatedly exhorts and commands
believers to be of one mind and discernment, stressing
the fact that thus the world will more
readily be brought to a saving faith
in the Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:10;
John 17:21). No divine commands are given
without consideration of man's
ability to perform them. Hence defaulters
are without excuse.
The belief is popular that everyone has a right to his own interpretation of the Bible's contents. Not so! All true and final interpretation of the Bible is the prerogative only of the Author of this Book, the Holy Spirit, and must be received from Him alone. "For what man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God," (I Cor. 2:11).
God's Word is quite understandable and complete. "Seek ye out of the Book of the Lord and read . . .," Isa. 34:16. Personal study brings satisfaction, joy and peace to every diligent seeker having ears to hear and a humble heart to believe. All such can answer the oft heard cry of despair: "Who is right anyway" with, "God is right" and can bring true doctrine to light by simply comparing Scripture with Scripture with amazing efficiency and clarity.
Causes of Division
The confusion and division in Christendom can be traced to two major causes. The first and foremost is pride. This baleful trait has ever prohibited mutual and self-effacing submission to truth but incites rather a carnal choosing and clinging to beliefs which can be proved to be mere traditions of men and without Scriptural foundation. It is pointedly stated in Proverbs 13:10 that: "Only by pride cometh contention." Also through pride and love of gain many incompetent and often unsaved would-be religious leaders arise seeking honor from men and teaching things they ought not for filthy lucre's sake, leading many astray (see John 5:44, 2 Peter 2:1-3, Acts 20:30).
The second cause of confusion can be found in neglecting to note and use the divinely provided key to correctly understand the Bible. It is found in 2 Timothy 2:15: "Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed (or confounded), rightly dividing the word of truth." Since God's Word speaks of and deals with three classes of people: Jew, gentile, and church of God (I Cor. 10:32), we must rightly divide here and take note of who is speaking in Scripture, to whom is he speaking (to which of these three classes of people), about whom is he speaking, in or about which dispensation is he speaking, and on whose authority is he speaking, his own or God's. For example in Ecclesiastes Solomon speaks on his own authority: "I applied my heart to seek and to search out by (my) wisdom," Ecc. 1:13. Some false doctrines have been deduced from this part of the Bible through failing to note who is speaking and that the human heart is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it" (Jer. 17:9). Hence more confusion.
Contrary to the general belief that from cover to cover of the Bible God speaks to and deals with all mankind in general, the fact is that by far the greater portion of it deals with the Jewish nation only, mentioning other nations only as they came into contact with the nation Israel. Exclusive of the poetical books, Job to Song of Solomon, it is true that from Gen. 12 where Abraham the forefather of Israel is introduced, to the 10th chapter of Acts, only the Jewish nation is addressed and historically recorded as being the special chosen people of God. When this favored nation rejected Jesus Christ as her Messiah she, as were the nations prior to Gen. 12, was set aside though temporarily, during this present dispensation of the Church which is Christ's Body. In God's foreknowledge Christ began to build His Church at Pentecost (Acts 2), but not until Acts 10 is it recorded that the first gentiles were converted and joined (by the Lord) to this newly formed "one body." The apostolic epistles fill out the rest of the Bible but it is important to know that only to the apostle Paul was directly given the full revelation concerning the Church, as to identity, worship and walk (Ephes. 3:1-9). Paul being "the apostle to the gentiles" (Romans 11:13, 15:16; I Tim. 2:7), his epistles therefore comprehensively embrace the whole counsel of God for us in this present dispensation or economy of God. In this brief summary on rightly dividing God's Word please remember that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works," (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). In diligently and prayerfully applying this rule of rightly dividing or partitioning, or disjointing God's Word of truth one will find it to be delightfully clear and simple to understand and also most interesting.
For one to make the assertion that the bulk of professing Christianity has for nearly nineteen hundred years been mixed with Judaism is not mere egotism, for investigation of facts and the rightly divided scriptures prove this to be true. By Judaism is meant "the Jews' religion" (Gal. 1:13). It consisted in "eating and drinking and diverse baptisms and carnal ordinances imposed on them (Israel) until a time of setting things straight" (Heb. 9:10 Young's Lit. Trans.). Few preachers and Bible teachers seem to possess the enlightening knowledge that this setting things straight unto pure Christianity was not declared to and imposed upon Jewish Christians during the entire book of Acts period, or until thirty years after the cross. It was revealed in Paul's prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus and Hebrews, all written after that date. These explain the breaking down of the "middle wall of partition" between Jew and gentile, making "of twain one new man" (Eph. 2:14, 15). Bible searching here has been displaced by the mere traditional supposition that all knew, after Christ's crucifixion, that Judaism as a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ had served its purpose and was therefore then and there to be abolished. No, no. God nowhere and at no time during the first thirty years of the church told Israel to cease Judaism, and never did he enjoin gentile Christians to become Jewish proselytes, partaking of Jewish "baptisms and carnal ordinances." Search and see for yourself. "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good" (I Thes. 5:21). (The case of Cornelius will claim our attention later).
In Acts 21:20-26 we find the apostles and elders declaring in the 27th year of the church, that there were "many thousands of Jews which believe" who were "all zealous of the law" and that they were misinformed about Paul teaching the Jews scattered among the nations to forsake Judaism. Notice especially the 25th verse, "as touching the gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing." This had been decided at the Holy Spirit's direction in the synod at Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15 and was never changed. The first gentiles were saved eight years after the cross (Acts 10). In the ensuing eleven years many gentiles were saved and the imperative question—should they embrace Judaism's external religion, or worship God in spirit only, must be settled once and for all. (The "Parthians, Medes," etc. of Acts 2:9-11 were not gentiles as many think, but foreign born "Jews and proselytes" come to Jerusalem to keep the feast of Pentecost). For eight years the Word was preached "to Jews only" (Acts 11:19; 13:46).
Please notice verses 14, 28, 29 of Acts 15: "Simeon
(Peter) hath declared how God did first visit the gentiles
to take out of them a people for his name. It seemed
good to us and the Holy Spirit to lay upon you (gentiles)
no greater burden than these necessary things, that ye abstain from meats
offered to idols, and from blood, and
from things strangled, and from fornication, from which
if you keep yourselves ye shall do well."
The book of Acts is a mere history of the transition from Judaism to pure Christianity. Great confusion arises in making Acts a doctrinal book. This copying the religious practice of Acts characters regardless of what Paul's inspired epistles teach us is utterly wrong and displeasing to God. How important it is to observe these things as we "rightly divide the word of truth." It facilitates bringing order out of chaos and uniting believers in "one body (church) and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:4, 5). It brings light and significance to Paul's warning and declaration in Phil. 3:2: "Beware of dogs (a reference to 'blind and ignorant watchmen,' see Isa. 56:10, 11), beware of evil workers, beware of the concision (Judaizers). For we are the circumcision (of the heart, Rom. 2:29; Col. 2:11) who worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh" (or in "outward ceremonies," Wey. Tr.)
Religion is external and disparagingly spoken of in scripture. Christianity is internal, a regenerated condition of heart and mind. Small wonder that hopeless confusion exists in religious creeds and dogmas which are unauthorized of God and therefore lack clear explanation and support in his Word. For example, a person gets saved through God's sole requirement of believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit bears witness with his spirit that he is a child of God and complete in Christ (Rom. 8:16; Col. 2:10). He is filled with peace and joy. He meets a preacher who asks him if he has been baptized. He replies, "No." He is solemnly instructed to be baptized by sprinkling. Another preacher says it must be by immersion. Still another counsels to be immersed not once but three times. Some say baptism is essential to salvation, others say it is not. Is it surprising the convert is dismayed and disgusted with such disunity among God's people and their failure to "all speak the same thing with no divisions but perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same discernment?" "God is not the author of confusion but of peace," (I Cor. 1:10; 14:33).
It is the writer's endeavor by God's grace, apart from any ulterior motive or any sectarian connection whatever, to bring hope, light and life to every reader of these pages and to bring Christians together in true and united fellowship before the world. Full well he knows that the truths presented herein stand in opposition to the mixed theology of the masses and of the centuries but he has the divine assurance that "faith cometh by hearing and (this) hearing by the Word," not human reasonings (Rom. 10:17). "Cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isa. 2:22).
1. Water Baptism
Since water baptism has been a chief source of religious confusion and division this subject should claim our careful attention. Tragically, millions have gone into a Christless eternity being led to believe that this rite took away sin and assured them an entrance into heaven, having never received Christ as their personal Savior and Redeemer. Great is the responsibility in teaching God's Word (see James 3:1, R. V.). It is emphatically declared throughout God's Word that salvation rests in a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, not in a deed or "works." Christ's blood alone washes away sin (I John 1:7; Rev. 1:5). "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life and he that believeth not on the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abideth on him." John 3:36. What must we believe concerning God's Son to be saved? A clear answer is given in I Cor. 15:1-5, "Moreover brethren, I declare unto you the gospel (good news) which I preached unto you which also ye have received and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures; and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve." "For by grace (undeserved favor) are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast," (Eph. 2:8, 9).
It is much heard that we must "follow Christ in baptism," for he said in Matt. 3:15, "Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." Yet we read in Titus 3:5, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration (a being born again) and renewing of the Holy Spirit." No contradiction here if we "rightly divide the word of truth," for Christ being a Jew (John 4:9) born under the law, or 0. T. (Gal. 4:4), as a minister to the circumcision—Israel (Rom. 15:8), speaks in Matt. 3:15 to and concerning the Jewish nation only. He had perfectly kept the law for thirty years and now as an Israelite he obeys "the counsel of God" for Israel at this time, to be baptized of John the Baptist (Luke 7:30). Christ thus fulfilled all the righteousness of the law in submitting also to this Mosaic water baptizing imposed on Israel at this particular time of his first coming.
To Israel it was said in Deut. 6:25, "It shall be our righteousness if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God as he hath commanded us." Thus Christ said, "It becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." This implied perfect fulfilling of all God's laws, or being ever right with God. Only Christ qualified here for it is written, "both Jews and gentiles are all under sin; there is none righteous, no not one" (Rom. 3:9, 10). Behold then, and believe the good news of God's grace that if we believe with the heart that Christ died for our sins and lived a sinless life for us, in our place, we will receive the gift of eternal life, escaping the wages of sin which is death, or eternal separation from God. (Rom. 6:23). God hath "made him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21). "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in his sight," (Isa. 64:6). "Now we know that whatsoever the law saith it saith to them who are under the law (or who put themselves under it), that every mouth may be stopped and all the world become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified (saved) for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested—which is by faith in Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe for there is no difference for all have sinned and come short of the glory (holiness) of God. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth," (Rom. 3:19-23; 10-4). Oh believe, unsaved reader, that just as all your sins were put upon Christ on the cross, so all his righteousness and perfect sinlessness is put upon you the moment you believe this blessed truth.
Getting back to water baptism—John's baptism was not Christian baptism, so-called, but purely Jewish. It was a continuation of the "divers baptizings" of Mosaic law while still under that law, or old covenant (Testament), and was "the counsel of God" for Israel at the time of her "visitation" by her promised Messiah, Jesus Christ (Luke 7:30; 19:44), the kingdom of heaven being "at hand." Its purpose was twofold: (1) "to make Christ manifest to Israel" (John 1:31), (2) to call Israel away from and outside the camp of her religious apostasy to repentance and confession of a need of cleansing from sin—symbolized in baptizing with water. This was a national prerequisite to receiving the Messiah and his kingdom—"prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Matt. 3:3).
Israel rejected her Messiah but even as they crucified him He prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." His request was granted. The Messiah and his kingdom were re-offered to Israel (Acts 3:19-21, cp. R. V.) during the thirty odd years covered by the book of Acts. Hence we find this Jewish pre-kingdom water baptism continued during this period.
Besides pre-kingdom water baptism being imposed on all un-baptized Jews during the Acts period, we find also believing Jews and the apostles too, going right on with circumcision, head-shaving, vows sacrifices, feast-days and Sabbath keeping (Acts 16:3; 18:18; 21:26). It is helpful to know this. It refutes the unscriptural teaching that circumcision was replaced by water baptism, for which no reference can be found. Why should one carnal rite replace another when they were only "shadows of good things to come" (Heb. 10:1) which things have arrived through the cross-work and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and are now blessed spiritual realities in him? When Israel was finally set aside (Rom. 11:1525; Acts 28:28), God gave full revelation concerning these "good things" and that all carnal ordinances as well as racial distinctions were to cease (Ephes. 2:14-16, written A. D. 63).
Peter's baptizing the first gentile converts as given in Acts 10 should be examined before discussing the word "baptism" in the epistles, for this chapter is much referred to in support of present day baptizing with water. The following six points will clarify this matter.
Cornelius was a devout man but unsaved—proof, chap. 11:14.
God gave Peter to know by the vision that the gentiles were "cleansed" and acceptable in his sight, v. • 15, 35. Israel was not positionally cleansed before God without ceremonial cleansing, which "sanctified to the purifying of the flesh" (Heb. 9:13), but the gentiles "which have not the law" are directly "sanctified (or positionally cleansed) by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 2:14; 15:16).
Peter's only knowledge of events ahead was that Cornelius and his company were to "hear words" from Peter, v. 21, 22, 29.
These "words" included only the preaching of the gospel—the death and resurrection of Christ, and that "whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins," v. 34-43.
God closed Peter's message in suddenly baptizing these people with His Holy Spirit, knowing they had believed with the heart and were thus saved, v. 44. The speaking in tongues, found only current in the Acts period, was God's fulfillment of Isa. 28:11, as being a sign to those of Israel "which believe not," while Israel was still on probation (see I Cor. 14:21, 22; 1:22).
Peter's "words" being interrupted, he now "answered" his Jewish companions: "Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?" "and he (not God) commanded them to be baptized—," v. 47, 48.
It is evident to all careful students of Scripture that neither Peter nor the other apostles knew what religious ceremonies, if any, God wanted put upon this new type of converts, the gentiles. Therefore the special conference at Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15. Peter had no instruction either from the Old Testament or from the Holy Spirit to baptize gentiles with water! Eleven years later the Holy Spirit gave decision to lay on them no such burdens of Judaism. Peter evidently acted on the law (Acts 15:5, 28), which we must remember demanded "divers baptisms" as well as circumcision (Heb. 9:8-10).
In chap. 11:16 we find him acknowledging that he had forgotten the Lord's words "how that He said, John indeed baptized with water but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
A word here about the usual argument as to the religious practice of the so-called "early Church." Looking elsewhere than to God's Word of truth is dangerously misleading. "Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin," (Rom. 10:17; 14:23). The record shows that apostasy flourished even in the days of the apostles, whose every epistle warns against false teachers. Man's inherent desire to walk by sight as in Judaism, initially prevailed however, so that Paul's revelation of the purely spiritual position and walk of believers as members of Christ's "one body," the Church, has ever been almost wholly ignored.
There has been more quibbling about mode of baptism than searching of God's Word as to the primary, uniform meaning of baptism and the varied usage of this word in Scripture. The word "baptize" does not invariably mean "to dip" as many affirm. It is a Greek word for which we have no English equivalent, so we must depend upon the context, compare Scripture and look to its Author the Holy Spirit to teach us the true meaning of this word wherever found. Thank God for the promise in John 16:13 and I John 2:27 that God's Spirit will guide us into all truth, we having no need that any man teach us.
2. Fire Baptism
The Bible connects baptism with water, fire, death and the Holy Spirit. The baptizing with fire mentioned in Matt. 3:11, is undoubtedly to occur at Christ's second coming when "He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire," v. 12. It is foretold in Mal. 4:1, "For behold the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble and the day that cometh shall burn them up saith the Lord of hosts." We read also in 2 Thes. 1:8, the Lord will come "in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." Yet some folks in sad and ludicrous ignorance sing and pray. "Lord send the fire!"
There was no baptism of fire at Pentecost. "Cloven tongues like as of fire sat upon each of them." (Acts 2:3). It never occurred again.
3. Death Baptism
God's Word has more to say about dry than wet baptism. In Luke 12:50 we find the Lord Jesus saying, about three years after his water baptism, "I have a baptism to be baptized with and how am I straightened till it be accomplished." He referred to his death on the cross, the greatest baptism of all time—the baptism for the remission of sin. He was baptized with the wrath of God for the sin of the world, being "made sin for us who knew no sin," as prophetically described in Ps. 42:7, "All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me." He paid in full the wages of our sin in dying for them when he cried in the agony of separation from the Father, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Since Christ's death was substitutionary, it is put to our account when we believe on him, as though we died with him (not like him). Hence we find Paul saying in Gal. 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me—," and also in Rom. 6:5, 6, "For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed." (R. V.). The baptism of Rom. 6:3, 4, is certainly spiritual baptism, linked simultaneously with Christ's death baptism of nineteen hundred years ago. It must be, to harmonize with our being saved by grace for we cannot be "baptized into Jesus Christ" by the "works" of water baptism. More on this later.
Christ's death baptism of Luke 12:50 is also clearly referred to in I Pet. 3:21. Noah's family of eight souls were saved in the ark through water, "Which also in the anti-type, even baptism [Christ's death baptism] doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (marginal reading). Just as Noah was safe and dry in the ark, which bore the water judgment of the flood, so the believer is safe in Christ his "Ark" who bore the downpour and billows of God's wrath, when he "bore our sins in his own body on the tree." This antitype saves us, not reform, or works, but faith in the death and "resurrection of Jesus Christ."
In I Cor. •15:29, Paul speaks of being "baptized for the dead." While many admit ignorance of this verse, some take it to mean water baptism and get themselves water baptized for departed souls. A glance at v. 19 will help us to get the true meaning of this seemingly difficult passage: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable", or "pitiable", R. V. We believers know from Rom. 6:1-6, that "our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" and that we must "put to death" the sinful desires of the flesh (Col. 3:5). See also Gal. 2:20; 6:14; Phil. 3:7, 8. However, we know too, that there will be a future resurrection, with rewards to be received and then a glorious eternal reign with Christ (II Tim. 2:12).
"Else what shall they do (what course shall they follow) which are baptized for the dead (Gr., `nekrown' =death'); if the dead (Gr., `nekroi'—`the dead generally') rise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead (`nekrown')?" It is the death baptism of "the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts" (Eph. 4:22), i.e., it is a changed condition of letting Christ be our life in place of the Adamic man. As to physical dangers endured for the work of the Lord, Paul argues further, "what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (v. 30-32).
4. Baptism of the Spirit
The so-called "Tongues Movement" is propagated by people who do not rightly divide the Word and who make Acts a doctrinal book. They teach that the Holy Spirit is still to be received with supernatural manifestations as in the Acts period and that the evidence of having received the Spirit is a speaking in tongues. They are on very dangerous ground for Satan is well able to counterfeit things God made to cease in the infancy of the Church, and thus many are ensnared and some even go insane. Able Bible expositors have been muddled on this subject simply because they did not see that as long as Israel was under probation during the Acts period the sign gifts of tongues, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, etc., were granted to believers, as found in I Cor. 14 and 12. These gifts were "powers of the age (or kingdom) to come" (Heb. 6:5)—the kingdom that was announced with accompanying miracles in the gospels and was re-offered to Israel in the Acts period (Acts 3:1921). This is the only logical, indisputable Scriptural understanding of the supernatural events at the beginning of the Church. How simple and clear it becomes when we rightly divide the Scriptures. Those who believe the kingdom is the Church cannot explain certain passages which militate against this error. Much kingdom truth, however, is applicable to the Church, even though it is not distinctly Church truth. The kingdom was postponed because of Israel's unbelief. "The whole world (still) lieth in the wicked one" (Satan), I John 5:19 (R. V.), in rebellion, "against the Lord and his Anointed" (Ps. 2:1-3).
Acts 19:1-7; 8:14-17 tells of twelve Jewish disciples of John the Baptist and the part Jewish Samaritans receiving the Holy Spirit by apostolic laying on of hands. When sign gifts ceased with Israel being set aside, the Holy .Spirit thereafter has been received by Jew and gentile in total absence of the supernatural, the moment they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Heb. 6:1, 2).
The expression "the Spirit fell on them," current in the Acts period, was subsequently replaced by the words "anointed" and "sealed" with the Spirit in God's later revelation to the Church. See II Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13, 14; 4:30; I John 2:27.
"The Great Commission"
Addressing his eleven disciples, the Lord Jesus in Matt. 28:19, 20 said, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the consummation of the age." (R. V. Mar.)
It is human to believe the majority must be right. This is exploited in modern advertising. However, the Bible proves this reasoning to be false in the spiritual realm, for the record shows that it was ever a small minority that humbly and submissively accepted God's truth. Therefore, it is utterly wrong and unsafe to assume that the belief and practice of the professing Church as a whole is infallible and proceeds from true interpretation of Scripture. "Prove all things" is the most neglected command in the Bible! Let us with open and unbiased mind study God's Word for ourselves, using the neglected key of "rightly dividing," as found in 2 Tim. 2:15, that we may be "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed," or confounded.
The following observations help us to arrive at definite conclusion as to whether the so-called "great commission" of Matt. 28 was given to the Church in this present dispensation or is yet to be carried out by the future Jewish remnant.
1. Divine revelation is progressive. We can see from Acts 1:6 that after Christ's resurrection the apostles' knowledge was still limited to kingdom truth only, as it was prophesied in the 0. T. and expounded by Christ. "When they therefore were come together they asked of him saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
2. The Lord said in Matt. 28:18, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore." Link this with Matt. 6:10, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Christ's reigning "power" becoming operative "on earth" depended on Israel's acceptance of Christ as her ascended Messiah. He was rejected. Hence we read in Heb. 2:8, written some thirty-odd years later, "But now we see not yet all things put under him."
3. Enlightenment concerning "the great commission" is increased as we remember that the Lord told these eleven apostles in Luke 24:47 to "preach in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Did they ever proceed further? There is no record of it in "the Acts of the Apostles." It is always: "the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1, 14; 11:1; 15:2).
4. A change in God's dealing became apparent for the Lord later raised up the apostle Paul as "the minister of the gentiles" saying to him, "I will send thee far hence to the gentiles," or nations (Acts 22:21). In Gal. 2:9 Paul wrote, "And when James, Peter and John who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the heathen ("all nations") and they unto the circumcision." Why this change from Matt. 28:19, 20? Simply because God saw that Israel as a nation was rejecting the re-offer of the kingdom. He would reveal in due time through Paul how in his foreknowledge he had planned to form of the little flock of believers at Pentecost and all believers since then, a mystical Body, the Church—"the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God" (Ephes. 3:9).
5. Instead of making "disciples of all nations," God is now taking "out of the nations a people for his name" (Acts 15:14). After this called out body of people, the church is completed, then the great commission of Matt. 28:19, 20, will be carried out and that by the future believing remnant of Israel whom we might say is represented by the eleven apostles in Matt. 28. Thus we read in Acts 15:15-18, "And to this agree the words of the prophets, as it is written: after this I (Christ) will return and will build again the tabernacle (throne) of David which is fallen down and will build again the ruins thereof and will set it up, that the residue of men might seek after the Lord and all the gentiles (nations) upon whom my name is called (i.e. 'the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,' as in. Matt. 28:19) saith the Lord who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." After the Church is completed and caught up "the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as t dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass' (Micah 5:7). This remnant, then fulfilling the great commission, "shall be named the Priests of the Lord; men shall call you the Ministers of our God" (Isa. 61:6). Truly, the world is yet to witness the greatest, triumphant missionary enterprise of all time. To say that Israel has no future place in God's plans shows blind ignorance. Proofs are copious, as Rom. 11:25-29, "For I would not brethren that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the gentiles be come in (Church completed). And so all Israel shall be saved (after rebels are 'purged out'—Ezek. 20:33-38) as it is written, there shall come out of Sion, the Deliverer and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for, this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. For the gifts and calling of God are not repented of." See also Jer. 31:31-37; 32:37-44.
6. "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (R. V.) The true meaning of this "baptizing" is more readily understood by examining a parallel passage in I Cor. 10:2, which tells us that the nation Israel was "baptized unto (or 'into' -margin) Moses in the cloud and in the sea." This was dry baptism for they passed through the sea on dry land. How was this nation baptized into its leader? Exodus 14:31 explains: "And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians and the people feared the Lord and believed the Lord and his servant Moses." Clearly, the words "baptized into Moses" are identical in meaning with believing on Moses. A changed condition is implied—a change from distrust and unbelief to confident belief and acceptance of Moses as their God-sent leader and deliverer.
Please note again, that the words "teach all nations baptizing them into the name," etc., are synonymous in meaning and not two separate actions, as is usually read into this passage as though it reads, "teach all nations and baptize them." It can be paraphrased thus: "teach all nations, thus bringing about in them a changed condition—from heathenism and agnosticism to enlightenment and acceptance of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as being the only true and living God." Just forget the traditional teaching and practice that for nearly nineteen hundred years the names of the Trinity have been pronounced in the water baptism ceremony. Do you find this "form" used in the Acts record? Never! Look forward, not backward, for God's Word declares that a changed condition in "all nations" will certainly come to pass through their hearing and accepting the message of the future Jewish remnant concerning the "name," i.e. the Persons of the God-Head—their interrelated existence, attributes and work, particularly in regard to man's redemption. Then "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" and then "all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (Isa. 11:9; Num. 14:21). Is this being brought about by the Church? Rather, the reverse is true as Post-Millenialists must admit, who teach that the Church must bring about kingdom conditions—a fully evangelized world, before Christ will return. No, Satan must first be bound and rebels destroyed. (Rev. 20:2, 19; 19:21).
Matt. 28:19 is identically the same as 24:14—"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come." Col. 1:23 declares that the gospel of God's grace to mankind "was preached to every creature under heaven." This was in Paul's day. Has "the end" come? No. The message for today is not "this gospel of the kingdom" but "the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24; Ephes. 3:2).
Our days are fast becoming "as it was in the days of Noah" and of Lot (Luke 17:26-29). As then—apostasy and prosperity before Judgment, so 'there is coming a time "when they shall say, peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them" (I Thes. 5:3).
One Baptism Today
In Ephes. 4:3-6 is given the present day seven-fold spiritual "unity of the Spirit": "There is one body (church), and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all and in all" (believers). Does Paul here refer to water baptism or to spiritual baptism? It can't be both. "Jesus himself baptized not (with water), but his disciples" (John 4:2). These disciples were ministers of the circumcision—Israel (Gal. 2:7-9). The apostle Paul was the minister of the gentiles and revealer of Church truth (Rom. 11:13; 15:16; I Tim. 2:7; Ephes. 3:1-9; Col. 1:24-27). This apostle said in I Cor. 1:17, "Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel."
Some dare to insert "water"—"one water baptism," in Ephes. 4:5. Such should read Prov. 30:6, "Add thou not to his words lest he reprove thee and thou be found a liar," and also Rev. 22:18. Such as these teach that the Spirit baptism which places believers in the Body was once for all at Pentecost. Two references prove this to be false teaching: Peter said in Acts 11:15, concerning gentile conversion some eight years after Pentecost, "And as I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning." We also read in John 1:33, Christ "baptizeth with the Holy Spirit"—present perfect tense, showing continuity (I. Cor. 12:13).
Yes, today there is but "one baptism" — spiritual baptism only. It will be found helpful to reflect on this simple contrast:
Water baptism was by man, the means being water —"unto repentance" only, a Jewish symbolism expressing their need of cleansing from sin.
Spiritual baptism is by the Lord himself, the means being the preached gospel ("the power of God unto salvation")—"for remission of sin," (simultaneously placing the believer in Christ's "one Body"—I Cor. 12:13) all former symbolism being fulfilled in Christ and "abolished" (Ephes. 2:15; Col. 2:14-18).
Now thoughtfully apply the latter contrast to the following passages coming up next for discussion: Mark 1:4; Acts 19:3-5; 2:38; I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3-6; Col. 2:12, using the rule of "rightly dividing the word of truth." It will become quite clear to the honest Bible reader that the primary, uniform meaning of baptism is, a changed condition—a metamorphosis.
The Bible was not written so that only "scholars” can understand it. All who "hunger and thirst after righteousness (rightness) shall be filled." "All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing crooked (wreathed) or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge. Have not I written unto thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, that I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth and that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?" (Prov. 8:8, 9; 22:20, 21).
"John did baptize in the wilderness and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins," (Mark 1:4). Here John the Baptist is seen doing two things. While he was symbolically baptizing men's bodies with water unto a wet physical condition, as they merely confessed their sins (v. 5), he was also preaching the need of having Jesus Christ baptize them unto a changed spiritual condition, calling it "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." The word "repentance" means "to have another mind." All men in their natural, unsaved state of proud self-righteousness need to have another mind in the conviction that their only hope for true righteousness and remission of their sins lies in believing the good news that this may be received as a free gift in Christ, since he "died for our sins according to the Scriptures," and imputes his righteousness to all who believe in him. "If ye believe not that I am he ye shall die in your sins," Christ said to unbelievers in John 8:24.
The above coincides exactly with Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved but he that believeth not shall be damned." It is impossible that this could refer to water baptism because faith plus works for regeneration is utterly foreign to God's Word. Many think that James 2:14-26 denies this. James simply points out that saving faith is a living faith, demonstrated as such by accompanying good works. Otherwise faith is "dead"—non-existent. "Though a man may say he hath faith and have not works, can that faith save him?" (v. 14 R. V.). The key is in verse 18, which states that you can't show or convince "a man" that you have true saving faith unless he can see the good works that invariably originate in and proceed from true living faith in Christ. Good works cannot be added to faith that by them one may keep himself "saved to the end," as so many believe. All who would be saved thus are still poor lost sinners, according to Gal. 5:4—"Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law (works); ye are fallen away from grace" (R. V.) "Are ye so foolish, having begun in the Spirit are ye now made perfect by the flesh? A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ,—for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. I do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ died for naught" (Gal. 3:3; 2:16, 21). Oh, beware of false assurance which definitely lacks God's Spirit "bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:16).
Acts 19:1-6 contains the same truth as Mark 1:4; 16:16. The twelve disciples Paul met at Ephesus confessed ignorance of all that had transpired after John the Baptist's ministry, which they evidently contacted before coming to Ephesus. So Paul asked them, "Into what then were ye baptized?" "They said, into John's baptism." Now to make this read, "We were baptized with water into John's water baptism," doesn't make sense, all will admit. The gospel of Christ had not yet reached them. So when Paul preached Christ to them, "they were baptized into the name (or Person) of the Lord Jesus," i.e., they were converted, which word means, "to turn again." They had progressed now to the truly changed condition of being saved — born again, through believing the glad tidings concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, that he was "delivered up for our offenses and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). They were baptized into Christ" by hearing and believing, just as Israel was "baptized into Moses" by seeing and believing (Exod. 14:31; I Cor. 10:2).
So it is in Gal. 3:27—"For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Spiritual baptism again. Who will not agree that thousands have been baptized with water but have never "put on" Christ. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lust" (Gal. 5:24). To be baptized into Christ is to be changed into the condition of being "in Christ." "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Furthermore, all who are "in Christ" have been inducted by him into his one Church (Acts 2:47). "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or gentiles, bond or free and have all been made to drink into one Spirit (i.e., have all received the Spirit" I Cor. 12:13). Spiritual baptism, of course. The moment we are saved our identity is changed. We become new creatures, inseparably united with every Christian in all the world as members of Christ's "one body," the Church, which is not a temporal organization but a spiritual organism.
Is Water Baptism Commanded Today?
In Acts 2:38 the spiritual "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" which John preached about but did not perform (Mark 1:4) appears: "Then said Peter unto them (men of Israel, v. 22), repent and be baptized every one of you into the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The context shows Peter bringing the Jews to the conviction that Jesus was not a criminal but that "God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ" (v. 36). To their anxious question, "What shall we do?" he replies, literally, and without the faintest allusion to water, "With contrition, have another mind and be changed in regard to Jesus Christ, believing on him for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." And so in verse 41 we read, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized (or, they therefore that believed his word were converted—turned, or changed from an ignorant, unbelieving condition of mind and heart to an enlightened, believing condition), and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls."
This given number of converts and the five thousand of Acts 4:4, was not a human estimate arrived at by a counting of noses. The Holy Spirit who only knows when men are truly saved, inspired Luke, the writer of Acts, to record these numbers.
Men have written many pages trying to prove pro and con whether three thousand people could be immersed or sprinkled in one day by the apostles. No, these people were simply "converted," just as were the five thousand of Acts 4:4, "which heard the Word and believed," after Peter had said also to them, 'Repent ye therefore and be converted (turn again, R. V.) that your sins may be blotted out," or "be changed unto the remission of your sins" (3:19). When we see that Acts 2:38, 41 and 3:19; 4:4 are exactly alike in Peter's urging the Jews to conversion, the words "be baptized" being used in the former reference and the words "be converted" in the latter reference, and were addressed not to gentiles but to Israelites, who had largely been already water baptized, we are justly amazed that almost universally Acts 2:38 is considered a command for water baptizing. Those who follow the late E. W. Bullinger of England not only believe two bodies were formed in or after the Acts period, but that two plans of salvation are given here, one for Jews, requiring water baptism in addition to faith in Christ (pointing to Acts 2:38 as referring to water baptizing) and one for gentiles for whom this water ceremony was unnecessary. No Bible teacher is trustworthy who fails to see that salvation is by grace only, for all men, as taught from cover to cover of the Bible.
At Paul's conversion the admonition was, "Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). How were his sins to be washed away? Not through the works of water baptizing, but by "calling on the name of the Lord," which means, to make decision, confess, or believe on the Lord. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10:9, 10, 13). "But ye are washed (spiritually), but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God," (I Cor. 6:11.) "Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to his mercy hath he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).
It is amazing that those who are clear on salvation by grace only will insist that Rom. 6:3-4 speaks of water baptizing. By thus annexing ceremonial works to God's spiritual work of grace described here, the Bible is made self-contradictory. Rom. 6 teaches that the moment we are saved we are identified with Christ in both his baptism of death on the cross (Luke 12:50; Matt. 20:22, 23) and his resurrected life. "Are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him (not like him) through baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death (a crucifixion) we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this that our old (Adamic) man was crucified with him that the body of sin might be done away, that we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin" (Rom. 6:3-7, R. V.).
The common understanding of this passage is that here water baptizing, particularly immersion, is made a "likeness" of Christ's death and resurrection, symbolizing in going under the water that one has died to the old life, and in raising from the water, that one has new life in Christ. It is a poor likeness to say the least. In the first place it does not say we were buried like him but in conjunction with him. Secondly, to make the "likeness" true, the candidate should imitate Christ's dying on the Cross, for he wasn't drowned in water. Then he should be placed in, and emerge from a rocky tomb, for Christ wasn't raised from a watery grave. No, no, Scripture nowhere tells us to participate in such so-called "outward signs of an inward work of grace," nor to "confess to the world" in a water ceremony, that we are "dead to the old life and alive to the new." It does have much' to say about being "dead to sin" and to "put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" and that men's lives are "epistles known and read of all men" (Ephes. 4:24; 2 Cor. 3:2).
Where is Immersion Taught?
In Paul's day the primary and uniform use of the Greek word "baptize," in that language was to signify a changed condition or changed identity. The interpretation, "to dip" was rarely attached to this word though it is thus commonly defined in Bible dictionaries and commentaries today. By comparing Scripture with Scripture we can easily see that the two main texts which have been erroneously used to teach water baptism by immersion, Rom. 6:3, 4 and Col. 2:12, do not teach this at all but, in harmony with the usual Greek usage of the word baptize, these verses have reference to a believer's changed condition in a spiritual sense. Briefly, at one's conversion his changed condition positionally before God is this: he is reckoned in God's sight to have died for his sins in Christ and with Christ nearly nineteen hundred years ago. Also he is reckoned to have been "buried" also with Christ and "risen with Him" in newness of life as a born again new creature, or "new man" in Christ, inseparably united with Him. This is definitely the teaching of Rom. 6:3-8.
Soldiers today are said to have had their "baptism" in their first fierce combat with the enemy. They can testify that it means a changed condition in them. In classic Greek "baptized" means thoroughly changed: "I, as a cork above the net am unbaptized of the brine." A cork remains unbaptized because it is not changed in its capacity to float, not becoming water logged and worthless. In Julius Ceasar's day a historian wrote, "Do not baptize the common people with taxes." Do not change the condition of the common people from that of happiness to that of discouragement. Cp. Luke 12:50; Matt. 20:22, 23, “. . . ye shall drink indeed of my cup and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with ..."
Would you be a mature Christian, "studying to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed?" Then study especially the second chapter of Colossians. This chapter definitely teaches that the last vestige of religious ceremonialism has been obliterated for the present day Church which is Christ's Body. It strongly confirms the truth of John 4:23 and Phil. 3:3 —"But the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship Him." "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." The word "circumcision" here refers not to a so-called spiritual Israel, as many teach, but to the circumcised of heart. If all Christians were clear on the teaching of the second chapter of Colossians and walked accordingly, much of the division in Christianity would disappear, since division largely centers in carnal ordinances.
Col. 2:12 has not the remotest reference to any necessary ceremony to be observed now. Note v. 10—"Ye are complete in Him." The words "in baptism" simply mean "in conversion" (cp. Acts 2:38 and 3:19), in which changed condition God the Father credits the believer with being one with Christ when He paid the wages of sin which is death (Rom. 6:23), being reckoned not only as crucified with him on the cross, but also "buried with Him" in Joseph's new tomb and rising therefrom with Him in newness of life—all "by faith," please remember, in God's working or "operation" of this gracious plan and provision for lost sinners.
Col. 2:8-11 reads: "Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world (or earthly things) and not after Christ; for in Him dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and in Him ye are made full—in whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off (or offcasting) of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ" (R. V.). Note that the antitype of literal circumcision is here given in the statement that Christ cuts off from us, in His sight, the Adamic man—"the body of the flesh," which is "buried with Him in baptism (conversion), wherein ye are risen with Him" (i.e., as the 'new man'). The only part of a Christian that can get water baptized or join an organization is "the old man" of the flesh and God says he must be reckoned dead and buried. This spiritual new man is to be the worshipper, not the old man of the flesh who, ever since the Mosaic law was given, had been trying to obtain righteousness before God by attempting to observe that law, both ceremonially and otherwise.
Col. 2:14 declares that Christ blotted out "the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross." The Jews had a custom that when a bill was finally paid it was nailed to the doorpost by the creditor. So Christ fulfilled every demand of God's law given to Moses in "handwriting" both on tables of stone and the book of the law (with its "divers baptisms"), during His life on earth. For man's failure to perfectly obey all that handwriting He died on the cross, there paying our debt of sin which "is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4), and so "nailed" these ordinances to His cross. There they were blotted out! We must remember however, that all this was not fully revealed until some thirty years after the cross, in the epistles Paul wrote while in prison.
Today all believers possess in Christ all of the righteousness demanded by the Ten Commandments and typified by the ceremonial law. It will be infinite gain for us in time and eternity if we take our stand like those of heaven's nobility spoken of in Acts 17:11, "These were more noble than those of Thessalonica in that they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Our Lord said, "If, ye continue in my word then are ye my disciples indeed and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31, 32). "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing" (Rom. 15:13).
Why is there so little effort made among Christians to get together to learn whether carnal ordinances are after all not God's counsel for the Church today? Is it because carnal ordinances are actually the foundations of the various divisions and sects in Christendom and are the preachers afraid their particular foundation will be destroyed, or that somebody's reputation as a Bible teacher or reliable expository preacher would suffer? It was Pilate's policy never to allow truth to become so urgent that he would be constrained to jeopardize a lucrative position. And how many "church members" never permit truth to disturb their complacency, being more satisfied with carnal worship and surroundings than to obey God's command to "come out from among them and be ye separate" (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
The world will accept a bit of the Bible to garnish their pagan festivals and the religious masses will accept much of the Bible, but how rare is the individual who accepts all God has to say to him in His Word, and walks accordingly.
Oh that more Christians would "endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, with all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:2, 3). "That they all may be one that the world might believe" (John 7:21). Only by a demonstrated spiritual unity of God's people can the world know that the Father sent His Son into the world to redeem mankind. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love for one another" (John 13:35), not if you are properly baptized in water.
Rather than add to the present day confusion in institutionalized Christianity by starting new religious organizations or attempting to revive old ones, let us recognize but the one true Church of the Bible as built by Christ and not man (Matt. 16:18). Let us prove the truth of God's statement in Rom. 12:4, 5, that just as God has organized the human body with its various members as a perfectly functioning organism, so He only has also organized the Church. His Church needs not to be and cannot be "reformed" or added to. Since its beginning at Pentecost it has continued to function perfectly according to His plan and purpose in the hearts and lives of all yielded believers the world over who, like little Samuel of old have said, "Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth."
E. STEVENS, a servant of Jesus Christ
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