Saturday, October 4, 2014

Saving Faith, Once Again

There will always be debate, on what level of faith is enough, from simple assent to the proposition that God exists, to a martyrdom in faith-response to the resurrection-after-crucifixion of Jesus.  What is the faith that saves?

A simple quotation of John 3:16 will not settle the matter.  That one-liner falls into place, deeply embedded in context, within a theologically complex document.  One does not finish with the meaning of 3:16 until the Fourth Gospel has been processed.

Much is lost in current discussions where ignorance of covenantal-relating clouds discourse.  Throughout Scripture, faith(fulness) is responsible covenant-relating.  Period.  It denotes such love and respect for one’s covenant partner (such as a spouse in marriage) that faith always does right regarding the partner.  A faithful partner is “righteous”—not merely adhering to some code of morality, but in action staying true to covenant, true to partner.

It has been noted that faith bears a broad range of meanings:  belief, trust, faithfulness, loyalty and fidelity.  And it is rightfully said that the entire range is embraced by—and only by—a martyr.

Faith also must be a direct response to the Cross.  Some wispy conviction that there is a God “out there”, without a personal encounter with crucified Jesus, is simply not the faith that saves.  Yes, one must believe that God exists (Hebrews 11:6).  Nor is it sufficient to assent to some denominational creed or belief statement and stake salvational hope on that “faith”, without letting the Cross make its own demands.

In the Cross, Jesus gave the ultimate faith(fulness) to prospective partners in a New Covenant.  He was the martyr, par excellence.  And His responsive demand of any who would engage His faith with “faith” of their own, and so to be saved, is their martyrdom also.  Nothing less is saving faith, and I speak boldly here without apology to anyone.  The only fitting response any can offer to One who gave all for them, is to give all in return.  There must be a death:

25 Now there went with him great multitudes: and he turned, and said unto them, 26 If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? 29 Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, 30 saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31 Or what king, as he goeth to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and asketh conditions of peace. 33 So therefore whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. 34 Salt therefore is good: but if even the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned? 35 It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill: men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.  (Luke 14:25-35, ASV)

Imagine the throngs of American church-goers who have never died.  Participated in sacraments; but never died.  Worshiped and prayed; but never died.  Made a few right moral decisions; but never died.  Read the Bible; but never died.  Got religion; but never died to sin in response to the Cross.  None should attempt to join Christianity who have not counted the cost of martyrdom.

The setting for a cartoon I once saw is a living room Bible study with two couples.  A woman speaks as the others lean-in attentively but with bewildered dismay, and she blurts out:  “Well, I haven’t actually died to sin, but I did feel kind of faint once.”  Something is dreadfully wrong with our churches and with our evangelistic work when people enter membership without dying.

The Restoration Movement set aside “old perspective” Reformed dogma and went back to the Scriptures to see what was required for salvation.  Understanding “faith” to be the essence, we rightly understood the full range of requirements to fall under this rubric.  It is all part of the faith-response to Jesus.  

And Restorationists were not bound by the Reformed demands for a totally passive convert, one who deferred to the sovereignty of God, who as God not only did all of the saving work for the convert, but (for reasons beyond us) did this work for some people but not for others—(but I digress).  We ignored this faulty theology and recovered the covenantal framework, and covenants—like all relationships—require bilateral effort from active partners.  The “new perspective on Paul” has shown that the Lutheran objection that denies the convert any responsive actions (thus involving “salvation by works”) is a terrible misunderstanding of Paul’s writings.  Unlike Reformation thinking, Paul fully expected an active convert who would approach the Cross, and respond.  Reformed theology seems to expect converts modeled after "Stepford Wives", whose relational responses are all programmed by their partner!

So, also expecting believers who were not bound-up in such “total depravity” and were actually capable of responding to God, we went to the Bible to see what exactly was required for salvation.

Well, one must believe/have faith.  And one must repent of sins.  And one must confess the Lordship of Jesus, verbally (with the lips).  And one must call upon the Lord’s Name.  All of this requires that one hear the Gospel—the message of the Cross.  And, contrary to Reformed Protestantism largely, one must be baptized.

I have suggested (in my course on Covenant Relating) that these requirements stimulate covenantal/relational responses that, taken together, constitute the believer’s martyrdom.  They bring death, followed by resurrection life.  The baptism is the climactic death-blow.  It is an immersion in water that results--following death--in remission of sins and reception of Spirit.  That is, baptism now saves you.

I suggest that each requirement, set forth by God in Scripture as a requirement for salvation, evokes a particular “relational dynamic”.  Each plays a role in achieving the quality of relationship that God demands prerequisite to salvation.  If you die for Jesus, as He did for you, the implications carry you in certain directions and rule out others as no longer acceptable.  Repentance brings the “dynamic” of holiness.  Confessing the Lordship brings the dynamic of “established lines of authority.”  And make no mistake, salvation is a function and product of relationship, of covenant.

It should be said that the believer’s martyrdom is not necessarily physical, is not mortal in that sense.  Some describe each person as having a “personal throne” in their heart and, prior to conversion to Jesus, each individual rules his/her own life.  But that little ruler must be put to death.  The self gets mortified.  And Jesus takes over the throne, in full authority that He rightly merited on the Cross.  This is why Jesus, in Luke 9:23, insists that we die not once, but daily.  Martyrdom becomes relational dynamic, as Paul expressed:

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again.  (2 Cor 5:14-15, ASV)

So saving faith is nothing less than that response to the Cross that results in Jesus living in, ruling over, making ethical, moral, and spiritual decisions for a yielding martyr.  Nothing less is saving faith.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Spirit-Baptism:  Glossolalia or Judgment?

“And He, when He comes,

will convict the world

concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”

(John 16:8, NASB)


In Filling The Temple:  Finding A Place For The Holy Spirit, I define “baptism in the Holy Spirit” differently than what is common.  The usual definition latches onto tongue-speaking.  So any person who is so supernaturally overwhelmed by the Spirit and this personal experience results in glossolalia (tongue-speaking) may be said, by definition, to have received Spirit baptism, or baptism in the Holy Spirit.

This is an incorrect definition!  In the first place, nowhere in the Bible is glossolalia put forward as the virtual equivalent, or as the actual definition, of Spirit-baptism.  The closest passage to this is Acts 11:16, and even this Scripture need not be read as though it offered a definition.  To be sure, Peter is noting the profound similarity of experience between this first Gentile convert and his apostolic (and very Jewish) companions on the day of Pentecost.  He is noting the similarity, but even in his own Pentecostal experience, Peter understood a different definition for Spirit-baptism other than tongues.

In the context of the opening chapters of Acts, and against the backdrop of prophetic predictions in Luke’s Gospel (by both John the Baptist and by Jesus), and in keeping with the prophecy of Joel which Peter explicitly quotes in order to explain Pentecost, it makes much better sense to work with another definition.  Spirit-baptism was a judgment.  Pentecost worked the dividing of Spirit-filled Christians from Spirit-less unbelievers, all based on one’s response to the Cross of Jesus.  It was a judgment upon “all flesh”.

And if “judgment” be accepted as the essential definition, it follows that some other place must be found for glossolalia.  If not the definition of Spirit-baptism, then what is the function of tongues?  Essentially, tongues were a “sign” of Spirit-baptism.  They functioned this way because they were a visible spectacle, and a sign was needed because much of what happens following the crucifixion of Jesus and following the Pentecostal outpouring of Spirit is, otherwise, invisible:

·        The judgment itself was invisible.  God can see the indwelling Spirit as His seal of ownership (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13).  We cannot see that, and so we need a “sign”. 

·        The attending blessings that come with the very beginning of Christianity, forgiveness of sins and indwelling Spirit, are invisible.  Anyone could make such promises and, apart from some sign, who would know if the promise meant anything?

·        The authority of the apostles, given by the risen and now departed Christ, was also invisible.  The “sign” of tongues was given not only attendant to conversion/baptism, but at the laying on of the hands of the apostles.  This gave plain indication that the apostolic message or “gospel” was to be listened to and believed.

All of this is explained more thoroughly in Filling The Temple, and I encourage you to read it.  The purpose of this discussion is to bring another Scripture into the mix.  In John 16, Jesus is preparing for His own departure from His beloved disciples by promising them “another Comforter”.  He had become their solid security and buffer against the world’s hostility.  But now He was leaving them!  In addition to the other remarks I made on this passage in my book, I wish I had picked up on the way this passage also links “the Spirit” and “judgment.”  By the way, this book is a “cracking good read” and probably the only place where you will find Spirit-baptism correctly defined.  Nearly all other treatments are so hypnotized by tongues that they walk blindly past the glaring notions of judgment that attend the first Pentecost.

It takes a certain re-mapping of the mind to replace glossolalia, as the definition of Spirit-baptism, with “judgment.”  Paradigm-shifts are hard work, and when they force us to think differently that we are accustomed, we often have to force ourselves to think in the new way.  Specifically, we probably do not naturally associate “Spirit” with “judgment.”  If we are to understand the Scriptures, we shall have to change our thinking.

John 16:8 is a difficult passage.  I find that D. A. Carson has handled the exegesis quite deftly in his commentary (The Gospel According to John, Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 1991).  But even a simple reading of the opening words is particularly stunning:   “And He [the Spirit, or Comforter, or Advocate], when He comes, will convict the world.”  We are so used to associating the Spirit with blessings and gifting that it might take some effort to force our minds to also get a grip on the Spirit working to convict the world!

Before going further, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that this association is not something that should shock a Bible reader, not something that we as Bible readers should find foreign or strange.  Isaiah 42:1-3 are quoted by Matthew (12:18ff.) as pertaining to Jesus:      

“Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen;

My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased;

I will put my Spirit upon Him,

And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”


The word given a rather positive translation of “justice” can also be translated as “judgment”.  Frederick Dale Bruner (Matthew, A Commentary, Volume 1:  The Christbook, Matthew 1-12, Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2004, p. 556) notes that the word always means “word of judgment” (except in 23:23).  Thus, while the meaning may be that Jesus will bring a positive expression of justice in favor of the Gentiles, the meaning of God’s “verdict” or “ethical decision” is also possible.  This would also associate the Spirit-bearing Jesus with judgment.

Likewise, the prophecy of Joel which Peter quotes in Acts 2 regarding the “pouring out” of God’s Spirit plainly expresses judgment.  Read all of Joel, and see if judgment is not the overriding expression of the book!

Finally, in Acts 17, Paul is discussing with the Athenians the perspective God takes upon the nations:  “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to all people everywhere that they should repent.”  This is in keeping with Luke’s thematic emphasis that, since the Resurrection and since the Pentecostal outpouring, a judgment has fallen upon “all flesh.”

Now, back to John 16:8-11.  The Spirit is going to “convict” the world regarding sin (and righteousness and judgment).  Carson (p. 534) writes, “The focus rather in classical Greek is on putting to shame, treating with contempt, cross-examining, accusing, bringing to the test, proving, refuting.”  We should be open to the possibility that this discussion of the Spirit shows an activity that most of us would not expect.  The Spirit is active in judgment.  Carson goes on to note that in all 18 occurrences in the NT, the meaning “has to do with showing someone his sin, usually as a summons to repentance.”

What is a bit more difficult is understanding how the “convicting” activity of the Spirit relates to “sin, righteousness, and judgment.”  Carson takes these three items as precisely the areas in which the world is guilty. 

·        Of “sin” because they do not believe in Jesus (v. 9).  This is a willful disbelief.

·        Of righteousness, because Jesus goes to the Father (v. 10).  While here with us, Jesus exposed the attempts of worldly people to claim righteousness as fraud and folly.  Now that Jesus departs, the Spirit will resume this conviction.

·        Of judgment, because Satan has been judged (v.11).  The world carries the influence of Satan, and the resulting judgments it makes have been shown up by the Spirit as false.

As I note in Filling The Temple, one reason the “judgment” aspect of the activity of the Holy Spirit is easily missed is that the positive side of that judgment gets the stress and emphasis.  John, while predicting a single judgment, declared it in terms of “baptism in the Spirit” and also in terms of “baptism in fire” (Luke 3:16)!  Our modern minds more easily glom onto “wheat gathered into the granary” than onto notions of “chaff burned with unquenchable fire” (v. 17).  In perhaps every other Biblical judgment, the emphasis is on the negative, on the outpouring of God’s righteous wrath against sin.  Always, the expression is one of immediate wrath and, perhaps, a following of deferred blessing (especially since the righteous often suffer judgments from God along with the wicked).  God will, one day, restore the blessings to the righteous that were snatched away when God acted in wrath and vengeance, when judgment was outpoured.

But in Spirit-baptism, falling precisely on that first Pentecost, the emphasis is reversed:  here we have immediate blessing and the wrath that is bound up in this judgment is deferred!  The day is coming when those on the wrong side of the judgment will pay a terrible penalty; but right now—there are blessings flowing from the Spirit in profuse abundance! 

Spirit-baptism was a judgment.  That judgment fell on Pentecost and has been outworking ever since, dividing humanity into two groups—one marked out for blessing and another marked out for cursing.  All of this is from God.  All of it turns on the dying and rising of Jesus, and the response these Gospel events achieve or fail to achieve in every human being, in “all flesh.”

I would suggest that once this notion is planted in our thinking, once we open ourselves to seeing “judgment” as a key activity of the Holy Spirit, more passages of Scripture will be illuminated before our eyes.  And once we come to see this—rather than glossolalia—as the definition of Spirit-baptism, we will be afforded a greater view into the working of Father, Son, and Spirit.  While the Spirit convicts the world of sin, our Comforter is also working to “sanctify” the saints of their sin.  All of this is the outworking of “judgment.”




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jesse P. Sewell, The Gospel Preacher, and the Fluff-Preacher

Preachers come in great variety, and that's a good thing.  "It's a good thing that all of us are not exactly like any one of us!" quipped one attendee (Charles Hodge, perhaps) at a preacher's dinner at Harding University's lectureship.  In my preacher training program, there was a general spectrum.  Some of us were drawn to social interaction.  And, some of us (like me) were drawn to study.  I believe that God probably found a place of useful service for most of us, and carefully suited us to various assignments in the Kingdom.

I for long had misplaced a quote by Jesse P. Sewell (1876-1969).  It was a framed quote given to us by Harding's School of Biblical Studies.  It reads:
A gospel preacher is a man, redeemed by grace through faith, standing in Christ's' stead, by his authority, and in obedience to his command; proclaiming, illustrating, making clear and urgent God's word; so that responsible men and women may accept it unto life; or reject it unto death--all of this; because he loves God, Christ, the Church, and the souls of men.
As definitions go, Sewell's has much to commend it.  While there are and should be preachers of many varieties, it would nonetheless be valid to say that each and every one of them should be, indeed must be, nothing less than what is set forth here.  And a great many who mount pulpits would rightly be scrutinized as being less than gospel preachers--even if they should act the part, keep a Bible on the podium, and claim authority for themselves.  Less than this, and he (or she) is not a gospel preacher.

My attraction to the quote lies in Sewell's recognition that true preaching forces a choice, a decision, and culminates therefore in either life or death (2 Cor. 2:14ff.).  His emphasis is purely evangelistic.  And the insight helped me in a formative way to frame more precisely my role as a preacher.  Safely outside of that frame will be the modern "fluff-preachers."  They speak to crowds for obviously different motivations, and listening to them would not prompt any listener to a decision that would tend them toward Heaven or towards Hell.  What the fluff-preacher offers is simply not gospel, so it lacks the power to move people that way.

I also appreciate Sewell's insistence on an authority set upon the gospel preacher's ministry, and authority not given by any person or group of persons, but by Christ Jesus himself.  That authority results from the preacher's relationship to the Lord in which the message is actually "God's word" and the activity of preaching is an act of obedience to the Crucified One, and truly places the gospel preacher "in Christ's stead"--that is to say, the Gospel preacher is encountered instead of Christ, and yet Christ Jesus is no less present in the encounter.  On more than one occasion, the apostle Paul made this insistence that what he preached was not his message and did not originate with him (1 Thess. 2:13, 4:8; Gal. 1:11-12).  His audience heard God as Paul preached.  Like His Lord before Him, Paul spoke as one with authority.  The gospel preacher does the same.

In contrast, the fluff-preacher has no authority.  He is not preaching God's word, and to listen to the fluff-preacher is by no means the equivalent of listening to the Lord.  Much as Satan has no legitimate authority, but has entered a position of authority only because people have given to the devil what is properly due to God, the insipid audience of the fluff-preacher is the only basis on which authority may be claimed.  But, when the blind lead the blind, they both are destined for the Pit.  The devil and the fluff-preacher are empowered only by people.

I also appreciated Sewell today for his steady voice and clear understanding as I heard news of yet another "mega-church pastor" inflicting great damage on people while claiming to be a preacher.  I'll gladly and gratefully lend my ear only to a gospel preacher.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Sinner's Prayer: The Evangelical Surrogate-Imposter for Baptism

The Sinner’s Prayer:  Evangelical Surrogate-Imposter for Baptism

And all the people when they heard, and the publicans, justified God,

being baptized with the baptism of John.

But the Pharisees and the lawyers

rejected for themselves the counsel of God,

being not baptized of him.

Luke 7:29-30 (ASV)


Well, who can deny it?  Evangelicals, swept-up in the thought-stream descending from the Protestant Reformation, have a strong aversion against baptism.  They refuse for baptism a salvific role, as the culminating event in Christian conversion.  But that rejection of the “counsel of God” has left a void that could not remain empty.  People need a “finish line” to tell them when they have arrived at the place of salvation and full entrance into the kingdom of God.  Otherwise, the “right comforting doctrine” of Calvin leaves them in discomforting anguish:  one minute full of assurance, and the next, worried that maybe they are still coming short.  Baptism would happily meet this need.  But baptism has been rejected, and evangelicals generally accept baptism only in modified form—once it has been stripped of its function as “salvific finish line.”  In its place, they offer an imposter as a substitute.  That imposter, most commonly, is the Sinner’s Prayer.

David Platt recently (April 11, 2012, Verge 2012 Conference) made a strong statement on the danger of the Sinner’s Prayer.  He spoke the truth, and was nearly brought to tears as he spoke.  I believe David was shaken because he felt the full weight of the fraud being perpetrated, realizing that a significant number of modern believers accept the Sinner’s Prayer as Gospel—literally!  His message, then, was not only a warning, but a rebuke.  And the people under his rebuke were his people, his church.  Here is what he said:

And I’m convinced many people in our churches are just simply missing the life of Christ, and a lot of it has to do with what we’ve sold them as the Gospel—i.e. pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, invite Christ into your life.  Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament?  Should it not concern us that the Bible never uses the phrases, “accept Jesus into your heart,” or “invite Christ into your life”?  It’s not the Gospel we see being preached; it’s modern evangelism built on sinking sand and it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls.  It’s a very dangerous thing to lead people to think that they are a Christian, when they have not Biblically responded to the Gospel.  If we’re not careful, we will take the Gospel—the lifeblood—out of Christianity and we’ll put Kool-Aid in its place, so that it will taste better to the crowds.  It’s not just dangerous; it’s just damning!

Unfortunately, David Platt backed down from this statement when he was later called to address the concerns of the Southern Baptist Convention.  They had made a resolution to actually defend the use of the Sinner’s Prayer, and Platt himself buckled under the pressure and voted in favor of it.  I can hardly contain my disappointment.  It is said that a “middle-of-the-roader” is someone who gets dirt kicked on him from both sides.  David cannot be right when he speaks so equivocally, first against and then in advocacy of the Sinner’s Prayer.  I understand the urge to keep unity, but to unify on false doctrine that carries the weight of millions of souls who stand, if David’s early criticism is right, to be defrauded of salvation when Gospel is replaced by superstition.  He had an audience of people who had probably done the Sinner’s Prayer thing themselves, and will be responsible for continuing the horrible tradition.  David could have made a stand like the one Martin Luther made at Worms almost 500 years ago:

Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth.  Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me.  Amen.

And why have evangelicals rejected God’s Word on this matter?  It is because they are still mired in the “old perspective on Paul.”  Martin Luther’s experience in conflict with Catholicism dominates Evangelicalism.  It has long been (wrongly) assumed that Martin Luther’s battle was the spiritual equivalent of Paul’s battle with “Judaizers.”  As the medieval Catholics were employing “works” as a way of attaining “self-righteousness” though “legalism”, it was assumed that Paul battled the same dark counterpart as the antithesis to the Gospel of Christ.  That was not the same battle that Paul faced, and Bible scholars should have been made aware of this from the late 1970’s.

The confusion, in part, is understandable.  Luther was troubled by the way “works” were used to corrupt spirituality; and Paul was also troubled by “works” also.  The trouble is, Paul and Luther were not talking about the same thing when they used the identical terminology of “works.” 

For Luther, “works” were attempts to earn salvation by human effort.  A person confident of good moral living might even think their efforts/works to be so successful that a Savior is not even needed!  Such “works” might bring “self-righteousness”.  Additionally, in Reformation perspective, this concern insisted that the credit for the “work of salvation” be clearly assigned.  God had to be given full credit, and by corollary this necessitated that the human convert must claim no credit and could be offered no credit.  God’s sovereignty over such matters was seen to be so thorough that human self-initiative could play no role in either salvation or damnation.  The sovereign God determined which individuals (the “chosen few”) would be saved and which would be sent to Hell.  In this perspective, salvation becomes a “tug-o-war” between the efforts of God and the efforts of humans.  If humans were thought to exert any effort, this implied “legalism” and “works-salvation”—attempts to meet the demands of God’s Law by one’s own effort.  What Reformation perspective demanded was a totally passive convert, who made no contribution to God’s work in salvation.

The obvious problem that derives from Protestant perspective is that the central concern of Christian salvation and conversion is “relational”!  And relationships require two active partners if they are to find success, not just One.  It is jarringly disruptive, once a relational understanding is realized, to place the two relationship partners into conflict by demanding that only one of them be active.  And the first clue that the Reformation is off-track should be that the NT Scriptures everywhere expect an “active convert.”  For whatever depravity and wickedness grips them, unbelieving sinners are still assumed to have the capability to either accept or reject the Gospel for themselves.  They are given commands to accomplish certain requirements of salvation:

·        Hear and believe the Gospel

·        Repent of sins

·        Confess (declare) the Lordship of Jesus

·        Call upon the name of the Lord

·        Be baptized

Indeed, the writers of the NT were not embarrassed to insist that those coming to Christ Jesus for salvation must “obey the Gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17) pursuant to salvation!  Clearly, these writers understood salvation in relational terms and so expected active, “working” converts.  When the converts obeyed such commands, they were not earning anything for themselves.  They were attending to the relational concerns that were prerequisites to reconciliation with God.  And as they obeyed, neither were they already saved.

As baptism itself was forced to convert from its Biblical meaning to one that fit with Reformational sensibilities, a similar conversion was forced upon the Holy Spirit.  Since God had to get all the credit, He had to have the active role throughout the conversion process—start to finish.  It was not enough to be the provider and initiator of salvation by sending His sin-bearing Son to the Cross.  God also had to work the responses for actionless converts:  He created the response of faith/belief (for some, but not for others), God made people repent, made them confess the Lordship, made them call upon the Name.  And the person of the Trinity thought to be active here was the Holy Spirit. 

This brings a second clash with the Bible description of salvation.  In Biblical conversion the Spirit is given/received as a gift only at the finish or culmination of conversion.  In fact, that gift is given in the culminating event of baptism (Acts 2:38), in the “new birth” of “water and Spirit” (John 3:3-5).  Paul did not say the Spirit was given to make us sons/daughters/children of God; he said the Spirit was given because (hence after we had become) God’s children:    “And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6, ASV).

In my recent book, Filling the Temple:  Finding A Place For The Holy Spirit, I set forth four avenues of Scripture that offer baptism as the insertion-point for the Holy Spirit in a Christian:

--the development from the baptism in the ministry of John the Baptist to the baptism in the ministry of Jesus prior to Pentecost (both were immersions for the remission of sins, but did not convey the Spirit, for the Spirit had not yet been given).  Then after Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit upon “all flesh”, the Spirit is received in baptism.  This final stage of development makes the Christian’s baptismal-reception of the Spirit parallel to that experienced by Jesus, accompanied by Heavenly Voice and descending Dove.  This baptism, which remits sin and imparts Spirit, is the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5.

--the Johannine baptism “of water and Spirit” (John 3:3-5).

--the twice-told telling of Israel’s historical experience, from bondage under the Law to redemption in Jesus.  In the first telling (Gal. 3:22ff.), the culminating experience that brings Israel liberation is BAPTISM.  In the second telling of the same historical sequence (Gal. 4:1ff.), the culminating experience is the reception of the HOLY SPIRIT.  This “co-incidence” would suggest another avenue leading to the same place as the other Scriptural avenues:  baptismal reception of Spirit.

--The shared experience of “anointing” between Jesus and Christians.  In Luke’s Gospel and Acts, Jesus was clearly anointed with the Holy Spirit at His baptism by John.  You can’t miss this after reading the baptism episode followed by Luke’s commentary in 4:1; 14, the incredible self-declaration made by Jesus in His “first sermon” at Nazareth (4:16ff.), and finally by the reporting of Peter’s sermon by Luke:  “that saying ye yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him  (Acts 10:37-38, ASV).  With this as background, consider Paul’s statement regarding the “anointing” experienced by Christians:  “Now he that establisheth us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God; who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:21-22, ASV).  Is it hard to see that “anointing” essentially describes baptismal reception of the Holy Spirit?  The connection must have been well-established in the early church, for it is also witnessed in several passages of 1 John.

In conclusion, then, let me raise a question to which only David Platt knows the answer:  did David perhaps back-off from an easy annihilation of the Sinner’s Prayer because he was unaware that the only fit replacement is baptism, in which sins are remitted and in which the Spirit is received??  Or, was he aware of this, yet conscious of the theological collision this would have rammed him into with the “old perspective” members of the Southern Baptism Convention?

I so desperately crave the unity, concern for which apparently drove David, after speaking one way, to then speak another.  I would like to call him my brother in Christ.  I would like to call the Baptists my brothers/sisters in Christ.  You see, as long as I hold on to the Scriptural role for baptism as the place of salvation’s birth and the place of the Spirit’s reception, I have to carry the discomfort that David avoided.  I have to endure false slurs such as legalist, works-theology, water-salvation, etc.  I will remain theologically isolated, with the only Biblical ground for unity rejected through the “old perspective” which has been demonstrated to be in error.  And it is plain, at least to me, that if this unity is to be achieved, it will be when baptism—not the Sinner’s Prayer—is commonly recognized, and no longer rejected, for its place in the counsel of God.





Monday, January 27, 2014

Filling the Temple: Finding A Place For The Holy Spirit

This is to announce the publication of my new (and first) book!  The back-cover reads as follows:

Filling The Temple is a ring full of keys…. The study of the Holy Spirit is broad in scope, deep in meaning, and plural in dimension. Filling The Temple provides keys that unlock the meanings that are foundational to a fulfilling study. Students of Scripture have long recognized the value of establishing meanings that are center-core to build a framework for the more obscure and elusive meanings. Here is a ring of keys for unlocking the center-most doctrines regarding the Third Person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit’s role in Christian spirituality cannot be grasped without understanding what happened on Pentecost—“the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” The meaning set forth here, from a close reading of the Scriptures, is largely missed in popular understanding. Likewise, the Scriptures inextricably link the reception of the Spirit to water-baptism. The connections are set forth here in utter plainness. Filling The Temple generates such helpful access to the theology of the Spirit, that readers will surprise themselves to have overlooked insights so clearly visible in the Bible. There is a special application here for churches of Christ, heirs of the American Restoration Movement. Some in our fellowship do not believe in an actual indwelling of the Spirit, suggesting instead that the Spirit indwells us “only through the Word?” Those from other circles will benefit from looking-in on this conflict within our Restorationist fellowship. The book ends with hope that the Spirit will break down walls of denominational division and accomplish the Restoration of unity that, so far, we have failed to achieve. Filling The Temple provides the keys to finding a place for the Holy Spirit.
Of course, I encourage you to read.  But I especially encourage those who read to post a review on Amazon.  Your review could be the first!