MYTH 4: BAPTISM IS OF SECONDARY IMPORTANCE
4.1 WHY ALL THE FUSS? -- DEFINITIONS
To place anything that God has commanded into the realm of secondary importance is to trivialize it. Baptism is among the clearest and most articulated doctrines in the New Testament. At the same time, there are more alternative teachings with regard to baptism than any other teaching in the denominations. These doctrines have arisen out of Roman Catholic and denominational traditions -- they are not the consequence of ambiguous biblical teaching. (When you complete this chapter you will have read the vast majority of the verses in the New Testament which deal with baptism, and you can determine the validity of this last statement for yourself.)
There was a time when denominations honestly and forthrightly discussed their differences with regard to baptism in an attempt to bring about true unity on this important doctrine. These attempts have largely been abandoned in favor of the teaching which is the title of this chapter. The reason for this is the overwhelming momentum of the inter-denominational efforts which emerged in conjunction with the radio and TV efforts of the 1940's and 1950's, and it continues heavily with this impetus even today. It is impossible for these preachers to take a definitive stand with regard to baptism, since it is impossible for them to baptize "over the air" (in any way). As a result of this, it became most convenient for them to ignore the tremendous number of scriptures which deal with baptism, and to declare that a person was saved by "faith only" or "accepting Jesus as your personal savior."
When confronted with questions regarding baptism most of these religious leaders either state or necessarily imply that baptism is of secondary importance. The popular doctrine is that since you are saved by faith only, baptism is of secondary importance. So we hear: "Go to the church of your choice and be baptized according to the way that they teach you."
If we could find the basis for this quote in the scriptures, we would not question it. However, if scriptural baptism is what puts a person into Christ, then we must teach it! We cannot throw away a major teaching of Jesus and the apostles just because it is not convenient to radio and TV preachers. We cannot pick those scriptures that we wish to follow and throw away the rest (Rev. 22:18-19; Mt. 4:4).
With these factors in mind, let us define the terminology that we will use in this chapter. The Greek word for baptism (baptizo) in the New Testament was not translated -- it was transliterated out of the Greek. Baptizo was not a dedicated religious word as baptism is today. It merely meant immersion, and it was applied to the immersion (typically in water) of anything. It started to be used for religious purposes with the preaching of John the Baptist.
When we state the myth that baptism is of secondary importance, we are referring to that baptism which the bible states was commanded of and was practiced by Christians in the first century. (We shall see from the scriptures which will be quoted below that this was baptism in water.)
By secondary importance, we mean that the most prevalent and common denominational teaching is to de-emphasize this practice to the point where many now believe that it has virtually nothing to do with salvation.
At this point we will present the
biblical teaching. As we have done above, this will be subdivided according
to the teachings given in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the
book of Acts, and the letters written to the churches (epistles). We plead
with you to be patient as we present this to you in the most logical way
that we can.
4.2 WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT BAPTISM
Let us emphasize that we are not
the least bit concerned here with what any given religious organization
teaches on the subject. It would be impossible to state all of the variations
of the beliefs and the history as to how they evolved. We are only concerned
with the biblical teaching. While the following is not exhaustive, it is
an attempt to totally represent the biblical view.
4.2.1 THE GOSPELS
Baptism was not a religious practice under the Old Testament law, and (as we saw in Chapter 2) the Old Testament law was still in effect until it was nailed to the cross with Christ (Col. 2:14). Thus, we would not expect the full teaching on baptism to be revealed until it was done so by the Holy Spirit through the apostles. This revelation is recorded in the book of Acts, and detailed teachings are given in the letters which the apostles wrote (epistles). However, baptism was so important that its foundations were established by Jesus while He was still on the earth.
The first preacher to baptize was John the baptist. Mark's account is quite concise and informative (Mark 1:1-11):
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, [saying], Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Note the following from this passage:
1. John the baptist preached in preparation for the messiah, Jesus Christ, who was formally known as Jesus of Nazareth.
2. As part of this preparation John also preached: "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." However, this did not in any way relieve Jesus or any of the other Jews of their obligations under the Old Testament law.
3. This was clearly water baptism: "and [they] were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins."
4. John was not the Christ. He foretold of one who would shortly appear: "There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
5. Jesus' baptism by John was accompanied by a miracle which attested that Jesus was the one of whom John had foretold.
According to Matthew's account (Matthew 3:14-15): "John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer [it to be so] now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him."
Since Jesus had no sin, he was not in need of "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." However, to provide the example to fulfil all righteousness, he allowed himself to be baptized.
The next mention of baptism indicates that Jesus disciples baptized under His authority. In John 3:22-24 we read: "After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison." Clearly this was water baptism, and the lack of distinction between that practiced by Jesus and John implies that they were quite similar (if not identical) in intent.
As we continue to read (John 3:25-30):
Then there arose a question between [some] of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all [men] come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I [must] decrease.
The transition of disciples from John to Jesus was not something that Jesus wished to precipitate prematurely (John 4:1-3): "When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee."
The final mention of baptism in the gospels is in the great commission. According to Matthew's account (Matthew 28:18-20): "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach 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 end of the world. Amen." The great commission commands us to baptize. The command to baptize is right along side the command to preach the gospel and to "teach all things I have commanded you." This shows that the great commission applies equally to us, since the great commission was one of the "all things" which Jesus commanded them.
In Mark's account of the great commission (Mark 16:15-16): "And he [Jesus] said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Here Jesus made baptism a condition of salvation. Some argue that since Jesus did not say "he that believeth not and is not baptized shall be damned," only faith is the condition. However, if there were two conditions for non-salvation, one could be baptized without believing and still be saved. This would be nonsense. Of course, Jesus could have said "he that believeth not or is not baptized shall be damned." However, this would imply that it is possible to have faith without being obedient. As we saw in Chapter 2, this is never taught in the bible, and so we can see the reason that it is not implied here. The Holy Spirit brought to Mark's memory exactly what Jesus said and it was exactly what He meant. Both faith and the clear indication that that faith is alive (baptism) are commanded, and they are conditions of salvation. The person who refuses to be baptized does so because s/he does not believe the clear commands of God.
The gospels alone demonstrate God's
commands that believers be baptized. However, this command was not fully
understood or implemented until after the Old Testament law was no longer
in effect. This occurred when Jesus died on the cross and ushered in the
plan of salvation under which we now live. This is documented in the book
4.2.2 THE BOOK OF ACTS
The book of Acts is effectively a continuation of the Gospel according to Luke (compare Luke 1:1-4 with Acts 1:1-2). It picks up in history where the gospels leave off -- right after the resurrection of Christ. Jesus appeared after his resurrection and taught them for the duration of 40 days (Acts 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-6). Some of the final teachings of Jesus are given in Acts 1:4-8, after which he was observed to ascend into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).
The remainder of the first chapter of the book of Acts covers the 10 days between Jesus' ascension and the Jewish religious holiday of Pentecost. Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week at the time of year which coincided with the Jewish observance of the Passover. The word Pentecost comes from the word fifty, indicating that it occurs 50 days after the passover observance. The Jews counted both the beginning and the ending portions of the day. Thus, both the passover observance and the day of Pentecost fell upon the first day of the week. While this does not directly relate to the subject of baptism, it places the second chapter of the book of Acts into its proper context. For, on this day the apostles were immersed in the Holy Spirit, enabling them both to speak with His inspiration and to confirm what they said by definitive miracles. Acts 2:1-4:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
This is the first record of such an event ever occurring, and it was the fulfillment of the prophesy which Jesus had spoken just a few days before (Acts 1:5): "For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence." We will elaborate more on the baptism in (with) the Holy Spirit in Section 220.127.116.11 below. The baptism in the Holy Spirit was a promise; it was never commanded. The apostles did not practice it in the sense of doing anything to bring it about. You might validate this as you review Acts 2:1-4 once again.
The essence of Acts chapter 2 is the sermon which Peter spoke. Everything else relates to the circumstances of the environment in which that sermon was spoken. Being inspired by the Holy Spirit, the sermon itself tells us today as it told them on the day of Pentecost what they needed to do to be saved. The first part of the sermon (Acts 2:17-21) explained the astounding events which everyone was observing. Peter quoted Old Testament scripture (Joel) to prove that the things which were being done had been carefully planned by God. This was not an illusion, a mass hysteria, or a ploy provoked by emotional manipulation (as is typical of many staged events today).
The next portion of the sermon (Acts 2:22-24) appealed to their own observation. These people, many if not most of whom had been present when Jesus was crucified, had also observed His miracles and knew of His capabilities (reference Mark 15:31). This led directly to another quotation (Acts 2:25-27) from the Old Testament (Psalms 16:8-10). By this Peter went on to reason with them that Jesus through His resurrection had fulfilled this prophesy and ascended to the throne of the kingdom (Acts 2:30-31): "Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption."
This was adequate proof for them, and they recognized the full validity of Peter's statement in Acts 2:36: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." The scriptures are very clear as to what transpired at this point (Acts 2:37-41):
Now when they heard [this], they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men [and] brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, [even] as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls.
Question: what would be your response if someone were to ask you "Men [and] brethren, what shall we do [to be saved]?" Would you take it upon yourself to improve upon that which was inspired by the Holy Spirit and spoken by the apostle Peter on this occasion? By what authority would you say that baptism should be omitted from your response? What in the New Testament indicates that it is of secondary importance? In this passage it is placed as a condition of salvation on the same level as repentance. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized." What could be said about those who refused to be baptized?
We are going to see that every detailed case of conversion given in the book of Acts states that the subject(s) were baptized. We repeat: there is no clearer doctrine spelled out in the New Testament than the importance that baptism plays in our salvation. We challenge those who teach otherwise to deal with all of the scriptures which are presented in this entire chapter.
The next case of conversion is in Acts 8, and it is significant because it applied to Samaritans, a half-breed race which were generally shunned by the Jews (recall Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan women in John 4:9). It was the first step in taking the gospel to the "all nations." However, to get the context, let us first briefly review the chapters after Acts 2 that lead up to it.
In Acts 3-5 we read of the persecutions to which the apostles were subjected from the Jews when the apostles performed miracles in the name of Jesus. Acts 6 shows an issue involving racial distinctions in the first century church and how it was resolved. Acts 7 is the sermon that Stephen gave to the Jews who "set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us" (Acts 6:13-14).
This was an interesting accusation in that it was partially true. However, anything that is only half true is 100% false. While it was true that the Old Testament law was nailed to the cross with Christ (Col. 2:14), and that the temple would be destroyed (Mt. 24), Stephen was not blaspheming the law or in any way disallowing the customs of Moses, which were still permitted under the New Testament. The entire seventh chapter of Acts is a review of the Old Testament, which demonstrates that the accusations against Stephen were without any foundation. However, as is usually the case, close-minded leaders turn to the only recourse that they have when presented with the clear truth: violence.
The stoning of Stephen was much like throwing water onto a grease fire. It resulted in the very opposite of that which the Jews intended, and demonstrated the wisdom of God (Acts 8:4): "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word."
This leads us to the next documented cases of conversion which was different only in that it involved Samaritans (8:5-13):
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed [with them]: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
There are a multitude of lessons that could be obtained from this passage, but we wish to remain on the subject of this chapter by demonstrating that the doctrine and practice of baptism was an integral part of the preaching of the gospel. Clearly this was water (and not Holy Spirit) baptism as we observe by reading on (Acts 8:14-17): "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they [their] hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit."
Nationality seemed to motivate the recording of the next case of conversion as well, which is by far the most detailed case in the New Testament. It involved a native Ehiopian who was a Jewish proselyte, demonstrating God's respect for faithfulness regardless of color or nationality. It occurs in Acts 8:26-39:
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to [him], and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on [their] way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, [here is] water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
Reread the above passage and note the following:
1. The eunuch heard the word from the Old Testament and from Philip who was inspired to speak the truth of the gospel.
2. The eunuch believed both the Old Testament prophesy and the new teaching which Philip imparted to him by preaching (Rom. 10:17). It is necessarily implied that this "preaching of Jesus" included the doctrine of baptism.
3. While not explicitly stated, repentance is implied. The only condition which Philip placed upon his baptism was his willingness to confess his belief that Jesus is the Son of God.
4. The mode of baptism is clearly revealed to us by this example. There is not the slightest implication that baptism was of secondary importance.
Note that this example is totally consistent with the conditions which Jesus placed upon our salvation which are outlined in Section 3.6.
The next example of conversion -- that of Saul of Tarsus (later called Paul) -- is one which is often seized upon for an example for us today. Yet I know of no one who claims to have been stricken blind as part of his/her getting into a covenant relationship with God. In reality, the experience that Paul had on the road to Damascus did not save him -- it only got his attention. What saved Paul was the same thing that saved the Jews on Pentecost, the Samaritans and the eunuch: a living faith in the word of God. This living faith motivated them to do God's will to the best of their knowledge and ability. See that it was this same living faith that Paul had as we consider his conversion in detail (Acts 9:1-22):
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: [it is] hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought [him] into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I [am here], Lord. And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for [one] called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting [his] hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard [him] were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
It is interesting that, just as the angel did not speak directly to the eunuch to tell him what he must do to be saved, Jesus did not speak directly to Paul to tell him what he must do to be saved. Paul asked the question: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." From that point forward the conversion of Paul was quite similar to all other examples in the New Testament.
Now Paul's "calling" was different in the sense that he was chosen to be an apostle (1 Cor. 15:8-11). However, the process of conversion was the same. He was taught the gospel of Jesus Christ by natural means -- hearing the words of Ananias. He believed and was baptized.
Let us look further into this conversion, which is recalled by Paul during his preaching later on in the book of Acts (Acts 22:6-16):
And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.
And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt [there], Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
This verse links baptism to washing away Paul's sins. If Paul was in a saved condition prior to baptism, then he was saved before having his sins washed away.
The next case of conversion is recorded in the tenth chapter of Acts and it is further explained in Chapter 11. It is quite significant because it details the conversions of the first gentiles to Christ. We have already discussed the racial problems which existed in the first century church. So their conversions directly into the body of Christ, and not through being proselyted into Judaism (i.e., via circumcision), caused quite a stir among the existing converts, all of whom were Jews.
Because these conversion also involved the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we will take up that aspect of it in more detail in Section 18.104.22.168. We will summarize the story here and quote the scriptures that we feel most relevant, but we urge you to read both of these chapters in detail.
The story begins with an introduction to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2): "There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian [band], [A] devout [man], and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway." Few people today would even think this man would be in need of salvation. However, recognize that we cannot be saved by the works of our own hands -- we are all in need of the blood of Christ regardless of how devout or righteous we might be. Cornelius in this condition (without Christ) received a vision of God which prepared him for the preaching of the apostle Peter. This vision (Acts 10:3-8) instructed him to send for Peter, which would take about a day to accomplish.
At about the time that the messengers from Cornelius were arriving, Peter had a vision which instructed him to eat some meat which was unclean according to the Old Testament law (which Christians were no longer under). Peter refused to do so thinking that it was against God's law, and the response is given in Acts 10:15-16: "And the voice [spake] unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, [that] call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven."
At this point Peter did not fully understand the vision (Acts 10:17). However, the men from Cornelius arrived at that very moment, and Peter consented to go with them. Once he got there, he put two and two together, as recorded in Acts 10:28: "And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I [unto you] without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?" Racial problems are not unique to our generation, and the breaking down of the walls that had so long separated Jew and gentile goes a long way toward explaining the meaning of the events of these two chapters. It is interesting that Peter would ask the reason that he was summoned; however, this might have been a rhetorical question to set the context for the preaching of the gospel.
Cornelius explained his vision and stated (Acts 10:33): "Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God."
Peter's response was very enlightening (Acts 10:34-35): "Then Peter opened [his] mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." This is a very interesting and definitive teaching with regard to the elimination of racism from the Lord's church. But what does this have to do with baptism? Much -- if we recognize that baptism was analogous to circumcision in that it is the act that puts a person into the Lord's kingdom. [We will show this in the next section when we discuss Colossians 2:8-15. However, if we recognize it at this point, it helps to explain the interaction in this chapter between the racial issue and baptism.]
Several Jewish Christians had come with Peter to observe. Those of their number who wanted to go back under the Old Testament law had no problem with gentiles being baptized if they were circumcised first. However, this would be the first case of their being baptized without the benefit of circumcision.
The sermon that Peter proceeded to preach to them (Acts 10:34-43) is a very interesting, concise summary of the gospel. Peter did not have a chance to finish, however, before the following events occurred (Acts 10:44-48):
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
The fact that the Holy Spirit fell upon them and enabled them to speak in tongues was not adequate demonstration of their salvation. It was, however, sufficient proof to the Jews accompanying Peter that these gentiles were fit subjects for baptism for the remission of their sins. So Peter "commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." If they refused this command claiming that their baptism in the Holy Spirit was ample demonstration of their salvation, would they be acceptable to God?
We will pick up this story again in Section 22.214.171.124, where we will show that Cornelius and the gentiles with him were, in fact, baptized in the Holy Spirit. As was the case on the day of Pentecost, they were not expecting it, praying for it, or in any other way anticipating it. Since we are concentrating on the subject of water baptism for the remission of sins at this point, we need only observe that these gentiles were converted the same way that all other Christians were and have been converted since Jesus died on the cross. They heard the word, believed it, and with a willingness to repent of their sins and confess their belief that Jesus was the son of God, they were baptized for the remission of their sins.
As with many other conversions recorded in the book of Acts, miraculous events played a part, but they were peripheral to the actual process of conversion itself. That is, the miracles revealed and confirmed the truth -- exactly the role that the bible performs for us today. The process of hearing, believing and obeying the truth (our part) is identical for us today as it was for everyone converted in the first century.
Acts 11 further explains Acts 10, and then tells about the various other churches which were formed (especially Antioch), and the fact that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). This is quite significant, since most denominationalists today are under the impression that Jerusalem was the center of all church activity. Although several of the apostles remained at Jerusalem, the actual work of the church was as distributed as the Christians were. Christians did not need the apostles' presence, they had the authority of Christ. Neither did they need a central organization, all they needed was the truth.
Acts 12 tells of the ratcheting up of the persecution, now by the puppet government which was installed by Rome to rule the Jews. However, the motivation was still to please the Jews who were still very concerned about losing their political and economic base if the church was allowed to grow. Despite all of this Acts 12:24 sums it up: "But the word of God grew and multiplied." Christians were being made, souls were being saved, but it was the word of God that was growing and multiplying.
Early in Acts 13 we read about the church at Antioch sending out Paul and Barnabas on what is generally called Paul's first missionary journey. They needed no edict or authority from Jerusalem -- they had the word. Chapters 13 and 14 contain the experiences of Paul and Barnabas as they preached the gospel and established churches in most of the cities that they visited. There are no individual cases of conversion detailed in these chapters. Nor are any documented in Acts 15, which we have discussed in detail in Section 2.2.2.
There are two detailed cases of conversions in Acts 16, which begins what is commonly called Paul's second missionary journey. The first is described beginning in verse 13, but to include the location, we will also quote verse 12 (Acts 16:12-15):
And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, [and] a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted [thither]. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard [us]: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought [us], saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide [there]. And she constrained us.
At this point (the writer) Luke apparently understood that the reader would assume that if she believed what Paul said, she would be baptized. So there is not an assertion of the fact, but "And when she was baptized ..."
The next case is given after Paul and Silas were thrown in jail after exorcising a spirit of divination from a young maiden whose owners were using the evil spirit that possessed her for their gain. Losing their means of income, they stirred up the city against Paul and Silas and the magistrates had them put in the inner prison. God intervened with an earthquake and miraculously all of the prisoners were released. Generally, a Roman jailor who allowed prisoners to escape paid with his life. Apparently to avoid this fate, the jailor was about to kill himself, where we pick up the story (Acts 16:27-34):
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed [their] stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
Once again we see that the pattern is the same. Hearing the truth, the jailor believed, repented of his past sins and was baptized for the remission of sins.
As the book of Acts progresses, we would expect it to become less explicit with regard to some of the details of conversions. For example, when it comes to the Corinthians in chapter 18, it merely states (Acts 18:8): "And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized."
A final example is quite informative in that it indicates that calling an act baptism does not qualify it to be "in the name of the Lord." Let us consider the passage first (Acts 19:1-7):
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Spirit. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard [this], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.
We read in Acts 8 that it was through the laying on of the apostles hands that the Holy Spirit was given. Paul, in discussing this with these disciples in Ephesus discovered that, not were they ignorant of this, they had not even been baptized by the right authority. True, they had been baptized unto John's baptism, and in the era of John the baptist this was according to God's will. However, this is not what God wants for us now. We must be baptized in the name (i.e., by the authority) of the Lord Jesus.
The ramifications of this are tremendous! Why were you baptized? Was it because your church leaders told you to? Was it to gain entry into some denomination? Was it without your knowledge when you were a little child? Or, was it by the authority of Jesus Christ? If it was not by His authority and for the purpose which He determined -- for the remission of sins -- then you need to be baptized as those in Acts 19 were. If not, then why were those in Acts 19 commanded to be baptized again? Is God a respecter of persons?
We have presented all of the detailed cases of conversion given in the book of Acts (and hence the New Testament, since all of them are recorded in Acts). We notice that some of the steps which are obviously a part of Gods plan to bring man to redemption are omitted in some of these examples. We do not have an explicit statement (although it is implied) that they all heard, believed, repented and confessed their belief in Jesus being the son of God. However, we read the explicit statement that those converted were baptized in every single case. This is no fluke -- God does not put something in the scriptures for no reason.
As for the reason and importance
of baptism, this is covered in detail in the epistles which we will consider
next. Let us complete this section with a question: if baptism is mentioned
so often in the book of Acts, why is it not discussed more from the pulpit?
Why is it so skillfully avoided? As we continue to see the frequency, clarity
and consistency with which baptism is discussed in the New Testament, keep
these questions in mind.
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