Book of Hebrews, Chapter 7 – Who are these people who simply cannot, will not, die? Contemplating the existence of Melchizedek; and other multidimensional people.
Book of Hebrews, Chapter 6 – While God has made it clear that He will never leave or forsake us, the Bible makes it very clear that we can, indeed, leave and forsake Him.
Book of Hebrews, Chapter 5 – Why do so often feel like I am “behind the curve” on this whole spiritual maturity thing?
What if God not only loves you, but is, in fact, in love with you?
Why do some people (preachers) often try to separate love from emotion? Isn’t it okay for God to love us, and for us to love, with all our mind and with all our heart?
You’re welcome to “listen in” as Salty and daughter, Leah, talk together and share some of their feelings and insight into how God’s love is revealed in and through us!
When it comes right down to it, what makes a “family,” really – is it blood, or is it love?
Have you ever stood simply amazed at how the circumstances of life, and even the people in your life, can so drastically change???
Soooo, Salty daringly risks life and limb to talk about love and marriage… but, will he survive?
Soooo, Salty daringly risks life and limb to talk about LOVE and MARRIAGE… but, will he somehow manage to “survive” the undertaking???
Daily Devotional Thoughts – Have you ever stood simply amazed at how the circumstances of life, and even the people in your life, can so drastically change???
Daily Devotional Thoughts – When it comes right down to it, what makes a “family,” really – blood or love?
Daily Devotional Thoughts – You’re welcome to “listen in” as Salty and daughter, Leah, talk together and share some of their feelings and insight into how God’s love is revealed in and through us!
Daily Devotional Thoughts – Why do people (preachers) often try to separate love from emotion? Isn’t it okay for God to love, and for us to love, with all our heart and with all our mind?
Daily Devotional Thoughts – What if God not only loves you, but is, in fact, in love with you?
Book of Hebrews, Chapter 4:14-16 – Why I so desperately need my “High Priest”… because evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good!
Book of Hebrews, Chapter 4:1-11 – We will find our “Peace” when we enter into God’s rest – the true Christian Sabbath!
Book of Hebrews, Chapter 3:1-19 – “Red Pill / Blue Pill,” make your decision… and prepare accordingly!
Book of Hebrews, Chapter 2:1-18 – Along with the gift of eternal life, God extends to us His watch, care, and providential protection over our hearts and lives.
Book of Hebrews, Chapter 1:13-14 – Who is really in control? What might happen to me if I dare to offend “The Powers That Be?” Will I be censored, deplatformed, non-personed, or worse???
Book of Hebrews, Chapter 1 – Scripture Reveals the True Identity of Jesus Christ – Can You, Will You, Believe It?
Mr. Abrams (2006) begins his treatise, alleging that water baptism is not “for”—in order to receive—forgiveness of sin, by assigning particular terminology and a generalized definition to the concept of water baptism, saying: “This position is commonly called ‘baptismal regeneration’ because it holds that one is ‘regenerated’ or saved only when a person is baptized” (para. 1). While we acknowledge that there are many people in this world who have been led to think of baptism in those terms, this paper purports to establish the fact that every authentic New Covenant child of God—believing that, indeed, baptism is “for the forgiveness of sin,”—knows better. They understand that the efficacy of baptism has nothing to do with the water, or the act of being immersed in water, in and of itself. The New Covenant children of God do not believe in “baptismal regeneration” or “water regeneration,” even though they do hold to the premise that baptism is when and where a living faith connects with God’s saving grace. They understand that baptism has nothing to do with the efficacy of the water, or the act of baptism itself, to merit, earn, warrant, or deserve salvation in any way.
For Mr. Abrams to begin his article by using such a term, and applying his particular definition to it throughout his article in such a broad and general way, is simply a rhetorical device—the appeal to the “straw man”—defined as:
…a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of the original topic of argument. To be successful, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument. The so-called typical “attacking a straw man” implies an adversarial, polemic, or combative debate, and creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition (i.e., “stand up a straw man”) and then to refute or defeat that false argument, (“knock down a straw man,”) instead of the original proposition. This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged emotional issues where a fiery, entertaining “battle” and the defeat of an “enemy” may be more valued than critical thinking or understanding both sides of the issue. (Straw Man, 2014).
After setting up his “straw man,” Mr. Abrams (2006) gives himself permission to call everyone who believes that water baptism is, indeed, for the forgiveness of sin, “baptismal regenerationists” (para. 2). Thus he has effectively labeled his “straw man.” The rhetorical practice of using names, labels, and general stereotyping—whether they accurately apply or not—is certainly easier than having to deal with actual truth and the real heart issues that are involved.
Mr. Abrams (2006) then goes on to offer a brief summary of what he thinks these alleged “baptismal regenerationists” believe and teach; using what he refers to as “supposed ‘proof text[s]’” (para 2). We might note that his blatant use of uncontextualized truth is precisely how the serpent approached and deceived Eve in the garden. It is also how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. False spirits are not opposed to using the Holy Scripture as a weapon of deception. They know that the closer to the truth, the better the lie. And the best lie is always the truth when it can be used that way.
By offering a barrage of scripture up front, Mr. Abrams (2006) give the impression of acknowledging and understanding his “straw man” enemy. He also seeks to give some impression of scholarship. However, it should be noted that a true scholar would not simply present his own, paraphrased, brief summary of what he thinks other people believe. Rather, he would offer actual documentation, in the words of his alleged opponents, to substantiate what they truly believe. However, that approach would require a tremendous amount of effort on the part of Mr. Abrams because of the way in which he collectively groups several different Christian denominational faiths together under his “straw man” campaign, saying, “Groups that teach this include the Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, many Pentecostal groups including the United Pentecostal Church, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Church of Christ (Russelites)” (para. 2). Mr. Abrams then presents his argument as though what each of these respective groups teach on this particular issue is essentially the same thing—convenient for Mr. Abrams, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Furthermore, Mr. Abrams (2006) displays what is, at least, a serious editorial mistake, if not profound ignorance, when he denotes “the Church of Christ” as “Russelites.” Mr. Abrams errs in two ways in making this statement. First, he speaks of “the Church of Christ” as though it were one big denominational organization; when, in fact, such an organization does not actually exist. The people Abrams is referencing should be more accurately described as “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16); each being an independent and autonomous, nondenominational, community Christian fellowship linked only by love. While one of these local fellowships in a given location might be called “a church of Christ,” there is currently no such common denomination as “the Church of Christ” in the United States.
Second, Mr. Abrams (2006) errs in that, so far as history recounts, members of the churches of Christ have never been commonly referred to as “Russelites.” However, that term has been sometimes used of the Jehovah Witnesses denomination. What Mr. Abrams may have been referring to, with regard to what he mistakenly calls “the Church of Christ” is the term “Campbellite,” which is “a mildly pejorative term referring to adherents of certain religious groups that have historic roots in the Restoration Movement, among whose most prominent 19th century leaders were Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Members of these groups generally consider the term “Campbellite” inappropriate, saying that they are followers of Jesus, not Campbell” (Campbellite, 2014). But whether this is the term Mr. Abrams’ was fishing for or not, his spirit of pejorative name calling, just as with his general groupings of different faiths in seeking support for his “straw man,” is less than academic.
Mr. Abrams (2006) then launches a campaign of refutation in which he purports to knock down all the alleged tenets of his “straw man” and put the Holy Scriptures in their proper light. In so doing, he uses various terms and phrases that the Bible does not use to describe his perceptions of truth. For example, he calls baptism “an important first act of obedience” (para. 3)—nowhere in scripture is baptism referred to in this way—and seeks to redefine Biblical “faith” by equating it with mere “belief” by saying things like, “Overwhelmingly the Bible stresses that a person is saved by grace through faith and that salvation is a gift of God, freely given, when one believes in Jesus Christ for their salvation. (Eph. 2:8-9)” (para. 3). Of course, that is “not” what this passage of scripture actually says. It says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…”When Mr. Abrams adds the phrase, “when one believes in Jesus Christ,” he is only adding his own theological perspective, but couching it as though it were scripture. This is misleading at best and, perhaps, another deliberate deception.
Reading his own theological perspectives into scripture, as he has done here in Ephesians 2:8-9, characterizes a lot of the rest of Mr. Abrams’ (2006) campaign to negate the importance of water baptism—or any other physical expression of faith—in salvation; as, verse-by-verse, he seeks to offer, as the only reliable interpretation of scripture, his own theological constructs. Whether Mr. Abrams’ theology is rooted and grounded in the five basic tenets of Calvinism is a little hard to tell simply by this one manuscript. But it is clear that he has a Calvinistic approach to salvation insofar as he believes that faith, “faith alone,” and, in particular, his definition of faith—which equates to belief only—is all that God requires for salvation. This is seen in statements made by Abrams, such as:
Abrams (2006) also makes it a point to note that, “At least sixty times the New Testament states that salvation is received by faith with no mention of baptism” (para. 4). Abrams makes it sound as though, somehow, the sheer volume of scripture references one can cite has everything to do with establishing truth. But is it not true that if even one passage of scripture reveals a portion of God’s truth, that one passage must be accredited the same weight and significance as every other passage of scripture? Does the Bible not say, “The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting“ (Psalm 119:160)? So why would Abrams even attempt such a futile rhetorical tactic; except to try to win his point!
I think we can attribute much of Abrams’ (2006) efforts at explaining away the meaning of scripture to his fundamental misunderstanding of just what “faith” really is. As noted in the references above, and throughout his article, Abrams apparently equates “faith” with “belief.” There is little doubt that, for him, individual salvation takes place when people belief in Christ; although it is likely that even he might say that they must also “receive Jesus into their hearts as Lord and Savior”—another theological construct that can be found nowhere in scripture. But what Mr. Abrams is missing, what he needs to discover and come to terms with, is that Biblical “faith” is, and always has been, much more than mere “belief.”
Remember the Biblical teaching from the book of James—a book that I note Abrams (2006) keeps well away from—when he says:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? [do not doubt we’re talking about “saving” faith here] If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected [brought to completion]; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26)
At this point we may want to stop and ask ourselves, “Who do we really want to believe here, Mr. Abrams (2006)—who says we are saved by faith alone—or James, the elder of the church in Jerusalem, physical brother of Jesus, and inspired author of one of the books of the New Testament who says we are “justified by works and not by faith alone”? Both cannot be right, Either Abrams is right and we agree with him. Or, James is right and we agree with him.
There is one other option, but Abrams (2006) doesn’t like it very much. That option is that Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 and James in James 2:14-26 are talking about two entirely different kinds of works. While Paul, in context, is talking about legalistic, meritorious works of law by which people seek to justify themselves, James, in context, is talking about works that are the expression of a living faith; but without which faith is useless, faith is dead and, therefore, are essential to our justification.
But Abrams (2006) will not accept the possibility of that explanation, for he says:
Often the baptismal regenerationist trying to reconcile his belief with Ephesians 2:8-9 will state that baptism is not a “work.” However, the word translated “work” is the Greek noun ergon ergon er’-gon and means a “an act, deed, thing done” (2). Baptism is indeed a physical act, to which a person submits and is physically immersed under water. It is the deliberate result of new believer exercising his will and agreeing to be baptized. This is the same word used in passages such as 1 Timothy 5:10, 25; 6:18, 2 Timothy 3:17, which refer to “good works” (kalos ergon). To silence any doubt note that the word is used in 2 Timothy 4:14, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works(ergon).” There can be no mistake that the word means some action a person takes. Alexander the coppersmith’s evil deeds were acts or works he committed. (para. 10)
What should be noted is that the same Greek word, “ergon,” is also used by James when he says, “You see that a man is justified by works [ergon] and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Mr. Abrams (2006) seriously misrepresents those who believe that baptism is essential to salvation when he lumps them all together under his “straw man” and says that they “state that baptism is not a ‘work’” (para. 10). No authentic New Covenant child of God that I know will ever say that baptism is not a “work.” Baptism is a work, just as confession is a work, and repentance is a work, and pursuing “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14) is a work. But what Mr. Abrams fails to see, or what he will not agree to see, is that confession, repentance, baptism, and the pursuit of sanctification are not the kinds of works that the Apostle Paul was speaking of in Ephesians 2—meritorious works of law by which one seeks to justify himself. Rather, they are the kind of works that James was speaking of in James 2—expressions of living faith; the kind of faith upon which our access to God’s grace depends.
But just as no authentic New Covenant child of God that I know will ever say that baptism is not a work, so also, they will never tell you that their faith is in their works. We do not put our faith in the waters of baptism. We do not put our faith in the fact that we surrendered ourselves to God in baptism, or that we have repented of our sins, or that we confess with our mouth Jesus as Lord, or that we are in constant pursuit of sanctification. We know that none of these things can save us. We work, because a living faith will not allow us to do otherwise. And we know that, as James teaches, our works bring our faith to completion. But our faith is not in our works. Our faith is not even in our faith. Sadly people can misdirect their faith by putting their faith in the fact that they have faith. But we are not saved by our faith, any more than we are saved by our works. We are saved only “by” God’s grace, which He has poured out for us through the sacrificial gift of His Son. And that grace is made abundantly available to those who, by faith, surrender their hearts and lives to God in obedience to His will as expressed through His holy and inspired word—the Bible.
We can point to the entire chapter of Hebrews 11 for example after example of what faith is; each example involving not only a conviction in one’s heart, but a living demonstration of that conviction—bringing their faith to completion. For example, the book of Hebrews says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household” (verse 7). Noah and family were saved by faith, but it wasn’t a dead faith that merely believed. Rather, it was a living faith that PREPARED AN ARK! Had they only believed, but taken no action, they would have perished. Why? Because, as James 2 says, “…faith without works is useless” (verse 20). In the same way, Hebrews 11 says, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days” (verse 30). Now we know that all the marching in the world could not have made those walls fall down. It wasn’t the marching that did it and the Hebrews children did not put their faith in their marching; they put their faith in Jehovah God. It was He who made the walls fall down and they knew that very well. But those wall didn’t fall until the marching occurred. Why? Because as James 2 says, “faith without works is dead” (verse 26).
Is it, then, too much for Mr. Abrams (2006) to imagine that faith is more than the mere mental acquiescence to the validity of something; that it is more than just belief, more than just accepting? In light of James’ teaching and what the Bible says faith really is, is it really too much for Mr. Abrams and company to imagine that God, as a prerequisite to gaining access to the blood of Christ, would call upon people to actually express the convictions of their heart by meeting Him at the watery grave of baptism, and there demonstrating their faith in what Jesus has done for them—His death, burial, and resurrection—through their own symbolic death, burial, and resurrection to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4)? Perhaps that is, indeed, just a little too much for a heart steeped in the doctrines of John Calvin to ever comprehend?
I love the Apostle Paul’s explanation of baptism, in addressing the church at Colossae, when he says: “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12). In this passage, Paul not only defines baptism as the moment we receive our spiritual circumcision, but he points out exactly where the efficacy of authentic Bible baptism lies when he says that “you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God…” Every authentic New Covenant child of God that I know knows exactly where their faith was at when they were baptized; and it was not in themselves, not in their obedience, not in their performances, and certainly not in the “water” itself. Their faith was, and is, in “the working of God!” That is about as far away from the kind of meritorious works of law, which Paul addressed in Ephesians 2, as one can get!
Faith cannot be separated from works; any more than love can be separated from obedience. Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) and “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (John 14:21). While the Calvinists, and others like them, try to separate it all out and make “faith” one thing and “works another, or “love” one thing and “obedience” another, the truth is they are all one big ball of wax. As James points out, a living faith necessitates works and works of faith bring one’s faith to completion.
But not only do Abrams (2006) and company fail to differentiate between two entirely different kinds of works, thus throwing the writings of Paul and James into conflict with one another, but they also seem to neglect the very teachings of Jesus Himself concerning the importance of works to our salvation. Abrams says we are saved by faith alone, completely separate and apart from any works whatsoever, even works that are simply expressions of our faith. But Jesus said:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
So now the question becomes, “Who are we to believe, Abrams (2006) or Jesus?” I think we all know the answer to THAT one. And, while I am sure that Abrams and company have found some way to explain away those statements made by Jesus—I mean, how could they not try to come up with something that will seemingly justify their position—it behooves us, as disciples of Christ and students of the Word, to not let these guys off the hook. There is simply no way that the Calvinists, or anyone remotely related to their doctrinal positions, can look at the teachings of Christ in this particular passage, and throughout the Gospels, and continue to hold to their doctrine of “faith only” without trying to do an awful lot of explaining away.
I am sometimes virtually dumbfounded at how far people will sometimes go to reinterpret a passage of scripture, or an event in Bible history, in order to maintain their doctrine. For example, concerning Luke’s account of the thief on the cross, Abrams (2006) says:
One passage the baptismal regeneration people have never really correctly understood is Luke 23:42-43 and the fact the thief on the cross was saved as Jesus declared, and was never baptized. They try to skirt the matter by saying this was before the Church Age when baptism was initiated. They state that Romans 10:9-10 requires that to be saved a person must believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. The thief could not have believed that because Christ had not yet arisen. The problem with that idea is that it does not take into account how were people in the Old Testament saved? Old Testament saints were saved by faith, through the grace of God as Hebrews 11 explains. This chapter is the Bible’s Hall of Faith and states repeatedly how from Abel on men believed the revelation they were given by God and were saved. Abraham never heard the name of Jesus Christ or of His death, burial and resurrection, but he was certainly saved…. (para. 5)
The Bible teaches that no one in the Old or New Testament who was saved, merited or earned it in any way. The thief died in the Old Testament dispensation during the time the Mosaic Law was in force. He expressed saving faith while hanging on a cross and had no time to keep any law therefore the keeping of any part of the law was certainly not a part of his salvation. Jesus declared that the repentant thief (malefactor) would be with Him that day in Paradise because the thief believed in Jesus Christ and nothing more… (para. 7)
As seen in this text, Mr. Abrams (2006) is very good a telling us what the Bible teaches—in light of his own theological positions. However, even a casual reading of Hebrews 11 reveals that the theme of the whole chapter is “faith in action”; demonstrating for us in example after example how that authentic “faith” is much more than mere “belief”; and how that it consists not only of a conviction within our hearts but the physical expression of that conviction, as well. In the section above, Abrams (2006) speaks of Abel, of whom the book of Hebrews says he “offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (verse 4). Does that sound like “faith” is only “believing” to you? Abrams also mentions Abraham, of whom the book of Hebrews says he “obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (verse 8). I’m thinking Abrams’ Old Testament appeals to faith being nothing more than a mental acquiescence to, or belief in, something is not doing him any favors.
But, back to the thief on the cross. I am amazed, startled even, at how quickly those of Calvinists heritage run to this particular illustration to try to prove their point concerning baptism not being a part of God’s plan for receiving the forgiveness of sin. They inevitably say, “Well, what about the thief on the cross, he wasn’t baptized and Jesus saved him?” To this point we must point out that:
First, if it’s just “baptism” we’re talking about, how does Mr. Abrams (2006) know that the thief on the cross had not been baptized with the baptism of John? He very well may have been. According to the Bible, “When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John” (Luke 7:29-30). Perhaps, at one time or another, the thief on the cross had, indeed, been among those people who were baptized by John, or one of his disciples. Just because he had sinned, and was now hanging on a cross beside Jesus, does not mean that he was totally disobedient to the will of God. It was the religious leaders—lawyers and Pharisees—who, like Abrams and company, “rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John” (verse 30). Why is it always the religious leaders who, seemingly, cannot see what the common people so easily see? But whether or not the thief on the cross had ever been baptized with the baptism of John is a moot point because, it’s Jesus’ baptism, commanded after His death, burial, and resurrection, that we have in view here, not John’s baptism.
Second—and, really, of greater importance—despite Abrams (2006) claims to the contrary, it remains important to the discussion to remember that the thief on the cross lived and died prior to Jesus’ commands concerning baptism. When Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) and, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16), He made these statements after His death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism, as taught in the New Testament, is an expression of saving faith symbolizing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—as we die to self and to sin (Romans 6:6), are “buried with Him through baptism into death” and raised up to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). How could the thief on the cross have be expected to have done any of that when Jesus had not yet died, nor had He issued His commandment regarding baptism? The whole appeal to the thief on the cross—with regard to Christian baptism, or any other New Covenant expression of saving faith—is a moot point!
If the Biblical account of the thief on the cross has anything whatsoever so say about our own salvation, it is not with specific regard to baptism or any other expression of the faith to which we are called in accordance with the terms of the New Covenant. Rather, much to the chagrin of the “legalists” on both sides of all such issues, it speaks to the beautiful, compassionate, ever gracious character of a wild and passionate God who will not be tamed or constrained by any man’s theology. I have had both conservative legalists and liberal legalist (and, yes, there are legalists—people who base their salvation, and that of others, on how well they adhere to particular tenets and practices of some religious doctrine or another—on both sides of every issue) tell me that, if God makes a single exception for any individual with regard to what He requires for salvation, then He must make that same exception for every person. Such legalistic thinking, however, does not take into account that God looks deeply into our heart—individually, person-by-person—and deals with us accordingly.
The thief on the cross is a first class example of God’s personal attention to, and intimate dealings with, the individual human heart. As the thief hung there beside Jesus, suspended between heaven and earth, and between two covenants—the Old Covenant with its Law of Moses, which was obsolete and passing away (Hebrews 8:13), and the New Covenant, which was about to be inaugurated with Christ’s own blood (Hebrews 9:15-16)—he was, to be sure, in a unique position. Whatever faith and obedience he had demonstrated in accordance with the Law of Moses, or even with regard to the prophetic authority of John the Baptizer, was now all behind him and there was nothing more he could ever do to show his penitence. He could do nothing to make restitution in accordance with the old law. He could offer no animal sacrifice for himself down at the temple. If he had not submitted to John’s prophetic authority, it was too late now. No one was going to take him down from that cross and over to the Pool of Siloam for baptism. Everything pertaining to the Old Covenant dispensation was behind him and irretrievable.
Likewise, whatever expressions of faith and love required by our Lord in accordance with the terms of the New Covenant in Christ were beyond him and out of his reach. He had no knowledge or comprehension of some future baptism that Christ had not yet even commanded, or of what such an act of surrender might mean with regard to becoming a New Covenant child of God.
All he had to offer God in that moment was a living faith in Jesus as the Christ; a saving faith that prompted him to, well, do something—so he opened his mouth and rebuked the other criminal, then confessed his own sin and guilt, and then, finally, confessed Jesus as His Lord and King as he entreated Him to remember him. It was not exactly in keeping with the Law of Moses under which, technically, he lived and died. It was not exactly what John the baptizer had been preaching earlier. It was also not even entirely in keeping with what Jesus Himself, and the apostles and prophets of the New Testament, would later command, following the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. But it was all that he had to offer in that moment; and, by faith, he offered what he had.
I think it incredulous for the Calvinists among us, or anybody else, to run to the thief on the cross and so tritely use him as some kind of rhetorical devise to justify their own theological positions; and especially to use him to negate something that Jesus Himself would later command following His own death, burial, and resurrection. I think it must break the thief’s heart—and I hate continually referring to him as “the thief,” must he continue to wear that label for eternity? Furthermore, I know it breaks our Lord’s heart for such a beautiful example of intimacy and compassion to be used in such a legalistic way. I also can’t help but think that, given the kind of heart that that man who was redeemed by Christ’s love on the cross reveals to us as he hung there beside Jesus, had he somehow miraculously survived that whole ordeal, and upon hearing his risen Savior say, “he who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), that man would have been among the first in line to surrender his heart and life to Christ in baptism.
What I learn from the account of the redeemed man on the cross—thief no longer—is that God will forgive whoever He chooses, whether such forgiveness conforms to human expectations or not. And no amount of doctrine or dogma—Christian, Calvinist, or otherwise—can get in the way of that! As the Apostle Paul records it, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Romans 9:18). But God does not harden good and honest hearts. I know this because Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8) and, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). If a person is actively seeking God, like that merchant who was constantly in pursuit of the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46), or even if a person simply has an open heart and, like the man who accidently found the hidden treasure buried in a field (Matthew 13:44), is willing to do anything to be a part of God’s eternal kingdom once they have discovered it, then God will surely give that person every opportunity to know the truth, to respond in living faith, and to be saved by the blood of Christ. But there is a huge difference between that kind of person—one like the man who was redeemed by Christ’s love on the cross—and someone who, being more devoted to their religion than they are the Lord, continues to walk contrary to the teachings of God’s word.
I was asked one time, by a liberal legalist, if I thought that someone killed in a tragic accident on their way to be baptized would still go to heaven. I answered, “In view of the thief on the cross, I believe that, yes, of course they would.” “But,” I continued, “I don’t think someone who is running in the opposite direction, away from the waters of baptism, will be saved.” When he asked me to explain that further, I simply said, “Well, as we learn from the account of the thief on the cross, it’s all about what is going on in our hearts. A surrendered heart seeking the Lord’s will is one thing, but a rebellious heart seeking its own will, or willing to put some theological concept ahead of the expressed will of God, is quite another.”
Not long after Jesus had issued His commandments regarding baptism, the Apostle Peter preached the first recorded gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost—recorded in Acts, Chapter 2. Near the end of his sermon, when the people were convicted and cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (verse 37), Peter told them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (verse 38). Simple enough, right! But along comes men like Mr. Abrams (2006) who says:
The true interpretation of Acts 2:38 is not clouded in a great mystery that cannot be understood. Anyone with the most basic skills in Bible study can research and find the correct meaning of the verse. Acts 2:38 says, “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 Ghost.” The preposition “for” is the Greek work “eis” and simply means “with a view towards,” “in connection with,” “because of,” or “in light of.” In other words, Peter said that because they had believed and repented these people should now be baptized. (para. 11)
It appears that Abrams (2006) wants to distort simple Bible teaching by taking us to the original Greek language and arguing over the meaning of “for” [eis]. So let’s go there. It is important to note that:
…the standard Greek lexicons do not define “eis” as “because of” with reference to Acts 2:38. J.H. Thayer, for instance, translated the term as follows, citing Acts 2:38 — “eis aphesin hamartion, to obtain the forgiveness of sins” (Greek-English Lexicon, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1958, 94). Wm. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich, in a section where “eis” is defined as expressing “purpose,” with the sense of “in order to,” rendered the same phrase: “for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven . . . Acts 2:38:” (Greek-English Lexicon, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1967, 228). Elliger states that “eis,” in Acts 2:38, is designed “to indicate purpose” (Horst Balz & Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990, Vol. 1, 399). In his discussion of Acts 2:38, Ceslas Spicq noted: “Water baptism is a means of realizing this conversion, and its goal—something altogether new—is a washing, ‘the remission of sins’” (Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994, Vol. 1, 242). (Jackson, 2014)
The “for” [eis] in Acts 2:38, when Peter says, ““Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for [eis] the forgiveness of your sins” means the very same thing that it means in Luke 24:47 when Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for [eis] forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Jesus made both repentance and baptism prerequisites to salvation. And Peter faithfully proclaimed the same on the Day of Pentecost.
Concerning Abrams (2006) treatment of the events recorded in Acts, Chapter 10 concerning the salvation of the household of Cornelius, he says:
Cornelius and those present with him, when Peter preached the Gospel to them, believed and received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit; following this they were baptized in water. If water baptism was necessary for salvation why did the Holy Spirit indwell them as believers BEFORE they were baptized in water? The baptism of the Holy Spirit refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life and receiving the new nature from God. Peter asks the question, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” (Acts 10:47) Peter is effectively saying that Cornelius was saved and had received the Holy Spirit as Peter had and those who believed with him, at Pentecost in Acts 2. Peter further said that Cornelius, who was now saved along with those there with him, should now be baptized in water. If salvation is received at baptism, as some believe, this passage would then be essentially and incorrectly interpreted as saying that the Holy Spirit will indwell the unsaved. (para. 18)
While Mr. Abrams (2006) seeks to line us out on what Peter is “effectively” saying—which is only Abrams personal interpretation of the scene—what he fails to grasp is that what the household of Cornelius received that day was not the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” The Bible does not say that they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (doesn’t anybody read their Bible anymore) only that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message” (verse 44). In fact, the phrase or term, “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” does not actually occur anywhere in scripture. It is a manmade phrase used in many different ways according to various denominational doctrines.
However, the concept of a baptizing “with the Holy Spirit,” or similar wording, does occur several times in scripture:
The actual fulfillment of these passages of scripture, concerning a baptism of the Holy Spirit, occurred on the Day of Pentecost—Acts, Chapter 2. It was a onetime, historical event that took place when Jesus, in fulfillment of the prophecy made by Joel, poured forth His Spirit “on all mankind” (Acts 2:17). Thus the Holy Spirit, for the first time ever, was made available, freely accessible to all people everywhere. After that occurred, the Holy Spirit immediately began to empower the apostles, enabling them to speak languages they had never studied or spoken before.
Until the conversion of the household of Cornelius, all Christians were Jews or Jewish proselytes, and there were strong cultural mores indicating to their 1st Century minds that one must become a Jew—an adherent of the Law of Moses—before becoming a Christian. In other words, Christianity was for Jews only (that sounds rather strange to our modern ears). But the Apostle Peter and company, along with all Christians everywhere, needed to be convicted of the fact that Jesus died for all men everywhere, that salvation was not just for the Jews, and that one need not become a Jew in order to become a Christian. Hence the events of Acts 10. And what better way for God to demonstrate to Peter that on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit had been poured forth, He had been made available to all men everywhere, and not just to Jews, than to empower the household of Cornelius with a divine sign—in precisely the same way that He had empowered the apostles on the Day of Pentecost—by allowing them to also speak in foreign languages they had never studied or learned.
But this wonderful gift of empowerment was not some kind of second baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had been poured forth only once upon “all flesh”—“baptizing” or immersing the whole earth in His presence; Jews and Gentiles. Acts 10 even says that what was so amazing to Peter was the fact that “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out [past tense—on day of Pentecost] on the Gentiles also” (verse 45). Then came the empowering of the apostles, and later the household of Cornelius, as evidence of that. However, the giving of the “gift of the Holy Spirit”—or the “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit—occurs only at the point of baptism (Acts 2:38), when one is saved by the blood of Christ and access to God is thereby granted. This is why Peter immediately “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48).
Mr. Abrams (2006) makes at least two significant errors when he jumps to conclusions and makes assumption that are not necessitated by scripture. First he says, “If water baptism was necessary for salvation why did the Holy Spirit indwell them as believers BEFORE they were baptized in water?” (para. 18). However, there is no indication that the Holy Spirit had “indwelled” them, but only “empowered” them. The Holy Spirit can empower whomever He wishes, whenever He wishes, ask Balaam’s ass (Numbers 22). If the Lord can open the mouth of a donkey and cause it to speak in a human language, He could certainly open the mouths of the household of Cornelius and cause them to speak in foreign languages. But that does not mean the Holy Spirit had indwelled them, or the donkey for that matter.
Second, Mr. Abrams says, “The baptism of the Holy Spirit refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life and receiving the new nature from God” (para. 18). However, both the use of the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” and the definition he here assigns to it are nothing but the mental constructs of his own theology; and not supported by scripture. As we have already seen, scripture references that point to what could be termed a baptism of the Holy Spirit do not refer to the “indwelling” of the Spirit, but rather to the “pouring forth” of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
I do not think it too bold, at this point, to make the assertion that Mr. Abrams (2006) is either incredibly deceived, reminiscent of Jesus’ statement, “if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14), or that he is under the influence of a terribly bold false spirit. For what he says next, in connection with Galatians 3:27, is simply a direct violation of New Testament teaching:
Galatians 3:27 is also misused as a supposedly “proof” text by those that teach baptismal regeneration. However, once again the context and even the simplest hermeneutic principles show this verse is not teaching this false doctrine. The context of the passage is teaching salvation by faith and verse 26 says, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Verse 27 is used out of context by the Baptismal Regeneration people and it says, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The baptism here is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that comes when one by faith believes and is saved. This is the baptism of the Holy Spirit in which the believer is indwelled by the Holy Spirit and given the new nature of God as explained in 2 Cor. 5:17. Gal. 3:24 says “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”; this verse does not say here, or anywhere else in the Scriptures, that one is justified by faith plus works (baptism). If baptism regenerates and saves why not say so here and in the sixty some passages in the New Testament which address being saved but do not mention baptism as a requirement for salvation? (para. 33)
This passage and many others show the important truth that after a person is saved by believing in Jesus Christ as his Savior, baptism and an obedient life are important in showing the evidence of true conversion. (para. 34)
Here, Mr. Abrams (2006) is clearly teaching that there are at least two baptisms: water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism. He equates Holy Spirit baptism with belief and calls that salvation. Then, he emphasizes the need for a second baptism, water baptism; which, he says, is “important in showing evidence of true conversion.” However, the Bible says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Again we must ask the question, “Who do we choose to believe: Mr. Abrams who says there is more than one baptism, or the Apostle Paul, who teaches that there is but one baptism?
The baptism presented in scripture is, indeed, water baptism: “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-28). But, we know that this water baptism is also an act of the Spirit and represents the moment at which we receive the indwelling of the Spirit: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13). Water baptism “for the forgiveness of your sins” is baptism by the one Spirit into the one body, and it is at that moment that we receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This is the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4; and anyone who advocates for more than one baptism, or two separate baptisms—water baptism and Spirit baptism—is operating under a false and deceitful spirit.
As Mr. Abrams (2006) closes his treatise on baptism, he not only reveals his own inconsistences, but circumvents his own line of reasoning with regard to “faith only,” for he states:
Some will argue that even if one believes in faith plus baptism they still have believed and are saved. However the fallacy of this thinking can be seen in the teaching that without the act of baptism added to belief there is no salvation. Let me say that again . . . the baptismal regenerationist believes that if he is not baptized he cannot be saved. Clearly, their belief is that baptism is as important as faith according to this teaching because if they are not baptized they are not saved. This teaching degrades faith whereas the Scriptures overwhelmingly speak of the necessity of faith for salvation (sixty times as mentioned earlier) without a hint of or reference to baptism. Surely, all this evidence should alert those seeking God’s truth that it is faith that saves . . . not the work of baptism. (para. 36) … Paul plainly and emphatically proclaimed that any Gospel other than what he taught, which God had given him by revelation, was a false gospel and those that preached a false gospel should be “accursed”; Galatians 1:8-10. (para. 37)
So let’s try to get Mr. Abrams’ (2006) teaching in perspective. First, he asserts that people are saved when they believe in Christ and, I assume, receive or accept Jesus into their heart as their personal Savior. He asserts that this “belief,” which he equates with “faith,” is all that is required and that our works have nothing to do with our salvation. But then he says that those who do believe and who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but who happen to disagree with him and his doctrine of “faith only” are not saved, but accursed. Is that not an incredibly inconsistent theology? All that is required to be saved is belief, but even if you do believe, yet disagree with Abrams, you are accursed? Really? Has he not just shot down his own theology in which he asserts that all that is required is to believe? Is this not, ironically, the epitome of legalism?
As pointed out previously, in the section about the thief on the cross, even many of us who do believe that baptism is “for the forgiveness of sin” (because it is in baptism—the figurative reenactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—that God has chosen to unite faith with grace) are not so legalistic as to presume to judge who is and who is not saved based on how well someone conforms to our own understanding of scripture. While we must always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), we know that only God can stand in judgment of people’s hearts.
Of course, we do agree with the Apostle Paul’s teaching concerning those who he says deliberately want to “distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7); we believe that they are, indeed, “accursed” (verse 9). But our theology remains consistent in that regard because we do not believe that “belief” is all that is required, or that Biblical “faith” equates to mere “belief.” If it did, then it really wouldn’t matter what one practiced, taught, or how they lived their life, so long as they believed. But, as James said, “the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” (James 2:19-20).
Mr. Abrams (2006) is correct about a few things—no one is totally wrong about absolutely everything. But one thing, in particular, that he is absolutely correct about, and with which we heartily agree, is when he says, “A person is saved solely on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus Christ which atones for sin. This is the one ‘work’ that saves and was the sole work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God incarnate in the flesh (John 1:1)” (para. 36). Nothing could be truer and every authentic New Covenant child of God knows it very well. But Mr. Abrams, in his apparent ignorance, in his rush to defend the tenets of John Calvin, and in his feeble “straw man” generalizations of what he presumes to think people believe, has missed the point entirely. Authentic New Covenant children of God—who do believe that baptism is “for the forgiveness of sin”—understand that baptism is not a legalistic work of law. It does not cause us to earn, merit, or deserve anything; any more than endorsing the back of a check causes one to earn or deserve the gift that has been presented to them thereby. Baptism is a surrender of our heart and life to Christ, a demonstration of the conviction that is in our hearts, and the expression of our faith in all that Jesus has done for us.
We know with all our hearts that it is the blood of Christ that justifies us (Romans 5:9), the blood of Christ that redeems us (Ephesians 1:7), the blood of Christ by which we draw near to God (Ephesians 2:13), the blood of Christ that cleanses our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14), the blood of Christ that continually cleanses us of all our sins (I John 1:7), the blood of Christ that releases us from our sins (Revelation 1:5), the blood of Christ by which we have been purchased for God (Acts 20:28, Revelation 5:9).
Baptism adds nothing to the finished and complete work of Christ. As practiced by the authentic New Covenant children of God, there is nothing meritorious about it, nothing that causes anybody to earn, win, or deserve salvation. While we do believe what the Apostle Peter said, “baptism now saves you,” we understand that it has nothing to do with the washing of water or the “removal of dirt from the flesh” [legalistic works of law] but everything to do with “an appeal unto God for a good conscience” [an expression of living faith] (I Peter 3:21). And, as stated earlier, our faith is not in the water, nor in the act of baptism, nor in our own surrender, or our own obedience, or our own works. We have nothing of our own with which to come before God seeking justification. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6). Rather, our faith, as expressed through baptism, is in one thing and one thing only: the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Baptism is of God. He designed this beautiful and elegant expression of faith to be simple and feasible for people the world over. Faith meets grace at the waters of baptism for it is there that Christ has chosen for us to be “united with Him in the likeness of His death” (Romans 6:5). As the Apostle Paul states, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4)
~ Salty ~
Abrams, C. (2006). Does the Bible say baptism is necessary for salvation? A Biblical explanation of the question and the verses used that supposedly teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. Retrieved from http://bible-truth.org/BaptismNotNecessary.html
Campbellite. (2014). Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbellite
Jackson, W. (2014). Dallas professor rebuffs common quibble on “eis.” Christian Currier. Retrieved from https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/395-dallas-professor-rebuffs-common-quibble-on-eis
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”
Straw Man. (2014). Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man
THE ESSENTIAL SEVEN
We are new covenant children of God who seek only to surrender our hearts and lives to the Lord and walk humbly before Him with broken and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17, NASB). We realize that we have no righteousness of our own with which to come before Him because, “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB) and, “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10) for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).
We also understand that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB). By the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ our Lord we have been “justified” (Romans 5:9), “redeemed” (Ephesians 1:7), “brought near” (Ephesians 2:13), “cleansed from sin” (I John 1:7), “released from sin” (Revelation 1:5), and “purchased for God” (Revelation 5:9).
Yet, we also know that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB), and that, “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself”(James 2:17, NASB). For this reason, therefore, as the Apostle Paul says, “we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 6:9-10, NASB).
In our desire to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB), we have come to the understanding that “baptism” (a ceremonial immersion in water demonstrating our faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ) is the moment in time when we express our repentance from sin, surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and are saved by the sacrifice of Christ – “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4, NASB).
As God’s covenant children, we now seek to be “true worshipers” who, as Jesus said, “worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, NASB). We do this when we, as the Apostle Paul said, “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB). Paul also admonished us to continual, daily worship, saying, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17, NASB).
Because we seek to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27, NASB), the things we do when we come together as the body of Christ are important to us—even though the little time we share with one another on a given Sunday morning, or any other time of the week, is but the “tip of the iceberg” with regard to all that God calls us to be and do. So we want our time together to be meaningful, productive, encouraging, and uplifting for every child of God present, as well as for their visitors and friends who may accompany them.
Essentially, we practice the very same things that we read about in the Bible when it says of the early Christians that, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Ministering to one another in music and song is also important to us, as the Apostle Paul noted when he said, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16, NASB). We also recognize that sacrificial giving to collaborative projects and ministries, here at home and around the world, is not only vital to our Christian community, but is part of our worship unto God – as Paul said, “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18, NASB) – and so we provide opportunity for God’s people to give “as he may prosper” (I Corinthians 16:2).
We hold to the seven essential fundamentals of the Christian faith, as do authentic children of God the world over: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-5):
It is important to note that while authentic Christians everywhere are united by these seven essential fundamental of the faith, differences do exist among us insofar as traditions, cultural practices, and the ways and means by which we express these truths. When it comes to the broad area of human judgment, individual interpretations, private opinions, and expedient applications of the scripture, we need to be very careful and follow Jesus’ teaching when He said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7: 1-2, NASB); and the Apostle Paul’s admonition, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4, NASB).
Sadly, people often do judge. Rather than seeking to “not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other” (I Corinthians 4:5, NASB), people often make themselves the lawgiver an judge by going too far and exceeding what is written in the scripture either by: 1. speaking where God’s word does not speak and making up rules and regulations not specifically taught in scripture that are based on their own traditions, private interpretations, and personal opinions, and then then trying to force their will upon others as though it were the word of God; or 2. by discounting and discrediting what God’s word does, indeed, specifically teach, thus allowing, and even encouraging, people to participate in things that God says are evil.
Authentic disciples of Christ are neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Jew. They do not see themselves as Evangelicals, or Baptists, or Methodists, or Presbyterians, or Episcopalians, or Pentecostal Holiness, or Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon, or even Church of Christ. In fact, they do not see themselves as “denominational” at all. They are not defined by “religion,” but only by their personal relationship with God and identity as a child of God through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. The Bible, and their own understanding if it as God puts His “laws into their minds” and “write[s] them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10), along with the wisdom God pours out within them when they ask (James 1:5), is all the authority they need to guide and direct them in their walk with God. Their beliefs and practices are structured by the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and prophets of the 1st century (Ephesians 2:20) – and certainly not by any 16th century renaissance reformer, or 19th century restorationist, or modern day pastor, priest, rabbi, church, synagogue, synod, council, or convention.
THE BIG/LITTLE FOUR
Having humbly set forth our theological position—illustrated in the background information above—we now turn our attention to four reoccurring questions—albeit, to us they are rather minor issues—by which some people who see themselves as “Christians” tend to judge the body of Christ at large and determine whether or not we are worthy of their fellowship. However, unless a person is walking in rebellion against God by “sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth,” in which case “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27, NASB), not a single one of these questions has anything to do with one’s salvation and, therefore, does not define the perimeters Christian fellowship.
And, yet, because of the continual harping on these issues over the years by religious leaders with Pharisaical attitudes who seem to need a distinct dogma to define their denomination—because, for them, a living faith in Christ is not enough—people have come to believe that the faithful family of God really can be determined by these few particular variables alone. Or, for some who apparently don’t want to think too deeply and are just looking for a simple method of determining whether or not it might be “lawful” for them to pay a visit to a particular congregation on any given Sunday while on vacation, these four items seem to give them a quick and easy ready-reference whereby they can make that determination.
Sadly, however, they seem to think that any individual or group of “Christians” that does not answer these questions precisely as has been inculcated upon them by their home church cannot possibly be pleasing to God and should be avoided at all cost. This is a rather sad commentary on the depleted state of so-called “Christianity” in modern America. Virtually meaningless—well, minimal at best—denominational dogma is being elevated to the level of the holy and inspired word of God and used to define and identify the church—while the great, eternal principles upon which the Christian faith rests are all but forgotten and discounted; and unity and beautiful Christian fellowship goes out the window.
So, what are these “big/little” four questions? We will, herein, provide each question along with our response—keeping in mind that we do not speak for anyone other than those covenant children of God who are currently participating in our local circle of Christian fellowship:
Question Number One: Do you use mechanical instruments of music?
Answer: The Bible does not specifically address this issue. Instruments of music were used in the Old Testament and some of the Psalms were specifically written to be accompanied by musical instruments. However, the New Testament, while admonishing us to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19, NASB), is silent on whether or not such psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs should be accompanied by musical instruments. Since the New Testament neither commands nor forbids their use, musical instruments fall into the category of human opinion, expedience, and cultural relevance; as do many other things that the “church” does today.
We must remember that, when it comes to the area of human opinion and reasoning, “All things are lawful” (I Corinthians 6:12, 10:23, NASB). In other words, we need to keep in mind that, due to the “freedom of the new covenant,” the church is not prohibited from adapting to contemporary culture in order to remain relevant throughout the ages and to expedite the mission to which Christ has called us. We need to remember that any practice is permissible; so long as it does not invalidate the word of God or circumvent God’s expressed will for our lives. As long as a given practice or tradition does not endorse, permit, promote, or advocate that which God, through His divinely inspired written word—the Bible—says is sinful, the practice is permissible. Likewise, so long as the practice or tradition does not hinder, invalidate, repudiate, circumvent, or disavow a specific commandment of God—that which the written word of God has expressly enjoined upon us—the practice is permissible. And, so long as the practice or teaching is not inculcating the personal opinions, beliefs, traditions, interpretations, or doctrines of men as though they were the word of God, and then binding those practices or teachings upon others and holding them accountable, as though their personal relationship with God or fellowship with the body of Christ depended on it, the practice is permissible.
For example, if the “ekklesia” in a given location decides that it really is in their best interest that they organize, incorporate, open a bank account, purchase land, build a building, and engage in corporate programs, projects, ministries, worship activities, and all the other trappings that seem to define a modern “church” in today’s world, the terms of the new covenant do not condemn such activity because “all things are lawful”; even though God’s people in Bible days did not do these things and there is nothing in scripture that specifically “authorizes” any of these actions. By the same token, if the “ekklesia” living in various locations determine that they want to cooperate with one another and work together to provide some structure beyond the local community level in order to accomplish foreign mission work, or to build hospitals and clinics, or to found schools and orphanages, or other goods works, the freedom of the new covenant allows for these activities because “all things are lawful”; even though we have no specific commands or examples in the Bible that would specifically “authorize” such cooperation.
As for our little circle of Christian fellowship, because we see EVERYTHING that we do and say, every day that we live, as worship, then the answer is “YES!” sometimes our worship is accompanied by musical instruments—particularly in small-group settings in people’s homes, or when we come together for special occasions. However, we do not typically use musical instruments in our “public” gatherings on Sunday morning because we know that there may be people present among us—usually visitors from the Bible-belt—who have been led to believe that it is wrong; and so, for them, it is wrong. In fact, there are many things—not specifically spelled out in scripture—that may be considered either “right” or “wrong,” depending on one’s own heart and how our participation, or nonparticipation, plays out in the hearts and lives of others. Paul makes it clear that, “to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14, NASB) and says, “whatever is not from faith is sin” (verse 23). So, to some degree, our own personal faith must determine our level of participation in matters that are not specifically addressed in scripture. However, the final verdict as to whether we should insist on a particular practice or not does not rest even with our own faith, but with that of others; for Paul also makes it clear that, if “your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love” (verse 15).
Question Number Two: Do you observe the Lord’s Supper each Sunday?
Answer: The Bible does not specifically address this issue. The “ekklesia’s” [church] devotion to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, NASB) may be a reference only to their “taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (verse 46, NASB), or it may be a reference to “the Lord’s supper” (I Corinthians 11:20, NASB). Likewise, we read that, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7, NASB). The “first day of the week,” was probably Saturday evening—sometime between sundown and midnight—according to the Jewish calendar and tradition; which explains why there were “many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together” (verse 8) and why the young man, Eutychus, “was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead” (verse 9).
Note that, while Paul spent a good deal of time teaching the brethren on this occasion, the purpose for their coming together was “to break bread” (verse 7). This, too, may be a reference only to a common meal; or it may be a reference to “the Lord’s supper.” However, it really makes no difference how anyone chooses to interpret or apply these particular passages because we know from other verses that God’s children often observed “the Lord’s supper” when they were together.
Writing to the “ekklesia” [church] living in and around the city of Corinth, the Apostle Paul says, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (I Corinthians 10:16-17, NASB). Again Paul writes:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (I Corinthians 11:23-26, NASB)
Exactly how often did the “ekklesia” [church] in Bible times observe this memorial feast called, “the Lord’s supper,” to remember and proclaim the sacrificial death of our Savior? We don’t really know. Remember, the New Testament is not written like the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy. It is not a law book with strict rules and regulations meant to govern every facet of our worship. The new covenant is “not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (Hebrews 8:9, NASB). And, for the new covenant child of God, no one day is any more important or “holy” than any other because, for us, every day is a holy day—every day is “the Lord’s day.”
At times, perhaps, Christians in Bible days included an observance of the Lord’s supper in their daily fellowship activities, as “day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46, NASB). At other times, perhaps they observed the Lord’s supper only once a week, “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7, NASB); or sometime between sundown Saturday and sundown Sunday by Jewish reckoning.
To be honest, the Bible does not spell out for us just how often the “ekklesia” shared together in the Lord’s Supper. It only tells us, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26, NASB). Why debate “how often,” when what we should be focusing on is making sure that “as often” as we partake, we do it “in spirit and truth”—with our hearts attuned to the sacrifice of our dear Lord, and with the proper understanding of what we are doing and why.
That being said, it becomes apparent from the Apostle Paul’s message to the Christians living in Corinth that celebrating the Lord’s Supper together was one of the central purposes for their coming together on a regular basis. In speaking to them about some of the ways they were abusing the Lord’s Supper—turning it into a common meal and showing discourtesy to the poor, while using the occasion to honor the socially elite among them—Paul says:
I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a [ekklesia – assembly] (church), I hear that divisions exist among you… Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the [ekklesia] (church) of God and shame those who have nothing? (I Corinthians 11:17-22, NASB)
From this passage we learn that, when the “ekklesia” at Corinth came together, it was “not for the better but for the worse” because it was “not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” Apparently, at least some of their public gatherings were supposed to be for that very purpose—to eat the Lord’s Supper—and, thus, to keep the sacrifice of Christ continually before them. But, due to the way they were abusing the occasion, it appears as though they had forgotten that purpose. For them, their coming together had turned into a big social occasion; it wasn’t about remembering Jesus anymore. And so, Paul says, their coming together was “not for the better, but for the worse.”
It becomes clear, therefore, that observing the Lord’s Supper together—proclaiming God’s love for us by remembering the sacrificial body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ—is supposed to be something that is central to our fellowship; something that is done regularly and often. The Biblical example indicates that, in all likelihood, our Christian brothers and sisters in the 1st century did so at least weekly, when they could, if not more often than that; and so, we too, without making it a legalistic work of law or a term of Christian fellowship, choose to observe the Lord’s Supper at least once a week, typically on Sunday morning during our public gather.
Question Number Three: Do women serve in any leadership roles or public capacity?
Answer: That depends on exactly what “leadership roles” you have in mind and the type of “public capacity” you’re talking about. Every authentic disciple of Christ respects God’s order of things and the roles and responsibilities assigned to men and women respectively. We understand and value the importance of male spiritual leadership in both the home and the church. Writing to the young evangelist, Timothy, who was ministering among God’s people living in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul said, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (I Timothy 2:11-14, NASB).
We also recognize that this beautiful, eternal principle may play itself out in different ways among various cultural settings. For example, it appears as if women in the 1st century church at Corinth were allowed to pray and to prophecy in some of their gatherings, so long as the respective roles of men and women were respected. The Apostle Paul says:
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? (I Corinthians 11:3-13, NASB).
Of course, we must note the particular time, culture, and circumstances during which this passage was written. If we fail to do that, as some mistakenly do, we might come away with the idea that we should be prophesying in our public assemblies today. But Paul was making his comments to a people who lived during the “Apostalic Age”—that period during the 1st century when signs, wonders, and miracles were being granted by the Holy Spirit. That period in Bible history served its purpose and was bought to a close during the early 2nd century. So, we’re not talking about women, or anybody for that matter, publically or privately, prophesying for the church today.
We must also acknowledge the point that Paul was writing in the context of a 1st century Greco-Roman culture. This was just the way things were up in Asia Minor and in the city of Corinth. Greek men did not cover their heads in public and Paul didn’t want them doing so in the public assemblies of the church, either. However, Paul would never have written these same words to the Christians living down in Jerusalem. For, Jewish men did, indeed, cover their heads with their prayer shawls whenever they prayed. It seems as if the Christian men in Corinth, those who were Greeks, thought that they should step out of their culture and imitate their Jewish brethren. But Paul forbids them because he knew it would be disruptive to spread of the gospel in that region.
Also, in their culture, and pretty much throughout the known world in those days, it was appropriate for decent women to cover their bodies entirely and to wear a veil over their heads whenever they were in public as a symbol of respect for the authority of the men under which they lived. Only a rebellious or immoral woman would be found outside her home without being appropriately clad. Yet the text indicates that, perhaps, some of the Christian women in Corinth had decided that, because of their new standing as children of God, which placed them on an equal footing before men — “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NASB) — they should, therefore, demonstrate that by losing the veil. But the Apostle Paul is having none of that because, again, he knows how disruptive that would be to the spread of the gospel; not to mention the wrong signals it would send regarding the roles of men and women and male spiritual leadership in the home and in the church.
But the question arises, to what extent does God expect us to imitate societal norms from ages in the distant past in our walk of faith today? Should Christian women today dress entirely the way they were expected to dress in the ancient Greco-Roman, or for that matter Jewish, culture more than 2,000 years ago? There are some societies around the world today that still adhere to these same cultural mores. However, where we happen to live at the moment is not one of them But if we turn the New Testament into a book of rules and regulations and read it the same way the ancient Jews would have read the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy, then, “Yes!” we would have to say that it is wrong for a modern Christian woman not only to show up at a public gathering of the church, but to go anywhere outside her home, without wearing her burka. Surely we can see through the cultural manifestations of Paul’s teaching and discern the difference between the eternal principle being set forth and the cultural manifestations of that principle in any given society, can’t we?
The Apostle Paul then goes on to say to this same community of Christians living in Corinth, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (I Corinthians 14:34-35, NASB). Again we must ask, is this specific instruction something that the Apostle Paul intended to be incorporated in all gatherings of the church, in all places, for all time; or, like putting on the veil, did he mean for it only to be applied to 1st century Corinth in light of their particular culture and the issues that the Corinthian church had been dealing with?
If the answer is, “Yes! Paul gave this instruction for all churches, everywhere, in every age,” many legalistic spin-offs then occur, such as: Does a public Bible Class not constitute such a gathering, or even a small-group Bible study at a public venue, or even in someone’s home? And, does this passage refer to every form of “speech,” including not only asking questions and making comments, but also prayer and even singing? Or, does this teaching only apply so long as there are no men present? What if there are no “qualified” men present? And what is a woman to do if she has no husband, or her husband is not a Christian? Is she, then, allowed to talk with other men? And on and on the questions go as the “Pharisees” among us try to iron out a legalistic faith for all the rest of us to live by.
But, we must remember, the New Testament is not a “law book,” and authentic Christianity was never intended to be inextricably bound to any one culture or time period; it was meant to be cross-generational, cross-cultural, and applicably relevant to any society in any age. So sometimes, when it comes to the cultural manifestations of an eternal principle, such as male spiritual leadership in the home and in the church, our best course of action is to teach the Biblical principle and then ask for God’s wisdom as to how it should be applied within the cultural norms wherein we find ourselves; and then trust ourselves, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, to make the right decisions and to do the right thing, as God employs His holy and inspired written word to do just what He has promised: put His laws “into their minds” and “write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10).
Is this making popular culture, or the predominate hegemony, the foundation of our faith? Not if we are truly surrendered to God. Authentic covenant children will always seek God’s will first and foremost, and then submissively apply the teachings of the scripture to their own lives and to the world around them in whatever ways they believe to be most appropriate and relevant—keeping in mind that it was also the Apostle Paul who, understanding the need for cultural relevancy, said to these same Christians in the city of Corinth:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (I Corinthians 9:20-22, NASB)
So, while insisting that Christian women in Corinth put on the veil whenever praying or prophesying 2,000 years ago in the city of Corinth was altogether appropriate, insisting that they dress that same way here in Hawai‘i whenever they show up at a congregational meeting would be quite inappropriate. However, we know that Christian women everywhere should always be desirous of dressing modestly and respectfully. They should also be more than willing to adhere to their God given roles as women and respect the eternal principle of male spiritual leadership in the home and in the church.
While not usurping the spiritual leadership role reserved for men, there have always been women who served the church in a visible manner; as did Phoebe, who the Apostle Paul says was a “servant [diakanon – deacon] of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1, NASB). It is interesting that Paul also uses the word “prostatis” – [governess, patroness, protectress] to describe Phoebe in verse 2. This word is used nowhere else in the New Testament but, at its most basic meaning, it represents “one who stands before” others and, in secular usage, it was used of kings, military commanders, governors, and various other types of leaders.
We also note that, when the Apostle Paul was elaborating on the character traits of male servants of the church—deacons—he includes this statement concerning women: “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things” (I Timothy 3:11, NASB). While the word use for “women” [gunaikas] is sometimes used to denote “wives” when specifically contextualized in that fashion, it is not used that way in this text. Rather, the context indicates that it should simply mean “women” and that it pertains to those female servants of the church who, like their male counterparts, served the church in some visible fashion.
In our little circle of fellowship here on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, we have a deep and abiding respect for the eternal principle of male spiritual leadership in the home and in the church. For this reason, we do not deliberately place Christian women in positions of authority over Christian men, or in settings wherein they are the designated leader or teacher of a group of men. However, we do encourage our women to excel in public leadership roles among other women, or in particular ministries wherein their roles and responsibilities do not contradict this eternal principle. We have no problem with women functioning as publicly designated servants in positions such as office management—church secretary—or as coordinators of certain projects and ministries, such as our food pantry and benevolence outreach, or with women serving as members of our Christian school Board of Directors. Furthermore, our little circle of fellowship and its accompanying ministries are guided and directed by regular “open congregational meetings,” which, while always presided over by a man, includes both men and women who come together to share information and ideas and collaboratively make decisions regarding our work and ministry. And while our men always take the lead in all our public gatherings—such as our Sunday morning praise—we do invite our women to speak up, ask questions, share their thoughts, and contribute to our group discussions. We also, sometimes, invite both our men and women to pray aloud together—side-by-side, hand-in-hand, heart-to-heart—in our public gatherings. We believe these practices reflect a balanced, humble, and scriptural approach to rightly applying the eternal principle of male spiritual leadership within the context of the culture in which we live.
Question Number Four: Do you have elders?
Answer—and you should be able to guess, by now, that we’re not going to waste this “teachable moment” with a simple “yes/no” answer: We have no evidence from scripture that God’s people, the “ekklesia” [church], organized themselves beyond the immediate, local, community level. And even at the local community level, there was very little formal organization. The Bible says:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, NASB)
NOTE: The Bible says that “God’s household”—the “ekklesia” (church)—is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20, NASB). While there are no longer “apostles” or “prophets” in the world today—because when the last apostle died the empowering could no longer be passed along to others— the New Testament contains their inspired writings and teachings; and continues to serve as the foundation of the Christian faith.
We do not currently have publically designated “elders” in our local circle of fellowship here on the island of Hawai‘i. But this is not because we do not want them; it is due only to the current make up of our fellowship. We do not feel that, as yet, we have men who are Biblically qualified to be recognized as “elders.” Furthermore, we must remember that even if, eventually, men do emerge within our associated circles of fellowship who we come to recognize as our “elders,” or “pastors,” or “shepherds,” these men must be gentle servants to the flock of God. They are not simply some kind of an executive board. They are not in the position of “governing,” or making decisions and setting policy for, the children of God. Rather, the Apostle Peter says:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (I Peter 5:1-5, NASB)
So there you have it—the four big/little questions that we are so often asked and by which we are seemingly judged—and our local response to each. We know that many, from all directions of the matter—conservative, liberal, traditional, progressive, etc.—may disagree with some of our positions. But far from wanting to simply do our own thing, or cater to the world around us, we have humbly arrived at these decisions out of a profound respect for Bible authority, with hearts submitted to the will of God, and with the sincere desire to effectively minister to people in a culturally relevant manner in the setting in which we find ourselves.
Let us reiterate the fact that we do not judge anyone by their position on any of these four issues, we do not identify our Lord’s church by these issues, and we certainly do not draw lines of association, or refuse to fellowship with people, because they may happen to disagree with us on these issues. Unless someone has a rebellious heart and simply wants to do things their own way, regardless of what God’s word teaches, none of these issues are matters of salvation. We do not have to be absolutely correct about every little detail of the faith in order to be in a saved relationship with God. We are saved “by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NASB) and His grace is more than adequate to cover all our sins, our weaknesses, our misunderstandings, and our incompetency.
What God does expect of us is that, despite our varying viewpoints and differences of opinion, we “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3, NASB). So, if you come to visit our island home, please do not get off the airplane with the intention of making war against us. We expect people, while on our shores, to respect our positions on these and other such matters and to relate to us with “aloha”—love! Furthermore, please know that this document is pretty much all we have to say about these matters. Please don’t be offended if you contact us about these matters and we fail to respond in kind. We hope you will understand that time is precious and the real mission that our Lord has set before us—loving, serving, reaching, and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors and friends—is of the utmost urgency. We simply do not have the time or energy to waste on endlessly debating others over matters of opinion that are of no significant eternal importance, when what people living all around us need most of all is Jesus!
By HIS grace,
~ Salty ~
“Christian Mortalism” is generally defined as the total annihilation of both body and soul after death, while one’s “spirit” continues to exists only as a memory in the mind of God, for an interim period, until the resurrection when a new body, soul, and memory will be reproduced. The doctrine relies on various passages of scripture throughout the Bible that differentiate between the three fundamental elements of humanity, these being: body (soma), soul (psuche), and spirit (pneuma). The terms for soul (psuche) — the “life force” or “animating power of life” — and spirit (pneuma) — “spiritual essence,” or “cognitive self-awareness” — are, indeed, differentiated in such passages as Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” My purpose in sharing these thoughts is not to explore all the various details regarding the doctrine of “Christian Mortalism,” but simply to respond in love to the research of others, having been invited to do so, and perhaps to help shed a bit more “light” on the subject of what happens to us when we die.
Beloved, first let me express my gratitude to you. I am honored by your trust and confidence in wanting to share your research with me and seek my input. I’m impressed with your level of scholarship; your study habits appear very good. I love your use of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek terms and their direct application to the Biblical distinctions between the spirit, the soul, and the body. I brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s teaching concerning these three distinct elements of humanity when he says:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit (πνεῦμα – pneuma) and soul (ψυχὴ – psuche) and body (σῶμα – soma) be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:23, NASB).
I also greatly appreciate your respect for, and your appeal to, the holy scriptures to help substantiate your proposition. I believe you are being intellectually honest in setting forth the truth of what each individual passage of scripture contains.
My “word of caution” to us as we explore this, or any particular body of doctrine, is that we be sure to remember the Biblical admonition: “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119: 160, NASB). In other words, truth is found in all of God’s word and all of God’s word comprises the truth. We will not, therefore, find the word of God contradicting itself. If it appears as if a contradiction exists, then the problem must be with us and our interpretations or applications of God’s word; but not with the holy scripture itself. I mention this because, regardless of the topic or doctrinal issue we are exploring, I think there is always a temptation for us to focus only on those passages of scripture that seem to support our own line of reasoning. It seems to be difficult for people, especially those who think they’ve already “arrived” at some appreciable level of scholarship (I’m thinking of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day), to be willing to step back, rethink, and modify their positions after having stated their beliefs. It’s a “pride” thing, I guess. But, I must remember that regardless of what I “think” a passage of scripture is teaching, if my interpretation or application of the scripture contradicts any other passage of scripture, then I must reexamine my personal understanding of the passage. Honest scholarship requires, at the very least, that we remain consistent with our own understanding of God’s word.
That being said, while I honor the appreciable level of scholarship you are attempting to bring to this particular topic, I have to say that I think it would be a grand “leap of reason” for us to jump from your seemingly accurate use of ancient terminology regarding the Biblical distinctions between body, soul, and spirit to the untenable conclusion that, as you state, when one is physically dead “…consciousness ceases, knowledge ceases, communication ceases, activity ceases. Hence, there is no future to look forward to. Bottom line: there is no life ensuing … unless there is a resurrection.” The scriptures do not require such a leap and, furthermore, to make such a leap of reason is to find oneself contradicting other passages of scripture that, I believe, are very clear on the matter—I will get to these passages in a moment.
What I’m wondering about, at this point, is how you came to these conclusions regarding this topic. Did you arrive at them on your own—through your own personal study of the Bible over the years—or has someone lead you into this persuasion? I’m wondering this because the doctrine that you are espousing here is an old and well-known theory, commonly known as “soul sleep” or “Christian mortalism.” In days gone by, it was known by the terms “materialism” or “psychopannychism.” The teaching is common in several denominational groups including some Lutheran sects, the Seventh-day Adventist, the Christadelphians, some Churches of God (7th Day), and the Worldwide Church of God (Armstrong); as well as the Jehovah’s Witness denomination (Christian, 2013). The reason I’m asking about this is that I’ve never met anyone who, after simply reading the Bible for themselves, has come to these particular conclusions on their own; you would be the first. That does not necessarily mean that your proposition is wrong; it simply means that, if we’re being led by someone else to believe something that specifically characterizes a particular denominational persuasion, that’s definitely a “red-flag” danger zone, and even more caution is in order.
Now, to my response — While I must admit that the term “sleep” is sometimes used in scripture to represent death, I believe that it is only used as a euphemism, and not meant to be taken as a literal state of being (or non-being as our present conversation implies). I believe this because of clear and comprehensive teachings gleaned from several beautiful passages of scripture that bear upon this issue. And remember, “The sum of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:116, NASB). One passage, in particular, that I believe speaks to this topic is Jesus’ teaching concerning the rich man and Lazarus wherein we read:
Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ (Luke 16:19-21, NASB)
Some say that Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus must not be taken too literally because it is, after all, only a parable. However, I disagree with that notion. It is not a parable (Gk: parabole – “to cast alongside”) because Jesus is not setting forth any kind of “side-by-side comparison” to illustrate some other truth. Rather, Jesus simply delivers the story straight up as a warning to those who would live selfishly in this world, and as a source of hope and comfort for those who may have to suffer for their faith. And, even if the story were a parable, which it is not, have you ever read where Jesus set forth a parable that was only myth or legend or a fairytale and not rooted in truth? Unlike Aesop, Jesus did not deal in “fables.” He only presented authentic truths—whether in the form of parables or otherwise!
But in this story, please note, that the rich man who had died and who was buried existed in a state that was anything but “unconsciousness.” Although he was in Hades, the realm of the dead, he was very much a conscious being. From the story we learn that he could feel torment, that he had perception, that he could communicate, that he could remember, and that he could reflect upon the present lifestyle and future destiny of his brothers who were still living upon the earth. We also learn that while the rich man was in a place of agony, Lazarus was in a place where he was being comforted.
Another passage, and one that I dearly love, is where Jesus talks to the thief on the cross:
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, NASB).
Jesus said “today,” that day, that very day, the penitent thief who had expressed his faith in Christ would be with Him in Paradise. Surely none of us believe that Jesus was trying to comfort the dying criminal with a false hope; with something that wasn’t really going to happen? “Soul sleep” would be of little comfort to a man hanging on a cross, paying for his crimes. It would offer him nothing to look forward to or by which he would have been rewarded for his faith. I feel as though I also need to point out that, while Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross runs contradictory to the doctrine of “Christian mortalism,” it is in perfect harmony with His teaching regarding the rich man and Lazarus.
Yet another passage that I also love has to do with the Apostle Paul and his own take on the death experience. Paul says:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:21-24, NASB).
Again, I see a beautiful harmony between Paul’s confident expectation for life after death and Jesus’ teachings and statements regarding life after death. But, if nothing awaited Paul after death except “soul sleep”—along with everyone else who had died—then how could he be in such a quandary as to “not know which to choose” when it came to life or death. Paul had a “desire to depart and be with Christ.” He says that would be “very much better.” But how would an unconscious soul sleep be “very much better”? According to the proposition you set forth, Paul would only continue to exist as a memory in the mind of God until he was remade in the resurrection. But I cannot accept this idea because it runs contrary to this and a lot of other scripture.
But perhaps my most cherished passage of scripture relating to life after death is where we read about Jesus’ conversation with Mary and Martha at the resurrection of Lazarus. The scriptures teach:
Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:21-26, NASB)
Well, as for me, regarding Jesus’ question, “Do you believe this?” My response is: “Yes, I DO believe this — with all my heart!” I believe every word of Jesus when He says that “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,” and “everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die!” Furthermore, I think this statement pretty much covers all the bases regarding this whole topic. It gives hope not only for an eventual resurrection and eternal life with God to follow—“live even if he dies”—but it also covers the “intermediate state” of a person between the point of physical death and the moment of the resurrection—“shall never die!” I’m not sure what that may mean to you. But, to me, it means that there will be no cessation of my existence after death. Like Lazarus, I will retain personal cognizance, my self-awareness, my memory, all my senses and, most of all, my relationships — especially my relationship with God.
There are several other passages of scripture that come to my mind; not the least of which is the first passage that I’ve already shared (above) at the beginning of these comments; wherein Paul, in writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, expresses his desire that they be “sanctified entirely” and that their “spirit (πνεῦμα – pneuma) and soul (ψυχὴ – psuche) and body (σῶμα – soma) be preserved complete” (I Thessalonians 5:23, NASB). According to the doctrine you set forth, the body and soul will be utterly and completely destroyed and only the spirit — in the form of a memory belonging to God — will be preserved until the resurrection. But I believe, both from Paul’s statements and Jesus’ teaching, that when we die our spirit — that part of us that is made in the image of God (our personal, conscious, self-awareness) — lives on in some type of tangible, bodily form in the Hadean realm awaiting that great resurrection day. When that day arrives, our present bodies will be resurrected from the grave, from the sea, from Hades [wherever they are] (Revelation 20:13, NASB); and they will be changed, as the Apostle Paul states:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep [a euphemism for death], but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:51-53, NASB)
Jesus said that this resurrection will be not only for the faithful children of God, but for all people everywhere who have ever lived. Listen to His words as He explains the resurrection:
Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25-29, NASB).
Please understand that what I’ve shared with you are only my current thoughts on this matter; and are in no way comprehensive or exhaustive. There are many other passages of scripture that can be brought to bear upon this topic, and many extenuating details that could be examined. But I think that the passages that have been shared are probably enough to establish a core understanding of what happens to us when we die. My goal in presenting these passages of scripture has not been to persuade you of the error of the doctrine of “Christian mortalism.” Perhaps you’ve already examined some of the scriptures I’ve provided in light of this doctrine and can find reason to take argument with me and my understanding and application of them. But I’ve no wish to argue with anyone regarding this matter as I do not believe that it is all that important to our eternal destiny.
You see, regardless of what one believes about life after death, if our faith and hope is in Christ Jesus, then His grace will cover all our errors and misunderstandings; so long as we are not choosing to deliberately walk in willful and rebellious ignorance of His will. And so, while this is an interesting topic to discuss, and people are free to come to their own personal understanding of what they think will happen to them when they die, it is not so important a topic that it should be made a test of faith or of Christian fellowship within the body of Christ. Believe me, the truth of the matter will become evident to all of us soon enough.
However, this whole topic does tug at my heart-strings a little because I’ve recently been diagnosed with stage two cancer. While the prognosis, at this point, appears good, I know that anything could happen. The very next lab report could indicate metastasis to other parts of my body. And, thus, I find myself living in the constant reality of my own mortality. I know that I may not be in this world much longer. Of course, I also know that the same holds true for all of us because, as we all know, any given day could be our last. But this whole idea that a human being is not really a spiritual being, but only an animalistic being — a physical body with a life-force animating it — and that we will exist only as a memory to God after death, until we are remade at the resurrection, offers very little comfort or hope to those who draw near to deaths dark portal. And, I think, this is an important detail that should be taken under consideration when discussing this and other such doctrines. For we do not want to be guilty of promoting a precept that is not only inconsistent with Bible teaching, but that also strips the Christian faith of hope. I’m thinking again about our Lord and the thief on the cross — Jesus was all about offering hope!
But I want you to know that I have no fear of death because, for me, it does not harbor an intermediate state of unconsciousness; but rather, it represents my “homecoming” and a beautiful reunion with people I love who have gone on before me. I’m looking forward to tumbling through deaths dark portal right into the arms of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ where I will take my place at His side among all the redeemed of all ages — that “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (Hebrews 12:1, NASB).
Please understand, I’m not wanting to be mean or controversial here. But we do have to decide not only what, but who, we’re going to believe. The way I see it, on the one hand we can choose to believe those people and religious groups who advocate for the doctrine of “Christian mortality” — those who say that I’m going to die completely and cease to exist, except in the memory of God, then, in the resurrection, God will generate a new body, soul, and memory that will be me. Or, on the other hand, we can choose to believe our Lord Jesus, Who tells us that: “he who lives and believes in me SHALL NEVER DIE!” I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but, I choose to believe what Jesus said!
Respectfully and with love,
Christian Mortalism. (2013). Wikipedia; The free encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_mortalism
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.