(This is part 3 in a 4 part series on the Boston Church of Christ. It was originally printed in the September/October 1996 Issue of the MCOI Journal)
In the last two issues, we have been examining the ICC, or the International Church of Christ. Our first installment covered the history of the movement, and part two was about discipleship as defined and administered by the ICC as meritorious toward salvation. There are six parts to the “puzzle” of salvation, ICC style: discipleship, belief, repentance, confession, baptism, and Christian living. As we pointed out in our last issue, to demand discipleship as a prerequisite to salvation makes the cart pull the horse. We all know that carts cannot pull horses. They have no power to do so. Just so, an unregenerate non-Christian cannot live as a regenerate believer. Discipleship follows salvation. It cannot lead.
The second and third “puzzle pieces” are not truly two different actions but are, in fact, the same thing. Repentance is a change of belief or change of direction. Going from non-belief to belief or turning from sin to righteousness is repentance. The Scriptures teach that salvation is a free gift to those who personally accept Jesus Christ as God and Savior. Romans 10:9-13 states, “.. .that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved …” Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, if is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul outlines the gospel which he preached as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is the gospel which the Corinthians received (v:1), in which they stood (v:1), and by which they were saved (v:2). He finished with the statement in verse 11, “…so we preach and so you believed ” The word here for “believed” is pisteuo and carries with it more than the idea of an intellectual acceptance, but committing to or placing our complete trust in Christ and His death, burial, and physical resurrection.
In the above citations, there is nothing expressly stated or even implied linking belief with water baptism to achieve salvation Paul never tied water baptism to salvation.
According to Matthew 28, Peter and the ten (Judas had hanged himself and had not, as yet, been replaced by Matthias) were sent to baptize. They also kept the Mosaic Law as believers. The Jerusalem Council was convened in Acts 15 because the Jewish believers had continued in the Law and they were uncertain about whether the Gentiles should be under the Law as well. In Acts 21, almost 30 years after the resurrection, the Jewish believers were still practicing the Mosaic traditions, of which water baptism was one. Paul, on the other hand, said that, “…Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Paul differentiates between baptism and the gospel, showing that baptism is not part of the gospel. Why did he do that? He tells us in the same verse, “…that the cross of Christ should not be made void.” Paul didn’t want the rite of baptism or “…cleverness of speech…” to void or nullify, in any way, the gospel of the grace of God. He reiterated the gospel that he preached to this church in 1Corinthians 15:1-11.
Acts 2:38, Saved By Water?
One of the main verses which the ICC and the Mainline churches of Christ appeal to in order to support a water-baptism-for-sal vation position is Acts 2:38, which reads:
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Their interpretation of this passage is that we must be baptized “in order to obtain” salvation
In understanding what Peter was saying, we must ask whether the “for” in this passage (in the Greek, “eis”) means “in order to obtain?” Well, sometimes the word for does mean “in order to obtain,” such as in the sentence, “I’m going to the store for biscuits.” But, it would be very simplistic to suppose that it always has that meaning in Greek or English. If I said. “Would you go to the store for me?” would you understand that you were going to the store “in order to obtain” yours truly? That would be absurd. Let’s try some other short statements.
• John was beheaded for his faithfulness. To obtain his faithfulness?
• The criminal was hung for his crime. To obtain his crime?
• The people laughed for joy. To obtain joy?
• Christ died for our sins. To obtain our sins?
• The child cried for hunger. To obtain hunger?
It is apparent from the above examples that “for” doesn’t always mean “in order to obtain.”
To press the point further, let’s go to some Biblical texts which arc grammatically similar to Acts 2:38 and compare. Each time we come to the word “eis.” please insert “in order to obtain”:
Matthew 3:11: “I indeed baptize you with water unto (eis) repentance.”
Matthew 28:19: “Go. . baptizing them in (eis) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Mark 1:9: “…Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in (eis) Jordan ”
Acts 19:3; “And he said unto them, Unto (eis) what then were ye baptized? And they said. Unto (eis) John’s baptism.”
Matthew 12:41 “…they repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonah,”
We could continue this examination by looking at Acts 19:5 Romans 6:3-4, 1 Corinthians 1:13, 1:15, 10:2, 12:13 and Galatians 3:27, all having to do with baptism.
So “eis,” translated alternately as “for,” “in,” “unto,” or “at,” does not always mean “in order to obtain,” and the context would dictate the meaning. Establishing that fact, let us look at the context of Acts 2:38.
In verses 1-13, we see the manifestation of the Spirit on the Jewish disciples. This manifestation occurred on a Jewish feast day, Pentecost; in the Jewish capitol, Jerusalem; in a crowd of Jews both natural-born and proselytes. As the hearers were perplexed regarding these things, Peter stood up to explain to them what these events meant. He addressed them as “Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem...”. This was an entirely Jewish audience. He explained that they were witnessing fulfillment of prophecy from the book of Joel. What nationality was the prophet Joel? A Jew. Who was he prophesying to? The nation of Israel, Jews. What was he prophesying about? The “…last days…” (Acts 2:17), or the tribulation period. A cursory reading of Joel 2:28 through the end of the third chapter bears this out.
Peter tells the hearers that in the “…last days…” God would pour forth His Spirit and that:
“…Your sons and daughters shall prophesy and your young men will see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth My Spirit.”
Who were these sons, daughters, old men, etc.? Jews, of course. A Jewish prophet talking to a Jewish nation concerning future events involving their Jewish sons, daughters, etc. In verse 21, Peter talked about salvation. “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Everyone who simply calls; no water baptism here.
In verses 22-32, Peter laid out the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. This is similar to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
In verse 33, Peter told the hearers that Jesus “… poured forth this which you both see and hear.” What were they seeing and hearing? The manifestation of the Holy Spirit through Jewish people in fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. In verse 38, Peter told the hearers what they would receive when they repented and were water baptized. He said, “…you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Did he say. “You shall receive salvation,” or “You shall receive eternal life,” or something to that effect? No, he did not. Peter promised that his hearers will receive the very same thing that they just witnessed, the sign gifts, in fulfillment of prophecy.
Water baptism for (in order to obtain) salvation, is not taught here. Water baptism to receive the Holy Spirit and the accompanying sign gifts is taught. This does create an interesting dilemma for the ICC. You see, they teach that the sign gifts have ceased with the passing of the apostles. Why, then, would they choose to hold on to the water baptism of Acts 2:38, while rejecting the very reason for the act?
A Cult Cocktail…Scripture With A Twist
The ICC seems to hold the view that all of the New Testament APPLIES to the Church which is the body of Christ. They also believe that Peter’s commission and Paul’s commission were the same. A third problem arises in that, every time the word “baptism” appears, they seem to automatically interpret that as water baptism. I will deal with these issues in the balance of this and the next article.
First, all of Scripture, both Old and New Testament, is written FOR us, for our instruction and learning at least, but certainly not all of it is written TO us for our obedience. For example, during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He plainly stated that He was sent only to the Jews.
In Matthew 10:5-7, Jesus told his disciples not to preach or minister the Gentiles, but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In Matthew 15:21 -28, Jesus told the Canaanite woman that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and that “It is not good to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (v:26). Was this same instruction communicated by the Lord to Paul? Of course not, for Paul was sent to Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Is this a change in commission? Certainly! Does that make God the author of confusion? That would be absurd. Someone may become confused by applying to the Church that which rightfully belongs to Israel, but God did not author that confusion. It was brought on by a lack of contextual reading, At different times, God told Noah to build an ark, Samson to grow his hair, Joshua to walk around Jericho, Peter to preach the “gospel of the kingdom” and Paul to preach the “gospel of the grace of God.”
What about this instruction from Jesus, “…sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21). Did Jesus mean this? Of course. It is obvious from Peter’s response to this incident, “Then Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?'” Another supporting evidence is the actions of the Jewish believers in Acts 2:44-45 and Acts chapter 5.
Jesus also told His disciples:
“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds…” (Matthew 23:2-3).
What was the job of those in Moses’ seat? It was to make sure that the Mosaic Law was strictly followed. Did the Jewish believers do that? Yes, they did (Acts 15:5). In fact, we can see in Acts 21 that the believing Jews were zealous Law keepers more than 25-30 years after the resurrection! I don’t believe that this makes God the author of confusion, however, since Acts is the book of transition from the Kingdom program to the establishment of the age of Grace (Eph. 3:1-13). It chronicles the gradual and temporary setting aside of Israel and the ministry of the twelve, and shows the rise and eventual predominance in the Gentile era of the Apostle Paul.
The ICC does recognize this truth where it is convenient, for they do speak to Gentiles, they don’t sell all of their possessions and they do not submit to the Jewish leadership and keep the Mosaic Law. Christ taught these things and, yet, Paul taught the Gentiles, including us, to lay them aside. Sometimes Paul accomplished this by direct command, such as when he stated that circumcision was no longer a requirement … did Peter ever teach this, or James, or even Jesus? Sometimes he taught this by implication, such as at Romans 14:5-6, where he leaves Sabbath keeping to the discretion of the individual. Does this difference between the gospels and the epistles of Paul make God the author of confusion? No. He simply gave different directions at different times to different people for different purposes.
We can clearly see that Peter was commanded to baptize in the Great Commission. Paul, however, equally as clearly said that he was NOT sent to baptize but to preach the gospel. If baptism is part of the gospel, as the ICC claims, then Paul would have been out of line. Possibly Paul was confused and didn’t understand his divinely revealed commission as well as the ICC claims they do. Paul clearly-stated that he was entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision and Peter with the gospel to the circumcised (Gal. 2:7).
The Bible should be interpreted using the same rules as we would use to interpret other literature. We must ask certain questions in order to understand what the Bible is saying to us today. Who is writing, who are they writing to, when are they writing, what are they saying, and how does it apply to me? It is a severe mishandling of any text to try to mix, match, and distort in order to support a particular teaching.
Let’s look at some of the more popular verses which this group appeals to in an attempt to support the “liquid salvation” which the ICC proposes.
In the third chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus. In the fifth verse Jesus said to Nicodemus:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
The ICC attempts to make the case that to be ” …born of water…” means to be water baptized. In holding that position, the ICC (and Mainline churches of Christ) make essentially the same type of mistake that Nicodemus was making, thinking they can become a spiritual person through natural means. Nicodemus thought Jesus was talking about a physical rebirth (natural means) and the ICC believes that physical water applied through a physical act (baptism) is what brings about spiritual salvation. Let’s look at John chapter three in context.
In verse three, Jesus informed Nicodemus that one could not see the kingdom of God unless he (or she) was “born again ” That implies TWO births. The first birth is a natural birth (of the flesh), and the second birth is spiritual. Nicodemas missed the point. In verse four, Nicodemus asked:
How can a man he born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be horn, can he?
Nicodemus didn’t understand how he could be physically reborn. To this Jesus responds:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water (natural birth) and the Spirit (spiritual birth), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
To be sure that His analogy wasn’t missed. He reiterated it in the next verse:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (v:5).
The entire context of the passage is a contrast between natural birth and spiritual birth. There isn’t even the slightest hint of baptism in the text. The ICC is under the mistaken idea the natural, physical water is the agent for spiritual regeneration or the new birth. Jesus’ whole point was that the new-birth does not happen by any natural means but is purely a work of the Holy Spirit.
We will finish this series in the next issue as we look at the “baptismal” verses which the ICC uses and distorts. We will place them back into their historical, as well as grammatical, context. Stay tuned!