The Doctrine of the Church (part 2)

August 09, 2009     Time: 00:31:08

We’ve been talking about sacraments and ordinances. It was appropriate that we celebrated the Lord’s Supper today because that is one of the sacraments or ordinances that is celebrated and most important to the church. You will remember we saw last week that there is a distinction between a sacrament and an ordinance. These rites – like baptism and the Lord’s Supper – are seen by some Christian denominations to be means of grace. They are the means by which God’s grace is infused in us and comes to us and therefore they are sacramental in that sense. For other denominations, however, these are seen merely as signs of the church as a fellowship – meeting together. They are not means of grace in any special sense that would set them apart from just, for example, hearing the preaching of the Word or Christian fellowship or other ways in which God’s grace might be imparted to us. What we want to do now this morning is to begin to look more closely at the biblical material on these rites and then ask some theological questions about them.

Let’s begin by looking at some of the biblical data on the Christian practice of baptism. The New Testament opens with the ministry of John the Baptist who carried out a ministry of baptizing people in the Jordan river. Let’s look at Mark 1:4-5.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

The New Testament opens with this ministry of John the Baptist baptizing people for repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus himself participated in John’s baptism. He submitted to the baptism of John as we read in Matthew 3:13-17:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

So Jesus himself went through the rite of baptism. He opened his public ministry by going through baptism by John the Baptist even though he had no sin and therefore did not need to repent of any sin. Nevertheless, he, with the other Israelites, participated in this rite.

Moreover, although you wouldn’t know this from reading the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), we learn from John’s Gospel that Jesus himself carried out a baptizing ministry. He carried out a similar ministry to what John was doing by baptizing people. We read about this in John 3:22-24:

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized.

There Jesus himself is carrying out a ministry of baptizing people.[1] In John 4:1-3 we see that this actually occasioned a certain tension with the disciples of John the Baptist. Read in John 4:1-3,

Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again to Galilee.

Jesus’ baptismal ministry was even more successful than John’s, was drawing even more people there. John clarifies that Jesus was apparently in some sort of supervisory capacity. It was the disciples that were actually doing the baptizing, but Jesus nevertheless was the one over it and responsible for it. So Jesus both submitted to baptism himself, and he carried out a ministry of baptizing people.

Moreover, throughout his ministry until the very end Jesus commanded that people be baptized as his followers. Jesus’ expectation was that those who follow him were to be baptized. Matthew 28:19, the very last words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew when he gives the Great Commission. What does he say in 28:19? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the process of making disciples, the disciples were to baptize those who were converted to following Christ.

Throughout the New Testament church in the days following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, this is exactly what you see happening. You see people coming to Christ, becoming disciples of Jesus, and being baptized as part of their initiation to becoming Christ’s followers. This is the pattern that you see throughout the book of Acts. Let’s look at some representative passages in the book of Acts.

Acts 2:37-38, 41:

Now when they heard this [that is the people who were listening to Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost] they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So the people who were convicted by the message Peter brought were told they need to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then in verse 41 it says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” You can see that right from the day of Pentecost baptism was part of becoming a Christian.

Also Acts 8:36-38. This is the story of Philip’s confrontation with the Ethiopian official – the minister of the Candace who was the Ethiopian queen. He is in Jerusalem worshiping and then heading back to Ethiopia when Philip confronts him. Philip shares with him the Gospel. In Acts 8:36-38 we read,

And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch [that is, the official] said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

When the official wanted to become a Christian, what did he need to do? He needed to be baptized. So that is what they did. They stopped the chariot, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

Also Acts 9:17-19a.[2] This is the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus who was the persecutor of the early church and who then had a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus where he was going with letters from the Jerusalem authority to arrest followers of Jesus in Damascus. He saw this vision of Jesus. He is blinded by the vision that he saw. This fellow named Ananias, who is a Christian living in Damascus, is told to go and lay hands on Saul so that he can receive his sight. In Acts 9:17:

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized and took food and was strengthened.

Again we see the same pattern as with the Ethiopian official upon coming to Christ: immediately baptism follows.

Turn over to Acts 10:45-48. This is the story of Peter’s being called to the city of Jappa to preach the Gospel to a Roman centurion named Cornelius who was sympathetic to Jewish monotheism but not yet a Christian. The Lord directed Peter to go and proclaim the Gospel to Cornelius. In verse 44 it says, “While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.” Then in Acts 10:45:

And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter [that is to say, the Jewish Christian believers] were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. [These non-Jews, these execrable Gentile dogs have now been given the gift of the Holy Spirit just like these Jewish believers!] For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

There again you see the same pattern. Upon coming to Christ these people are baptized as part of becoming a Christian.

The pattern of the book of Acts is summed up as it were in Galatians 3:27: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The idea that there can be unbaptized Christians is just not even in Paul’s thinking. As many of you who were baptized, you are the ones who have put on Christ. Baptism and being a Christian was all cut from the same cloth. The idea that you might be a follower of Christ and yet not have submitted to baptism simply didn’t enter the picture.

What is the meaning of baptism for these early Christians? Paul reflects upon the meaning of baptism in Romans 6:3-4. This is what Paul says,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

The image there is that as one submits to baptism – submerged in the water – he is being identified with Christ's death and burial. You are, as it were, buried in the waters of baptism and therefore united with Christ in his death and burial. Paul further reflects on this image in Colossians 2:12.[3] Paul says, “you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Here he adds not only burial but also resurrection is in baptism. You were buried with him in baptism in which (that is in the baptism) you were also raised with him. The image, I think, here is you are buried in the waters of baptism and then you arise again united with Christ in his resurrection life. In the baptismal rite as it is performed here at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, the minster will always say, Buried with Christ in baptism as the person is submerged. Then as he lifts him out of the water he says, Raised to walk in newness of life. That is a reflection of Romans 6 and Colossians 2 in terms of the meaning of baptism. It is identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Finally, 1 Peter 3:21. The author says,

Baptism, which corresponds to this [referring to Noah and the Ark in which people were saved through the flood waters] now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He says baptism is not for physical cleansing – it is not to remove filth from your physical body. Rather, it is an appeal to God for a clear conscience.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was: what is the Jewish idea of baptism and did they have any? Yes, there was a form of baptism that Jews practiced. It was called proselyte baptism. This occurred when a Gentile wanted to become a Jew. If this Gentile wanted to become a Jew he had to go through circumcision (if he were male) and then they had to have this ritual washing in which they would go through a kind of a baptismal-like rite. So there is in Judaism lots of different kinds of ceremonial washings, but the closest to Christian baptism would be this proselyte baptism that Gentiles who became Jews had to go through. But this wasn't something the Jews themselves experienced.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is a good question. It doesn’t say. It says in Mark that John was calling the people to repent – national repentance. This was a baptism for repentance for forgiveness of sin. It would be somewhat similar, I think, to what was expressed in this sort of proselyte baptism and therefore it would have been familiar to them. But it wasn’t something the Jews normally did. This would have been odd what John was doing. In terms of the motives of the people, I don’t think we can say any more than what it says in Scripture in that they felt convicted of their sins and wanted to submit to this rite as a means of showing their repentance and cleansing.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is a really good question. I’m not sure how it jived. The Christians continued to worship in the Temple. It wasn’t as though this was a substitute for Temple worship and so forth. Jesus and the disciples continued to visit the Temple and participate in the rites in the Temple. This was apparently seen as something in addition to it.[4] I suspect that the Temple authorities probably did feel rather threatened by this. We have in the Scriptures stories of how they sent emissaries to John saying, What are you doing? Who are you? Who do you claim to be? They obviously, I think, were rather disturbed by something that was going on outside of their authority. But I don’t think that John or Jesus – you don’t see any suggestion that this is meant to supplant the Temple system or the sacrifices or that they thought of themselves as enemies of the Temple, especially in the case of Jesus and the disciples because as I say Jesus would teach in the Temple and Christians continued to worship in the Temple even after the resurrection.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I am not aware that there are any sort of prophetic passages that would predict that the forerunner of the Messiah would carry out a ministry of baptism. Notice the Gospel of Mark begins with this passage from Isaiah where it says, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” That also is a quotation from Malachi 3:1. These are the prophesies that are quoted with respect to John the Baptist. They don’t mention baptizing or baptizing activities. So I don’t think this would be something that would have been anticipated or readily understood.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: He wants to know what is the difference between the baptism that was carried out by John the Baptist and the baptism that Jesus carried out, and particularly the disciples carried out after Jesus’ death and resurrection? We don’t know enough about the baptizing activity that Jesus was doing to be able to compare that to John’s. Because I read all the passages about it – those few verses in John that say Jesus was baptizing people. But we don’t know if that differed in its meaning from what John was doing. But the enormous difference between the baptism that the Christian church carried out and John’s baptism was that John’s baptism was simply a baptism for repentance for forgiveness of sins. But Christian baptism as we saw is identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. So it is infused with a very different meaning. We’ll see as we get into this more there are some examples of where the disciples (the early Christians) confront some people who only knew of John the Baptist’s form of baptism. They had to ask themselves, How do we deal with these people? They believed in John the Baptist and what he proclaimed in his baptism, but do they now need to submit to Christian baptism? We’ll see what the church did. The big difference in meaning would be now it has become (if I may use the word) Christo-centric – that is, it is the way we identify with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. And that wasn’t part of John the Baptist.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I would. I don’t think that the baptism that Jesus was carrying out had this kind of identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus because he hadn’t died, buried, or been raised. So it seems to me that the baptism that Jesus was carrying out would have been much more similar to John’s than to later Christian baptism which looked back on the events of the Passion and resurrection.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: There is a lot of different levels on which I guess I would want to respond to that. I think you are reading a lot between the lines with regard to the miracle at Cana, with respect to the water being turned to wine, and even in John 3. But in any case the idea that the baptism that Jesus was himself carrying out imparted the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost seems to me to be contradicted by John himself when in the resurrection appearance in the upper room Jesus, you will remember, breathes on the disciples and says, Receive the Holy Spirit. Then in Acts you have the story of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit is given to the church.[5] I don’t see that the Holy Spirit is being given in baptism prior to that. I guess I am thinking that when John the Baptist is talking about He’ll baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit he is not talking about Jesus’ water baptism that he is carrying out. That would be my reaction to that. Again, we don’t know really anything virtually about the kind of baptism that Jesus was carrying out unless I guess you read into it what you’ve read in John 3. So it would just seem to me that as a pre-Passion, pre-Pentecost ministry it would naturally be more akin to what John the Baptist was doing than to the post-resurrection, post-Pentecost activity of the disciples. That is my take on it.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think you can see from the last two comments we’ve had the theological diversity in this class! People are coming from different ends of the theological spectrum. That is what is identified as a dispensationalist point of view which, again, I don’t buy into at all. I think that the idea that Jesus was preaching a different Kingdom than the Kingdom that he actually did inaugurate is an idea that I don’t think is sustainable biblically. It is certainly not one that the church has held historically. While I sympathize with your point of view that the baptism that Jesus was involved in wasn’t the same (I don’t think) as the baptism the early church practiced post-Pentecost, post-Resurrection, I am not ready to buy into this whole dispensational scheme that undergirds the interpretation.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think it would imply that it doesn’t apply to us. This is part of this rejected gospel that really never was inaugurated, that doesn’t apply to us in the church age, and it means that the whole Sermon on the Mount and vast tracks of Jesus’ teaching become, in a sense, inapplicable and not relevant. That is a huge theological consequence of this dispensationalist point of view. That is not something to be embraced lightly. We’ve all got our points of view, and I want you to express them, but let’s all think critically as we each share the perspective we are coming from.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: It is certainly true in the Old Testament that there are, as I said, lots of ritual washings for purification and cleansing. Jews had these little baths that archaeologists find today with steps leading down into them. The people would purify themselves by washing in this way. That is true. But I don’t think it would be fair to call that a baptism in the sense of what John and Jesus were doing which wasn’t a sort of repetitive rite that one would do in order to go into the Temple. It would still leave the question: why would a sinless person need to undergo that kind of ritual washing? From what I’ve read I think most biblical scholars think that the reason that Jesus submitted to John’s baptism was as a means of expressing his solidarity with the people and identification with the Jewish people. As the person who was going to be their Messiah, as the Son of Man, this was his way of identifying with them and expressing his solidarity with them even though he himself was sinless.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Again, there were lots of people in the Old Testament who would be anointed by God for special roles or privileges. The king could be anointed, for example, as well as other persons serving priestly functions. So that’s true.[6] But baptism isn’t anointing. We shouldn’t think of baptism as a continuation of anointing though the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ baptism is significant in that this is when the Holy Spirit is revealed through heaven and comes upon Christ. That is true. There is that element of anointing.


What we are going to do next week is we are going to begin to open this difficult question of sacrament or ordinance. How should we think of baptism now that we’ve read these passages on it? We will look first at the arguments to try to show that baptism is in fact a sacrament or means of grace. Then we will look at the arguments to think of it as an ordinance. And you can make up your minds based upon what you think the Scripture teaches. That is where we will go next time.[7]



[1] 5:02

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:12

[4] 20:00

[5] 25:12

[6] 30:00

[7] Total Running Time: 31:08 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)