The Doctrine of the Church (part 4)

August 24, 2009     Time: 00:32:13

We’ve been talking about baptism and whether baptism should be viewed as a sacrament or as an ordinance. To bring those of you who haven’t been with us up to speed, sacramentalists interpret baptism as a means of grace – a special means of grace. In one sense, almost anything can be a means of grace – Bible reading, prayer, fellowship with other Christians, worship. But the notion of sacraments is that God has given to the church special means of grace by which the church serves as a channel of God’s grace to people. Baptism, the sacramentalist says, is one such channel. We saw last time that baptism is closely linked with justification so that many sacramentalists will say it is actually in baptism that you are born again. The act of regeneration by the Holy Spirit – Spirit baptism – is co-incident with water baptism. This is the time at which saving grace is mediated to you.

The ordinance view says, no, baptism is not a special means of grace; rather, it is an outward sign or symbol that is given to the church as an indication that one is identifying with Christ and with his people.

We looked last time at verses supporting a sacramentalist view. Let’s look today at the verses for a biblical case for the ordinance view. Again, we want to make two overriding points.

1. Conversion-initiation (a sort of hyphenated term) in the New Testament was repentance and faith, receiving the Holy Spirit, and water baptism. One’s conversion-initiation in becoming a Christian consisted of repentance and faith, receiving the Holy Spirit, and then water baptism.

Conversion, as I am defining this, is the inward act of God whereby one becomes a regenerate Christian. It is the inward aspect of your moving from being a non-Christian to a Christian. Conversion takes place inside. Initiation is the outward expression of that inward conversion. The key in the New Testament to conversion is the Holy Spirit. The key to initiation is water baptism. What the regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit is to conversion, water baptism is to initiation. They are, as it were, the inward and the outward manifestation of one’s coming to Christ.

Let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. Notice here what Paul lists as the essential elements of a person’s becoming a Christian:

But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What are the elements of coming to Christ? Well, there is election (God has chosen you), there is calling (they were called to this Gospel), there is sanctification in the Holy Spirit, and there is faith. So these are the essential elements in becoming a Christian: election, calling, faith, and sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Nowhere is baptism mentioned. Indeed in the whole book of 2 Thessalonians there is no reference to baptism at all.

Take a look at Galatians 3:1-5,14. Again, look at what are the essential elements in becoming a Christian.[1] Paul says,

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain?—if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? . . .

Then in verse 14 he says “in Christ Jesus, the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Here we have the preaching of the Gospel, the response of faith (the hearing with faith), and then the receiving of the Holy Spirit. That is what makes a person a Christian.

Now, naturally of course, these people were then baptized. Having come to faith in Christ and receive the Holy Spirit, of course then they followed Christ in baptism. So in Galatians 3:26-27, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” So of course these people were all baptized and therefore can be truly said of them that as many of them as were baptized have put on Christ. Although that is true, the way in which they put on Christ was through hearing with faith and receiving the Holy Spirit.

Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1:13-17. Here Paul is talking about his ministry among the Corinthians when he visited them:

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Without wanting to depreciate the significance of baptism, I think you cannot come away from this passage without realizing that the primary element in Paul’s thinking is the preaching of the Gospel and the response to it. Baptism was of secondary significance. Paul says he didn’t even bother personally to baptize many of these people. He thinks of a few he did baptize but he said, Christ didn’t send me to baptize. He sent me to preach the Gospel. This shows the importance of the preaching of the Gospel and the response to that in comparison with baptism. Baptism does not lie at the heart of the Gospel which I think runs against the sacramentalist’s view that this is the point and place at which regeneration and conversion takes place.

Look over in 1 Corinthians 6:11. We’ve read this verse before. Here he is talking about the unrighteous things that people do that keep them from the Kingdom of God. In verse 11 he says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” The ordinance proponent would take the washing here to not mean literal water in baptism but this is a spiritual washing. It is a washing of your sins away through the Holy Spirit.

Notice the expression “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” is not just a baptismal formula. You cannot say that because it says You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that this is a reference to water baptism. Because the expression “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” isn’t a unique baptismal formula. Let me give you a couple of other references to this.[2] Ephesians 5:20, for example. Paul says, “Always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” There we are to conduct our lives in praise and singing to God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a baptismal reference. Another passage – 2 Thessalonians 3:6: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness . . .” Here Paul is issuing a command and does so “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So in 1 Corinthians 6:11, when it says “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” that is not a very powerful piece of evidence that this is talking about baptism. On the contrary, it is the Holy Spirit who does this washing. The washing of the water in baptism doesn’t do anything spiritually speaking. It is the washing of the Holy Spirit, and that therefore is not, the ordinance person would think, a reference to baptism in 1 Corinthians 6:11 as we saw the sacramentalist takes it to be.

What about that key passage in Romans 6:1ff? Here 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.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Here the ordinance proponent will say that baptism is a metaphor for our identification with Christ’s burial and resurrection. In fact, notice here he doesn’t say that we are raised with Christ in baptism. He says, “ if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” It is looking forward to the future. Here he identifies baptism into the death of Christ, but at least in this passage he doesn’t even identify the resurrection in which we’ll be united with Christ as something that took place in baptism. In any case, the point is that baptism is like a burial as the candidate is immersed under the water it is like being buried and then rising again. So it is a symbol. It is a metaphor for our uniting with Christ and identifying with this death and then with his resurrection. But it doesn’t mean that this is literally the means of grace by which we become united with Christ.

In fact, to summarize, all of the gifts which are ascribed to baptism are also ascribed to faith in the New Testament . Remember the last time when we looked at the sacramentalist view, the sacramentalist points out all of these wonderful gifts of grace like being united with Christ, identifying with his death and resurrection, being part of the body of Christ, and so on and so forth. It is true those are ascribed to baptism. But they are also all ascribed to faith. There are equally many passages in the New Testament where it says through faith you have these gifts of grace. Since initiation or conversion-initiation were so closely linked in the New Testament, it is only natural that these gifts of grace could be identified with one or the other element. So it isn’t that it is baptism as the physical act that accomplishes these things; it is faith in response to the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit that brings a person to Christ and identifies him with Christ and brings him into the body of Christ. But because it is so closely linked with baptism as part of conversion-initiation you can say things like “all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ.” Or that through baptism you are united with Christ or things of that sort.[3] So the gifts can be ascribed to either aspect of conversion-initiation.

That is the first point that I wanted to make.

Let me go to the second point which is, in contrast to what the sacramentalist says, water baptism does not necessarily coincide with Spirit baptism. Remember the sacramentalist views water baptism as the moment at which Spirit baptism takes place. They are co-incident. In water baptism a person is regenerated and born again. What I want to say here is that water baptism does not necessarily coincide with Spirit baptism. They can, but they don’t have to, contrary to the sacramentalist.

Before we even look at the Scriptures on this, which is of course our main authority, one has to say that the idea that a person is not truly a regenerate Christian until and unless he has been baptized is just massively contrary to Christian experience. I think most of us who have come to Christ as adults and remember when we were born again – when God became a living reality in our lives – know that we came to know Christ prior to going to the pastor and saying, “I want to become a candidate for baptism” and then to submit to water baptism. Just experientially, I think for those of us who have experienced the new birth, is just massively contrary to experience to think that you weren’t really a regenerate Christian until you entered the waters of baptism.

But is this taught in Scripture? Let’s look at the passages in Scripture about water and Spirit baptism and see if they coincide.

The first examples of baptism we have in the New Testament were John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ own baptisms that they administered. Notice that in neither the baptism of John the Baptist nor in the baptism that Jesus administered was the Holy Spirit received. The Holy Spirit was not given until Pentecost. So the disciples did not receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized as followers of Jesus. The sacramentalist will say this was a unique situation. They were pre-Pentecost. It was historically unusual. But notice that the Great Commission that Christ gives – go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – also includes this command to baptize people. It is likely that the disciples understood this practice as a sign just as it was in their own lives. It was a sign of their identification with Jesus when they became his disciples. Now when people become disciples they will also administer this rite to them as a sign that one has now become a Christ follower. In any case, we don’t have the reception of the Holy Spirit in John’s or Jesus’ baptism.

As you move into the book of Acts, the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at Pentecost in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit falls upon those assembled at Pentecost and they begin to speak in other languages. Although these disciples had already been baptized when they began to follow Jesus years earlier, it is only now that they receive the Holy Spirit – years after their water baptism. The sacramentalist will say this is a unique situation because they had already followed Jesus. They were already disciples. So there was no need for them to be baptized. It certainly is true that they were already following Christ – they had been baptized – but again the same situation applies. The Spirit wasn’t given in baptism; he was given apart from baptism.

What about Cornelius’ household in Acts 10:43-48? Remember here Peter gets a vision to go to Joppa and to preach to this Roman centurion who has become a God believer but now will become a Christian. In Acts 10:43-48,

To him [that is, to Christ] all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.[4] And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 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.

Here Peter says anyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit falls upon Cornelius and his household in response to their hearing of the Gospel. It is only then that water baptism follows their reception of the Holy Spirit.

Again the sacramentalist will say this is a unique instance because this is the first time the Gospel has come to the Gentiles and so it needs to show that the Gentiles are acceptable to God and therefore he sends the Holy Spirit sovereignly prior to baptism. But, again, we have another exception that seems to be accumulating.

What about the Ephesian disciples as opposed to the case of Apollos in Acts 18:24-19:7. Here we have two of the most peculiar stories in the book of Acts – the story of the Ephesian disciples and the case of Apollos. We read,

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully confuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all.

Here’s the question. Apollos and the Ephesian disciples only knew the baptism of John. They were both only familiar with that even though they were both following Christ. Why wasn’t Apollos rebaptized whereas the Ephesian disciples were rebaptized? Why did the Ephesian disciples who knew only the baptism of John have to submit to baptism whereas Apollos did not? I think the answer comes in verse 25, being “fervent in the Spirit.” The word here for “fervent” literally means “boiling.” He was boiling in the Spirit. Apollos already had the Holy Spirit. Therefore he didn’t need to submit to Christian baptism. He had the Holy Spirit already. By contract, the Ephesian disciples hadn’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. They were unregenerate people whereas Apollos was already a regenerate follower of Christ but ignorant in some respects. Therefore Apollos did not have to be rebaptized whereas the Ephesian disciples were.

Notice that in both cases what we find is that the reception of the Holy Spirit – the gift of the Holy Spirit – is independent of water baptism. It doesn’t happen at the moment of water baptism.[5] It also shows that the key to being a Christian is the presence of the Holy Spirit. I’ve said that before in this class, and these passages I think underline it. What makes a person a Christian is not baptism, it is not confession of faith; it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the person’s life. He is a regenerate person because of the work of the Holy Spirit. That is what makes a person a Christian.

The sacramentalist might say in response to this, well, in verse 25 when it says he was “fervent in Spirit” it just means that he was fervent in his spiritual disposition. He was enthusiastic or something of that sort. For example, look at Romans 12:11 which uses a similar expression: “Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.” They would say that would mean to have a fervent disposition. The problem with that is that Romans 12:11 also refers to the Holy Spirit. It literally means “be boiling in the Spirit” or “be fervent in the Spirit.” Both of these, I think, have reference to the Holy Spirit. I think this would be just one more example showing again that water baptism is not coincident with Spirit baptism.

What about Paul’s conversion? Acts 9:17-18. Paul’s conversion experience. Ananias comes to Paul:

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.

Here, again, the falling of the scales from his eyes is indicative of regeneration in the Holy Spirit. It takes place prior to his water baptism. The water baptism is something that follows Paul’s reception of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:4-8,14-17. This is the story of the Samaritan believers.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to a city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city. . . .

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

This is a passage that is difficult for anybody’s view it is so strange. Here they believed in Christ, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and yet they didn’t receive the Holy Spirit until the disciples came down and laid hands on them. This is a problem passage for any view. But what is once again clear is that the Holy Spirit was not received in water baptism. It was received later on through the laying on of hands.

To sum up what I want to say on this second point, when you go through the book of Acts and you look at these cases, it turns out that Spirit baptism never coincides with water baptism. Never! There isn’t a single instance. So these are not exceptions. These are the norm. Rather, baptism is the culmination of the act of faith. It is the supreme expression of one’s initiation into the Christian faith and identification with Christ in his death and resurrection.[6]

To sum up the ordinance view, I want to look again at 1 Peter 3:21. With this I will conclude. The author says, “Baptism . . . 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.” In other words, according to this passage, baptism is not something that God does to us. Baptism is something that we do. It is an appeal to God for a clear conscious. Baptism, I think in this passage, is not a means of grace. Rather it is a means of faith. Baptism is a means by which we express our faith in God. It is not God’s gift to man, rather it is man’s call upon God as we are converted and initiated into the Christian community.

That would be the way the proponent of baptism as an ordinance rather than a sacrament would understand it. He would say that it is primarily through hearing the Gospel and responding with faith that one receives the Holy Spirit and is so regenerate. This does not necessarily coincide with water baptism. On the contrary, it can take place apart from it and that water baptism is the culmination of your saving faith as you identify yourself with Christ’s death and resurrection in baptism.[7]



[1] 5:00

[2] 10:08

[3] 15:02

[4] 20:00

[5] 25:02

[6] 30:02

[7] Total Running Time: 32:13 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)