What Hath the Lord’s Supper To Do with Baptism (pt. 2)

ryan-loughlin--a8Cewc-qGQ-unsplashYesterday, I began to consider the necessary unity of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or to put it differently, why baptism is the necessary prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper. Today, I will make a biblical-theological case for why this unity should be believed and practiced.

By looking at how the whole Bible sets the stage for Christ’s two ordinances, we find a compelling reason for practicing them together and in order—baptism first, then the Lord’s Table. Or as we will see from Joshua, the Lord’s is for those who have passed over the waters of baptism and entered God’s land. This is physically and historically true with old covenant Israel; this is symbolically and personally true for every member of God’s new covenant.

It will take a little bit of time to see all the pieces of this argument, but for those willing to put in the effort, there is a great reward for seeing how Scripture unifies God’s ordinances and explains their place in the life of the Church and the Christian today. In what follows, I will offer two presuppositions and four reasons for why the Lord’s Supper requires baptism. Continue reading

What Hath the Lord’s Supper To Do with Baptism (pt. 1)

ryan-loughlin--a8Cewc-qGQ-unsplashBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified
in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
– 1 Corinthians 6:11 –

 Few gospel truths are more essential than this one: there are only two kinds of people in the world—those in Christ and those in Adam, those who have believed the gospel and those who have rejected it, those who have been born from above and those who have only been born from below. Though Scripture has many ways to speak of sheep and goats, wheat and chaff, good fig and bad, the uniform testimony is that there are only two kinds of people.

For those committed to the truth of Scripture, this division leads to one of two eternal destinies—heaven or hell. There is no third way, no middle ground. And thankfully, every time a gospel preacher heralds this sifting truth, he makes clear the call of the gospel—to repent and believe and enter the kingdom.

Yet, for every clear proclamation of the gospel, there can be an unintended confusion when it comes to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In other words, when the church took up the gospel, it called believers to be baptized. Whereas Jesus proclaimed “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), Peter proclaimed “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Did Peter change Jesus’s message? Absolutely not! Rather, Peter’s invitation to baptism is a call to join God’s people—i.e. to repent of your sin, believe on Christ, and join the community of faith identified with Christ by baptism. In Acts, the pattern of baptism is always believe first then receive baptism by immersion in water (see Acts 8:12). In this way, the gospel which divided believers from unbelievers was confirmed by a community of faith set apart from the world. Continue reading

Remembering Baptism: Israel’s, Jesus’s, and Yours (Joshua 3–4)

joshua07Remembering Baptism: Israel’s, Jesus’s, and Yours (Joshua 3–4)

So far in Joshua, we have seen connections between Joshua and Jesus, as well as Rahab and the Church. These connections remind us how this book of history is written for us on whom the end of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:11; cf. Romans 15:4). Incredibly, the inspired words of the Old Testament are not just Israel’s historical chronicles; they are prophetic messages leading us to Christ (1 Peter 1:10–12).

This week we will see this pattern again.

Widening our gaze to see Israel cross the Jordan River,  Joshua 3–4 shows us how God exalted Joshua by parting the waters and bringing all of Israel into the land. As we saw in this week’s sermon, the memorial of twelve stones is meant for future generations. And for us, we will see how this water passage not only reveals the character of God but also foreshadows the baptism of Jesus and our own baptisms.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions and further resources are available below.  Continue reading

Baptism in the Jordan River: 10 Things about Joshua 3–4

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashJoshua 3–4 is about Israel crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land, which is to say it is about a baptism into and with Joshua. Seeing that “baptism,” however, will take a little cross-referencing. To get to that interpretation, here are 10 things about Joshua 3–4.

1. The literary structure puts the center of the story in the middle of the Jordan River.

Chapters 3–4 should be read together. If we organize chapter 3 around the crossing and chapter 4 around the memorial of twelve stones, we may miss the fact that the priests are still standing in the river bed from Joshua 3:15 until Joshua 4:18. For this reason, it is better to organize the chapters around the actual events of the crossing, and read the chapters together.

Joshua 3:15 watches the priests step into the water; Joshua 4:18 watches them step out of the water. In between, all the people of Israel cross the Jordan River in haste (4:10). And standing at the center of this story is the collection of twelve stones, which will be a sign and memorial for future generations (4:6–7). Indeed, the memorial is presented at the center of the story, and thus we should see how the whole river crossing hangs together.

For starters, Dale Ralph Davis (Joshua, 32) organizes Joshua 3–4 around the simple movement of crossing the Jordan River.

Crossing Over (3:14–17)

Twelve Stones (4:1–10a)

Crossing Over (4:10b–14) Continue reading

On the Need for Exegetical Typology: Circumcision as a Test Case

bookLast month the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT) published an article I wrote. In “From Beelines to Plotlines: Typology That Follows the Covenantal Topography of Scripture,” I argued that (most, if not all) typological structures begin in creation, move through the undulating contours of Israel’s covenant history (hence, covenant topography), until they find their terminus in Christ. Then, after being fulfilled by the person and work of Jesus Christ, they are continued in the new covenant people of God. My test case, or textual proof, was the typology of the priesthood. If you are interested, you can read the article online. I’d be interested in your feedback.

Today, however, I’m interested in looking at another test case, namely the typology of circumcision found in the Bible. I believe that the only way we can understand circumcision (and its relationship to baptism) is by looking at its development in the canon. And thankfully, instead of making that case, John Meade has already done so (far better than I could) in his chapter, “Circumcision of the Flesh to Circumcision of the Heart,” in Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologiesedited by Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker.

Building on his earlier work on circumcision and its cultic origins and priestly intentions in Egypt, Meade shows how circumcision from the start was a sign, with in-built tension designed to lead to a greater reality—namely, circumcision of the heart. Indeed, as one follows the narrative of the Old Testament we can see how, long before the New Testament applies this sign to Christ (Colossians 2:11–12) and the people of faith (Philippians 3:3), the sign of circumcision is already shifting. From a careful reading of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah and the Prophets, Meade makes this point, and I share a few of his conclusions below. Continue reading

Baptism and the Resurrection: Looking Again at 1 Corinthians 15:29 and ‘Baptism for the Dead’

baptismOtherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead?
If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
— 1 Corinthians 15:29 —

Few passages in Scripture are more confusing than 15:29, with its language of “baptism for the dead” (βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν). What is Paul trying to say? Is he addressing, or condemning, or condoning some strange practice in Corinth? Is he speaking of the traditional ordinance of water baptism, but using strange language? Should we read 1 Corinthians 15:29 with everything else Paul said about baptism? Or should we delimit this verse to the cultural context of Corinth?

For starters, we can clearly assert that Scripture in no way supports “proxy” or “vicarious baptism.” In the context itself, Paul is not giving instruction for baptism; he is using it as a rhetorical illustration: if many line up for baptism, which depends on the resurrection, why do you accept baptism but not resurrection. Again the focus of 1 Corinthians 15 is resurrection; “baptism on behalf of the dead” is in reference to that larger issue. Paul is not giving us any instructions for the ordinance itself

Rightly, the orthodox church has always understood Paul this way. Throughout church history, this passage was only used by heretical groups to implement such a practice; it has never found a place among true believers.[1] Among Mormons, there is a false doctrine built on this verse, that a Mormon priest must baptize someone for them to be born again—hence some are baptized today on behalf of earlier, unbaptized souls.[2] But among evangelicals there is no such practice.

What is present among biblical Christians is a wide variety of interpretations. In what follows I will attempt to list these interpretations and conclude with something of an approximation of what I believe Paul is saying. I say approximation, because this is one of those passages that we must hold with open hands. In other words, while we can confidently stress what this passage does not teach, we are in a more difficult position to lock down a precise definition of what Paul does mean. The context, the grammar, and the meaning are all difficult to us. Still, we should labor to understand his words, especially in the context of the book. But first, a list of possible interpretations. Continue reading

Another Step Toward a Biblical Ecclesiology: Acts 9 on Baptism, Membership, and the Church

baptism_of_st_paul_-_capela_palatina_-_palermo_-_italy_2015-2The book of Acts is pivotal for understanding the nature and function of the church. It is also challenging, because it presents a church that is “born” on Pentecost, at first contained to Jerusalem, but later expanded to Judea and Samaria and finally unleashed the ends of the earth. At the same time, it’s founding members were believers before receiving the Spirit and yet the gift of the Spirit is one of the distinguishing marks of the church as it spreads from Israel to Italy. In four instances (Acts 2, 8, 10, 19), the Spirit is given, but in no two instances are the exact events the same. For instance, speaking in tongues accompanies the Spirit in Acts 2, 10, 19, but not Acts 8. Likewise, water baptism precedes the Holy Spirit in Acts 8, but follows in Acts 10.

From just a sampling of evidences, the book of Acts is both foundational and frustrating for understanding the nature of the church. It is foundational because of the patterns we see in how churches are formed—the Word of God is preached, Jews then Samaritans than Gentiles repent and believe, they are baptized, and then gathered into churches. Yet, it is frustrating because not everything in Acts is reproducible today. The personal visitations by Jesus, the miracles of healing, the speaking in tongues, and the survival of snake bites are all incidents that we might say have discontinued—unless one believes otherwise. For now my point is not to defend or deny cessationism, but to merely highlight how that debate among others finds difficulty in Acts.

Any point of ecclesiology, therefore, needs to be aware of Acts transitional nature. It should take into account how the Holy Spirit has given us this book to teach us about the founding of the church, but it is not a manual for every point of doctrine. That being said, where else do we turn in Scripture to find how to plant, revitalize, and shepherd churches? Therefore, we do need to watch for patterns and principles in Acts, but always with awareness of some discontinuity between Acts period of transition and our own day.

Clearing Up Two Points of Ecclesiology

With this approach to Acts in mind, I want to clear up two points of ecclesiology from Acts 9. From this chapter, I have heard two statements about the church:

  1. Paul’s baptism by Ananias suggests a local church is not (absolutely) needed for a legitimate baptism.
  2. The Church is fundamentally a universal concept, as Acts 9:31 describes the church regionally, not locally (i.e., in one spatio-temporal location).

While there is truth in these statements, ultimately I think we are on more solid ground to say

  1. Paul’s baptism was unique, but not so unique as to break from the normative pattern of the New Testament. We should exercise caution when making application from his experience, but at the same time, we can see how his unusual experience fits the larger pattern of baptism and “church membership” in Acts.
  2. The universal Church “throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria . . .” is a located in spatio-temporal “locales” (something I’ve tried to describe elsewhere).

In what follows, I will argue that Paul’s baptism is both a unique point in redemptive history and one that follows the pattern of baptism and church membership (i.e., association with other disciples in a local church). Exploring the relationship of Paul’s baptism to the churches in Damascus and Jerusalem will also prove the corollary: life in the universal church is experienced through local assemblies. In the end, I will list seven points of application from this chapter related to ecclesiology. Continue reading

The Testimony of Two: Why Baptism Requires a Harmony of Witnesses

baptism1In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.
— John 8:17 —

In recent months I’ve been in discussion about the meaning of baptism, and who is saying what when a believer is immersed for identification with Jesus. Is baptism an individual’s testimony (alone)? Or is it the church’s testimony? Or, is it both?

With this question in mind, I recently read John 8 where Jesus makes the axiomatic statement in verse 17: “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.” In context, he is preparing to say he and his Father both testify to his messianic identity, even if the Pharisees in all of their well-studied folly could not receive this testimony. The point Jesus makes is that his identity is secured by multiple witnesses. In fact, John’s whole Gospel hangs on this premise, that there are a dozen or more witnesses testifying to Christ.

From this consideration, my question is, What role does the legal requirement of two or three witnesses play in baptism? If baptism is a legal act, whereby the disciple of Jesus is marked out and publicly identified, should this not include more than one witness? And have some churches misunderstood (or misapplied) baptism when they teach and practice that all that matters is the individual’s faith? Certainly, the one undergoing baptism is testifying to their allegiance to Christ, but what role, biblically speaking, does the legal requirement of two or three witnesses play in the ordinance of baptism? Continue reading

Waters That Unite: Five Truths About Water Baptism

 baptism1Too often baptism is seen as waters that divide. In the New Testament, however, baptism publicly identifies Christians with their Lord and one another. Especially in Paul, baptism is appealed to as a means of unity in the church. Those who have died and risen again with Christ are known by their common baptism (Romans 6:3–6). As Paul says in Galatians 3:25–29, all those who are “one in Christ Jesus” have been “baptized into Christ.” Baptism, therefore, is a means of identifying those who are one in Christ.

This unifying purpose of baptism explains why Paul is emphatic about baptism in 1 Corinthians 1. Instead of unifying the church in Corinth, it was dividing it. In response to the news that the church was fractured by personality cults (“I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ,” v. 12), Paul reminds the Corinthians of their unity in the gospel (see 1:17–2:16). He reproves them for they way baptism was playing a part in dividing them, and in the process gives us five truths about baptism. Continue reading

A Better Understanding of Baptism

baptismBobby Jamieson is a clear thinker and compelling writer. He is also a good friend. But it’s not his friendship that impels me to commend his two books. Rather, it is the fact that I think his two books on baptism (Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Membership and Understanding Baptism) succeed in answering the question: If baptism doesn’t save, why does it matter?

In a day when church membership is often taken lightly and popular ecclesiology focuses on activities and attractions more than exegetical essentials, Jamieson’s two books explain why Scripture requires baptism and why churches need to reclaim the value of this ordinance.

In what follows, I want to highlight three arguments from Understanding Baptism addressing three different kinds of people. First, he makes a case for why Christians reticent to be baptized should be baptized. Second, he explains why baptism is necessary for membership. And third, he shows how membership in the local church is the natural result of baptism.

In truth, this blog can’t do justice to all the Scripture Jamieson considers in his two books. Rather, if you find yourself in one of these camps—(1) an unbaptized believer, (2) baptized but not (intending to become) a church member, or (3) a member indifferent towards baptism—my aim is to spur you on towards picking up his book and going to the Bible to see what it says about baptism and the church. Continue reading