8 — What We Believe About the Christian Life (Part 1)

Correct beliefs are critical to correct behavior. Tenets of faith are of little account if they do not impact our lives.  As I bring this series of essays to an end, in a way, these on the Christian life are the most important.

We believe that to be a Christian is the highest privilege, and being a Christian makes us more special to God than anyone else.  We constitute the family of God[1], the salt of the earth, the light of the world[2], and the pillar and ground of truth [3].  There is no higher calling.  To underscore our special status, God calls us “priests.”[4]

We didn’t attain this status on our own.  We were given it when we placed our faith in Christ and aligned our lives with His in His death.

The Old Testament priesthood serves as the model for our own.  The standard for their behavior was higher than that of the rest of Israel; they set the bar.  They were to teach this behavior to others and nothing on earth was to come between them and their devotion to the Lord.  Jesus said the same thing of us: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”[5]  Priests modeled dignity and honor and the life they lived was to be completely devoted to the Lord.

We believe this response of life to God should proceed from our hearts, for if it does not, it will not be genuine, nor will it last.[6]

It is to be a life totally dependent on God, and that brings me to the final point this time: The Christian life is a faithful one.  It is full of faith, trust in God that He will transform us if we will desire it and allow it.  Faithful also means “trustworthy.”  God is trustworthy, that’s why we believe in Him.  As his children, we must be trustworthy too.  The world must trust that we will not lead them astray, that it can count on us to be the great people we’ve been called to be.

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Footnotes:

[1] Ephesians 2:19

[2] Matthew 5:14-19

[3] 1 Timothy 3:15

[4] 1 Peter 2:9

[5] Matthew 10:37

7 — What We Believe About the Church

The Greek New Testament uses the word “ekklesia” 110 times to refer to God’s people.[1] Our English Bibles translate that term  “church.” The word originally referred to the gathering of the free Greek citizens to vote on matters of importance in the community.  To be a member of this assembly was the highest status in a Greek community.  The use of the term among Christians was to convey the exalted status given to them by God.[2] They are, as the Church, the family of God, citizens of God’s community, and the dwelling place of the Lord.[3]

The Church is important because it is the Kingdom of God on the earth, that realm where God is seen to rule His people.[4]  It is also important because it is the body of Christ on the earth.  Just as Jesus was God in the flesh when he was on the earth, so it is that we, the Church, are Christ upon the earth.  The Bible speaks of Jesus as being the “fullness of God” (Colossians 1:19; 2:9), and speaks of the Church as being the fullness of Christ.

The Church is also important because, as the body of Christ, it is the place where adoption into God’s family and redemption and forgiveness of sins takes place.[5]  These blessings take place nowhere else, and so the Church, and only the Church, constitutes the community of the saved.  It is important because it is the only thing Jesus ever promised to build,[6] and important because it belongs to Him.

Because Christ had only one body, there is only one Church, and only one way into that Church.  It is God who adds us to that community when we, as a response of personal faith, are baptized.[7]

It is the work of the Church to exhibit the Christ-life on this earth, to call others to that Christ-life, and to encourage one another in living the Christ-like life until finally, God brings us home into His presence where we will dwell with Him.

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Footnotes
[1] The New Testament was originally written in Greek.

[2] The word “church” comes from a Greek adjective meaning “belonging to the Lord.” In the early centuries following New Testament times, it came to mark the place where Christians gathered to worship. Later, it was used to refer to the gathering itself. Though early translations of the New Testament translated “ekklesia” with “assembly,” the word “church” came to be the dominant translation.

[3] Ephesians 2:19-22 – 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

[4] The close relationship between the Church and the Kingdom can be seen in the following comparisons: Both belong to Christ (Matthew 16:18; Luke 22:29-30). Both belong to God (2 Corinthians 1:1; Luke 9:1-2). Those in one are in the other (compare Revelation 1:4 and 9).

[5] Ephesians 1:3-7 – 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace . . .

[6] Matthew 16:18

[7] Note these two texts: First Acts 2:38-47 – 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. . . .40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. . . And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Second: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – 12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

6 — What We Believe About Baptism

Baptism is a fundamental rite of the Christian Church.  Some call it a “sacrament”; our fellowship often calls it an “ordinance.”[1] It has always been such an important part of the Christian belief system that even the word for baptism has been transliterated into other languages rather than translated.[2] The idea of an unbaptized believer does not seem to be entertained in the New Testament.[3]

The word “baptism” means “immersion.” It does not mean to “sprinkle” or “pour” water over something.  Sometimes used as a synonym for drowning, it was even used to refer to the sinking of a ship.[4]  This is why, when we baptize, we use immersion in water.

In the New Testament, baptism is inseparably connected to becoming a disciple of Jesus,[5] to salvation,[6] to the forgiveness of sins,[7] and to the reception of the Holy Spirit.  It is in baptism that we enter the death of Christ[8] where we find reconciliation with God.[9]  It is from baptism that we enter a new life as a child of God, clothed with Christ.[10]  It is in baptism that the Spirit of God connects us with the body of Christ.[11]  Christianity requires all of these things, and so Christianity requires baptism.

Baptism and faith are inseparably connected.  In fact, it is safe to say that baptism, faith, reception of the Spirit, repentance and confession of Christ are one complex of events that all occur at conversion.  Paul refers to believers as baptized because un-baptized Christians would be an anomaly.  Repentance is a response of faith, and so is baptism, but all three go together.

Because baptism is a response of personal faith, it must be undertaken as a personal choice.  There are no clear instances of infant baptism in the New Testament and no literary references to infant baptism until the 4th century.[14] Even then, the reference is in opposition to the practice.  There is no need to baptize children.  The Kingdom of Heaven is made up of them.

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Footnotes
[1] The reason for staying away from sacramental terminology is due to what is often meant by “sacrament”: an action whereby grace is conferred. The Catholic Church teaches that baptism, administered correctly, conveys God’s grace to the recipient whether or not the recipient understands what is happening or not or even wants it or not (cf. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 355 cited by Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) p. 971.)

[2] When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century, rather than translate the Greek “baptizo” (verb) or “baptisma” (noun) by its Latin equivalent “immergere” (noun) or immerge (vb),” he created the words “baptizare” (verb) and “baptismi” (noun). The act evidently seemed so sacrosanct that even the word needed to be preserved.

[3] F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988) p. 70.

[4] cf. Examples cited from Aesop and Hippocrates in Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009) p. 48.

[5] Matthew 28:18-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[6] Mark 16:15-16 – 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

[7] Acts 2:38 – 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. See also Acts 22:16.

[8] Romans 6:1-3 – 1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

[9] Romans 5:10 – 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

[10] Galatians 3:26-27 – 26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Note also the connection with the “new life” in Romans 6:4 mentioned in note 7.

[11] 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – 12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

[12] Consider the unity of baptism and faith in the New Testament: Both baptism and faith are connected with union with Christ (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 3:17); both are connected with sanctification and justification, the setting apart for God and the making right with God (1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 5:1-2); both connect us to the death of Christ (Galatians 2:20; 3:27) and the new life freed from the sins of the past (Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:3-4).

[13] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009) p. 362.