Thursday, June 14, 2007

Much of what is recorded in Acts is historical narrative, describing many (literal) events that happened during the beginning of the Church Age. It is essential that one understands the difference between prescriptive and descriptive passages of Scripture. Failure to heed this warning can lead to many misapplications of the Biblical text. The book of Acts is primarily filled with Descriptive/Narrative passages. We must keep this in mind before me make NORMATIVE certain events in Acts that where not meant to be duplicated. In short then, Acts shows us what authentic Christianity looked like in all of her blessed simplicity. This book provides us with many vivid illustrations of discipleship, evangelism, and Biblical church growth.

Acts 2:41-47 illustrates 4 noteworthy truths:

1. Genuine Salvation precedes biblical baptism (v. 41).
Approximately 3000 people “received the word” and were converted before being “baptized” in Acts 2:41. During the church age, genuine salvation always preceded baptism. This seems to be the clear cut teaching that is illustrated for us in verse 41. The practice of the early church and of the apostles is what many refer to today as “believer’s baptism.” Many other New Testament texts could be cited to support this point including a number of historical records in Acts (Acts 8:30-38; Acts 10:44-48; 16:29-34; 18:7-8). Again, these passages demonstrate the consistent practice of the apostles and the early church: people were saved and subsequently they were also baptized. The early church did not have a category for an un-baptized believer. In modern day vernacular, “you got saved and you got baptized.”

As the second member of the Triune Godhead, Jesus’ word in Matthew 28:19 is sufficient warrant for the baptism of believers. Jesus commanded his followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The imperative in Matthew 28 is to go and make disciples. Jesus’ clearly teaches us that baptism is only for genuine disciples (literally, baptizing “them”). Jesus and the apostles taught their followers that baptism was a matter of obedience. Personally I believe it is the first step of obedience after a person submits him or herself to the Lordship of Christ at salvation. Baptism is also about identification; both identification with Christ Himself and identification with the Church (which of course is Christ’s body). Baptism pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ on behalf of the believer, while demonstrating the repentance of faith, and new life the believer has in Christ. Paul asked, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life“ (Romans 6:3-4; Col 2:12).

As we observe our next point (below) we’ll uncover a connection between baptism and one’s personal identification with the local church.

2. Formal identification with a local church appears to have been the normative pattern with the early church. (v. 41)
It appears that the early church clearly knew who belonged to their local assembly. Acts 1:15 says the church of Jerusalem began with “about a hundred and twenty people.” Specific names from this list are provided in verses 13-14. After Peter’s powerful sermon on the Day of Pentecost many respond to his exhortation. Many repent and are baptized in the name of the Lord (vv. 41-42). Luke, the author of Acts, records that about “three-thousand” were added to the church. The Greek word for “added” is prostithemi. This word means to add something to an existing quantity. In the words of one teacher it “speaks of a deliberate, calculated act of adding a select number to a greater, existing whole.” Those who were genuinely saved proceeded to be baptized. Those that were baptized were then consequentially added to the early church. This same verb (prostithemi) is used again (in a different tense) in Acts 2:47. Luke says that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The Greek word used to describe this revival (sozo) is a present passive participle. Luke wants his readers to understand that this was a continuous revival. As the gospel was clearly proclaimed the Lord himself was saving sinners on a consistent basis. This, if you will, was the first revival in the history of the church! Acts 4:4 records the continued spiritual growth that took place during the early days of the church. Acts 4:4 puts it this way, “the number of men grew to about five thousand.” One author commenting on the word ‘number’ writes, “the word here is the word arithmos from which we get ‘arithmetic’-the science of the computation of numbers.” It seems fair to deduce from passages like this one that when people repented of their sins they immediately were baptized and thus connected themselves to a local assembly (a church). The New Testament epistles do not have a special category for ‘Lone-Ranger’ Christians. As a New Testament saint, you were either part of a local church or you were not. God saved people, and those same people got baptized. Water baptism identified them with Christ and His church. This was of course a major step of faith for many Jewish Christians, especially during the days of heavy Roman persecution. As a pastor I’m amazed at the excuses some Christians make today as to why they have not been baptized. I’m also bewildered at the percentage of baptized Believers who aren’t formally identifying themselves with any local assembly.

One of the footnote questions that often arises from this conversation is as follows: Should baptism be a prerequisite for church membership? Personally I think you can make a good case that it should be but I don’t think one can be absolutely dogmatic about this. If you agree with the basic premises I provided above then you may choose to implement this into your church constitution. On the other hand, you may argue that one could identify him/herself with a local church today (with the intention to be baptized in the near future) and still official join the church membership. Unless I am missing some major exegetical arguments I don’t think the Scriptures demand baptism be a necessary prerequisite for church membership. Church tradition may in some instances demand it but I do not think God’s Word does. At the same time, I don’t see any major problems with churches that do make this a prerequisite for reasons I already listed above.

SOURCE: A great blog HERE.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Honey... this is GREAT! Thanks for sharing!!! =)

noneuclidean said...

I agree with your wifey ;-). So, in the examples you give, you believe them to be normative and therefore prescriptive? Your introduction made me think you were going to write something about people taking descriptive passages in Acts and incorrectly treating them as prescriptive. Either way, I like your firm stance on baptism. It's difficult for some people to take such a high view of baptism without making it a work necessary for salvation.

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