Searching for The Third Way: Baptism, Part 5

three.jpgI’m going to say some completely unbelievable things. And take a while doing it. But when I get done, I expect to explain baptism and faith and the Spirit and time.

It’s going to take a while. But it’ll be great fun. And you’ll have a deeper understanding of the mystery of God, even if you disagree with me. Which you probably will.

Time, baptism, the Spirit, and prevenient grace — the problem defined

I’m wrestling with two questions. The first is how baptism can be the time when we receive the Spirit, which is essential to salvation, when so many verses say we are saved at the moment of faith. Acts 2:38 seems plain enough, but there are also –

(1 Cor 12:13) 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.

(Titus 3:4-7) But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

And there’s the fact that Jesus’ baptism, which prefigures ours, shows the Spirit coming on him upon his immersion.

The second is a question less familiar to us in the Churches of Christ. It’s whether there’s such a thing as prevenient grace — God’s acting on the unsaved, through the Spirit, to open their hearts to faith. Although the Churches of Christ have long denied this, thinking it Calvinist, I’ve recently learned that the original Arminian view was to accept prevenient grace.

Jacob Arminius taught that humans cannot come to faith unless enabled to do so by God. God does this through the work of the Spirit — in conjunction with the presentation of the word. The human, whose heart is always opened, may reject or accept the gospel in faith and be saved.

The “proof texts,” which we’ll get to, don’t seem to fit our view that the Spirit’s work begins only after salvation, the Calvinist view, or the Arminian view. I’m looking for a fourth way.

We’ll consider the verses more later, but consider this passage –

(Rom. 8:5-9 Net.Bible) For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. 6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.

The passages says that either the Spirit lives in us or else we don’t belong to Jesus (v. 9). Those who don’t belong to Jesus (don’t have the Spirit) are “in the flesh” and “cannot please God.” How then, does a lost person gain faith and so please God, without first (or concurrently) receiving the Spirit?

Or consider –

A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, a God-fearing woman listened to us. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying.

The Church of Christ interpretation would be that she responded of her own free will to the word preached by Paul. But the text plainly treats God’s opening of her heart as somehow in addition to the preaching.

The Calvinistic interpretation is that God not only opened her heart but irresistibly gave her faith — but the text doesn’t say that either.

The Arminian interpretation is that God opened her heart and she then chose, of her own free will (empowered by God to overcome her fallen state) to have faith. Which is consistent with the text.

But if prevenient grace is true, then the Spirit comes just before or concurrently with faith. And yet lots of verses teach the Spirit comes at baptism. Hmm …

Brilliant theologians have debated this stuff for centuries. Is there a Fourth Way?

This is all about time, you know. When does the Spirit first change the human heart? When are we saved? We’ve talked about time before and how is resolves these old Calvinist conundrums. Might it work here? Maybe we need to study some more physics?

First theological point: The universe declares the glory of God

eagle_spitzer.jpgThe Biblical writers declare,

(Psa 75:3) When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm. Selah

(Col 1:17) He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

(Heb 1:3a) The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

(Rev 4:11) “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

Moreover, the laws of nature work because Jesus wills it. Therefore, the laws of nature reveal the nature of God and Jesus –

(Psa 19:1-3) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

(Rom 1:20) For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

(Acts 17:24-27) “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. … 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

God’s nature and character can be seen in what he made. Therefore, science is a subset of theology — it’s one of several ways in which God reveals himself.

Therefore, all efforts to set God and science in opposition are profoundly bad theology. And ignorance of science is ignorance of God.

Indeed, the laws of nature themselves, having been written and enforced by God — sustained by Jesus — tell us about God. It is, after all, God who puts the fire in the equations (paraphrasing Steven Hawking).

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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11 Responses to Searching for The Third Way: Baptism, Part 5

  1. Mark says:

    Wow- I like where this is all going but too as a long time church of Christ person it also pulls the rug out from under my feet. But for many years now my studies have forced me to put just about everything I know on the table, eschatology, music, church organization, women’s issues. leadership, and evangelism, denominationalism, autonomy .

    So much for the yellow book the "directions for the road ahead for the churches of Christ". Faith and its connection to the religious world for me is really a balancing act I never anticipated. However I think I have to face some facts going to a church building worth 1.3 mil with only 30 people in it with have of them just people from the community stopping by to see what we are all about. The only thing I hope for now is a God that opens peoples hearts.

  2. Alan says:

    so many verses say we are saved at the moment of faith

    I don't think so. There are plenty of verses that say those who believe will be saved. But those verses don't define a timeline distinguishing the moment of belief from the moment of baptism. They don't talk about any particular moment when belief began.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts. We in the churches of Christ are a people who want to find a "rational" answer to anything religous. If we have to accept anything outside our realm of "scriptural proof" we become uncomfortable. We lean toward the necessity of "perfect understanding and obedience" in order to be saved. Could it be that faith doesn't always include "perfect understanding and obedience"? Instead of salvation being an study of intellectual understanding perhaps it is a Christ-centered acceptance of God's promises found outside man's intellectual abilities.

  4. Mark says:

    "so many verses say we are saved at the moment of faith"

    I believe there is 23 verses in Acts alone that claim we are saved without including baptism. Of course this hermeneutically is a problem because logic would dictate that the more something is said the more stronger the argument. However the coC and other denominations’ that adhere to doctrinal positions without a lot of scripture needs to place more authority on the limited references.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Alan,

    I posted a sampling of such verses at http://oneinjesus.info/2008/11/03/searching-for-t…. Each says that all with faith are saved. How can all with faith be saved if only those who've been baptized are saved?

    (John 3:36) “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

    (John 5:24) “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life"

    These verses, and many like them certainly seem to say that the point of salvation is the point of faith. But I've already argued that baptism is also presented as the point of salvation.

    Of course, in the First Century, the two were nearly concurrent — baptism following very shortly after faith — which is how it ought to be today. But it often isn't; hence, the problem.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Dell,

    That's very well said.

  7. Mark says:

    "Instead of salvation being an study of intellectual understanding perhaps it is a Christ-centered acceptance of God’s promises found outside man’s intellectual abilities."

    Good thought!

  8. Jay Guin says:

    I'm going to stop typing now so Mark can say what I was going to say without me getting in the way.

  9. Ric says:

    Hmmm… This seems to give some light to John 6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day."

  10. Alan says:

    These verses, and many like them certainly seem to say that the point of salvation is the point of faith. But I’ve already argued that baptism is also presented as the point of salvation.

    I recognize what you're saying. My point is simply that these verses don't talk about a point in time when any of these things begins (faith, baptism, forgiveness, salvation…) They just identify the people who will be saved, as those who have faith.

  11. Midgeoreno says:

    I've never heard a reformed exposition of Lydia's conversion stated as you have. Rather, that Lydia, once her heart was opened, was able to do that which she was previously unable to do, because she was spiritually dead. Dead. Not gravely I'll or mortally wounded, but dead.

    Great Series.

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