Born of Water: So What? Part 2


Ever since the Protestant Reformation, we’ve tried to negotiate our way to unity. Unity meetings have been like negotiations for an international trade treaty, with long-winded speeches, committees, and white papers – and little to show for the effort. This is totally the wrong approach.

Famously, Luther and Zwingli failed to unite their reformation movements because they disagreed over the presence of the body of Jesus in the communion elements.[1] Continue reading

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Born of Water: So What? Part 1

BaptismofJesus2So what? As a Bible class teacher, I hate it when someone asks me this. It means I didn’t properly present the material. I failed to make the practical application. As they say here in West Alabama, I didn’t put the hay down where the goats can get it.

So how do these lessons on baptism matter? Well, quite a lot. Let’s start with one of the founding documents of the Restoration Movement, Thomas Campbell’s 1809 “Declaration and Address.” He writes,

PROP. 1. That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.

2. That although the Church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another, yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them, to the glory of God. And for this purpose they ought all to walk by the same rule, to mind and speak the same thing; and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.

Now, there was no Church of Christ denomination in 1809. By “Church of Christ,” Campbell means the church universal. And he defines the church as all who profess (or confess) faith in Christ and who obey Christ. Continue reading

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So Yesterday Was My Birthday …

birthdaythanksThanks to all for the many birthday wishes here and on Facebook.


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Born of Water: The “faith was sufficient for Abraham and Israel” argument, Part 4


5. Hebrews 11

The “rollcall of the faithful” in Hebrews 11 lists many heroes of the OT and declares them saved by faith – even though they lived under either the Abrahamic or Mosaic covenants – because the promises God made to Abraham never went away.

(Heb 11:13-16 ESV) These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

This chapter would make no sense at all unless (a) Israel found salvation through faith, rather than works, and (b) we Christians are saved by the same faith. Again, of course, before Jesus, the Jews believed in a Messiah promised but not yet revealed; Christians believe in the revealed Messiah.

6. Salvation of the Christians

So this brings us back to baptism. The key faith versus works passages speak of the sufficiency of faith in Jesus to save. They never say that circumcision was once essential and now baptism replaces circumcision as the essential initiatory rite. Rather, they say that faith was sufficient for Abraham and for Israel, and therefore faith is sufficient for Gentiles. Hence, there is no need for something that is other than faith, such as circumcision.

Baptism is mentioned and accorded a vital place, but it doesn’t receive nearly the same emphasis or centrality as faith. Only faith goes back to Abraham. Only faith allowed God to save Israel despite their inability to keep the Law of Moses. And only faith allows God to save Gentiles without circumcision. All of Paul’s arguments are centered and focused on faith in Jesus and the receipt of the Spirit (which I’ve not tried to summarize here). Baptism is mentioned and never belittled. But baptism is never at the center of Paul’s arguments.

In Romans, Paul doesn’t even mention baptism in his discussion of how Christians are saved in Rom 1 – 5. It doesn’t come up until Paul deals with the ethical implications of salvation by faith: “Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1). But it’s assumed to be universal, well understood, and very closely tied to our forgiveness.

In Galatians, Paul covers nearly three chapters on our salvation and the gospel and only mentions baptism in Gal 3:27 as explaining or demonstrating the unity that we all have by faith in Jesus.

In Ephesians, Paul covers salvation by faith for three chapters, and then early in chapter 4 mentions “one baptism” as one of the seven ones that demonstrate the unity of Jews and Gentiles through Jesus.

In Hebrews, which speaks to the superiority of Jesus and Christianity to Judaism, baptism is only mentioned in passing (Heb 10:22 and possibly 6:2) –

(Heb 10:19-23 ESV) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Baptism is metaphorically compared to the washing Jews had to undergo to enter the Temple, where the Jews approached God’s presence in the Holy of Holies. Our confidence is in the sacrifice of Jesus (v. 19), but baptism helps assure us that our faith allows us to draw near to God thanks to the work of Jesus.

So it’s not possible that our salvation is based on baptism. Over and over, Paul points us to faith in Jesus. Baptism is not the linchpin. It’s not the foundation. It’s, rather, a critically important assurance of our salvation – a form of assurance that was universally practiced by the early church and administered to all converts who confessed Jesus. In fact, I believe it’s even more than that. But it’s not co-equal with faith in Paul’s theology.

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Update of Progressive Church of Christ Blogs and Groups

With the help of reader and regular commenter Christopher, I’ve updated this page as follows:

  • I’ve added some sites. (Some that I’m embarrassed to have overlooked for so long.)
  • I’ve deleted links to most sites not updated in the last year.
  • I’ve deleted links that go nowhere (or I corrected the link when the new URL was given).
  • I’ve deleted blogs with no dates. (Not fair to the dated blogs that I deleted.)
  • I’ve created a separate category for writings of “interesting Church of Christ authors.” For example, I’ve preserved the link to the works of the late Cecil Hook.
  • I’ve deleted sites that were largely political or otherwise not theological.
  • I’ve retitled the page to Progressive Church of Christ Blogs, E-Zines, Writings and Groups.


And if I deleted you in error, or if your blog qualifies for the list and I’ve overlooked it, let me know.

PS — A few things learned having just reviewed several dozen Church of Christ blogs– Continue reading

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Born of Water: The “faith was sufficient for Abraham and Israel” argument, Part 3

BaptismofJesus23. Salvation of the Jews

Because Abraham was saved by faith (and not works of the law), the same is surely true of Israel. God did not repeal his promises to Abraham when the Law of Moses came into effect and then reinstate his promises to Abraham when Jesus died on the cross. The promises made to Abraham remained continuously in effect.

For example, in the Torah, God explicitly says he chose Israel to be saved because of his covenant with Abraham –

(Lev. 26:40-42 ESV) “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies – if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.”

(Deu 9:5-6 ESV) Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 6 “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

And the OT has countless passages that speak of God’s salvation in terms of believing in God or trusting God.

(Exo 4:30-31 ESV) Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. 31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.

(Psa 40:4 ESV) Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!

(Psa 84:12 ESV) O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

(Psa 125:1 ESV) Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

(Psa 146:5 ESV) Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,

(Pro 16:20 ESV) Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

(2 Chr 20:18-20 ESV) Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD. 19 And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. 20 And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”

(Jer 17:7-8 ESV) “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

(Jer 39:18 ESV) “‘For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the LORD.’”

(Hab 2:4 ESV) “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

This is but a sampling of the many OT verses that speak of salvation for those with faith in or who trust God. After all, the faith shown by Abraham was trust that God would keep his promises. The “trust” passages speak very much to this promise.

4. Ephesians 3

The theme of the first four chapters of Ephesians is the unity of Jews and Gentiles made possible by God’s grace. Chapter 1 speaks of God’s election of Israel to be saved and God’s choice to include believing Gentiles among his elect people. Chapter 2 explains that God does this by saving us by faith, not works – allowing him to include Gentiles among the saved.

(Eph 3:1-3 ESV) For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you [Gentiles], 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

This is a complex sentence. We need to follow its contours closely. Paul introduces the idea of a “mystery” disclosed to him by God.

(Eph 3:4-5 ESV) When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

This mystery is now a revelation. It was hidden in the past but is now revealed through the apostles and prophets.

(Eph 3:6 ESV) This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The mystery now revealed is that the Gentiles are “fellow heirs” (co-inheritors) of the promise that comes through Jesus by the gospel. That the Jews were to receive the gospel was no secret. The OT prophets had been very clear on this point. The newly revealed truth is the inclusion of the Gentiles among the Jews without distinction and without having to become Jews to be saved.

(Eph 2:11-16 ESV) Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision [the Jews], which is made in the flesh by hands – 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us [Jews and Gentiles] both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

The Jews have always had the “covenants of promise,” but the Gentiles were without hope – until Jesus changed everything. He broke down the “dividing wall of hostility” joining Jews and Gentiles into a single body.

We often miss one of Paul’s implicit but essential points. The Gentiles are saved because they’ve been added to the same body as the Jews. The Gentiles have now received the covenant promises of the Jews – and so may be saved.

Paul speaks of Jesus as extending the promises to the Gentiles, not as establishing a new promise. Now, there is a difference – a big one – in that the faith required of the Jews has become faith in Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9). The Jews were saved by faith – but now only by faith in God understood correctly through Jesus. Miss Jesus and you miss God.

Before Jesus, the Jews were asked to believe in a Messiah not yet revealed. After Jesus, they were asked to believe in the revealed Messiah – which became a stumbling block.

And so we have the irony that the Jews largely surrendered promises they already had by rejecting Jesus as Lord – and thereby rejecting God. And yet the promises were extended to the Gentiles, who largely accepted them.

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Born of Water: The “faith was sufficient for Abraham and Israel” argument, Part 2

BaptismofJesus22. Galatians 3

Galatians begins with a series of curses on those who teach a “different gospel.” Paul then relates a series of stories about his relationship with the other apostles to make the point that the true gospel teaches salvation by faith. He wraps up chapter 2 with some of the strongest statements on the sufficiency of faith to save found in the Bible.

(Gal 3:5-8 ESV) 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 – 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Amazingly, Paul calls “gospel” God crediting Abraham with righteousness because of his faith. His point is that the Gentiles are saved by faith because of God’s covenant with Abraham. It’s the same promise, and so both are “gospel.” Continue reading

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More Pepperdine Videos

Pepperdine Bible Lectures | 2016From Livestream. The keynote addresses.


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Born of Water: The “faith was sufficient for Abraham and Israel” argument, Part 1

BaptismofJesus2For many years, Paul has been read as saying that the Jews were saved by works under the Law of Moses, but Christians are now saved by faith. And Paul certainly wrote extensively on law versus faith in Gal and Rom. But recent scholarship has concluded that we’ve badly misread the NT.

First, we’ve assumed that the dispensations – Abrahamic (or Patriarchal), Mosaic, and Christian – each repeal and replace the previous dispensation. This teaching largely comes from the study notes in the Scofield Study Bibles sold beginning in the 19th Century.  In the Churches of Christ, many were converted by use of the Jule Miller filmstrips, which taught Scofield’s dispensational theory. Even those not converted using the filmstrips likely saw them in Bible class.

Scofield was, of course, correct to note the series of dispensations and that God’s relationship with his people changed in each one. But he failed to realize that the old covenants weren’t so much repealed as fulfilled and transformed by God over time. In fact, the NT is quite clear that we are saved today under the terms of God’s covenant with Abraham. This is the point of Gal 3 and Rom 4. It’s also clear that the Jews under Moses were also saved by faith due to the promises given to Abraham. Paul makes this point in Rom 4 and Eph 3, and it’s especially clear in the “rollcall of the faithful” in Heb 11, which repeatedly declares that the heroes of the OT were saved by their faith. We will cover these passages shortly. Continue reading

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Born of Water: Is baptism a work?

BaptismofJesus2Those with a Southern Baptist or Calvinist background often argue that baptism can’t be essential for salvation or else it would be a “work,” and Paul is very clear that it’s error – even damning error – to add a work to faith as a requirement for salvation. For example, in Gal 5, Paul writes,

(Gal 5:2-4 ESV) Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

In other words, Paul argues that if you insist on any element of the law as a condition of salvation, you must apply the entirety of the law. We can’t pick and choose. And, obviously enough, no one can perfectly keep the entirety of the Law of Moses, and so adding any element of the Law of Moses creates a standard that cannot be met and which therefore damns. Continue reading

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