The Progressive Churches of Christ: Resolving the Tensions, Part 4.4

progressiveI started writing this in the Comments, but decided this was too important to leave there.

A couple of readers asked, regarding the last couple of posts, why Mark Love’s first story isn’t good enough, why it’s not the real story.

A few posts ago, I quoted two stories by Mark. The first one was a classic presentation of Protestant atonement theology. We are sinners. God sent Jesus to die for us and for God to forgive us. Our only hope of salvation is grace through Jesus’s sacrifice, which we attain through faith in Jesus.

It’s true, but it’s incomplete. It’s part of a larger story, and it makes much better sense in the context of the full story.

Mark then presents a vision of the Kingdom in which those who are saved enter the Kingdom and thereby enter into God’s redemptive mission.

Rather, the Christian view of the world is that God suffers with us, joins us, endures with us, and works for justice through paths of faithful love. Love, not as an emotion, but love as a way of always acting for us. And ultimately, this is the power through which all things will be made whole.

The death of Jesus on a Roman cross is a demonstration that there is no power or circumstance that places us outside of his love. And his resurrection from the dead says to us that the powers of sin and death don’t have the final word. And the church is a group of people who live by the power of this selfless love, which the Holy Spirit gives to us, and who live in resistance to all other powers that would shape life in distorting or unjust ways, who live as a sign of God’s future where all things will be made whole.

Reader Dwight saw the first story in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2. It’s there, but the second story is actually much more prominent — and this is a great place to see the distinction Mark Love is making.

Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 wasn’t: you’re moral reprobates and you need to give up wine, whiskey, and women, come to Jesus, and get baptized. He was not calling for moral reformation. After all, the audience was made up of Jews present in Jerusalem for Pentecost — on pilgrimage. There’s no indication that they were in need of moral correction.

And there is no real evidence that these were the same people who called for Jesus’ death. Some may well have been, but it was the Jewish leaders who sought to crucify Jesus. We covered this in detail in the series on John’s Gospel. This was a random gathering of Jewish pilgrims to Pentecost, many of whom may not  have even been in the country of Judea at the crucifixion.

The outline of Peter’s sermon is —

(1) the Spirit promised by Joel at the end of Exile and the beginning of the Kingdom is now here and you are seeing it being outpoured as promised by the Prophets.

(2) Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the promised King sent by God.

(3) God resurrected Jesus and brought him back to heaven to place him on the throne of Israel, declaring him to the Messiah.

(4) You crucified the Messiah (as a people) and rejected him one by one.

If Israel was sent into exile for idolatry, imagine the punishment for crucifying the Messiah! Of course, the Jews present asked what to do!

“Repent” means to change from your previously intended course. In the OT, the ESV routinely translates the word “relent,” and it usually applies to God himself changing direction. The word is sometimes used of relenting from a life of sin, but it doesn’t necessarily refer to sin (many tens of thousands of sermons to the contrary notwithstanding). The Jews’ previously intended course was denial that Jesus is the Messiah. To repent from that course is to come to faith in Jesus as Messiah.

“Be baptized” was a sign of repentance as taught by John the Baptist, as well as a path to forgiveness of sin, as also taught by John. Baptism offered forgiveness normally only available in the Temple — moving God’s throne of grace from the Temple to Jesus and his church. And John came preaching that the Kingdom was near. Baptism in the Jordan River symbolized a re-entry into the Promised Land, that is, a new Kingdom to be brought about by the Messiah John said would soon come.

“In the name of Jesus the Messiah” refers to the name — that is, the power — by which forgiveness is to come. Forgiveness is received by faith that Jesus is the Messiah, empowered by the sacrifice of his crucifixion. Forgiveness only comes to those who confess that Jesus is the Messiah, called “Son of God” in Psalm 2.

“The gift of the Holy Spirit” refers to the Spirit outpoured at Pentecost and promised by Joel and other prophets — the Spirit that would circumcise the hearts of the Jews, as Moses wrote, replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, as Ezekiel was fond of saying, and that would write God’s laws on the hearts and minds of his people, as Jeremiah promised.

Where is repentance from sin? Well, that’s what the Spirit brings. The Spirit changes a hard heart to a soft heart, a stubborn heart to a penitent heart.

And that’s what following the Messiah requires. To be faithful to the Messiah, the Jews would have to honor his commands, that is, they would have to strive to become like him, but this striving would be done by the power of the outpoured Spirit. To repent of sin is to submit to the work of the Spirit poured into us.

Up to this point, Peter’s sermon sounds a lot like traditional preaching and traditional atonement theory. But there’s more.

If Jesus is King, then we must be subject to him, sharing in his mission as teacher, shepherd, sacrifice, and evangelist. His commands are much more than a call to a better morality. He calls us to follow him by becoming like him. This is the turning point.

We are called to become like Jesus — the image of God himself. We were created to be in God’s image — that is, like Jesus. The Spirit works to make us into new creations, transforming us into the image of God found in Jesus.

And therefore, sin is to miss the mark and so to fail to be like Jesus. So what is Jesus like? That’s the big question. Well, Jesus was sent by God on a mission.

Jesus’ mission, of course, includes atonement and forgiveness. Of course. But is that all? To understand what the Jews would have heard being said, you have to have read the prophets. The Jews had, and they knew that the outpoured Spirit and the Messiah meant the Kingdom was arriving — along with all its promises.

And it’s the Kingdom promises that define God’s mission. Swords into plowshares. A world without poverty. No more mourning. You get the picture. And as the Kingdom arrives, these things begin to happen — by the power of God, exercised through his Spirit, dwelling in his people, brought into right relationship by Jesus.

The church, the people of Jesus, live in accordance with Kingdom principles. What are they?

(Mic 6:6-8 ESV) 6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”  8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

(Hos 6:6 ESV) 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

(Isa 1:12-17 ESV)  12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations — I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.  16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,  17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

Social justice is very much a part of the Kingdom. It’s not justice brought about by democracy and a tripartite government. It’s justice provided by Jesus’s followers in the Kingdom.

But there’s more. For example,

(Isa 11:6-9 ESV) 6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.  7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.  9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Make of the metaphors what you will, the message is one of shalom, right relationships and peace among those in the Kingdom.

(Isa 25:6-8 ESV) On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

A prophecy echoed in the parables of Jesus, the church in Acts 2, the wedding feast in Revelation speaks not only of ample food, but an end of death and mourning.

So where is forgiveness in this version of the gospel? Well, it’s the path into the Kingdom. You can’t be a servant of the Messiah unless you are sinless. You can’t enter the temple unless you’ve been cleansed. You are cleansed to enter the temple, to participate in the Kingdom.

We’ve confused ends and means. We preach as though forgiveness were the ultimate goal. But forgiveness happens at baptism. Don’t we teach that? Then why do we act as though forgiveness only happens later? No, as the author of Hebrews teaches, we are saved “once for all” and “made perfect forever” when we are first saved. Forgiveness is our new beginning.

We begin anew in order to participate in God’s mission — which is to bring the Kingdom into its fullness.

And then there will come a moment when God completes the partially performed task, burning up the corruption and leaving behind a renewed heaven and earth, transformed to be something different and better than even the Garden of Eden.

That’s how it all ends. It starts with the Sacraments, most especially baptism. (More to come.)

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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27 Responses to The Progressive Churches of Christ: Resolving the Tensions, Part 4.4

  1. Gary says:

    This is one of your best posts ever Jay. All I can say is Amen and Amen.

  2. scc0009 says:

    This has been one of my greatest frustrations over the past few years. Sunday after Sunday, no matter which congregation you go to, all you hear is “you need to get better” sermons, like WE can do that!!! Dallas Willard & George Barna have tried to convey the message for some time that TRANSFORMATION of the HEART is the work of the Spirit, but the church refuses to go there.

  3. laymond says:

    “TRANSFORMATION of the HEART is the work of the Spirit, but the church refuses to go there.”
    But you have to be willing to accept that change, it will not happen against your will.

    I believe Paul said something like this, “what I want to do, I do not do. What I do not want to do, I do.” In other words it is not always easy, but you have to bring yourself to accept things hard to do, If you want to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I seem to remember at least one thing Jesus wanted to not do, but did it anyway, because it was God’s will.

  4. laymond says:

    Let me just add this. If everything you do is a great pleasure, then you are not sacrificing anything to God. It has to be a sacrifice on your part, in order to be a sacrifice to God.

    When you crawl out of that warm bed, on a snowy winter day to deliver “meals on wheels” that is a sacrifice. A small one I admit but one just the same, and they all add up, no we won’t ever catch up to Jesus, but we are not expected to.

  5. Monty says:

    I love your tireless work. It’s a joy to come to your blog every day. However, I do believe Peter addressed the crowd on Pentecost and he made reference to some (who knows exactly how many) who were responsible in some aspect of Christ death) “Ye men of Israel” – that Jesus was approved among “you”, by wonders,, miracles and signs. Which God did in the midst of “you” as “ye” yourselves also know: 23. Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, “ye” have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.

    Now perhaps he’s just speaking for “Israel” as a whole, however it was those in Jerusalem who were mostly to blame for his death, the higher powers that be, the Sanhedrin, and all those fickle in the crowd who were chanting “Let his blood be upon us and our children.” But if I was standing there that day listening to that sermon, I believe I would have no doubt felt the sting of Peter’s remarks and felt culpable, either by my inaction or by actions. Peter was directly laying some blame(although not the major emphasis of his sermon) on his hearers and some(perhaps only a small minority) responded by repenting of their culpability. Of course “repent” was the demand by John and Jesus for those who would enter the kingdom. But for this sermon addressed to this particular crowd, no doubt, at least in my mind, that some were convinced they had “crucified and slain” the Messiah. Israel was guilty as a nation as we all are because of our sin, for the Messiah having to die, but some were guilty by their culpability. If not, then why else would Peter say that?

  6. Johnathon says:

    Jay said:

    “Social justice is very much a part of the Kingdom.”

    That statement would have been much better if it had said “Justice is very much a part of the Kingdom.”. I suggest you define “Social justice.” For, much of “Social justice” in today’s culture can only be described as injustice.

  7. BD says:

    This is powerful stuff, and resonates nicely with much of what I’ve been reading and studying lately. I’m sure you’ve read (or know of) Richard Beck’s book The Slavery of Death. It’s a great meditation on what it means to be a new creation and start participating in God’s new kingdom.

  8. Johnathon says:

    Thank you for the reply Jay.
    Might I suggest as food fot thought this video:

    I recommend to you and your readers every video on this channel.

  9. fredfunk says:

    Sorry for any errors in my post. I am struggling to understand these things!

    To go along with the original post, I believe much of our problem understanding how baptism can provide ‘forgiveness’ of sins, stems from a misunderstanding of the good news of ‘forgiveness’ (i think a better translation of the word aphesis is remission). Compare the use of aphesis in peter’s pentecost address (acts 2:38) and jesus’ initial proclamation of his ministry (luke 4:18). Thinking of remission entirely in the context of my own personal sins misses some of the point. The gospel message of remission is one of deliverance for God’s people from the consequences of their having missed the mark. All of judea went out to the wilderness to jtb, Immersing themselves, symbolically/obediently cleansing themselves, not primarily so that they could secure some future home in the ethereal heavens, but so as to bring about the promised freedom of God’s people from the oppressor… graciously, the oppressor God freed them from was not rome, but the powers of sin and death!

  10. Randall says:

    For the Greek scholars/students discussing the use of eis in Acts 2:38 — Years ago I heard several people suggest that the KJV translation of eis as “unto” was appropriate. They understood the word “unto” to mean “with a view toward.” And they also said that the view toward the remission of sin could be looking back, looking at the present as well as looking forward to the remission of sins. They disagreed that it should be understood as “because of” as well as “in order to obtain.” I am curious as to what you scholars think of this and the context of the use of eis in Acts 2:38.

    I would never think it appropriate to base a doctrine on a single verse of scripture, let alone a single preposition in a single verse of scripture. Look at all the ways the preposition “for” is used in English. The analogy of faith” that scripture interprets scripture so we look to the totality of scripture to understand any particular verse, especially one that is controversial. Acts 2:38 should never be used to divide Christians or be cause for one to suggest another is unsaved.


  11. Jay Guin says:


    The root meaning of eis is “into.” When used with a verb of motion, that’s almost always the meaning.

    If we translate baptizo as “immerse,” then that’s a verb of motion. Hence, “immerse into” is the natural reading.

    BDAG gives as the primary meaning “indicating motion into a thing or into its immediate vicinity or relation to something.”

    Then definition 1.a. is “into, toward, to after verbs of going, or those that include motion toward a place.”

    Now, as is typical of most prepositions, there are a kajillion possible meanings of eis, all set by context. You can’t just pick the meaning you like. Rather, you have to listen as though in the crowd at Pentecost.

    “Baptize” has not yet taken on the sacramental sense it has now. I really just mean to immerse or dip or perhaps wash. “Be baptized” would surely have been heard as “be immersed” or “be dipped” and in either sense, “immerse” or “dip” suggests that you’re about to hear “water” or the like. So when you hear “be immersed EIS” you expect the next word to be “water” or “a pool” and so you hear “be immersed into.”

    Aphesis means forgiveness or release or sending away. Regarding debts, it means the discharge or forgiveness of the debt. In Lev and Num and Deu, it’s used for “Jubilee” and the Sabbath year — the year of release of debts. You could actually translate “be baptized into the Jubilee” or “be baptized into the Sabbath Year (when debts are forgiven). That is, the word carries some historical flavor from the Torah — as though Pentecost was the announcement of Jubilee, when debts are forgiven and property restored to its family.

    In Jeremiah, it’s translated freedom or liberty —

    (Jer 34:17 ESV) “Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the LORD. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.

    So “immersed into freedom”? or “immersed into release”?

    Now, admittedly, the subject of the sermon and the question being answered is regarding the sin of crucifying Jesus. Forgiveness of sin is certainly at issue, but it’s more about restoring right relationship with God after having crucified his Son. It’s not just forgiveness, but forgiveness in order to be back in right relationship. Which is why aphesis is used for “forgiveness” It’s a word with connotations of Jubilee, release, and restoration to how things once were and are supposed to be.

    So “be immersed into the release of sins.”

  12. Dwight says:

    Jay, This does seem to be the concept. We walk into a house and in the house we are given shelter. The baptism or immersion places us into a condition that did not exit before the baptism or immersion. This condition is a relation with Jesus, in Hebrew terms a covenant or agreement. This being in Christ allows Christ blood or sacrifice to remit or release our sins. As seen with the case of Apollos immersion didn’t just do this, but immersion into Christ did this.
    But Apollos wasn’t immersed for salvation, but into Jesus who saves. We get lost in terminology with the Baptist in this. If you are immersed into Jesus you are saved, whether you know it, feel it, see it or not.

  13. John F says:

    My comment above had no reference to JTB or Paul, just on the meaning of “EIS” as used by Luke. We are NOT free to “pick and choose” any meaning we prefer — usage and context rule the day. The primary and usual meaning should hold UNLESS a compelling consideration overrides. A presupposed theological viewpoint CANNOT control a meaning. The meaning of the language SHOULD control the theology. I think BDAG usage 6 says (my copy is still packed after moving) a “causal use of EIS is controversial” — Mantey was on the revision committee, if I recall correctly.

    Jay’s comment above is on the mark. We are immersed “into / toward / for the purpose of”. If you want I will send Luke/Acts with the preposition removed to any who ask. Just post an e-mail address. It is a bit extensive just to post as a comment. I worked on this while teaching a year long study in Acts. These were the days before original language studies by computer, so I was looking through Nestle’s 27th edition.

    But lexicons can be wrong — if and when the linguist brings a theological bias to the language. Always need to exercise good judgment.

  14. Gary says:

    In Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist says, “I baptize you with water for (eis) repentance….” In this passage we find that those baptized with John’s baptism were being baptized for a repentance that had obviously already begun. Their repentance did not begin upon their being raised from the waters of baptism. Eis does generally have the sense of moving towards something but, as Matthew 3:11 demonstrates, eis may indicate movement towards or into something that has already begun. So the occurrence of eis in Acts 2:38 does not prove that salvation and forgiveness of sins only begins at baptism. Salvation begins before baptism although the emphasis in baptism (concerning the one who is being baptized) is towards the future. That future emphasis in Acts 2:38 does not preclude God’s working for salvation even before baptism. One of the most common mistakes in biblical interpretation is the false dichotomy, that an interpretive conclusion must be either one option or another. Frequently it is both. That is the case with eis which may incorporate the past and present even as it looks towards the future.

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