by Al Maxey

Issue #505 ------- October 4, 2011
The man is changed, no longer himself nor self-
belonging; he is merged with the Supreme, sunken
into it
, one with it: center coincides with center, for
on this higher plane things that touch at all are one.

Plotinus {205-270 A.D.}
"The Enneads"

There Is One Baptism
Reflecting on Ephesians 4:5

If you have not yet read the quote at the top of this issue of Reflections, I would urge you to please go back and do so. It's a statement made by Plotinus, who was one of the truly great Greek philosophers (and, most scholars today would agree, the one who had the greatest impact upon the thinking of the ancient world after Plato and Aristotle), and who's also regarded as the founder of Neoplatonism. This philosopher speaks of an intimate merging with Deity; a sinking into and becoming one with "the Supreme!" This is a concept that we will be examining quite closely in connection with a statement made by the apostle Paul many years earlier to the Ephesian saints. One of the primary goals of the majority of world religions, whether they be primitive or modern, is some form of union, usually spiritual in nature, of man with his Maker! This "merging with" -- this "sinking into" -- Deity has been sought after for as long as men have existed upon the face of this earth. Most world religions, and Christianity is no exception, recognize that it's beyond the capacity of the creature (man) to ever achieve this immersion into intimate union with its Creator (God)!! Such can truly only be initiated by the latter, which, thankfully, our Creator has graciously done. In fullness of divine grace, He has made it possible for mere men to merge intimately with Him, thereby experiencing the blessed oneness for which our Lord Jesus prayed! "I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us" (John 17:21).

As was noted, this is a "sinking into" union with our Lord that man, by his own effort and devices, cannot accomplish. It is a union, a merging, a "sinking into" that is granted as a gift of grace to all those willing to receive it by faith. Our Father, by the active agency of His Spirit, places us within the warm, loving embrace of His Son if we, by faith, affirm our willingness to accept this gift of intimate relationship! "Believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women" (Acts 5:14, ESV). And WHO did this adding to the Lord? It was God's Holy Spirit!! No mortal can add himself to Deity; nor can any man add another man to Deity. Only Deity can accomplish this intimate spiritual merging of mortal with Immortal. Paul points this out in 1 Cor. 12:13 when he informs us that we are all immersed into the One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ by the agency of the Spirit of our God. We're united with HIM (the Spirit inserts genuine believers into this relationship), and by virtue of that union with Deity, we're thereby also united with all others who have experienced that same "sinking into" spiritual union with the Lord: a "sinking into" (insertion/immersion) accomplished by the Spirit of God, just as Paul affirms. Thus, the unifying experience of Christianity is that there is a divinely given "unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3) which we're charged to cherish and guard by bearing with one another in love (vs. 2). Therefore, our unity with Him, and, by extension, our unity with one another, must be understood in light of seven unifying realities common to us all: one Body, one Spirit, one great hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one plunging into, one God and Father "of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (vs. 4-6).

When one considers the context of this passage in Ephesians, one will quickly perceive that Paul's emphasis is upon a deep spiritual unity within the Body of Christ (which is a spiritual unity among believers based upon our shared experience of being merged with our Master; plunged into the precious Redeemer; a "sinking into" our Savior). This great reality is given as a gift of grace to those who believe (have genuine faith), and is accomplished by the action of the Spirit (as no man can, of his own effort, accomplish such a union) and is evidenced visibly for the benefit of believers and non-believers alike in an act of faith known as "baptism" (which is a symbolic immersion in water, representative of and reflective of our spiritual immersion into relationship with Christ, and all that He accomplished for us through His death, burial and resurrection), as well as in various other evidentiary acts of faith we engage in throughout our lives (such as acts of benevolence, compassion, love, etc.). Also, because we are merged with "He who is holy," we seek, by the aid of that indwelling Spirit, to keep ourselves pure and holy and spotless as we engage in these evidentiary acts of faith, which James 1:27 characterizes as the type of "religion" our Father seeks.

Most of us were very likely taught to believe that the phrase "one baptism" (Eph. 4:5) had reference to the practice of water baptism. The text does not actually say that it has reference to this practice, but that has generally been the traditional assumption, especially within those groups that view baptism as being sacramental in nature. When some specific act is believed to be THE act that confers some divine grace or blessing, then such a phrase as "one baptism" is clearly perceived to be a reference to that specific act, and those who embrace this view will become quite upset if their perception is ever challenged. The reality, however, is that there is absolutely nothing in the Eph. 4:5 text that identifies and restricts the phrase "one baptism" to the practice of water baptism. Now, please do not misunderstand -- this in NO way suggests that water baptism is NOT important in man's response to God's offer of salvation!! It most definitely has its place in the whole process of our coming into, and evidencing the reality of, our saving relationship with the Lord. Anyone who teaches that water baptism is unnecessary has clearly not grasped the intent and purpose of this practice as portrayed in Scripture. It has great spiritual significance!! However, that said, it is merely an assumption that it is in view in the Eph. 4:5 text. Yes, that may be what Paul had in mind there; it may also not be what he had in mind. The context, quite frankly, seems to favor the view that it is a spiritual "sinking into" union with the Lord, accomplished by the Spirit, rather than a symbolic act performed by men.

Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, one of the leading New Testament Greek scholars, made the following observation in his classic work: "Word Studies from the Greek New Testament" --- "Why should all the other words be translated, and this alone be transliterated? Why should the Authorized Version and commentators transliterate the word, interpreting the Greek word as referring to the rite of water baptism when the entire context is supernatural, even to the faith exercised by the believer in appropriating salvation? The words when translated are: 'one placing into.' That is, in response to our act of faith, we were placed by the Holy Spirit into the Body of which Christ is the Head. This is one of the unities vitally related to our salvation, and upon which Paul bases his plea for unity within the Church. There was and is one common 'placing into' the Body of Christ" [vol. 1, p. 96-97]. Dr. Wuest's main point is that when we transliterate the Greek word "baptizo" into the English word "baptize," we have, in some critical ways, prejudiced the minds of those seeking an understanding of the passage. One's mind, upon hearing the term "baptize" or "baptism," immediately gravitates to the rite performed in or with water. The reality, however, is that the Greek word "baptizo" may signify far more than this one practice. The term is a common one in the Greek language that simply signifies one thing is "placed within" (plunged, submerged, immersed into) another thing. The Spirit "sinks us into" the Lord. That is beautifully represented by the common Greek word "baptizo" (which is why Paul used it in 1 Cor. 12:13). It has no reference to a rite performed in water, but simply denotes a spiritual reality (union with the Lord, and, by extension with His people, accomplished by the Holy Spirit). No, it is not "Holy Spirit baptism" (like what occurred at Pentecost --- or with Cornelius --- where the Spirit Himself was "poured out" upon people, and with miraculous effect), but is rather something that is accomplished for believers by the agency of God's Spirit!! Since man cannot, by his own power, merge with (sink into union with) Deity, this is something Deity must do for man!!

The Pulpit Commentary agrees that Paul, in the Eph. 4:5 statement, does not have water in mind, but rather the powerful "sinking" of believers "into" the Lord by the agency of God's Holy Spirit. The rite of water "baptism" most certainly reflects this reality, as it does other great spiritual realities as well (the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus; our cleansing/washing/releasing from sin by virtue of His blood -- Rev. 1:5; etc.), and therefore it is an essential response of faith, but it is not what Paul had in view in this passage. Thus, this "placing into" performed by the Spirit is the "one immersion" in view in the text, it is said, and "without this, though we were baptized in all the rivers of the world, we are not members of that One Body of which Christ is the Head. Millions have entered into heaven without water baptism, but not one without the spiritual" immersion taught by the apostle Paul [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, pt. 2, p. 193]. The alternative view, of course, and one that many have adopted, is that baptism in water is a saving sacrament --- so: the "one baptism." Thus, it is called "the sacrament of unity" by some [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 56], meaning that our unity with one another, and with Deity, is by virtue of the rite of water baptism. "So they all have the same faith, which united them with their one Lord by means of the same Sacrament" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, The NT, vol. 2, p. 276]. In Ephesians 4:5 was Paul thinking spiritually or sacramentally? The more I study and reflect and pray upon this, the more convinced I am that it is the former, not the latter. This conviction has caused several of my critics to claim (and they are becoming increasingly vicious and vocal in their condemnation) that I no longer believe in the essential nature of water baptism. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Water baptism is a vital evidentiary response of genuine faith, and those who REFUSE it, in my view, are devoid of saving faith. On the other hand, it is NOT a sacrament, and we need to abandon that deadly dogma. It has not served either us, or the cause of Christ, very well for a very long while!!

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Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
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One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I have some time coming up to get caught up on my reading, as my wife is having back surgery, and I would be delighted to have a signed copy of your new book One Bread, One Body to read while I am sitting with her in the hospital. Enclosed is my check. Blessings on you and your ministry.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Brother Al, "Nearer, My God, To Thee" is my very favorite hymn, and it has been since I was a very young adult. My younger brother sang in (what was then) the two year Lubbock Christian College chorus. They made a record which included this hymn, and he sang one stanza of it as a tenor solo!! We later played it over the sound system at Hillcrest Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas in September of 1996 at the funeral of our father. I want that recording played at my funeral also. After my husband and I saw the movie "Titanic," and heard this hymn played in it, we bought the CD of the soundtrack. Then, several months ago, I read the book "Empire of the Summer Moon," which is about the great Comanche nation, and specifically Quannah Parker. The very end of the book recounts Quannah Parker's death and funeral in Oklahoma at which this hymn was played. When I read that I began crying because the hymn means so much to me personally. Thank you for this edition of Reflections.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Bro. Al, Well Done! I will forward this article on Sarah Fuller Flower Adams to some local Mennonite folks who have enjoyed some of your previous articles on hymn writers. By the way, I will be in Jerusalem in October and hope at long last to lay a stone on the grave of Spafford.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, You mean the majority of the songs that we sing "in church" have been written by those awful "denominationalists"?! Does that mean our assemblies are really "denominational" in nature?!! LOL!! I'm curious -- are there ANY hymns that have gained widespread acceptance and use that were written by members of the Churches of Christ?

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I love it when you write about the history behind our hymns! If the churches would just teach these inspiring stories within our assemblies, even just one story each assembly, about where a particular hymn came from, and about who wrote it, maybe our sectarian walls would be ripped apart as people began thinking about our real church history! I realized many years ago that a great many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have no knowledge whatsoever of where our hymns come from. I also realized that there are those among us who want to keep it that way!! About twelve years ago I was leading a selection of Fanny Crosby hymns at a congregation where we were members (and which we have since left). After one of the songs I gave just a brief biographical talk on her. After the service I was immediately summoned to the minister's office and asked several questions. My answers didn't please him much!! One question was, "You said her church was the Episcopal-Methodist. Do you really believe that Fanny Crosby was a Christian?!!!" My answer to him was, "Do you really believe a NON-Christian could write the hymns she did with such depth and meaning in them?!" Another question that he asked me was worded more as an assumption: "I guess you believe women can speak in the worship service, lead prayers, and lead singing?" I replied, "Absolutely! Don't you?!" I think I ruined his night!! Grace to you and peace, brother!!

From an Author in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, I appreciate your tireless commitment to dialogue with and among diverse brothers. May the Lord richly bless your unique giftedness and calling to destroy sectarian walls with the powerful weapons of Grace and Truth!!

From a Reader in the United Kingdom:

Al, My Dear Brother-in-Christ, Thank you once again for your very clear exposition of the essential place of faith in our salvation (and in our living it out) and the consequential place of obedience by way of baptism, holiness, service, good deeds (all being responses of faith). I have thanked you before for your clarity and for your faithfulness in the exposition of some of the critical issues facing the church during these last times! I believe that the church needs to be made ready for the increasing temptations it will face to embrace legalism and sacramentalism. We must be made ready to stand firmly against them! May God encourage you, brother, as your writings have encouraged me!! LOVE to you in our Lord Jesus Christ!!

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