Issue #643 -------
January 6, 2015
Jonah did the Almighty's bidding. And what
was that, shipmates? To preach the Truth
to the face of Falsehood! That was it!
Herman Melville (1819-1891)
Just before Christmas I received an email from a dear brother in Christ who preaches in Ukraine for a congregation affiliated with my faith-heritage (that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement known as Churches of Christ). He was born and raised in Ukraine, and has devoted his life to sharing the Good News with his fellow countrymen. For many years he has subscribed to my weekly Reflections, and I have enjoyed writing back and forth with him on a number of matters pertaining to his ministry there. As most of us know, his native land, Ukraine, is currently experiencing a grave crisis: their lives and their freedoms are at stake. They truly need our prayers as they seek to stand bravely against aggressive secular and spiritual forces that would enslave them. This brother wrote the following to me in his email: "Dear Brother Al, Greetings from Ukraine. We appreciate all our brethren who have been praying for peace in our part of the world." These people truly appreciate, and most certainly feel, our prayers being lifted up for them. Let us continue praying for them and sending them messages of encouragement and support; they need to know they have brethren throughout the world who truly love and care for them. This brother then went on to share an insight with me that I would like to develop a bit more in this first Reflections of 2015. He wrote: "Thank you very much for your articles. 'The Gospel Paul Preached' (Reflections #640) was a very good one! I am glad you mentioned 1 Cor. 1:17 -- 'For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.' Prior to stating this, Paul mentions just a few people that he had baptized, and then he says that he did not recall any others (vs. 14-16). Several chapters later, Paul added, 'For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel' (1 Cor. 4:15). If regeneration (new birth) takes place in or through baptism, then wouldn't Paul have said he became their father through this act? Instead, he makes it clear this was not the case! May God bless you richly, brother, and all your family. Merry Christmas!"
I truly appreciate the Berean spirit (Acts 17:11) of this young evangelist in Ukraine. As a great many are now doing throughout Christendom, and especially among the leaders of my own faith-heritage, he has shown a willingness to table his traditional teachings and examine everything he believes and proclaims through the Word of God itself (rather than basing his convictions on what others in his denomination have indoctrinated him to believe). It is imperative that more and more of us do this, for we need to be proclaiming what the Word itself teaches, rather than what others have told us it teaches (which too often is tainted with the tenets of our tradition and with our sectarian shibboleths). Almost all my life I had heard sermon after sermon in which the phrase "obey the gospel" was taught to mean "be baptized." When meeting a visitor at the church assembly, we would invariably work our way to the question: "Have you obeyed the gospel?" Of course, "we" all know what that means among "us" -- have you been baptized? (and not just anywhere or by anybody -- you had to have been baptized by one of "us," and in one of "our" buildings). The "good news," therefore, was that God would save the sinner, washing away his sins, at his baptism in water (and not a second sooner). "Baptism doth now save thee," we loved to say. I preached this for a number of years, I admit, until I undertook an extensive, in-depth study of God's Word on this subject. I discovered my teaching was far from the mark, and I have now embraced what I truly believe to be the biblical teaching on the place and purpose of baptism in water. [NOTE: For those who may be interested, I have documented this journey of discovery with respect to this subject in my book: "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in New Testament Theology and Practice." This journey has led me to a better appreciation of God's grace and the importance of man's faith, and has blessed me with a newfound regard for the power of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It has also cost me a good many friends, for a number of people have turned away from me and condemned me as an "apostate" for daring to differ with "the established doctrine" of my faith-heritage. Nevertheless, one must stand by what one perceives to be Truth, and this I have done, regardless of the cost. I am thrilled to see an increasing number of the leaders in Churches of Christ, as well as an increasing number of the members, doing the same (not only with this topic, but also with such topics as the role of women and the use of musical instruments)! I believe our Movement may finally be moving in the right direction! Thank God!!]
Returning to this Ukrainian minister's comment and question, however, we most certainly find in the passage cited that Paul regards himself as the spiritual "father" of the disciples of Christ in the city of Corinth. He freely acknowledges they have had a number of Christian "instructors" (KJV, NKJV, HCSB) or "tutors" (ASV, NASB, NWT) or "guardians" (NIV, NRSV) or "guides" (ESV, RSV), yet he is the only one who can declare himself to be the one who first brought to them the Good News of God's grace. In this sense, then, he is their spiritual "father." It was Paul who brought Timothy to Jesus, for example, so he referred to him as "my beloved son" (2 Tim. 1:2) and "my true child in the faith" (1 Tim. 1:2). "The father-child relationship is unique, and corresponding to it is the relationship between the convert and the preacher responsible, under God, for his conversion. ... According to Sanhedrin 19b, if a man teaches his neighbor's son Torah, Scripture counts it to him as if he had begotten him" [Dr. C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 115]. Notice, in this quote from Dr. Barrett, that he stresses this spiritual relationship has its basis and finds its validity only "under God." Paul is bringing people to the Lord, not to himself, or to his own views or preferences. Thus, his ministry is entirely under the authority of, and by commission of, the Lord. For this reason, Paul states in this verse, "for in Christ Jesus I became your father [or: "I have begotten you" -- KJV] through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15). It was not apart from Christ that he served among them proclaiming the Good News, but in Christ. Paul was "a man in Christ Jesus," and as such he was under the authority of Jesus and served according to the personal commission of Jesus. "Of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher" (2 Tim. 1:11). Paul's whole life was wrapped up in relationship with the Lord Jesus, which is why he tells the Corinthians, "for this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord; he will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 4:17).
Though these brethren had admittedly had a good many "instructors in Christ," nevertheless this apostle who came to them under the authority of a commission from Christ, and in a personal relationship with Christ -- this "man in Christ" -- was the one who first introduced them to the message that would transform their lives. Thus, he says, "I became your father through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15, NIV). "The Gospel is the means by which men are brought to new life" [Dr. C. K. Barrett, p. 115]. This goes along very well with what Peter wrote, "You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God ... and this word is the good news that was preached to you" (1 Peter 1:23, 25, ESV). James, the brother of our Lord, also declared, "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth" (James 1:18). I like what David Lipscomb (1831-1917) said about this: "It is clear that the Holy Spirit begets by imparting the word of God, the incorruptible seed, to the heart of man through the gospel" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 2: the NT, p. 69]. Lipscomb also noted, "By the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, Paul preached the gospel, the word of God, which is the seed of the kingdom, to the Corinthians; they received it into the heart as the incorruptible seed, and by it they were begotten or made alive" [ibid, p. 68]. Thus, they were indeed begotten by Paul "through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15).
How can we not call to mind Paul's words to the Roman brethren? -- "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith" (Rom. 1:16-17, ESV). "Hodge has well said that there are three agencies used by God for the conversion of men: 'The efficiency is in Christ by His Spirit; the administrative agency is in preachers; the instrumental agency is in the word'" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 215]. Drs. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown boldly point to the 800 pound ape in the room, to which too many seem oblivious: "As Paul was the means of spiritually regenerating them, and yet 'baptized none of them save Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas' (1 Cor. 1:14-16), regeneration cannot be inseparably in and by baptism" in water [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1196]. "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17), and this servant "in Christ" did just that! He preached the Good News, and in so doing became their father "through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15). This gospel "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). Paul preached it, they believed it. Thus, they were brought to salvation by grace through faith, and as the redeemed they were not only the children of God, but they were the "beloved children" of the apostle Paul, who truly became their father through the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we, as men and women in Christ Jesus, do no less and no more today as we share the glorious Good News with those around us.
From a Reader in Georgia:
I just read your article "Hugh's News, Views & Qs" (Reflections #642). Ole Hugh has a real affinity for certain opinions (especially his own). It's sad to say, but I honestly believe that some folks elevate baptism above the Cross. Wow! Was that ever a great comment by the university professor in Oklahoma or what?!! The very best reader's comment I've seen in quite some time! Merry Christmas, brother. I'll try and make it through the next few weeks without my weekly "Maxey buzz" ... so pray for me! (LOL)
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, thank you for this deep study ("Hugh's News, Views & Qs") and for all the studies on baptism leading up to this one! Glory to God!
From Hugh Fulford in Tennessee:
Al, I read every word of your article ("Hugh's News, Views & Qs"). Nothing in it changes anything that my simple and direct questions, and the plain words of Scripture (without comment or observation from me), say about the subject. As I have said before, the sword of the Spirit (cf. Hebrews 4:12) surely has pierced your conscience, leading you to add your opinions to the Word of God, and leading you to a verbose (and vain) effort to counteract and, in some instances, to outright deny the plain Word of God. As an elderly black lady once said, "The Bible sho' do (sure does -- hf) make the commentaries (and the opinions and 'explanations' of men -- hf) plain" (No insult is meant to my black brothers, sisters, and friends. I was raised in the deep South, know their dialect, and they know my love for them). Al, both the Lord and His church will continue to do quite well, in spite of your opinions and theories.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, it seems Hugh gives his usual response: if it weren't for commentaries, writers such as you, etc., people would just do what the Bible says to do! Hugh just can't see how others could possibly interpret things differently from him. He can't deal with your arguments, or he obviously would do so! Hugh believes, regarding baptism, that he has (as do others who believe as he does) "perfect understanding" of all doctrine as it relates to salvation. God's grace for a penitent believer, who may miss some element of the "right" baptism, is nowhere allowed for in Hugh's sincere belief about the matter.
From a Reader in Texas:
I have read your articles on baptism, and your conclusions are especially interesting because they are similar to the conclusions I myself have come to, especially when restudying Cornelius' baptism. I can not possibly count the number of times I have heard it taught that Cornelius was not saved until he was baptized in water. There is certainly a lot we miss when we let legalistic rules and thoughts close our minds to what is really being said in Scripture. Thanks for the stimulating reading, brother. Merry Christmas.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, we have been having a series on the Holy Spirit lately, so my thoughts have been brewing on this subject. I am currently convinced that we (in our heritage) have negated the influence of the Holy Spirit upon our lives. For example, I fully consider you to be an inspired writer of God, with your writings to be held on a par with any of those from our past. Like all such writings, however, we need to test them by the Word. Take care, my brother, and may you and your family have a wonderful Christmas. I have plans to spend a week or so in Ruidoso, New Mexico this coming June, and I hope to find an opportunity during that time to meet you in person! Keep on running the good race!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, you and your writings have been a great inspiration to me! There was a time not long ago when I was about to give up on the Church of Christ group because of all their dogmatic "rules." Of course, they would never admit that these rules were of men, rather than of God, but nevertheless one had better toe-the-mark or be lost and burn in hell. I look forward to the day when we all can simply get back to what the Bible says, and not what we want it to say.
From a Reader in Alabama:
I ordered signed copies of your first three books (Down, But Not Out -- One Bread, One Body -- Immersed By One Spirit) and your two CD set on The Book of Revelation, and they arrived yesterday. Thanks so much! You need to charge extra, by the way, for the great care that was taken in wrapping the books and CD set. Also, when I saw the cost of shipping (sent priority mail), I wondered if I had sent you enough money! I rechecked your prices, and saw that you pay all shipping costs!! I'm certainly not trying to get in your business (just being a brother), but I think you may be on the light side of charging us!! Blessings to you, brother!
From a New Reader in Pennsylvania:
I have been "poking around" your web site and I can now see why my friend who recommended your Reflections to me has come to admire your thinking. I look forward to reading your weekly reflections, and want to thank you for taking the time to think and to engage in this important ministry of writing!
From a Minister in California:
Al, I agree with much of your reasoning. However, I have a couple of questions. (1) Can you tell us of any NT instance where people were told to linger or wait to be baptized after they heard the gospel and expressed their faith? (2) Do you know of any other way of clothing ourselves with Christ than via baptism (Galatians 3:27)? Also, what do you think "clothed with Christ" means?
With regard to the first question, I am convinced there is a spiritual (not legal) imperative placed upon
those who genuinely believe, and who have resolved to turn from the world and turn toward the Lord, to express and make evident that newfound
resolve and faith. True faith is not passive; it does not procrastinate. As James points out (James 2), those who believe (have faith) SHOW it. Is
it the showing of faith that saves? No. But those who have embraced His salvation by faith will not hesitate to manifest it. Indeed, it
is unthinkable they would do otherwise. If you had just discovered the incredible good news that you had been completely cured of a deadly
cancer, and that the cure is available to all at no cost, would you keep silent? Just how quickly would you want to share this good news of this
gracious gift of healing? God, through the gift of His Son, and through the Son's loving sacrifice, has freely extended to all the cure for sin and
death. It is for all who will turn/look to Him in simple trusting faith (just as those who were bit by a serpent in the wilderness simply looked in faith
to the bronze serpent and lived [Numbers 21:9]; about which Jesus Himself says, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so
must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that
whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. ... He who believes in Him is not judged" -- John 3:14-16, 18a). You have received
this healing. Thus, you will waste no time sharing it. When
we read the NT examples of those who have been saved by grace through faith, we find them quickly manifesting the same in their attitudes and
actions. One of the ways they reflect the fact of their redemption is in a representative reenactment of the very sacrifice that purchased for them
their deliverance: the death, burial and resurrection of their Savior. They display their faith in a symbolic death, burial and resurrection known
as baptism. The medium, as reflected in the NT writings, is water. Their reenactment, however, as is also true of the Lord's Supper, is a symbol,
not a sacrament; it is reflective, not redemptive; it shows our salvation, it doesn't secure our salvation. Should we reflect this fact of
our salvation sooner rather than later? Of course! But to suggest this teaches we are lost before getting to the water, and thus must
get there as quickly as possible, for we are "hell-bound" prior to being immersed, is simply not true. Paul and Silas allowed the jailer in Philippi
to attend to their physical wounds before they baptized him. Why the delay?! What if the jailer died before he could "get to the water"?
What were Paul and Silas thinking? How dare they risk this man's salvation in order to have their own needs met first?! If baptism
is THE point of salvation, why did Paul and Silas place their own physical welfare above the jailer's spiritual welfare? I have yet to hear the
legalists give a rational response to these questions regarding this delay. Yes, baptism, as a sacred symbol is important, and one's faith should
be shown in this act sooner than later. Since it is not a sacrament, however, some delay will most certainly not jeopardize the penitent
believer's salvation. They are already saved by grace through faith. The showing of that fact will come, as will other manifestations of
As for the second question: being "clothed" with Christ literally means (by virtue of the Greek word employed) being "wrapped
around" with the Lord Jesus Christ. He encompasses you as you enter into relationship with Him. One of Paul's favorite expressions in his NT
writings was "in Christ." He was a man "in Christ," and all that he was and all that he did was "in Christ" (a part of that great union with the Son).
Baptism reflects that intimate union with Him, but it does not secure it. We are placed (immersed) into that union
(clothed with Him) by the Holy Spirit -- which is exactly what 1 Corinthians 12:13 teaches. When we accept His gracious gift of salvation, the Spirit
unites us with Him (we are placed IN Him; thus are clothed with Him: He wraps Himself around us). I have sought to explain this point (and how
the Galatians 3:27 passage relates to this concept) in Reflections #353
("Immersed By One Spirit") and Reflections #362 ("Putting On
Jesus Christ"), which I would urge you to study carefully. Does this "immersing" into union with the Lord preclude any need for those thus
inserted into a saving relationship with Him to reflect the reality of that divine union in a reflective (not redemptive) act known as
baptism in water? Of course not! We willing do so, just as we regularly reflect our love and devotion to Him for what He did for us in our
observance of the Lord's Supper. Both are acts of faith; both are symbols rather than sacraments.
As for the second question: being "clothed" with Christ literally means (by virtue of the Greek word employed) being "wrapped around" with the Lord Jesus Christ. He encompasses you as you enter into relationship with Him. One of Paul's favorite expressions in his NT writings was "in Christ." He was a man "in Christ," and all that he was and all that he did was "in Christ" (a part of that great union with the Son). Baptism reflects that intimate union with Him, but it does not secure it. We are placed (immersed) into that union (clothed with Him) by the Holy Spirit -- which is exactly what 1 Corinthians 12:13 teaches. When we accept His gracious gift of salvation, the Spirit unites us with Him (we are placed IN Him; thus are clothed with Him: He wraps Himself around us). I have sought to explain this point (and how the Galatians 3:27 passage relates to this concept) in Reflections #353 ("Immersed By One Spirit") and Reflections #362 ("Putting On Jesus Christ"), which I would urge you to study carefully. Does this "immersing" into union with the Lord preclude any need for those thus inserted into a saving relationship with Him to reflect the reality of that divine union in a reflective (not redemptive) act known as baptism in water? Of course not! We willing do so, just as we regularly reflect our love and devotion to Him for what He did for us in our observance of the Lord's Supper. Both are acts of faith; both are symbols rather than sacraments.
From a Reader in Ohio:
Greetings, my friend and brother! I was in Tulsa, OK last week which brought back memories of some great times, great speakers, and a great sense of the Lord's love during past Tulsa Workshops. I am being led, I believe, to begin a small group/Bible study/fellowship at our home, as I don't believe I am being fed at our current congregation. I will be starting with Galatians, and I wanted to use your in-depth study of this epistle. So, I am ordering your two CD set on Galatians: The Magna Charta of Christian Liberty. I would also like to order your CD study: Law to Liberty -- Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ. And while I am at it, I would also like to order a signed copy of your new book: From Ruin To Resurrection. As always, and as you can tell, I love what the Holy Spirit is doing through you, Al. Your work has been so helpful to me, and also to so many others! You will certainly not be forgotten for quite some time, brother! I still remember fondly my visit to Alamogordo, NM to see you. Your words, your insights, your personal guidance, as well as your love and fellowship have meant a lot to me, and you will always have my gratitude, my friendship, and my love! May God continue to richly bless you and your ministry.
From a Minister in New Mexico:
My dear Brother Al, In the small town where I grew up, all the ladies wore dresses. Many got their cloth from bags of flour purchased at the local grain elevator and made their dresses from patterns they bought at the local J. C. Penney store. The flour sacks were the source of the colorful shirts my mother made for me to wear to school. Ahhh, fond memories. All those dresses and shirts were beautiful, even if made using different "tupos" ... uh, patterns ... and cut from different flour sacks.
I wonder sometimes if Christians understand John 3:16, which tells us God so loved the world ... a world filled with people wearing clothes made following many different patterns and using varied colorful and beautiful coverings of cloth. I wonder if Christians have forgotten that all have fallen short of the glory of God, no matter their choice of pattern or cloth. Have they forgotten that Christ died once, for all, the singularly righteous for all the unrighteous?
Did the apostles preach only a single pattern when sent into all the world to "immerse" those created by God in the Name of the Father, the Anointed One (His Son), and His Uniquely Set Apart Spirit? At least one apostle became all things to all people in order to save some of those created in God's image. Of course, he proclaimed the death, burial, and resurrection of the unique Son of the Living God ... only one Gospel. The Good News is the same for all humanity in all cultures: God loved those created in His image enough to send His Son to save us from eternal loss. It's that message that frees us and cleanses all who truly believe from all man-made religions and religious rituals. Yet preachers of all stripes continue preaching religious dogma rather than Good News. When will we humans ever learn?
God our Creator exists. It is He who rewards all who earnestly seek Him. And all who believe the Good News delivered and enabled by His One and Only Son in His death, burial, and resurrection have become His family, destined for eternal life. Thankfully, not all of God's adopted children must follow an exactly identical pattern ("tupos") and be clothed in exactly the same colored cloth. They only need to be clothed in Christ. Happy New Year, brother!
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