What is Baptism?

Baptism is a ritual familiar to anyone who knows anything about Christianity. Various Christian groups have different beliefs about baptism. The major views can be broadly described as: the Catholic view which believes baptism brings the infant into the church and washes away the sin nature of the child; the Lutheran view believes that when the Word of God is joined with the water in baptism the Holy Spirit gives to the infant the gift of faith through which she is saved; the Reformed view sees baptism as setting apart the child of Christian parents into the community of faith, it is, like circumcision in the Old Testament, the visible sign that the person is a part of the people of God.

The Baptist teaching on baptism is unique in that baptism is limited only to those of an age to profess their salvation and it is always, and only, a response to having received salvation. Most baptists teach that the only proper way to be baptized is by immersion in water.

Christian baptism is unique to the church age. John the Baptist borrowed a Jewish idea of ritualistic cleansing, or washing, in water and used it as a testimony of repentance for those who were preparing for the coming Messiah. Jesus Himself was baptized by John and commanded His disciples to baptize others in His name. On the day of Pentecost the new converts to Christ followed His command and were baptized as a testimony of their conversion.

Baptism was to be a normal part of the ministry of Jesus’ disciples. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Those who received the gospel were to be baptized. This kind of baptism is found throughout the book of Acts. In Acts 2 Peter instructed those who believed in Jesus to be baptized. In Acts 8 the Samaritans who believed were baptized, “But when they believed . . . the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” The Ethiopian eunuch was told he could be baptized, “If thou believest with all thine heart.” The consistent pattern of baptism in the book of Acts is that baptism follows believing. Baptism is viewed by the New Testament as the believers confession of faith.

Don’t the passages that talk about households being baptized prove that the disciples baptized adults and infants? None of the household passages mention the ages of the members of the household. The passages do not even describe the members of the household. Those who support infant baptism teach that these households included babies. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates whether this is true or not. Nothing can be proved the age of the people being baptized from the household passages.

Acts 16 describes the baptism of the household of the Philippian jailer. After telling the jailer he would be saved if he, “Believed on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”, Paul preached the gospel to the jailers entire household. That same hour, they were all baptized. Baptism clearly followed the command to believe and the preaching of the gospel to all.

Baptism is the immersion in water of a new believer as a public testimony of his salvation. Baptism does not save. Baptism confesses of salvation received.

What are Spiritual Gifts?

Spiritual gifts seem to be a bit of an enigma and are a significant matter of debate. Every major Christian group believes in the spiritual gifts, but most differ from each other on the particulars. The charismatic churches are probably most well known for their beliefs about the spiritual gifts. A few years ago a well known ministry in California hosted a conference focused on their disagreements with Charismatic theology. Why is the topic of spiritual gifts so difficult and contentious?

The Bible is not at all silent about spiritual gifts. The promise of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave the disciples before His death includes the reception of spiritual gifts. Peter says in Acts 2 that the miraculous things done by the apostles on the day of Pentecost were the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts are abilities given to Christians by the Holy Spirit to enable them to do the work of the ministry. The spiritual gifts are supernatural gifts of God not skills developed by the person, but the Christian should exercise and improve his spiritual gift.

The spiritual gifts are given for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. The largest section of teaching on the spiritual gifts in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 12-14. In that passage Paul teaches the Corinthian believers about the gifts because they were desiring the most impressive gifts and were using the gifts for self-promotion. The spiritual gifts are given by God for the promotion of Christlikeness in the church.

1 Corinthians 12 teaches that all spiritual gifts come from God. God gives gifts to Christians for the benefit of the entire church. No one gift provides everything a church needs and every gift God gives is important to the church. Like the human body, each member of the church body exercises a specific and essential function for the good of all. If everyone had the same spiritual gift the church would be as deformed as a person comprised entirely of ears.

1 Corinthians 14 shows the church the orderly use of the gifts within the church. Gifts are not to be used against one another. Each Christian must show preference to other believers in the application of gifts. Those who have speaking gifts must not insist on their right to be heard but must speak in an orderly fashion, each in turn and only when it is proper to do so.

The Bible contains several other key passages about the spiritual gifts. 1 Peter 4:10-11 puts the spiritual gifts into two broad categories, the speaking gifts and the serving gifts. Ephesians 4 mentions four specific leadership gifts given to the local church for the equipping of the saints to do the work of the ministry. Romans 12:3-8 describes various kinds of gifts. In Romans 12 Christians are instructed to use the gifts humbly for the benefit of the entire church. Each person is to use his gift in the fullest possible way to the best of the ability given him by God. The gifts mentioned in these New Testament passage are: teaching, administration, mercy showing, giving, ruling, prophecy, ministry, exhortation, governments, helps, tongues, interpretation, healing, miracles, prophecy, apostle, evangelist and pastor.

The absence of a particular spiritual gift does not exclude the Christian from engaging in that kind of ministry. All Christians should be merciful, though only some have the gift of mercy-showing. Some Christians are given the gift of evangelism, but all are commanded by Jesus tell others the gospel. The spiritual gifts are given to aid the growth of the entire church not exclude Christians from areas of ministry. Every believer is given at least one spiritual gift. Some may be given more than one, but all believers are gifted by God for the edification of the church. The responsibility of the Christian is to use his gift for the glory of God and the growth of His church.

What is an evangelical?

American Christianity can be broken down into various groups, sets and sub-sets. Regardless of denomination and church affiliation certain broad categories describe sections of Christianity. These categorizations can help observers understand the general beliefs of various churches and Christians. Four major descriptions of protestant Christians are liberal, evangelical, fundamental or charismatic.

Evangelicals have gained a lot of media attention. A lot of this attention has been unhelpful and often inaccurate. Most news agencies fail to understand Christianity and and to distinguish between Christians beliefs. Any one who attempts to define evangelical based upon the presentation of popular media is sure to be confused.

A simple, exhaustive and settled definition of evangelical does not exist. Many call themselves evangelical whom this author would insist is no more evangelical than a green-soled slug. Some who are evangelical in every significant sense of the word refuse to accept the title. This use of evangelical is a broad categorization of a certain segment of Christianity. Evangelicalism as a label must not be confused with denominations like the Evangelical Free Church or the Evangelical Church of North America or even organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals. While these denominations and church groups may be evangelical the category evangelical is broader than a single denomination.

The most common definition of evangelical has four key elements. An evangelical is one who believes in the necessity of the death of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of men, in the necessity of being born again, in the authority of the Bible and in the importance of applying the Bible to life, especially in regards to calling others to salvation.

An evangelical is one who believes Jesus is God who died on the cross to purchase salvation for those who believe Him. Crucial to this is the conviction that salvation is the gift of God, never the work of men. Jesus died for the salvation of men. Salvation is freely given to those who believe Him. Salvation is never given to those who strive to earn their way to heaven.

Every individual must personally trust Jesus for salvation. The ideas of conversion and personal commitment to Christ are core tenets of evangelicalism. The individual must personally believe on Jesus Christ for salvation. A person must be “born again”. When one turns to Jesus for salvation he is made a new creature and begins a new life in Christ.

The Bible is God’s Word and the authority over the Christians life. The Bible is to be applied to every part of the believers life. This is especially true of the necessity of evangelism. Since none can be saved apart from believing the gospel every Christian has the duty to proclaim the gospel message to others.

Evangelicalism is a largely self-applied label. Those who wish to call themselves evangelical can do so with little repurcussion aside from the disagreement of others. Evangelicalism is possibly the largest category of protestant Christians in America. Evangelicals can be found among Lutheran, Baptist, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Methodist, non-denominational churches and most other protestant churches.

Evangelicals will disagree amongst themselves about the specific features of these four broad categories, but, in general terms, this definition accurately describes the distinctive features of an evangelical in America today.

When did the Catholic Church begin?

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. That moment is recognized as the start of the Protestant Reformation. Today most of the major Christian denominations trace their beginnings to those early years of the Reformation.

The largest Christian church in the world did not begin in the 1500’s but hundreds of years earlier. The Roman Catholic church has over 1 billion professing adherents. Until the Reformation Catholicism was the supremely dominant expression of Christianity throughout Europe. If the Reformation was a response to the Catholicism of the Middle Ages when did Catholicism begin?

The official teaching of the Catholic church is that it started when Jesus told Peter, “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Most historians view the beginning of the Catholic church as much later than this. However, establishing a firm starting point for the Catholic church is nearly impossible.

Some trace the beginning of the Catholic church to the planting of the first church in Rome. Some believe the Catholic church started during the reign of Constantine. Emperor Constantine declared himself a convert to Christianity in 311 AD. He made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire and is said to have been the first Christian emperor. Others date the beginning of Catholicism with the rise of Pope Leo I in the mid-400’s.

Identifying the beginning of Catholicism is not easy. Catholicism did not step onto the world stage as a fully developed religion. What we know today as Catholicism rose slowly over many years. For example, the uniquely Catholic doctrine of the papacy took many decades to develop. The authority of the Bishop of Rome can be seen to increase during the leadership of several Bishops of Rome. The rise of Pope Leo I saw the culmination of this development. He was not the first to teach a single man was head over the worldwide church but he was the first to successfully implement near universal leadership.

Other distinctive doctrines, like the veneration of Mary, also arose gradually. The first statement that points towards the elevation of Mary in official teachings comes from the council of Ephesus in 431 AD. During that council she was established as the “God-bearer”. Prayer to Mary possibly existed much earlier, but by 600 it was a routine practice. Not until 1854 did a Catholic Pope establish Mary’s immaculate conception as official church teaching.

Similarly, prayer to the saints was being practiced as early as a couple hundred years after the death of Christ. The increase of this practice can be traced throughout the Dark Ages but it was not until 1545 that the Catholic church officially stated its doctrine regarding praying to saints.

Catholicism as it stands today is the result of centuries of growth and change. Its origin was gradual. The Roman Catholic Church grew out of a series of political situations, ecclesiastical decisions, popular beliefs and influential doctrines that merged together to become Roman Catholicism. Though a specific beginning cannot be identified by the late 400’s the Catholic church was in place and increasing in power.

Why do churches have “members”?

Church membership can be a contentious subject. Every church handles the matter of members differently, though churches within the same denomination are likely to treat membership similarly. This author comes from an independent Baptist background and within that small subset of Christian churches the views on membership range from no membership at all, to every one who attends regularly is a member, to very strict membership rules regarding members. This answer cannot address why a particular church holds a certain view about membership. This article will attempt a brief explanation of the Biblical principles regarding church membership.

Membership is based on the practice of the New Testament church. The Bible does not give any specifc command instructing churches to have a list of members yet the earliest churches clearly had a way to recognize who was a part and who not. In Acts 5:12-13, while the church was still in its infancy, there was a distinction drawn between those who received the benefit of the apostles ministry and those who joined themselves to the church. 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 and 2 Corinthians 2:6 make it apparent that the church had a way to expel members by a majority vote and had a way to reinstate expelled members who later repented. From the very beginning the church had a way of defining who was part and who was not. That process, however it may operate, is called membership.

Understanding church membership is made more difficult today by many other groups who have members. You become a member of a country club by paying the dues. You become a member of a political party by registering your affiliation. Some groups, like the Kiwanies or Rotary club, limit their membership to certain kinds of people, such as small business owners. Many organizations have memberships which have more to do with paying the entry fee than being an active participant. This is not the case in the church.

The local church is described as a body (1 Corinthians 12) and the Bible presents a clear expectation of those in the body to be actively involved. The Bible consistently depicts membership in the church as much more significant than paying ones dues, attending services or voting in a business meeting. Membership is a commitment, a serious promise between the individual and the church body. A member is not just one who attends a church, nor even one who has attended a church for a long time. A member is one who has formally stated his agreement with the doctrines of the church, has officially submitted himself to the leadership of the church and has committed himself to caring for the church as a whole and to caring for its members as individuals. Membership is a declaration on the part of the church that they will care for the spiritual well being of the individual member and will work as members together to further the kingdom of God. Membership is a covenant between the individual and the church to seek each others mutual edification.

A clear church membership defines who the church is responsible to care for. The Christian’s obligations to his fellow church members are significant and time consuming. The New Testament contains dozens of specific commands regarding how Christians are to treat one another. These commands are taught and obeyed within the context of the local church. This kind of care cannot be given to every Christian in a small town much less in the many large communities around America. Many claim to be Christians but have no affiliation with any church. How is a Christian to care for these? How is a pastor to care for their souls? It is difficult to properly care for those who have joined themselves to the local church, much less to show this level of ministry towards those who only attend a few times a year. Church membership defines for the entire church who the church member has a specific responsibility to care for.

Those churches which practice a congregational form of government have members because it defines who has a voice in the direction and decision making of the chruch. This may sound restrictive to some, but it has a Biblical basis (the church in Corinth had a defined body of members who were able to remove from their membership a sinning brother). This is also reasonable. Membership serves the good and necessary purposes of protecting the doctrinal and ministry integrity of a church by restricting the decision making to those who are in agreement regarding core tenets of doctrine and ministry. Membership is not a means of promoting ecclesiastical elitism. Rather, membership is a Biblical means of promoting the health, harmony and growth of the church.

With all the different kinds of churches around, how do I know which one to attend?

When considering what church to attend, the many varieties of churches in most communities can leave some feeling bewildered. For those who are seeking to know the truth about God, the Bible, Jesus and salvation the choice of which church to attend is of utmost importance. How do someone know which church is the best one for him to attend? What should a person consider who is looking for a church?

Unfortunately, many people think the things that matter most in church attendance are how entertaining the service is or how good the pastor makes the peopel feel. The matters of what we believe and how we worship are not ones of personal preference. The question of what church to attend is not like the question of what song is your favorite. This is a question of truth and error, right and wrong. In the Bible, the book of Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” In the book of Matthew, we read Jesus’ warning about the importance of believing rightly and obeying His Word. “Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto the, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Just because a church claims to be Christian does not make it so. Just because a person claims to be a Christian does not make it so. Even if a preacher does great deeds in the name of Jesus does not make him a genuine Christian. Jesus doesn’t accept everyone that says they are followers of Him. Jesus doesn’t accept everyone that does good things in His name.

The starting point in answering the question of which church to attend is the Bible. John 17:17 says, “God’s Word is Truth.” Look for a church that reads and explains the Bible. Look for a church that teaches what the Bible means. If you attend a church that pays little attention to the Bible, you need to go somewhere else. If you attend a church that spends its time explaining why the Bible does not mean what it says, you need to go somewhere else. Find a church that teaches the Bible.

As you begin to learn the Bible compare what the Bible says about certain major truths with the teachings of the church. Find out the official statement of the church on things like the Bible, Jesus, God and salvation. Listen to what the church teaches in its services and Bible studies about these central issues. This takes some work, but it is absolutely worth the effort. If the pastor or church leaders won’t tell you what they believe about these things, you need to go somewhere else. If the church never teaches about the Bible, Jesus, God adn salvation, you need to go somewhere else. If the teachings on the core issues are wrong, the consequences are forever.

To know which church to attend you need to compare the Bible’s teachings with the church’s teachings. Attend a church that teaches what the Bible says, especially about the foundational doctrines of the Bible. If you have questions about what the Bible teaches, feel free to contact this ministry. Send an email or contact one of the sponsor churches. We will be glad to help you find the answers.

Why do people make such a big deal about the Pope?

On September 22-27 Pope Francis visited America. He is the fourth pope in American history to visit the United States and the first to address a joint session of congress. His visit attracted much media attention in the days leading up to his arrival and throughout his time here. Those not familiar with the teachings Catholicism may wonder why the visit of this particular church leader is such a big deal.

The Pope is much more than just another church leader. As the leader of the Catholic church he holds spiritual authority over 1 billion Catholics. Catholicism is the largest branch of Christianity with more members than all other Christian groups combined. As a result the Pope is seen by many to be the leader of the Christian world in the same way that the President of the United States was seen as the leader of the free world. Though the president did not actually have power in every democratic nation in the world, his position as leader of the greatest free superpower in the world gave him much influence around the world. Though the Pope does not have any official power in most of the Christian denominations his position as the head of the Catholic church gives him great influence. When the Pope speaks, he is heard by many as speaking for Christianity at large.

His importance is greater than his influence as the head of the largest Christian denomination. The Pope holds real authority over the Catholic church. His position is that of the earthly representative of Christ, the spiritual successor of Peter and the bishop over the entire Catholic church. He is believed to have authority directly from God over the entire Roman Catholic church. His words always carry the weight of authority, but when he uses his authority as Pope to define a matter of doctrine or morals he is believed to speak infallibly. His declaration is viewed as free from error and as new revelation from God that is fully binding on all Christians. The Pope is an extremely important figure because he has great power and influence 1/7th of the world’s population.

Though Catholic doctrine declares the Pope to be the head of the church and the mouthpiece of Christ with the ability to speak infallible words of God, their doctrines stand in clear contradiction to the Word of God. The single head of the church is Jesus. He has not and will not give that position to any. The Word of God is the final authority for all men. No edict from any church leader replaces, usurps or adds to God’s Word. 2 Peter 1 declares we have in God’s Word “all things that pertain unto life and Godliness.” All that is needed to live a Godly life is found in the Bible. The Bible teaches fully all that man needs to know for salvation and Christian living.

If you would like to hear more on this topic, tune in October 4 for a fuller answer. You can hear the Everlasting Truths radio show on 92.7 WRPP at noon.

Does God look at the “saved” Christian’s denomination, or their heart on judgment day? (Part 2)

In continuing to answer the question, “does God look at the saved Christian’s denomination or their heart on judgment day”, it is worth considering the judgment of the unbeliever that is coming at the end of the world. As was said in the last article, at death the saved person enters immediately into heaven. The unsaved one enters immediately into hell (Luke 16:22-23). One’s destination after death is determined in this life. To borrow from the American legal systemn, in this life sentence is passaged and upon death judgment is executed. For the unsaved hell is a holding place while this age is brought to its conclusion. There is a coming judgment which is described in Revelation 10:10-15. During that judgment the lost will stand before the throne of God and be judged for their lives. In the course of judgment books are opened which contain the record of the person’s life. The judged will be condemned based upon the content of those books. All who come before the Great White Throne of God’s judgment will be condemned. They will be cast into eternal fire and punishment because their names are not written in the book of life. The book of life is the record of all those who have trusted Jesus for salvation. The ones whose names are written in the book of life are those who have trusted Jesus for forgiveness of sin. The unsaved one is not condemned because of his wrong denomination or even his wrong religion. The factor which seals the fate of the unsaved is his disbelief in Jesus.

No one is saved because of the denomination or church of which he is a part. Salvation is not refused to those who are part of the wrong denomination. Though salvation is not at all dependent on one’s denomination, this does not imply that denominations are unimportant or that denominational distinctions are invalid. A saved person needs to be part of a church which helps his growth in Christ not which hinders it. Some churches teach things that are contrary to the teachings of the Bible. Some churches make unBiblical demands of Christians. Some churches don’t make any Biblical demands of the Christian. The distinctions between churches and denominations are not like different flavors of the same ice cream. Denominations exist for a reason. In most cases the differences between denominations are much more than differences in worship services or whether the guy up front is called father, reverend or pastor. The differences between denominations are ones of doctrine. One denomination teaches something signficantly different than another The attempts to blur the lines between denominations does a disservice to Christians and to denominations by acting like important differences aren’t important at all. For further information you can read this article.

Salvation is accomplished fully by Jesus. All those who trust only Him for forgiveness will be saved regardless of church background, church attendance or denominational affiliation. Though one’s denomination has no impact on salvation, it will have great impact on the Christian life. What church one attends is important. Those who are saved will be best served in churches which clearly and accurately teach the Bible, applying it effectively to the Christian’s life and helping him to grow in service, obedience and imitation of Jesus.

Does God look at the “saved” Christian’s denomination, or their heart on judgment day?

This question touches on topics that need a lengthy explanation for the reader to have a sound understanding. Consequently, though at first glance the question may appear to some to be emminently easy, a simple answer will not do. The answer that might be most popular, and tweetable, is to say, “When you stand before God, He is not going to ask to what denomination you belonged.” Such an answer, those possibly accurate, skips over some crucial truths. A sound bite answer will not suffice. The most Biblically accurate answer to this question is neither. When the saved person stands forth for judgment, his salvation is not based upon himself or his church. When God looks at any one to determine his fitness for heaven, God looks at the finished work of Jesus and if that work has been applied ot the individual’s heart. The saved person’s heart is righteous because it has been made new by Jesus. The saved person’s heart is clean because all guilt has been washed away by Jesus. If God were to base salvation on the sincerity of the person’s heart none would have hope of salvation. When God looks at the saved, He looks at Jesus. Salvation has nothing to do with sincerity of heart or denominational affiliation, but on Jesus’ work and if that work has been applied by faith to the sinful heart of an individual.

No saved Christian will face judgment to determine if he will enter heaven. At a person’s salvation, Heaven is secured. At death the believer goes immediately into the presence of Jesus. Paul points to this in Philippians 1:23 when he says he desires to depart this life and be with Christ. When Jesus speaks of the death of the righteous beggar in Luke 16, the righteous man enters immediately into heaven. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. These verses all imply that at death the saved immediately enter heaven, without any kind of trial to determine if they deserve to be there.

Though the believer enters directly into heaven without an entrance examination, he does face a judgment. The judgment faced by the believer has nothing to do with salvation. The judgment of the Christian is not a judgment of guilt or innocence, but a judgment of service. 2 Corinthians 5 says every Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and will be rewarded according to the service he has rendered in this life. 1 Corinthians 3 says the Christian will be rewarded or lose reward based upon his service, but all believers will be saved though some may have no reward in heaven. What will be the subject matter at that judgment? The passages in 1 and 2 Corinthians say the believers judgment will be one regarding service and good works. This author thinks it plausible that such judgment will consider church involvement, but cannot say so with certainty. What is certain is the believer’s judgment will be one of accountability for the way he has served his Master. Those who have faithfully used the resources entrusted to him for the increase of God’s kingdom will be rewarded. Those who have squandered the resources will be rebuked. Such rebuke is not condemnation to eternal punishment but is the loss of potential reward for misusing the Master’s resources.

Lest this article run over long, the answer will be continued in the next article.