Monday, December 13, 2010

Day of Atonement Living

A very appropriate thought for me this morning. From Dial Daily Bread:

Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"

Is it possible that our Enemy, Satan, could be pulling a fast one on us while we are asleep as Christians?

Just as Jeremiah's detractors begged him with the request, "Is there any word from the Lord?" so we would love to get some direct e-mail message from Christ, some fresh, up-to-the-minute "bulletin" from Heaven's media office.

Well, we have it in Luke 21--a message as appropriate now as any could be in this cosmic Day of Atonement: "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting [on gourmet food], and drunkenness [literal or on video games], and cares of this life [making payments on the boat or SUV], and so that day [of last opportunity to save our souls] come upon you unawares" (vs. 34).

It is phenomenal how in a time of world terror never so pervasive, our temptations to indulge in a Vanity Fair life are so insistent. The more distressing the news of widespread human misery, the more alluring are the solicitations that appeal to our native-born covetousness. Not only big cities like New York and London have their giant temple-like retail stores, but the "big box" stores like Wal-Mart have come even to our small towns. The malls are our new cathedrals of architectural grandeur and heart-worship. Whether we have Republicans or Democrats to thank, we have money to spend and time to spend window-shopping.

We have metamorphosed into that "certain rich man" whose "ground brought forth plentifully" so that he had to build a "greater barn [to] bestow all .. his goods" (12:16-18). One of America's big businesses now is these huge storage places where all the "stuff" you can't crowd into your garage, you "bestow all [your] goods" there. And we say to ourselves, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry" (vs. 19). That's where we are, and that's who we are.

But wait a moment: we're living in the final period of Christ's ministry in the Most Holy part of the heavenly sanctuary; all heaven is concerned that a people, a corporate body of saints, be prepared for the close of probation; yet never in 6000 years of human history has "the ground of a certain rich man [you and I] brought forth [so] plentifully." Is there a certain clever master intelligence behind this phenomenon? Maybe you can find some missionary work to do in the grand architecture of the mall; but if not, that's no place to spend hours worshipping. Not since Christ began the last phase of His heavenly ministry.

From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: July 9, 2004.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert J. Wieland.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Who Takes the Initiative?

Great stuff from Robert Wieland:

Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"

Dear Mrs. ______________ :

You write that you got up early yesterday morning to spend some "quality time" with the Lord--prayer and Bible study so as to maintain your "relationship" with Him. But then you couldn't help noticing how disheveled the house was and how messy the kitchen, so you felt you had to straighten things up, and voila! the "quality time" was gone and the burdens of the day were upon you again. "So am I losing out with God?"

Let's "walk softly" here, like repentant Ahab. There are times when a wise doctor keeps a patient in a coma on intravenous feeding; but normally a healthy person eats because he's hungry, not because of stern cold duty. Your problem may not be that your 24-hour day is too short (that would be God's fault). Probably good sincere people have pounded into you a wrong idea of God (maybe even from the pulpit). God is not waiting for you to maintain a relationship with Him; He wants you to know He is maintaining a relationship with you. It all begins with His initiative, not yours. He wants you saved more than you want to be.

When Jesus came, He changed our ideas about His Father. The Good Shepherd is not waiting for His lost sheep to find Him; He is seeking the sheep (Luke 15:3-32). The text about "seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6) needs a clearer translation. The Hebrew verb there for "seek" is not the common one, looking for a lost object; it means "pay attention to Me because I am near! I'm not far away, ever!"

This idea of working hard to maintain our relationship with the Lord is a subtle Old Covenant idea that has crept in. When you begin to grasp His seeking love, His cross, you will "hunger and thirst" for His "truth of the gospel." It will expel your love for amusement; it will heal you of your Bible boredom. But we "walk softly": if you are in a spiritual coma, yes, force yourself to read your Bible and pray. But please ... believe the New Covenant.

From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: September 25, 2010.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert J. Wieland.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Not Enough to Say We're Supposed to Love . . .

Human beings are, for the most part, pretty well aware of how we're supposed to live and the way were are supposed to act. This is especially true of Christians, and maybe even especially, especially true of Seventh-day Adventist Christians. We all essentially know that we are supposed to treat one another with respect, that we are not supposed to take someone else's toy, or hit back when we have been hit by someone else.

And we all know that we're supposed to love one another.

I write all this to show that it is not for lack of knowledge that we have a hard time treating others with respect, showing kindness, and yes, loving others. It is not because we don't know what we're supposed to do that we fail at achieving these things. I think we are all pretty clear on them.

The reason we fail is not because we don't know where we're supposed to be, but because we aren't clear on how we're supposed to get there; we lack the vehicle by which to arrive at our destination.

In particular, one of the most popular sentiments I hear expressed - be it by church members, administrators, friends, family members - is this important idea that we need to love one another. "If we could all just love each other," some will say, "then our churches would be full." I completely concur. If we somehow learned how to love just as Jesus loved and loves, people would be overwhelmed by an amazing attraction to, not only us, but the God we serve.

But herein lies the problem: it is not enough to say we're supposed to love. This is because by so doing, we are only explaining the destination - which, as I said before, we are all acutely aware of - without explaining the means by which we can arrive at that destination.

And this problem is the root cause of all our challenges within Christianity. It's the difference between living under the Old Covenant or New Covenant, living legalistically or motivated by grace. Just because we exchange "thou shalt not [fill in the blank]" with "love one another," doesn't make it any less legalistic if we do not present the motivating power to achieve whatever command we are admonishing.

Some, of course, do try to come up with ways that love can be achieved. There are all sorts of books one can read, exercises one can perform, or things one can repeat over and over again. But there are a couple of problems with these methods. The first is that learning to love by these means very rarely accomplishes it. This is because all these things deal with the external. I can tell myself 1000 times a day that I am going to love my wife, but telling myself I am going to love her doesn't really make it so. Yes, there may be moments of loving behavior I display, but no lasting change will ever really occur.

At the same time, these methods are man-motivated. That is, I am performing these exercises from my own initiative - trying to tap into some type of inherent love that is supposed to already dwell within me. But if the Bible is clear on anything, it is clear that we human beings are all inherently evil, that nothing good dwells within us, that we are not self-starters, that we are not naturally loving. All of us are self-centered and quite unloving and, if left to ourselves completely, we would never so much as even consider the idea of turning outward and loving others.

So what's the answer?

The same as it always was and ever will be: the Gospel - changing the heart.

A heart that is changed by the Gospel is the only answer, and it is the difference between legalism and true righteous - and loving - living. We need our hearts changed. Our hearts are the problem, not our behavior. (Read 1 Corinthians 13 a few times to catch this reality. I can have the best singing voice, understand everything about the Bible, even give up my life for a greater cause, but if I do not have love, I am simply living a legalistic life.)

How does the Gospel truly make me into a loving person? There are so many different ways, but let me just run through a very simple formula: we are all sinners who, by virtue of our sinful ways, should be dead right now. But God, who loves us and is rich in mercy, went to Calvary and died our death. Thus, because of His death, we have life right now. This is because His love for us is infinite and He is eager to come into full and complete at-one-ment with us. This, despite all my sins, my mistakes, my self-centeredness.

And when I catch even a glimpse of this, then my heart starts changing. But even this change is initiated and performed by an external source - by God, Himself. After all, 2 Corinthians 5:14 tells us that "the love of Christ compels us," that is, it "motivates" us. Similarly, 1 John 4:19 says that "we love, because He first loved us."

This is the only way love can be achieved in our lives! It is simply by beholding Christ's love. Indeed, as Paul also reminds us, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory" (2 Cor 3:18).

It's really quite simple. We don't need to go to seminars to learn how to love other people. We don't need to read books about how we can become more loving. All these things are self-initiated, self-motivated, and will never really work. The only way we can really learn to be loving is simply by "beholding" Christ's love and allowing that image to transform us. As we look at His character of love - of His pursuit of us, of His humility and condescension into human flesh, of His willingness to completely empty self for our sakes, of experiencing complete and total separation from His Father, even going so far as total annihilation - this will supernaturally change our hearts and fashion us into the loving individuals God longs for us to be.

This is the only answer, friends. It is the only answer.

And so here is a challenge: instead of telling people ad nauseum that they should be loving, why not simply preach the love of Christ - both in word, and in actions flowing from a transformed life - and see what happens?

We haven't succeeded thus far with the humanistic way of achieving love - you know, singing songs that say "All you need is love" and other fun methods. So why not allow God to perform His method through you?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How the "Objective Gospel" Becomes the "Subjective Gospel"

From Dial Daily Bread:

Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"

It's the question many ask, and yes, angels too, as do the entire universe: how does the "objective gospel" ("righteousness by faith") get translated into the "subjective gospel" of righteousness in the life?

Until the answer is demonstrated, "the bride, the Lamb's wife" won't "make herself ready," and the great controversy between Christ and Satan won't be finished. The unfallen universe have a right to ask, What will enable people who have a fallen, sinful nature to "overcome even as [Christ] overcame"?

To say that "Jesus did it all so I have nothing to do" is a lie. Jesus did it all, yes, so that you and I can "do it all" in lives of total obedience to all His commandments. There's a war going on and we must jump into the fray with both feet.

That doesn't mean an added program of righteousness by works. It means choosing, putting our will on the side of the Savior--a thousand times a day, and on and on until the Lord comes. No end to the warfare with self. Here it is in easy terms:

"The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men [Greek]. It teaches us to say 'No!' to ungodliness and worldly passions ..." (Titus 2:11, NIV). Don't kid yourself; "ungodliness" and "worldly passions" will tempt you again; the closer you come to Christ and the more you are "converted," the more alluring will all those temptations become. Yes, "all," including sex. But temptation is not sin unless you say "Yes!" to it, and "the grace of God" teaches you HOW TO SAY "NO" to it.

But that's not a cheap Babylonian grace, which frankly can't "teach" us. It's a Day of Atonement understanding of what it cost the Son of God to save us--a New Covenant vision of the cross, and of what He has already done and is doing for us. The world waits to see it.

From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: August 31, 2001.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert J. Wieland.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Start of Something Great

Left to right: Ron Nickerson, Jason Disch, Frank Donald, Brenda Johnson, Phil Johnson, Rick Kuntz, Arnet Mathers, Greg Carter, Cornell Preda, Frankie Brownell, Steve Brownell, Shawn Brace

At the risk of overstating things, I just spent the last two days experiencing what I believe is the beginning of something that will change the world. I believe it will have eternal consequences. Along with 11 other people (12 of us total - 10 pastors and two spouses), I sat in a little prayer chapel at idyllic Camp Lawroweld in Weld, Maine, surrounded by the beautiful autumn foliage, and simply studied the Word of God for about 16 hours in a two-day period. It was truly heavenly.

A few months ago, Pastor Greg Carter (who pastors the White Memorial Church in Portland, Maine) and I raised the point to our conference administrators that it would be wonderful if the pastors could get together to simply study the Word. Many times at our "workers' meetings," we discuss a lot of valuable things but hardly get a chance to open the Word for serious study. They kindly obliged and so we invited all of the pastors in the conference to join us for a voluntary two-day Bible Retreat in October.

To my thinking, I am not sure that this has ever been done in any conference in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America - at least not in the last half-century. I might be wrong, but another pastor who is quite familiar with Adventist history also agreed that it has probably been nearly a hundred years since something like this has been done within Adventism. I am quite sure this is at least the case in our conference!

With that being said, I wasn't sure if there would be much interest and I was hoping that we would get five or six to attend. But the response was overwhelming. Just about every pastor indicated they were interested in attending, but not all could attend, due to scheduling conflicts. About 15 pastors (out of the 30 or so full-time pastors) committed to it, but when it was all said and done, a few of the pastors had to bow-out last minute (due to last-minute conflicts) and we ended up with ten pastors and two spouses.

We studied the book of Galatians and our unpacking of this incredible book was truly amazing. We essentially went verse-by-verse and unpacked the Gospel from every inch of the epistle we could. The Spirit was poured out and there was great unity amongst us. This was not to say that we all agreed upon every jot and tittle, but there seemed to be a real desire to not only grapple with the Word in a profound way, but to have it change us.

Simply put, the experience far exceeded my expectations, though I was not really sure what exactly to expect to begin with. From a purely objective point of view, I'm not sure that many of us would have thought that 12 of us could sit in a small chapel (not more than 20 x 20 feet in size) and slowly and deliberately unpack a book for 16 hours without getting bored, annoyed, or frustrated. Not only did we accomplish this, but I got the feeling that many - if not most - of us could have done it for another 16 hours (especially since we only finished five of the six chapters).

Specifically as it relates to the book of Galatians, I would like to try to summarize what we discovered, and reflect upon what we all agreed on - as well as the few things we were not in complete agreement on. Some who attended may have a slightly different view of these things, so this is just one man's perspective.

Areas of Agreement
1. The Galatian problem was that they were reverting back to the old covenant way of salvation by their own efforts. Circumcision was not the problem, per se. Their problem was their motivation in getting circumcised (ie., trying to merit salvation and the favor of God).

2. A corollary to this problem was that the Galatians were taking the issue of circumcision and using it as a litmus test to determine who was really a part of God's people. They displayed a judgmental attitude towards others and "persecuted" them who were "born according to the Spirit" (4:29). We recognized this mentality is still alive and well within our churches, and even in our own thinking at times.

3. A lot of it boils down to control and pride. As human beings, we have this natural (and sinful) desire to control others and to control God. We want to be able to point to ourselves as contributing to our salvation.

4. Contrary to all this, Paul made it clear that there is absolutely nothing that human beings can do to earn, merit, or deserve salvation. It is completely a gift from God, purchased solely by the death of Christ.

5. The purpose of the law is to point out our sin and thus the need for a Savior (3:24). It cannot save us; it can simply reveal to us our desperate need for Christ's righteousness and His power to transform our lives.

6. Christ is 100% our righteousness. He places His righteousness upon us and, because of this, we stand pardoned and forgiven before God.

7. Thus, we experience justification by faith - which is a response of the heart (5:6). This heart-response is based upon an appreciation for God's initiative, sacrifice, and love. And such a response energizes our lives, pushing us forward to live by the Spirit.

8. This appreciation can only be accomplished as we dwell upon the cross, contemplating Christ and Him crucified.

9. Seventh-day Adventists have been blessed with a fuller understanding of the cross, because of our understanding of the nature of man (being naturally mortal) and the nature of hell. When we see Christ's tremendous struggle in Gethsemane, where He was becoming a "curse for us" (3:13) and experiencing the separating of His father from Himself, it gives us a much richer and deeper gratitude for just how far Christ went in redeeming us.

10. Christ has "redeemed" all of us (3:13), and the beautiful reality is that we have all been "crucified with Christ" (2:20). This was done without any request from us. Indeed, it was done even before we were born.

11. In order for Christ to have redeemed us, it was necessary for Him to come to the very point where we were/are, and thus He was "born of a woman, born under the law" (4:4-5). Thus, He took upon Himself our humanity it its weakened condition. This means that He has so closely identified with us that we can draw close to Him, recognizing that He has a heart of compassion for us.

12. In taking upon Himself our humanity in its weakened condition, Christ still retained His divine nature and His will was ever connected to His Father, even from birth. Thus, the human and divine natures were connected, and this can be our experience if we are born again and live by the Spirit.

13. God desires for all of us to be delivered from "the present evil age," (1:4) and to experience true freedom and liberty. He wants us to live by the Spirit.

14. When we live by the Spirit, we do not fulfill the "lusts of the flesh," (5:16) and the fruit of the Spirit is evident in our lives.

15. God wants us to live in a new covenant experience rather than an old covenant experience (4:21-31). These two experiences have always been present and are not speaking of the historical periods that the Bible also identifies (the Old and New Testament).

16. Someone who is living in a new covenant experience is taking God at His word, believing His promises, and cooperating with Him. Someone who is living in an old covenant experience is making promises to God and trying to "help" Him fulfill what He has promised. The actions and behavior of both the old covenant and new covenant experiences may be the same; the difference is the motivation of the heart.

17. As a part of the salvation process, God gives us grace to overcome sin and enjoy a victorious life.

18. Recognizing all these realities extinguishes human pride and results in man, laying his glory in the dust.

19. There was a fairly unified agreement that God has wanted to do more in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and pour out His Spirit in much more abundant measure, but we have resisted the true Gospel. The results of this have driven most within our church to the opposite extremes of legalism and antinomianism (lawlessness). Only a rediscovering, accepting, and embracing of the true Gospel can accomplish a balance of the law and grace, and usher in great revival among our people.

Areas of Disagreement

1. What it truly means to be "justified by faith." Some understand the word to be used in the New Testament in a strictly forensic/legal sense, while others maintain that when God declares someone to be righteous, He also "makes" them righteous.

This single area brought about the most disagreement and discussion. Though we all proceeded in Christian love and grace, it did heat up quite a bit. By God's grace, we all maintained our composure and allowed God to help us treat each other with brotherly and sisterly love.

2. At the heart of this disagreement is whether God is going to have a people who have fully matured in their faith - and learned to completely walk by the Spirit - before His Second Coming. Some felt that this necessarily implied there was a different way of salvation for those who will be translated, maintaining that these people would be earning or contributing to their salvation. Those on the opposite side did not agree that it necessarily follows that simply because God would have a people who come to full maturity and learn how to completely overcome sin by His grace, that it means they would be "earning" their salvation or that they would be living by their own righteousness.

3. The latter group proposed that this "fully mature" people would constantly be living by the merits and blood of Christ, while the former group did not see how these two concepts (reaching full maturity and yet still living by God's grace and merits) could be reconciled.

4. A corollary to this concept was a disagreement over the definition of sin and what it means to be a "sinner."

All in all, there was a great Spirit. God truly led. All seemed to be in agreement that this was the best pastors' meetings they had ever attended, and that we needed more of this. A few said they felt extremely energized by the power of God and encountering the Word. All would like to see these types of meetings happen more often, and rather than waiting for a whole year to do it again, perhaps we could meet again in the winter or early spring - maybe even before, and more regularly.

What was appreciated by all, as well, was the way in which we could disagree with one another yet maintain Christian love and humble spirits. Many shy away from digging deeply into the Word in a corporate setting like this, fearing that studying the Bible is divisive and will cause ill feelings towards one another. As one pastor said, however, doing so is only divisive if we "allow it to be."

I also came to some wonderful realizations. Firstly, it is abundantly clear that the Bible is meant to be studied, wrestled and grappled with, in community. It is not meant to be studied in isolation. I came to a much fuller and deeper understanding of Galatians by studying it with others, than I ever would be able to by studying alone. We need one another. We need everyone's perspective and understanding.

With that being said, I was also really excited about the fact that our study of Galatians did not turn into a "this is what I think, and this is how it applies to me," exercise. Too many times, when I study the Bible in a group setting, people are quick to offer their opinion on what the text is saying, and they are equally as quick to apply it to their lives. Very little wrestling with the text itself is done.

Simply put, this was not the case with our retreat. Yes, there was application and yes, of course, there were biases and opinions, but, most of all, they were was an honest unpacking of the Word of God and figuring out what the text meant, before trying to apply it to our current context.

Most significantly, perhaps, the whole two days were bathed in prayer and true Christian fellowship. We were also blessed with wonderful cooking by Lorraine Mathers, wife of Pastor Arnet Mathers.

I truly feel that God's Spirit was poured out in incredible measure, and that this small, humble gathering was the beginning of a soft voice that will crescendo into a loud cry.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dialin' Up the Daily Bread Again

This, from Robert Wieland:

Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"

What motivates good, sincere people to persecute others who differ from them in religious conviction? The opposition can take cruel forms. Wars have been fought over religion. The United States was "conceived" by a desire to escape religious persecution (said Lincoln).

Thank God we don't now throw theological opponents into prison or burn them at the stake, but we malign them, seek to destroy reputations, slam doors against them, misrepresent them. What's back of this strange phenomenon of unrighteous indignation that blazes forth against someone who differs from us in biblical interpretation?

The answer is--our obsession with the Old Covenant. History is clear: those who love the New Covenant NEVER persecute others! Paul himself was a fanatical follower of the Old Covenant who couldn't stand to watch the New Covenant apostles proclaim gospel Good News. He thought their message destroyed his keep-the-law theology. He misunderstood them--their gospel was the only way anyone truly could become a "doer of the law," but he felt he had to "punish them oft in every synagogue, ... and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities" (Acts 26:11). His zeal for the Old Covenant even led to murder. All, supposedly "righteous"! (And highly popular.)

When finally he discovered the New Covenant, he saw something he had never seen before: Ishmael, the son of the Old Covenant Hagar, "persecuted him that was born after the Spirit," that is, Isaac. "Even so it is now," he added (Gal. 4:29). That brought him to his knees--in his frenzy against the apostles he saw he was acting out the role of Ishmael!

"Even so it is now"! Old Covenant obsession is spiritual poison. If it doesn't outright kill your devotion to Jesus and His church, it weakens it so it becomes "lukewarm." Many Christian youth lose their way because they have been taught Old Covenant concepts under the guise of "Christian education" in church or school. Lord, please help our blindness!

From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: November 9, 2002.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert J. Wieland.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

The Latter Rain Has Already Come

Very timely and relevant thought (though originally written three years ago), from Robert Wieland:

Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"

Devout Jews are monotheists; they believe in one true God, the Creator of heaven and earth. They believe their Bible, which is the Old Testament.

They still gather together at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and pray for the coming of their Messiah, believing that He is still due to come.

We would like to tap them on the shoulder and say to them, You are wasting your time praying for a Messiah yet to come; the true One has already come in Jesus of Nazareth, whom your ancestors crucified. Just as the Jews pray for a yet-to-come Messiah, so devout Christians pray for God to send “the latter rain” outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The “former rain” was the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost two millennia ago; now “the latter rain” must come as the ancient rains came when the barley harvest had sprouted under what they called “the former rain” and had grown to a certain level of maturity but needed another rainy spell in order to ripen for the farmer’s harvest.

So the Bible promises that in the last days the Father will open the windows of heaven and grant a final gift of the Holy Spirit to prepare all who choose to worship the one true God to be ready for the glorious second coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The biblical illustration is beautifully clear.

When you think of the Bible story, it’s obvious that there is irreverence implicit in praying for “the Messiah” to come when the truth is that He has already come! (It still implies a deep unbelief. Before the end, many devout Jews will recognize this overwhelming truth and experience a corporate repentance in behalf of their race. They will demonstrate it by reading and believing the New Testament and sharing the good news.)

Would there not be the same unbelief in the hearts of Christians begging the Father to send the latter rain of the Holy Spirit if He has already done so, but in blindness and pride they (via their ancestors) had rejected the gift? Prayer is serious business, and Heaven takes it seriously; we need to search and discover the truth how “the Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message” that proved to be “the beginning” of the Loud Cry and of its necessarily attendant latter rain.

All true-hearted believers in Jesus will respond heartily. And then recover and proclaim the message.

From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: February 13, 2007.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert J. Wieland.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bible Retreat

Hello. I'm Shawn. This is my blog.

Sorry, just thought I would re-introduce myself.

At any rate, I am not really going to be blogging much of anything right now. I am, instead, simply sharing a little bit about an exciting event coming up in another two weeks. We, in the Northern New England Conference, are going to be doing something that has, perhaps, not been done in any other conference for a few decades. I might be overstating it a bit, but I am excited about this awesome opportunity.

We are actually going to have a Pastors' Bible Retreat where we do nothing but study the Bible. Another pastor and I from the conference asked the administration if we could hold such an event, purely on a voluntary basis, and they kindly obliged. When the invitation went forth, the majority of the pastors in the conference responded by saying they would love to attend. A number of others also indicated that they would like to come, but schedule conflicts do not allow it.

This is exciting. It shows me that there is a hunger for the Word and things are happening.

After much prayer and deliberation, we have decided to study the book of Galatians. So we are going to spend two straight days unpacking this wonderful little book.

Please pray for us! I do believe that the Spirit will lead us in a mighty way. There is no way we can encounter the Word without being changed.

Below is the poster for the event.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dial Daily Bread: What Will Grip Teenage Hearts Forever?

This, from Robert Wieland again:

Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"

A group of teenage students in a Christian school nearby were having a Week of Prayer. Their hearts moved, they lit a bonfire for their rock music CDs. They realized that some if not many of the popular rock lyrics are frankly the worship and glorification of Satan. The "great controversy between Christ and Satan" is raging right inside teen hearts. The struggle can be intense. The whole world is encapsulated in one human soul.

It's the modern counterpart of the revivals and reformations in ancient Israel when an occasional king like Hezekiah or Josiah would be moved to throw out the sex-worship gods and goddesses from the holy Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Indignant against this seductive and alluring pagan worship, they did like the great Phinehas at Shittim in Numbers 25. "Israel ... began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab" and "joined himself unto Baal-peor." When Zimri, a most prominent "prince" in Israel, openly paraded "a Midianitish woman" into his tent right before Moses and "all the congregation," young Phineas followed him into the tent and "thrust both of them through. ... So the plague was stayed" (vss. 1, 3, 8). But often those "revivals" were short lived because they were basically Old Covenant in nature--all the way back to Mount Sinai.

Our widespread obsession with Satan-worship through music has gripped legions of Christian youth. Hypocrisy with boring lukewarmness in grownups has fueled and encouraged the deep-rooted apostasy. A harsh fear-motivated return to legalism cannot be a permanent solution. All egocentric devotion disguised as the worship of Christ soon becomes Baal worship again, as in ancient Israel, over and over. On and on we go, decade after decade, repeating ancient history, until we can come to grasp the New Covenant principles of the gospel. They alone grip teenage hearts forever. Do not despair. The pure non-Babylonian, most precious gospel is still the power of God unto salvation. It works!

From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: October 8, 2002.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert J. Wieland.

Be sure to check your e-mail for "Dial Daily Bread" again tomorrow.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Church: Visible or Invisible?

This was today's devotional thought from "Dial Daily Bread" by my good friend, Robert Wieland. I thought it was relevant to my recent posts on baptism, indoctrination, and church membership. Please take a few seconds to read these few paragraphs and share your thoughts.

Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"

Someone asks: Are we sure that the Bible teaches that God's "church" is a visible organization, and not an invisible number of scattered believers?

The only times we read that Jesus mentioned His "church" were twice--Matthew 16:18 and 18:17. He used the word ecclesia, which means "called out," a people designated and separated from the world, defined and denominated in a form that the world could recognize as an entity. The apostles called ancient Israel a "church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38), and we read that Israel was a visible organization that the world could see as God's denominated people. In Matthew 18 Jesus outlined what should be done if a member in the church disgraces its name--he should be disciplined. Unless the church is organized, this cannot be done.

Paul thought of a beautiful illustration of what the church is--it's a "body." "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular ... in the church" (1 Cor. 12:12-28).

Possibly the reason for this person's question is the problem of apostasy and worldliness in the church, which is discouraging to a thoughtful, sincere Christian. Please think about Jesus: He is even more pained by this than you are. Be joined to Him by faith, share His heart burden for His church. It's the great crisis of the ages. He wants to lead her to repentance, not to ruin.

From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: February 25, 2005.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert J. Wieland.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Come, and See!

As many - if not all - of you know, I am a big fan of photography. It is a passionate hobby of mine. But that's all it is: a hobby. Yet my dear wife asked me if she could utilize my hobby for her gain. She has started a business venture, utilizing my free time to turn her a profit. Enter Brace Photography and

If you are looking for someone to shoot your wedding photography, or someone to shoot your senior pictures, or your fun family moments, check out the website and get in touch with her. Or if you'd like to purchase some classic New England art, check out the website as well.

I do hope you will have a look and get in touch with her (contact information is on the website).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Sabbath in the New Testament

Somewhere along the line, Christians the world over have been led to believe that the Sabbath commandment is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament. I am not sure where this idea originated, but I am very intrigued by it. One need only do a quick Google search to realize this widespread concept being promulgated. See here and here as examples. (This is not to mention scores of other scholarly commentaries that propose this idea as well.)

But there is a huge problem with this. Simply put, it is completely untrue. In fact, quite the opposite is true - the Sabbath commandment is affirmed and repeated probably more than any other one of the Ten Commandments.

Furthermore, here are some other challenges to this supposed vacuum of support for the Sabbath commandment.

1. What one means by "repeating" a commandment seems rather arbitrary. In fact, when I read these various people and notice their evidence for the other nine, the "repeating" of the command seems rather liberal. Notice, for example, one of the evidences for the first commandment ("no other gods before me"). Exhibit A for these people is Acts 14:15, where Paul and Barnabas say, "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God." While I recognize that this alludes to the first commandment, how, exactly does this "repeat" it?

And this is the case over and over again for the supposed evidence. The interpretation of what constitutes a "repeating" of the commandment is very loose.

Even by their own standards, when Jesus talks about Him being the "Lord of the Sabbath," (see Luke 6:5) wouldn't this be a repeating of the Sabbath commandment?

2. Though I have not done an exhaustive study on the subject, it is rather ironic that the Sabbath commandment seems to be the only one of the the commandments from the first part of the decalogue that is actually and literally "repeated" in the New Testament. It is even more ironic that the above passage (Acts 14:15), which is utilized to prove the first commandment, is actually an incredible endorsement for the importance of the fourth commandment. And, in fact, Paul and Barnabas quote part of the fourth commandment word for word! Notice: "We . . . preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them." The italicized part is a word-for-word quote from the Greek version of the Sabbath commandment.

Peter and John also utilize this exact same quote in Acts 4:24 and John repeats a part of it in the first angel's message of Revelation 14:6-7.

Talk about repeating the Sabbath commandment!

And yet, we are led to believe by so many well-meaning Christians that the Sabbath commandment is the only one of the ten that is not repeated - all the while it is repeatedly repeated!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Covenant Health Assessment

I have shared this “Covenant Health Assessment” the last month or so with various audiences: two Camp Meetings and two of my churches. Please take a few minutes to go over it, keeping in mind that this is a “work in progress” and not scientific. If you have any disagreements over the answers, or on how I can word some of the questions more clearly, please let me know. Also, if you’d like to know why I have chosen the answer to be what it is, you can listen to my Northern New England Camp Meeting presentation that addresses this subject. Click here.


1. When it comes to salvation, justification is God’s part and sanctification is:

a. My part

b. God’s part

c. Both

2. I feel it is important to return tithes and offerings because:

a. I want God to continue to bless me with temporal blessings

b. I am appreciative to God for what He has done for me

c. Both

3. I want to go to heaven for:

a. My sake

b. Christ’s sake

c. Both

4. When I am sick and in the hospital, I feel:

a. That unless my pastor visits me, I have not really received spiritual care

b. Happy just to have anyone from my church visit me

5. When I get into a fight/disagreement with someone else, I usually:

a. Wait for the other person to apologize/attempt to reconcile first

b. Try to initiate reconciliation, regardless of who is really in the wrong

6. When I miss my morning devotions with the Lord, I feel:

a. Disappointed

b. Guilty

7. When my pastor misses a Board Meeting, I feel:

a. As though there are plenty of others in the church who are able to fill the void

b. He is not doing his job

8. When I am in a room with people and I see someone I know, I usually:

a. Try to initiate a conversation with him/her

b. Wait for him/her to initiate a conversation

9. When a fellow church member is living in open sin, I:

a. Feel like we have a responsibility to redemptively appeal to the person to bring his/her life into harmony with God and, if necessary, use church discipline

b. Recognize that we are all sinners and thus do not feel like it is our place to judge him/her

c. Encourage others to simply pray for him/her

10. When I recognize there is a sin or bad habit in my life that God has convicted me of, I:

a. Believe that Christ has already won the victory over that sin at the cross and claim His victory as my victory

b. Try my hardest to overcome my defects of character

c. Both

11. I believe:

a. No one can completely overcome sinning this side of heaven

b. God’s grace can keep us from ever stumbling again

12. When it comes to doctrine, I believe:

a. It is not so much important as to what one believes, but how he/she lives

b. What one believes invariably informs how he/she lives

13. A young man really wants to get baptized but he has a smoking addiction. He has overcome many other bad habits but no matter what he does, he cannot stop smoking. You would:

a. Baptize him anyway because smoking is a hard addiction to kick, and to delay his baptism may discourage him

b. Explain to Him that Christ has already gained victory for Him, and baptism is a reflection of the fact that He has experientially received that victory

c. Tell him that he cannot be baptized until he stops smoking

14. God expects me to:

a. Make promises to Him

b. Believe His promises to me

c. Both

15. A person says that obedience does not have to be a part of the Christian’s experience. That person is living under:

a. The New Covenant

b. The Old Covenant

Answers: For numbers 1-5, if you answered B, you get 2 points. If you answered A or C you get 0 points

For numbers 6-10, if you answered A you get 2 points. If you answered B or C you get 0 points

For numbers 11-15, if you answered B you get 2 points. If you answered A or C you get 0 points

Add all the points up: Highest possible is 30. Lowest possible is 0.

Here’s the bad news: this is a pass/fail test.

Either you got 30 points and passed.

Or you got anything less than 30 points and failed.

And I would imagine that very few get a perfect 30. If you did, you are ready for translation!

But this is the goal of God’s everlasting covenant-commitment: He is trying to completely expunge us of any and all old covenant thinking and behavior.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Baptism, Indoctrination, and Church Membership - Part 2

To read Part 1 click here.

When one reads the book of Acts, it is alarming to discover how community-oriented the early church was. Coming from a Western perspective, where we are very individualistic, we have a hard time appreciating just how "corporate" the thinking of the New Testament church was. This, of course, was very much rooted in the Hebrew mindset - as ordained by God, I do believe - and it is evident in the Old Testament. When one person sinned, it effected the whole camp, and vice versa. It was a "one for all and all for one" mentality.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is found in Acts 5:32. Quite poignantly, Luke records that "the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common." Furthermore, Luke goes on to say "nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need" (vv. 34-35).

In light of this reality, I am not even sure if I need to continue talking about baptism and church membership. But in case it needs to be spelled out a little more clearly, imagine this scenario: the apostle Peter comes along one day to a group of Gentiles who have been responding to the Holy Spirit. He teaches them about Jesus and they inquire of him about baptism. When he tells them that they need to believe and they can be baptized, they respond by saying, "Okay, good. We want to be baptized into Christ, but we do not want to join the church."

Now . . . how do you think Peter will respond? This is the same Peter, by the way, who - along with all the other Christians at that time - in an act of unselfish and mutual submission, has willingly given up his land, his property, his goods, and donated them to the wellbeing of the whole body of Christ. No longer "did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own" (v. 32). Those who bore the name "Christian" did not live in isolation. They lived for the common good of all others who bore the name Christian.

So I ask again: how do you think Peter would respond?

Interestingly, the very next story in the book of Acts is a sobering picture of what happened when two persons did not want to live in mutual submission to the Christian community as a whole. They wanted to keep a little bit of "individualism." The story of Ananias and Sapphira does not need to be repeated here, but it is very relevant to this discussion.

But what is perhaps the most intriguing part of this little vignette into the life of the Christian church (in Acts 4 & 5) is this little insight that comes from Luke's pen in Acts 5:14. Notice: "And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women." This is all written within the context of the Christian community, of mutual submission, of forsaking individualism and "Christian" isolationism. Quite clearly, Luke equates believers being "added to the Lord" as being "added" to the Christian community.

Interestingly, this phrase "added to" is also mentioned in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, where we read that on "that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (that is, the apostles) and that "the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (vv. 41, 47). In other words: when a person is "added to the Lord" they are also "added to the church," the body of Christ, and enter into all the perks, responsibilities, and privileges of Christian fellowship, community, and submission.

To put it plainly: to suggest to one of the Christian believers in the book of Acts that a person could be baptized yet not come into submission to the church body would be anathema! It's that simple. To them, being a part of Christ meant that you were a part of the body.

Now, some may want to make the argument - as I have heard - that being a part of the "body" does not mean you are a part of the "organized" body, or a denominational body, per se. And, while I recognize that the context in which the New Testament church was working is a bit different than ours, I am not sure that it is as much different from ours as we think.

To begin with, let's be clear on one thing: the New Testament church was organized! It wasn't this nebulous "body" that was vaguely defined. There was structure. There were leaders (apostles, elders, deacons). Each knew his or her role.

As we saw above, for example, when a person sold his or her possessions, he or she brought the proceeds and "laid them at the apostles' feet," who then distributed them as people had need. Two chapters later, the twelve apostles recognized this work was getting too great for them and so they appointed (the Greek literally means "to set in order" and seems to have formal - almost legal - connotation to it) "seven men" to carry it out.

Elsewhere, Paul uses the same Greek word to Titus when he tells him to "appoint" elders throughout Crete (Titus 1:5). This was the same Paul, by the way, who baptized Lydia and the jailer in Philippi, and later wrote a letter to "believers in Philipi, with the bishops and deacons." Do you think that it was somewhat likely that Lydia and the Philippian jailer were at all connected with this body of believers, or are we to suppose that after their baptism they simply continued on with business as usual, never aligning themselves with the organized body of Christ?

Of course, the greatest illustration of the church's organization comes in Acts 15, when the Christian church held one of the first "General Conference" sessions. A dispute had surfaced about what was required of Gentile converts (which goes back to Part 1 of this topic: that there were actual "requirements" beyond simple belief is worth noting), and so instead of deciding individually, or even as local congregations, it went before the apostles at the GC headquarters. And after reaching a verdict, the apostles actually sent Paul out to "strengthen the churches" throughout Syria and Cilicia, and to "deliver to them the decrees to keep which they determined" (15:41; 16:4).

So it seems pretty clear that church organization and church structure was a very key component of the early church. And so, when a person joined him or herself to Christ, he or she was also joined to the body. This is why, in at least three occasions, both Paul and Jesus talk about being joined to Christ in the corporate context. First, in John 15, Jesus talks about His followers being branches that are connected to Him, as "the vine." Paul also picks up this theme in Romans 11 and talks about how anyone who has faith is grafted into the "olive tree." And then, of course, in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul quite plainly states that we are all "members" of "one body." In other words, according to Jesus and Paul, none of us live in isolation when we come to Christ. We are brought into fellowship with the whole body.

This is also demonstrated by the fact that there were clear disciplinary procedures that took place in the New Testament. Jesus, Himself, set up such a model in Matthew 18 when He told His disciples that if someone sinned against a person, they were to be brought (after a few other steps) to the church and disciplined. Adding further weight to the church's authority, Jesus quite poignantly announced to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (v. 18). (He also said this a few chapters before to Peter in 16:19.)

I know that my particular denomination gets a little uncomfortable with this concept, feeling like it is a little too "Catholic," but, apparently, God has given His church a bit of ecclesiastical authority that not only affects earth but also heaven. So Jesus, Himself, places importance on the organization of the church, not only to provide for its members and proclaim the gospel, but to hold one another accountable (see also 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thesselonians 3:6; etc.). And this last point is what I find many people want to avoid by not coming into submission into the body.

Now, I know there is another objection: "But there are so many denominations! How can we say that a person has to be a member of this church or that church? Can't they just be a part of the 'invisible' 'worldwide' church?" First of all, show me where the Bible talks about the "invisible" church and then we can begin our discussion. Secondly, while it is true that Jesus said that there were "other sheep" that He had who were not of "this" (ie., the Jewish) fold, He also went on to say in the next breath "them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16).

So it seems to me that the goal of any person who is getting baptized into the body of Christ should be to become a part of that "one fold." Christ is not satisfied with simply having His sheep scattered abroad with no clear demarcation. He is trying to bring them all into one fold!
Of course, the objection will go forth that there were no "denominations" in Jesus' or the apostles' day. And my response is that there absolutely were! Notice Paul:

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you shall all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [Grk. schisms] among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me among you my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or '" am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
There was "denominationalism" going on in the first century! And Paul, of course, urged the believers to put it behind them and to "all speak the same thing." But this is not an example of denominational pluralism coming from Paul's pen, nor was he trying to legitimize anyone's belief system and say that all that mattered was whether people "believed in Jesus." There is an unhealthy brand of that type of ecumenical thinking going on today at the expense of theological clarity. No, this was not what Paul was promoting. What he was promoting was that all should come under the banner of true Christianity and true Christian doctrine.

How does this relate to baptism? Does it lend support to the idea that a Christian pastor - no matter what denomination he or she belongs to - should just baptize people into the "general" Christian body of Christ and not worry about what specific denominational label is slapped on the person? Quite the opposite, in fact! This denominationalism that Paul contended with was over specific personalities, not doctrine. It was over "Paul," and "Apollos," "Cephas," and even "Christ." But, again, what he urged was for each believer to, as the marginal reading of the NKJV says, "have a uniform testimony" (v. 10) - a testimony, of course, that aligns with scripture.

So, if I am a Baptist pastor or a Pentecostal pastor or a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, I am baptizing that person into the body of Christ, yes, but into the clearest expression of what Christ teaches. According to scripture, I cannot, in good conscience, baptize someone and then encourage them to find any shoe that "fits" their preferences or find a church where the pastor has a personality that suits their fancy. I am admonished to baptize them into the body of Christ - and the clearest revelation of the body of Christ.

Look, let me just be honest with you: according to my understanding of scripture, the Bible is pretty clear that there is something called the "remnant." If you disagree with me on this then there are other issues that we need to clear up before we can even have this discussion. If you are pretty clear on this concept, then we can proceed. But, according to this remnant concept, this body of believers are those who are the "remaining" ones, leftover from the true expression of the faith as set forth in the New Testament church. As a starting point, at the very least, this remnant people needs to "keep the commandments of God," which is precisely what the New Testament church did (see Revelation 12:17, 14:12). To put it plainly, simply because a denomination labels itself "Christian" does not make it thus! To be a Christian means to "follow Christ," and when a denomination (this does not speak to the individuals inside that denomination) refuses to continue to follow Christ into His truth, they cease from truly being a "Christian" church. (Again, this does not mean that individuals inside that particular denomination are not Christians. As noted above, Christ has many sheep in other "folds," but He is seeking to bring them all into "one flock.")

So if I understand this, and I recognize that God has invited me, as a pastor, to baptize people into His body, and that He is seeking to make "one flock," which consists of a group of people who, among other things, "keep the commandments of God," how can I baptize them into the so-called "invisible" church - which is an ambiguous term that is not supported in scripture? Remember, part of the last-day mission of God's people is to invite others to "come out" of Babylon (see Revelation 18:4 and, incidentally, note that the Greek word for church - ekklesia - literally means the "called out ones."). And Babylon essentially consists of a "general" body of believers who enjoy surface unity at the expense of theological clarity.

In essence, then, what this last objection boils down to is whether a person understands that scripture teaches there to be a "true church" or not. Simply put, the book of Revelation teaches that there are two "churches," one that keeps the commandments of God, has the faith and testimony of Jesus, and another church where "confusion" and "ambiguity" are its middle names. This was already an issue in the apostles' day (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff, etc.), though it was not nearly as visible as it is today. And the apostles would baptize believers into the true body of Christ - the one that uplifted the Gospel and the truth of scripture.

So how can I, as a pastor, not do the same?

A Few Thoughts on Baptism, Indoctrination, and Church Membership - Part 1

There seems to be a growing sentiment, even among clergy, that the act of baptism is separate from either indoctrination or church membership. All that is "required" for baptism, it is proposed, is that a person accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Such an individual then learns the more finer points of doctrine and - at some point in the future - joins the body of Christ through church membership (or sometimes not at all).

While I am sympathetic to such thinking, it does not seem to enjoy the support of scripture whatsoever. Now, we may try to use our reasoning and logic and say "I think this" or "I think that," but I am not so concerned about what a person thinks, what a pastor says, or - to borrow a phrase from the apostle Paul - "even . . . [what] an angel from heaven" preaches (Galatians 1:8). I am interested in what the Bible teaches.

Over the past few years I have done quite a bit of study into this topic and just recently I explored it again. And, once again, the weight of evidence from scripture seems to indicate that some type of indoctrination and lifestyle change is required, and that church membership is tied into it.

So let's take a look at the scriptural evidence, addressing each subject one by one.

"Belief" the Only "Requirement"?

I have studied every usage of the word "baptize" (or a variation of it) in the New Testament and the weight of evidence is overwhelming. To begin with, in the book of Acts, anyone that is baptized before chapter 10 is already Jewish. Thus, the Ten Commandments (including the Sabbath), dietary laws, and even circumcision, were "non-issues" for such individuals. They very much had a firm grasp of the basics of the Christian faith since Christianity was grounded in the Jewish tradition and the Old Testament teachings.

One individual that many will point to as a shining example of "on the spot" baptism is the Ethiopian eunuch. On the surface, it appears as though Philip performed a kind of "shot gun" baptism with him. But context clears this up. Acts 8:38 tells us that he had "come to Jerusalem to worship," and upon his return he was sitting in his chariot, reading "Isaiah the prophet." Clearly, this is a pius man who had a pretty good grasp of the ethical and doctrinal basics of Christianity. We might say that all he was missing was Christ - admittedly, a pretty big component. Yet Philip obviously took time to clarify his questions about Christ because we read in v. 35, "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him."

Obviously, if Philip "began" in Isaiah and preached about Christ, he must have continued on and gave him a pretty extensive Bible study on the subject. And it was only after all this that the Ethiopian was then baptized.

Now, when we come to Acts 10 we see a shift between those who were baptized. As I said above, before Acts 10 they were all Jewish; after Acts 10 there are Gentiles who are baptized as well. And yet, in no instance that a Gentile was baptized do we see a simple "all that matters is that you believe in Jesus." None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

So let's look at all the instances of people being baptized from Acts 10 and onward and note how each person either received "indoctrination" or their lifestyle was in accordance with biblical principles.

1. Cornelius was the first Gentile convert. Before he was baptized we note that he engaged in the practices of fasting, prayer, and giving alms (10:30-31). He obviously also had some type of relationship with God because he recognized Him in vision and knew how to respond to His voice (vv. 31-33).

2. Lydia, the first European convert, was apparently a Sabbath-keeper who "worshiped God" (16:13-14). Yet it was only after "the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul" that she - as well as her household - was baptized (vv. 14-15).

3. Many will point to the next person - the Philippian jailer - as an example of a "shot gun" baptism. If not him, then his family, who was baptized with him. This is because in response to asking Paul and Silas what must he do to be saved, they responded, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (16:31). But most people stop there!

To begin with, Paul and Silas do not say "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you can be baptized." We need to recognize that. Even though baptism is vitally important, baptism does not equate to salvation.

But we mustn't stop at verse 31 either. After explaining to him the requirement for salvation (that being faith in Christ), it is only then that Paul and Silas prepare the jailer and his family for baptism. Notice what Luke goes on to record in the very next verse: "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house" (v. 32). It is only after the word of the Lord is spoken to them - all of them - that they are baptized.

Admittedly, Luke says in verse 33 that after the jailer washed and cleaned up Paul and Silas that "same hour of the night" that "immediately he and all his family were baptized." But it is not clear what the antecedent to "that same hour" or "immediately" is. Was it their declaration in verse 31 of simply "believing" for one to be saved? Was it the same hour that "they spoke the word of the Lord to him" (v. 32)? If so, did they speak the "word of the Lord to him" for only one hour? We simply do not know.

Notice, too, that it says "immediately" after he washed their wounds that they baptized him. Luke almost implies that the baptism came in direct response to him caring for them. Thus, the fact that he demonstrated some type of "good works" demonstrated that he was ready for baptism.

4. In Acts 18 we read about people in Corinth that were baptized. We read of Justus, Crispus, his household, and "many of the Corinthians" that apparently took the plunge. But notice: Justus was "one who worshiped God" (v. 6); Crispus was the "ruler of the synagogue" (v. 8); and Paul "reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks" (v. 4). Thus, all of these people - whether Jew or Gentile - had some familiarity with Christian doctrine. They went to the synagogue every Sabbath and they obviously listened to Paul "reasoning" there for a number of weeks. The synagogue was Paul's venue to reach and persuade people of the Christian message. And both Jews and Gentiles worshiped there.

5. Acts 19 is one of the only examples of rebaptism, so it does not deserve much ink. Evidently, all those who were rebaptized by Paul had already been baptized into the "baptism of John." Whether this means they were baptized by John or one of his disciples, it is not clear. But as we will see below, being baptized into "John's baptism" was no "believe only" exercise.

So, quite astonishingly, those are the only five examples of Gentiles being baptized in the book of Acts (though the last one may not have even been Gentiles). All of them received instruction and bore "fruits" worthy of baptism. It wasn't a simple "I believe in Jesus" thing.

But there are also a few other things we need to note as it relates to baptism. That is, we need to recognize what baptism is a symbol of. It is a symbol of accepting Christ as your personal Savior, yes, but it is more than that. It is a symbol of repentance and a life change.

One example of this comes from John the Baptist's ministry when he actually refused to baptize some of the Pharisees and Sadducees because they were not bearing "fruits worthy of repentance" (Matt 3:8). In our day and age of "politically correct" Christianity, this offends our ears. Apparently, there is more to baptism than simply saying you "believe" or that you "love Jesus." There needs to be a noticeable difference in your life. There needs to be fruit that reflects the fact that you are having an abiding experience with Christ.

Because, the truth of the matter is, the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6 that baptism signifies that we have been "buried with [Christ] . . . into death" and that because of this we should "walk in newness of life" (v. 4). Furthermore, baptism is a reflection of the fact that we are "no longer slaves of sin" (v. 6). Does this mean we need to be perfect and that we never stumble? Of course not. But it does mean that our lives should be fully surrendered to Christ and that we are not willfully living in sin.

Of course, beyond that, it is not as though - in light of this - that if I simply say that I have given up my past life from now on that this means I am ready to be baptized. Apparently, according to John the Baptist - the one who popularized baptism - I still need to "bear fruits worthy of repentance." In other words, my actions and behavior should be a reflection of my surrendered life.

Now, I also need to make sure we are all clear on one thing: that is, all of this may sound a little "legalistic" to some. It may sound like it is "too much" for such a simple thing. But this is not so for a few reasons.

One: it does not matter what we think it sounds like. What matters is if it is supported by scripture - which I believe it clearly is. Two: going to heaven and being baptized are not one and the same thing. There will be many people who have never been baptized that will be in heaven and vice versa. To deny someone baptism because they are not "bearing fruits" does not equate to keeping them out of heaven. This is something I think we unwittingly subscribe to. Three: if we truly understand what baptism really is - ie., a reflection of the fact that we have died to sin, by God's grace, and we are entering into newness of life - we will see that such an approach is very much a matter of righteousness by faith. And this is good news, not bad news.

Now, with all this being said, we will pick it up in Part 2 with what all this has to do with church membership.