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.