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Sacraments and Schism

 

Wrongly understood,
sacraments force schism
.

 

the sacramentsWhere you live are churches with competing beliefs on the sacraments. It’s why they can’t worship Jesus Christ together.

So unless their faith in their sacraments change, their schism won’t end.

What a testimony to the people where you live for He who gave them. Christians can live on the same street, work in the same company, shop in the same stores, and watch their kids play sports on the same ball field.

The only thing they can’t do is worship God, the Trinity, together on the Lord’s Day.

 

Selling Gravitas

Some say, “so what?” Christianity is about planting churches. The more, the better. Don’t waste your time on peripheral stuff like sacraments.

Sounds wise, right? Today’s Christian church shoppers are ignoring sacramental churches for church plants and mega churches. But didn’t our Lord say they were confused, hassled, and distressed? Any grass is good grass to a sheep without a shepherd. To them, if it feels like grace, then it is grace. Twenty minutes of music, ten minutes of religious drama, another twenty for preaching? Does it almost every time.

going to churchIf sacraments are a capital ‘P’ Promise, isn’t that something today’s choice-oriented worshipers should want? Or do we secretly believe they something else – inner mysteries for the initiated rather than the church shopper? Both history and dogma teach us they offer something transcendent and ancient, something solid. Sacraments promise something mega churches never do: spiritual gravitas – a connection to God and His people.

So why hold them back? Why not sell sacraments that way and compete with every other church? People could share testimonies during the worship service to their power to change hearts and lives. Pastors and priests could upload one minute YouTube videos explaining how powerful the ancient means of grace are.

But if we sell them to the seeking masses, which Church’s sacraments shall we sell?

Let the competition begin. Vivat schisma. Long live schism.

 

The Anathemas

anathema 2Because if the shoppers buy, we must not apologize for not disclosing all the terms? Converts to the sacramental churches only later learn of their schismatic soil, and why the “two lungs of Christianity,” Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, disdain each other. He who purchases the sacraments of one must disdain the sacraments of the other. It’s all recorded in the soil of ecclesiastical anathemas.

To anathematize in this case means to pronounce judgment on a person, or group of persons, such that they have no hope to gain heaven, except through repenting of their own sacraments.

Repenting of sacraments? Indeed. Turn or burn, if not in hell, then in purgatory. The remedy requires renouncing all other churches sacraments and binding one’s conscience to your new church. In some churches, process might even be governed by a sacrament of penance. If the anathematized individual or group will do that and leave their communion and join the right one, then the anathema has worked. God is pleased. It maybe even saved a hardened heart from great suffering hell for partaking of the wrong Eucharist.

Writes one convert to Orthodoxy from Catholicism,

“After months, we finally made a decision: we would visit an Orthodox parish. As Catholics, we knew at least that the Sacraments there were valid. Though we couldn’t receive communion, we could at least be in the presence of the Eucharistic Christ, and worship liturgically with them, and draw close to God on Sunday morning, however imperfectly. I can hardly express the burden of guilt I felt when I crossed the threshold of St. Seraphim’s parish that morning.”

ecumenic fightSounds too strong? I know. These are days of tolerance and ecumenism and yet, are not converts a church’s glory? Maybe Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches leaders don’t like to talk about anathemas much, but when they don’t, they ignore their roots.

There was a day, not so very long ago, when anathemas, and not converts, were a Church’s glory, and the leaders of the “two lungs” certainly know this. It why they can’t play ecumenical for seven days week together. O, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox will gather for a few day’s conference on ecumenism but by Sunday their own church requires them to leave.

Indeed, for the Eastern Orthodox to recognize Roman Catholics as brothers at the Eucharist requires them to deny that which makes them Orthodox in the first place: their Eucharist authorized by their bishops, not the Eucharist offered by priests under the Bishop of Rome. And the same is true of Roman Catholics toward the Eastern Orthodox. That’s why they have decreed anathemas on all other professing Christians, including Protestants, decrees that are still in force today.

If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify; or, that they do not confer that grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto; as though they were merely outward signs of grace or justice received through faith, and certain marks of the Christian profession, whereby believers are distinguished amongst men from unbelievers; let him be anathema”
(Session 7, Canon VI, Council of Trent).

And,

“if any one saith, that by the said sacraments of the New Law grace is
not conferred through the act performed, but that faith alone
in the divine promise suffices for the obtaining of grace;
let him be anathema

(Session 7, Canon VIII, Council of Trent).

Regarding transubstantiation Trent declares:

If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ, but says that He is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema
(Session XII, Canon I, Council of Trent). 

For their own part, Eastern Orthodox are no less forceful:

Those who attack the Church of Christ and say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!” 

They go on to say who these heretics are:

The heretics mentioned in the first phrases of the anathema.
i.e. the heretics previously identified by the Church,
such as Roman Catholics, Protestants, etc
.

 

False Churches!

In reply Protestants turned the other cheek denounced everyone else as being in “false churches.” Not just the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, but the Free Churchers as well, i.e., Baptists, Evangelical Free, Pentecostal, etc., etc..

What is a a false church? Depends on who you ask. The Protestant position is like that of Roman Catholics and Orthodox. If any does not hold to a faithful administration of the sacraments, it’s false.[1]The Belgic Confession, Article 29, states “We believe that we ought diligently and circumspectly discern from the Word of God which is the true church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the church. But we speak not here of hypocrites, who are mixed in the church with the good, yet are not of the church, though externally in it; but we say that the body and communion of the true church must be distinguished from all sects who call themselves the church. The marks by which the true church is known are these: if pure doctrine is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the church. Hereby the true church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself… As for the false Church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word, but adds to and takes from them, as she thinks proper; she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those, who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry. These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other.” True church theory only became widely employed only after Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century.

So, what is this faithful administration? Well again, like the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, the Protestants don’t agree with each other.

Lutherans claim their sacrament of baptism grants forgiveness of sins. In demurring disagreement, the Reformed claim that through the Lord’s Supper Christ’s “life passes into us and is made oursfalse church and that the recipients of baptism are made external partakers of the New Covenant. Meanwhile, Lutherans claim baptism makes one an internal partaker, as do the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.

Still, the Protestants are nicer. No anathemas, but still unresolved schism. After all, you can’t take the Lord’s Supper in a false church, right? That’s sin.

So whether you identify as Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, your church claims God conveys New Covenant graces to you via your church’s sacraments in a truer way than any other type of church.

 

Ex Opere Operato

Let’s go back to basics for minute. What are the New Covenant graces given to all believers? This won’t take long – they are but three:

  1. forgiveness of sins (Heb. 8:12);
  2. a new heart that produces a walking in obedience to God’s holy law (Heb. 8:10);
  3. a community of persons to worship with who, like you, enjoy the first two benefits. (Heb. 8:11).

These three New Covenant benefits are first promised to Israel in Jeremiah 31, and are presently experienced in the churches.

Most importantly, in the apostolic writings all three graces are a result of the merits of Jesus Christ by His sin-atoning death and resurrection:

“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who
are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”
(Heb. 9:15)

Christ mediates a “faultless covenant,” not one with faults. Unlike the Mosaic Covenant with Israel, it can not be corrupted, minimized, or invalidated by human sin (Heb. 8:6-7). Best of all, the New Covenant is not conditioned upon human obedience. Christ doesn’t bless people with its benefits based on their partial obedience to Him but rather on His own perfect obedience to His Father. To prove how successful He was, the Father raised Him from the dead.

But sacramentarianism takes us back to that same Old Testament corruption, for what of human fault? All sacramentarians agree that human sin hinders the reception of the grace of the sacraments. Our faults, be they unbelief or hardened sin, hinder our reception of New Covenant graces to us offered in the sacraments.

Human fault is also true in those who administer New Covenant graces in the sacraments. Like the Levitical priests of old they all are faulty and die, and some commit awful crimes of pederasty and thievery and adultery and murder. Even if not, all sacramental administrators sin every day.

So how can New Covenant priests and ministers convey the graces of a faultless covenants while being themselves filled with faults?

ex opereSacramental churches solve this problem by claiming God binds Himself ex-opere operato to their church’s sacraments.  Ex-opere operato is a Latin phrase expressing the belief that God gives to the worshipper the grace of the sacrament regardless of the spiritual condition of the one who administers the sacrament. It could be translated, “from the work worked.”[2]Attached to ex opere operato is the slightly different ex opere operantis, which places the efficacy of the sacrament in the recipient moral character, thus rendering the power of sacraments an impossible mix of grace and merit. So while the administrator of the sacrament is faulty the sacrament is not. The administrator, hereby, is not responsible for the power of the sacrament to deliver New Covenant grace. Christ is.

Now of course if there is no New Covenant grace communicated through the sacraments then ex opere operato is moot. After all, in the apostolic writings, not only is there no need for a special administrator, but Christ Himself is ex opere operato.

Baptism is the foundational sacrament in the life of Christian. And yet an apostle of the Christian religion said,

“Christ did not send me to baptize,
but to preach the gospel.”
(1 Cor. 1:17)

Paul’s very definition of being an apostle as “one sent by Christ” did not include the delivering of any New Covenant grace by baptism. Therefore, Christ Himself does not “do the work worked,” as proponents of ex opere operato claim. In an ironic twist, the only ones doing the work worked are the sacramental administrators in all their sins and faults.

Moreover, ex opere operato is a teaching that obscures the faultless nature of the New Covenant.

How so? Millions who have received the sacraments have eternally died in their sins. Yet that is exactly what the graces of New Covenant never allow:

“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who
are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”
(Heb. 9:15)

Hence, ex opere operato replaces the power of New Covenant grace with the weakness of its administrators. Christ’s covenant guarantees eternal life for all who receive its graces based upon His full and perfect obedience to the faulty Mosaic covenant. But all who claim to administrate New Covenant graces through sacraments to people who will eternally die in their sins misrepresent the Mediator and His covenant.

Either Christ did succeed and make permanent the guarantee of eternal life to all those who receive the gospel, or sinful human administrators are the true mediators of the New Covenant, while undermining its very promise.

 

Proprietary Vehicles of Grace

Sacramental churches claim substantial spiritual power – their sacraments are not only ‘vehicles of grace,’ but proprietary vehicles at that. The graces of the New Covenant come through their proprietary formula.

There is some difference in that Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy claim to convey sacerdotal graces through their sacramentally holy priests, while Protestant churches claim to convey ministerial graces through through their properly ordained ministers. But the similarities are striking. Both provide human intermediaries between God and man, promising the faithful a proprietary taste of the New Covenant graces unavailable through the other.

Protestants standing opposed to Rome and uncomfortable with a Lutheran codification of the sacraments tend to follow Calvin who taught that the ministerially bestowed sacraments:

“do not bestow any grace of themselves, but announce and tell us, and (as they are guarantees and tokens) ratify among us, those things given us by divine bounty. The Holy Spirit… is he who brings the graces of God with him, gives him a place for the sacraments among us, and makes them bear fruit.”[3]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed, McNeill, trans. Battles, Westminster, 1960, 4:14:17

Sacerdotally or ministerially, all traditions claim the conveyance of grace to your soul in the sacraments at some level and in some way dependent upon the man who administrates.

But they ought to tell you that whatever grace the sacraments convey is actually dependent on you. If you believe Christ is physically present in the sacrament, then you get that grace. If you do not believe that you receive a grace at some lesser level. It’s whatever they claim a sacrament is and thus what you are to believe it is, based on their testimony.

cheap graceYour faith is determinative of the benefit you get, something akin to a religion entirely by works and not faith. To prove this, ask your priest or minister this question.

“Exactly what grace do I receive in this sacrament?”

Then sit back, because you will learn that it is impossible for them to specifically delineate. It’s squishy, and you’ll discover that it will always depends upon you what you get out if it, ultimately.

But if you’ll go back to the three grace in the New Covenant, you might be surprised in exchange. They are specific and certain, without equivocation. They come to you fully accomplished in the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Nothing depends on you. Just like grace.

Priests and ministers struggle. What are the graces of the sacraments, exactly? Are they some probationary entrance into salvation, or a greater help in being sanctified than those who don’t receive? Do they bring a deeper emotional connectedness to God, or grant special access to powers in the New Covenant unavailable to those who don’t believe hard enough in the sacrament?

Priests and ministers alike will never say because it’s impossible to say. Why? Because the problem is you. You’re the unknown factor. If you aren’t sincere enough or believe exactly what you are taught about the sacrament then its power is mitigated, and perhaps even forfeited. Sacramental grace is lost by a recipient’s unbelief and sin.[4]Actually, the problem is not with you, but due to one factor alone. No apostle ever teaches any grace is delivered through any sacrament in any way, either ministerially or sacerdotally, as I’ll explain below.

So for all the compliments these groups pay to their sacraments, they never give a grace greater than your power to sin. Turns out their claims to sacramental power are, well, only as good as your power of faith. Which means, theologically, their sacraments aren’t connected to the Holy Spirit’s administration of the New Covenant, but to your performance to believe in them as taught.

Therefore, all the sacraments of all the churches through all of Christendom are ultimately powerless against human sin. All these churches must admit that many who regularly partake in their sacerdotal (or ministerially mediated) sacraments do in fact end up in hell, a reality so completely at odds with God’s promise attached to the New Covenant: “they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest….” and “I will remember their sins no more.”

None of the hundreds of thousands of churches and their ministers end up passing along to you a single whit of what they claim – the graces of the New Covenant. Instead, the New Covenant in itself comes from God alone filled with the power to keep you from sinning and out of hell; sacraments can’t.

 

 

Grace and Nature

god adamHere’s our next problem: sacraments ask too much of you. You are responsible to figure out which church gives you the truest and best sacramental grace as opposed to all others. But where will you go for answers?

And as you try to figure that out, you are faced with a problem. There is no teaching from any apostle of Jesus Christ on how much, or how little, grace is in the sacraments.

So now you’ll have to read a vast amount of theological disagreement from over the centuries to make an informed consent choice. And allegedly the condition of your soul, and your blessing in this life, is riding on your choice. Unless, of course, sacramentalism is simply a reflection of man’s fallen religious nature.

god man natureI’ll show that below, and for the moment, I’ll assume that to be the case. But before I do, I’d like to expose the root of the problem in two related categories – grace and nature.

Sacramentalism is the belief that God adds grace to fallen human nature by sacred ritual such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or among some, the laying on of hands.

So, let’s ask. Does God add grace to human nature?

Sure, as long it is unfallen and pure, unlike all of us. Christians believe God did this uniquely in the hypostatic union of Christ. In Christ God joined grace to an untainted and unstained human nature:

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come
upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee:
therefore also that holy thing which shall be born
of thee shall be called the Son of God.
(Luke 1:35, KJV)

But this is not the case with us. We definitely needed grace added to nature – just not our fallen nature. We need a new nature from a new source – the new heart promised us in the gospel.

For the Law was given through Moses;
grace and truth were realized
through Jesus Christ.
(John 1:17)

The Law didn’t add grace to nature, but sin taking opportunity through the Mosaic Law deceived us and killed us. Being dead in sin our sinful nature requires a grace that fights it, subdues it, and overcomes it to some extent. We do not need a grace that improves our fallen nature. Bottom line is that the New Covenant is not a stony heart softened by grace but a new, fleshy heart that has the capacity and desire to obey the word of God.

Beyond that, in sanctification the grace of God works against our nature, not with it. Nature and grace aren’t like eggs and butter which when blended together make a tasty pastry. In us, nature and grace are unmixable, like oil and water. Our sin nature and grace are like magnesium in water, which when co-mingled cause an explosion.

The apostle says fallen nature and grace always fight each other for control:

“Or do you think the Scripture means nothing when it says, ‘The Spirit
that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning’?

But he gives greater grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.”

So submit to God. But resist the devil
and he will flee from you.”
(James 4:5-7, NET)

 

Therefore, sacramentalism, i.e., ritual grace, and sinful fallen human nature are incompatible.

 

Merit and Mysticism

Sacramentalism is also opposed to grace in that sacramental grace is only given to those who merit it. The merit might be in the bishop, the priest, the parent, the pastor, or the recipient, but it always requires some merit in a sinner for it to be given.

But, grace is grace only when freely given to the unworthy based entirely on the free (unconstrained) motives of the Giver, not the administrator, proxy, or recipient. And since sacraments are repeated, they are rituals. Therefore, winfant baptisme are dealing here with opposites.

Grace granted by ritual is programmatic grace, that is, it’s no grace at all. Even if you believe God has pledged Himself in, under, and through the ritual, the ritual still requires human initiation and therefore human obedience. Ritual grace is actually divine obligation to reward the human initiator or recipient of the sacramental ritual.

We’ve violated the terms of the New Covenant. If New Covenant grace is given in response to human obedience, it is no longer grace, but reward. This upends the mediatorial work of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. All New Covenant terms rest in Him and are granted only by His grace, irrespective of any merit or demerit in the recipient (John 1:13, 17).

Recognizing this, some pull back from a full-throated mysticism in the sacraments, preferring a modified mysticism instead.[5]Wikipedia relates the following definition of Christian mysticism: “[T]hat part, or element, of Christian belief and practice that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of […] a direct and transformative presence of God…. The Christian scriptures, insofar as they are the founding narrative of the Christian church, provide many key stories and concepts that become important for Christian mystics in all later generations: practices such as the Eucharist, baptism and the Lord’s Prayer all become activities that take on importance for both their ritual and symbolic values.” Some Protestant churches and others in Free Church traditions, believe God uses certain rituals such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper to draw participants close to the benefits of the New Covenant, but not into full possession of the New Covenant, such as baptismal regeneration. For instance, this is the view of certain Protestants who believe baptism grants to infants an outward promise in the New Covenant but not its actual benefits (i.e., forgiveness and a new heart).[6]One Baptist begins his critique of infant baptism this way: “At the heart of the advocacy and defense of the doctrine of infant baptism is the argument that it is an implication drawn from the comprehensive theological category of the “covenant of grace,” a category which, it is claimed, unites the Scriptures and without which the Bible cannot be understood correctly. In many ways, all other arguments for infant baptism are secondary to this overall line of reasoning. If one can establish the basic continuity of the “covenant of grace” across the canon, then it is the belief of most paedobaptists that their doctrine is biblically and theologically demonstrated. It does not seem to bother them that in the NT there is no express command to baptize infants and no record of any clear case of infant baptism.” However, this does not explain the more fundamental reason for why covenantal theology arose in the first place, which was a sacramental view of New Covenant grace coupled to a forensic understanding of the benefits of Christ’s atonement and resurrection. Otherwise how to explain why Roman Catholics and Orthodox practiced infant baptism for many more centuries than covenant theology has even been in existence? The author’s point that covenantalists are unbothered that the fact that the writings of the apostles provide neither precept nor example for infant baptism is also true of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists. It displays a fundamental difference in how the New Testament is regarded for authority. For a fuller discussion, see Precept and Example.

if you cant feel himYet, even among these Christians is a belief that God uses sacramental ritual to cause believers to actually experience New Covenant benefits. This belief, in both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is shared among Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and some Free Churches, yet not in such as way that they can share the Table.

 

Number

Further, if you are a sacramental Christian, do you know how many sacraments there are, and who told you? Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox claim seven, but disagree with each other on exactly what they are. Protestants claim but two: a properly administered baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Yet never are they grouped together in the apostolic witness.[7]The Latin Vulgate translates “mystery” as “sacramentum” in passages like Eph. 1:9; 3:9; 5:32; Col. 1:27; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rev. 1:20; 17:7. Protestants look to Rom. 4:11 as teaching a “sign and seal” pledge in the sacraments, drawing a connection between Abraham’s circumcision and New Covenant baptism, relying on Rom. 4:11 and Col. 2:11-12 for support. That verse will be examined in detail later, but for now, I would just point out the Colossian text explains the effects of “a circumcision made without hands,” not the effects of a physical circumcision in which human hands were involved. Abraham’s circumcision was the latter, not the former. Furthermore, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox rely upon a class of priests for the efficacy of the sacraments, yet there is no apostolic teaching on a distinct class of priests in the churches.

Therefore, this article will only consider the sacraments all sacramental traditions hold in common, baptism and Lord’s Supper.[8]These two practices, alone among the sacraments, have witness in both precept and example in the apostolic witness.

 

Sacraments and Schism

schism-redThe apostolic theology on the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are penned by Paul, and most importantly, are not written to teach the grace given in them, but are instead part of his rebukes on schism (1 Cor. 1:10-17 and 1 Cor. 11:17-34). If obeyed, these two texts would have prevented schism as is seen everywhere today. And what shall we say? That the texts don’t work? Not at all. They just aren’t believed.

The third text – only two verses – is part of a rebuke of idolatry and it’s ecclesiastical pollution (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

These three texts – and none others – fulfill Christ’s promise to the apostles on sacramentalism, “He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). They are the only extended apostolic teachings on the sacraments, and along with several other smaller texts teach the churches of Christendom “all the truth” concerning the sacraments. Due to Christ’s promise, these writings are Christ’s own view of the sacraments, the only view worth anything since obedient churches obey Christ the cornerstone and His apostles, for they and the alone are the churches’ one foundation (Eph. 2:20).[9]A few other NT texts mention one of these two sacraments and will all be examined below, but are brief in detail and are while facilitating the apostle’s argument in those texts, are not the point of them (i.e, 1 Pet. 3:20-21).

Therefore, I am asserting that the deposit of apostolic doctrine taught in the canonical Scriptures is the only hope to heal the schism sacramentalism has made of the local body of Christ in every place. You’ll just have to believe what they did teach and reject what they didn’t.

apostles keys

In order for this to happen, Christians will need to drop sacramental mysticism for the error it is in order to embrace the local body of Christ. The apostles of Jesus Christ repeatedly taught Christians living near to each other to be unified in the same church with each other, and never once taught on how much grace any sacrament might or might not give. Thus, while explaining in detail the functions and purpose of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as distinctly ecclesial events, the apostles never presented any theology of sacramentarianism.

Thus, those who hold to a faith in sacraments as ‘vehicles of grace’ (or “means of grace”) not only exceed what is written (1 Cor. 4:6), but dismiss the exceedingly clear ethical commands of Christ’s highest servants, the apostles.

For instance, to

all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi,
including the overseers and deacons”
(Phil. 1:1)[10]Philippians is an ecclesiastically themed letter from start to finish that begins with a bang. The full text of verse 1 reveals that the offices of a plurality of elders and deacons is alone the “in Christ Jesus” church governance polity. This mirrors 1 Tim. 3:1-15 exactly, in which only a church with these two offices, in which all office holders are all tested for fittedness, can be the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).

Paul commanded all the saints in Philippi to:

“make my joy complete by being of the same mind,
maintaining the same love, united in spirit,
intent on one purpose”
(Phil. 2:2)

Every single saint in Philippi, under the two offices of qualified elders and deacons, were commanded to unity. And never in the letter is there a hint of the sacraments, as is true in most of the letters to the churches in the NT.

A proper view of sacraments and apostolic teaching will humble your new heart to love “all the saints” where you live and embrace the apostolic church polity of Phil. 1:1.

 

Sacraments as Ecclesiastical, not Mystical

church grass roofAll of this to say that when we look in the New Testament for teaching from the apostles to the churches on sacramental grace we are likely surprised by what is, in fact, a great paucity of detail. Only one church receives instruction on the hows and whys of the sacraments and that instruction is in but one of the two letters to it. Moreover, it is the most disobedient of apostolic churches: Corinth. And yet there is no discussion in it about what baptism and the Lord’s Supper does or doesn’t do for the individual believer. It’s always about how it affects the church.

To recap, the Spirit of God placed His inspired theology of the sacraments for all the churches of this age in a single letter to one church, and in that one letter, He did not guide any apostle of Christ to explain any sacramental benefits to the individual believer.

Why not? In a word, the benefits of the sacraments are not salvific but ecclesiastic. They are divinely aimed at building the body of Christ by experientially binding all believers in that local body to one another. For instance:

“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing
of the blood of Christ? Is not the bread
which we break a sharing of
the body of Christ?

Since there is one bread, we who are many
are one body; for we all partake
of the one bread.
(1 Cor. 10:16-17, NKJV)

In this remarkable passage the apostolic emphasis is not at all about what the individual does or does not spiritually receive in the Lord Supper, but rather what we share with others who are in the body: “we bless… we break… we who are many… we all partake…” The people who comprise the body of Christ are the focus.

Nor does the word “sharing” in 1 Cor. 10:16 contain any meaning that includes absorbing or internally receiving something from outside of oneself. Instead, the word there, koinonia, refers to something quite human: “association, communion, fellowship, close relationship.”[11](BAGD, 438) It involves a sharing in mutual interests.

lords-table-4Hence, Paul is not teaching that the believer who has union with Christ experiences a special form of communion with Christ in the Lord’s Supper, but rather experiences koinonia with the body of Christ, that is, the members of His body who also partake of the bread and cup with him. In no sense does Paul explain this koinonia as an experience or receiving of grace, nor does he teach is simply participating in a common identification as those who profess Christ as Savior and Lord.[12]The Greek of 1 Cor. 10:16 “οὐχὶ κοινωνία ἐστὶν τοῦ αἵµατος τοῦ Χριστοῦ; τὸν ἄρτον ὃν κλῶµεν, οὐχὶ κοινωνία τοῦ σώµατος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐστιν” features an objective genitive which would be understood as, “a fellowship produced by the blood… a fellowship produced by the body…” The alternative, a subjective genitive (“a fellowship which is the blood… which is the body”) must be rejected due to the repeated first-person plurals: “we share,” we break,” etc. Fellowship with Christ is individually appropriated, but Paul is here teaching that the fellowship of believers in the Lord’s Supper is communal.

To enforce this non-mystical understanding of the Lord’s Supper, Paul writes “we all partake of the one bread.” “Partake” is a synonym of koinonia, and simply refers three times in the context to the sharing of a religious or social meal with others (1 Cor. 10:17, 10:21, 10:27-30).[13]οἱ γὰρ πάντες ἐκ τοῦ ἑνὸς ἄρτου µετέχοµεν

There is one other passage on the Lord’s Supper in all the apostolic letters to the churches, and that is found in the next chapter of 1 Corinthians (11:17-34). Like 10:16-17 it contains no teaching about any grace being transmitted to the participants. But like the passage in 10:16-17, it teaches a purely horizontal view of the Lord’s Supper – the body of Christ view.[14]1 Cor. 11 will be examined below in the “Resolving the Lord’s Supper” section. The body of Christ view simply stipulates that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to enforce identity of the participants as members of the body of the Christ, a theological indicative that comes with subsequent imperatives.

Therefore, no apostolic teaching on the Lord’s Supper teaches anything about grace being conveyed in the Lord’s Supper (i.e., New Covenant benefits). And since Jesus gave to the apostles, and them alone “all the truth” for the churches it is inappropriate to teach the churches anything beyond the canon of Scripture (John 16:12-13).[15]This point is defended at length in Apostolic Succession, Tongues, and Prophecy.

Mysticism can too easily slide to the heretical:

“He ate of his own body and drank of his own blood, while he was
pondering on the dead. With his own hands the Lord
presented his own body to be eaten, and before he
was crucified he gave his blood as drink.”[16]Aphrahat the Sage, Treatises 12:6, A.D. 340. This debate on whether Christ ate of the bread appears to be negatively answered in three verses: The bread both Judas and Jesus ate was prior to the 3rd cup of the Passover, the cup of blessing: “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me,” Mat. 26:23. Two – Jesus gave the men with Him the bread and cup, but apparently did not partake Himself: “Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples,” (Mat. 26:26). Lastly, Luke records the following: “when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves;
for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes
(Luke 22:17-18).

Had Jesus (or the disciples) done so, He would have violated the Law of Moses (Lev. 17:14), made a mockery of atonement to a holy God, and required a blood sacrifice for His own sin:

“the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you
on the altar to make atonement for your souls;
for it is the blood by reason of the
life that makes atonement.’

For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life.
Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to
eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of
all flesh is its blood; whoever
eats it shall be cut off.'”
(Lev 17:11, 14)

Instead, the salvific benefits for all believers flow out of the cross and resurrection of Christ, as explained in NT books such as Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. They are entirely obtained by faith that rests upon what the apostles teach concerning those gospel events and not in the symbols representing them. To be explicit, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, while referencing those saving events are not those events and ought not themselves receive faith.

An analogy is a wedding ring. In itself, the ring is not the marriage. Nor does it in itself symbolize any of the events of marriage or married life.

So too, neither do the sacraments pictorialize in themselves the saving events of the gospel. Water baptism in itself does not pictorialize a crucifixion and resurrection from the dead except in the imagination. Nor does the communal taking of a piece of bread along with a sip of wine indicate crucifixion and resurrection, but rather the taking of a communal meal.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper re-present the spiritual accomplishments of Christ so that believers can put faith in in the gospel events themselves, as personally appropriated and experienced by faith. Water baptism re-presents Christ’s spiritual baptism of regeneration in the participating individual while the Lord’s Supper reflects participation in the body and blood by which all the New Covenant grace were procured.

Rightly administered, they teach believers not to think of these things as individuals but as part of the body of Christ.

Therefore, no church and no sacramental administrator mediates the benefits of the cross to believers. Priests, prelates, preachers and presbyters alike are only of value as they minister the truth of the gospel to believers (and wisely govern the church). They do not help the saints by claiming things about the sacraments that oppose the apostles. They prove themselves God’s servants by giving them the Word of God located in the Scripture, alone.

body-of-christThis is seen in the two central passages on the Lord’s Supper in the letters to the churches, 1 Cor. 10:16-17 and 1 Cor. 11:17-34. Nowhere in these texts is there even a hint that a priest or ordained man makes the Lord’s Supper effectual in any way, shape, or form. Instead, it is the body of Christ that makes the event appropriate (1 Cor. 10:17, 11:29). Once this ecclesiastical principle is recognized it eliminates the mysticism attributed to the Lord’s Supper by such men.[17]It is important not to associate the present condition of multiple churches in the same community with the condition of Corinth that Paul wrote to. In Corinth, just as there was one body of Christ so there was one church (1 Cor. 1:2, 11:18. Today where you live there is one body of Christ but many churches, but for the Corinthians the body of Christ was the church. For more on this read Location, Location, Location.

Sacraments, when granted mystical powers, not only require special persons to effect the mystical, but create unconquerable schisms. Yet, the apostles never taught the churches such a thing.

 

Resolving Water Baptism

congrats on baptismThe world of Christendom is divided into only two groups based on water baptism. There are those who believe water baptism confers grace, and those who don’t.

Of the former there are those who believe water baptism confers the full benefits of the New Covenant (i.e., regeneration, forgiveness, and walking in newness of life). Then there are those who view the sacrament of water baptism granting a lesser level of benefits in the New Covenant, such as a disposition to believe and a covenantal/provisional membership among God’s people.

Among those who believe water baptism confers the full benefits of the New Covenant are churches such as Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran. Much less common are churches that only water baptize adults while still believing the baptism yields all the benefits of the New Covenant.[18]Churches connected to the Restoration Movement (Churches of Christ, i.e., Barton-Stone theology), which began in North America in the early 1800s believe this. Yet they are something of an anomaly among churches that believe water baptism grants full New Covenant blessing. They do not believe the person administering the baptism conveys grace, nor their church, but rather the individual believer receives it directly by performing an act of obedience. One of their historians writes, “The most common understanding among Churches of Christ is that it is in the act of baptism, this culminating act of surrender of one’s life to God in faith and obedience, that God, by the merits of Christ’s blood, cleanses one from sin and truly changes the state of the person from an alien to a citizen of God’s kingdom. Baptism is not a work, at least not a human one. It is the place where God performs His work—the work that only He could do. If this constitutes baptismal regeneration, then we are guilty of the charge. It certainly is a sacramental view of baptism. One wonders why the church is necessary at all, and why taking a bath would be sufficient, so long as the individual believed it valid baptism.

Comparatively, churches that don’t teach water baptism as conferring sacramental grace don’t water baptize infants. They only baptize those who can express for themselves a personal desire for baptism. These churches view water baptism as a disciple’s response of obedience to the command of Christ in Mat. 28:19 and the examples of water baptism in the NT, none of which include infants.[19] After reading all the works of the apostolic fathers, Kurt Aland wrote, “We are also given a picture as to how the practice of the churches prior to the close of the second century AD appeared: instruction was given and baptism administered to children when they had attained knowledge, at an age that required cleansing through the awakening of sin and destruction of original purity.” Did the Early Church Baptize Infants?, 107. Likewise, Everett Harrison wrote, “There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century.” Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries,  856. “On 27 June 413 Augustine asserted in a sermon preached in Carthage (sermon 294) that infants must be baptized as soon as possible after birth to free them ‘from the infection of the ancient death drawn from their first birth'” And against murmurings in the congregation he appealed to Cyprian’s teaching (Letter LXIV, 5) in support.” W. H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity, 695, n. 172. From this two points can be drawn. Instructed people in the church did not believe in infant baptism, and the origin of infant baptism is baptismal regeneration.

In this regard then, the mode of baptism is unimportant. The real question is “what do the apostles teach water baptism accomplished”? As long as this question is assumed instead of proven the sin of schism among genuinely regenerated Christians will exist in every community.

If we are to know the grace of Christ in the gospel we must learn what they taught on water baptism, Christ’s baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

 

The Priority of Christ’s Baptism over Water Baptism

dove shellThe real solution to schism on this point is rightly understanding the apostolic teaching on Christ’s baptism of sinners into the New Covenant. As we’ll see, His baptism of sinners is itself baptismal regeneration, and furthermore, always took priority in the apostolic writings as frequently contrasted with a different baptism – water baptism.

Christ’s baptism of believing sinners is differentiated from water baptism at the beginning of the New Testament record by John the Baptist several years prior to Pentecost. By both time and placement in the canon, he made a distinction often forgotten:

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance,
but He who is coming after me is mightier than I…

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
(Mat. 3:11)[20]The “baptism in fire” is not Pentecost tongues but eschatological punishment as explained in Mat. 3:12.

Our point here is to show you how clearly an apostle differentiates the two baptisms, and doesn’t do what some today do – equate the two. The gospel of Mark differentiates John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism in even clearer terms:

“I baptized you with water; but He will
baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
(Mark 1:8)

One occurred in the past, the other had yet to occur.

Luke, a third gospel writer, is just as clear about the priority of the baptism in the Holy Spirit over water baptism:

“As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is
mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong
of His sandals; He will baptize you with
the Holy Spirit and fire.”
(Luke 3:16)

The fourth gospel writer, John, affirms this vast difference by showing that Jesus did not perform water baptisms:

“…when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus
was making and baptizing more disciples than John,
although Jesus Himself was not baptizing,
but His disciples were…”
(John 4:1-2)

This emphasis on the baptism of Christ as far more important than water baptism is directly asserted by Christ Himself to His apostles prior to Pentecost:

“for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with
the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
(Acts 1:5)

pentecost tongues of fireThus Christ promised His baptism as distinct, detached from, and vastly superior to any water baptism performed by men. His baptism never included water and was invisible to human sight. It was given a one-time symbolism of small flames of fire and the speaking of tongues on Pentecost. Tongues continued to be sign of the Holy Spirit’s New Covenant ministry as administered by Christ’s chosen apostles in Acts 8, 10, and 19. This distinction is repeated in Acts 19. There, a group of men had received John the Baptist water baptism but not the baptism of Christ.

Therefore, the gospels and Acts make clear that when a baptism is a water baptism, the context mentions either water, or the human agent performing the water baptism.

Often, it mentions both. For instance, Peter water-baptized the first Gentiles only after Christ gave proof that the man and his family had been Spirit-baptized:

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us
at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used
to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the
Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He
gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ,
who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
(Act 11:15-17)

But normally, Christ’s baptism of a person in the Spirit is invisible. As such, no water and no human agent (administrator) is mentioned in the scriptural contexts where the Spirit-baptism occurs.

These points cannot be emphasized enough since, due to history, many readers of Scripture pre-read passages that include the word “baptism” as necessarily inferring water baptism, even though no water or human agent is mentioned in the context.

Therefore, there is no instance in all the gospel accounts and in the book of Acts where Christ’s baptism in the Spirit and water baptism occur at the same time.

 

What About Acts 2:38: “be baptized in the
name of
Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”

Now, against this it could be argued that Peter taught the that Christ’s baptism and water baptism are simultaneous, after all, isn’t that what he taught the Jewish converts on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2? If so, wouldn’t that prove that the benefits of the New Covenant are bestowed at the time of water baptism?

Actually, that would be incongruous with the “baptismal formula” Peter used. When he said, “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38) he was repeating the same water baptismal formula he learned years earlier from John the Baptist, and as we’ve already seen, John’s water baptism did not bring people into possession of the New Covenant.

Observe the “baptismal formula” John the Baptist used when commanding Jews under the Old Covenant to baptized, and its similarity to Peter’s words to the Jews on Pentecost:

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching
a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
(Mark 1:4)

“he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a
baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
(Luke 3:3)

Did John’s water baptism bring forgiveness of sins from God? No. John’s baptism could not of itself bring about the forgiveness of sins because it took place under God’s established means at the time for forgiveness, the prescribed sacrifices under the Mosaic Covenant (Lev. 4:20, 5:10, etc.).

levitical priestsMoreover, John’s baptism did not lead men away from the divinely instituted law of God, including it’s ceremonial rites for the forgiveness of sins. Rather, it led them into a more exacting obedience to all of God’s law by increasing their spiritual sensitivity to sin, and thus their great need for God’s ordained sacrificial atonements under the Mosaic Law, performed on their behalf.

Thus, John’s ministry did not replace how sins were forgiveness under Moses. Jesus did that: “the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Therefore, John’s baptism led spiritually sensitive Jews to believe in the efficacy of the sacrifices ordained by God in the Levitical system on their behalf.

Jesus did the same. Consider for moment what Jesus required from the man He healed of leprosy:

“See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the
priest and present the offering that Moses
commanded, as a testimony to them.”
(Mat. 8:4)

In no sense whatsoever did the ministries of Jesus or John allow for any skipping over of the Levitical requirements for being cleansed, or forgiven, until the time after the resurrection. If they taught baptism brought forgiveness then they would have averted attention away from the atoning sacrifice God demands and have brought about forgiveness based on a human rite, apart from spiritual sensitivity to personal sin.

So just as John commanded water baptism to men under the Mosaic Covenant for the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness brought about by faith in stipulated temple sacrifices (and not his water baptism), so Peter commanded baptism for the forgiveness of sins provided under the one-time sacrifice of the New Covenant (and not his water baptism).

Based on what Peter learned from John and Jesus he would not have taught that water baptism was a ‘vehicle of grace’ that effected the forgiveness of sins, any more than John believed his water baptism was a ‘vehicle of grace.’ He would have known based on Jesus’ words in Acts 1:5 and Acts 11:15-17 that water baptism in the new age of Christ’s resurrection did not bring the forgiveness of sin any more than John’s water baptism did in the age of Moses’ law. And just as John the Baptist demanded that people demonstrate the fruit of repentance by public confession of sin, so too did Peter. That public fruit was confession of sin followed by water baptism in Acts 2:41.

Thus, it is simply being sensitive to how Peter copied John the Baptist’s “baptismal formula” that comfortably leads to the conclusion that water baptism has no relationship, directly, with Christ’s baptism. The recipient’s spiritual sensitivity to personal sin is a far better indication of regeneration, for as Peter commands in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and each of you be baptized…” Water baptism is only for the already repentant.

 

Heretics and Heresies

repentance and confessionThere are other, perhaps greater, problems with baptismal regeneration. Only heretics believe a sinner can, in working in synchrony of his will, regenerate himself, based on the nature of regeneration and apostolic texts such as,

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to
become children of God, even to those who believe
in His name, who were born not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh, nor of
the will of man, but of God.”
(John 1:13).

pelagBut when sacramentalists believe that water baptism brings with it regeneration they must also believe that regeneration comes through the will of another sinner, the one doing the water baptizing. This makes Christ’s regeneration tied to the work of man  and represents a different gospel than that which Paul gave to the Galatians, and which he condemned.

Priests or pastors who teach that inclusion into the New Covenant comes by their ministry ritual of water baptism interpose themselves as further mediators between God and man, and are taught that their own sins are ignored by God, thus freeing them up to act as mediators. The larger discussion of ex opera operato is founded upon a sacramental view of God’s activity in salvation in which He has bound himself, allegedly, to granting New Covenant benefits through a sinful man’s activities in spite of him being sinful. But 1 Tim. 5:22 teaches that those who lay hands on future elders do, in fact, share in the future sins of the future elder, contra ex opera operato.[21]One online dictionary describes ex opere operato this way: “used of a sacrament considered independently of the merits of the minister or the recipient.”

The New Testament gives a resounding negative example of this heresy. Simon Magus “believes” the gospel (but only in an external fashion) and like the other Samaritans in Acts 8, is baptized in water (Acts 8:13). Is he regenerated by it? No. His request of Peter to buy the Holy Spirit reveals him as an unregenerate man (Acts 8:20-23), and according to several early Christian writers, he became a great heretic.

 

The Apostle Paul Teaches the Churches on Baptism

Having established the priority of Christ’s baptism over water baptism, and having called into question baptismal regeneration by water in the New Covenant, it is now time to examine a number of New Testaments texts often interpreted as if they teach water baptism. Instead, I hope to show they only make sense when understood as teaching Christ’s baptism of regeneration apart from water baptism.

 

Rom. 6:3-5

“do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ
Jesus have been baptized into His death?

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into
death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through
the glory of the Father, so we too might walk
in newness of life.

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His
death, certainly we shall also be in the
likeness of His resurrection.”

Here, Paul connects the saving benefits of the New Covenant to baptism. All (not just “some”) who have experienced the Romans 6 baptism have been both buried and raised to walk in newness of life and is guaranteed resurrection. In other words, if anyone thus baptized does not walk in newness of life, then Christ’s own resurrection is a lie. And if resurrection is a lie, so too is ours.

Question is, which baptism is he writing about?[22]Cranfield, 301, assumes water baptism, as do most older commentators: Lenski, Romans, 392, Calvin, Romans, 220, reprint Hendrickson. More recent commentators have been disagreeing: MacArthur, 320; Lloyd Jones, Romans 6McClain, Romans, 144John Brown, Romans, noting the many assumptions that must read into the text to maintain water baptism.

First, there is no water mentioned in the context, which, given the priority in the apostolic witness to Christ’s baptism above water baptism, ought to be the preferred first reading. And, of course, it alone fits. Those who walk in newness of life are those who are regenerated, and if any one does not walk in newness of life, he is not regenerated.[23]Two Baptists disagree with this approach: “We are asking the wrong question, therefore, if we ask whether Spirit or water baptism is in view in Rom. 6:3-4. Other Pauline texts suggest that water baptism and reception of the Spirit occured at conversion. In my judgment Paul would have been initially puzzled if we asked him, “Do you mean Spirit or water baptism in these verses?” He would reply, when he understood the question, “Both.’ ”  (Schreiner and Wright, Believer’s Baptism, 74ff.) But clearly Paul did not believe each and every person who experienced water baptized was raised to new life in Christ – 2 Cor. 5:20. Further, his protege Luke reported that Christ Himself viewed them as different in time and effect: “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5) Critical to this discussion is Acts 11:15-18). Why would Paul, Luke, and Peter disagree with Christ?

Since Paul says, “do you not know that ALL OF US who have been baptized into Christ Jesus… walk in newness of life,” he expects all who read Romans to know this for a fact. It is to be beyond dispute.

But to this day there are millions who have been water baptized who are Christ’s enemies, living in rebellion to His words. Only Christ’s baptism results in the spiritual benefit of walking in newness of life and reconciliation with God. Paul assumed EVERY Christian in Rome knew what he wrote about: “do you not know…” (v. 3, cf. Rom. 1:7).

But how did he know each and every Christian in Rome had been water baptized? Or how did he know every water baptized person in Rome walked in newness of life when he warned the Christians in Rome about schismatics and heretics who appeared as Christians among them (Rom. 16:17-18)? Indeed, Paul’s promises on baptism are Christ’s promises on baptism and as such are rock-solid. So when he connects baptism to the certainty of resurrection in Rom. 6:5, it can only refer to Spirit-baptism since many who are water baptized will not be in the resurrection of Christ’s redeemed.

Based on these factors, and the fact that no human is mentioned in the context as administrating this baptism, this passage can only be speaking of Christ’s baptism unto regeneration, not water baptism.

 

1 Corinthians 12:13

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free,
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

allHere the result of baptism is two-fold: ALL are baptized into “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27), and ALL have been regenerated, which is the meaning of the last phrase, “made to drink of one Spirit.”

Although harsh in our English, the original language begin the verse with the word “in” instead of “by” (“in one Spirit”) making clear that Christ is the baptizer since the Spirit cannot be both the agent and the source of the baptism.[24]”In the NT ἐν with βαπτίζειν never designates the one who performs the baptism; on the contrary, it always indicates the element in which the baptisand is immersed…” James Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 128. This makes the verse rather straightforward: it is Christ who baptizes people into His local body, and everyone who is thus baptized drinks of the one Spirit, i.e.., – all are spiritually unified. Thus we see the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit in the local body of Christ in Corinth.

no baptizerNo human mediator is mentioned in the text, nor is water, Thus, this verse can only be speaking of Christ’s baptism since Christ’s baptism takes precedence when those items are missing. As well, to be a part of the body of Christ is not an external association, but to be a full recipient of all the New Covenant blessings (Eph. 3:6). That cannot be said of all those who receive water baptism. [25]Fee, the Pentecostal, is among modern commentators who reject water baptism since the text ‘specifically says “baptized in the Spirit,” and “Paul is referring to their common experience of conversion,” 604; so also the anti Pentecostal MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, 311. So also Earnest Best (Church of Scotland), One Body in Christ, 73; Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 129

Moreover, drinking of the Spirit reflects the ascended ministry of the Christ who comforts His own with His Spirit, who is also called “another Comforter” (John 14:16, cf. John 7:37-39). Those who believe in baptismal regeneration rarely if ever allow for such guaranteed benefits as stated in the baptism of 1 Cor. 12:13. For in the case of those water baptized but who later apostatize, how can it be said they were made to drink of one Spirit?

We’ll return to this verse later.

 

Galatians 3:26-29

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

For all of you who were baptized into
Christ have clothed yourselves
with Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor
free man, there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And if you belong to Christ, then you are
Abraham’s descendants, heirs
according to promise.”

everyoneNotice again the universals: “you are ALL sons of God… ALL of you…. You are ALL one.” So, what the “baptism into Christ” effects for one it effects for ALL, and what it effects is full sonship to God and belonging to Christ. Sonship comes with inalienable rights and promises, such as full and permanent inclusion as belonging to Christ, according to promise (v. 29). In other words, if even one person thus baptized fails to attain the promise of eternal salvation then the fault lies in an ineffective baptism, thus placing the fault in God, not the sinner.

If this verse referred to water baptism then how could it explain those who fall away? In their case it could not be said “they clothed themselves with Christ.” Again, this verse makes universal promises, has no mention of water, and no mention of a human administrator. Instead, it specifically says “baptized into Christ,” that is, fully placed into the benefits of the Covenant ratified by Christ, the New Covenant.

One other point. If this verse teaches water baptism, then the promise mentioned at the end of v. 29 connects faith to a promise of pledged benefits of water baptism. But water baptism is a sign, not the reality. On the other hand, if the promise of v. 29 is the promise of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then Paul is teaching faith in the reality of the gospel. They are not the same, for as Paul says, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17).[26]”If Paul believed that baptism merely replaced circumcision. He almost certainly would have made such an argument in Galatians…” Schreiner, Galatians, 257.

“The gospel brought salvation to Corinth,
but baptism brought division.”[27]James D.G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 119

 

Ephesians 4:5

“one Lord, one faith, one baptism”

Although most commentators takes “faith’ here to be doctrinal faith, others believe ‘faith’ makes better sense here as an act of saving faith in the ‘one Lord,’ and the result of that faith is Christ’s supernatural, ‘one baptism.’[28]Hoehner, Ephesians, 517

But there is one obvious reason to go with the minority. Those regenerate commentators who do take ‘faith” to be objective doctrinal content rarely agree with each other on exactly what that doctrinal faith exactly refers to, thus nullifying the verse’s claim of “one faith.”

saving faithIn distinction, there is only one kind of faith that saves, and there really is only one baptism that every single Christian receives – baptism in Christ’s Holy Spirit. After all, some Christians die before being being water baptized, but still belong to Christ as much as those that are water baptized.

 

Colossians 2:11-12

“in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made
without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh
by the circumcision of Christ;

having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were
also raised up with Him through faith in
the working of God, who raised
Him from the dead.”

foreskin of heartPaul prefaces his theology of baptism with a discussion, not of physical circumcision, but spiritual circumcision, that is, God’s supernatural work of regeneration on a human heart: “a circumcision made without hands… the circumcision of Christ.” This is then renamed baptism: “having been buried with Him in baptism” which results in an assured spiritual resurrection: “you were raised up with Him.”

Not only is there no water is mentioned in the verse, there is no human agent effecting a water baptism. Instead, all emphasis in this text is what God alone does and nothing whatsoever on what is done by man. Those who read a water baptism in this text are guilty of reading their own theology into the text, for the only possible baptism mentioned here is Christ’s supernatural baptism.[29]Moo, Colossians, 200.

 

Summary

Therefore, the apostolic teaching on baptism to the churches, which are generally assumed to teach water baptism, teach Christ’s baptism instead. The reasons why are simple. The priority of Christ’s baptism in the canonical gospels requires we first read any text mentioning baptism as Christ’s baptism. This is corroborated by observing the many New Testament baptismal texts that clearly reference water baptism, as they all feature a contextual mention of water and/or a human agent doing the baptism (i.e., 1 Cor. 1:14-17, Acts 19:4-5).

All the texts examined above universally ascribed the full benefits of the New Covenant to ALL baptized persons. These factors ought to lead all Christians to reject a mystical theology of baptism at every level, since only heretics believe that all who are water baptized go to heaven. This includes the renunciation of infant baptism as well.

“The general assumption that Paul always has water baptism in mind when he discusses baptism may be incorrect; he sometimes seems to be employing the word metaphorically to refer to conversion. Novel though this suggestion may seem, a metaphorical use of the term (or cognate expressions) already occurs in the Gospels (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50), as well as in Paul’s writings. (1 Cor. 6:11, 10:2, cf. Eph. 5:26) The passages certainly make excellent sense if interpreted along these lines. Metaphorically the word signifies an overwhelming experience of some kind, so it provides a very appropriate and vivid shorthand description of regeneration. It also explains those places where baptism is juxtaposed with other metaphors, e.g., death and burial (Rom 6:3-4), and putting on clothing (Gal 3:27). The combining of literal and metaphorical elements can be awkward, whereas the mixing of metaphors is a common (and quite Pauline) procedure. Certainly the allusion to baptism by the Spirit in 1 Cor 12 fits more naturally into this interpretation (1 Cor 12:13), and the isolated mention of baptism in Ephesians (Eph 4:5), alongside such spiritual realities as “faith,” “hope,” and the heavenly “body” and unaccompanied by any reference to the Lord’s “meal,” looks less out of place.”[30]Paul Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, 78-79.

 

What About “Baptism Saves You?”

In 1 Peter 3:21 we read,

“Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you– not the re-
moval of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for
a good conscience– through the res-
urrection of Jesus Christ…”

While sacramentalists appear to find support for New Covenant salvation by water baptism in this text, they will never allow it to stand as written. No one but arch-heretics believe that all who are baptized go to heaven thereby. In fact, all sacramentarians steadfastly believe a baptized person can lose any salvation allegedly obtained by water baptism by unrepentant sin. Therefore, all sacramentalists refuse to believe that Peter actually means “baptism saves you.”[31]It is certain that here Peter is writing about water baptism here due to the phrase “the removal of dirt from the flesh” and the phrase in the prior verse that includes the word “water.” The mention of Noah also makes it certain that water baptism is in mind.

baptism savesIt is possible Peter that was referring to man’s rebellious fleshly nature. If so, it would explain why he used the word “flesh”[32](σὰρξ, sarx, thus highlighting man’s rebellious nature to God, 1 Pet. 1:24, 2:11) instead of “body.”[33](σῶµά, soma) But the use of ‘flesh” in the surrounding verses suggests that baptism is better understood as an act of submission to God performed by those who fear God’s coming judgment (1 Peter 3:18, 4:1-2). If they do get baptized according to a different understanding, there is no promise of salvation that can be connected to it.

Thus Peter is teaching that water baptism saves those who already believe that they have been separated out from the realm of judgment and are attached to God’s act of salvation in Christ. His words could be reworked this way: “baptism now separates you out from God’s coming judgment on the world through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand…”

We can see this another way. Unlike all other NT writers Peter does not place water baptism in an ecclesiastical context, that is, his letter is not written to one or many churches, but to individual Christians (1 Peter 1:1-2). This is quite telling.

Peter references water baptism as strictly between the individual and the God who condemned almost all humanity at the flood of Noah. Before Him, Peter reaches for the conscience, right now, even this moment. Water baptism “now saves you,” and therefore is at every present moment “an appeal to God for a good conscience.”

experience baptismThe appeal comes in the form of ongoing obedience to the direct commands of Christ, which begins with being water baptized (i.e., Mat. 28:19, Acts 2:38). In water baptism the individual Christian publicly inaugurates a discipleship experience as a pilgrim whose home is not this world but the next (1 Peter. 2:11), believing Jesus is resurrected and will one day execute judgment on the unbelieving world. But baptism is only the beginning of a life of rightly relating to Christ’s commands as an individual.

 

Hearing the Longest Teaching on Water Baptism

Paul’s famous statement, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” concludes the longest section on baptism in any NT text and makes several strong points (1 Cor. 1:13-17). Many believers have seen in it a repudiation of a sacramental theology that claims water baptism is the mechanism by which New Covenant benefits are granted.

Paul’s apostolic gospel has no room for water baptism since all the graces come through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4). And he claims that all the apostles agree with him:

“Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed”
(1 Cor. 15:11)

But that isn’t Paul’s reason why he mentions water baptism in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. Healing the incipient schism in the church of Corinth is.

“I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that you all agree and that there be no schisms among
you, but that you be made complete in the same
mind and in the same judgment.”
(1 Cor. 1:10)

Schism mutilates the body of Christ:

“Is Christ divided?”
(1 Cor. 1:13)

The answer from all Christians ought to be a resounding “NO!” but sadly, Christians are all too willing to sustain schism by attaching themselves to the men who baptize them:

“Paul was not crucified for you, was he?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
(1 Cor. 1:13)

Paul foresaw that baptism would be the ultimate tool of schism if Christians began to view it as providing an ecclesiastical identity to something other than the body of Christ:

“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.”
(1 Cor. 1:14-15)

everybody gets baptizedConsider how radical Paul’s words to the practices of present day priests, presbyters, and pastors. Paul baptized but a few, but lesser ministers through history have baptized as many as they could, including infants. Paul couldn’t remember exactly who he baptised, but for centuries baptismal statistics have been kept to keep that exact “problem” from happening.[34]In the first four centuries of Christianity, the literature on baptism clearly shows how, in the majority of instances, it was persons of responsible age (generally adults and grown children) who were recipients of baptism. Emergency baptism and the eventual linking of baptism to circumcision, as well as the fact that baptism was believed to remove sin, occasioned the extension of baptism to small children and finally to infants. Though some authors (Tertullian and Gregory of Nazianzus) opposed this development, others (Cyprian) strongly advocated this trend, contending that no one is to be deprived of salvation and all the gifts of God’s grace. Within this theological framework, baptism became (especially in the way it is formulated by Chrysostom) the most exclusive donator of Christian blessings. The symbol became the actual means. The rite of baptism itself, rather than Christ, became the guarantee of eternal salvation.” Stander and Louw, Baptism in the Early Church, 183-84.

traditionSadly, water baptism is the tool by which ecclesiastical distinction is maintained. The more people who are baptized into a particular church tradition, the larger that tradition grows in numbers and influence. Such as, “baptized Catholic, always Catholic.” But Paul, in speaking of Christ as divided by schism in 1:13, wanted to be sure the Corinthian Christians understood his water baptism of persons was not to form one form set of Christians in Corinth who would not be one body and one church with all the other Christians baptized by others. Just the opposite.

Since water baptism confers no New Covenant spiritual benefits, Paul presents Christ’s baptism in 1 Cor. 12:13 as that divine action which places all sorts of persons, without distinctions, into the one local body of Christ:

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free,
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
(1 Cor. 12:13)

This verse does not speaking of baptism into the universal body of Christ, but into the local body of Christ, the body of Christ in Corinth. The surrounding verses describe the body of Christ as a functioning unit that ministers to itself with a variety of gifts, things that cannot be said of the universal body. Paul’s lengthy discussion ends with this conclusion, “you are the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27).

Water baptism then, as the visible counterpart to the invisible spiritual baptism of Christ, does not symbolize inclusion into any one church, but rather full inclusion in the body of Christ. Such is its powerful ecclesiastical function, and why individualism is so unbiblical.

Healing schism will require a higher estimation of the local body of Christ over and above all separate church traditions, an estimation that will be displayed in a water baptism that recognizes each one baptized as full members of the local body.

 

Resolving the Lord’s Supper

In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said, “take, eat, this is My body” (Mat. 26:26).

But obviously He was not referring to His literal flesh and blood body, for His apostles did not eat that, but instead the bread He held in His hands and distributed to them. And in the only location in the NT writings where an apostle instructs a church on proper practice of the Lord’s Supper, Paul referred back to the original event the night before Jesus was crucified, not to the subsequent sacrifice of His body on the cross the next day (1 Cor. 11:23-25). For Jesus to have said the bread is Jesus would have been as nonsensical as it would have been for Jesus to say, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” and meant the cup itself was the New Covenant.

If this sounds naïve or simplistic, it isn’t. Neither Roman Catholics nor Eastern Orthodox believe it either. First, because, well, the majority just don’t. But if that doesn’t hold any water (or blood) with you, consider what Catholics and Orthodox actually do claim their tradition teaches. Turning to John 6, Jesus says,

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
(John 6:54-58)

But no well-instructed Catholic or Orthodox Christian believes these “naked” promises of Jesus:

  • “if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (v. 51)
  • “has eternal life” (v. 54)
  • “I will raise him up on the last day”  (v. 54)
  • “He… abides in Me and I in him” (v. 56)
  • “he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me” (v. 57)
  • “he who eats this bread will live forever.” (v. 58)

Instructed followers in these communions know their theology makes Jesus’ promises conditional. They add “only if”  to Jesus’ words, such as “only if the man is not unrepentant for a mortal sin will he live forever.”

  • “if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever only if he doesn’t remain impenitent”
  • “has eternal life only if he obeys and confesses”
  • “I will raise him up on the last day only if he doesn’t sin mortally”
  • “He… abides in Me and I in him only if he doesn’t stray too far”
  • “he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me only if he continues…”
  • “he who eats this bread will live forever only if he loves me enough.”

No Catholic or Orthodox Christian can accept Jesus’ words in sacred Scripture as recorded and remain in their church in good faith.

Which means even they don’t believe their sacraments are able to deliver what Jesus spoke about in John 6. And after all, not a one of His disciples obeyed Jesus that day, if obedience meant eating His body and drinking His blood. If that was obedience all were equally and fully disobedient, and none followed Him. But in fact Peter did obey, not by eating Jesus’ body, but by believing his word (John 6:68-69). That, and not taking the Lord’s Supper, is the challenge Jesus desires in the Bread of Life discourse. Just to take Jesus at His word.

ortho-crossIt is, therefore, anachronistic to interpret the churches’ practice of the Lord’s Supper as in some sense receiving or fellowshipping with the sacrificed Christ either spiritually or physically. To believe that is to nullify the form and timing in which it was instituted by Christ Himself. In saying, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life,” Jesus was not referring to the Lord’s Supper, for His words would been unintelligible to those listening and of whom He was demanding immediate obedience. They could not have obeyed at that moment without breaking Mosaic law regulations on eating human flesh (Lev. 17:14).

Transubstantiation requires a Jesus who tempts His fellow Jews to break God’s law for the Jews. But Christ was speaking of a faith that takes  in all of Himself as He speaks of Himself (i.e., in His entirety and by faith alone), the type of faith Catholic and Orthodox Christians are most unwilling to exercise in His unadorned promises in John 6:54-58.[35]One other point here. John’s gospel is sufficient to teach all things necessary to know for eternal life (John 20:31), and though John could have written many other things, he chose not to, knowing they were not critical to receiving eternal life (John 21:25). Thus, John does not include the institution of the Lord’s Supper in his gospel. One man writes, “John’s Gospel was the second most distributed Gospel in the early church. Most people did not have even one Gospel. Even today, it is distributed alone. Many times this is all they would have. Now this is unremarkable until you put yourself in the mind of John through his own world. He could have written many other things, he says. He does not say, “but you have the other Gospels, epistles, and traditions, therefore, I did not write these things. He says, “These have been written that you may have life.” One does not even have to read between the lines to see that John thought his message was sufficient. But this cannot be if Rome is right and that a right practice and belief in the Mass is essential. So I would not downplay this Gospel. It was widely distributed in the early church for a reason.”

As discussed above, the Lord’s Supper is meant to enable all the individual members of the body of Christ to participate with each other in worship as expressed in the word “sharing” (greek: koinonia) in 1 Cor. 10:16-17. If one part of the local body of Christ is prevented from participation in the Lord’s Supper, Paul denies that it is the Lord’s Supper being practiced:

“Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,
for in your eating each one takes his own supper first;
and one is hungry and another is drunk.”
(1 Cor. 11:20-21)

That is to say, the result of schism and heresy results in persons who “despise the church of God” (1 Cor. 11:18, 22) and knowingly exclude genuinely regenerate members of the body of Christ from a unified practice of the Lord’s Supper. This is what Paul refers to when he states,

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the
Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of
the body and the blood of the Lord.”
(1 Cor. 11:27)

Paul wasn’t referring to a Christian struggling with a pattern of sin when he writes of an “unworthy manner,” or to those who don’t believe Jesus is in the host, but to persons who deliberately excluded others from the Lord’s Table for whom Christ died. He,

“eats and drinks judgment to himself if
he does not judge the body rightly,

(that is, the body of Christians)[36]Our modern individualism does not make it easy to realize that he is speaking here with the same passion as when he told the liberals that by sinning against the brotherhood they were sinning against Christ himself. How could one worship the Lord at the sacred supper, if he was rude and selfish in treating a poor slave or tradesman or dock labourer, some brother for whose sake Christ had died ? Such conduct is pronounced far worse than discourtesy ; it is positive irreverence, a profane caricature of the sacrament, which shuts off any worshipper from the Lord, even though he may eat his loaf and drink his cup of wine in the Lord’s name. Such a breach of love and brotherhood is denounced as a proof that there was no proper sense of the Body (verse 29) to which worshippers professed to belong and in which they were outwardly celebrating a festival of fellowship. The urgency of Paul’s instructions on this point falls out of focus, unless it is placed in line with what he had already written on corporate fellowship in 1:10f., 6:9-13, and 10:17, 23-33, as well as with what he intends to write in 12-14. The shameful, shocking feature is not an irreverent use of the communion elements (as we call them), but irreverence to God in the person of his Church; disrespect is shown to him by this open contempt for his poorer members. Such a gross violation of charity and kindness is another (3:17) form of sacrilege, as Paul views it.” Moffatt, First Corinthians, pp. 161-62.

for this reason many among you are weak
and sick, and a number sleep,”
(1 Cor. 11:29-30).

(such is the ongoing punishment for excluding
others who belong to the Lord’s Supper)

“but if we judged ourselves rightly,
we would not be judged”
(1 Cor. 11:31).[37]The word “judge” is the same in both v. 29 and 31 and refers to distinguishing something good from something bad. Obviously no one takes the bread in the Lord’s Supper, thinking some of it is good and some of it is bad. Rather, both v. 29 and 31 refer to a member of the body of Christ in Corinth who treats some members as good (and eats the Lord’s Supper with them) but other members as bad (and does not eat with them).

cross roadWhat then is Paul teaching the church in Corinth about the special spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper? Nothing. For Paul, the Lord’s Supper is meant to establish the body of Christ as a unified group of believers, not to bring about an increased spirituality of the individual worshipper.

The words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16 ought to be translated as the,

“communion of the blood of Christ,” and “communion of the body of Christ” (KJV). The word translated “communion ” (κοινωνία), may also be translated “fellowship,” meaning a group of people bound together in a “communion” or “fellowship” by what they have in common with each other.

It may also be interpreted to mean “brought about by” or “based upon.” Translated in this way Paul is saying, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the fellowship which is brought about by the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, it not the fellowship brought about by the body of Christ?”

The Lord’s Supper, then, is understood to witness to the fact that Christians belong to a special family which includes the Son and the Father (cf. 1 John 1:3) and is marked by unity and love. It is a communion which required the death of Christ to create, and which is so close that it is as though believers were one body: “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17).[38]Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia, 3:985

This understanding of communion doesn’t struggle with the many claims made about what grace is and isn’t granted in the eucharist. It preserves all the benefits of the New Covenant as accomplished by Christ in His cross and resurrection.

Participating in it doesn’t require extensive delving into the meaning of signs, symbols, and seals, nor what is meant by actual presence, real presence, transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or the fifty other ideas culled from 2,000 years of history. Actually, these doctrines make the purpose of the Lord’s Table the improvement of the individual’s faith in whatever theory of the atonement is offered by the church.

But in the fellowship meal view, the Lord’s Supper is rather about the unity and love of local body of Christ, where the individual believer is taught to esteem that body over his own preferences.

 

Conclusion

spiritualOne way out of the schism created by sacraments is to go individualistic and personally design your own sacramental church, just for you! That’s what one lady recently did by converting to North American Episcopalianism and baptizing one of their (Protestant) churches with seven sacraments (forgive the pun).[39]The 25th article of the Church of England limits the number of the sacraments to two. But of course, isn’t that what got us into this mess into the first place?

No passage in the apostolic deposit enumerates sacraments.

Nor did the apostles teach that any sacramental rite possesses the power to convey even one New Covenant benefit. Instead, Jesus promised them that He, through the Holy Spirit, would see to it they received “all the truth” the churches would need for obedience for the present age. By this deposit they could all stand fully assured in all the will of God.

Our schism has come because men were not satisfied with Christ’s promise to them and with what they wrote from the Holy Spirit. They’ve wanted more than His promise obtained by faith alone in Christ’s death and resurrection alone because they were unbelieving.

So instead of all of us who are genuinely in the body of Christ being bound together by baptism and the Lord’s Supper the opposite has happened.

Schism.

If we had humbled ourselves we would have learned from them that water baptism is a tool, along with the Lord’s Supper, for the healing of schism where we live. And today, if we will love one another as commanded by Christ, we will see to it that every single last person who is in the body of Christ where we live by His supernatural and invisible baptism MUST be together every Sunday, celebrating the Lord’s Supper as one. It’s obedience to the Head of our body.

But in order for that to legitimately occur whole churches where you live will have to drop their sacramental theology and merge so the body of Christ can identify itself and participate among itself, as taught by Paul. Until that time, those churches that do not hold to sacramentalism can make the merge by following Paul’s teaching in Titus 1:5 – one group of qualified elders per city. Those that do will need to embrace the apostolic writings, and not their own subsequent traditions, as the sole source of Christ’s authority.

Such participation among Christians knows no mysticism and hence no schism. Koinonia with your brothers and sisters in Christ is not something invisible and feelings oriented. It is flesh and blood people like yourself responding in obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ in Scripture together, without imputing to the sacraments sacramentalism.

 

To read how the apostles made this happen, please read Paul’s Reformation on Crete, and The Ephesian Mandate.

 

References   [ + ]

1. The Belgic Confession, Article 29, states “We believe that we ought diligently and circumspectly discern from the Word of God which is the true church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the church. But we speak not here of hypocrites, who are mixed in the church with the good, yet are not of the church, though externally in it; but we say that the body and communion of the true church must be distinguished from all sects who call themselves the church. The marks by which the true church is known are these: if pure doctrine is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the church. Hereby the true church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself… As for the false Church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word, but adds to and takes from them, as she thinks proper; she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those, who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry. These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other.” True church theory only became widely employed only after Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century.
2. Attached to ex opere operato is the slightly different ex opere operantis, which places the efficacy of the sacrament in the recipient moral character, thus rendering the power of sacraments an impossible mix of grace and merit.
3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed, McNeill, trans. Battles, Westminster, 1960, 4:14:17
4. Actually, the problem is not with you, but due to one factor alone. No apostle ever teaches any grace is delivered through any sacrament in any way, either ministerially or sacerdotally, as I’ll explain below.
5. Wikipedia relates the following definition of Christian mysticism: “[T]hat part, or element, of Christian belief and practice that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of […] a direct and transformative presence of God…. The Christian scriptures, insofar as they are the founding narrative of the Christian church, provide many key stories and concepts that become important for Christian mystics in all later generations: practices such as the Eucharist, baptism and the Lord’s Prayer all become activities that take on importance for both their ritual and symbolic values.”
6. One Baptist begins his critique of infant baptism this way: “At the heart of the advocacy and defense of the doctrine of infant baptism is the argument that it is an implication drawn from the comprehensive theological category of the “covenant of grace,” a category which, it is claimed, unites the Scriptures and without which the Bible cannot be understood correctly. In many ways, all other arguments for infant baptism are secondary to this overall line of reasoning. If one can establish the basic continuity of the “covenant of grace” across the canon, then it is the belief of most paedobaptists that their doctrine is biblically and theologically demonstrated. It does not seem to bother them that in the NT there is no express command to baptize infants and no record of any clear case of infant baptism.” However, this does not explain the more fundamental reason for why covenantal theology arose in the first place, which was a sacramental view of New Covenant grace coupled to a forensic understanding of the benefits of Christ’s atonement and resurrection. Otherwise how to explain why Roman Catholics and Orthodox practiced infant baptism for many more centuries than covenant theology has even been in existence? The author’s point that covenantalists are unbothered that the fact that the writings of the apostles provide neither precept nor example for infant baptism is also true of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists. It displays a fundamental difference in how the New Testament is regarded for authority. For a fuller discussion, see Precept and Example.
7. The Latin Vulgate translates “mystery” as “sacramentum” in passages like Eph. 1:9; 3:9; 5:32; Col. 1:27; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rev. 1:20; 17:7. Protestants look to Rom. 4:11 as teaching a “sign and seal” pledge in the sacraments, drawing a connection between Abraham’s circumcision and New Covenant baptism, relying on Rom. 4:11 and Col. 2:11-12 for support. That verse will be examined in detail later, but for now, I would just point out the Colossian text explains the effects of “a circumcision made without hands,” not the effects of a physical circumcision in which human hands were involved. Abraham’s circumcision was the latter, not the former.
8. These two practices, alone among the sacraments, have witness in both precept and example in the apostolic witness.
9. A few other NT texts mention one of these two sacraments and will all be examined below, but are brief in detail and are while facilitating the apostle’s argument in those texts, are not the point of them (i.e, 1 Pet. 3:20-21).
10. Philippians is an ecclesiastically themed letter from start to finish that begins with a bang. The full text of verse 1 reveals that the offices of a plurality of elders and deacons is alone the “in Christ Jesus” church governance polity. This mirrors 1 Tim. 3:1-15 exactly, in which only a church with these two offices, in which all office holders are all tested for fittedness, can be the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
11. (BAGD, 438)
12. The Greek of 1 Cor. 10:16 “οὐχὶ κοινωνία ἐστὶν τοῦ αἵµατος τοῦ Χριστοῦ; τὸν ἄρτον ὃν κλῶµεν, οὐχὶ κοινωνία τοῦ σώµατος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐστιν” features an objective genitive which would be understood as, “a fellowship produced by the blood… a fellowship produced by the body…” The alternative, a subjective genitive (“a fellowship which is the blood… which is the body”) must be rejected due to the repeated first-person plurals: “we share,” we break,” etc. Fellowship with Christ is individually appropriated, but Paul is here teaching that the fellowship of believers in the Lord’s Supper is communal.
13. οἱ γὰρ πάντες ἐκ τοῦ ἑνὸς ἄρτου µετέχοµεν
14. 1 Cor. 11 will be examined below in the “Resolving the Lord’s Supper” section. The body of Christ view simply stipulates that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to enforce identity of the participants as members of the body of the Christ, a theological indicative that comes with subsequent imperatives.
15. This point is defended at length in Apostolic Succession, Tongues, and Prophecy.
16. Aphrahat the Sage, Treatises 12:6, A.D. 340. This debate on whether Christ ate of the bread appears to be negatively answered in three verses: The bread both Judas and Jesus ate was prior to the 3rd cup of the Passover, the cup of blessing: “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me,” Mat. 26:23. Two – Jesus gave the men with Him the bread and cup, but apparently did not partake Himself: “Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples,” (Mat. 26:26). Lastly, Luke records the following: “when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves;
for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes
(Luke 22:17-18).
17. It is important not to associate the present condition of multiple churches in the same community with the condition of Corinth that Paul wrote to. In Corinth, just as there was one body of Christ so there was one church (1 Cor. 1:2, 11:18. Today where you live there is one body of Christ but many churches, but for the Corinthians the body of Christ was the church. For more on this read Location, Location, Location.
18. Churches connected to the Restoration Movement (Churches of Christ, i.e., Barton-Stone theology), which began in North America in the early 1800s believe this. Yet they are something of an anomaly among churches that believe water baptism grants full New Covenant blessing. They do not believe the person administering the baptism conveys grace, nor their church, but rather the individual believer receives it directly by performing an act of obedience. One of their historians writes, “The most common understanding among Churches of Christ is that it is in the act of baptism, this culminating act of surrender of one’s life to God in faith and obedience, that God, by the merits of Christ’s blood, cleanses one from sin and truly changes the state of the person from an alien to a citizen of God’s kingdom. Baptism is not a work, at least not a human one. It is the place where God performs His work—the work that only He could do. If this constitutes baptismal regeneration, then we are guilty of the charge. It certainly is a sacramental view of baptism. One wonders why the church is necessary at all, and why taking a bath would be sufficient, so long as the individual believed it valid baptism.
19. After reading all the works of the apostolic fathers, Kurt Aland wrote, “We are also given a picture as to how the practice of the churches prior to the close of the second century AD appeared: instruction was given and baptism administered to children when they had attained knowledge, at an age that required cleansing through the awakening of sin and destruction of original purity.” Did the Early Church Baptize Infants?, 107. Likewise, Everett Harrison wrote, “There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century.” Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries,  856. “On 27 June 413 Augustine asserted in a sermon preached in Carthage (sermon 294) that infants must be baptized as soon as possible after birth to free them ‘from the infection of the ancient death drawn from their first birth'” And against murmurings in the congregation he appealed to Cyprian’s teaching (Letter LXIV, 5) in support.” W. H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity, 695, n. 172. From this two points can be drawn. Instructed people in the church did not believe in infant baptism, and the origin of infant baptism is baptismal regeneration.
20. The “baptism in fire” is not Pentecost tongues but eschatological punishment as explained in Mat. 3:12.
21. One online dictionary describes ex opere operato this way: “used of a sacrament considered independently of the merits of the minister or the recipient.”
22. Cranfield, 301, assumes water baptism, as do most older commentators: Lenski, Romans, 392, Calvin, Romans, 220, reprint Hendrickson. More recent commentators have been disagreeing: MacArthur, 320; Lloyd Jones, Romans 6McClain, Romans, 144John Brown, Romans, noting the many assumptions that must read into the text to maintain water baptism.
23. Two Baptists disagree with this approach: “We are asking the wrong question, therefore, if we ask whether Spirit or water baptism is in view in Rom. 6:3-4. Other Pauline texts suggest that water baptism and reception of the Spirit occured at conversion. In my judgment Paul would have been initially puzzled if we asked him, “Do you mean Spirit or water baptism in these verses?” He would reply, when he understood the question, “Both.’ ”  (Schreiner and Wright, Believer’s Baptism, 74ff.) But clearly Paul did not believe each and every person who experienced water baptized was raised to new life in Christ – 2 Cor. 5:20. Further, his protege Luke reported that Christ Himself viewed them as different in time and effect: “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5) Critical to this discussion is Acts 11:15-18). Why would Paul, Luke, and Peter disagree with Christ?
24. ”In the NT ἐν with βαπτίζειν never designates the one who performs the baptism; on the contrary, it always indicates the element in which the baptisand is immersed…” James Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 128.
25. Fee, the Pentecostal, is among modern commentators who reject water baptism since the text ‘specifically says “baptized in the Spirit,” and “Paul is referring to their common experience of conversion,” 604; so also the anti Pentecostal MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, 311. So also Earnest Best (Church of Scotland), One Body in Christ, 73; Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 129
26. ”If Paul believed that baptism merely replaced circumcision. He almost certainly would have made such an argument in Galatians…” Schreiner, Galatians, 257.
27. James D.G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 119
28. Hoehner, Ephesians, 517
29. Moo, Colossians, 200.
30. Paul Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, 78-79.
31. It is certain that here Peter is writing about water baptism here due to the phrase “the removal of dirt from the flesh” and the phrase in the prior verse that includes the word “water.” The mention of Noah also makes it certain that water baptism is in mind.
32. (σὰρξ, sarx, thus highlighting man’s rebellious nature to God, 1 Pet. 1:24, 2:11)
33. (σῶµά, soma)
34. In the first four centuries of Christianity, the literature on baptism clearly shows how, in the majority of instances, it was persons of responsible age (generally adults and grown children) who were recipients of baptism. Emergency baptism and the eventual linking of baptism to circumcision, as well as the fact that baptism was believed to remove sin, occasioned the extension of baptism to small children and finally to infants. Though some authors (Tertullian and Gregory of Nazianzus) opposed this development, others (Cyprian) strongly advocated this trend, contending that no one is to be deprived of salvation and all the gifts of God’s grace. Within this theological framework, baptism became (especially in the way it is formulated by Chrysostom) the most exclusive donator of Christian blessings. The symbol became the actual means. The rite of baptism itself, rather than Christ, became the guarantee of eternal salvation.” Stander and Louw, Baptism in the Early Church, 183-84.
35. One other point here. John’s gospel is sufficient to teach all things necessary to know for eternal life (John 20:31), and though John could have written many other things, he chose not to, knowing they were not critical to receiving eternal life (John 21:25). Thus, John does not include the institution of the Lord’s Supper in his gospel. One man writes, “John’s Gospel was the second most distributed Gospel in the early church. Most people did not have even one Gospel. Even today, it is distributed alone. Many times this is all they would have. Now this is unremarkable until you put yourself in the mind of John through his own world. He could have written many other things, he says. He does not say, “but you have the other Gospels, epistles, and traditions, therefore, I did not write these things. He says, “These have been written that you may have life.” One does not even have to read between the lines to see that John thought his message was sufficient. But this cannot be if Rome is right and that a right practice and belief in the Mass is essential. So I would not downplay this Gospel. It was widely distributed in the early church for a reason.”
36. Our modern individualism does not make it easy to realize that he is speaking here with the same passion as when he told the liberals that by sinning against the brotherhood they were sinning against Christ himself. How could one worship the Lord at the sacred supper, if he was rude and selfish in treating a poor slave or tradesman or dock labourer, some brother for whose sake Christ had died ? Such conduct is pronounced far worse than discourtesy ; it is positive irreverence, a profane caricature of the sacrament, which shuts off any worshipper from the Lord, even though he may eat his loaf and drink his cup of wine in the Lord’s name. Such a breach of love and brotherhood is denounced as a proof that there was no proper sense of the Body (verse 29) to which worshippers professed to belong and in which they were outwardly celebrating a festival of fellowship. The urgency of Paul’s instructions on this point falls out of focus, unless it is placed in line with what he had already written on corporate fellowship in 1:10f., 6:9-13, and 10:17, 23-33, as well as with what he intends to write in 12-14. The shameful, shocking feature is not an irreverent use of the communion elements (as we call them), but irreverence to God in the person of his Church; disrespect is shown to him by this open contempt for his poorer members. Such a gross violation of charity and kindness is another (3:17) form of sacrilege, as Paul views it.” Moffatt, First Corinthians, pp. 161-62.
37. The word “judge” is the same in both v. 29 and 31 and refers to distinguishing something good from something bad. Obviously no one takes the bread in the Lord’s Supper, thinking some of it is good and some of it is bad. Rather, both v. 29 and 31 refer to a member of the body of Christ in Corinth who treats some members as good (and eats the Lord’s Supper with them) but other members as bad (and does not eat with them).
38. Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia, 3:985
39. The 25th article of the Church of England limits the number of the sacraments to two.

7 Comments

  1. 1
    Tony says:

    Growing up Catholic I was immersed in sacramentalism. I never considered it to be a source of schism but this makes complete, historical sense. Sacraments have been viewed as a “spiritual life insurance policy” that can be purchased for yourself (last rites) or others (infant baptism) to be made right with God.

    Thanks for taking the time to share this important article.

  2. 2
    Erick Ybarra says:

    The sacraments can certainly turn into a system where one “purchases” their right relationship with God. Something similar was @ work in the heart of Simon Magus. St. Peter did not tell him “Oh, there really isn’t any power coming from my hands. Rather, it is a completely monergistic, invisible, and un-sacramental work of God that only uses the words of the gospel”. So we don’t jettison the Sacraments, rather the wrong disposition of heart in receiving them.

    1. 2.1
      Ted says:

      Erick, it isn’t the motive behind the receiving of the sacraments that are the problem, but the sacraments themselves. Now as a Roman Catholic you believe in ex opere operato for the sacramental giver but not the sacramental recipient?

      As a Roman Catholic you believe that baptism saves from sin and punishment and establishes fellowship among Catholics. You will even cite 1 Pet. 3:21 and Acts 2:38 to justify that faith, though in reality you only use those texts to support your ultimate religious authority, Roman Catholic teachings. To be a person whose faith is derived from the Scriptures will require you to analyze those verses in their God-given context in Scripture, not in your theological system.

      Simon Magus is the problem who won’t go away. Peter didn’t baptize him, but Philip, and in proper sacramental order, per Catholicism. Only, water baptism didn’t save, nor forgive Simon Magus, as Peter explains in Acts 8:20-23.

      The reason why is oh so simple. Being born again is 100% the gift of God, not the work of man. Why, any religious person can be saved if they will repent and believe on Christ for their salvation.

      1. 2.1.1
        Deb Rojas says:

        Ted,

        In trying to knock rituals and theological systems, you are failing to recognize the reality of your own rituals and systems, which you claim to be authoritative, because, according to you, they are faithful to Scripture. How can Scripture be the ultimate authority if I must accept your interpretation of it to be in right relationship with Christ? Is your teaching only right when your heart is pure? Is the goodness of your actions only truly good when your heart is in the ‘right place’? This kind of thinking allows discernment of truth when you speak and are in a holy frame of mind? Is truth really that relative or subjective? You suppose Sola Scriptura; please prove it from Scripture. Why do you accept the 66 books as the authoritative Scripture, but deny the Church that declared them so? Which came first, the Scriptures or the Church? Jesus didn’t leave us a book, he left us a living Church. The Eucharist has always been central and the ultimate manifestation of Christian unity. I Cor 10:16…”is it not koinonia” — if this is mere symbolism, how did the early Christians drink death unto themselves (I Cor 11:29-30)? It is the unifying factor of the Church, participation, fellowship with Jesus.

        I challenge you to research what the Catholic Church teaches (the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the authoritative resource), as it will give you both biblical and historical evidence. We exist in time and space; God manifests His grace in time and space through something greater than us, but where we can find Truth, unity, and grace.

        Blessings,
        Deb

        1. Ted Bigelow says:

          Deb,

          I think I understand your challenge here. You wish me to research the Catechism of the Roman Catholics because in your understanding it offers better historical evidence of on-going Christianity. Further, you identify the Roman Catholic hierarchy as “the Church.” You also claim I am trying to knock rituals and theological systems in order to, what, establish my own?, and offer that my estimate of my own (superior) spiritual condition allows me to do so.

          Well, Deb, my spiritual condition is not something I can rise up to but is granted me freely in Christ as a child of God and heir of eternal life. Therefore, whatever my spiritual condition, it is all a gift from God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone, and is not attained to through any merit of my own. Christ alone is my righteousness (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30, Jer. 23:6). This is something no Roman Catholic can claim and be loyal to the Roman Catholic catechism, and thus, in this, your religious authority errs, and errs in the most important and eternal matter touching your soul.

          You ask,

          “Why do you accept the 66 books as the authoritative Scripture, but deny the Church that declared them so? Which came first, the Scriptures or the Church?”

          The Scriptures did. Have you not read Acts 2? Peter’s preaching was prophecy, which is what Scripture is also (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Scripture, in the form of verbal prophecy, birthed the church in Jerusalem on Pentecost. The same happened with the early missionary movement – see Acts 13:1-3. For Christians to deny the instrument through which God grants the new birth would be most ungrateful to God (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23-24).

          You write,

          The Eucharist has always been central and the ultimate manifestation of Christian unity

          I agree, when it is defined according to the inspired apostolic writings, and not the writings of men who lived later but did not know the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their writings. For more, read this.

          You write,

          I Cor 10:16…”is it not koinonia” — if this is mere symbolism, how did the early Christians drink death unto themselves (I Cor 11:29-30)? It is the unifying factor of the Church, participation, fellowship with Jesus.

          I’m sorry Deb, but koinonia in 1 Cor. 10:16 isn’t speaking about fellowship between men and God, but men with each other. Therefore, it is neither symbolism, nor a spiritual grace. It is a common identification among Christians as those who are members of the body of Christ: “we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17).

          Deb, I will be praying for you.

  3. 3
    Erick Ybarra says:

    With your framework, the Apostles should not have done anything with their hands. Why even speak? After all, since the grace of salvation is a gift of God. Even the “hearing of the gospel” as a requirement becomes a problem with the strict absoluteness of your view .

    1. 3.1
      Ted says:

      You are right, Erick. No apostle can save you, no sacrament can save you, no priest can save you, and no church can save you. Nor can you do anything at all to save yourself from the justice of God against your sins. But,

      “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

      “When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mat. 19:25-26)

      “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13)

      “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Rom. 9:14-16)

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