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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Baptisms

Scripture speaks of three baptisms: water baptism, spirit baptism and fire baptism (Matthew 3:11). We know about water baptism because the church has universally adopted it as the entrance ceremony for church membership. We are not concerned here about the mode of baptism -- sprinkling, pouring or immersion, or the candidates for baptism -- infants or adults.

John knew about the other baptisms and said to the crowds that followed him, "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire " (Matthew 3:11). The candidates for these baptisms are not specified. The reason that this is important is that Apollos knew only the baptism of John -- water baptism, and lacked the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Fire baptism is for unbelievers not believers, and further discussion of it will take us too far afield at this point.

Contrary to Pentecostal belief, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not about speaking in tongues, but is about being radically changed by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word baptizo literally means to dip or dye, as in the dyeing or bleaching of cloth. Unfortunately, the passion to defend immersion as the only legitimate baptismal mode has shifted the attention of well-meaning scholars from the purpose of baptism -- dyeing, to the process -- dipping. People have latched onto the meaning of the process of baptizo -- to dip, and ignored the purpose -- to dye, to change the character (color) of a thing.

If there is only one word that means both dip and dye, and I tell you that I have dipped/dyed my shirt a different color, which meaning is the most natural? Obviously, dye. The process may involve dipping, but the purpose of dyeing material is to permanently change the color or character of the cloth. The process is important, and there are many possible dyeing processes. However, the purpose of dyeing is essential to the process. Purpose is always primary to procedure for God. God is not bound by a particular procedure. Because the ceremony (procedure) of baptism does not itself cause the requisite change of character, we know that God is not limited to dipping, pouring or sprinkling. God's greater concern is the end product, His purpose for changing people in the first place, which is a change of character, a change of heart.

God has always been out to change the character of His people, to dye them, if you will, in various stages (covenant administrations) or baptisms, to bring them ultimately "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ " (Ephesians 4:13). In history there have been many biblical covenants or administrations, but God has always been working to produce only one change of heart, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

The fact that God's eternal covenant -- Adam's covenant, Noah's covenant, Abraham's covenant, Moses' covenant, David's covenant -- has now come to Christians through Jesus Christ is shown in Galatians 3:14, "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. " God's covenant, given to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and others has, through Jesus Christ, been given to the Gentiles -- to us.

How has it been given? Always by the power of the Holy Spirit. How has it been received? Always by faith in Christ, the Messiah. The Holy Spirit falls upon His people, brings them to faith through a change of heart, thus fulfilling God's covenant, so that they may fulfill God's covenant by faith in Christ.

The real issue of baptism is not sprinkling, pouring, or immersion -- but being permanently changed (dyed) by the power of the Holy Spirit. Surely, God is more concerned about purpose than process. And even when the process plays a role, we know that God's power is not mediated by the ceremony of baptism, however it is done! The power is not in the ceremony, but in God's Word. Nor is the result some outward affect, but a changed heart, a changed life, a changed perspective in the lives of individuals.

Surely, God can bring about the requisite change of heart, whether people are sprinkled, poured, immersed or none of the above. The real concern of baptism is the dyeing, the bleaching, the purification, the changing of one's character, the rebirth, the regeneration, the new life. God is always after this one thing -- a new heart through baptism in the Holy Spirit!

And in Acts 18 Paul identified that Apollos had been missing this one thing. In spite of the fact that Apollos had been nurtured by and educated in the essentials of Christianity, and had been teaching and preaching about Jesus in a correct and accurate way, he was for a time still missing the central element of faithfulness -- a changed heart or baptism by the Holy Spirit. Then under the tutelage of Aquila and Priscilla he was born again in Christ. He underwent a radical change, though he had known about and had even taught about Jesus Christ for some time.

It is not that Aquila and Priscilla somehow caused the baptism of the Spirit to fall upon Apollos. We don't control or direct the Holy Spirit. Probably what happened was that Aquila and Priscilla were able to show Apollos that something was missing in his confession. Then through prayer and submission to Jesus Christ, Apollos was subsequently converted or regenerated. And Apollos, being teachable, came to understand that though he had known all about Christianity, he had not been fundamentally changed by that knowledge prior to his regeneration.

Prior to his baptism in the Spirit he had been lost in the foolishness of the world though he had been a teacher of Christianity. He had no doubt excelled in the Greek academy. No doubt he had been a fine scholar, had an exemplary character, and had tried to incorporate what he knew about Jesus Christ into his Greek worldview. He was even able to teach and preach about how Christ fit into his understanding of the world. But Paul saw through it. Paul saw that Apollos' application of worldly knowledge to Jesus Christ produced only foolishness that sounded Christian.

In verse 4 Paul said that he had applied all these things to himself and to Apollos for the benefit of the church, so that we "may learn not to go beyond what is written " (v. 4) in the Scriptures, that none of us may be "puffed up, " to keep us from being in favor of one Christian's view of things over another's. Apollos had gone beyond Scripture by incorporating Greek philosophy (worldly wisdom) into his understanding of Christianity. Paul's minor point was that by doing so Apollos had turned Christianity into worldly foolishness.

His major point was that Apollos had recovered from this error and was now in a position -- precisely because of his recovery -- to serve as a genuine teacher and preacher of real Christianity, not the worldly imitation. Paul knew that Apollos was the right man for Corinth because he had undergone this kind of conversion.

By: Phillip Ross


For over 25 years Phillip A. Ross has been leading churches and writing many Christian books. He founded www.Pilgrim-Platform.org
in 1998, which documents the church's fall from historic Christianity.
He published a exposition First Corinthians In 2008 that demonstrates
the Apostle Paul's opposition to worldly Christianity. Ross's book,
Arsy Varsy—Reclaiming the Gospel in First Corinthians, shows how Paul
turned the world upside down.


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