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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Baptized Into His Death

Amazingly, there is a dis-concordant note being played today within even the ranks of what is called 'full-preterism'. This dis-concordant note is not a new one, but is rather a hangover, an old note that was never removed when the symphony was renewed. The note in question is the notion that water baptism is necessary, whether as salvific, or as a sign that Jesus Himself commanded. There is no doubt, it being pretty clearly laid down in Scripture, that water baptism was practiced, and even commanded during the transition period in particular, throughout the period between what may be called the first and second advents of God in the Christ!

Most would think that the signs were no longer necessary when the destination to which the sign pointed has been reached, or revealed, but apparently the destination, or at least the fact that we, as a Body have reached that destination, has not yet been made clear, or revealed to those who 'seek for a sign'. The destination of which I speak, or write, is, of course, the righteousness of Christ, or the cleansing which we, as the Body of Christ have received through 'The Baptism of the Holy Spirit' of which Joel wrote in Joel 2, and which Peter confirmed in Acts 2. This 'Baptism of the Spirit' was the true baptism to which the various water baptisms pointed, an outward sign pointing to, or hopefully indicating the work that the Holy Spirit had done inwardly, the 'circumcision of the heart', which was the ultimate goal, not merely a circumcision ( cutting ) of the flesh!

'An Outward Sign of an Inward Reality'?

As we saw earlier; 'why do we need the sign once we have reached our destination?' Another way to put it is, 'once we have the Reality, do we still need the picture?' Now it could well be argued that if one does not have the reality, then one might find a picture useful, or if one has not reached the destination, then that one still needs signs! However, if one were to argue that way, then that person must not be a believer in a totally fulfilled eschatology, because if eschatology is fulfilled, then we have the Reality, and there is no more need for signs; we have, as it were, reached our destination, and signs are useless!

One might say that 'signs are helpful', as in the case of receiving water baptism as 'an outward sign of an inward reality', and purportedly an act of obedience to our Lord's command, and in a sense, they might have a point, but if one cannot show by a changed or holy life that they have been baptized by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God, then how is a water baptism going to be 'an outward sign of an inward reality'? In other words, if one receives water baptism, but does not show by his life that he has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, what good does that water baptism do? It does no good, but in fact, will do much harm to the Body of Christ!

'Buried with Him'

What did Paul mean that 'we were buried with Him'? Did he mean that in order to be 'raised with Christ', we must first die physically ( that's what Jesus did, right? ), and be buried, either in a tomb, as He was, or 'six feet under'? Although this seems a ridiculous question to ask of those that believe in a fulfilled eschatology, there are those out there who believe and teach this! As believers in a fulfilled eschatology, however, we know that Paul's terminology referred, not to a physical death and burial, but to a separation from the 'ministry of death' that Jesus encountered when He began His earthly ministry, and finally, to His physical death on the cross, after which He rose  again, bringing with Him to New Covenant Life the dead Body of Israel!

Many Christians like to symbolize this 'death' by being immersed in water, in which case, coming up out of the water after being fully submersed is supposed to signify being raised to this new life. As before though, what good does this sort of action do unless it actually signifies a true circumcision of the heart, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit of God? It does no good, as we saw, but instead does harm!

'If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.' ( Colossians 3:1 )

Here's where the true eschatology of victory comes in; having been raised with Christ, we are to set our minds ( hearts ) on 'things above, not on things on the earth'. What is Paul saying here? Is he teaching a form of Gnosticism here, encouraging Christians to be 'so heavenly-minded, they are of no earthly good'? Did the pietistic dualism that we all know so well ( legalism ) come from the teachings of Paul?

We have been blessed of late, to listen to the teaching of one of our elders here at Covenant Community Church, as he leads us on a journey through Paul's letter to the Colossians. We have seen, throughout this study, and particularly in the latest sermon, that this was not what Paul was teaching at all, but rather that his brethren were to turn their focus away from the physical sign ( and other accoutrements ) of that first covenant, and rest their gaze upon the Reality of the New Covenant in Christ!

As with Paul's words of admonishment to the Colossians, so were Jesus instructions to His followers. Take, for example, Jesus' words to Nicodemus, in John 3. If one were to do a word study, which is not my purpose here, I believe that one would find that when Jesus told Nicodemus 'you must be born again', the 'you' in this statement is in the plural, meaning that Old Covenant Israel must be born again, strongly implying that they had died, and must be 'raised with Christ'!

So, what, if anything, does this have to do with baptism, and specifically water baptism? Why bring John 3 into the discussion? Well, I bring it up for two reasons; one, because the baptism of the Holy Spirit ( as per Joel 2 ( Ezekiel 37 ) is HOW Israel was to be born again ( raised from the dead/re-born ), and two, because, as believers in fulfilled eschatology, we know that this resurrection happened in the first century, beginning with Jesus own 'baptism by fire', continuing on with the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy, as recorded in Acts 2, and coming to finality in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD. Water baptism was commanded to Israel after the flesh, in order to symbolize the cleansing of their dead body, and later to the Gentiles to identify their unity with the Body of Israel. After 70AD, this was no longer necessary, as the fulness of the Gentiles ( nations ) had come in, and they had become 'one Body' ( I Corinthians 12 ), and no longer dead, for they had received the Spirit poured from on High, and had been born again; raised to new life in the Christ!

Conclusion

In conclusion, then, we should understand that, although we, here in the 21st century, are a part of the covenant Body of Israel, much as they were, we were never a part of that 'dead' body, the body that 'must be born again', through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Israel under that first  covenant was given many signs, which, as Paul said, were simply a 'tutor' to point them to Christ, and since we have Christ, we no longer find necessary any of those signs, or symbols which led them, or brought them to the Revelation of Jesus as the Christ. That these signs, in particular, the sign of water baptism, are no longer needful should be abundantly clear by now, but nevertheless, they are still in practice by some who claim a fulfilled eschatology.

The baptism into His death, of which Paul wrote, was clearly not a water baptism, but was a circumcision of the heart, wherein the Spirit was poured out into our hearts, enabling ( causing ) us to cry out 'Abba, Father'! Must we receive this water baptism in order to do that? Obviously not; the thief on the cross, though he received the same baptism that Jesus did, was, to all accounts, never baptized in water! Must we receive water baptism in order to be obedient to God? Again, 'no': water baptism was a sign for the first century, both to signify the cleansing of the dead Body of Israel, and also to symbolize the unity of the Body of Christ, with the two becoming one, a marriage, you might say!
 

In the Love of God,
Through the Baptism of the Holy Spirit,
Charles Haddon Shank

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