Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 – A Retrospective Look at the Project

When I started this effort, my sole aim was to provide information to the reader about dysfunctional religious groups. I speak from the perspective of being in one and then out of one. My own personal tragedy is that I did not leave the group I was a part of solely on my own choosing. Frankly, I should have acted upon my own assessment of my situation much earlier but if you have taken the time to read over some of the earlier entries, you would have noticed it is uncommon for people to leave on their own power. In fact, I would say most of the people in the described situation are currently in such a state of mind: They know something is not quite right but to make the decision to leave the group is not an easy one to make. This is because for years they have been conditioned not to trust their own assessment of the situation but to look to others and their peers. Take it from me it is a miserable existence.

A DOSE OF REALTIY

Okay, so I started this blog as a personal quest to crystallize my own thinking regarding some of the main subjects I had been taught and to address them with more than my own take on the Bible and my own feelings. Much of the entries cite others who have had extensive training and experience in dealing with each individual topic. So, what you are reading really is a synthesis of my own research and perspective. Really, I don’t know how one counsels those coming out of a dysfunctional group unless they have walked those dark halls themselves. What I have offered those who have read this blog is as much as I am able to write it, clear and balanced teaching. The reality is those of us who have ‘come out’ of such groups have a tilted view of God, The Bible and the World. Friend, it takes a long time and a diligent effort to rid ourselves of what we have experienced. Why? Well to be frank, it has become a part of us and we don’t even know it. Our former life returns to us at times through memories, scriptures and even pictures on our walls that whisper darkness to us. So what we need is a good ‘head-cleaning’. We all need to keep this in mind. My friends, the true and stark fact is everything you learned within the group must be questioned. You must do the research and invest time in yourself to sort and strain through all of it. If you do not, you will never be delivered from the ghosts in your mind because it is the word and balanced teaching based on the word that will give you force and power to defeat your own random thoughts. I wish there was an easy way but you must know that in a sense the strong man has entered your dwelling with seven more evil than himself and it is too much for you unless new roads and the fresh wind of the freedom of God’s word sets it all aright.

THE WINDING PATH TO THE REAL

If you look at the blog it, I have attempted a systematic approach of healing and freedom. I start with defining what a dysfunctional group is, why it takes to long to leave one. Then the blog turns to my own personal thoughts and experiences and extracts from them characteristics of what a dysfunctional group can do to one’s mind and thinking. I then address the power that destructive thoughts and emotions have on one’s entire holistic being (body, mind, and soul). Having identified the forces that are at work within one extracted from such a group, I turn to the rights of the individual believer. This is the first constructive teaching in the sense of after defining the ‘world’ where you had been dwelling to the wasteland of your own mind. I describe this a wasteland because it is a grope to try to find your bearings and even your very self again. Then I take look at authentic authority because many foist themselves as God-ordained leaders when in fact more than likely they have captured you in their own delusion. This begins to strike at the very heart of the issue that who was your leader must meet the criteria for holding the authority they tout that they have but in essence – according to the word of God – they fall very short and masquerade in a role perhaps for only a very few. Once the group and the individual who you followed have been identified as a toxic influence, I open the subject of your own personal right to measure any teaching someone has taught you. As examples of this, I embark on some theological subjects that I believe for the most part are subjects in which dysfunctional groups identify themselves. I start with the subject of jargon within the group and use three words as examples. Next, I address the impact of this teaching on those who you know and love that still might be in the group. I try to provide a balanced perspective on the very scriptures that are parroted by them that allow them to disassociate themselves to expatriates from the group. This is so you might be able to present to them the mis-application they destructively practice. Next comes the re-assessment of the ‘house’ you live in – metaphorically speaking. This topic is presented so that what has been presented to you in this blog up to that point is re-affirmed as you look at yourself. Be fearless in your assessment of each ‘wall’ in your house. Then comes a three part series on water baptism. The main thrust of this three part series is to not to teach you what it is but what it is not. Many dysfunctional groups leverage water baptism into what it is not – a part of salvation – this is the heresy of the Judaizers the apostle Paul fought in another form. I then discuss the terrain of the Leviathan planet. That is the micro-world of the dysfunctional group and split that world into two main groups. It is hoped that through this topic, the underworld of the dysfunctional group can be understood and seen as a place where hell is more the model they follow than heaven. Finally, I deal with the topic of moving on taking you through the town of Miss Havisham – I cover in the last section the inflection point of our change to a new life. Simply put, we must be like Jesus and forgive those who have caused so much damage.

The reality is we have not been discarded but given a great gift: The ability to discern truth from error, light from dark, Jesus from religion -- most of all mastering the art of forgiveness

As we look ahead to the next year of 2011, I will strive to provide sound and solid subject matter that hopefully will help you.

God bless you and thanks for embarking on this journey of healing with me.

Kevin

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Christmas Card - blogstyle

While I cannot send out a Christmas Card to anyone who reads ProjectEzraRising, what I can do is send my best wishes and prayers to you in this Holiday Season. I know that some of you are missing loved ones that you might not be able to see because of imbalanced and distorted views of what being an authentic follower of Jesus really is. I say that we cannot not ‘make’ a Christmas miracle happen nor can we make a hardened and now cold heart towards us thaw but what we can do is remember the love of God for us through what we have been through. Each step He has been our buttress from total collapse and it is because of His care for us some of us even still breathe. I wrote a poem a few months ago and I guess it is my ‘Christmas Card’ to you. In growing up, I remember that on every bottle of soda pop (they were glass back then) there was a phrase No Deposit-No Return. This meant that you did not have to pay a deposit on the bottles you purchased because they did not have to be returned. They were in essence valueless when the pop(or as we say in the South ‘Coke’) was gone – you just threw it away. This was the mindset of the times I grew up in; the throw-away society. We must be reminded that in the Kingdom of God, no one is a ‘throw away’. Perhaps you were taught that God allows us to teeter on the edge of a precipice while we perform acts of obedience to keep us from being nudged over the edge. Or perhaps you were taught of the stratas of heaven that it is only the ones who measure up to some manufactured and artificial standard that masquerades as God’s – of which you always would fall short. My friends, I bring you great tidings of great Joy for in the city of David was born the one who would take away the sins of the world. He is the one who has the final answer though there are those who would dare speak for Him – I remind you of the parables and their consistent message of finding that which was lost, forgiveness and forbearance and over all an open window in which a light will always burn.

We light our light and put in the window for those we cannot see, for those who will not hear for the day and time will come when they will. This is for us and the ones who spurn us because of our difference in faith and our courage to follow our own conscience -to which God speaks directly- even in the midst of so much pain. We say to them and to the infernal enemy of our souls we are not:


No Deposit – No Return

Along the great Highway, the Kings Highway
To the great and glorious city
Strewn aside and along the berm
No Deposit No Return
Once filled with value and sweetness
Effervescent life and sparkle
Now laid aside drained dry
Baked and crusted with the dust of passers by
At the Speed of Light in the Kingdom of Light
No Deposit No Return
Value Dried and Value drained
Only a glint to those who whiz past
A memory a shimmer in the corner of the eye
Soon forgotten on the Silver Wind
Once consumed once spurned
Drained Dry
No Deposit No Return
From the city a Figure seeks to learn
Of the No Deposits No Returns
In His heart He makes a turn
In His eyes compassion burns
For the No Deposit No Returns
Lifts to the Light Lifts to the sight
The drained and dry
Not seeking but knowing why
There is no life for the drained and dry
He takes He saves He does not put aside
But holds close to the heart that burns
For the No Deposit No Returns
While no use by the passers by
There is value for the drained and dry
In the city the glorious city He returns
His arms full of the cast aside
He made the Deposit and He has Returned
With the No Deposit No Returns


Merry Christmas and Hope to You in the New Year

Kevin

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Inflection Point of Spiritual Warfare

What is a point of inflection? Mathematically, it is the point where the direction of change from up to down or vice versa is present. It is the tipping point of change from one type of momentum to another. When it comes to spiritual warfare, there are tipping points that mark the point when our prayers and intercession become more impactful. In 2 Peter chapter one, there is a stunning passage that can be applied to the art of spiritual warfare for the believer who has exited a dysfunctional religious group but has family that has chosen to remain with the group. In most cases, it takes a long time, if ever, for these to be free from the sense of spiritual failure they possess. In essence, it has been engrained in them that they never measure up to the ‘full stature’ that is in Christ. This is what they have been programmed to tell themselves by the religious experience they have lived under in such a group. Yet the inflection point, the change from ‘down to up’ is not so very far, in fact, it is always within range. The apostles have left us a very important legacy. If you have ever scanned the first chapters of any epistle, you will find the words grace or peace and in many cases, you will see both and them used together. Why is this? It is usually in a greeting and so we usually brush right past it without thinking but these words are the inflection point for the followers of Jesus and they mean just about everything. Listen to the words of Peter and Paul below and let them sink in and resonate within you.

2 Peter 1:2-3 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

Part of anyone’s issues that have survived a dysfunctional religious group is that what they have been conditioned to believe and say to themselves in some form or fashion is: ‘I must try harder in order to obtain Christ.’ Yet what the apostle Peter says above is that ‘everything pertaining to life and godliness’ has been granted to us by Jesus. We keep wanting to make the evaluation of ourselves to God when God has chosen us not based on our merits but His mercy. We do not and never will stand anymore in a point of condemnation by God…my friends, it is simply over and any hangover of that is merely a figment of our imagination. In essence because of this, we are robbed of many things; most importantly, the privilege of real communion with God. As I go through the scriptures below, let the reality of God’s love and care for you be assured. This is the best medicine and the real stuff of spiritual warfare. We who come to God must believe that He is and He is a ‘rewarder’ of those who seek Him. Productive spiritual warfare starts and ends with the following premise: God loves you.

The scripture above has a corollary in Peter’s first epistle in about the same place:

1 Peter 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.

In this holiday season, it is perhaps the darkest of times for us who are in such a situation. Spiritual warfare at this time is gnawed to the bone of spiritual survival. We, most likely, long to see family that is now estranged from us because of a difference in how we choose to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the tragedy of it. Yet the Lord speaks the same grace and peace to all of us through his delegate Peter. There are a few important aspects for us to remember. May they rebuild the fortress of love God desires to stand and to endure in your heart:

1> Grace and peace is not sourced in our own ability. In essence it is a gift of God given to us freely. How do we acquire such precious commodities? It is in the text (the first verse above): “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness”. How is this gained? Again, the text: “through the true knowledge of Him who called us…” What is this knowledge? In the greek it is interpreted as perception. That is, one who handles an object so as to familiarize themselves with it…in essence to ‘know it’. What this means is Jesus puts us in the place where we can know Him in such a manner. The Scriptures in the old testament confirms the desire of God to be known; as David said it in the Psalms “taste and see that the Lord is good.” . Our grace and peace is sourced and wholly represented in the blood atonement of Christ

2> Knowledge as it is used in the first passage is not really the definition we would ascribe to in our language and culture. I want to reiterate here so the point is not missed. The idea here is familiarity through experience in using something. It is more like practicing with some instrument, object or weapon to understand how it works. A good example here is your own bible. How many times have you taken a bible that is not your own and tried to find something. Yet in your personal bible, you can put your hand on it immediately. This is the type of knowledge being referred to yet God Himself is the counterpart. We cannot say that we can become familiar with God but what we can say it that He can become familiar to us. He must always be the initiator. In the passages above, what we see is the desire of God to be known and also His countenance towards us is best described as grace and peace. Why? Because of Christ’s shed blood. We cannot engage in intercession and prayer without the way being made by the blood of Jesus. It is the way that we are allowed to approach the presence of God. Grace is best described as ‘favor’ and peace is best described not as a feeling but a fact this is evidenced by the linking of peace of Christ with the work on Calvary by Him:

Col 1:20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

The point that Paul the Apostle is making here is to emphasize the universal nature of this peace, the scope of it is anything in heaven and on earth.

So what does this all have to do with Spiritual Warfare as it comes to interceding for family members or loved ones still within the functional group? Well, if all the above is true then the global and common state of us all in on the grounds of blood and nothing else.. It is one unifying substance that causes us all to be in one state – redemption. Dear reader, it is the omnipotent and undeniable force that bonds EVERY believer together. In Jesus, we are not separated from anyone He has chosen and called to Himself. He is our link to those we have lost. Through Him and only Him, they we have lost can be touched and handled and may I say it loved. We might not be able to be in their presence, but Our Lord can and is there. He is our link to them and He is enough. My friends, He is the inflection point. He is the center that will always hold within the widening gyre of our estrangement. The reality is the closer we get to Him, the closer we get to them. Let’s face it, in His presence there is no conflict only unity. There is on condemnation just reconciliation. There is no estrangement only fellowship. The very fact that there are polemics in the body of Christ is because of the void of His presence in the situation. We must realize that Jesus can be on both sides because in Him there is no side at all. It is only our blindness, stubbornness, lack of vision and understanding that separates us because we have forgotten the irresistible power of His blood.

As we pray in this season, let its message be to us. Grace and peace. As the angels sang on the night of His birth into this world, the one who is eternal and has always been:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Our hands must be open in love and our hearts willing to believe in the power of love expressed through Christ to the entire world. Our prayers are heard so pray them, pray them with this in mind: Jesus stands between us and those we have lost. As we hold His hand, we can know He holds theirs. He is enough, he has always been enough. We cannot be sufficient be He always is. All voices that speak the negative against us are silenced in His presence. In His presence, there is fullness of joy.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Maroth: The Village of Miss Havisham

In the Charles Dickens novel ‘Great Expectations’ there is a character called Miss Havisham. She is a sculpted picture of bitterness turned in such a way that she constructs her own muse (Estella) to wreak revenge on all men. There she sits in a house wearing a bridal gown now tattered and torn and amongst the furnishings of the house, there is a banquet table set for a happy occasion now coated in dust and cobwebs. This perhaps is the best image of both tragedy and forlornness written in the English language.

In the book of Micah the first chapter, there is a mention of the place called Maroth. In the Hebrew tongue, it is translated as bitterness. The passage described is a place where people wait on the judgment of God in the sense of setting things they perceive being right from their point of view. Here is the scripture:

“For the inhabitant of Maroth Becomes weak waiting for good, Because a calamity has come down from the LORD To the gate of Jerusalem.”

This is a very appropriate scripture for all who dwell in bitterness. No doubt calamity has been suffered. Perhaps something in your wildest nightmare you could have never conceived. The question here is what you are going to do with it. Your choices while numerous fall into two major points of departure and if I may, I will use the Dickens characters to describe these two ways. First, there is Joe Gargary. He if you will recall was the one who raised the main character in the story: Pip. A gruff and raw man but one of a very good heart and never ceased to think the best in people. In the story Joe becomes a sure support for his charge Pip during the course of the story. He is always constant. He forgives Pip for his being ashamed of such a common and humble man as Joe was when he visited Pip in London and while Pip was on his way to become a gentleman. It is a position in the end Pip comes to regret greatly by the end of the tale. Joe represents those who know what they are in the truest sense, those who love without condition and have the inner fortitude to not let others impact their perspective and judgment concerning people. The other is Miss Havisham. Jilted by her betrothed at the very altar, she remains frozen in the moment of the tragedy and lives out the rest of her days in the cobwebs of what once was as shining and happy moment.

What is the moral of the story? If we live in bitterness and resentment, not only is it the opposite of Christ-likeness, it is self destructive and a robber of all that remains of one’s time left on this earth. Like Miss Havisham, we become frozen in the exact moment of our personal tragedy when we cannot forgive. Moreover, we are proving the fact that, while we might say so, our actions prove that we do not believe Christ is enough for us. It is Him plus a favorable outcome. This is not of the stuff or our heritage and history. In many instances, God’s people have been forced into uncomfortable and even perilous positions because they had to maintain their Christ-likeness as the boot heel of their situation ground them to powder and dust. No, my dear friend, Christ must be enough for us. His timing and justice are His own business and we tread into places where angels will not go when we seek to bend either. We have the extreme privilege to learn the lesson of loving our enemies – a lesson taught only to the few. I have heard it said instead of asking why as Miss Havisham would, we can turn the situation around by instead saying “Lord, why do you trust me so much?” Let’s face it, some of us are offered no option but to forgive or be caught in the maelstrom of our own bitterness. It is not God’s plan for you to waste the rest of your life as it says in Micah to ‘become weak waiting for good…’ The good has come. Here are the facts: 1>You know the Lord, 2>He loves you and 3> He never promised you that life would not be hard or you would be treated fairly. The true reality is that you are better off than anyone in the world is who doesn’t know Jesus; you have someone who will take your pain and heartbreak. Believe me, there are many in the world who live through your situation. It may be a living hell but it is the only hell you will ever experience and the refinement of it in your life if you let it will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness. What a freeing thing to think that you can forgive as Jesus did. What a privilege and honor to be able to experience such a thing. Long term whatever you are going through, the harder it is to cope with, the more it defines you and forms you. Let Christ have it, it is too heavy for you.

In our lives, there are rare moments that shape us. It is never the mountain top of victory, it is the fire of the furnace and our own desire to hold on to God in the midst of such a terrible circumstance that is God's honing edge. In the end, it will be the crowning jewel of our lives. It will be that which Jesus recognizes first as our main accomplishment – our death to self and our raising by His love and faithfulness. Dear reader, there is no other way. As I said before, the options to you are limited. We can choose to love and forgive or we can choose to look for justice that may never come. Jesus stands by one path and the other leads to a room of cobwebs, and a figure who pines for what once was. Choose knowing the future…your future…. is at stake.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Sign of the Times: The Terrain of the Leviathan Planet

Jesus spoke to His disciples once upon a time about the end of days. In His discourse, he spoke of wars and rumors of wars being present and signs in the heaven as well as being key harbingers of the return of Christ. Another sign that is often overlooked is that people’s love will wax cold – Especially church people. While we will always have wars and signs in the heavens, perhaps a better indication is the state of the church itself.

“And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”

Iniquity has many faces and some of them aren’t so easy to discern. We think of outright sins as iniquity but often confuse religious practices with virtue. Make no mistake, iniquity’s visage that goes anonymous most of the time is the religious nature in man. How is religious nature so often manifested? We need look no further than Jesus’ comment in the gospel of Matthew.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

In this scripture, the religious spirit is revealed. In the context of what Jesus is saying, cumin, anise and dill are the smallest of seeds and to count out or tithe them according to the Law would be an arduous task indeed. Yet they are ‘credited’ by Jesus for doing this but in neglecting the ‘weightier matters of the law’: judgment, mercy and faith. This is the true essence of the religious iniquity in man. At its core, the religious spirit is the inability to love the un-loveable while focusing on what they believe to be necessary. This state of being includes ironically all of us. If anyone looks close to any particular person, the ugliness of the flesh in which we are all housed is apparent. Yet the Bible gives us no option but to love – especially our enemies.

The Leviathan Arises

If we were to picture the churchscape today, perhaps it could be likened to the sea mentioned in the book of Revelation from which the Leviathan will rise. There is no doubt it speaks of the political world and the nations but it must be remembered that Satan will appear as an angel of light in the end times – so we must all be aware the church-terrestrial as we would call it in its totality has many parts that are not under the Lordship of Christ. In the passage of scripture preceding the quote above, Jesus talks about the rise of many false prophets. Now if the Old Testament gives us a good definition of what a false prophet is, there are two kinds: First, there are the prophets of Baal or another god. However, there is a second type that perhaps is the worst of all because they masquerade under the auspices of calling on the same God that we do. The Almighty comments that these are the ones who prophesy their own vision. In the end times, we can expect the rise of dysfunctional groups in the Body of Christ that are of this type: A Charismatic leader who preaches from their own vision. It is a well documented fact that there are more splinter groups within Christendom than there has ever been. The end times Jesus characterizes in Matthew finds some credence for the times we live in given the integrity and limits of biblical interpretation and application are being stretched by those who should know better. If there is ever a time for conservative biblical interpretation, it is at this time.

Personally, I believe that from this whole entity the Beast will arise…not just as a political leader but a spiritual one for the nature of the end time battle is not political but for the possession of the souls of men.

The What will the darkling preach? A gospel of self. Let me explain. In the last century or so, we have seen many doctrines come and go and for the most part could we not say that they , before falling under the crushing wheels of time and spiritual entropy, had something in common. - a focus on self. This took on many manifestations. The prosperity gospel (Name it and Claim it) where material self enrichment was the destiny of every Child of God, The seeker-friendly Church Movement – where practice of out-right sin was winked at so much so the difference between the church and the world was blurred. The discipleship movement where positions of church governmental authority was exercised to bring about a spiritual utopia only to suffer financial, spiritual and moral failure – a man became the duex ex machina (the machine of God) – cranking out spiritually bankrupt clones who could not distinguish between the idol that they really served and the Savior.

Of all the above mentioned (and there are many more), I believe the last is the most ‘Leviathan’ because it is not self aggrandizement but actually replaces the role of Jesus with another. What is this born out of? the lack of love for others or for self in the name of spiritual virtue. This is where dysfunctional religious groups maintain and hold their power. It gets down to a matter of focus with the individual. In most cases, those involved with dysfunctional groups have an emphasis on spiritual growth that becomes a major pre-occupation and so the vicious cycle of self focus continues to charge itself with its own inertia. In the end, the person in such a group operates from one of two polemics, each of them are poles of the same toxic spiritual ‘planet’. What is the result? Either the person is so busy focusing on arriving at the ideal point of spirituality that they have no time for any one but themselves or they have already arrived and are among the ‘special chosen’ to which they can see nothing but just how far others have fallen short and they do not want to be polluted. In either case, the lost and un-lovable are not seen or ignored depending on which pole the individual gravitates. In either case, it is a cold place to dwell; the cold and high place of the North or the icy self-torture felt by those who fall short in the area of spiritual perfection In either case, the ability to love is frozen solid. Let’s take a look at the dwellers of the Poles.

The North Pole of the Leviathan Planet

If I were to liken the person dwelling on this Pole, I would say that they are much like the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ day. In the true vein of the religious spirit, everything is sacrificed for the enrichment of the way that they follow. Nothing is more clear than this fact. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus has a discussion about Corban – that is material that is dedicated to God. Ones that give to the Corban in their case receive the adulation by the leaders of such groups but in the end all that is gained is the judgment of God. How does this usually play out? We need look no further than history. In it there is the lesson repeated over and over again. What history shows is the devolution of sects who live at this Pole. They get so elitist, there is no one left in the end to propagate it. They have either died off or worn out the ones that followed them totally destroying any self-worth they might have had. In essence, they devour and do not re-produce and in the end there is nothing left but empty buildings, stacks of teaching that plaster the walls in oblivion - a fitting and right judgment to those who promote such things.

In fact, if you have ever read the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis you will find a good corollary to the ‘North Pole’: it is not the utopia they tout but a devouring Hell with them selves producing as Jesus said ‘more of a son of hell than themselves.’ Leviathan does not carry a codex it has constructed on its own, it carries the Law by which it does what it always has done: condemn. The high tower of the religious elite is nothing more than a tower of Babel whose base is set on the floor of Hell itself. How does ‘cold love’ manifest itself? Unforgiveness. To those who do not believe as they do or for those former members, there is unforgiveness for what they define as betrayal of the cause they serve. It is all in the name of the Lord but the fruits of such a name are absent. It is not that they do not love because they do but the manifestation of it is cold and the root unforgiving.

Unforgiveness by these groups spawns very poisonous fruit that bears the seeds of its own destruction. Reaching out to those who would replenish their ranks becomes only token so that they can say they do ‘reach out’ but little of any fruit is garnered from such attempts. Basically it is not for the lost they reach out in compassion but out of the duty of doing so and in essence those to whom they have reached out to see this falseness. After all, it isn’t about the lost at all it is about their fulfilling their duty so they can chalk up another work. In the end, the lattice work between members grows more strong as children marry those within the group so the power and hold over the members grows ever stronger and the grip tighter. What is the result of this? There are two:

1> Power is wielded abusively – As the leaders now gain ultimate power and can literally ‘cast out of the synogogue’ those who they deem unworthy or non-complaint. The group manifests more and more the psychological syndrome of one bonding with their captors. One does not operate out of devotion anymore but terror. If the group has more than one-site from which it operates, families can be separated so that the ones who are deemed questionable in the leadership’s opinion are made more impotent by the separation of their children from themselves. Fear begins to grip everyone thinking that they might be next.

2> Heresy is spawned – Edicts come from the leadership on the basis of their ‘revelation’ from God. The major indicator of this is a continual refinement of the doctrines or teachings of the group. They become a system to which all within are held to comply. Moreover the doctrines and teachings favor the destiny of the group and especially whom within the group the leadership approves. One can be in a high seat and be cast down and lose everything – including their family – overnight at the whim or perception of the leader. There is usually no discourse other than total capitulation and surrender of all the person has or has responsibility. In the end all members become bankrupt and while the elite and favored are enriched. This is the true manifestation or the hireling.

A very good study of the sociology of such a group was done by the documentary channel recently called ‘Damned to Heaven’ It is a study of the Fundamental Latter Day Saints church. While some of the doctrines might be non-applicable, as you watch the film you will no doubt hear and see the end fruit of it – destroyed lives. If you have been involved in a dysfunctional religious group, no doubt the similarities you will observe will chill you to the bone. I leave it to you to get a copy and study. If this film does not convince you that the group you may be in or were in was not Christ-like at all, then I do not know what will.


The South Pole of the Planet Leviathan

While the North Pole is populated by the ‘success stories’ within the group, the South Pole is populated by its failures. In this place, the hell of falling short every day and with every thought is crushing. Yet these people carry on with the struggle day to day. Their focus is totally on themselves in a very self-destructive way. They hate themselves for what they are and desire to be free from themselves borders on obsession. Because of this self-hate and loathing, they have no time for others outside their group. They are too busy jockeying for positions of acceptability with those who lead them. Success is measured by approval of the leaders alone. Life outside the group is not a focus at all and it never really is truly considered by these bottom dwellers that they are even at a place where they can share Christ with others even if they wanted to do so: they have not yet reached a place of spiritual worth in order to do so. Sub-consciously, however, it is almost Freudian that they do not share Christ. After all, why would they do so to another person to become what they slog through every day of their lives. They say they are ruling in heaven but the reality is that they serve in hell.

They are devoured by those who lead them with not so much more than a disapproving glance. They are restless souls seeking the Living Water and all they get is personal torment. So, the question must be asked, “Why would such a person share such ‘good news’ with others?” There is no good news.


A Final Viewpoint

As you have read so far, there is little mention of love at all. In fact ‘cold love’ is no love at all, it is dead. What is the answer? It is the finest manifestation of love: forgiveness. At the North Pole of the Planet Leviathan, there is the absence of forgiveness – there is only a meting out of judgment and taking offense at those who trespass. By allowing forgiveness to those that offend them because they believe differently, the icy grip of the Leviathan will begin to thaw. For the bottom dwellers, these need to forgive themselves. Too long have they lived in the condemnation of the system they have adopted. They must see the Savior in His ultimate work: the forgiveness of Mankind to all who would believe in Him, even those on the Planet Leviathan. He is everything they need not some way to Him: He is the Way.

We must be committed to love. As such, we are left with the possibility of being rejected, ridiculed and even abused. Our Love for the Savior may need to be re-focused. For those who dwell on the Leviathan Planet, this is crucial. The Love for the Savior, that is His person must be evident – not a methodology to serve Him.

It is written and recorded that He descended into Hell and led forth those held captive by the Leviathan. May He do so in this day. I will leave you with this scripture and final thought Ps 126:8:

When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.

This is the good news, a song of deliverance. May He deliver you. When we are free, the song of salvation is ever upon our lips because it comes from the thawed heart where forgiveness has sprung forth again.

If we are living in the last days, let us not dwell in the icy halls of unforgiveness, God does not dwell there, He has never dwelt there. The one who does is Leviathan it is his domain, it is his planet.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Plunge Part III: What’s In a Name?

During the early part of the twentieth century until the present, there continues to be a heated debate amongst several arms of the church over water baptism. For the most part this schism in the church at large is over the formula that is to be called over those baptized. In the Bible there are two distinct formulas. The first is found in the gospel of Matthew is believed to have been written between 55 and 60 A.D. As far as timeline goes, this coincides with the writing of the book of Acts by Luke that was believed to have been written about 62 A.D. As is well known, Luke penned it as a continuation of the recount of the Ministry of Jesus based on the Gospel of Mark -Luke uses about 60% of the gospel of Mark in terms of chronological events.

A Closer look at Matthew

Let’s start with the basics here. Here audience is an important factor. Matthew was written in a dialect that was used throughout the region where the Jewish people resided and its primary audience is Jewish. However Luke’s Acts was written in Greek and therefore it is believed to a wider audience. Why is this important? Because one would expect the formulas used by both writers to be reversed. That is a text written to a primarily Jewish audience would suggest a more specific formulae verses one that recounts the preaching of the gospel to ‘All nations’ - account of the Acts of the Apostles, to be more universal.

As Part one and two of this series have shown, the Jew or a Jewish oriented audience would have understood better the importance of the Name of Jesus being invoked over the candidate. It was a familiar thing to them to be baptized in the name of who or what they were to serve (see my previous post). Yet in Matthew, the Trinitarian formula is used. This is in itself an inconsistency and therefore must be explained. What comes to our aid here is that scholars have detected syntactical evidence that might indicate a transliteration of the original text. While it is debatable, it is indeed a plausible assertion. Research has shown that there is a distinct possibility a more primitive form of the Divine Commission reads like the following: Mt 28:19 ‘Go and make disciples unto Me among all nations, baptizing them in My name, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…’ Infact, it is well documented that this type of usage is found in the writings of Eusubius, an early church historian (approximately during the 3rd century). While it is also known that Eusubius had a penchant for loosely quoting the scriptures, it could be said that this was his ‘take’ on the meaning of the scriptures at the very least or that he based his usage of the text upon a version of the scripture. Regardless, the evidence would show that in the exegetical discipline the phrase of the Trinitarian formula is somewhat ‘out of place’ with the context of the scriptural passage. What this simply means is that more than likely the text may be a transliteration of the original text.

I have heard teaching that the phrase ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ refers to the role of the Son of God and so infers and confirms the Apostles implementation of the divine commission recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. To be frank, this is a very poor attempt to reconcile the two scriptural formulas. It not only lacks proper scholarship but totally misses the mark of the phrase of the ‘in the name of’ – see Parts I and II - and how the Jew would have understood that phrase and applied it. In essence this approach attempts to glue together two scriptures where they really do not offer a clean and reasonable integration. It is naïve and dangerous to ‘force’ the scriptures even though the result is reconciliation of the two. Moreover, it is not good scholarship. If this poses a dilemma to some, then it still must be conceded that the scriptures in their present form must be allowed to stand separate and so weather the controversy. We must as believers have the integrity to allow them to stand as such yet offer plausible explanation admitting that we simply do not know the full extent or application of this subject in the scriptures. This is what I have presented and what others more knowledgeable than me have offered as integration.

A Reprise of the Acts.

I have to say the last post is a very thorough presentation on the usage of the baptismal formula ‘in the name of Jesus’. To recap Part II concerning the baptismal formula, I would say that what we really witness is the name of Jesus being invoked over the Jewish or Jewish-oriented believer. This is clear from the passages where detail is present. What this simply means is that the Jew or Jewish-oriented believer upon repentance would have seen it as natural to enter into service through a ritual cleansing much akin to the mikveh of which they would have been familiar and probably practiced quite often. They would have understood the entry into the waters as a transitional step from one lifestyle to another – more literally one type of life to another. This is the root of the meaning of Romans chapter 6 – a new kind of life. Very literally Paul in his discussion of baptism in the sixth chapter of Romans is referring to the perspective the believer should have regarding their following Christ. It is a life that they have ‘died’ to and then have been risen up into a new life- that is another form of life. Now it must be said that the sacerdotal power of the baptismal rite is limited. There is no power in the act nor in the person performing it. It is simply a transition point and so a marker in the life of the believer as they transition from believer to disciple or follower. It is not the ‘pixie dust’ that transforms the person nor is it a step in the process of being born again. Please see my previous two posts for more on this. To put it succinctly, ‘in the name of Jesus’ is a very orthodox application of the baptismal formula and is more consistent and meaningful to a Jewish audience. In fact, I would say that it is the most primitive and pure form historically of how baptism was performed in the ancient church. Where I differ with some is that I do not see it as a spiritual unction as the Catholic, Mormon, some Pentecostal and Latter Rain Churches would couch it. It is an act of obedience and has nothing intrinsic to it concerning the spiritual state or position of the believer.

Why the Conflict?

Is there really a controversy here? On the surface there appears to be. But we must understand that the church of the Apostles was trail-blazing and therefore many of the challenges that would face the church in the coming centuries could not have been anticipated. The remarkable thing is that with all that happened to the church from its inception through the next 300 years, the church of Jesus did not dissipate upon their exit. It gained strength and fortified its positions on the person of Christ and the Trinity as well as practices of the faith on subjects such as baptism, church governance and the like. What is seen, like it or not, is a transition of the baptismal formula. We can see this as either the loss of something or the gain of something. The origins of the change in formula were out of necessity. During the time described (100 -300 a.d.) the church was under extreme attack from within. The Gnostics had invaded the church and as such, they were seen by some as true believers. The Apostle John in His first epistle directly addresses the problem – they had presented another Jesus. The term John uses to de-lineate a Gnostic and so their teaching is that most Gnostics confessed that Jesus was not a physical entity. That is, he was not ever flesh but was an emanation from the spirit world sent to bring truth and enlightenment. Therefore He never died on the Cross, because he was not human. To continue, the Gnostic saw a duality in God. They saw the Old Testament God as evil and the New Testament God as good. Therefore, the true Gnostic would have gladly gone under the baptismal font in the name of Jesus – that is to prepare for a life of service to Jesus but would never have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This formula would have exposed the Gnostic because they would have refused to be baptized to serve what they held as an evil god.

I have said all that to say this. The Trinitarian formula was used conservatively from about 90 a.d. until present. The reasons for its usage was to protect the church from those who would enter in and dilute its purity of doctrine and so the position and person of Christ. For good or ill, the fruit of its application preserved the church and maintained its spiritual integrity for almost two millennia. Measure it as you want, but the Trinitarian Formula was and is a buttress for the church of the Lord Jesus and always will be.

A final point:

Are there any indications in the body of the New Testament that might indicate and so provide explanation for the transition of the formula from ‘in the name of Jesus’ to ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ as recorded in Church History? The answer to that question is yes.

Paul in the scripture below provides some of the seminal elements for a Trinitarian formula:

“1 Cor 6: 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Spirit of our God.”

Many claim that baptism must be invoked in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly this is consistent with the scriptures analyzed thus far. But Paul is developing here and in Col 2:12 something not addressed in some of the other scriptures analyzed in Parts I and II of this study: he includes the other persons of the trinity when alluding to water baptism. Note the scripture: “but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Spirit of our God.” In this scripture all three are noted: Jesus, the Spirit and God the Father. 1 Cor 6:11 is, no doubt, the scriptural corollary of Matt 28:19 in the Pauline Theology showing consistency with it. It is the reconciliation between the ‘Jesus only’ and the Trinitarian formula – rather than a ‘jamming’ of the ‘in the name of’ Jesus into the ‘in the name of’ the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and appreciates the development of the baptismal theology in the early church. Historically, the epistle to the Corinthians is said to be written between 55 and 57 A.D. while Matthew was said to be written between 55 and 60 A.D and so the time frame is consistent with the development of the Trinitarian formula that the church would adopt from that time forth. The ‘recent’ recurrence of ‘Jesus only’ baptism is a 20th Century phenomenon and historically the fruit of this theology has been flawed theologically (Oneness, that is God is not a Trinitarian Entity but One God with many manifestations throughout History ) or has caused extreme sectarianism and elitism with the body of Christ so much so, it has regressed into heretical doctrines that would further divide the body of Christ into different realms in the heavenlies thus denying the very tenet of baptism – to make the divisions in the natural of none effect in the spirit – that is as Galatians so clearly points out: “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…”

Conclusion

The very subject of Water Baptism has been a point of controversy during the entire history of the church. It is therefore naïve to think that standing two thousand years from the point where the divine commission was received that we can fully grasp or understand the import and implications of water baptism. For the most part, we can truly only speculate about its implications. However, I do believe that there are a few constraints that keep us from taking anything too far concerning its power and purpose:

1> First, in John chapter 17, Jesus in His high priestly prayer, gives us one clue on how to look at water baptism. In principle, baptism in its true intent was meant to solidify and unify the body of Christ under one Head. Jesus as He prayed on the night before His death mentions and seals this forever as His and the Father’s main desire for us – that we be one even as He and Jesus are one. There is no other act recorded in the scriptures that is offered to do this other than water baptism. Thus any doctrine or position on Water Baptism that would divide the Body of Christ in essence violates its basic purpose and intent. Therefore positions held on Water baptism that is sectarian (i.e. us versus them) are not consistent with the purpose of baptism and therefore need to be seen as what they are: an aberrant view and possibly heretical. Jesus will not be pleased with those who seek to divide His people. That is the work of His infernal enemy the devil.

2> Faith is the one element that supercedes and yet confirms and legitimizes any act done through it. In the case of water baptism, there is one scripture in Galatians about it that is eclipsed by the word ‘faith’:

Gal 3:22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 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. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.

Faith is mentioned no less than FIVE times before the mention of Water Baptism. I have said this before and firmly believe it is true: As God is our Spiritual Father, Faith is our spiritual Mother – we are birthed into the Kingdom through it. As in the story of the two women during King Solomon’s reign, Two women approach him with the dilemma about one child. In the body of the story, both lay claim to the child. Solomon in His wisdom, says to divide the child in two. The true mother begs him not to kill the child while the other seeks it as a fair and impartial thing to do for both claimants. King Solomon hands the custody of the child over to the true mother that pleads for the life of the child even though it means her parting with it. This is a good analogy of those who seek to divide the new creation over an act versus not being the true birth mother - that is faith. Let those who seek to divide the child be warned: Jesus the King will always confirm the true Mother of the child of God and give them over to her. The other will be exposed for what she is: a liar and deceiver.

A Personal Note

What I have offered here leaves perhaps more questions than answers and I do not deny that fact. The truth of it is we cannot genuflect the scriptures to bend them to what we want them to say because they yield a consistent theology and support a doctrinal position we want to hold. We must be mature enough to allow proper analysis to support our take on any scripture or doctrinal position. We must agree where we can find common ground and believe or hold to what we are convinced is truth and proper teaching. But as Paul told Timothy, we must become skilled in the dividing of the word of Truth and if the scriptures, the language and the historical facts do not coincide with our beliefs and convictions, then it is we who must change for the scriptures cannot. As Walter Kaiser, well known exegetical scholar wrote concerning the scriptures and the job of the exegete or interpreter said:

“The sole object of the expositor is to explain as clearly as possible what the writer meant [sic and nothing more!] when he wrote the text under examination. It is the interpreter’s job to represent the text, not the prejudices, feelings, judgments, or concerns of the exegete. To indulge in the latter is to engage in eisgesis, “a reading into” a text what the reader wants to say…It is precisely at this point the issue gets sticky for modern interpreters. While all would, to some degree or another, disparage eisgesis, not all are convinced that the discipline [sic exegesis] can be defined in objective terms. Meaning for many moderns has become plural – they see various levels of meaning…”

Yet in the scriptures it is the usus loquendi (local usage or context) that drives the meaning and so application. This is what has been attempted flawed as it is, it is my best attempt to ‘represent the text’ in the light of its local usage. This is what I offer: perhaps incomplete and shrouded in mystery by the process of time and cultural perspective, yet in its spirit attempting to represent the text no matter how many questions it leaves, poses or produces. This is exactly why baptism will continue to be a debated subject. What is my recommendation to you? It is to recognize the reality of the dilemma. It is to as best as you can rightly divide the scriptures and to reach conclusions with integrity no matter if they tie up all the doctrinal loose ends. It is the word of God and cannot be forced and should not be forced. If we engage to do so, we do so at our own peril and judgment before God. When we stand before Him and we answer for what we have taught would it be better to say we did not fully know although we sought to answer questions that were perhaps unanswerable even perhaps not meant to be answered or to say that we preached and did not represent Him to the world through His word with integrity because we presented a cogent systematic teaching that was flawed. Which one would be able as the Apostle John has said about that day, to stand before Him in confidence?
This series on water baptism has been a personal journey for me that I have undertaken over the last few years. It is an example of what must be done to tear down flawed teaching that has lodged itself within the heart and mind of the believer. One must never be afraid to question anyone on any subject within the scriptures. If you look hard enough and deep enough, God will always provide a way of escape from error and a deliverance from spiritual abuse that uses the scriptures as a mace to hold us in bondage. In my personal case, the answers and freedom were waiting for me to discover when it was time. I was in a movement for years and even was a pastor of a church within dysfunctional religious organization. The first year that I had branched out into my ministry within this organization, I had purchased a book that sat gathering dust for years but in time, when I was ready, God revealed to me this book that had sat for years in my library waiting to show me the way out of spiritual bondage. I am convinced it is God’s design for us to live free. In my case it was waiting for me when I was ready. My prayer is that this series will serve as an example of how to divide the word of truth and to have the conviction if you seek you will find. If the stronghold of spiritual abuse in your life is water baptism then this series I hope will help you. If it is not, use the principles and methods presented to help you strain truth from error. Allow God’s men whoever they are to speak to you from their life’s work. It is what God has provided to help you out of the prison of bondage spiritual abuse that has been constructed.

Ironically the thing meant to hold you in bondage is the very hammer that will shatter the prison that we in our duplicity have allowed to hem us in…that is the very word of the Almighty.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Plunge Part II: A Look At Acts

Much of modern theology and doctrine is built upon the Acts of the Apostles and it is used as a major underpinning of current and popular doctrines within the modern church. Many groups today operate under the premise that Christendom lost its way early in the second century and God has been trying to get us back on track from that time until now. Some groups that hold to this ‘Restoration’ position claim that God is in the process of restoring His church back to its original form and power as it was in the beginning – and even more so presently because as they refer to it, it is the time of the Latter Rain (this references the book of Joel).

The point being is that the Acts of the Apostles is used widely to set such doctrines as the baptism of the Holy Spirit (in the Pentecostal sense –an emphasis on spiritual gifts being manifested), forms of church government, ‘accurate’ forms and patterns for Holy Spirit baptism and lastly, water baptism. Because the latter is the focus of this series, the Acts of the Apostles will be studied in order to get a proper and objective position on the forms and patterns of water baptism as they are illustrated in Acts. Here is where we will begin.

Water Baptism: A Statistical Perspective.

It is very easy to get subjective when it comes to the subject of Water Baptism. What might help is to observe, tally and group the scriptures in the Acts regarding this subject.
The following is an objective analysis of the scriptures in a very topical fashion.

Before looking at the chart, there are a few details of the chart below that you need to know. First, the order of events is noted by the sequence of numbers provided:

The number 1 – denotes the presence of repentance or faith being exercised.
The number 2 - denotes the presence of water baptism.
The number 3 – denotes the presence of the Holy Spirit in the sense of spiritual manifestations being present. (tongues, prophecy, healings, etc)

An Example: Let’s use Acts 2:27-28 in the below table. For this scripture, the ‘order of events’ column below, shows the sequence: 1,2,3. This means that repentance was observed first (1), secondly, Water baptism was then observed (2) and then Spirit baptism in the sense of the Holy Spirit ‘falling’ on the particular subjects (3). Lastly, if a ‘0’ is present in a position (e.g. 1,2,0), then this indicates there was no mention of the Event. For example, taking the Ethiopian Eunuch, there is recorded a 1,2,0. This means that repentance came first then water baptism but there was no evidence of spirit baptism explicitly noted in the text.

Also, the following superscripts are provided so that additional information where present can be noted.
ǂ - denotes the baptismal formula of ‘in Jesus’ name’, ‘in the name of Jesus’, ‘on the name of Jesus’
∞ - denotes the presence of chrismata accompanying the event with the manifestation of glossolalia and/or prophecy.

Name/Group

Scripture Ref.

Name of Jesus

Invoked

Spirit Baptism

Noted

Order of Events - 1> Faith/Repentance, 2> Water Baptism

3> Spirit Baptism. A value of 0 denotes absence

2000 Converts

Acts 2:27-38

Y

Y

1,2ǂ,3

Adding Daily

Acts 2:47

N/A

N/A

0,0,0

Multitudes

Acts 5:14

N/A

N/A

0,0,0

Samaritans

Acts 8

Y

Y

1,2ǂ,3

Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8:30-39

N

N

1,2,0

Paul

Acts 9:1-19

N

Y

1,3,2

Cornelius and His company

Act 10:19-44

Y

Y

1,3,2ǂ

Proconsul

Acts 13:12

N

N

1,0,0

Gentiles in Perga

Acts 13:48-49

N

N

1,0,0

People of Iconium

Acts 14:21

N

N`

0,0,0

Lydia at Philippi

Acts 16:14-15

N

N

1,2,0

Jailer at Philippi

Acts 16:30-34

N

N

1,2,0

Synogogue at Thessalonica

Acts 17:11-12

N

N

1,0,0

People at Mars Hill

Acts 17:34

N

N

1,0,0

Crispus and the Corinthians

Acts 18:7-8

N

N

1,2,0

Apollos

Acts 18:24-28

N

N

1,0,0

John’s Disciples @ Ephesus

Acts 19:1-7

Y

Y

1,2ǂ,3

Believers @ Ephesus

Acts 19:18

N

N

1,0,0



Tallying the Results:

Number of Accounts: 18
% where there is no information: 16%
% where there is faith or belief recorded: 83%
% where baptism is noted but no formula: 28%
% where baptism is noted and formula present: 22%
% where Spirit baptism with accompanying chrismata present: 18%

The findings while somewhat cryptic, do offer a global perspective. What is very remarkable is not what is there, but what is not there. Only a minority of the conversion accounts have detail associated with them. Does this mean it was not important? That we cannot say with any degree of objectivity. What can be said is there is much latitude for determining what is essential and what is not. This is the cold hard fact of it. What can we say about the detail accounts? Why was information provided for those and not others? We cannot leave that to chance. It must be concluded that the detailed accounts are there for very important reasons. Yet, within them, when compared, there is no consistent pattern in the operation of the Spirit of God on those that responded to the gospel being preached. This very fact proves the description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit that Jesus describes in the gospel of John chapter three – i.e. the Holy Spirit will move as He sees fit and will not be limited to any method or pattern. In essence while we all know God is a God of order, we border on presumption when we believe we know exactly what that order fully is. If anything the Acts of the Apostles illustrate it is that the Apostles did not know. Of the detailed accounts, what is common about them? There are four commonalities:

1> Where detailed accounts are recorded, those who responded were either Jewish or were followers in some fashion of the God of Israel and so followers of Judaism or a variant.
2> Water baptism was ordered or commanded.
3> The name of Jesus was invoked over them in the baptismal pool.
4> Manifestations of the Spirit were in the final analysis present.

These are very significant and appear are the only commonalities among the diverse groups that responded to the gospel especially where detailed accounts are provided. However, exactly how these groups responded to the message and the Spirit’s ministry to them has no clear identifiable order or pattern. Now in the four commonalities above, what can we say is perhaps the ‘glue’ that holds them together? Invariably, it is the reference to Judaism. Each had a degree of experience with the Jewish religion – some more than others, but this is the main joining fact. As such, what is the importance of this fact? In its essence this reality explains a significant part in the role of water baptism, the name of Jesus and even the Spirit’s manifestations that have been recorded in the detailed accounts. Let’s take the commonalities in order:

1> All were Jewish or were followers in some fashion of Judaism. To take them in turn, the Samaritans were at enmity with the Jew over who practiced the true form of worshiping the Lord God. Secondly, Cornelius was well thought of as a believer by the local synagogue and as it is stated he was a prominent man in their eyes. There is little doubt he had embraced the Jewish faith and perhaps was even a proselyte although this is not completely clear from the text. Third, The disciples of John. These were at least at one time practicing Jews although their knowledge of exactly what John preached and what they believed about it are sketchy from what is recorded – all cases are to be explored in their own section below. Why is this important? Because of the fact that ritual cleansings were a part and parcel to their way of life and they more than likely understood the implications of water baptism as far as perhaps their future life (both Jews and proselytes) and service to God.
2> Water baptism was ordered or commanded – Given the above, this is no surprise at all. It resonates from the baptism of John and is consistent with Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus. In the time/space of the Acts of the Apostles, the Jewish religion had to be repudiated in the life of the Jew, proselyte or practicing person who became a believer in Jesus. From the prior post, it is understood that this act itself was to fall from an old life and rise to a new one. This conceptually was very familiar with the society surrounding Jewish culture and its religion at that time. This is the main reason why baptism was ordered by the Apostles of those in the detailed accounts. It was to ensure their obedience to the gospel that had been preached by them and a witness of their reception of Jesus as Messiah. A Jew that did not believe would not be baptized because the cost of following Christ was extremely high for the practicing Jew at that time: it could even cost them their lives and often did.

3> The name of Jesus was invoked. Personally, I think too much is made of this and in the light of the text, and the context of each passage, this is made clear. From the last post, Beaseley-Murray is quoted that the ‘in the name of’ phrase as used in Jewish culture was to set the person in the role in which they were being prepared for in their life from that point forward. The example he gives is a person that is baptized in the name of slavery. This was to set forth in their baptism what they had become: a slave. In this context of usage, the Jew was submitting to the Leadership of Christ, it was their preparation for service to the Lord. This is the accurate context and I believe personally, the reason why the name of Jesus was invoked. It was not for the authority of the name of Jesus in a sacredotal sense but to orient the Jewish believer into a life of service to His Lord as their Messiah (and ours). To the believing Jew of that time this would have made perfect sense and they would have had complete understanding of what they were doing. This is minimally what can be gleaned. Anything else that we would spiritually attach here to water baptism has little foundation and exegetical support. In the context of this explanation, Jesus’ Great Commission, it is clear that the disciple’s baptism was to indicate preparation for service and perpetual allegiance from that time forth. So what about today and the formula for Baptism? Stay tuned, it will be in my next post. In summary, the name of Jesus was called over these for the most part because they were of the Jewish faith (or a variant of it) and because they were undergoing an entire re-orientation in their lives from being baptized unto Moses (that is following the Mosaic law or Samaritan Law) to being freed in Christ. What is in a name for these especially? Everything.

4> The manifestations of the Spirit were recorded. This is perhaps the most controversial of the four commonalities. Simply put, it is proof by the Lord’s Spirit that they had been accepted by God and that their conversion was authentic. This was especially necessary for those who were exiting the Jewish faith and embracing Christianity for themselves as well as those who brought them into the faith from Judaism or its variant.

A Deeper Dive of the Three Accounts
I think it is essential that a detailed analysis be provided of the accounts that give significant information in the Acts of the Apostles. This is required because much is made from these accounts that lead to very precarious conclusions. Let it be said that one that builds on an incomplete or inaccurate conclusion will stand on a shaky foundation for the most part and perhaps lead others into mis-application, error and even heresy.

Please be advised, I am not answering the question of the purpose of Water Baptism, I am simply pointing out the foibles of certain interpretations and attempting to reach objective conclusions so to present them. I readily admit that this builds nothing but at least it does not build in error and allows one to reach one’s own understanding of the subject. In any case, please hear me out. If you disagree, then fine but be able to know why you disagree and that you can defend your position in a consistent and cogent manner – “This is the way I have always believed…” is not good enough.

Let me take them in turn:

The Samaritans: . We see the Petrine approach (Acts 2:37-38) also replicated in this pattern but with a twist. Philip preaches Christ to the Samaritan people. They receive his message and are baptized in Jesus’ name. Yet the Spirit is not manifested in their midst. This is a serious consideration for Philip because he does not, obviously, see his work as complete: effective but not finished. He sends for the Apostles to come and help out. They come and the Spirit falls on the Samaritans. What are the extraordinary conditions here? There are three.

1. The Samaritans’ relation with the Jew was at best adversarial. They did not accept one another and yet they claimed to worship the same God. The enmity had only become strengthened by the Jews’ destruction of the Samaritan Temple in 128 B.C. The Holy Spirit, in His wisdom, declined any manifest of His presence to the Samaritans that was standard and expected when it came to the preaching of the Gospel. Please remember that at this juncture the Gospel had only been preached to the Jewish people of which the Samaritans were peculiarly related. Had the Spirit been poured forth, questions would have ensued much like the second case below (Cornelius). What was required was an operative reconciliation between the Jewish and Samaritan believers. What better vehicle than Peter and John to perform such reconciliation. What had been desired by God was a unity not just in the heavenlies but in the church terrestrial. After all, as Jesus said: A house divided against itself cannot stand.

2. Upon the arrival of Peter and John, the Holy Spirit manifests His presence in the lives of the Samaritans. So, what can we say about their previous state? It has been conjectured that the following is plausible:

“…Can it be therefore, that he [sic Luke] regarded these Christians as not being without the Spirit but without the spiritual gifts that characterized the common life of the Christian communities? There is no doubt that Luke was particularly interested in the charismatic phenomena connected with the gift of the Spirit. Paul clearly distinguished between the charismata and the possession of the Spirit as such…(1 Cor 12:11)…Here we see an example of Spirit being used in an ambiguous manner not dissimilar from that in Acts 8. It suggests that Luke may have been describing a Church in which the Spirit was not unknown but in which the Spirit’s gifts were not yet manifest…It is freely admitted that this interpretation can only be tentatively put forward, but it does seem to make sense otherwise an incomprehensible situation without resorting to drastic emendation of Luke’s narrative {sic Beasley-Murray’s end note states: ‘It is not to be excluded that the historical facts may have been as outlined above and that Luke did not realize their precise import, assuming that the spiritual gifts so imparted an initial giving of the Holy Spirit but his hints of the Spirit’s working in Samaria through the agency of Philip, before the arrival of the Apostles seem to me to favour the interpretation here offered’}”

There is not enough material evidence to refute totally that the Spirit Baptism in this passage is a separate event from the preaching of the gospel and the reception of the water baptism yet Calvin reaches a similar position as that above:

“…Therefore, we must not deny but that the Samaritans, who had put on Christ, had also his Spirit given them; and surely Luke speaketh not in this place of the common grace of the Spirit, whereby God doth regenerate us, that we may be His children…To conclude, forasmuch as the Samaritans were already endued with the Spirit of adoption; the excellent graces of the Spirit are heaped upon them…and [so] testify that his Spirit shall be always the governor and director of the faithful.”

Thus the act that seemed discrete was more like a conclusion to a continuum started with Philip’s gospel presentation. But what can be said is that the episode itself is unique to the biblical record. Given the boundaries of the Church at that time were being pushed outward, it is in the character and good form of the Holy Spirit to ensure each part of the body was in step with the others – especially as it was bringing life to those not fully acquainted with the former Way of the Jews. At the very least what can be said is that the Spirit was not without operation at that time.

The burning question is “Is the Spirit able to, when it comes to His person, be divided concerning the work of salvation?” At this juncture we might as well broach the subject of the Spirit baptism in a topical fashion ( I will do so in detail ina future post). It must be said, He is not an element to be subdivided but a person. As such, having brought faith and repentance and leading the Samaritan people to water baptism, can we say His influence was limited to leading alone? If so, the question must be posed “If one being baptized into the body of Christ, how could he not have the Spirit?” If one does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. You cannot have one without the other if this is the position held otherwise a separation between Christ and His Spirit must be made which is theologically impossible. In addition, if a separation of the gospel message (as a three-fold process that is taught by some) be made of the Petrine approach (Acts 2:38) be applied to the Samaritan example, then the sovereignty of God concerning Cornelius must be addressed – Cornelius manifested spiritual gifts before he was water baptized. Therefore violating the ordered pattern used up to that time. The only plausible answer I offer here is that the ‘baptism’ of the Spirit must be uncoupled from His charismata. In this modern time, we link the baptism of the Spirit with His manifestations. What needs to be understood is: first, the charismata recorded in the Acts is only detailed for very significant advances of the church: it’s birth, it’s expansion to the Samaritan people and then to the Gentiles, then to the closure concerning ‘disciples’ of John who had no real experience with the gospel of Christ. Secondly, a majority of the conversion episodes are silent on the matter. The link we make today is perhaps a contrived one and does not hold in all instances under objective application of the records available. If one continues to press that Spirit baptism cannot be unlinked with Spiritual gifts, then the ‘incomprehensible’ scenarios Beaseley-Murray cites are all in play. In essence, one has a solution in which a problem must be constructed from ‘patterns’ that are incongruous i.e. they do not fit or mesh well together.

3. Finally, we address the subject of baptism in Jesus’ name. This formula makes full sense given that the Samaritans were steeped in their own variation of Judaism as twisted and mal-formed as it was. They were still those to whom it would have been required to repudiate their former allegiance by being baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ by invoking His name. This would signify their breaking with the old ways entirely much as an orthodox Jew had done on the day of Pentecost when they had received baptism in Jesus’ name.

The Cornelian Experience – The sequence of events are as follows: Preaching of the gospel is received by the gentile hearers, who had been prepared by their own vision from the Lord. Having experienced faith and repentance, the Holy Spirit sovereignly falls upon Cornelius and his company that is signaled by charismata. Having received the Spirit of God indicated by such evidence, Peter is compelled to baptize the Gentiles in the name of Jesus. The sequence of events is not anticipated by Peter nor the Jewish believers who had accompanied him. There are two is points here concerning the order of events and they are most likely why the ‘pattern’ of repentance, water baptism and then the reception of the Spirit was not experienced:

1. First, they were Gentiles and as such, there would have been reticence from Peter but most especially from the Jews that accompanied him. If God had not shown his sovereign acceptance of the Gentiles by the outpouring of His Spirit, it would have left Peter and those with him having to explain (which they had to do anyway) why they had baptized the Gentiles and so accepted them within the Church as legitimate members. Because God miraculously emphasized His approval and acceptance of them (to which Peter had received no less than three visions regarding how the Lord viewed them), he was compelled to baptize them.
2. Secondly, the name of Jesus was invoked in their baptisms for a very significant reason. They had aligned themselves with practicing and orthodox Jews. By being baptized in Jesus name, they were repudiating their former alliance with traditional Judaism much like their Jewish counterparts were required to do.

In essence, the radical departure of the gospel message being opened to the Gentiles called for extraordinary circumstances and procedures. Otherwise, the Way may never have been opened to the Gentiles as it was. This is a demonstration that God will not be limited by patterns of operation…the Spirit blows wherever He wills. We must always allow Him latitude. If we do not understand , that is our limitation not His inconsistency.

The Disciples At Ephesus. In this situation, Paul replicates the pattern found in the Petrine approach of Acts 2:38. Paul preaches Faith and Repentance that is followed by Water baptism in Jesus Name and laying on of hands for the reception of the Spirit. This scripture is often used to indicate the separation of the giving of the Spirit to one who has merely repented and accepted Jesus as their Lord. In Pentecostal and Charismatic circles as well as some fringes, this is the explanation given that Spirit baptism is not ‘automatic’ but must be sought. After all, these were ‘disciples!’. Peering a little deeper into this, we can begin to understand Paul’s approach and actions which were approved by the Spirit. First, let’s take on the idea of these being ‘disciples’. Paul meets them and right away becomes concerned. They confess that they are disciples. Yet in his conversations with them, Paul is a little uncomfortable. He asks them at some point ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ This is a very interesting question. Paul is probing to understand exactly what these disciples understood or had experienced. We must ask the question of them as their status as ‘disciples.’ – apparently Paul did.

It is plausible and suggested here that these ‘disciples’ had been baptized by those who had come from Jerusalem and had spread John’s message – not necessarily were they baptized by John or his immediate disciples –Remember, the account takes place in Ephesus a city in modern Turkey not Jerusalem. The reason for this plausibility is that they had no reference to the Holy Spirit, yet John’s ministry was all about the coming of the Messiah who would baptize in the Holy Spirit – this fact is interwoven through the gospel accounts of John’s ministry. It is conceivable that if they had been baptized by John or those immediate to him (his attending disciples) at the very least they would have had some notion of the Holy Spirit. They openly confessed that they had not ever ‘heard’ of a Holy Spirit. Regarding them being disciples of Christ must be scrutinized closely. The accounts in Acts concerning Paul where other disciples were present prior to his Paul’s first arrival (e.g. Antioch), there is no record of re-baptizing. Simply put, Paul and Barnabas in their time with the Church at Antioch give no indication that re-baptisms were performed during their tenure – ergo nothing was lacking as they perceived it in the disciple’s lives at Antioch. This is clear proof that while the Apostle could have re-baptized believers, he did not when there was no need to do so. This evidence throws a dim light on the definition used by some that these were disciples and therefore believers in Christ. This was confirmed by these disciples themselves in their own admission ‘we have not heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ Again a clue as to their experience was not at all as what the Apostle would expect.

Finally, as a side note, if the baptism of John is to be called into question as not being adequately preparatory, one must answer the case of Apollos who had received the baptism of John and yet there is no record of his re-baptism or subsequent Spirit baptism in the Pentecostal sense, yet it is well documented that he was a very key factor in the cause of the gospel from that time forward.

The conclusion must be reached that the experience of the ‘disciples’ here in Acts 18 was malformed. They had received something but Paul being the master builder, would have left nothing to chance. Paul instructs them as to the purpose of John’s baptism initially -ask yourself why this instruction was necessary to a legitimate disciple of John. It is as if Paul perceived that they did not have the impression as to why they had been baptized! He then further instructs them pointing them back to the purpose of John’s ministry, which was to be the forerunner of Christ – again a clear point of John’s purpose. Paul thought it important to re-emphasize this point to ensure a proper foundation and perspective. Paul then shares that the mission of John was to present the Christ. He does so and then baptizes them in Jesus’ name and lays His hands upon them for the reception of Spirit baptism. The final point here is that it was doubtful at all that they were legitimate disciples of John. As such, Paul left no stone unturned but preached to them as if they were like all the rest, lost and in need of a Savior.

Many from the Pentecostal/Holiness tradition, would say that the accounts above detailed exemplify the genuine manifestation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit – that is tongues and the like. This conclusion is historically a very recent conclusion. For some good reading on the historical roots of modern theology on Spirit Baptism, Vinson Synan has a watershed work entitled “The History of the Holiness and Pentecostal Movement in the United States. In this work, it is shown that John Wesley was the originator of the ‘second blessing’ or ‘double cure’ that those who walked the trail he blazed would further develop into the “Pentecostal version” of Spirit baptism. To be honest, I think Wesley would be appalled at where others have taken it. Shortly after his death, those who followed his teachings preached the concept that if the ‘second blessing’ was not present in the life of the believer, their entire spiritual state and eternal future was a stake. And so it goes until the present.

Conclusion

Given what has been presented thus far, the whole definition of the true meaning of the word ‘baptism’ as it is applied to water or Spirit baptism should be re-examined. It could be said that the cases detailed above provide detail enough for us to follow what happened and yet they reach no real conclusion as to pattern and order. In addition, the detailed accounts presented are concerned with those to whom Hebrew law, traditions and practices were familiar. I cannot conclude other than this fact is very significant and so helps to explain the required baptism, in what name they were to be baptized and the confirmation by the Spirit of God – that is His witness to the conversion of the hearer. To the Jew, proselyte or Samaritan this would have been essential not only for themselves but for those who had preached to them. It echoes the spirit of John chapter 3 that puts on those that aligned themselves with the Jewish faith a greater sense of their responsibility concerning the Messiah.

As I stated, I offer no real answers as to what the role of water baptism plays in the believer’s spiritual life. To be honest, it is shrouded in mystery to a great extent. What I have tried to do is dispel any pattern or teaching that would present water baptism as having any ex opera operato quality to it. We must know what it is not so that our understanding of what it is, when that does come about, is clear. If anything, we need to separate a sound and perhaps bare foundation regarding water baptism that can be experienced in spite of all the wood, hay and stubble that has been built upon it in the last century or so. Let the fire of the Spirit of God reveal what He has established and what He has not. That is my prayer.