Heaven & Earth features conversations between myself and another person who knows something fascinating. In these conversations, I play the role of the listener and ask questions to learn more about a topic.
In this episode, Emeritus Professor Stan Fowler of Heritage Seminary talks with me about baptism in the Baptist tradition and especially its sacramental character. I think you will find this talk utterly fascinating and perhaps eye-opening. Baptism, argues Professor Fowler, is sacramental. Before you jump to conclusions about what that might mean, first listen to the conversation.
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Mark Matthias says
Thanks, Wyatt —
Well, first I will say this scholar has made me firmly against baptism. The translation of that word is ‘immersion’ — the word baptism has come to be more than a pure translation, making every use of it to mean a dunking ritual which does not come across at all in Matthew 3:15 “all righteousness was recognized only to the Jews…and he believes even Titus 3:5 underlies water baptism.
All of this appears to generate itself through Replacement Theology. When I see clearly in Matthew 3:11,14, the unmistakably sharp contrast between water baptism and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit…much has been said… And verse 15 Gentile Christians never seem to capture the Jewishness of that message — how many Gentiles showed up at the Jordan? The speaker’s theory seems forced into his theology.
John’s activities at the Jordan struck great curiosity among the Jews — John 1:19-25.
Moreover, he made a distinction between the two rites iron clad in John 1:26-34; John 4:2… And then there’s 1 Corinthians 1:17; Ephesians 2:8 are among several that puts serious doubt in that reformed theory. The Holy Spirit had dozens of opportunities to give a water ritual the lofty place that humans have given it.
As Arnold Fruchtenbaum says in Faith Alone: In more than two hundred cases where the Scriptures give a condition for salvation, faith or belief is the only condition. This is important to remember. If there are “problem passages”, one should not interpret the two hundred clear passages by the few minor problems passages. Rather, one should try to interpret the few problem passages by the two hundred clear passages.
Randy Baker says
Having pondered your response that I first read yesterday morning, I wonder if your focus on baptism is a red herring considering the content of Stan Fowler’s discussion. Sacramentalism is not at all about how we go about baptizing people. Sacramentalism is all about what God is doing within us as we go about our lives participating in sacramental activities. Sacramental theologies differ in what activities are sacramental, and the minimum is two, baptism and communion/eucharist/love feast/Lord’s Supper. I am inclined to believe there is a minimum of three sacramental activities, the third being prayer. Our Lord Jesus Christ did command us to also pray.
Do we live our lives within a sacramental system, or, are those who claim God has started spinning this world then walked away in disinterest correct in their belief?
I am aware of Replacement Theology, but sacramentalism certainly predates that and you would need to suss that out for me to see the connection. I am in no way claiming to be a scholar on this matter; I don’t see what you see.
It is obvious you are concerned about the mode of baptism, but I am currently rethinking why the traditions I am most familiar with view Baptism and Communion as ordinances.
In my mind, the question is why Christ specifically told us to do these things in the first place. If baptism is merely a rote activity that is a believer’s outward confession of faith, then how the ritual is performed is meaningless. To say that sprinkling is wrong and immersion is necessary is utterly meaningless unless we can signify why the activity has any importance in the first place.
To say that observing the particulars in the application of the ritual implies a degree of significance in the ritual itself. The ritual, therefore, is more important than the individual’s confession of faith.
I am careful to say confession, as the traditions I am familiar with allow the person to be baptized the opportunity to give their testimony. This is in contrast to liturgical communities that profess their faith by affirming Christian truths as part of the ceremony.
So what does God do in and through these two activities? If God does nothing at all, then I see them rightly being called ordinances that we can tick off our bucket list, even if we do these things without interest or passion. If God does anything at all in the participant’s life, I would view those activities as being sacramental, even if we cannot articulate what God is doing exactly in our lives.
To restate the significance of this discussion, at least in my mind is: What is God doing in and through my life and through what vectors (baptism, eucharist, prayer) does he do anything at all within our lives?
Randy Baker says
Thank you Wyatt. I was raised in a Baptist church until my late teens. There were several factors involved in my decision to leave the church and Christianity at that time. I did return to a church about 6 months later, but my reaction to certain Baptist teachings caused me to choose Pentecostalism. Forty years have now passed, I am now retired and have just completed Bible College and started as an assistant pastor. I am currently pursuing a MTS at Wycliffe; my first course in Systematic Theology significantly challenged my views on sacramentalism.
I appreciate Stan Fowlers views, they are beneficial as I continue to wrestle with the vertical aspects of Baptism and Communion/Lord’s Supper/Eucharist between the creature and God. For most of my life and prior to Wycliffe, I viewed the ordinances as one-way activities in the vertical relationship. That these observances were nothing more than acts of obedience, a form of praise and worship to God.
I agree with Stan Fowlers when he says to the effect, that the position and description of ordinances lack strength, failing to recognize and acknowledge what God is doing in the event. I am no longer convinced the term ordinance is adequate, I suspect God conveys a Grace within a sacramental activity that is not salvific but does contribute in some way in our pursuit of holiness, our strivings to conform to the image of Christ.
I don’t have the answers, I still have to take the second part of the Systematic Theology course when it is offered in January 2021. I am not deluded to think I will be able to figure it all out when I complete that course.
Mark Matthias says
Excellent post, Randy — I was wondering if you were able to delve into the original languages yet? Theology, of course, is a must but for example, if you took a look at Matthew 28:19 in Greek it may not appear as it has been classified to indicate. For example, English is not as logical and tightly ordered as other languages, including Greek or Hebrew. Even Spanish has more in common with Greek than English — so, there is a need to often use more words in translating Greek to English to make it essentially clear to the English speaker (which does leave room for serious biases). So, yes, we study the great scholars but eventually, we begin to see for ourselves which you obviously do.
One thing I noticed (besides the rendering “Baptism” which a pure translation is “immersion”, which is actually significant) — in verse 28 the imperative applies to the idea to GO! teach! the Gospel to everyone on the face of the earth — that’s the Commission. In contrast, the translation has made the “dunking” in a bath of water part of the imperative — it is definitely not… (contrast 1 Peter 3:21 where the operative word is “Not”.
However, because we are finite and therefore limited in seeing the full scope in panorama as John did when he wrote Revelation, just because an ecclesiastical body decides something is the law doesn’t mean that it is, which you have indicated your full awareness.
Thus by making water baptism part of the “command” I believe has been terribly detrimental to “spiritual” growth (cf, John 6:63; John 16…). Why? Because by believing we have accomplished so much by a ritual it takes us off the proverbial hook to “do” (James 1:22). The only important “command” given to us, John 13:34, is the “only” one that completely fulfills the Law of God; the only one that has true meaning for God. All the rest is form and function. My reasoning…everyone on earth hates each other’s guts — only if we loved each other, focusing on that only as our Lord has ordained.
The Thief on the Cross would be in trouble if ritualism had the “spiritual” value that man has given it. Just food for thought. Thanks.
Randy Baker says
Thank you, Mark. I have just completed a two-year Bachelor of Religious Education degree through Distance Education. Because I started my BRE prior to retirement, it has taken me 6 years to complete. The only other languages I have learned in my lifetime are programming languages. For word studies in the original biblical languages, I am completely dependent upon resources that explain the original languages.
I am curious to know what you think baptism accomplishes in a believer’s life. Do you view it as a sacrament or ordinance?
Mark Matthias says
Thanks, Randy, I am truly enjoying this exchange.
Ok, to answer your question, “Do we live our lives within a sacramental system, or, are those who claim God has started spinning this world then walked away in disinterest correct in their belief?” No, but He engages us through our hearts, minds, souls…The gathering in fellowship is optimized when we walk in the Spirit — John 16 gives an excellent example of the necessity to walk in Him; otherwise, we can be champions of the Church but in effect become empty vessels without walking in the Spirit — look at the forecast of the Church in the first few chapters Revelation…corruption is imminent. This fact brings in Romans 10:9-10. The solution to inner peace in blissfully simple…Matthew 22:37-40; James 1:22 (and many others that support that). Out of this Johnn 3:3 has meaning. If we cannot do this are we saved? and can this be done apart from the Church?
OK, now, I loved the fact that you asked: what “What are we supposed to do, float around and be detached? Great question.
No, we are not; we, as exhorted by Jesus, should keep in fellowship, not forsaking the gathering of the Body/Brethren — Hebrews 10:25 says don’t forsake the gathering of the assembly of believers… and so on.
My point is simple, the church has nothing to do with our salvation. but “bolsters” our salvation which can only be received (not earned) by our faith — strictly an affair of the heart. The appetence of the human being for evil is far too strong to resist, so how can he “help” save someone? We can pass the gospel and hope some have ears to hears (Mark 4:9), which only the Holy Spirit can decide.
But the church keeps the body organized and ‘fed’, and can encourage others to incline their ears to the Lord. if it is a true church. Nevertheless, Judas was walking around with God to no avail.
There has been a multitude of scholars in the past two thousand years that have been the spawn of the devil but many have been lauded and respected because they performed in the proper secular way — please take a look at Matthew 7:19-23 — by our fruit, we are known by God and nothing else. Matthew 7:23.
(Matthew 3:11, 14,15; John 1:18-34; John 4:2 I wanted you to look very deeply into the essential theology of what the passages are telling us. and I believe I will have no trouble making the case that Matthew 3:14-15 was recognizable only to the Jews of that ancient time (how many Gentiles showed up at the Jordan?)
It’s not that I negate the sacramental system per se, but I give much greater value to real action, meted out in the world.
So, of course, we need the church, but the Holy Spirit works independently of the human will. He inspires us to love Jesus which we would not do otherwise. then when we accept God’s calling, and He guides us and leads us — and He does not need the help of any human agency (look carefully at John 14:13-16…and look at John 16, all of these things take place as we Walk in Him — which takes place after Romans 10:9-10.
So, here’s where I want to show you I agree with you — after we are genuinely saved by our love of Jesus which comes directly from our hearts, we can perform any sacrament you like which will serve to unify the Body through the congelation of fellowship. But the meeting with God almighty must be apart from everyone — just between you and Him.
If everyone had that experience apart from everything else then he/she could be alone and not fall apart like so many churches have during this virus, for example.
The Scripture…the Word is the bottom line in all things, especially salvation, And that’s basically it. Thank you so much for the fellowship, Randy
Randy Baker says
Thank you for your response Mark, I too am enjoying this time of fellowship.
I am unclear what your “no” is in reference to, as my question may have been poorly worded. If your response is “No, but He engages us through our hearts, minds, souls.” to my question whether we live “within a sacramental system”, I believe our understanding of sacramentalism is inconsistent.
To simplify the aspect of sacramentalism I am focusing on, it is in the congregational setting that two specific sacraments are performed, baptism and communion. Unlike ordinances that is a one-way vertical activity (worship, obedience), the sacramental activity is two-way in the vertical relationship. Since scripture speaks to God’s response to man’s worship and obedience, can God’s response be rightly called a grace that is spoken of in sacramental theology?
You and I would agree that we are nothing without Christ’s sacrifice, being empowered by the Holy Spirit. We have done nothing to earn salvation, it is a free gift from God. Christians will produce fruits of the Spirit and work as well. You are correct to point out there will be so-called Christians that come face to face that Jesus will not recognize them, casting them away as evildoers. It is when you say: “I give much greater value to real action, meted out in the world” that I suspect you diverge from my understanding of what sacraments are meant for.
Where does your strength come from? If it comes from the Lord, can it not come from the Lord through the sacramental activity?
Just so that you are aware, that as a Pentecostal I am sensitive towards those who prefer to credit God rather than the Holy Spirit. I find many non-Pentecostals hesitant to speak of the Holy Spirit; many prefer to say God or even Christ. I don’t bother delving into the Scutum Fidei and Acts 2:33 to prove any points.
In regards to your comments on COVID-19 and churches falling apart, I am aware it has affected some congregations negatively, but the vast majority of congregations I am personally aware of here in Canada, broadly speaking they are experiencing positive movement in their congregations.
I hope this helps clarify some things.
Mark Matthias says
Well said Randy — and I should have been more clear on sacramentalism. Ok, I embrace the notion horizontal/vertical (always have) and discern the Spirit as all-consuming and everywhere at all times.
For example, in Luke 11:41: “But give as alms the things that are within you, and you will see that everything is clean for you. Woe to you Pharisees! (the same as many lead pastors — I’m not holier than though but to embrace sin is too much) You pay tithes of mint and rue and every herb, but you disregard justice and the love of God. “You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.”
And let me add one more — Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Notwithstanding contest). The point is this human shortcoming will never go away — some churches just settle for it and it inevitably becomes worse.
Over the years we will see errors everywhere perhaps especially in ourselves, but the doesn’t mean that errors are ok — we are fine if we constantly realize by our spiritual awareness our fallenness and our gift at the same time. Yes, the horizontal and vertical are reinforcement, for sure, but I don’t see them as salvific, only a bolstering at best.
the only thing I see as salvific is the Romans 10:9-10; John 3:3; Titus 3:5 experience.
Yes, we have to have some physical interaction or we are floating in the air, however, I give precedence to the infilling… without which the horizontal and vertical are dead. eThe vertical sacraments have their place but not like the infilling of the Spirit — once we are truly saved we are definitely indwelled by the Spirit, and occasionally “Filled’ by the Spirit. This can happen when one least expects, I have surprisingly found. The horizontal serve their purpose but if I were lost in a desert, like a John for 30 years, I would lack nothing. I’m only saying that to make the point. That’s the crux of it.
The Bible clearly gives value to both horizontal and vertical but — the salvific reality imposes itself from moment to moment as we live and breathe as long as we are (and the operative word is ‘continuously’ on the high focus of the Son of God (I know, we’re human and we all need rest). The present tense in the Greek repeatedly makes itself
felt, making the point that the “continuity” of worship or constant focus, is the key — for example, 1 John 3:8-9. It’s not the stumble that constitutes the sin, it the “continuousness”, the embrace that condemns. In the KJV the word, “sins” has been replaced by, “practices sin”. So, I stopped punishing myself for my stumbling in my 20’s and just walk the path, come what may.
But let me say something — If I walk in the Spirit (meaning, ‘literally’ accomplishing…Galatians 5:17; John 13;34; and say, Galatians 5:25, etc.
the real bottom line is if we live this way ( I am very very imperfect at it, by the way); or be determined to… we are home,e free. Your leaning toward the Pentecostals should serve you. I have seen the eye-rolling head-bobbing madness, but I have seen the sedate intelligent, loving approach as well — just really undistracted love.
Mark Matthias says
Randy, let me say one more thing — If I am walking around with the Spirit and I participate in the Eucharist, for example, and the Spirit of the Lord is there I don’t see any difference between the Spirit at the celebration and the Spirit I with whom I entered the room. that’s why I consider it a bolstering for those who have Him. But, if someone doesn’t have Him already especially if they are not interested in having Him, then I wouldn’t allow him to participate, and the Scripture agrees for good reason.
Randy Baker says
Mark, thank you for the clarifications, they are helpful.
I am confident that you and I are on the same page regarding salvation, confession of sin (no need to confess to a priest who offers absolution), and obviously striving to be holy where the evidence includes desirable behaviours and excludes sinful desires. A partial list: (Matt. 5:24, 6:14-15, 7:16, 18:35; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 11:4, 17:4; John 13:35, 15:4-11; Acts 2:42; Rom. 10:13, 14:1-15 (that was part of the text to my sermon last Sunday); Gal. 5:19-21, 5:22-23 (Joy is a misunderstood concept in our society today), 6:1; Phil. 2:1-3; Col. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:4 (endurance through persecution); Heb. 10:25; James 2:1 (will not show favouritism) 2:14-26, 5:20; 1 Pet. 4:8; 2 Pet. 3:9 (being patient with the lost or backslidden as you recognize the Holy Spirit drawing them to Christ (incl: Eph 4:2, 32; 2 Cor. 2:7; 2 Tim. 2:25); there are limits Titus 3:8-11 which requires discernment and wisdom).
We are in agreement that a so-called Christian (Matt. 21-23) will not only have deceived others, they are likely to be gobsmacked when Jesus turns them away as evil doers for they have also deceived themselves.
I am confident we are in agreement with Psalm 25:11 and we would even pray this prayer.
As for the topic of sacraments, I am viewing it from the Pentecostal pneumatological view that the Holy Spirit not only resides in the believer, but the Holy Spirits’ activity and manifestation have real meaning and impact upon the believer. I believe that upon salvation the Holy Spirit takes residence in our heart, but the subsequent Spirit baptism experience is one of power that further equips the saint to service. I say saint to ensure the salvation of the believer is understood to be secure; it is not used in the Catholic sense of canonization that elevates mere mortals to sainthood.
It is the activity of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life that makes our progress in striving to become Christ-like possible. I noticed in the Anglo-Catholic languages, “Christ among” us is common, and from a Pentecostal viewpoint, it seems to reflect the absence of a thorough investigation into the person of the Holy Spirit for most of the first 17 centuries within the Christian faith.
If Christ ascended to sit at the right hand of the father (Acts:1:6-12), and if Paul is correct in saying that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 3:16), it is the Holy Spirit, not Jesus who is present with the believer.
Failure to make this distinction, in my opinion, clouds the idea of why Christ called us to pray, to be baptized, to participate in communion. These three activities are somehow effectual, they are not merely rote activities that confess our faith.
If my view which continues to develop is pneumatological in scope and nature. I am becoming more convinced that these three activities Christ has called us to are sacramental in that our obedience results in a Holy Spirit response that the Lutheran, Anglo-Catholic describes as “grace”. What exactly that response is, or if the response is always the same, I do not know. Christ calls us to do these things, yet scripture is largely silent on the questions I am asking. Grace as other traditions refers to this activity, broadly categorized this activity as salvific, at least with the view that one can lose their salvation.
It is akin to our continued requirement to strive towards holiness. If you can lose your salvation, you can become lukewarm, you can backslide, God will abandon believers to their lusts (Rom. 1:21-32). Sacramental activities might be God’s Sovereign way where the obedient faithful are further empowered/encouraged by the Holy Spirit to remain obedient and faithful.
As I previously stated, scripture is largely silent on the specifics. Scripture is not silent about the fact that somehow, God does act when the human creature is obedient or disobedient.
I hope this clarifies where my line of thought is progressing.
Mark Matthias says
“it is not used in the Catholic sense of canonization that elevates mere mortals to sainthood.” Oh for sure. But I think the Protestors did not protest enough.
“If Christ ascended to sit at the right hand of the father (Acts:1:6-12), and if Paul is correct in saying that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 3:16), it is the Holy Spirit, not Jesus who is present with the believer.” …most assuredly…no problem.
I think the best way to express my line of thinking is to say, it is the faith in Jesus, in fellowship and not the temporal objects, just as anything done in His name is blessed. I believe the lives of the thief on the cross and John the Baptist at least illustrate the independence of the Spirit — John 3:8; 1 Cor. 2:10, and I am convinced that the only thing that secures His attention is a human with an overwhelming love for Jesus. I can’t find anything else that secures His attention — God’s entire MO on earth is spiritual, independently as I see it. these are among the things that jump out at me when I study.
As we see throughout the Gospels how Jesus worked…Go…your faith has made you well…They’re far too many passages supporting “Faith alone” for me to embrace the alternative; that’s one of the issues — the Spirit had dozens upon dozens of opportunities to certify the Church’s sacramental position — but instead, He has done the opposite. He has repeatedly reinforced “faith alone” regarding salvation. Yet, of course, there are many functions in the church. We’re not that far from each other.
Two, among dozens, against the salvific benefits of sacramentalism, would be 1 Corinthians 1:17 compared with, for example, Eph, 2;8; Galatians 2:16 — Imagine if Paul made the statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17 today — he might have to run away because ritual has become so entrenched in us, we can’t apparently live without it. It is very confusing to hear stalwarts like John MacArthur point out all the passages that say water Baptism can’t possibly save (including 1 Peter 3:21 (which amazingly, many serious students have not seem and argue against), “but you must do it — it’s a command” — that ideology by Protestantism has confused many people. Because the lead pastor says to just do it, they do it… the most common story I’ve heard.
Immediately after in another post he berated everyone who doesn’t do it…it must be defiance, hidden sin, etc. Needless to say, I found this utterly perplexing. And Matt. 28:19 is not good enough as a support, especially in view of the controversial translation of Matt… in respect to other parts of the Bible — all of which are inspired.
That kind of thinking threw me back to the Hebrew Bible/OT, to see how important Micvahs were to the children of Israel — that speaks for itself. John the Baptist was the most knowledgeable man on earth at the time and thought it absurd that God’s Son would participate, cf, John 1:18-34; 4:2. He knew it was simply a gathering that would be a draw to attract Jewish people — the launch point for the Son…
Earlier I was indicating the misplaced mix of legalism and grace. Paul’s take on circumcision is relatively straightforward — as long as the temporal activity doesn’t make itself virtually divine it is fine.
Circumcision, for example, Paul tells us is ok to do and it’s ok not to do it. In Galatians 5:6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. All that matters is faith, expressed through love.
Sure circumcision is probably a healthy thing to do, but no spiritual value. I’ve met several who think circumcision is anathema (puzzling). This theme of temporal/spiritual…thoroughly outweighs the alternative to the extent that I’ve been forced to think it is embraced as an initiation into Protestantism.
so I understand if you don’t agree, no problem, but you can see why I think as I do.
It stands to reason that If the Spirit attends a Eucharist and He discerns, as only He is able, and He sees someone fully accepted as a member of the Assembly with no real faith in Christ, he will not be blessed whether he consumes the bread or not; again, putting the weight on faith. So, this is the next installment of my thoughts.
PS, the Spirit absolutely loves what you and I are doing — I stayed with my younger son right through seminary making certain that he sees everything he was thought makes biblical sense and not to do anything just because anyone else told you to…Acts 17:11.
We talk shop day in day out just like you and I am doing — I want to be doing this when the Rapture occurs. The Spirit is with us, Randy. Contact me anytime anyplace.