Soteriology


What did Paul mean when he said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (I Cor 1:17)? Here is the full context:
Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” 1:13 Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? 1:14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 1:15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! 1:16 (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless. (I Cor 1:11-17)

 

This passage poses a challenge to those of us who understand the Bible to teach that baptism is essential to salvation. It’s one thing to say, “I did not baptize many of you,” but it is an entirely other matter to say, “Christ did not send me to baptize.” The first is an incidental fact of history and circumstance, but the latter appears to speak of purpose. Paul seems to be saying that baptizing people is not part of His ministerial call. It seems strange that Paul, a minister of the Gospel, would not be sent to baptize when baptism is a proper response to the Gospel message. And it’s not as if Paul’s type of ministry would not have required him to baptize much. A teacher may not be required to baptize much because his ministerial function is primarily to believers, but Paul was an apostle. It would seem strange that someone whose job was to make converts for Christ would not be sent to baptize, if baptism was essential to their conversion. Taken at face value, this appears to diminish the importance of baptism, calling into question whether it is indeed necessary for regeneration. So how do we understand Paul, then?

One possibility is that Paul is employing a Hebraism. Hebrews used a “not this, but this” construction to communicate the idea of “not only this, but also and especially this other.” It is a way of emphasizing what’s named second over what’s named first. For example, when Jesus said “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains unto everlasting life” (Jn 6:27). Clearly He did not mean we should not work so that we can buy food, but rather that we need to do more than that. We need to work to obtain food that is more important: food that will last forever.

The problem with this explanation is that it still doesn’t fit with our understanding of the importance of baptism. If baptism is necessary to salvation, how could preaching the Gospel be said to be of more importance? It would seem to me that both would be equally important. Without the preaching of the Gospel one could not have faith; without baptism one could not properly exercise their faith to be born again. So while this explanation seems plausible at first, it ends up just recycling the problem. In the end the role of baptism is denigrated.

What are your thoughts on this passage? How would you explain it in light of other Biblical passages?

 

 

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All I have ever heard in my Pentecostal life is that the purpose of baptism is the forgiveness of sins. I do not doubt that baptism involves the forgiveness of sins, but I think it is more proper to understand forgiveness as the consequence of the primary purpose of baptism: to unify us with Christ. Romans 6:1-6 and Galatians 3:27 are key texts: 

What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 6:2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 6:3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 6:5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6:6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Rom 6:1-6) 

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:27) 

According to Paul, when we are baptized in Jesus’ name we are clothed with Christ. We are baptized into Him, not merely unto Him. This union Paul describes appears to be a legal union. When we are baptized into Christ we join ourselves to Him so that what He accomplished spiritually on our behalf can be legally credited to us as if we had done it ourselves. When we are baptized into Christ we die to sin just as He died to sin; when we are baptized into Christ our old man is buried with Him; when we are baptized into Christ we are raised with Christ to newness of resurrection life (Notice how baptism is connected with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This is in contradistinction to our normal way of explaining salvation wherein we die at repentance, are buried by baptism, and rise to new life in Spirit baptism. According to Paul baptism does all three.) Baptism allows for Christ’s victory over sin to be accounted to us as if it were our own. Understood in such a fashion it is obvious why Scripture says baptism if for the forgiveness of sins. It is the natural byproduct of this spiritual-legal transaction. To be dead to sin and experience new life in Christ is to be forgiven. So while forgiveness is definitely a purpose of baptism, it seems to be secondary in effect. It is a consequence of our union with Christ. 

As a side point, is anyone willing to take a stab at explaining the relationship between the forgiveness we receive when we repent of our sins, and the forgiveness we receive when we are united to Christ through baptism?

Can someone lose the Holy Spirit? This is an oft-asked question in Pentecostal circles. Rather than simply stating my position on the question I will offer a few thoughts and insights to stir up your own. Once there has been sufficient discussion I will state my position.

I am somewhat uncomfortable with the way the question is even framed. While it could be a mere limitation of language, I wonder if the way we frame the question reflects a theological misunderstanding of the nature of Spirit baptism. To be filled with the Spirit is not merely having the spiritual substance of God enter your body and spirit in a special way. Spirit baptism involves the regeneration (making-alive) of an individual’s spirit that was “killed” by sin. It is a rebirth as Jesus described it in John 3.

If this understanding of what it means to be filled with the Spirit is correct, then to lose the Spirit would mean our spirit has to be spiritually “unborn.” Losing the Spirit would not be a mere departure of God’s spiritual presence from one’s body/spirit, but a removing of the spiritual life God infused into the individual, so that her human spirit is left for dead once more.

Is this feasible? Is it possible for God to undo a spiritual birth? Nicodemus asked Jesus how a man could re-enter his mother’s womb to be born again. He recognized that birth is a decisive moment in time that cannot be repeated, nor undone. If such is true of the first birth, is it also true of the second? Can the spiritual birthing of our spirit from a state of death to life be undone, yet alone repeated (for those who believe one can lose and then regain the Spirit)? We know it is not possible to undo a natural birth, but is it possible for God to undo our spiritual birth?

If so, how? What Biblical or rational evidence leads you to this conclusion? What would it take for God to “unbirth” you? Is it persistent sin? If so, how long does one have to persist in that sin before God reverses their regeneration? Is it a particular amount of sin? If so, how much is too much?

If regeneration is not reversible, how do you explain the many passages of Scripture that warn of believers falling away from God?

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