The Saving Power of Baptism
Over the course of this series, I have argued in various ways that baptism does not merely have symbolic value but that it actually does something significant. One of the critical things that baptism accomplishes according to the New Testament is salvation (Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 2:37-41.) Those who accept the Protestant doctrine of salvation through faith alone and not by any works find this difficult to accept. But as I explained in a previous post, if we understand faith to mean relational fidelity and enacted allegiance, as contemporary New Testament research suggests, then baptism is actually repositioned as integral to faith.
Continue reading “The Value of Baptism (Part VI)”
The Covenant of Baptism
In the previous post, I talked about the more neglected elements of the baptismal process in the New Testament. I talked about the confession of faith that started the initiation rite and the invocation of the Spirit by the laying of hands which concluded the rite. By focusing on these elements and their significance, I came to the perspective that baptism in the New Testament functioned as an enacted oath of allegiance where both parties exchanged pledges of fidelity to one another. Now in this post, instead of focusing on the different components of the process, I will be looking at baptism as a whole and the type of relationship it sets up. Continue reading “The Value of Baptism (Part IV)”
In the early parts of this series, I argued based on contemporary biblical scholarship that baptism was not merely a symbolic act but had inherent value and actually accomplished something. I explained that baptism in the New Testament was actually integral to Christian faith. Therefore, contrary to Protestant beliefs that have also been adopted by Pentecostals, baptism does actually save, just as Jesus himself said (Mark 16:16, John 3:5.) Rather than discussing the general purpose of baptism, in this post we will look at the different elements the baptismal act is comprised of.
Now baptism was fundamentally an initiation rite. As with any ritual, it was an entire process so there was certainly more to it than just being immersed in water. New Testament scholar Matthew Bates identifies the three basic parts of the baptismal process. First, there was the public declaration of Jesus’ lordship by the baptizand. Second, the actual act of immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus. And finally, there was the invocation of the Spirit on the baptizand. (Romans 10:9-10, Acts 2:38, 19:1-6). Continue reading “The Value of Baptism (Part III)”
A New Perspective on Faith
The fact that in the New Testament we will be judged according to works is a rather old objection to the Protestant teaching that human effort has no real merit before God. Now more recently, since the late 70s at least, there has been a sea change in New Testament scholarship which has seriously undermined the Protestant dichotomy between faith and grace on one hand and works on the other. The scholarly movement known as the New Perspective on Paul was the main catalyst for initiating this shift. By problematizing the old understanding of New Testament era Judaism as a works based religion, it opened new avenues for reexamining the meanings of faith and grace.
One of the arguments made by the New Perspective is that when Paul said negative things about “work”, he did not necessarily mean all human activity. In fact, an attentive reader of Scripture will notice that in context he is usually referring to the “works of the law” i.e. the Law of Moses. This is clearly not a wholesale rejection of the value of human effort (or even the law per se) (Romans 7:12.) Rather, what he is really teaching is that we cannot be justified and saved by the works of the law alone. (Romans 3:20-21, Galatians 2:16.) As I pointed earlier, Paul simultaneously teaches that we are saved by faith and that we will be judged by our works. This implies that our final salvation does not depend on just belief alone but on our actions as well (Romans 1:16, 2 Corinthians 5:10.) Continue reading “Faith, Grace and Works (Part II)”
Protestantism vs. Works
The central principle of Protestant Christianity, is that we are justified by faith alone (sola fide) and saved by grace alone (sola gratia). This belief is perfectly summed up by Protestant interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9 which is, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone and not by our works. While it is not given the same emphasis, the doctrine has been largely inherited in Pentecostal Christianity as well which, among other things, is evident in their understanding of salvation, the significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and even deeply influences their defining feature which is their theology of the Holy Spirit. Since the Reformation itself, many have pointed out the serious difficulties with this understanding of works. Contemporary biblical scholarship has further exposed the profound shortcomings of the Protestant dogma. Continue reading “Faith, Grace and Works (Part I)”