Monday, May 19, 2014

The Bible vs. Doctrine

It seems that we have attended churches for most of our lives. We were both baptized in a Lutheran church, but one us of spent their childhood in a Methodist church, their pre-teen years in a Calvinistic church, and their teenage years in an Episcopalian church. As young adults, we individually checked out the Catholics, Baptists, Church of Christ, Charismatic churches, and Independents before ending up back in a Lutheran church. We stayed there for more than a decade before transitioning to a Pentecostal church. While we know that there are more denominations out there, these are the ones that we were personally involved with, although we were also exposed to Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, especially when they knocked on our front door.

We think it is fairly safe to say that we have been exposed to just about every "main stream" religion out there. On the one hand, that is very sad because what does that say about the holding power of churches today? On the other hand though, this seems to have uniquely prepared us for this stage of our lives and the creation of the Learning to Live God’s Way ministry. Finally, we have decided that all churches have at least one thing in common - personal prescriptions for their reading glasses!

Let us explain a little bit more. You see, the very first time you enter into a church, any church, you are handed a pair of "prescription reading glasses". These glasses help you to see the Bible within the guidelines of that church's particular doctrines. As you continue to spend time within one church or church family (denomination), the initial "prescription" is upgraded to "prescription contacts" that influence not only how you see God's Word, but also how you view life. In other words, it influences your perspective on everything. Should you change and go to another church of a different denomination or with different doctrines, you are given a **new** pair of glasses - which are naturally worn over the previously issued contact lenses! These glasses might clear up things blurred by the contacts and may make points previously thought to be crystal clear a bit blurry with the new perspectives being taught. Over time, you may even be upgraded to a new pair of contacts that better blends the two "prescriptions" and you sort of mold your beliefs. After all, no one likes blurry vision, and so you begin to pick and choose what you are going to believe out of the Bible based on your "view" of things.

In an effort to help illustrate this, we are going to take a look at the doctrine of baptism from several denominational viewpoints - or prescription reading glasses.


Lutherans believe that the Bible teaches that a person is saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone. The Bible tells us that such “faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17). Jesus Himself commands Baptism and tells us that Baptism is water used together with the Word of God (Matthew 28:19-20). Because of this, we believe that Baptism is one of the miraculous means of grace (another is God’s Word as it is written or spoken), through which God creates and/or strengthens the gift of faith in a person’s heart (see Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:1-4; Colossians 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Terms the Bible uses to talk about the beginning of faith include “conversion” and “regeneration.” Although we do not claim to understand fully how this happens, we believe that when an infant is baptized God creates faith in the heart of that infant. We believe this because the Bible says that infants can believe (Matthew 18:6) and that new birth (regeneration) happens in Baptism (John 3:5-7; Titus 3:5-6). The infant’s faith cannot yet, of course, be verbally expressed or articulated by the child, yet it is real and present all the same (see e.g., Acts 2:38-39; Luke 1:15; 2 Timothy 3:15). The faith of the infant, like the faith of adults, also needs to be fed and nurtured by God’s Word (Matthew 28:18-20), or it will die. [Position extracted from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod @]


Since the New Testament era, the Catholic Church has always understood baptism differently, teaching that it is a sacrament which accomplishes several things, the first of which is the remission of sin, both original sin and actual sin—only original sin in the case of infants and young children, since they are incapable of actual sin; and both original and actual sin in the case of older persons.

Peter explained what happens at baptism when he said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). But he did not restrict this teaching to adults. He added, "For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (2:39). We also read: "Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16). These commands are universal, not restricted to adults. Further, these commands make clear the necessary connection between baptism and salvation, a connection explicitly stated in 1 Peter 3:21: "Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

The present Catholic attitude accords perfectly with early Christian practices. Origen, for instance, wrote in the third century that "according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants" (Holilies on Leviticus, 8:3:11 [A.D. 244]). The Council of Carthage, in 253, condemned the opinion that baptism should be withheld from infants until the eighth day after birth. Later, Augustine taught, "The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned . . . nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic" (Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]). [Position extracted from Catholic Answers @]


Most Baptists believe that baptism is a rich symbol. By this we mean that baptism in itself does not convey salvation or transformation, but it is a sign of what has happened in a spiritual sense to a new believer. The water used in baptism is not sacred but is a vehicle to enhance the symbolism of spiritual washing or regeneration. As a symbol, baptism conveys several levels of meaning for a Christian believer. In a most profound sense, it pictures in vivid form the gospel of Christ itself. As the apostle wrote in Romans 6:3–4, a believer is said to be buried into Christ’s death, buried with Christ, and raised to new life in Christ. Only baptism by immersion portrays this spiritual transformation in the fullest sense.

Baptists also believe that baptism is an important way of professing one’s faith in Christ. Theologically, as salvation is a gift of God, not through human achievement (Ephesians 2:5, 8), and faith itself is a gift (Romans 12:3), baptism is God’s gift to the Church to allow the faithful a means of expressing their faith and gratitude for God’s redemptive work. By being presented publicly as a candidate for baptism, the believer affirms personal commitment to God in Christ and the expressed faith of the congregation. And, by being immersed, the candidate professes an adoption of the gospel in personal life. Typically, adults, youth, or older children who understand the commitment of faith to Christ and wish to respond to God’s call are acceptable candidates for baptism.

Believer’s baptism has also been understood among Baptists as a sign of obedience to Christ. As Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan (Matthew 3:13–17), similarly each follower of the Lord should be baptized. Jesus also said in his "Great Commission" (Matthew 28:19, 20) that disciples should go forth teaching and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Some Baptists also recover the rich symbolism of the Old Testament (Leviticus 11:25; Hebrews 9:10) where, like ceremonial cleansing from unclean things, baptism becomes a rite of cleansing from sin and personal renewal both for the candidate and the congregation. As an initiatory rite into membership of the Family of God, baptismal candidates are symbolically purified or washed as their sins have been forgiven and washed away (Acts 22:16). Baptism for the entire New Testament community became what circumcision had been for males in ancient Israel (Ephesians 2:11–13; Colossians 2:11–13).

For many Baptists, baptism is a visible symbol of Christian unity within the church. Since Christian experience is important to Baptists, baptism becomes a kind of uniform experience that all believers can share. Because baptism is conducted publicly, it is first a witness to the church, with which all other baptized believers can identify. Also, since baptism is a picture of the gospel, it presents all baptized believers with the reality of being "in Christ" (Galatians 3:26–27). This provides a deep sense of unity within a congregation as well as among members of the larger body of Christ.

In many ways, baptism is a seal on important promises. In being baptized a believer is assured that sins are forgiven (though not in the act of baptism itself), and that we are participants in God’s kingdom. Further, by identifying with the death and burial of Christ, baptism assures us that we shall likewise see the resurrection and eternal life (Titus 3:5–7). Finally, because Jesus commanded that baptism should be conducted to the end of the age, baptism becomes a seal of the promise that Christ will return to claim his people (Matthew 28:20). [Position extracted from Believer’s Baptism @]


The basic and fundamental doctrine of this organization shall be the Bible standard of full salvation, which is repentance, baptism in water by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the initial sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance.

We shall endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit until we all come into the unity of the faith, at the same time admonishing all brethren that they shall not contend for their different views to the disunity of the body. [Position extracted from United Pentecostal Church International @]

As you can see, while each of the four denominations listed above are citing, for the most part, Biblical references, each also has their own perspective on what is baptism. The gamut ranges from it being a sacrament, to it being required of infants, to only adults, to include the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and so on.

This is a huge problem in our humble opinion.

We are sure that when churches initially created their doctrines, they were rooted in the Word of God (as shown above); and in some cases, against historical precedence or beliefs. Other doctrines may have been added in to attempt to prevent the passage of the "good old days" and fight against the perceived rebellion of the youth. Over time, these doctrines have morphed to include political agendas, feminist agendas, and now, sexual agendas. These "agendas" are the equivalent of wearing your contacts and glasses while standing outside in the rain. Good luck reading your Bible through all of the things now obstructing your view.

It is time to get our eyes checked.

It is time to throw out all preconceived notions, doctrines, and agendas.

It is time to start looking with a clean, fresh perspective at what the Word of God actually says.

Believe it or not, this is a lot harder than you might initially think - and don't expect your fellow congregants to appreciate your efforts.

The first thing you will need to do is start reading multiple versions, always being aware of each version's unique biases and failures. Let's be honest - God's Word is infallible but man's translation of that Word is not, as we discussed in our article The Infallible Word of God.

With regards to the concept of baptism, we recommend that you review these specific verses concerning the word “baptize”: Matthew 3:6, Matthew 3:13-14, Matthew 3:16, Matthew 20:22-23, Mark 1:5, Mark 1:8-9, Mark 10:38-39, Mark 16:16, Luke 3:7, Luke 3:12, Luke 3:21, Luke 7:29-30, Luke 12:50, John 3:22-23, John 4:1-2, John 10:40, Acts 1:5, Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12-13, Acts 8:16, Acts 8:36, Acts 8:38, Acts 9:18, Acts 10:47-48, Acts 11:16, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8, Acts 19:3-5, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3, 1 Corinthians 1:13-16, 1 Corinthians 10:2, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Galatians 3:27, Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:4, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:26, John 1:33, 1 Corinthians 1:17, Matthew 28:19, John 1:28, John 1:31, John 3:23, John 1:33, John 3:26, Mark 6:14, John 1:25, Mark 7:4, and Luke 11:38.

And then also look at “baptism”: Matthew 3:7, Matthew 20:22-23, Matthew 21:25, Mark 1:4, Mark 10:38-39, Mark 11:30, Luke 3:3, Luke 7:29, Luke 12:50, Luke 20:4, Acts 1:22, Acts 10:37, Acts 18:24-25, Ephesians 4:3-5, Colossians 2:12, and 1 Peter 3:21.

Secondly, we challenge you to write down everything you think that you firmly believe - you know, those so called "unshakeable" beliefs - using the Scriptures, and then research the opposite of them. We guarantee that you will be surprised by what you will find. Also check out other references such as concordances, dictionaries, and the like.

For example, when reading the verses listed above, keep in mind the definition for baptism, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon is: “(1) immersion, submersion; (1a) of calamities and afflictions with which one is quite overwhelmed; (1b) of John’s baptism, that purification rite by which men on confessing their sins were bound to spiritual reformation, obtained the pardon of their past sins and became qualified for the benefits of the Messiah’s kingdom soon to be set up. This was valid Christian baptism, as this was the only baptism the apostles received and it is not recorded anywhere that they were ever rebaptised after Pentecost.; (1c) of Christian baptism; a rite of immersion in water as commanded by Christ, by which one after confessing his sins and professing his faith in Christ, having been born again by the Holy Spirit unto a new life, identifies publicly with the fellowship of Christ and the church."

Third, check your position - for and against - other learned commentaries. We can almost promise you that your "unshakeable" beliefs will start to have cracks; and some of them may even crumble completely.

But you will also determine what your core, rock solid, and able to defend to the death beliefs are, and, hopefully, they will be rooted in the actual Word of God and not someone else’s interpretation or manipulation of the Word.

In our case, we actually started to write little White Papers on what we believe, complete with Scripture references and commentaries just so that we can defend our own personal positions on certain doctrines. These are the White Papers that we now share with you.

We have also had to let go of many of the beliefs that we once had; Biblical support was just not there. Part of our journey has been putting together random pages with odd references to various Strong's Dictionary reference numbers and scribbles about the odd piece of information we learned. These are usually just random thoughts on random scraps that we want to study at some point in the future. The real challenge with all of this is to constantly remind yourself that the Scriptures have to teach you; you don't and shouldn't make the Scriptures conform to your preconceived notions. Otherwise, all you are doing is putting on another pair of biased glasses.

We can tell you that doing this very exercise has revolutionized our lives; set us free from some restrictive doctrines that were not Biblical; and brought us into new beliefs and doctrines based on the actual Word of God.

No comments:

Post a Comment