Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Monday, July 7

Response to comment on my previous post

Steve Finnel strikes again with yet another irrelevant self-promoting shouty and theologically flawed drivel!

Why is he posting this on a post about me being ill?  Because he has written a piece which he feels proud of and trawls around for somewhere to dump it unthinkingly with his paste button.

The flaws in it are many.  But lets start with his basic assumption about the point at which Paul 'believed'.  Paul's 'belief' on the road should not be confused with 'faith'.  As Christians we often make this mistake, and there is indeed a large overlap.  But there are differences.  It is possible to believe without faith (James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder).  It is possible to have faith without belief (Mark 9:2 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!).   So Steve Finnel’s assertion that because Paul believed on the road but wasn’t baptised until later therefore salvation by faith is incorrect – does not work because while Paul believed on the road that it was the Lord Jesus speaking to him, it was only after meditating on this while fasting that the belief grew into faith which was then completed in the baptism.

Secondly, no right-thinking proponent of ‘Salvation by Faith alone’ actually means precisely that.  The phrase was coined in opposition to the idea that Salvation could be bought from the Roman Catholic church or that it could be earned by accumulating sufficient good deeds, or by sufficient accumulated participation in church sacraments.  So the phrase should really be understood to ‘Salvation is not by those Catholic methods we reformers grew up with’.  The book of James makes it clear that true faith is made known by the deeds it produces.  The doctrine of Salvation by Faith Alone does not mean that you can go around professing faith but continuing to live unchanged.  Thus saving faith is revealed by repentance.  But repentance is not of itself, saving faith.  There are many repentant people who have turned away from lives of crime who do not have faith in Christ.

Thirdly, Steve has this notion that salvation is by Baptism.  Neglecting the obvious case of the thief on the cross who was saved by his faith in Christ without baptism (and I don’t swallow the ‘special unction’ nonsense that some invent to get around this), the scripture does not support this view.   Steve has his nice progression from faith through repentance and confession to water baptism.  But the scriptures do not present these as a progression.  They come across to me more as parallels, things that should happen pretty much simultaneously.  If anything, the water baptism is almost like an extra, the icing on the cake.  Take for example my favourite story – the household of Cornelius – because it blows apart all these systems that we try to build up.  Peter is preaching to the people, and while he is ‘still speaking these words’ the Holy Spirit came on all who heard.  So:  If Peter had not finished speaking, how did they have sufficient understanding to have faith?   Yet the Holy Spirit came on them, which is normally supposed to happen after water baptism!  And did they confess?  They spoke in tongues praising God, but is praise confession?  And did they repent?  Peter was still speaking – they had not yet had a chance to analyse the implications of a message they had not fully heard on their lifestyles.  So on what basis were they the offered baptism – faith, confession, or repentance?  It was none of those – they were offered baptism because it was clear that God had moved into their lives and made them Christians, like those Jews present.  The baptism did not make them Christians, it acknowledged their Christianity.  They were saved and became Christians by the invasion of the Holy Spirit; by the sovereign will of God, not by the faith, confession, repentance or baptism that our theology tells us are required.  God is so much greater than our theology!  So muc more loving and accepting than the boundaries and hurdles and procedural steps that we put up to keep people out of the Kingdom of God.

So, where in the Scriptures it does talk about baptism as if it washes away our sins in the way Steve points out that it often does, it is not actually the waters of baptism that achieve it.  It is the fact of being baptised into Christ that saves us, because in the baptism into him we become partakers in his death and resurrection and receive the removal of sins by washing in his blood not in water.  The symbol of baptism represents that we have signed up for the deal, and that is what those scriptures allude to.  They do not imply that the baptism of itself washes away any sins.
Put it this way: there are many people who have been baptised in accordance with the formularies of their respective churches who are most definitely not Christians (Adolf Hitler being one!), though they might proclaim to be so.  And there are members of churches that do not practice baptism, considering it to be a symbol rendered meaningless by the passage of time and culture (or churches that delay baptism for one reason or another) who though very unbaptised are still manifestly Spirit-filled saved Christians.
Personally I would not lean to either extreme.  I do believe baptism is primarily symbol that does not save us of itself (although like the first time you take communion it can be the means by which the essential steps of Salvation can be implemented) but that does not mean that it is dispensable or meaningless.  Its like a marriage ceremony, which I would see as essential for a Christian couple in the west but not all cultures have marriage in the way we do yet God would still acknowledge their relationships as he did the polygamous patriarchs and Adam and Eve who never went to church or to the town hall but were still acknowledged as a couple by God.

And on a final note – having become a Christian at age 5 I was baptised twice: as a Plymouth Brethren at age 13 and as an Anglican aged about 42.  I kid you not.  (The Anglican one was technically a ‘conditional’ baptism because they didn’t believe the photo of my first baptism, but I still accuse them of being Anabaptists!)  And I affirm that my sins were washed away when I was 5, and that I was a Christian long before my baptism(s), and that my baptism(s) were public declarations of my Christianity and forgiveness and cleansing, not the vehicle by which those things came.

Ephesians 2:8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works  [and I comment: "works such as baptism"], so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do

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