We continue the line of thought from the previous article, namely that while some are very concern with “recovering” the fundamental character and purpose of “apostolic preaching” of the early church it seems that there is a general lack of concern to “recover” the response to the Gospel.
It is unfortunate that people asking similar questions today are being given answers that disagree with each other. Some would say, “you just need to believe in Christ to be justified.” Others might say something to the effect of, “There is nothing you can do (i.e. a human work), its all a part of God’s sovereign plan. If you are destined, you will be saved.”
Strangely enough, this is not how the apostle Peter responded to the question. When the Jews on the day of Pentecost asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?”, Peter’s response was the following:
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. (Acts 2.38-39 ESV)
Peter prescribes repentance and immersion (i.e. baptism) in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins and for the reception of the Holy Spirit.
According the arrangement of wording, repentance and immersion must happen before forgiveness can be a realization in the believer’s life. This is the apostolic instruction of Peter. Interestingly, today, few would deliver a criticism over repentance; however, many people take issue with the position that immersion in water (i.e. baptism) is essential for salvation as a faith-act.
For example, Hank Hanegraaff, a radio “Christian” preacher who hosts The Bible Answer Man radio show, affirms that “baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation, but it does established the Christian as a member of God’s visible church.” According to Hanegraaff, one can trim off segments of Scripture and discard them when they do not fit one’s theology.
Such an “answer” is bankrupt of any connection to being a biblical response, in light of the fact the Bible affirms that “those who received his [i.e. Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2.41). They felt Peter’s “answer” to their question was essential to comply with in whole not in part.
Moreover, the baptized are added to the saved (Act 2.47). The “saved” as a group is regarded as the “church” (Acts 5.11, 8.1-3, 9.31, 11.22, etc.). The fundamental problem lies with the failure to synthesize the biblical passages together regarding the redemption that is found in Christ (Eph. 1.7).
This series of studies is focused upon certain (albeit not all) complimentary aspects of the salvation process; or, as Paul would the “working of God” (Col 2.12-14).
The Synthetic Hermeneutic
Returning to debate mentioned above, are we affirming that immersion is the only essential ingredient to salvation? The answer is a resounding no.
We must first call attention to a biblical passage in the Psalms which sets forth a vital hermeneutic in order to explain ourselves. Psalm 119.160 affirms:
The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
The passage speaks of accumulating biblical instruction (each eternal rule) into an overall general perspective of what the Bible teaches on a given subject.
Contextually, Psalm 119 extols the virtue of the law of God. It has aptly been observed, “law refers not merely to legislation nor probably to the Pentateuch alone, but comprehensively embraces all that God has made known of His character and purpose, and what He would have man to be and do” (emphasis added).
Each verse is connected to an overall picture. As John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” (Meditation 17), we may, in turn, suggest that “no passage is an island, entire of itself; every passage is a piece of the Bible, a part of the main.”
Frequently, then, one must combine biblical information in order to obtain an understanding of a biblical teaching – some would call this building a theology. Individually, however, passages may make sense within themselves. But as one Bible student observes:
It is rarely the case (if ever) that the entire body of truth, relative to a doctrinal matter, is found neatly compacted in one contextual location. In researching a biblical theme, therefore, one must gather the available data pertaining to an issue from various sources, systematically harmonize whatever the Scriptures say about the subject, and then take the whole.
In other words, complimentary passages “expand” upon another; many times this is described as the Bible being its own best commentary. We see it as synthetic model of understand a biblical concept where one synthesizes individual Scriptural passages together in order to understand the big picture; hence, our heading “The Synthetic Hermeneutic”.
Let us therefore be clear, baptism is an essential requisite to obtain the forgiveness of sins (1 Pet. 3.21). However, this aspect works in cooperation with other vital elements of the salvation process set forth in Scripture.
- Hanegraaff, Hank. “Christian Baptism: Biblical Baptism.” Equip.org. 2008. (Link); par. 6. In several articles, The Bible Answer Man misrepresents the arguments of those who argue for the essentiality of immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins. He has gone so far as to say that, “the mode of baptism is not essential to salvation, the mandate of baptism is essential to obedience” (“Bringing Baptism into Biblical Balance,” par. 3; Link). Moreover, “baptism is not prerequisite to being born again or forgiven of one’s sins, and it is possible, however irregular, for persons who have not been baptized to be saved nevertheless through faith in Jesus Christ” (“Baptism and Salvation,” par. 10; Link). Hanegraaff’s double speak abounds on this subject, and people would be wise to reconsider accepting his positions on this matter.
- Baigent, John W., and Leslie C. Allen, “The Psalms” in International Bible Commentary. Gen. ed. Frederick F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 638.
- Donne, John. Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation 17. Duke Kerry makes a similar point in his definition of hermeneutics: “Hermeneutics emphasizes this interrelatedness [sic] of individual parts of the Bible, maintaining that any thought unit is to be interpreted in light of the overall message of God’s Word. A part of Scripture cannot genuinely be studied in isolation from the whole. In true Bible interpretation, no verse is an island” (Ox in the Ditch: Bible Interpretation as the Foundation of Christian Ethics. Huntsville, AL: Publishing Designs, 1993; p. ix).
- Jackson, Wayne. “Principles of Interpretation: The ‘Expansive’ Concept”, ChristianCourier.com.