When one looks into the NT practice of baptism you see an urgency that is sadly lacking in the western church. In Phillip’s case, we see that in his preaching the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, it was inherent that the subject of water baptism came up! Hence, as the eunuch came into contact with the Holy Spirit in New Life, there was an instantaneous thirst for water (pardon the pun).
As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)
Nothing prevented the eunuch from being instantly baptized in water as long as he believed and confessed that Jesus was Lord of his life. Evidently, “hardwired” into Philip’s Gospel message was water baptism — to a much higher degree, I believe, than we know today!
Let’s remember that on the day of Pentecost, on that same day, 3000 souls were baptized in water. If there were 50 believers (of the 120) doing the baptisms, then they each baptized about 60 people that day… and thus the early church was birthed and their DNA established.
Repent – Believe – Be baptized and Receive
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)
The western church has been strong on repentance and believing for centuries. Unfortunately, we have been much weaker on baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. I think it did not help too much that Luther and Calvin – not to mention the Catholic Church – continued infant baptism and persecuted to the death those who stood for “believer’s baptism” such as the Swiss Brethren (Anabaptists).
The modern church does have a healthy theology on “believer’s baptism” but is poor on the practice end. It seems that many new believers are left-on-their-own to find their way to baptism. It doesn’t appear to have the urgency, “hardwiredness” or the universality of the NT practice.
For me, a classic example of the these three — urgency, “hardwiredness”, universality — is the midnight baptism of the jailer in Acts 16.
Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for preaching the Gospel in Philippi. Around midnight, as they sang hymns and prayed, the doors to the prison flew open and everyone’s chains fell off. The jailer, running into this scene of all his prisoners standing about free, was about to kill himself! But Paul, however, stopped his suicide attempt and preached Jesus Christ to the jailer and his whole family!
Here is were it gets real interesting, and quite the opposite to the modern church:
And he [the jailer] took them [Paul and Silas] that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. (16:33)
Pausing just long enough to administer healing to the wounds of the two battered and beaten apostles, the jailer followed the New Testament model and practice and, along with his household, immediately “got wet”! At 1 or 2 in the morning, he did not need, apparently, a new believer’s class, but he qualified as per the apostolic instruction!
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
Nothing can be clearer in my mind that this is the way of the early church. This was the way of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. This was the experience of Paul. When the scales fell off his eyes, the Bible says “he rose and was baptized” (9:18) Later, Paul would teach and preach this same experience throughout the Roman Empire. It was a part of what he called “my ways”.
For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Cor. 4:17)
In other texts Paul called them “the teachings” (2 Thess 2:15) or “the traditions” (1 Cor 11:2). In order to return to the apostolic traditions “just as [Paul] delivered them”, which I believe should always be our desire, we must hold carefully and faithfully to the matter of immediate and urgent water baptism!
One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4: 5-6)
I am not too sure how many Christian people around the globe are aware of the huge “paradigm shift” moment going on in missions today. It has to do with the task of alleviating poverty. The oft used picture of more than a billion people, 20% of the world’s population, living on less than $1 a day is heartbreaking and tragic. Yet for all our attempts and aid and dollars thrown at the problem, our track record at actually “alleviating poverty” is not very good.
Thank God that there are voices “crying out in thee wilderness” for change!!
Maybe you have heard (or read) some of them:
~ When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself (Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert)
~ Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help And How to Reverse It (Robert D. Lupton)
~ The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good (Peter Greer)
~ We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary’s Guide to Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency (Jean Johnson)
To come back to my topic, let’s take a look now at how the apostle Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “helped” in a place of tremendous need and dead-end poverty!
A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:9-10)
As you might remember Paul, Silas and Timothy were earlier “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia”. Moreover, as they were trying to go into Bithynia (modern-day greater Istanbul) but “the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them”. What an adventure! Finally, they found themselves in Troas. While waiting in Troas, a vision appeared to Paul of a man in Macedonia who was “crying out” to Paul for help. The Greek sense of the word help is “to run and meet an urgent distress-call”.
The first thing Paul “ran to do” was to preach the gospel to them! He preached by the river at a “place of prayer” for women and saw the first European convert, Lydia, her heart “opened by the Lord”. She and her household were baptized and from there sprang the first house church of Europe. Later, the jailer and his household were added to the small band!
With that the apostolic band up and left for other places… 2 households for Jesus!
In our day, this is almost beyond believable! What, no schools, no hospitals, no start-up businesses, no English classes, no relief and development, no micro-enterprises?? No appeals back to Antioch for more workers, more aid? No demands for social justice?
“Poor Paul, he never heard about micro-finance…”
What I find most intriguing in this case in Philippi is that we later read in 2 Corinthians that this city was suffering under extreme poverty!
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. (2 Cor 8:1-2)
This poverty of the Macedonians is actually confirmed by secular history. “The Romans took most of their wealth when they conquered this former homeland of Alexander the Great.” (David Guzik)
Evidently Paul did not see the Macedonians as “poor and needy”! Actually, he later tries to “motivate” the richer Corinthians to give by their example of giving out of their deep poverty…
Can you imagine this same “apostolic method” of Paul’s being repeated today in areas of the deepest need and poverty? Sadly, I can’t! To be sure, Paul cared for the poor and needy and spent a large part of his life raising funds for the Jews in desperate conditions in Jerusalem…. Yet we never find him investing any strength or energy other than preaching the Gospel when he was on-the-ground among the nations!
My advice is to learn from the Spirit what He is saying to the churches! Put your ear to the ground and your eyes in one of the books mentioned above. Get rid of forever the “hero” mentality that is just the subtle reverse of “hedonism”.
“Hedonism and heroism (doing good) are brothers, not polar opposites. At their core, both are about wanting our own way.” (Peter Greer)
Take on a “low profile” as you think about the nations affected by poverty. Get off your “white horse” and ride on a donkey… Sound familiar?
Jean Johnson, whose book I suggest above, is a friend of ours that I highly recommend. She served as a career missionary for sixteen years in Cambodia in the areas of pioneer church planting, on-the-job leadership training, and oral strategies. Presently, she is a missionary with World Mission Associates, promoting church sustainability and multiplication. Jean holds a B.A. in cross-cultural communications from North Central University, Minneapolis, MN, where she had the opportunity to teach as a missionary-in-residence.
Jean will be with us in Chetek, WI on the weekend of October 18-21, speaking on the radio WWIB in Eau Claire, teaching at the Refuge and the Northwoods YWAM campus.