Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ

Experiential Baptism: Acts

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[Since I am talking about water baptism all verses specifically about Spirit baptism are omitted.  I also tried to only choose verses that are relevant to our discussion.  A verse that simply says that a believer was baptized is not relevant to this discussion (because it is a fact, but doesn’t reflect their understanding of the issue).  I’m sure many will think that only choosing three verses from Acts is strange since there are so many but there is no reason to repeat myself in blog format.  These are the only three sections (in my knowledge and opinion) that reflect the Apostle’s understanding of the MEANING of baptism (I will discuss mode and participant later in the series quoting some of the omitted verses).  I already believe people were baptized in the book of Acts, I’m not trying to prove it so I feel no need to bore you with useless information.  If you feel that I missed a key verse, let me know.]

[btw, I skipped John because of the connection between Luke and Acts, I will cover it next]

Acts 2:36-41

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.”  Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”  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. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”  And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”  So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

Here we see “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.

This is the part I want to start with. Some don’t even notice them when they read this verse but the comma and the semi-colon are very important when interpreting this verse.  They aren’t even in the original Greek, so why are they in our Bibles?

It is because the translators know something that we don’t.  The part after the comma and before the semi-colon are a different clause than the parts on either side (I wasn’t an English major so forgive me if I don’t use exactly correct terms for everything).  The part on the outsides is in second person plural and the part on the inside is in third person plural. This means that their is a LOGICAL separation between “repent and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” and “each one of you be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins”.  This is important because Peter’s speaking order (because this is the order he wants them to respond) is repent, be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit but the order in his UNDERSTANDING is repent, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.

This settles perfectly with Experiential Baptism because it would say this:  When you come to faith (repent), you receive (procurement sense) the gift of the Holy Spirit but you don’t experience it at the same time (I know some people in the Bible spoke in tongues when they received the Spirit but this is not the normal way that people experienced the gift of the Spirit.  Normally, people received the Spirit in the same way that we do today without the speaking in tongues or any other miraculous sign) but experience it at baptism which is “for the forgiveness of sins” in the same sense: experientially.

Like I discussed earlier, it cannot be “for the forgiveness of sins” in the same way that Christ’s death is for forgiveness (in the meritorious sense) or in the same way that God’s grace (through faith) is for forgiveness (in the sense of procurement).  If it were, it would necesarily negate the others.  If baptism could forgive sins in the SAME WAY that the cross did than the cross would not have been necessary and Christ died for no reason.  If baptism could forgive sins in the SAME WAY that God’s grace through faith does than it would not be necessary either because we would not need grace.  Logic can’t allow for this.

Some have asked about “…those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” but there is really no contradiction.  If God added someone to the Church without baptism, they would be in the Church with no way of knowing it.  They would not have experienced (although they may have received) the forgiveness of sins and reception of the Spirit.  Without a Bible (which they didn’t have and shouldn’t trust their own knowledge if they did) they could not know they were in the Church if God had added them.  It is no problem for God to wait to add someone to the Church until after they have knowledge of it.  This does not, however, mean that God could not or would not add someone to the Church without baptism or that He does not do this (I have written about this in “Pattern or Promise” but won’t discuss it here because it has little to do with the meaning of baptism).

Acts 19:2-5

He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”  And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.”  Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”  When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

There is a very important point here that confuses many people.  Paul asked “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”  People who hold to Baptismal Regeneration or Campbell’s view  would answer: “of course not, you receive the Spirit after baptism, not when you believe” but we can see that Paul understood it quite differently (and the same way that Peter understood it in 2:38).  He recognized that the Spirit is given when you believe and that you are baptized to experience it.  This is why he asks: “into what then were you baptized?” AFTER asking “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”  He wasn’t sure what kind of baptism they had received because they had not experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  They had only experienced John’s baptism which means that they had only experienced the forgiveness of sins (“baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”) but had NOT experienced the gift of the Spirit (because they did not know it was available).  They did not, however, actually receive (procure) the forgiveness or the Spirit because they did not have faith in Christ.  They had the experience BEFORE they procured the realities.

This is true of all of the people that were baptized by John.  The forgiveness of sins had not been paid for (merited) by Christ’s death on the cross and thus couldn’t yet be received (procured) by grace through faith.  The Spirit also was not sent until Acts 2 so all those who experienced it in baptism before that did not actually receive it (procure) until Acts 2 or later.  This separation explains why the Apostles had no need to be re-baptized after Acts 2.  This is because they experienced future realities through John’s baptism that they would later receive.  They received them once they were available and didn’t need to experience them again.

Btw, the reason that Paul rebaptized them is because these people were Gentiles (not because they hadn’t received the Spirit or forgiveness of sins).  They didn’t receive (procure) them because they didn’t know enough about Jesus to have faith in Him. It wasn’t because of lack of baptism (if so, the Apostles would not have received them either).  Gentiles were NEVER supposed to receive John’s baptism, it was only for the Jews.  If a person was baptized today (with Christian baptism) and didn’t know about the Spirit (since some churches don’t teach it) they could still receive (procure) it without knowing it but would not experience it until they were convinced of His existance (provided they had faith in Christ).  They would not need to be rebaptized after they were convinced to have an experience of it because they could just look back on their original baptism with the added understanding.

Acts 22:16

‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

This verse has also confused many and led many to baptismal regeneration or Campbell’s view because of the idea that you must “wash away your sins” but we are really dealing with the same thing as “for the forgiveness of sins”.  We must ask: In what sense do we wash away our sins?  You see, Jesus dying for us washed away our sins (meritorious) and our sins are washed away by grace through faith (procurement) but we also wash away our sins in baptism (experientially) because this is our earthly way of “seeing” it.  “Wash away your sins” is just a metaphor for having your sins forgiven.

They are really the same.

“Washing” is a good metaphor for removal of sin because it is how we remove dirt from objects (and ourselves) and dirt is a good metaphor for sin (because it makes us sick and makes us feel gross).  These metaphors (as well as many others) are how we are taught to think about Spiritual realities.  We must remember, though, that the metaphors are not the realities themselves.  We couldn’t see the Spiritual realities that took place at Christ’s death or that take place when we put our faith in Christ.  The only way we can “see” is through baptism.  This is God’s way of letting us experience something that we could never get our minds around.  We don’t understand the Spiritual because we are carnal, so God chose to give us baptism to show us the best we are able to know this side of Heaven.

In this verse the experiential sense (baptism) is put with the procurement sense (calling on His name).  Ananias is telling Paul to wash away his sins by baptism (experiential) while calling on His name (procurement).  Paul understood the difference.  Don’t mistake this for Campbell’s view because the baptism and calling APPEAR to happen at the same time.  Paul would have had to “call on the name of the Lord” before he would have even submitted to being baptized. These happening at the same time is impossible.

I know this post has been long but I’ve tried to explain this the best I can.  If you have any questions, let me know.

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