Saturday, June 22, 2013

Physical Baptism versus Spiritual

Baptism from a Slightly Different Perspective.

I recently found myself in a debate with two men, one a member of the Southern Baptist persuasion, and I was somewhat shocked to discover how similar their arguments and rationale style matched the methodology of the cults. Dire warnings were dished out should one fail to undergo baptism or meet with others of like mind in a church corporate setting, even though they prefaced these things with the mandatory, “they are not really required for salvation”.

Like the sabbath to sabbatarians, baptism is the distinctive of choice for the Baptists. And, like the sabbatarians, they hold to their distinctive with a rabid and fierce dedication. During our brief encounter, Matthew 28:19-20 was cited as their proof text for teaching and insisting people be baptized in water before they are fully fledged members in good standing within the Baptist world.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

To their way of thinking, to neglect to put people under the water is to neglect a command of Christ’s directed to the church.

I have no doubt that Jesus worded what He said here in such a way knowing full well people would interpret this to mean water baptism.

Three baptisms are touched on in the NT Scriptures: a baptism into water, a baptism into or by the Holy Spirit, and a baptism of or into fire.

Note in the passage cited above and used as a proof text by the Baptists that there is no mention of water. It is implied. It is assumed.

I had a discussion about this very thing with a Baptist minister a few years ago, and painted this scenario. A person who perhaps does not have a real grasp of the gospel undergoes baptism in water and is now accepted in full membership within the Baptist church and allowed to partake of the Eucharist as a result, and another comes in who has a full grasp and understanding of the gospel who has been baptized by/into the Holy Spirit, but has not been baptized with water. This one is not allowed to participate in the Eucharist, who is one who actually belongs to God, whereas the other who does participate in the Eucharist does not belong to Christ, and is in fact a tare.

The suggested “solution” was typical and unsurprising. The one with the Holy Spirit should undergo water baptism. That solution solves nothing when it comes to the spiritual understanding of an entire denomination.

Shall we apply a little further critical thinking to the matter by carefully examining the concluding statement found in the book of Matthew?

What I glean from the Baptist perspective is that they see a command from Christ to “get people wet” to be of greater importance than preaching the gospel. The primary focus and aim is to increase the numbers of Baptists. Those of you with a background in Armstrongism will recognize this methodology and practice immediately. The average Baptist at this point who might read this is probably scratching his head in bewilderment.

What happens when a person hears the message of the true gospel, according to Scripture? The answer is in Acts chapter 10. There is a “baptism” as a result. Into water? No, into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. ― John 14:23

So, which makes more sense to the reader? Jesus was admonishing His followers, His disciples, to go into the world teaching/preaching and baptizing “believers” in water, with a somewhat vague regard to what was to be taught and preached, or to go out into the world, teaching and preaching the gospel, resulting in people being baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? I would point out here that the narrative in Mark 1:9 regarding Jesus’ baptism in water states:

And it came about during those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized in the Jordan by John. ― Transline Translation.

“In” here can be translated “into”. Jesus was baptized “into” the water of the Jordan.

I am not advocating any abandonment of water baptism. I merely question the motive of the person or church that demands it. Christianity was supposed to be a religion that divested itself of legalism; a “letter of the law” religion based on “do this” and “don’t do that.” To claim one MUST undergo water baptism is to subordinate the gospel.

One might be tempted to argue Jesus underwent baptism in water, and claim we are to follow His example. Why though did Jesus have John baptize Him? The Pharisees were the ones who began the practice of having gentile converts to Judaism undergo a witnessed baptism or washing because of their former lives being cut off from God and sinners. John was instructed by God to baptize Jews – the implication being they too were sinners, just like the gentiles; something that didn't sit well with those Pharisees. For more on this aspect of baptism, you can go to the Living God Ministries of Aaron Budjen online and listen to his series on the subject.

My Baptist antagonist also brought up the laying on of hands in relation to receiving the Holy Spirit. My reply to him that prior to Acts chapter 6, Jews were receiving the Holy Spirit without regard to this.

I’m very uncomfortable now when people insist on the observance of physical things/rituals. They might as well advocate ministers wearing robes with little white stars on them and that they wave and stab in the air with a stick or wand while reciting various incantations. There is nothing magical about water baptism or laying on of hands. We can focus on these physical things, or we can look at the bigger, spiritual picture.

************ It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11 ************

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ambassador Fine Arts Building Demolished

"Ambassador College's Modern Honeycomb Has Been Destroyed" the title of an article by Adrian Kudler on from June 18, 3013. It appears along with this photo:

Sure would seem that all those 'widow's mites' that went into building the Ambassador campus were not put to the best use after all. The glory of the campus was a flower that blooms up in the morning, but withers away by sunset.
So much for this temple complex needing to be finished in time for Christ's return.

Our sympathies to all of the people who sacrificed so much at the continual behest of WCG leadership to assist in the building of that campus, or who formed memories both good and bad while attending classes or working there, and who now no doubt suffer much emotional grief at seeing it come to this inglorious end so soon.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jesus' Death under Trinitarianism

One of our fine readers (we think you are all outstanding) wrote in to me and asked about how Jesus' death works within Trinitarianism. I found that question so fascinating, and so important to be answered, that I thought I'd drop everything and answer it.

[Note: if you are currently in or have come from a Church of God group, you might want to first read our article "A Primer on the Trinity Doctrine" so that you can be certain that you understand the basics of what we're talking about here. Armstrongism has a bad habit of not teaching the Trinity Doctrine accurately. That article will help to clear up some basics.]

So today I would like to discuss how Jesus' death works under Trinitarianism. We will look at some similarities that you might not have known were there, and at least one distinction. Hopefully this won't be too in-depth. I want this to be easily understandable.
And, as always when I speak on Trinitarianism, I am not demanding that anyone adopt Trinitarianism. I simply feel that the majority of Armstrongists are terribly misinformed about the doctrine and most of the issues over the Trinity really come from misunderstanding the doctrine. People really should be educated on it. Perhaps then most of these issues would be cleared up and we could have true dialogue.

Jesus Has Two Natures

From the earliest years of the church it was understood that Jesus is one being that has two distinct natures - God and man. He is truly God and He is truly man.

(ACT. 2: 30) Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne
See that there? “According to the flesh”. Jesus was the son of David, according to the flesh. That is to say that the physical body which God the Son took onto Himself came from the descent of David. Romans 1: 3 confirms this. Romans 9: 5 also confirms that Christ, according to the flesh, that is His human nature, was descended from the patriarchs of old. These verses (and others) speak of his human nature in contrast to His Spirit nature. One God; two distinct natures.
Having two natures, or more, at one time is not unheard of.
We have two natures when we are married. We are truly ourselves but truly one flesh with our spouse. This is akin to how we also have two natures when we accept Jesus. We are truly a person in our own right, but truly one with Christ. truly in the old body that passes away, but truly spiritual with the spiritual body that is renewed daily.
Herbert Armstrong never denied that Jesus had two natures. 
"And, being DIVINE as well as human - being God as well as man, He in the person of Christ would be able to avoid sinning."
-Herbert Armstrong, "The Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p.67
Both Trinitarians and Armstrongists completely agree that Jesus did indeed have two natures.
Only The Flesh Needed To Die
God the Son took upon Himself a human nature (which was given the name Jesus). While in the flesh Jesus received and accepted worship. Thus it is not a stretch to say that, Spirit or not, even though He was in the flesh He was still to be respected and worshipped as God – because He was God… in the flesh.
In order to be a propitiation for our sins and to pay our ransom, this fleshly nature had to be more valuable than all creation. Only if the flesh was God in the flesh could this be true. The Creator of all flesh adopted flesh and was more valuable than all that He had created, even though the flesh itself was no different than any other human’s flesh. The difference is God.
This one human nature was completely satisfactory for the salvation of mankind. And that is apart from the Spirit nature of God.
This human nature was adopted specifically for the purpose of sharing in our experiences, suffering, dying, and being resurrected. The God nature, being fully Spirit, could not suffer through beatings nor be crucified. That is why a human nature had to be adopted. By man came sin, so by man had to come salvation. As God in the Spirit only, this could not be done. The Spirit cannot die. God had to adopt flesh to solve this problem. So the flesh of God was crucified for us. 

This one man Jesus was both truly man and truly God, hence why they call Mary the "mother of God" in Catholicism or "bearer of God" (Theotokos) in the Orthodox Church. She only bore the human nature in her womb, but it was the human nature of God the Son. God the Son was present in her womb and did exit that womb in the process of "birth". So she did bear God. 

As a deep thought, ponder this -- 
God the Son is one but has two distinct natures. They are distinct - the Spirit cannot be beaten and crucified while His flesh can and did - yet there is no way to completely separate the two natures because there is one Son of God. What affected His flesh affected Him at His core. What I mean to say is, even though the Spirit nature was not beaten and crucified, God the Son still fully experienced the passion. All the way down to the core of His being. We can definitively say that the Son of God suffered and died. It isn't as if He could withdraw His mind into His Spirit nature and abandon His human nature as the human nature experienced the passion. He is truly Spirit and He is truly man. He felt every moment of it. 

It was sufficient for our salvation that He put on the nature of a man, taking the human nature upon Himself (forever more), physically suffered through it, and through it experienced death and resurrection from the dead. He did not have to completely cease to exist as both Spirit and flesh for His death to be our salvation. Only the human nature had to be crucified and it was sufficient.
If you only take one thing away from everything I just said, take this: it was not necessary that God in the Spirit should physically suffer and physically die; only the flesh. The suffering of beatings, crucifixion, and resurrection of the flesh was sufficient. Both Trinitarianism and Armstrongism are in agreement on this point.

The Crux of the Issue

Herbert Armstrong said that God the Son ceased to be God in Spirit entirely and became entirely man. So, in Armstrongism, it is not that God the Son set aside His Godly authority and prerogatives, no. In Armstrongism, God the Son entirely ceased to be God in a Spirit nature, and became wholly man in nature. [This is called Ebionism by theologists. The Ebionites were Gnostics.]

The reason I reiterate this is to point out that Armstrongism and Trinitarianism agree completely that the suffering, death, and resurrection of the fleshly nature was all that was needed for our salvation. Neither system requires suffering, death, and resurrection of Spirit nature.

If anything, since Armstrong taught that Jesus was wholly man and the Spirit nature wasn't even there at the time, then this point is arguably even more true in Armstrongism than Trinitarianism.

And the reason that is so important to make clear is because an Armstrongist will take issue with Trinitarianism, pointing out that if Jesus was truly God and truly man then the God nature never suffered scourging nor died nor was resurrected, then assert this somehow disqualifies our salvation. When in reality this same thing is true of both systems. Neither one ever demanded that the Spirit nature of God the Son had to suffer, die, and be resurrected. Both only ever required that the flesh alone had to suffer, die, and be resurrected.
So what, then, is the real complaint?? In all actuality there is none. Does the fact that God the Son’s Spirit nature never was scourged and crucified in either system then disqualify His sacrifice for our salvation in just the Trinitarian system? How can it? Is that not demanding something of someone else that one doesn’t demand of their own self?

I’m certain someone would continue to plead this further, regardless of what we’ve just seen, by saying, “But if the Spirit didn’t die along with the flesh, then Jesus didn’t actually die.” This is really nothing other than a different way to state the same issue. 

The Spirit (which cannot die) never died under either scenario, so again what is the real complaint? There is none. 

Here is the crux of the issue: how we define death.

There is much more of a difference here between the Adventist doctrine of Soul-Sleep versus the mainstream doctrine of life after death than anything else. To put it plainly, the real issue here is only in two ways of understanding what death is. That the Son of God experienced death even while His Spirit nature continued on is incredibly detrimental to the doctrine of Soul-Sleep.
But that’s a discussion for another day. How to define death is outside the scope of this article.

Some Questions On Armstrong's View

Let’s pause briefly and ask about Jesus only having one nature at a time. The teaching of Herbert Armstrong on this topic leaves questions.

What, then, of God the Son's Spirit nature? What did He do with it when He put it off? Where did it go? If He is infinite, unchangeable, eternal God, then how can He simply cease to be? I’d say it’s a pretty massive change to the very fabric of reality to have infinite, unchanging, eternal God suddenly ceasing to be infinite, unchanging, or eternal. 
Was His substance absorbed by God the Father and His mind implanted into the embryo in Mary's womb? (If you really, really want to get deep into this you will find that you are giving evidence that there really is a difference between the mind of God and the substance of God, precisely as Trinitarian doctrine attests.)

Now, we all know that Spirit cannot die. It has life in itself. What’s more – it IS life. In all my years I never heard it taught in Armstrongism that God the Son "died" as a Spirit being in order to become a man and die as a physical being. But! Doesn’t ceasing to be constitute death from an Armstrongist viewpoint? How can we explain that God the Son in Spirit ceased to be when He became man, but at the same time that Spirit nature did not die? How can we define death as ceasing to be, but exclude the Spirit from death when it ceased to be? 
So, if ceasing to be is the definition of death, then God the Son in Spirit did die? Twice?? He died before He was born? Now how do we explain that God in the Spirit cannot die when at the same time we in effect claim He died in the Spirit? Is this not a massive contradiction?

If we say His Spirit nature did not cease to be, then we have to ask where His Spirit nature went. If He kept it then He is truly God and truly man at once, and we agree with the Trinitarian view. Did the Father absorb it? Then we agree two God beings can share one substance, and we agree with the Trinitarian view. But if we say His Spirit nature did cease to be, then we teach that God in Spirit can and did die, and did so before He was ever born, and thus contradict the eternal and immortal nature of God.

Now what of His nature after the resurrection? If He put off His prior Spirit nature, where did His current Spirit nature come from? So, is He now fully God in Spirit once again and not man at all anymore? Why then the missing body from the tomb? Why then the holes in his hands and side post-resurrection? Were they just for show? Is the human nature gone forever? Why then His statement that He had flesh and bone (LUK 24: 39)? So He is both man and God at the same time after all? Does that not prove that He can have both a Spirit-God nature and a human nature at the same time? Therefore it’s not a great stretch of the imagination that He should be both God and man at the same time. 

The two sides only differ by some 33 years on when this happened.
In conclusion, both Trinitarians and Armstrongists agree that Jesus had two natures: Spirit and human. Both sides agree that Jesus can and now does have both natures at the same time.  Both sides agree that only the flesh nature had to suffer, die, and be resurrected for our salvation – not the Spirit nature.

What is the difference? Armstrongism, in contradiction to its own beliefs and for whatever reason (I suppose it is a difference regarding Soul-Sleep) insists that God the Son’s Spirit nature had to die in order for Trinitarianism to be true. Mind you, they don’t demand this of their own system, only others’.
If you wonder how Jesus’ death works under Trinitarianism, the short answer is “in much the same way as it does in Armstrongism.”

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11