Stand Firm and Take Action: The Central Themes and Applications of Daniel

 Check out all of our articles on Daniel here.

The focus of this article will be twofold.  We will first explore the main themes and theological truths found in the book of Daniel.  From these main themes and theological truths, we will consider the contribution the book of Daniel makes to the church today.   Because of the nature of these two goals, this article will first focus largely on Daniel’s intentions in his writing, and from this, we will consider the application for the church in the modern era.

Main Themes and Theological Truths

The focus of the book can be clearly seen in the structure which Daniel employs.  The Chiastic structure of Daniel has been well documented, even as there is some disagreement concerning certain details.  For a simple explanation of what a chiasm is, click here.  Below you will find the chiastic structure proposed by James Hamilton[1]:

  • Daniel 1, exile
    • Daniel 2, statue: four kingdoms, everlasting dominion
      • Daniel 3, delivered from the fiery furnace
        • Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar humbled
        • Daniel 5, Belshazzar humbled
      • Daniel 6, delivered from the lions’ den
    • Daniel 7-9, visions: four kingdoms, everlasting dominion
  • Daniel 10-12, return from exile

 

The overarching theme which weaves itself through each part of this chiasm is God’s sovereignty.  God’s powerful control of all things is displayed in the book of Daniel first in the way God humbles Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar in Daniel 4 and 5.  The fact that this is a central theme of the book is also displayed in the way Daniel foretells the destruction of the prideful kingdoms of the world, especially the little horn from the final kingdom.[2]  God’s sovereignty is highlighted secondly in the way the Lord delivers his people in times of trouble.  In Daniel 3 and 9 God delivers his people fiery furnace and the lion’s den.  This theme is also seen elsewhere in the book with a promise of return from exile,[3] the coming of a messiah,[4] and in the promise of future resurrection.[5]  Third and finally, God’s sovereignty over history is also central.  God’s sovereignty over history is most prominent in the correlating chapters of 2 and 7-9 as well as chapters 1 and 10-12.  The Lord reveals to Daniel, often in intricate detail, what would take place showing that “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings, He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to me of understanding” (2:21).

God’s Sovereignty in Humbling the Proud

The central section of Daniel is focused on the humiliation of two prideful rulers; Nebuchadnezzar (chapter 4) and Belshazzar (chapter 5).  Nebuchadnezzar is warned of his downfall through a dream which Daniel interprets.  Even though Daniel warns the king, one year later Nebuchadnezzar praises himself in pride and “While the word was in the king’s mouth a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beast of the field’” (4:31-32).  The text displays with great clarity that God humbles Nebuchadnezzar at the height of his pride and self-glorification.  The chapter ends with Nebuchadnezzar recognizing the sovereign greatness of the Most High who lives forever (v. 34-35) and proclaiming the Lord is “able to humble those who walk in pride” (v. 36).  Daniel’s point could not be clearer: The Lord humbles the proud.

Daniel continues the melody of divinely directed humbling into chapter 5, making this apparent by using several linguistic and thematic connections. Daniel recounts how, “Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles” (5:1).  Careful readers will quickly suspect Belshazzar’s coming abasement as they continue reading about this feast.  Belshazzar and the others drank wine from the vessels of the Lord from the temple of Jerusalem while they “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (v. 4).  Much like the way 4:31 records that “while the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven,” 5:5 records, “Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall.”  Terrified, they call Daniel in who reminds them of the way God brought down Belshazzar’s father Nebuchadnezzar for his pride (v. 20-22). Daniel then penitently declares, “yet you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven” (v. 23-24).  In fulfilment of the writing on the wall, Belshazzar is slain that same night (5:30).  In this central section, Daniel lifts up God’s sovereignty in humbling prideful kings.

God’s Sovereignty in Delivering His People

The central section of God humbling the proud is bracketed by chapters highlighting the way God delivers His faithful people from the wicked.  Nebuchadnezzar commands Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to bow down to a golden image which he set up.[6]  These three friends of Daniel refuse to bow down to the golden image and are therefore sentenced to be thrown into the furnace of blazing fire.  Daniel then records the forward-looking challenge given by the king, “what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands” (v. 15).  The three friends are then thrown into the blazing fire with what appears to be no hope of deliverance.  The text then takes an abrupt change in tone as the three men remain alive in the fire and are even accompanied by an angel of the Lord.  Nebuchadnezzar proclaims in amazement, “fire had no effect on the bodies of these men” (3:27).  Nebuchadnezzar goes from saying, “what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” in v. 15 to proclaiming, “there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way” (v. 29).  The Lord is able to deliver and save His people.

This same hope giving theme is taken up again in chapter 6 as we would expect with this chiastic structure.  Once again, Daniel presents a pagan king, passing a legal verdict which God’s people must disobey, leading to another inescapable death sentence.  This time, Daniel is to be thrown into a den of lions for his faithfulness to the Lord in daily prayer.  This king, however, interestingly does not want Daniel killed and says to him, “Your God whom you constantly serve will himself deliver you” (v. 16).  The king then comes back the next morning wanting to know if Daniel’s God has “been able to deliver him from the lions” (v. 20). Sure enough the next morning Daniel is unharmed.  In the words of Darius, the king, “He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, and has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions” (v. 27).  The main theological truth of chapters 3 and 6 is simple: God displays his Sovereignty in delivering His people.

God’s Sovereignty in History

The next main sections of the book’s chiasm centers on God’s sovereignty in history. In chapter 2, the Lord gives Nebuchadnezzar dreams which he does not understand.  These dreams, which only Daniel is able to interpret as the Lord reveals it to him, give a picture what is to “take place in the latter days.” (v. 28).[7]  As Daniel takes the time to thank the Lord for the interpretation, he highlights the sovereign power of God over all (v. 19-23).  Daniel then gives the interpretation of this dream.  In this strange dream, there are several world kingdoms introduced, each having a rise to power followed by complete destruction.  In the end, “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed” (v. 44) and “a stone is cut out of the mountain without hands and it struck the statue on its feet.” (v. 34, 45).  Though each part of the statue seems powerful, the Lord’s kingdom is the only everlasting kingdom.  God is sovereign over the kingdoms of the present and the future.  As John Frame rightly asserts of God’s sovereignty, “Everything has come from God.  He has planned and done it all.  He has not merely set boundaries for creaturely action; he has made everything happen.”[8]

The four kingdoms presented in chapter 2 arise again though in a different form in chapters 7-9.  The kingdoms are no longer appear as parts of a statue but are now described as prideful beasts.  Though God created Adam and commanded him to have dominion over the beasts of the field (Gen. 1:26), the kingdoms and rulers of this world descend into such wickedness that they can be described as animals.  Just as the statue in chapter 2 is brought down by the stone cut with no human hand (2:45), the final prideful horn from the fourth kingdom is slain (v. 11) and the kingdoms are granted an “extension of life” for an “appointed period of time” (v. 12) until the Son of man comes with the clouds of heaven to set up his kingdom (7:13-14).  This son of man is presented as a divine messianic king.  His divine status is suggested in the way he comes “with the clouds of heaven”[9] and the way God’s everlasting kingdom is now said to be His everlasting kingdom.  His kingly and messianic status is clearly seen in Daniel’s use of previous scripture.[10]  This interpretive perspective of Daniel is important understanding for his underlying point.  Daniel is highlighting the Lord’s sovereignty over history.  God in this section is setting up kings and taking down kings until the time when He comes to set up His eternal kingdom ruled by His messianic king.

Daniel has more revelations in chapter 8 and 9 as well as in 10-12 which continue to give more information about these prideful kingdoms and their final demise.  In chapters 8 and 9 The kingdoms are pictured as animals different from those in chapter 7, yet their primary two characteristics are still present, namely, pride (8:4, 8, 11, 25) and brevity (8:7-8, 14, 25).  Furthermore, once again the final king who is exceedingly proud is “broken without human agency” (v. 25 cf. 2:34).  Moving into chapter 9, Daniel prays for a return to the Land (v. 1-23) and then another revelation is given to Daniel concerning the time of the end.  In this time, the Lord reveals that the messiah will be cut off and then a prince will rise in the final seven-year period who will set up “one who makes desolate” (8:27).  God’s sovereignty over history is displayed in the way Daniel presents God as the one who directs these events to fulfillment from the time of Daniel, through the time of the Messiah, and into the last day when destruction is finally poured out on the one who makes desolate (v. 27).

Daniel’s Contribution to the Church Today

Now that we have examined the primary focus and themes of the book of Daniel, we now consider the contribution these themes make for the church today.  The applications presented below arise from considering Daniel’s intention for the original readers and then bridging the context to our current day.  The original readers of Daniel were near the end of Exile, and some would be just entering the land.  Daniel knows, based on the visions God gave him, that in the future God’s people would face several wicked rulers and a final and ultimate enemy who would, for a short time,[11] “make alterations in the times and in law” (7:25), remove worship and sacrifice to God (8:11, 9:27, 12:11), “trample on the holy place” (8:13), “cause deceit to succeed, and will magnify himself in his heart, and will destroy many while they are at ease” (8:25), and “he will give great honor to those who acknowledge him” (11:39).    During this time of coming tribulation and “great distress” (12:1), many of God’s people will “fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder” (11:33).  When we consider this information as well as the chiastic sections in Daniel, the authors implicational goals can be seen in the three concluding sections.

The Church: Unmoved by the Wicked

The first application from Daniel is that the Church must remain unmoved by the rulers of this world and the strength of the proud because we know their demise will soon come.  Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4 and Belshazzar in chapter 5 are representative of all who magnify themselves above God and glorify themselves.  It therefore changes the way the church sees and responds to the wicked.  The wicked people and kingdoms in this world magnify themselves even above God, yet they will soon be humbled.  Therefore, we must not be moved or overly troubled by them.  Furthermore, the final beast who comes in the 70th week is still to come and as John states, “children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared” (1 John 3:18).  The book of Daniel instructs us on the fate of the wicked who refuse to humble themselves before the king of kings: humiliating demise.

The Church: Unmoved by Persecution

The second application comes out of the previous and flows into the final: The Church is to stand strong in persecution, endure suffering, and remain pure until the return of Christ.  Daniel’s statement in 11:31-33 is a great summary of this,

“And they will set up the abomination of desolation.  By smooth words he will turn the godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.  Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days.”

Daniel goes on to speak of some joining the ranks of the faithful in hypocrisy and some of the faithful being killed.  But Daniel has a high hope and expectation for God’s people, declaring that many of them may be killed, but they will never be defeated.  They will stand strong as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did in chapter 2, and as Daniel did in chapter 6.  God’s people are to be unmoved by persecution, standing strong and taking action.  The final word given to Daniel informs him that there will be 1,290 days of intense persecution after the abomination of desolation is set up, and then Michael states, “How blessed is the one who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days!” (12:12).  The 1,290 days refers to the three-and-a-half years we read about several times throughout the book and the 1,335 days refers to just a little bit more time. Daniel and the readers are being told, those who endure through the great tribulation and remain faithful to the Lord for just a little bit longer will be blessed.  God’s people are to be unmoved by persecution.

As additional support for this understanding of Daniel, we can turn to the book of Revelation.  John presents much of his apocalypse as a continuation and divine interpretation of Daniel.  One of the key points which John makes as he uses Daniel, is that God’s people must stay strong and endure persecution until the end.  John records the rise of a beast during the great tribulation who comes out of the earth (13:11) and he is presented as the typological fulfillment of the final beast in the book of Daniel who rises in the 70th week. This beast will cause all who “do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (13:15).  Furthermore, those who do not receive his mark will not be able to buy or to sell, meaning that food, water, and shelter will be difficult for the faithful to obtain.  But God’s people are not to worship the beast nor to receive the mark of the beast.  John tells us,

“Then another angel, a third one followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:9-10)

We as the Church must stand strong in persecution, endure suffering, and remain pure until the return of Christ. Like Daniel and his friends, we are to remain faithful to the Lord even when wicked rulers seek to kill us, for we know that the Lord is powerful to deliver.

The Church: Encouraged

The final application is that the Church does not need to be discouraged when life is grim, because God is in control of it all.  We see in Daniel that God is sovereign over all things, even down to the rise and fall of empires.  God calls us therefore in the book of Daniel to trust in His plan and His purposes.  Daniel reveals to us that this plan often includes suffering and pain.  But even in the difficulties of life, the Church has great reason to be encouraged.  The Lord, in the end, will consummate his kingdom and strike the finishing blow to His final enemy.  Even the most wicked of all the kings, the little horn from the fourth kingdom who anticipates the antichrist, will be defeated when Jesus returns.  Even in death, there is great hope for the faithful.  God reveals to Daniel that “some of those who have insight will fall” (11:35), still

“everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.  Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.  Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:1-3)

The book ends, “But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (12:13).  The people of God have hope beyond the grave and therefore have great reason for encouragement in the book of Daniel.

This paper has examined the structure and contents of Daniel, in order to bring forth several main themes and theological truths that make their way through the book.  Daniel highlights the way God is sovereign in humbling the proud, delivering his people, and directing history.  From these main themes come forth several applications for the church today.  The church in the 21st century must be unmoved by the wicked, unmoved by persecution and encouraged.

Check out all of our articles on Daniel here.

[1] James Hamilton, With the Clouds of Heaven: The book of Daniel in biblical theology, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varity Press, 2014), 50.

[2] Daniel 2:34, 44, 7:25-26, 8:25, 11:45

[3] Daniel 9:2

[4] Daniel 7:13, 9:24-25

[5] Daniel 11:33-35, 12:1-3, 10-13

[6] The fact that this statue was set up by the king is repeated six times in the first seven verses.  By doing this, Daniel is exposing the statues unimpressive and nonauthoritative status as a false manmade god.

[7] “Daniel was not some kind of mystical wizard with paranormal powers of perception and communication.  His understanding of dreams and visions come from God himself and not from his own skill or learning.” Kenneth Gangel, Daniel, vol 18, Holman Old Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Bradman & Holman Publishers, 2001), p. 204.

[8] John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2013), 152.

[9] Cf. Ps. 18:10, 97:2, 104:3

[10] See Gen. 1:28, Ex. 13:21-22, 2 Sam. 7:13, Ps. 8:5, 45:1-7, 110.

[11] The period of time is presented in 7:25 and 12:7 as “time, times, and half a time,” in 8:14 as “2,300 evenings and morning sacrifices” totaling 1,150 days, as half of one seven in 9:27, and as 1,292 days in 12:11.  These numbers are best interpreted together to refer to a three-and-a-half-year period of great tribulation where God’s people are in extreme persecution and the abomination of desecration is in power.  This understanding is strengthened by John’s use of Daniel’s number in Revelation 11.  John sees the nations treading under foot the holy city for forty-two months which is about three and a half years (11:2) and then a two witnesses who prophesy for 1,260 days which is just less than three and a half years (11:3).  After this first three and a half years, the beast who rises from the sea will slay these witnesses (11:7-10), but after three-and-a-half days God raises them from the dead.  Daniel is using the seven-year period of Daniel 9:27, revealing what will happen during the first three-and-a-half-year period (His witnesses will prophecy), and then revealing more details concerning the great tribulation that takes place in the second and shortened three-and-a-half-year period.

Should Christians live in Conflict with One Another?

In today’s sermon from 1 Samuel 18 & 19, Saul is in conflict with David and is not interested in restoration.  Is this proper behavior for a Christian?  The simple answer this question is no.  Christians should never live in conflict or anger with other Christians.  I want to call us as a church to never be OK with slander, gossip, and division.  This reality is so clear in the pages of the Bible.  Jesus tells us that if we are angry with another Christian, we are liable to judgment, and if we speak ill of our brother, we are liable to the hell of fire (Matt. 5:21-22).  Jesus applies that to us by commanding us to always seek restoration with our brother if he or she has something against us (Matt. 5:23-26).

Later in Matthew, we also read Jesus commanding us to go to our brother if they sin against us with the goal of restoration (Matt. 18:15-20).  If we decide to gossip about someone or tell other people what sin they committed rather than going to them in love for the sake of restoration, we are rejecting the words of Jesus and living in rebellion against God.  James commands Christians to not speak against one another, because if we sit in judgment against our brother we are not doing the law. We read in Proverbs 10:18, “He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool.” A mark of a true Christians is not anger and conflict but love, encouragement, and compassion.  Slander, gossip, and anger are marks of unbelievers, but we must put these things to death since these sins are placed in the Bible to describe haters of God (Rom. 1:29-31).  To read more on conflict with Christians as well as slander and gossip read 2 Cor. 12:20, Eph. 4:31, Col. 3:8, 1 Pet. 2:1ff, Lev. 19:16, Titus 3:1-2, Matt. 5:11 below.

 

2 Corinthians 12:20 (ESV) — 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

Ephesians 4:31 (ESV) — 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Colossians 3:8 (ESV) — 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

1 Peter 2:1–3 (ESV) — 1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Leviticus 19:16 (ESV) — 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

Titus 3:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

Matthew 5:11 (ESV) — 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

 

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How do I Form a Christian Worldview?

It has been established over the last two blogs (What is a Worldview? and What is a Christian Worldview?) that worldview is a central aspect of life and having a Christian (biblical) worldview should be the Christian’s priority.  Therefore, here I address several ways for Christians to form a Christian worldview.

  1. Pray for the Spirit’s transformation. Many of our wrong beliefs and perspectives are rooted in our sinful flesh and therefore a miracle of God’s spirit is needed to bring purity.  Furthermore, all of the steps in this article will be futile without the Power of God’s spirit. (John 6:63)
  2. Read and study God’s Word. The best way to form a biblical worldview is to read and study your Bible until it falls apart, and then buy another Bible and read it, repeating the process until Jesus comes back.  It is vital though that we read and study the scriptures properly. It can be easy for us to wrongly read and preach the scriptures as if it is a book of inspirational points, each verse beginning a new quote.  Even more horrendous is the tendency and temptation that we naturally have to interpret scriptures based on our preconceived opinions.  The scriptures are rather to be read and interpreted as the authors intended.  Our goal when we read a book of the Bible is to ask the question, what is the author’s intention, or what is the author trying to teach us.  Only after we do this can we apply the text to our life and worldview.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  3. Re-Examine all of Your Beliefs Next to the Bible. We all have assumptions about life, opinions about politics, and beliefs about ethics.  The challenge with this is that every person on the earth begins life with a sinful heart, a fallen mind, and a disposition towards error and rebellion against the Christian worldview.   The first part of our life is spent forming an unbiblical worldview so that when we are regenerated by the spirit of God, much worldview change needs to take place.  Therefore, as Christians, we must take everything that we once believed about life, and examine it next to what God says. Many of the things we think are common sense are wrong and need correction.  We do not place ourselves above the Scriptures by searching it in order to prove our worldview right, we rather place ourselves under the Scriptures, in humility asking God to give us a correct way of thinking about the world.
  4. Re-examine worldview intake- Practically everything we do influences our worldview. Every word you hear, experience you have, and sight you see shapes and informs your worldview.  With this reality in mind, we must examine the voices we are listening to in our life.  For example, a Christian who watches a certain news or radio station more than he reads the Bible will have a worldview based more on that station rather than the word of God.  For example, a Christian who reads books or watches shows on paranormal activity may begin to have a wrong view on the dead and the spiritual realm.  A Christian who allows himself to be overly influenced by unbelievers will begin to form an unbiblical worldview.  We should always be in contact with non-Christian perspectives, we just need to be wary of their negative influence on our life and counter those beliefs with daily Bible reading.  (Psalm 26:4-5, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 15:33)
  5. Commit to and become part of a healthy local church. A Christian worldview will never be formed in isolation.  The majority of the NT consists of letters to churches, intended to transform the community Jesus redeemed with his blood.  If a Christian is not part of and living life with a community of believers, there will be a decline in Christian maturity and worldview formation (1 Corinthians 5:6, Hebrews 10:24-31, Proverbs 13:20).  This Jesus loving community, especially if it consists of people from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and ages, will include some disagreement, yet will be a healthy ground for the formation of a Christian worldview.

Many things can be assumed to be true, correct, and good in Christian circles that have no biblical basis.  It is our job as Christians to reexamine and put off much of our old worldview and replace it with the truth of God’s world.  Only when a Christian has a truly Biblical worldview, will he begin to be a truly prophetic voice in this world of confusion.

Can you think of more ways we can form a Christian worldview?  Share them below in the comments.

 

Is the Regulative Principle Biblical?

In last week’s blog (read it here), I compared the normative principle of worship and the regulative principle of worship.  Churches that practice the normative principle say if the Bible does not forbid something then it is ok for the worship service.  This includes things such as candle lighting, bell choir, holiday decorations, non-worship music, skits and plays, and much more.  Churches that practice the regulative principle only practice what the Bible commands for corporate worship.  To summarize, the normative principle says, “whatever is not forbidden is permitted,” but the regulative principle argues that “whatever is not commanded is forbidden.”

As I stated in last week’s blog, the regulative principle, “whatever is not commanded is forbidden” should be practiced in the church.   The reason for this will be argued from the Bible itself in this article.   I agree with Derick Thomas who states, “it is difficult to see why anyone who values the authority of Scripture would find such a principle objectionable. Is not the whole of life itself to be lived according to the rule of Scripture? This is a principle dear to the hearts of all who call themselves biblical Christians. To suggest otherwise is to open the door to antinomianism and license.”[1]  Yet I find most churches are far from the regulative principle, hence the need for this defence.

Biblical Doctrines

I begin my argument first with several overarching biblical doctrines that point to the necessity of the regulative principle, and then transition into specific biblical examples and texts.

Doctrine of Sin

As Christians, we must recognize our fallen nature and our distorted view of life apart from God’s perfect revelation.  Ultimately, when left to ourselves we generally mess things up.   Even when our intentions are good, we utterly fail to please God apart from His revelation to help.  This reality leads us to reach out for the scriptures – our guide for life and worship.  Even Jesus Himself says “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).  Though Jesus has cleansed us of our sins and is now making us holy, there still remains corruption, blindness, and sin that continually influences us and distorts our choices.  If Jesus, our sinless savior and example of human perfection, did nothing on His own but relied upon God the father for everything, should we not do the same?

Sufficiency of Scripture

As Christians, we believe that God’s word is not only true and without error, but it is also sufficient.  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 also see 2 Timothy 3:16).  The sufficiency of Scripture assures us that we do not need to add to the Scriptures as it is already perfect, complete, and sufficient.  God has told us how He is to be worshiped, there is no need to add extra things to the list as if God forgot to include them.

The Power of Scripture

As Christians, we desire for our gathering to edify, equip, correct, and train the church for the work of ministry.   The question that is asked though is what is the best possible way of bringing that about?  Paul tells us the answer by saying, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  So the word of God, the Scriptures, are the most effective tool in transforming and edifying the church.  This would explain why the Scriptures themselves command us to sing the Bible in psalms and hymns, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, and see the Bible in the sacraments.  We should never take time away from these commanded, powerful practices in order to do less effective practices that the Bible has not commanded.

The Doctrine of the Church

As Christians we recognize that we are a community of believers who gather together under the authority and headship of Christ (Colossians 1:18).  This means that what we do as a church must not come from our creativity and imagination or from our desire to gather more people. This would be the case if the church were simply another organization for the community such as the Boy Scouts or 4H.  Instead, everything the church does must first be under the Lordship of Christ and must align with his word.  This is what it means for Christ to be the head of the Church – he writes our order of service, not us.

Specific Old Testament Examples/Texts

The First Two Commandments

Exodus 20:1-6 And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

What we see in these two commandments is that the Lord alone is God and is to be worshiped as He has instructed us.  The people were accustomed to following the pattern of surrounding cultures of making images that represents God or gods but the Lord demands that He be worshiped as He commands.  Worshiping out of creativity or the traditions of man is idolatry as we see in the next example.

The Golden Calf

Exodus 32:1-6 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

Exodus 32:21-24 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

If you pay careful attention, you will notice that in their cultural context, the people were being very religious.  It even says they were going to make a feast to the Lord (v. 5).  In their eyes, this calf was simply an image of the Lord who brought them out of Egypt and was their means of worshiping the Lord.  In other words, their major sin was not a failure to worship, their major sin was a failure to worship the Lord as He commands.

Construction of Tabernacle

Exodus 25:40 And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

Exodus 31:2-11  See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.

God gave the Israelites specific instructions on their plans for worship down to the colors, materials, and measurements.  The Lord makes clear that he is not OK with the builders adding to the instructions.  The Lord is saying that he is only to be worshiped in the manner that he prescribes.  I would be curious to see how God would have responded if the builders decided to add a fog machine at the entrance to the holy place.  Based on the story of Nadab and Abihu, I do not think it would have gone over very well.

Nadab and Abihu

Leviticus 10:1-7, Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.

Once again, Nadab and Abihu’s great sin was not a lack of worship.  The great sin that they committed was rather worshiping the Lord in a way that was not commanded. They offered “strange” or “unauthorized” fire before the Lord. This was a sacrifice that God did not directly forbid, yet was an “unauthorized” sacrifice.  The same goes today within the church.  We must not practice that which God does not command for our gathering, lest we follow in the footsteps of Nadab and Abihu.  The text even says that their death was not to be mourned, even by their father lest more people die!  Anyone that mourns the death of Nadab and Abihu would have died before the Lord in His holiness.  We must see and fear the holiness of God in worship.  Consider and heed what the Lord said after consuming Nadab and Abihu with fire, “I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (v. 3).  Also see Korah’s rebellion which tells a similar story (Numbers 16).

Saul’s Offering

1 Samuel 13:11-14 Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

In this text we see Samuel do something that appears minor.  He offers a sacrifice to the Lord after Samuel the priest does not show up in time.  We must sympathize with Saul considering his situation.  He is there with only 600 Israelites who are trembling in fear (v.6-7, 15), surrounded by “thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude” (v. 5) all ready to kill him.  Samuel told Saul to meet him at Gilgal and after seven days Samuel would arrive to offer the sacrifice (1 Samuel 10:8).  Samuel does not arrive after seven days so Saul offers up the sacrifice himself.  Seems minor right?  Yet because of this offence, his kingdom is taken away from him and he is rejected by the Lord.  Samuel tells him it is “because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (v. 14).  Considering the context however, we must ask the question: To which command is Samuel referring to?  Saul was never told not to offer the sacrifice.  What we see then is that when it comes to the worship of the Lord, what He does not command is forbidden.  We must heed the word of the Lord by not taking anything away from, or adding to, God’s instruction in worship.

Uzzah

2 Samuel 6:1-7 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.

We see demonstrated in this text God’s holiness and demand that worship be done according to His command.  Taking away from or adding to God’s instructions do not honor the Lord.  What Uzzah did in reaching out his hand seems minor and harmless yet we know from God’s response that this was no minor offence.  The Lord never said “Thou shalt not carry the ark on a cart,” but God did not command it therefore the people must not do it. They were only to do what the Lord commanded, nothing more, nothing less. David, when he brings up the Ark of God in a second attempt, explains his error, “Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule” (1 Chronicles 15:13).  God demands that his people worship Him according to what he commands.  Israel most likely got the idea of carrying the Ark on a cart from the Philistine example (1 Samuel 6:11).  It never turns out well when people worship and serve the Lord by following the example of others instead of the Lord himself.

King Jeroboam

1 Kings 12:32-33 And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings.

Notice the careful wording of this text Jeroboam appointed a feast (v. 32). He instituted a feast in the month “that he had devised from his own heart” (v. 33).  Furthermore, the text repeats and emphasizes the place of sacrifice: Bethel instead of Jerusalem.  The Lord had appointed feasts and a place of worship, yet Jeroboam made another feast and another place of worship beyond what the Lord had commanded.  The great sin of Jeroboam was worshiping the Lord in a manner that the Lord had not commanded.  It even makes clear that Jeroboam was still, in a sense, worshiping the Lord, he was simply doing it in a manner that he devised in his own heart.  When we practice the normative principle, “what God has not forbidden is allowed,” we quickly fall into the same sin.  It is by Jeroboam’s action that he “caused Israel to sin” (1 Kings 15:30), ultimately leading to their exile by the Assyrians.

King Uzziah

1 Chronicles 26:16-21 But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD.

Once again we see an example of someone worshiping the Lord in a way that is not commanded by the Lord.  King Uzziah in his pride enters the temple with fire to offer to the Lord.  He was doing a religious practice of worship to the Lord, but in a way that the Lord did not command.  In response, the Lord strikes him with leprosy.

King Ahaz

2 Chronicles 28:3 He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations (II Chron. 28:3).

Jeremiah 7:31 they have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire — something I did not command nor did it enter my mind

We might assume that the main offence of Ahaz is that he and the people were sacrificing children on the altar.  In our eyes that is the most detestable thing in the text, but this is not the only thing  the Lord focuses on.   The greatest sin of Ahaz was not simply that he offered children on an altar, as bad as that was, but that they were worshiping God in a way the Lord did not command.  Notice the careful wording of the Lord in Jeremiah 7:31, “something I did not command nor did it enter my mind.”  The Lord did not say, “How dare you offer children on the altar” but, rather, “How dare you do something in worship which I did not command you to do?”   We must worship the Lord based on what he has commanded without adding things which He has not commanded.

My conclusion from these OT texts is this: “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deut. 4:2).

Specific New Testament Examples/Texts

When reading the NT, what was just examined in the OT regarding worship and the nature of God is, for the most part, assumed and taken for granted.  Even so, Jesus still speaks to the issue of worship and His apostles correct the church in their practices as well.  Through this we will see that God calls his people to gather to worship Him by doing what He commands without adding or taking away.

Pharisees

Mark 7:5-9 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And He said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And He said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

The context of this text is not worship or church gatherings, yet the principle is important.  God desires that his people listen to His voice instead of the voice of tradition or prevailing ideas.  The Pharisees’ problem was that they were adding to what God had commanded while neglecting the actual commands of God.   As a church, we must not add to what God has commanded us to do.  By doing this, we will ultimately neglect what He has actually called us to do.

The Samaritan Woman

John 4:23-24 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

Jesus here gives two specific attributes of Christian worship. This worship must be in spirit and in truth.  These two attributes are profound when fused together as they express God’s will for New Covenant worship.  Let us be clear then on this point: truth is nothing less than what God has revealed.  Therefore to worship the Lord in truth is to worship Him in line with His Word.  The same can be said of the Holy Spirit, author of God’s Word.  When we diverge from the Holy Scriptures in worship, the experience can be both “charismatic” and “religious” in many ways, yet it will be devoid of both spirit and truth.  According to Jesus, worship that is not Biblical cannot be called true Christian worship.

The Great Commission

Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

The second half of the great commission is to teach what Christ has commanded.  This idea of “obeying Jesus” and “doing all that is commanded” is often wrongly labeled “legalistic.”  Legalism is practiced when we obey Jesus thinking that our obedience will earn grace from God and the forgiveness of sins. Obeying Jesus’ commands is simply part of what it means to be a Christians (John 14:15).  So in the great commission we are told to teach all that Jesus commands, yet if we practice things in our time of worship that Jesus does not command, are we not teaching new disciples to obey what Jesus has not commanded?  New disciples can quickly become confused regarding what is commanded and what is simply “extra.”  It is a better and safer path that eliminates much confusion when we simply do and teach what Jesus commanded, no more and no less.

The Church of Rome

Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Here the church is told how they are to worship the Lord in a way that is holy and acceptable to God.  We are to present our bodies to the Lord, not becoming like the world but rather being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  The question that the church needs to ask then is, “When we as a church do things in worship which the Lord has not commanded, where did we get the idea?”  Generally, the answer is either from Old Covenant ritual worship which has been fulfilled and therefore abolished in Christ, or from the world. Concerning the former, I address this below from Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews.  Concerning being conformed to the world, Paul is quite clear: Don’t be conformed to the world!  Let us do what the Bible commands, nothing more, nothing less.

The Church in Galatia

Galatians 4:9-11 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

The book of Galatians is the only letter of Paul that we have beginning with a rebuke instead of a blessing.  Paul says that they are turning to a different gospel which cannot save.  A central theme of this false gospel is commandments and practices that the Lord does not command.  They are rebuked in 4:9-11 quoted above, not for doing something the Lord forbade, but for doing things which the Lord did not command of New Covenant Christians.  They are “observing days and months and seasons and years.”  They are going back to the rituals of the Old Covenant which were fulfilled in the work of Christ.  We must not follow in the footsteps of the Galatians.

The Church in Colossae

Colossians 2:16-23 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

What we see in the Colossian church is that some are insisting on following practices not commanded by God upon New Covenant believers.  These include dietary restrictions, fasting regulations, festivals, Old Testament Sabbath observance, among other things. Notice in verse v. 18 and v. 23 that they are insisting on asceticism which is a religious practice.  Paul says that these things have no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.  He says these are promoting “self-made religion” (v. 23).  This is so key to the regulative principle of worship.  We as a church must stand far away from self-made religion by practicing what God calls us to practice while avoiding that which God has not commanded.  When we integrate our own ideas into our community of worship, we are creating “self-made religion,” which has “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

Book of Hebrews

The entire book of Hebrews speaks against ceremonial worship to which the church was tempted to return.  G. I Williamson puts it well when he writes, “The whole book of Hebrews is, among other things, an extended application of the regulative principle. It argues that the whole system of worship, commanded by God under the Mosaic administration of God’s covenant, is now obsolete (8:13). And what do we have in its place? The answer is that we have ‘the real thing’ — not the old ‘copies’ of heavenly things, but — ‘the heavenly things themselves’ (9:23). Whereas the people of God, in the time of Moses, came to an earthly mountain (12:18), we ‘come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,’ and so on (12:22). The church today, in other words, is supposed to live in the realm of heavenly realities, and not any longer in the realm of shadowy symbols.”[2]

What we see in this summary is that God is utterly concerned about how He is worshiped.   Not only this, He calls us not to add to, or take away from, what He has commanded us as a church.   I hope and pray this article was helpful for you and I would love to converse with you about it.  Feel free to leave a comment.  The next post will be the application of the regulative principle for the church.

Also See:

Part 1 What is the Regulative Principle of Worship?

Part 3 How do we Apply the Regulative Principle?

 

[1] http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/regulative-principle-worship/

[2] http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-scriptural-regulative-principle-of-worship.php

What is the Regulative Principle of Worship?

If you visit different churches, you will discover two different perspectives on church worship and gatherings.  Neither of these terms below can be found in the Bible, so I will be careful to define things as clear as possible. I will do my best to present them both to you with respect to alternative viewpoints, and share what I see taught in the Bible.

Normative Principle– Most churches in our day have and practice this perspective.  This understanding sees it this way:  if something is not expressly forbidden by Scripture, it can be used in corporate worship since we have freedom in the gospel.  This allows for the practices of tradition on one hand and innovation on the other during worship on the Lord’s day.  Here are a few examples: Candle lighting, incense burning, performances, singing of non-Christian songs, flashy holiday decorations, giveaways, and anything else that is not found in the Bible yet is not forbidden by the Bible.

Regulative Principle– Not as many churches in our day practice the regulative principle, though there was a time where it was more common.  This understanding sees it this way: If something is not commanded by scriptures, it should not be done in the worship service.  This approach is known for its simplicity. This type of church will generally at least four main things every Sunday: singing praises to the Lord, prayer, devoting time to the public reading of scripture, and the preaching of God’s Word.

Which one of these do you think is best? What do you think is most effective in doing God’s work? Though not every Christian agrees on this, as a pastor I feel quite strongly that churches should practice the regulative principle (If defined as I have above and in Par 3).  In other words, God’s word alone regulates our worship to Him.  We should not add to or take away from anything that God has commanded us to do especially when we gather together as a church.  I intend to touch on this just a little bit in my sermon this morning from 1 Samuel 13.  You can listen to this sermon here.

Also see:

Part 2 Is the Regulative Principle Biblical?

Part 3 How do we Apply the Regulative Principle?

 

The Church Part 8: Baptism

Baptism is the first of two ordnances (also called “sacraments”) that were ordained by Christ the second of which is the Lord’s Supper (also called Communion).  Between denominations there is much disagreement on the meaning and the mode of baptism due to many different factors.

Mode and Meaning of Baptism

Baptism is the practice of immersing an individual under a body of water as a public profession of faith that pictures their regeneration and ushers them in as members of the local church community.

  1. Βαπτιζω means “to cause someone to have an extraordinary experience akin to an initiatory water-rite, to plunge, baptize[1] both inside and outside the Bible though it can also refer to a “wash ceremonially for purpose of purification, wash, purify, of a broad range of repeated ritual washing rooted in Israelite tradition.”[2]
  2. There are several places in the NT where “immerse” seems to be the meaning of baptize.
    1. (Mk 1:5) -And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
    2. (Mk 1:10) -And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
    3. (Jn 3:23) -John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized
    4. (Ac 8:36–39) -And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
  3. Baptism is symbolic of our union with Christ. The Bible tells us that baptism pictures Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, all of which require immersion.
    1. (Ro 6:3–4) -Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
    2. (Col 2:11–12) -In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
  4. Baptism as immersion also is symbolic of the judgment on Christ.
    1. (1 Pe 3:20–21) -because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
    2. Water coming over someone is a picture of judgment (Gen. 7:6-24, Ex. 14:26-29, and Jonah 1:7-16) and in Baptism, (according to 1 Pe 3:21) we picture Christ taking the judgment that we deserve.
  5. The washing away of sins is only part of what baptism pictures and is better pictured in believers by immersion underwater.
    1. (Ac 22:16) -And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Who Can be Baptized?

Baptism should be given to those who understand the gospel and have made a believable outward profession of faith with genuine repentance of sin. It is unavoidable that some will make false professions of faith but this is where church discipline comes in at a later date.

  1. (Ac 2:41) -So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
  2. (Ac 8:12) -But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
  3. (Ac 10:44–46) -While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,
  4. (Ac 10:47–48) -“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
  5. (Ac 16:14–15) -One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
  6. (Ac 16:32–33) -And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

When we look at the NT, it seems clear that baptism is a symbol of beginning the Christian life and an outward commitment to Christ.

  1. (Ga 3:27) -For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
  2. (Ro 6:3–4) -Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
  3. (Col 2:12) -having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

None of these verses seem to makes sense if children in the congregation were baptized.“Those who argue for infant baptism at this point resort to what seems to the present author to be vague language about infants being adopted ‘into the covenant’ or ‘into the covenant community,’ but the New Testament does not speak that way about baptism. Rather, it says that all of those who have been baptized have been buried with Christ, have been raised with him, and have put on Christ.”[4]

Salvation in Baptism?

The Romans Catholic Church says that baptism should be given to infants and is necessary for salvation because it causes regeneration (new birth). To the Catholic Church, baptism, along with its other sacraments, are means of saving grace.

  1. “Baptism is the Sacrament in which man being washed with water in the name of the Three Divine Persons is spiritually reborn.[5]
  2. Furthermore, “Every validly baptized person, even one baptized outside the Catholic Church, becomes a member of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”.[6]
  3. “If anyone says that the sacraments of the new law do not contain the grace which they signify, or that they do not confer that grace on those who place no obstacles in its way, as though they are only outward signs of grace or justice received through faith and certain marks of Christian profession, whereby among men believers are distinguished from unbelievers, let him be anathema.[7]

The big distinctions between Protestants and Catholics have to do with the basic issue of salvation and the gospel itself. The reformation was largely focused on this vital issue.  The reformers proclaimed a salvation that depends on faith alone, not on faith plus works. If baptism is necessary for salvation as the Catholic Church teaches, that means salvation is based on faith plus works.  Therefore, the protestant disagreement on baptism comes largely down to the issue of soteriology (salvation) more so than the practical outworking of biblical texts relating to baptism.

  1. (Ga 3:10) -For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
  2. (Ga 5:4) -You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
  • (Ga 1:6) -I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

What about John 3:5?

John 3:5 -Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Some argue that this text refers to baptism, but this argument does not hold water.  Jesus is talking to Nicodemus before he departed from the earth meaning that Christian baptism was not yet established as it is today. If this text were referring to baptism, this would contradicts witness of the rest of the scriptures that make clear that salvation is by grace through faith (Rom. 3:20,22, 25, 28, Eph. 2:5, 8-9).  Furthermore- If salvation was necessary for salvation and causes regeneration, then the early church in Acts would have emphasized the need for baptism just as much as the need to repent and believe, but they rather see it as a call for the Christian after they repent and beleave.

  • (Ac 8:36) -And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Baptism seems important here, but not necessary for salvation.

Here is a better explanation of John 3 that takes the context into account. Jesus here is referring here to Ezek. 36:25-27

  • (Eze 36:25–27) -I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness’s, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

The water in the text is referring to the washing of regeneration, not the washing of christening. Jesus is referring to Ezekiel 36 which is referring to regeneration, not baptism. This explains why Jesus then responds to Nicodemus who does not understand, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (Jn 3:10). Furthermore, immediately after this text we read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Notice it does not say that whoever is baptized shall have everlasting life, but whoever believes. Here are some more important texts.

  1. (Tt 3:5) -he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
    • Once again the water here is not talking about baptism but “by the washing of regeneration”.
  2. (1 Pe 3:21) -Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
    • In this text it says “Baptism…now saves you”, but it specifies, that baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the body” (in other words it does not remove sin), but rather it is “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

Thank you for reading this article.  Feel free to post comments and question, just make sure they are respectful and sincere.

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 165). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 164). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology 971.

[5] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma Trans. By Patrick Lynch, ed. By James Bastible, 4th ed. (Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books, 1960).

[6] Ibid 355

[7] Counsel of Trent, Canons on the Sacraments in General (1547) Canon 6