Monday, August 11, 2014

Baptism of Spirit and Fire vs. One Baptism




Gabriel has again been asking about baptism, so we taught him how to use an exhaustive concordance and we are studying daily all the verses in the new Testament relating to baptism.  He and I are recording what we've learned in our own notebooks, in case our future selves may want to see what we've thought. Matthew 3 is where we started today. It's a short read, so check it out here: MATTHEW 3 NASB.

GABRIEL'S NOTES
One of Gabriel's early notes was that John's baptism was connected to repentance and confession.  We saw it in these verses.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”6 "and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins."

Gabriel also noted that the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to be baptized, but seemed to be missing the repentance component.
7 "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance,"

MY GUIDANCE
I explained to Gabriel that repentance and confession are heavily linked with baptism throughout the New Testament, which is one reason why we didn't baptize Gabriel as a baby.  (I know that concept is controversial to a lot of people, as it has been for centuries.  If you have legitimate concerns for my child's salvation, feel free to have an open dialogue with me by emailing me at christopher@washingtoncoc.org.)  

THE CONTROVERSY
Then Matthew records John's testimony about Jesus, which has created quite the controversy over the years.
11 “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." 

I've seen John's words about baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire taken all sorts of different directions through my years of study. Often it is used to say that there were three baptisms in the New Testament, one of water, one of Spirit, and one of fire. People have used this interpretation of multiple baptisms to say this is why water baptism has no connection with God's saving grace.  Another way that has been stated is "anytime baptism is connected to salvation, it is talking about Spirit baptism, not water baptism." Yet that has always bugged me as I read verses such as the following.
"There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism,one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." - Ephesians 4:4-6
People seem to be ok with the "one body, one Spirit, etc." but they aren't ok with the "one baptism" and they believe in three of them, just so water baptism doesn't have to be connected. Then there's also this."20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves younot the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." - 1 Peter 3:20-21

THE RESULT
People use Matthew 3 to say that the baptism 1 Peter 3:21 is talking about is not baptism of water, but baptism of Spirit and fire. Ok, so I get it, adult believers immersion for the remission of sins bothers people. I get it, people are ok with having three baptisms, where the act of immersion in water is now NOT connected with repentance, confession, the Holy Spirit, fire, or salvation. I get it, going with the idea of only one baptism would get some people kicked out of their denomination.  I get it, for some it could also mean ejection from their family. I get it, now people just call any conviction of the heart, sinner's prayer, or act of infant dedication ceremony a baptism of the Spirit or the fire so the connections through the rest of scripture to repentance, immersion in water, confession, remission of sins, and a clear conscience are null and void. Reading Matthew 3:11 as three seperate baptisms makes salvation easier for people, I get it.

A REBUTTAL
The response that I've heard from this Spirit baptism often from peop goes something like this "The Spirit and fire comments are Jesus foreshadowing the day of Pentecost, when the disciples received tongues of fire and were filled with the Spirit."    
3 "And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance." - Acts 2:3-4
Sure enough, there it is, fire and Holy Spirit in one verse.

BUT I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT TOO.
No seriously, I have a legitimate problem linking Matthew 3:11 with Acts 2:4.  One of the main reasons is because NO ONE MENTIONS BAPTISM until thirty-four verses later in Acts 2:38 in which the result of repenting and being baptized is the receipt of the gift of the Holy Spirit (which by the way does connect baptism, repentance, and forgiveness).  If you look at the Greek text,  a new Greek paragraph starts in verse 5, 14, 22, 29, and 37.  That means we have to jump 34 scriptures and 5 Greek paragraphs to try to link baptism of the early church in Acts 2 with fire.  Might we be jumping too far?

HAVE WE FORGOTTEN CONTEXT?
Can we go back to read the original passage and look at a little context too? Reread our original controversial scripture with the one that comes immediately after it.
11 “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
12 His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” - Matthew 3:11-12 (NASB)

Did you catch that? John the Baptist talks about fire in the next verse too. What does that "unquenchable fire" represent? It surely doesn't seem to represent Jesus's baptism does it? In John 3:5 Jesus doesn't mention anything about "unquenchable fire" to Nicodemus. In John 3:22-23, no one talked about fire when Jesus and his disciples were baptizing others. In fact, it's not mentioned by John the Baptist who discusses Jesus baptizing in John 3:25-36. Nobody was on fire, received fire, played with fire, ate fire, or did anything with fire. All these faithful people were baptized in water, and John remarks that "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure." (34).

So back to Matthew 3:12. What is that fire? Since the fruit of wheat was what John the Baptist declared as good, chaff seems to be the opposite of wheat and is bad. It is the undesirable part that is burned up. Could it be that the fire is part of the burning process of the bad stuff? Could it be that fire is a part of the judgment for the unfaithful? It sure is here in Hebrews 10:26-27.

AND THEN I HAD ANOTHER THOUGHT
What if what John the Baptist is proposing to all of these Jews was something that they could easily understand? What if they didn't have to go take leaps of thought to determine what Jesus' baptism of Spirit & fire represented?  What if the Jesus' baptism was described like their Old Testament covenant? What was the result of following the covenant? Blessings would follow. What was the result of disobeying the covenant? Curses would follow. It sounds very similar to this portion of Deuteronomy 11:26-28a.   26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God"

So in light of Matthew 3:11-12 it appears to me that the baptism "of" fire is the same as the fire burning chaff in the next verse.  It is a curse for not honoring the baptism of Jesus.  It is a warning given to the brood of viper religious leaders who were coming to be baptized but had not repented. On the other hand, the blessing of the baptism is the Holy Spirit, or as Acts 2:38 puts it, the "gift" of the Holy Spirit.

Blessings and curses.  Spirit and fire.

Since I am unwilling to divorce the fire in Matthew 3:11 with the fire in Matthew 3:12, I see Jesus' water baptism of the Spirit and fire as an immersion that would either bring the comfort (see John 14:16, 14:26, and 15:26) of the Spirit, or the discomfort of the fire (remember Hebrews 10:26-27). My view of Matthew 3:11 takes in the local context, the context of baptism in the New Testament with passages like Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21, and it also includes Jewish context of the Old Covenant with which John the Baptist's audience were likely familiar with.  The only leap we make there is whether baptism of the Spirit is really a blessing, which we undoubtedly can support through other scripture.

TO SUM IT ALL
I don't see three different baptisms of water, Spirit, and fire.  There is one baptism (Eph 4:5).  It is connected throughout the New Testament to belief, repentance, confession of sins, confession of Jesus name, the Spirit, fire, and salvation.  This is why Gabriel and I are studying every baptism verse daily until we finish.  It is an important topic indeed.