Church Hunt: struggles with essential baptism and compartmentalization of the Holy Spirit

Troy asked me in reply to my last post:

"Concerning the post before this one...have you considered/visited the Hicksville C of C? The Wellmans are great people. The last time we met them (maybe at a funeral) they "invited" us to attend. He said they could use some help. Just a thought."

We have. And they seem to be at the top of our list. Ken seems to be an incredible guy: Loving, insightful, and a good teacher. That might be enough to make us take the plunge and start going there.

I don't mean to offend in the following. I'm willing to talk this through with anyone if they want (I would prefer in person if that is possible), but I'll get a little personal with my doctrinal struggles in the church hunt concerning the church of Christ in this area. As always, I could be wrong.

Our problem is with some of the teachings that come with the church of Christ in this area. Many in this area think this is what the church of Christ is throughout the nation. I assure you that it is not. I struggle with whether I want to attend a church that believes that baptism is essential to salvation and that spiritual gifts are no longer present.

First, I don't think the two topics can be separated. In the minds of many in the conservative church of Christ (CCOC from now on), the Holy Spirit is divided into two types in Scripture: the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the salvational seal of the Holy Spirit. According to the CCOC the latter is still around today and received at the point of baptism. The former is gone with the passing of the Apostles. The logic is that only the Apostles could impart spiritual gifts. I just don't buy this whole argument.

Let's check out some verses and see why. If you want to just read my conclusions, feel free to scroll to the bottom. Then you can come back up and see how I arrived at them or just write me off as a nut.

Ephesians 1:13-14 - 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.

First, I would like to set the groundwork that the Holy Spirit is at least the mark of our salvation. We do not have salvation unless we have the Holy Spirit. That is a basic understanding that we have to agree on to even have this discussion. So when I talk about receiving the Holy Spirit, I am talking about receiving salvation. The CCOC would like to stop there and say that is all the Holy Spirit is today, but I just don't see any Scriptural evidence for that. That is part of the core of my disagreement with them. Now onto the book of Acts.

Acts 2:38 - Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This is the passage you will hear the most in the CCOC. In it we see that the gift of the Holy Spirit will be given when the people repent and are baptized. If that is where the book of Acts stopped, I would have to take the CCOC position. However, that isn't where Acts stops.

Acts 5:32 - 32 "And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him."

Here we see that the Holy Spirit is linked to being received to those who are obedient. I can concede that part of that obedience, although not mentioned here, could be obedience through baptism. But I also don't see that as a necessary leap unless one already is predispositioned to believe that baptism is essential.

Acts 8:14-18 - 14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money...

Now here is a tricky verse that starts to make people who believe baptism is essential to jump through hoops. We see here that the Holy Spirit was imparted by the laying on of hands of the Apostles, not through baptism.

First, in order to say that salvation comes only through baptism, this passage must be interpreted in some way other than the clear way of what it is saying. This is where the CCOC must divide the Holy Spirit into salvational and gift-giving aspects. But I see no evidence for this divide in Scripture. If I can be shown where the Scriptures explain this divide, I will be happy to reconsider the whole position. I just don't see it. It appears that the divide was created (and I could be wrong here) not as a result of Scripture but as a result of the belief of the essentialness of baptism. A belief in the essentialness of baptism depends on the compartmentalization of the Holy Spirit. If one were to read this verse without any preset doctrines, one would see that the Holy Spirit is given, not by baptism, but by the laying on of hands of the Apostles. We will see the Holy Spirit given in other ways throughout Acts.

Acts 9:11-18 - 11 And the Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight." 13 But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized...

Here we see another interesting point. The Holy Spirit appears to have been given to Paul, not by baptism or the laying on of hands of the Apostles, but by Ananias (a non-Apostle) laying his hands upon him. Then he was baptized. The Holy Spirit, which is the mark of salvation, seemed to have come prior to baptism. Even if it didn't, we have a case of someone, who wasn't an Apostle, laying hands on someone else for healing.

Acts 10:44-48 - 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

The Holy Spirit arrives in this instance through listening. We see that baptism is still conducted, but it appears to be for a reason other than receiving the Holy Spirit. It actually seems to be an example of unity in the body of believers. That would be a purpose for baptism that would hold up in every one of these passages.

Here is Peter's retelling of that same story:

Acts 11:12-18 - "The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man's house. 13 "And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, `Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' 15 "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 "And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 "Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."

Peter repeats the story and emphasizes that the Holy Spirit came at the time of his speaking. Then he goes on to link this receiving of the Holy Spirit with baptism of the Holy Spirit. He doesn't link it with physical water baptism. This would've been a good time to link water baptism with baptism of the Holy Spirit, but he seems to separate the two. He also states that the gift was given to the apostles as a result of believing and not of baptism.

And here is the key verse to my understanding of receiving the Holy Spirit:

Acts 15:8 - "And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us..."

This comes during the dispute about whether Gentiles can be saved and how they should live.

The heart is the key to receiving the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it might take the act of baptism for a person's heart to be right. For others it might be listening to the message, taking a step of obedience, or having hands laid upon one's self. If I have learned anything about the Holy Spirit throughout the book of Acts, it is that it can't be put in a box or explained through some forumla or recipe. It comes in all different circumstances, and it manifests itself in a multitude of ways. When it comes to the Holy Spirit and being right with God, it is the heart that matters.

Acts 19:1-7 - 1 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." 4 Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 There were in all about twelve men.

These people were baptized with John's baptism and didn't even know there was a Holy Spirit, so Paul baptizes them. Still, it seems that there wasn't the indwelling presence of the Spirit yet even after baptism. It wasn't until Paul laid hands upon them that the Holy Spirit came.

Sadly, all of the cases in Acts that slightly or completely disagree with salvation coming only through baptism get disregarded by many CCOCers as being special cases with special circumstances. I believe I live in a world like the world of the early church, a world surrounded by special cases with special circumstances. I see no reason, except for the hardened hearts of people, to believe that God has ever stopped being at work in miraculous ways from the time of creation till now. I am firmly part of the Restoration movement. I believe the church should be as vibrant and loving as the early church. But I do not believe that the church can be restored without the power of the Holy Spirit working in and among us.

This is why I have troubles with becoming part of the Hicksville CoC or any CoC in this area. Maybe they don't believe this way. Maybe they do. From a conversation with someone there, I would have to say they do. But I should probably contact Ken Wellman and talk it through with him.

Don't get me wrong. I believe strongly in the practice of baptism. I just don't feel at liberty to say that you're going to hell if you aren't baptized. It seems to play a role in salvation. I will always teach someone to be baptized. As a matter of fact, if you're reading this and are a believer, why not take the step of baptism. It is a beautiful event in which we join Christ and all of those who have preceded us. What role it plays exactly, I do not know. But I do know that Jesus set the example by being baptized and that everyone in Acts did it. I do know that it is great to have that tangible, physical experience as something to look back on. I just don't feel comfortable telling anyone they are going to hell because they haven't been baptized. I would like to ask them why they haven't been, but that is a much different approach. I think baptism has more to do with unity of the body than it does with salvation, but I can't be dogmatic about either.

Can I believe what I stated above and exist in a church that believes baptism is essential to salvation? Is it possible? Or will I always be viewed as an outcast? That is the question I struggle with in deciding whether to become part of a church of Christ in this area. Is it essential for me to believe that baptism is essential and that spiritual gifts are no longer around in order for me to effectively serve in a conservative church of Christ? I tend to think so, and that is why I haven't taken that step.

It seems like every denomination or church has a pet doctrine that is essential in order to effectively serve. The problem I encounter, besides not liking the whole idea of pet doctrines, is that I don't agree with any church's pet doctrine. It is discouraging. It is depressing, and I don't know what to do. I would love to find a church that allows people to have liberty in non-essential beliefs; however, we seem to always disagree on what is essential.

I envision a church that includes people who believe baptism is essential and people who believe that baptism is just an act of obedience. I envision a church with people that think that drinking alcohol is wrong, yet it has people who socially drink. I envision a church that has people who believe Mary is blessed above all humans, yet it has people that believe Mary is just the same as the rest of us. I envision a church that allows liberty on the non-essentials, yet is unified by the message of Christ and living that life out here in our community today. I envision a church where we allow our differences on non-essentials because we are full of love. I want that church.


My wife just learned how to make her own butter. That's cool.

Watch out for the potholes.