GRACE-CENTERED MAGAZINE (THE UNBAPTIZED) (PART 3)

GARY W. SUMMERS

   

Cornelius

The dishonesty of Anonymous is next seen in his citation of the household of Cornelius to "prove" that these Gentiles were saved before they were baptized. Once again, the claim is made that baptism was only submitted to as "a divine sign of God's acceptance" (15). Anonymous insists that God would not "give His Spirit to a lost person in the same way as He did to the apostles..." unless they were already saved (15). Question: "Does the text directly say that God would not do such a thing?" If it does not, is this statement a conclusion drawn from inferences? Does this question, then, not become abiblical? Whoops! Although Anonymous gleefully manufactures such terminology, the reader will notice that he does not stick by it. Furthermore, his conclusions are wrong. Once again, he proves himself disingenuous by his failure to comment on what he certainly knows, which is Peter's statement in Acts 11:14.

But before we get to that verse, a few observations about Cornelius are in order. First of all, he was "a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2). We are not introduced to someone here who openly rebels against God or is calling upon God because of dire emergencies in his life. He is a genuinely sincere, pious individual. He is not merely laden with good intentions; he has expressed his faith and love for God by his deeds. Because of his faith, God takes an interest in him and sends Peter to preach to him.

Jews (even Jewish Christians at this time) did not go to the homes of Gentiles; God convinced Peter with a vision that he should not call Gentiles unclean (Acts 10:10-20). Once Peter arrived at Cornelius' house and began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on those listening, and they spoke in tongues (Acts 10:34-46). Now what does this occurrence mean? What does Peter say in the text concerning it? Peter commented thus:

"Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord... (Acts 10:47-48).

Did Peter say, "They have received the Holy Spirit just as we; therefore, God has already saved them"? No. Did he command them to be baptized because they were already saved? No, the text does not say that, either. Does the text imply that they were saved? Not really; such is an assumption (a false one). If we just read a little further, we can discern why the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles and WHEN they were saved.

When Peter and those who accompanied him returned to Judea, they were charged by those of the circumcision with visiting uncircumcised men and eating with them (Acts 11:1-3). Peter must defend himself. So he relates the vision God gave him, the purpose of which was to teach the apostle that the Gentiles are now clean (Acts 11:4-11). Second, he told them that the Spirit told him to go (v. 12). Third, he told them that the Holy Spirit fell on them (vv.13-17); the Jewish brethren forgot about their charges and glorified God (v. 18).

All three of these arguments that Peter used to convince his brethren make the same point: God accepts Gentiles! This is not some reckless interpretation of the Scriptures (as Anonymous' is); rather, the text actually teaches this point: The Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household, as on the apostles at the beginning, so that there would be no doubt or objection that God accepted them--it was right and proper to preach the Gospel to them and baptize them for the remission of their sins.

But when were they saved? Did God make an exception for Cornelius and save him before he was baptized? If He did and they were already saved, why bother to baptize them at all? An exception is an exception! Despite the fact that the Holy Spirit came upon these Gentiles, they were not yet saved. We know how and when they were saved because the text tells us.

First of all, Cornelius was told to send for Peter, who would tell him what he "must do" (Acts 10:5-6). Peter did not tell him to be baptized in the Holy Spirit; the apostle had no idea such a remarkable event would occur. They were all astonished (Acts 10:45)! Neither Peter nor Cornelius had anything to do with the Spirit falling upon the Gentile; God instigated it. So, if that action saved Cornelius, then God did not keep His word that Cornelius would need to do something. In fact, he did not need to send Peter to Cornelius' house at all--if He were going to save him via the Holy Spirit.

What is the only thing that Peter commanded Cornelius to do? Right, "he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48). God told Cornelius that Peter would tell him what to do; Peter told him to be baptized. Why make such a simple passage difficult? Anyone can see this point. Peter did not say to Cornelius, "Since the Holy Spirit has fallen on you as upon us at the beginning, God has seen your good intentions and decided to save you before you could perform even one act of obedience," Anonymous notwithstanding.

Lest someone think that what Peter told Cornelius he must do is a bit vague, consider also what Peter said in recounting Cornelius' conversation with him when he arrives at his house:

'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved' (Acts 10:14-15).

Either Cornelius was saved by the Holy Spirit falling upon him, or he was saved by the words which Peter spoke to him. The former idea is not stated in the text; it is a conclusion wrongly drawn. Shall mere assumptions take the place of the inspired text? Cornelius and his household were saved by the words Peter spoke to them.

Someone might argue, "But Peter had spoken to them before the Holy Spirit fell." Yes he did, but two things must be taken into account. First, the action of the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with what Peter had said. In other words, Peter was not preaching that God knew their hearts and that he knew they believed and that if they would just stand still and be submissive, they would be filled with the Holy Spirit, proving they were saved. We know things did not happen this way because what the apostle said is recorded, and he said no such thing. Also, even Peter was surprised at the intervention of the Holy Spirit.

Second, Peter had not yet told them anything about salvation when the Holy Spirit made His presence known. "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15, emph. gws). He was only beginning to speak; he had not yet told them words by which they could be saved. What did he tell them afterward? He "commanded them to be baptized" (Acts 10:48); nothing else is recorded by Divine inspiration that he said to them. They were saved, therefore, not as the result of the presence of the Holy Spirit, but because they obeyed the words which Peter spoke unto them about being baptized.

Anonymous knows all of these things. He cannot have studied the text so thoroughly without discovering these truths--especially in light of the fact that he probably once taught them. It is significant, then, that he fails to mention this matter. He is a false teacher, and he knows that he is a false teacher! He has not, through diligent study, achieved a higher level of spiritual knowledge. He has, instead, abandoned (for what motive we cannot say) the truth that he formerly honored and sold his soul for a mess of pottage.

The Disciples in Acts 19:1-7

The next "proof" that people are saved at the point of faith, rather than baptism, is an account of the twelve men Paul taught in Acts 19. The argument is that they were already Jesus' disciples and that they were already saved--they just needed a different baptism. However, this notion does not come from the text; notice what Paul said (emphasis mine, to make the point stand out): "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" (Acts 19:2). "Into what then were you baptized?" (Acts 19:3). Paul associates the two--faith and baptism. The one who believes is baptized; the one who is baptized is a believer. The Philippian jailer and his family were baptized (Acts 16:33). Only afterward did he rejoice, "having believed in God with all his household" (Acts 16:34). He is said to have believed after he was baptized. In other words, obeying the command of baptism is a demonstration of faith. Were the men of Acts 19 already saved? Like Cornelius, they were sincere and had done all they knew to do, but they had not been baptized in the name of Jesus.

Is it important to be baptized for the right reason? Apparently it is. Paul taught them the truth, and they were immediately baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:4-5). Brethren have rightly argued that the baptism of John was invalid after the cross. These twelve men had heard some truths about Christ from Apollos (probably), who only knew the baptism of John (Acts 18:25). Paul tells them: "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance..." (Acts 19:4). In doing so, he is establishing the similarity between the two baptisms. But then he adds that John also said "to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus."

The men might have protested at this point, saying, "Wait a minute, Apollos taught us accurately the things of the Lord." But if they did not understand baptism for the remission of sins in the name of Jesus, then they had not properly believed on Him, which is the reason they quickly were baptized again. Then they could be properly termed disciples.

Thoughts and Forgiveness

The material on James (pages 19-23) is so convoluted that it really merits no discussion. Suffice it to say that, despite James' constant emphasis that faith without works is dead (James 2:14, 17, 20, 24, and 26), James really intended to say (according to Anonymous) that we are all saved at the point of faith (sigh).

The next section of this 34-page document tries to parallel condemnation based on one's thoughts with forgiveness based on one's thoughts. In other words, if we are condemned immediately for coveting or lusting in our hearts, why can we not be forgiven immediately when we decide to believe? Anonymous thinks it would be wrong for God to "condemn a heart before it can act" but refuse to "save a heart before it can obey" (26). What a muddle he has made of salvation! The action required to repair a dropped Ming vase is not the same one which broke it in the first place.

If a sinner could be saved by merely thinking that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, he could be saved without the blood of Christ, yet we know that without shedding of blood there is no remission (Heb. 9:22). The very first time we sin in thought or in deed we stand in need of redemption. We have no power to undo our sins; only God can help us. It was God's plan to send Jesus to the cross to die for our sins; it is our privilege to have those sins washed away by Him WHEN we are baptized. To say that we sin in the mind, and therefore salvation comes in the mind by means of faith alone, is like comparing a raft with an ocean liner. Both float, but the raft can be made quickly by lashing a few logs together while the ocean vessel must be carefully planned and constructed. They both have an element in common (floating)--and nothing else!

Seldom do people realize the consequences of sin when they commit one. They often do not consider the penalty for sin (eternal condemnation) nor the remedy (Jesus' death on the cross). Many complain that sin's retribution is too harsh; many reject Christ because they do not agree with the concept of atonement. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they received several punishments, which many would judge as unfair. The action and the reaction were not at all parallel. One can sin in the mind all right, but the remedy does not take place there.

Justification for Delay

Why can people wait a long time to be baptized and still be saved? The answer is that Peter waited a long time to go to the Gentiles (27-28). Yes, the logic has really begun to strain at this point. In the first place, these two things are, once again, not parallel. Second, Anonymous has not proved that one is saved at the point of faith only; he only thinks he has. Anonymous is aware of the swift response of sinners in the New Testament being baptized as soon as they hear the Gospel. Instead of considering, however, that his theology is wrong, he apparently thinks this trend is nothing more than an interesting factoid.

Absent from the pages of the New Testament are instances of anyone's waiting until even the next day. Many times it was actually inconvenient to be baptized immediately. No one ever said, "We'll gather everybody together in a few days for a baptismal ceremony." No one ever said, "We'll just wait until Sunday." Why was there such urgency--if people were already saved?

Peter's delay in preaching to the Gentiles to fulfill the great commission is not comparable with postponing being baptized, since one involves becoming a child of God and the other remaining a faithful child of God. God forgives people their shortcomings if they are His children (which is the reason that we need grace), but He cannot forgive anyone who remains in the kingdom of darkness. These are two separate categories with many differences between them.

First, we do not know if Peter understood the meaning of the Lord's (or even his own) words. If the apostles misunderstood Jesus' repeated revelations concerning His death and resurrection, it is not difficult to imagine that they likewise did not understand these words. Second, none of the other apostles had moved out of Jerusalem, either. So, it is not a matter of the disciples refusing to go to the Gentiles (rebellion). The text does not provide the reason for their remaining in Jerusalem, but when God wanted Peter to go, he went. The idea that we can delay to obey, neglecting what is required of us, is as dangerous as it is unscriptural. Many have lost their souls based on what they "intended" to do later: "Now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). *Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "GRACE-CENTERED MAGAZINE (THE UNBAPTIZED) (PART 3)" (02/09/03)."


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