4.vi) ‘If thou believest, thou mayest…’

As we are exploring the Gospel Standard way, emphasis and slant we should here address something of their attitude towards the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; for in these things there is much reticence, hesitation, and, to be honest, unscriptural handling. Again the traditions of men and the denominational propensity to fear and doubt, have robbed these things of their original simplicity.

It is evident from the Book of Acts that those who repented of their sins and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ were baptised, ‘both men and women’, Acts 8:12. But it is not said that they were baptised ‘and joined the church’. Those who were baptised by the apostles were already members of the body of Christ by the sovereign ‘baptising’ work of God the Holy Spirit in regeneration. This ‘one baptism’, Eph. 4:5, – the only baptism that is saving – is Jesus’ baptism of his people (lit.) ‘in the Holy Ghost’, Mark 1:8, Acts 11:16; it is being ‘baptised into Jesus Christ’, being ‘baptised into his death’, and being ‘baptised into one body’, the church – all full spiritual immersions, by the way – and water baptism upon confession of faith is merely an outward testimony to this great work which has been applied within. Therefore the obedience of the saints to the apostles’ command to be baptised was but a fruit of that work. So, when the Ethiopian eunuch ‘went down into the water’[1] to be baptised by Philip he didn’t then become a member of the church – much less did he join a denomination – his previous confession that ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’, was a witness to spiritual Philip that the man was already baptised into Christ, and therefore a member of his body, the one church.

Now although the professed doctrine of the GS would not disagree with that, the procedure and phraseology used by them in regard to this ordinance at least perverts it, and educates the people away from the simplicity of it into the debilitating yoke of the traditions of men. For if a person has the witness within that they are a child of God, if they have been brought to repentance, and have repented; if they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved, and desire to be baptised, then they will face procedures that the Ethiopian eunuch never had to. For you must realise that there is no minister in the churches with the same lively spiritual discernment, authority, or liberty that Philip possessed, which they evidently prove by their actions, or rather, inaction.

If the Ethiopian eunuch wanted to be baptised in a GS chapel today his experience would only be similar to what it was then, in as far as him saying, ‘What doth hinder me to be baptised?’ From then on things would change markedly. I hope that there might be ministers who would answer, ‘If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest’, but more likely what the eunuch would hear – as someone newly converted, and as one who was ‘coming in from outside’ – would be something like this:

‘Well, you haven’t been with us long, and although I don’t doubt the reality of your experience you must understand that joining the church is a solemn matter. Here, take these Articles and read them through, and if you can go along with them – for these things are ‘what we believe’ – then come and see me again. We’ll have a little chat, you can tell me something more of your experience – perhaps you could write it down – and, ‘if the Lord will’, I’ll call a church meeting and you can come and tell us what you believe the Lord has done for your soul; and, if we think your experience is genuine, after a simple vote we will accept you to join our church. At the next convenient opportunity, at a specially convened baptising service, I will baptise you, and will give you the right hand of fellowship…’ etc., etc. The like experience, do you think?

Now, what would the Ethiopian eunuch have heard back then if Philip had been a GS minister? I think it would have been something like this: ‘See, here is water. What doth hinder me to be baptised?’ Philip: ‘What here?! Now?! No, no; what you have to understand is that these solemn things have to be done in due order. You see, when you get baptised you join the church. This is going to be difficult, because we have no ‘cause’ at present in Ethiopia; the nearest church is at Jerusalem. I tell you what. You go back to Ethiopia and wait a little while. You’ve only just heard the gospel for the first time, and although it seems evident that a work of grace is begun in you, let’s just see how it goes. Here, take this little book with you, it spells out our ‘faith and order’, and in a few months come up again to Jerusalem, seek us out, and we’ll call the church together to hear how it has gone with you. If your calling proves genuine, and if you feel you can sign up to our Articles and rules then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be baptised and join the church. The only problem is that you live so far from the church, and we usually expect church members to attend all the services; and then there are the half-yearly church meetings…’ etc., etc. The like experience? Just as it was at the beginning?

Poor Ethiopian eunuch! Refreshingly, this is what actually happened.

‘See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptised? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered, and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still, and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptised him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.’ Acts 8:26-39.

Isn’t that beautiful? Beautiful but lost. Therefore, as it is highly unlikely that this event in all its wonderful simplicity could occur in the denomination today, then it should not be ‘taken as a text’ either; for ‘taking’ is stealing from the word of God, and abusing it, if the simplicity of it is not permitted to remain.

So what is the style of preaching in relation to baptism? Well, like so much else, it is not direct. I feel that the ministers, and especially the pastors, are not fulfilling their appointed role in this. On the day of Pentecost, upon being asked by those evidently wrought upon by God the Holy Spirit, ‘Sirs, what must we do?’ Peter immediately replied, nay, commanded, ‘Repent, and be baptised every one of you.’ No going away and waiting for further ‘tokens’ here. And they fell under and obeyed his authority; the Holy Spirit then witnessing, by Luke, that they were genuine brethren: ‘they that gladly received his word were baptised: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.’

Later Peter was called to preach to Cornelius and those that were with him; and when the Spirit fell on them and evident conversion took place Peter himself said, ‘Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptised, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptised in the name of the Lord.’ What Peter and Philip had was spiritual discernment, an obvious calling to the work, and authority. If Peter, no less, was asking, ‘Can any man forbid water…?’ then no one was going to say, Nay.

But so often today if there is one in the congregation of a GS chapel that is evidently a child of God, but seems reticent, for whatever reason, about being baptised, instead of the pastor commanding them to be obedient to the apostles’ doctrine they’ll likely say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to put my hand to the matter, I want to see the Lord appear for him.’ (In other words they are waiting for the individual to receive a specific word to enable him to ‘venture’ to obey the clear gospel command to all that believe!) But they have no justification from the word of God for saying such a thing.[2]

One fruit of this lack of authority among ministers is that some of the Lord’s sheep are being denied the privilege of obeying the Lord in the remembrance of him at the communion table. But this was not Peter’s attitude, and neither was it Paul’s. The administering of baptism was for Paul not such a pinnacle moment in the saints’ experience as it is made in this denomination: after mentioning one or two that he had baptised, he said, ‘I know not whether I baptised any other. For Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel’, 1 Cor. 1:14-17. This is not to say that he held the ordinance lightly, or that baptism can be simply dismissed in supposed preference for preaching the gospel alone, but that it was such a basic, expected, initial act of obedience for the people that the memory of how many others Paul might have baptised was gone from him.

No, but further on to the Corinthians he delivers unto them the teaching that he had received of the Lord regarding the importance and glorious meaning of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Not that baptism was to be undertaken lightly, nor that it didn’t also have wonderful spiritual meaning, but that the continual and expected act of obedience among the members of the body of Christ was ‘as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death, till he come’, 1 Cor. 11:23-26.

The commandment of the Lord Jesus himself, when he handed the bread to his disciples was, ‘This do in remembrance of me’, and of the cup, ‘Drink ye all of it.’ It is certainly right to contend for, and insist upon, the baptism of believers before admission to the Lord’s table, for that is the New Testament order; and for obedience to the Lord’s command in this respect the pastors, at least, should be commanding the baptisms of those evidently recipients of a work of grace to admit them to the table. Surely if a man is preaching to the same people every week he ought to know and be able to discern, who are the ones that should be at the table with them. This excuse that they don’t want to put their hand to anything is an abrogation of their professed calling – and therefore responsibility – to shepherd the flock. But then, their indirect style of preaching doesn’t really allow them to direct a gospel exhortation – let alone a command – to anyone in their congregation – so their way is wrong.

Of course their answer to all this would probably be that if they follow this path they are likely to get false professors, deceivers, goats even, sitting down at the Lord’s table. Well, where is the spirit of discernment among the ministers to judge aright? – or the prayer and fasting to obtain the witness of the Spirit? Again, I think it is more to do with a flinching away from the work that they are accountable before God to do. But if we think about it, Articles, Confessions and signatures in the book upon verbal professions cancel out the need for men to have much spiritual discernment; for if the candidate for baptism – and thus ‘church membership’ – is prepared to sign up to what they believe, can give a testimony which sounds like theirs, and has – which is more often than not the case – been born and brought up in the denomination, then that will likely be sufficient; and is there no possibility that some tares could be sown among that?

Oh, what a corrupt and carnal system this is. Perhaps the worst thing about it is that, as well as the whole procedure going beyond the scriptural revelation – although being covered over by solemn tones – it is all done supposedly ‘in the will of the Lord’ – as Peter thought was happening in Acts 1:15-26; but the GS way is not the will of the Lord! Is it any wonder then, that the Spirit is withheld, and that relatively few ‘join the church’?

As to partaking of the bread and wine which ‘show the Lord’s death’, again, I feel there should be a simplicity to this which is lost as soon as one steps into a church or chapel – of whatever denomination. For each has its own tradition regarding the administration of the supper with each, presumably, thinking their way the most proper. But how was it at the beginning? Well, as to the place, the truth is that Jesus didn’t actually initiate this remembrance in the temple, or in a synagogue; or even on the sabbath; but in the upstairs room of an unconsecrated building, ‘the house’, Luke 22:10, on a week-night! Also it was during supper; an actual meal that they were eating together – probably with unwashen hands – and not tagged on at the end of a service or meeting, where, so often in my experience, the content of the preaching was not even based of the death of the Lord, so as to prepare the hearts and minds of those who were to partake of the elements. And what took place in that upper room was no dry and formal affair, but a communion between the Lord and his ‘called apart’ disciples, whom he showed and taught – in the elements as a type – his broken body and shed blood, which was to be all their hope.

As to regularity, along with the expected time and place of the repeated occurrence of these things, nothing is said. The only criterion in remembrance of him was, ‘When ye come together… into one place’, and, ‘as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup…’ as that gathered body of Christ’s people: then you could remember him, 1 Cor. 11:20,26. Many of the saints miss out, and are robbed, of this simple remembrance because they are unable – perhaps because of age or infirmity – to attend ‘the Lord’s house’; but Christ put no such restriction upon his people at the beginning. Jesus said that ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’, and I believe that there they can remember the death of their Lord; whether they be in a ‘holy’ building, in the home, around the dinner table, etc., so long as the participants are called and indwelt of the same Spirit of truth, and are united in that truth, which is the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.

Some might say at this point: hold on, you must have churches, confessions, and settled denominational membership to ensure real unity and avoid false brethren infiltrating this ‘blessed ordinance’. Well, who gave man authority to add his thoughts to the teaching of Christ and his apostles? It is not the church’s supper, but the Lord’s supper. True brethren indwelt of the Spirit can enjoy this unity by the witness of that same Spirit. As I have said before there is more likelihood of false brethren ‘sitting down’ in a system which promotes ‘what we believe’ on paper, than in a seeking of the Spirit to lead his people into the simplicity that was at the beginning. After all, in the end, its not ‘what’ we believe that will stand, but ‘whom’ we believe, 2 Tim. 1:12.

One further point must be made here which may make some people sigh, yet it is vitally important if things are to be done ‘decently and in order’. The content of the cup must be what Jesus called it: ‘the fruit of the vine’ – and blood red at that; and the bread used must be unleavened. Not to use unleavened bread destroys the symbolism, and actually denies the fact that Christ was the Lamb of God offered ‘without blemish and without spot’, in whom there was no ‘leaven’.

Finally a misconception must be cleared up which, I believe, many in the denomination suffer from. The ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were not designed to impart blessing, or a blessing, upon their participants. How many have had ‘a disappointing baptism’ because they thought that they were going to get a blessing when they passed through the waters, or perhaps, at least, get some sort of confirmation that they were doing the right thing? But the Ethiopian eunuch ‘went on his way rejoicing’ didn’t he? Yes he did. But why? Because he’d had some sweet manifestation while in the water? No. Because of the joy of salvation, and of the Saviour found! Because of the wonder of the revelation in his heart of the Person and accomplished work he’d been searching for in the scriptures! Because the gospel had been preached to him in the Holy Ghost and in power; with faith, assurance, joy and obedience flowing freely – in great liberty – as a result. Truly, the seeking soul had found his heart’s desire; the lost sheep had been gathered into the fold by the good shepherd; one in darkness and ignorance had come to the light and truth of the gospel of his salvation. All these were the blessings! No wonder he went on his way rejoicing!

Salvation then is the blessing; being baptised and remembering the Lord’s death is the grateful obedience. But if we superstitiously think that God must bless us because we obey him, then we make him our debtor; but the Lord is no man’s debtor. ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments.’ And there the matter must rest.

 

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[1] It is clear here that Philip baptised the eunuch in the water and under the water. As water baptism is the outward testimony in type of the union of the believer with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection, the only proper visual representation of that can be what is called ‘immersion’. Why so? Firstly, because, literally, Jesus did die, was buried – hidden, and did rise out from the grave; and, secondly, because Jesus said that when he had a baptism to be baptised with, Luke 12:50, he was referring to his work of propitiation upon the cross, when he would be totally immersed in the wrath, fury and indignation of Almighty God as he was ‘made sin’, and immersed in the fire of divine justice as he bore away the sins of many. No other mode of baptism – especially mere sprinkling – could properly symbolise that.

[2] One argument that ministers might put forward at this point is that, as they are not apostles then they cannot be expected to have the same authority as Peter, Philip and the others. But this is to deny that it is the same Lord that sends men to preach today; that it is the same Spirit that indwells them; the same gospel preached, and the same God that worketh in the hearts of men bringing the same salvation. Although the apostles are no longer alive (and, anyway, this Philip was not the apostle Philip; for all the apostles remained at Jerusalem when the persecution arose, Acts 8:1, cp. also Acts 21:8), yet the doctrine which is supposed to be preached is still called ‘the apostles’ doctrine’, and therefore the same spirit of discernment should be present as was then in those with the same calling.

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