HOLY UNCTION

Anoint-Sick

Anyone who thinks that any religious experience will protect them from problems, they are listening intently to a lie one way or another.  Conversion includes a sense of meaning for ones existence but along the way of life there will be trials and tribulations including all parts of the person.  By that time, if one has received the new birth in baptism, the oil in confirmation for growth then what about the healing and meaning for the rough passages? 

This is among the implied contexts in the formal but general sense as the “laying of hands”  in Hebrews 6:2. 

But this is referred to in an authoritative and objective sense in James. 

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up (James 5:13-15a). 

Someone who is a student of the scriptures may look at this and wonder what is at issue.  After all, Jesus said after his resurrection that laying hands on the sick and seeing them recover would follow those who believe (Mark 16:18 c).

There is a difference between the two contexts.  In Mark 16:18 c the word used here is epitithēmi  for “laying on of” and cheir for “hands”.  The same Greek words are used in Hebrews 6:2.  But we have scriptural means to say that it is a matter of context.

If I am gravely ill, a priest or bishop may come who has been anointed with an indelible mark on their character where they represent the priesthood of Christ which Thomas Aquinas concedes as the ultimate, central priesthood while believing in holy orders.  It is a message for the one receiving that sacrament to have a context that the church on earth and in heaven is praying for him or her.  In such a grave moment, there is the light of the hope of the gospel that is objectively known to happen through church history.  However, as one who has been a charismatic Christian all of my life in different realms of Christianity I can say that laypeople can also lay hands on the sick and have hope for them to recovery. 

There is no impersonation by me of being in any holy orders.  I have known of many people being healed through Christians who did not have holy orders.  However, when it is happening, the context is a subjective experience and does not have the context of someone being set aside to communicate the transcendent and above earth perspective.  Also, if he or she accompanies the healing with some teaching or method that is heterodox then the accountability is harder to enforce with less to lose.  Being suspended from holy orders ministry is a grave issue that is hoped to not happen but at least can with much on the ordinary minister to lose. 

Below we some non-sacramental healing happening that does not conflict with the sacramental perspective. 

With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city (Acts 8:6-8).   

Yes, it is true that Philip the evangelist was in holy orders.  However he was a deacon and not an elder (presbuteros from which is contracted in English etymology as priest). But as we seen in James 5 above, it was expected one could call an elder.  So he was set up on that respect with the same faculties as any layperson. No anointing of oil but God used him powerfully.    

As we see in ongoing church history, the anointing of oil as a sacrament of healing continually affirmed.  In non-sacramental and anti-conformist sensibilities, there could be a revulsion to any uniform ceremony and it must have been developed in the medieval ages.  A look further in church history is going to show them to be historical. 

“And in this [in quo] is fulfilled also what St. James the Apostle says: if any one is sick, let him call in the priests of the Church, and let them lay hands on him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and if he be in sins they shall be remitted to him” (Origen,184 AD,  Hom. ii, in Levit., in P.G., XII, 419). 

There was not only an emphasis of form but all of matter in the application.

St. Aphraates, “the Persian Sage”, he wrote of the various uses of holy oil, saying it contained the sign “of the sacrament of life by which Christians [in baptism], priests [in ordination], kings, and prophets are made perfect; [it] illuminates darkness [in confirmation], anoints the sick, and by its secret sacrament restores penitents” (St. Aphraates, Demonstratio xxiii, 3, in Graffin, “Patrol. Syriaca”, vol. I, p. lv, 336-345 AD).

In a biography of St. Augustine, who was a bishop, it is written that Augustine applied this Sacrament of Holy Unction thus.

“[T]he rule laid down by the Apostle that he should visit only orphans and widows in their tribulation (James, 1:27), and that if he happened to be asked by the sick to pray to the Lord for them and impose hands on them, he did so without delay”(Possidius,”Life of Augustine” c. xxvii, in P.L., XXXII, 56). 

By this matter being consecrated by consecrated men, it was understood that anointing oil for healing would effectively be an objective demonstration of God’s power. 

We beseech you, Savior of all men, you that have all virtue and power, Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we pray that you send down from heaven the healing power of the only-begotten [Son] upon this oil, so that for those who are anointed . . . it may be effected for the casting out of every disease and every bodily infirmity”  (Bishop Serapion 350 AD, The Sacramentary of Serapion 29:1). 

This sacrament that is at its heart Christ founded and Christo-centric has always been tied as a comfort for those leaving the church on earth to the church in heaven with the deathbed context of the Viaticum. 

Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum” (canon 13). Having repented of our sins and received reconciliation, we travel with the Lord Jesus out of this earthly life and to eternal happiness with him in heaven (Council of Nicaea, 325). 

To discount this quote causes two problems for those who want to discount their implications as part of the historical Christian faith.  First, it is the problem of saying this council was gravely wrong on this but completely right about the other part that defined orthodox Christology and other doctrines that non-sacramental Christians espouse.  A great hurdle arises again for how just the latter is not up for a revisionist history and abuse of the historical-critical method.  Second, it makes casual in passing reference to this being an ancient practice.  Are we to limit it to 50 years? A hundred years?  The veracity of the historical claim of the sacrament of healing holds up quite well in tandem with the fact that as an ecumenical council this is both an ancient and widespread context.  It is implied that it was applicable to the beginning of Christianity. 

This was a reference point for someone in their relationship with Christ and his mystical body which is the church.  This is to be understood as tied to being in communion with Jesus in his authority which is delegated to a visible church with his delegated authority. 

As often as some infirmity overtakes a man, let him who is ill receive the body and blood of Christ; let him humbly and in faith ask the presbyters for blessed oil, to anoint his body, so that what was written may be fulfilled in him: ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he be in sins, they will be forgiven him. . . . See to it, brethren, that whoever is ill hasten to the church (Caesar of Arles, early 500’s. Sermons 13[325]:3). 

We are told from scripture that Jesus is always the same.  He also made a promise that the church he founded would always stand.  Not only can we see in this sacrament a reference point but a power point.  And such power is upon the earth due to the nature of the Holy Spirit and grace to be known in the Body of Christ in both objective and subjective contexts. 

There is not only a beauty to the Sacrament of Healing but also to the Sacrament of Penance  or Reconciliation.  They go together and there is both rich scriptural and patristic content to support that which we will next see.

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HOLY ORDERS

Holy Orders

A common source of contention about religious affairs is on the issue of who has which role.  A point of contention is that no one should be blocked out of being able to do what they want as a related desire from their personal relationship with God.  If one cannot do what they have decided in their heart in connection to their faith then they are “less than”. 

There are a some reasons to believe in some cases what appears to be arbitrary rules are really purposeful.  These purposes are assuring the faithful there is no confusion on an objective sense of support in the Body of Christ.  There is also an assurance of some kind of vetting so the teaching component connected with certain spiritual actions are reliable.  This may still seem like it is not fair. 

But to be blunt, it could be said in some cases Jesus installed what he did without checking for our modern sensibilities and that is just what it is.   Theologically it is called holy orders. 

At the Last Supper, Jesus founded his apostles for the long-term flourishing of the church he was founding.  But he did this using the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament as the reference point realized now as the fruit of his own priesthood that was “In the order of Mechizidek” (Psalms 110). 

Below we see a gold thread linguistically from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, to how the gospel of John was written.

“Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tent of meeting, and shall wash them with water, and put upon Aaron the holy garments, and you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest” (Exod. 40:12-13).

There is one more detail in John’s narrative that supports Jesus seeing his apostles as priests. In response to Peter’s refusal to have his feet washed, Jesus answers, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me” (John 13:8).

The Greek word for “part,” meros, echoes the “portion” that Old Testament priests were to have in God and God alone:

And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion [Greek, meris] among them; I am your portion [Greek, meris] and your inheritance among the people of Israel” (Num. 18:20).

Therefore Levi has no portion [Greek, meris] or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him (Deut. 10:9).

It’s possible that Jesus saying “You have no part in me” signals the apostles’ priestly status, having a unique share in Jesus as Aaron and the Levites had a unique share in God. (This would also seem to point to Jesus’ divinity as well).

(Karlo Broussard, Catholic Answers, February 2, 2017). 

The laying on hands for ordaining someone was done from Jesus through the apostles and prophetically. Paul wrote, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate” (1 Timothy 4:14).

This laying of hands is deliberate and meant to be received and contemplated on with careful, sober judgement.  Paul went on with this for his spiritual son who he had ordained saying,  “For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).

This laying of hands was not meant to be just as a starter.  A matter of few words later Paul contextualized this continuing of ordination as far beyond Timothy’s ordination saying, “So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2). 

A reactive objection that can arise is that this is not fair.  After all, there was not one woman among those consecrated.  The prevailing principles are that when needed true Christianity will choose the holy over happy which includes a proper anthropology of the human person based on the original experience of Adam and Eve before the fall.  Men are the initiator in reproductive process which the Eucharist is in the life of Christ being reproduced.  Humanity is not meant to pick and choose on what is applicable from that original experience and still call themselves of the orthodox, apostolic faith. 

We have made mention of the deaconesses, who having been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity [Canon 19 (Council of Niece 325)].   

Was this completely off?  If someone wants to say this is unenlightened and only patriarchy then why stop there?  We can then question the other part of the council on the historicity of Jesus, divinity of Jesus, the resurrection and so on.  It is true that every man who has had this laying on of hands is a sinner in need of Jesus as savior.  But there is a need for a human context for the Christian experience that is of meaning that points to Christ as the ultimate priest and is of a mystery.  It is of perfect order with imperfect men for the beloved faithful. 

But knowing that some men want to get through who have horrible motives to be wolves and not shepherds, scripture gives us an example of a wrongful candidate and the rightful response.  Such a response should be what the laity can pray for in a sacramental church for the bishop’s discernment like what Peter demonstrated below. 

When Simon saw that the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me this power too, so that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive the holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money. You have no share or lot in this matter, for your heart is not upright before God. Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your intention may be forgiven. For I see that you are filled with bitter gall and are in the bonds of iniquity.” (Acts 8:18-23). 

For those not called to holy orders, say a prayer for sure, but make a stand when those that fall short of the calling in their behavior.  At the time of this writing, I am praying about being a deacon.  If God calls me to that, someone who needs the accountability could even be me. 

CONFIRMATION

Rites of passage are important in many cultures.  As a therapist I encounter stories from client who cherish or regret something that worked like a rite of passage depending on the context.  In the positive sense it is someone being reinforced in the norms of their culture by the adult community that they can thrive in the norms of the pack and they have the tools in their lives to do it.  In a faith community it is reinforced that the young man or young woman is, and will continue to be, equipped with supernatural help to live a supernatural life but all in a joint understanding of the community being bonded to the divine and not just the individual as an end in his or her self. 

In our case as a family, it was a joyous day recently when our 9-year old and (going on) 8-year old kids were confirmed.  They had gone through study in religious education and we had had conversations with them about their faith.  The pastor at our parish quoted a passage that directly applies to Jesus but by faith is integrated for those who find identity as Christians in him.  These gifts of the Holy Spirit are piety, counsel, understanding, wisdom, knowledge, fortitude, and fear of the Lord. 

I will return again to the scriptural reference point for  how this happens in an objective, spiritual, practical and community way.  But first I would like to point out something for those who would object to the Holy Spirit being “boxed” into “the sacramental system”.  I have a personal testimony of having an initial conversion to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior on a rainy day in Newport, Oregon with my cousin. That same day she taught me about the baptism of the Holy Spirit that can be given to the believer if they just ask in Jesus’ name.  I had a sense of Someone coming over me and I would say it was the Holy Spirit.   

But that is two things in the description: individually centered and subjective.  Those aspects are not bad but the experience I described is not as biblically supported as the engagement with the Holy Spirit in being confirmed sacramentally.  Confirmation is referred to below. 

Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).

It is important to see the same ongoing pattern apparent in what has been covered in baptism in that Christians are not to be alone on the spiritual journey.  The objection could be that one receives the Holy Spirit when they are born again and “man made religion” should not overcomplicate the matter. 

But that is not what we find in scripture as the early church is lives out Christianity.   

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17). 

Contrary to modern, American, Protestant assumptions we see an impartation of the Holy Spirit through hierarchy above the level of Philip the deacon and a work using the laying on of hands.  We also see the term “simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”.  This is not a put down but reinforcing how the baptism is a beautiful birth that precedes confirmation which empowers us to grow in the spiritual life.  There is an exception to this pattern in Acts 10 with the Roman converts but this was rectified soon after with the sacramental context. 

This continued in the Christian church as a practice.

“Are you willing to be anointed with the oil of God? We are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God (St. Theophilus of Antioch, “To Autolycus”, 181 AD). 

The bishop will then lay his hand upon them, invoking, “Lord God, you who have made these worthy of the removal of sins through the bath of regeneration, make them worthy to be filled with your Holy Spirit, grant them your grace, that they might serve you according to your will, for to you is the glory, Father and Son with the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church, now and through the ages of the ages. Amen.”  After this he puts the oil into his hand, and laying his hand on each of their heads, says, says, “I anoint you with holy oil in God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.” Then, after sealing each of them on the forehead, he shall give them the kiss of peace and say, “The Lord be with you.” And the one who has been baptized will say, “And with your spirit.” So shall he say to each one [Apostolic Tradition 21-22, 215 AD].   

Confirmation is to baptism what growth is to generation. Now it is clear that a man cannot advance to a perfect age unless he has first been born; in like manner, unless he has first been baptized he cannot receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. (Thomas, Aquinas, Summa Theologica III.72.6). 

This scene was played out, minus the kiss, in my confirmation as an adult in 2013 and my children recently.  There is continuity for this from the 1st to the 12th to the 21st Century. 

This continuity of course does not happen by accident but by design.  Jesus as the Apostle and High Priest of the Christian faith founded a pattern with a guarantee it would stand as we will next see. 

Kingdom of Light: Entering The Light Part III

Sky Reflection

There was a fine balance in the passing on of Sacred Tradition needed to be preserved regarding baptism. Part of it was passing on good teaching to know how baptism was tied to the cross of Christ and not morality by duty or servile fear. Salvation is better understood in baptism by communicating spiritual and material reality of Jesus’s relationship to the Christians.  To this point, it was often pointed out by the early church fathers how the water that flowed from Jesus when his side was pierced on the cross speaks to the birth of the Christians in baptism as a full and spiritual reality. 

In those first moments of conversion, remember, we are born again as children of our heavenly Father through Christ.  This gives rise to the spirit of adoption by which we can better say Father”. 

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:15-16). 

And the news keeps on being good.  In the later decades of the first century Apostle John writes  “I am writing to you, children, because your sins have been forgiven for his name’s sake…. I write to you, children, because you know the Father.” (1 John 2:12, 14).  These are aspects to be understood as spiritual birthright of Christians. 

Decades later the themes of spirit and water together is repeated again building on the passage of John on being born again. 

Then they are brought to us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same way we ourselves were regenerated.  For in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing with water.  For Christ also said, “Unless you be born again, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” [John 3:3] (First Apology, Justin Martyr 151 AD).

It is described as a sacrament with spiritual and materials contexts and under the authority of Christ. 

“For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean of our old transgressions by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord; we are spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared”  (Ireneus of Lyon, Fragments of the Lost Writing 190 AD). 

Even the most famous proponent of faith alone, sola fide, saw baptism as an essential part of obedience of faith for salvation.  It was none other than Martin Luther who saw baptism as what must be done not just that may be done. 

“Our know-it-alls, the ‘new spirits,’ assert that faith alone saves and that works and external things contribute nothing to this end. We answer: . . . Yes, it must be external so that it can be perceived and grasped and thus brought into the heart, just as the entire gospel is an external, oral proclamation. In short, whatever God effects in us he does through such external ordinances. . . . Hence it follows that whoever rejects baptism rejects God’s word, faith, and Christ, who directs us and binds us to baptism” (Martin Luther, Large Catechism).   

Lastly, we must also know what Baptism signifies, and why God has ordained just such external sign and ceremony for the Sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian Church. But the act or ceremony is this, that we are sunk under the water, which passes over us, and afterwards are drawn out again. These two parts, to be sunk under the water and drawn out again, signify the power and operation of Baptism, which is nothing else than putting to death the old Adam, and after that the resurrection of the new man, both of which must take place in us all our lives, so that a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued (“On Infant Baptism,”,1529). 

For this continued renewal in our lives of what has happened in initially being regenerated we can renew our minds in this continued in this way according to Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. 

We are baptized into Christ, so that we can live in Him.  The early Christians daringly called this process our divinization or deification. It is, like natural birth, a pure gift, nothing we could ever accomplish or earn for ourselves.  We become by grace what God is by nature.  That is why God become a man, and that is why he gave us baptism (Dr. Scott Hahn, Signs of Life). 

I would like to address the social construct that is implied in common baptismal scriptures.  The main reference passage used in reviewing these elementary truths of Hebrews 6:2 is “instruction of baptisms”. It is therefore implied that there was a system in place of authority so not just anyone could teach the baptismal tradition. 

I am writing this in a culture that uses a non-biblical catchphrase of knowing “Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” with too frequent an interpretation to elect ones self the highest arbiter of what the Christian life is.  Christianity is not meant for self-rule nor conversion as an end in itself but being able to “worship the Father in spirit and truth”  (John 4:23).  To do this in fulness is to be a discipled Christian who has entered the kingdom and keeps living the life of true light and love in a church founded by Christ as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). This continued Christian life of simplicity, humility and grace is where Jesus comes to shepherd us with all he is. To enter into such salvation, it is normative for it to be in baptism.   

Kingdom of Light: Entering The Light II

you-are-not-alone

To live in some mystical kingdom has ideal hopes attached to it that does not happen with a democracy where majority rules and things change.  If one is to see Christianity as a mystical kingdom one could say this involves a mystical entrance which scripture shows with “instruction of baptisms” (Hebrews 6:2).  There was a built in sense of plain meaning to it by the time Jesus implemented it but what it also has an air of mystery. 

First, it is fitting that a mystical entrance would be radical in a pure sense.  The word “radical” has an etymology of being “of the roots” (like a radish for instance is a root in the ground).  The development of Christian doctrine is shown through many scenes in salvation history towards God’s kingdom in concrete obedience and righteousness comes. Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).  The prior acts speak to the roots of the person but not until Jesus’ baptism is water  with the Holy Spirit mysteriously shown to address the entirety of the person by entering into the light. 

The first stumbling block, and it is a hard one, is to enter into this light in simplicity and humility.  Baptism addresses this in symbol and substance.  On religious matters simplicity is often not the first instinct by some believers but instead is replaced with overcomplicating life.  This is why Jesus had a spiritual directive of “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).  Jesus so wanted to underly an intersection of simplicity and humility like this that he challenged an accomplished religious leader of his day to enter this reality like this.  

Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit (John 3:3-6). It was likely humbling to be asked by a man younger than him to be born again.

There has been attempts to say that baptism with literal water is only meant to be an afterthought.  One attempt is to say that the water reference in the John passage was only amniotic fluid.  This does not hold up since scripture points to fulfillment in Christ in antitypes which are always greater than the types as seen below.  The momentum in scripture is for baptism to be a great, spiritual and objective reality and reference point for entering the kingdom of God. 

First with Noah and deliverance of him and his household by water and importantly saved on a wooden object which is a shadow of things to come in the cross of Christ.  Peter states of this typology in that, “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). 

In the earlier decades of the early church, there was a need to support the learning of some who were only knew the baptism of John the Baptist. 

A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus. He was an authority on the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and, with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately (Acts 18:24-26). 

This is powerful because of the context of the word for “way” here is hodos.  Jesus said he is the “Way” (hodos) and no one can come to the Father but through him (John 14:6).  This is a play on the Greek for which we get the “way out” through Moses and the Exodus (ehxodo) as translated in the Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint .  Jesus is our deliverer from sin and baptism is appropriate for the children of the New Israel found in Christ through water and Spirit. Baptism is the entrance into the new covenant in Christ in place of the circumcision of the flesh that was in the time of Moses.  Paul wrote about a baptism in Moses, in the context of circumcision which was ineffective to the heart.

 Paul connected this saying, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”  (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

John the Baptist said he was to “prepare the way of the Lord”.   This was to set up a teaching point of reference for the one who would bring a cleaning not only of our sins but bring hope of a “way out” to the sin we are prone to.   Many years later there were some who did not understand John’s baptism was a warm up for Jesus.  This ignorance of Christian baptism was an ignorance of the person and work of the Holy Spirit that comes as an accompanying separate, holy and objective encounter with the divine as “the Lord, the Giver of life” (Nicene Creed, 325).   

He [Paul] said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They answered him, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” He said, “How were you baptized?” They replied, “With the baptism of John.” Paul then said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:2-5). 

It was baptism here that happens with an anticipation of the Holy Spirit to be received in the same setting.  It was not assumed that salvation happened fully in God with the good intentions of John the Baptist’s baptism.  The act of regeneration was noted by early church writer Origin as substantive in Jesus. 

We next remark in passing that the baptism of John was inferior to the baptism of Jesus  which was given through His disciples.  Those persons in Acts (Acts 19:2) who were baptized to John’s baptism and who had not heard if there are any Holy Ghost are baptized over again by Paul.  Regeneration did not take place with John, but in Jesus through His disciples it does so, and what is called the laver of regeneration takes place with renewal of the Spirit (Origin of 185-254 AD, Commentary on John, Bk VI.17). 

The reality of baptism, per early Christians had an efficacy but always as a fruit of the cross of Christ.  They saw the objective expressing of salvation in baptism not as an empty ritual lacking grace or in other words,  “not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). 

It cannot be overemphasized that the spiritual effect is evident by Jesus with baptism as the default expression of salvation and worthy of emphasis.  We see this only 10 days after Jesus ascended which was the birthday of the church he founded. It was a context of repentance, faith and baptism. 

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38). 

Yes, there is plenty of ink on paper in the scriptures and early centuries of Christian thought about someone having salvation without baptism.  This does not minimize that an objectively seen, normative expressing for entering the kingdom of God was in baptism.  But baptism was not an end in itself.  It leads to the next steps of Christian life in continued cooperation with God’s grace.   

Kingdom of Light: Entering The Light

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I have been fascinated for years about the way the brain has a way of freezing our experiences through our senses into a fine reference point.  If I smell transmission fluid starting to burn it takes me back to my first car that was faulty with it and my first baby was going to need secure travel for a delivery within a month.  My clients in addiction recovery may have slammed heroin with a best friend with a rare shirt.  They see it at the grocery store and it takes them to three years ago and they have a craving.  If I hear “I Got You Babe” I think of courting my wife and hearing it then. 

But what about the brain, senses and faith?  There are rituals that come with most religions even if some do not see it.  Often there is a context of learning by doing.  If we look at early and consistent traditions and teachings of Christianity we can see such cerebral contexts spread through the limbic system. 

One example is in baptism.  Jesus did not see the baptism practice to entirely go into the dust bin of history but wanted it to be universally applied. 

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20). 

This was to be a ritual but by no means empty. 

“Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit (John 3:3-6).

In the Didache, written between 50-110 AD, there is much detail is given beyond the Great Commission baptism reference (Matthew 28:18-20) too much for it to be just a symbol.

Concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first rehearsed all these things, “baptize, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” in running water;  But if thou hast no running water, baptize in other water, and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm.  But if thou hast neither, pour water three times on the head “in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” And before the baptism let the baptizer and him who is to be baptized fast, and any others who are able. And thou shalt bid him who is to be baptized to fast one or two days before (Didache Chapter 7). 

It is full of context on the nature of the Trinity and allows for the integration of physical hunger which can mirror spiritual hunger, physical cleansing which mirrors spiritual cleansing and being prepared holistically to take the meaning in. And for water to touch the body as a sacred thing is in one manner of speaking more than once.  In many traditions of Christianity one can walk into the sanctuary, touch ones forehead with water, make the sign of the cross and reaffirm the Blessed Trinity and the relation of this connection to ones baptism. 

We do damage to the context of scripture and ancient tradition if we see this as only ceremony.   Baptism is an experiential reference point for the person and the surrounding Christian community.  But it needs to be understood in context of the big picture of all of God’s plan for the covenant people in Christ and a heavenly source.  If we miss seeing it as heavenly and Christ centered, we miss what is meant to both symbolize and, most importantly,  substantively connect: God’s kingdom has come as one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).  It is to be known as a united sacrament for what is called the mystical Body of Christ.  Such is a reason that many times in the book of Acts Christians were first referred to as “followers of the Way”.  Christians are people who are born again in Christ by both water and spirit and in such matter and form can be born again to the divine and human natures of Christ. 

Kingdom of Light: Engaged In The Light

Two_trees_at_the_LakeFaith is thought as a great cause of pain in the world in hailing a deity and any exalted representation as the right formulaic approach to it.  When Christianity is consistent with its origins it points not to a formula but to a person who is supposed to be worthy of that faith.  Religion in its purest form is reconnection.  Remember the “lig”part of religion is where we also get ligaments which connects the muscles and sinews of the body.  Faith as written in the Greek in the New Testament is reflective of the surety of trust and assurance one party has to another that is in until the end or spoken in contrast as not.  God as the initiator of covenant is worthy of such trust. 

The root of 4102/pistis (“faith”) is 3982/peithô (“to persuade, be persuaded”) which supplies the core-meaning of faith (“divine persuasion“). It is God’s warranty that guarantees the fulfillment of the revelation He births within the receptive believer (cf. 1 Jn 5:4 with Heb 11:1) (Strong’s Concordance).

This is foundational as we see again in Hebrews. 

Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).

What cannot be lost is that that one who has faith in God in a conscious decision of conversion does not start or end in itself.  It is sandwiched between grace and how faith works through love (Galatians 5:6).  A common stream in theological thought is gracia prima in how grace is a catalyst in ones initial justification.  This is illuminated by Paul again in one of his later epistles below. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;  it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

This above passage is quoted often to support sola gracia (grace alone) which presupposes all works of any kind are out of the direct involvement of God’s blessing in salvation. But this is a misnomer in part because the sola gracia proponents usually stop at the word “boast”.  They miss that God in his sovereignty prepares ahead in our life in Christ a context of faith, obedience and blessing to continue to participate towards with purpose.  Purpose is key as we see in that passage about good works that “we should live in them”.  Not that we can if we want to.  This is something that supports grace through faith with faith being our initial justification. But for our participation as adopted sons and daughters is for our final justification. Our hearts can illuminated by grace with correct understanding on how, “By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible (Hebrews 11:3). 

This understanding has the paradox which functions well in being heavenly minded while living an earthly good in a trust based on a valid but other world substance.  “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence[ of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). 

The evidence points to what is not seen.  So the one who here that call believes that God exists, is trustworthy and that accompanying actions matter in how, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).  The latest three verses are not by coincidence in the same chapter in the Bible.  Hebrews 11 is known as the “Faith Chapter” or the “Hall of Faith” by many theologians.

But if one will look at how the faith towards God in the heroes of the faith are lived out, one will see a pattern that is much closer to the gracia prima than that sola gracia perspective alluded to above.  Repeatedly in that chapter one will see the patterns as faith, obedience and then blessing.  This cannot be argued against consistently in responsible hermeneutics as only in the old law because the context is how “This is what the ancients were commended for”. Their patterns are repeated as an example which included heroes of faith before the law of Moses.  Thus this pattern is timeless. 

But last, we would be remiss on the foundational focus of faith if we forget God as the object of that faith and relationship.  If we forget either or both then we can lapse into thoughts of faith being equally valid towards a flag, ideology or a goosebumps.  Such things come and god.  God just is. 

The first unique thing about faith towards God is in how he is unique and not a genus of persons we can classify.  He is the unmoved mover that transcends any faculties we can use to examine reality.  The benefit of this relationship is in the context that faith is hard and cannot be easy or it would be coerced.  If that were the case, then no beauty of free will. 

The second aspect of faith towards God while we live a mortal existence is that God is love.  Love is not some trait of God but God is love.  Faith in him is a crucial tether to the spiritual reality of who he is until all is fulfilled in the rounding out of all things. “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). 

So in light of repentance from dead works and faith toward God through Jesus Christ as the way to the Father (John 14:6), the application in conversion according to the Bible is a decision with evidence.  We know for anyone who can say the words it is to confession Jesus as Lord and risen (Romans 10:9).  But salvation as the New Testament speaks in its normative terms is in the context of obedience and in community. 

So now what is suggested here is another “sandwich” so to speak.  In Hebrews 6:1-2 faith towards God is between repentance and “instruction of baptisms”.  Yes, faith toward God is in God who is the “I AM” and love but an act of surrender to the King. His kingdom has delegated authority that guards and defines that deposit of faith in the called out community that Jesus started.  We shall next see how faith walks out that in light of Sacred Scripture and the Sacred Tradition promulgated by the early church fathers of Christianity. 

Recommended Viewing: Steve Ray.  “By Faith Alone”. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY0MIEsvOes&t=2s