Scripture text: "And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one"
(1 John 5:8 cf. Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:21; Revelation 22:17).
by Mark Mountjoy
World Christianity, especially what is pejoratively called "Christendom", or "the institutional church", is often remembered for its worst excesses, mistakes and failings. Often morally wrong, frequently hijacked by vested political and commercial interests—slavery, land grabs, energy wars and, of course, colonialism—it is hard for some to see what good it is or has ever been. Has it carried a germ, the kernel of truth? Has it faithfully transmitted the necessities of the faith once delivered to the saints? Atheists and even Hans Küng in his book Christianity, observes (correctly) that many wars and conflicts were generated and fought by state Christianity down through the years. But as far as we know, no Preterists were in there, just Christian kings, nobles, popes, cardinals and bishops trying and vying to dominate society (not necessarily for always pure and noble reasons).
But, a historic Christianity HAS survived! It has survived through all these mixed and detrimental influences and sometimes sinful results. It can't however, survive as a negative praxis (a "non-practice") which is what Preterist cessationism confronts us with. In this regard I'm thinking particularly about baptism into Christ and how an idea is afoot seeking to expunge the practice in the name of "A.D.70 Bible prophecy fulfillment." We want to look at the detrimental implications of this and note, first of all, that in Jesus' own baptism the most important event(in relationship to the Godhead) happened all at once:-
"And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from
heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17).
Amazing! The heavens were opened! The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and the water conjoined in one event to confirm him to John and, through the testimony of the Scriptures, to us that God was well pleased with Jesus as his own Son. And yet Protestants—especially Baptists and now many Preterists—try to escape what they misunderstand to be "Catholic" baptismal regeneration teachings or else attribute baptism's salvific efficacy strictly to Jewish antiquity. They want to attribute its continued practice, not to the Scriptures or Scriptural imperatives, but to Catholics or the imperatives of the last forty years of Biblical Judaism. Or, they have imagined that baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit should be thought of as ineffectual--a show "to the world" that someone has been saved before and apart from baptism. Some Preterists go even further by trying to attach ALL things to the telos (end/goal) of eschatology and then argue for the end of baptism, coincident with the A.D.70 Destruction of Jerusalem. Can we agree that all things find their end in the eschaton? If so, can we also conceive that the kingdom of God itself would be summed up and dissipated that very year? Poof! There goes the kingdom of God—and all things pertaining to it, big and small!
In other words, when Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life" some seem to think the resurrection and the life is summed up in an EVENT (the Destruction of Jerusalem) and in a YEAR (A.D.70). The person (the Deity) of Jesus himself (for them) is NO LONGER the resurrection and the life. What does this lead to? Ridding ourselves of believing water baptism has any actual significance after the downfall of the Second Jewish Commonwealth.
This, at its core, is a very dangerous idea! We say "very dangerous" because as far back as we know; as far back as we can see and as far back as we can tell Christians have understood baptism as one of the final step a convert must undergo to come into a Scriptural relationship with the Father and the Son (witness Romans 6:1-4 and cf. the Didache below).
Note these important quotes from early Christianity:
"Didache (a.d. 60-150) chapter 7.1-4
“Now about baptism: this is how to baptize. Give public instruction on all these points, and then baptize in running water, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. If you do not have running water, baptize in some other. If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Before baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.”
First Apology by Justin Martyr (a.d. 155) chapter 61
“…Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are born again, for they then receive washing in water in the name of God the Father and Master of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. For Christ also said, ‘Except you are born again, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’…”
Against Heresies by Irenaeus (a.d. 180) book 3 chapter 17.1
“…And again, giving to the disciples the power of regeneration into God, he said to them, ‘Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’…”
On Baptism by Tertullian (a.d. 198) chapter 13
“For the law of baptizing has been imposed, and the formula prescribed: ‘Go,’ He saith, ‘teach the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ The comparison with this law of that definition, ‘Unless a man have been reborn of water and Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens,’ has tied faith to the necessity of baptism.”
The Apostolic Tradition by Hippolytus (a.d. 200-235) chapter 21.12-18
“And when he who is baptized goes down into the water, he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say thus: Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty? And he who is being baptized shall say: I believe. Then holding his hand placed on his head, he shall baptize him once. And then he shall say: Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again on the third day, alive from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead? And when he says: I believe, he is baptized again. And again he shall say: Do you believe in Holy Spirit, and the holy church, and the resurrection of the flesh? He who is being baptized shall say accordingly: I believe, and so he is baptized a third time.”
Epistle to Magnus by Cyprian (a.d. 250) chapter 7
“…But if any one objects, by way of saying that Novatian holds the same law which the universal church holds, baptizes with the same symbol with which we baptize, knows the same God and Father, the same Christ the Son, the same Holy Spirit, and that for this reason he may claim the power of baptizing, namely, that he seems not to differ from us in the baptismal interrogatory; let any one that thinks that this may be objected, know first of all, that there is not one law of the creed…”(1)
Can we say that the unregenerated people of this world ALREADY HAVE the resurrection and life by virtue of what happened in a EVENT and a Year? Can we say that universal salvation pertains to everyone [without their having to embrace the Son of God] just because of a fulfilled Parousia? I do not believe any evidence in the Bible supports that the unsaved have any automatic salvific standing with God by virtue of the events of A.D.70. Look and list all the Scriptures which speak of water baptism. Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16; John 3:1-5; Acts 2:38, 41; Acts 8:29-39; Acts 10:46-48; Acts 22:16. Even legitimate religious experiences before water baptism in no way invalidate the need for baptism (as so many supernatural pre-baptismal accounts in Acts surely show).
And so, shall we tell people coming to the Lord it is up to them whether or not they want to submit to baptism or not? Or should we renounce and denounce to God our own baptism as if it was pointless and without purpose? If not, we must believe and hope baptism into Christ puts us in a favorable relationship by virtue of New Testament affirmations that say as much. What think ye? When we reach out to non-Christians with the Gospel, do we "preach Christ" and lead them in the way that Philip led the Ethiopian eunuch? Or do we presume and devise something else? Consider our position on baptism into Christ in the essay below: Baptism into Christ—According to the Bible.
Caption: God crucified. Credit: Michael Ryder.