The Foundational Principle Of Scriptural Authority
The foundational principle of ‘Scriptural Authority’ is embedded within Old Covenant scripture. In Deuteronomy 12, God directed His covenant nation with very specific instructions concerning their worship and spiritual service: “In the place where God has put His name, there bring your sacrifices.” Where was the place that the Lord was referring to? It was in Shiloh (Heb. = rest), where the Tabernacle of the Congregation was set up; whose design was given to Moses by God according to a heavenly pattern - Exodus 25:8,9,22,40; 26:30; 40:16,20-38; Hebrews 8:5. Within the Tabernacle, was the altar of sacrifice, again specifically patterned and built by the instruction of God to be the very place for the burning of offerings and sacrifices for the sins of the people - Joshua 18:1.
God had already instructed His people that they were neither to burn their sacrifices in the high places nor in any other place where the Lord did not endorse – Deuteronomy 12:5-14,18,26,27 (this instruction is repeated so many times in Deuteronomy!).
The account of the occupation of the promised land of Canaan by the covenant nation under Joshua’s leadership (Chapter 18:1; 22:9-34) serves sufficiently to warn us not to trifle with God’s instruction concerning the place that He has specifically authorized His people to bring their sacrifices.
In this New Covenant age, the place where the blood sacrifice of Christ has been specifically applied in order to purchase those who have come to Him to be set free from the bondage of sin is the Lord’s local, scriptural New Covenant assembly whose founder and Head is Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of the New Covenant; the perfect sacrifice of the better covenant – Acts 20:28; Hebrews 8:6; 9:16; 12:24. This is where worship and sacrifices are pleasing before the Lord, and where acceptable service may be brought forth to Him Who dwells in the midst of His New Covenant congregations – Ephesians 2:22,23.
Baptizing In The Name Of Jesus Christ
In Acts 18:24-19:7, Apollos knew only the baptism of John (Acts 18:25). The 12 disciples that Paul met at Ephesus also claimed to know John’s baptism (Acts 19:3,4) although it was evident that they did not fully comprehend John’s baptism.
In Acts 19:4,5, Paul expounded to the 12 Ephesian disciples the fact that John baptized the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe into (eis) Jesus Christ who should come after him. Following Paul’s exposition of John’s baptism, these 12 believed and were baptized into (eis) the name of Jesus Christ.
The question that begs an answer at this point is: Where did God first put his name? In the New Covenant passage of Matthew 28:19, Jesus declared the New Covenant Commission:
“…. baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Again, where has God put His name today? To which institution on earth has He put His name or given His authority to perform His New Covenant work? It is important that we answer this question with a clear understanding and conviction from the heart.
The New Covenant Commission And Its Continuity
The New Covenant people today have been chosen out of the world to bear witness to the rest of the world of the Savior who would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the New Covenant truth (1Timothy 2:4). For this reason, the Lord’s assemblies are to bear witness of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, the one and only mediator between God and man.
After our Lord’s resurrection, He gave His assembly in Jerusalem the New Covenant Commission and made a promise to them:
“… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” ~ Mat 28:20.
This promise appears to have been given to the eleven remaining apostles (Judas had already committed suicide), but if it was given to them per se, then it would mean that the New Covenant commission became defunct ever since the passing of all these apostles. If this is true at all, then neither the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ today, nor anyone else for that matter, have any New Covenant mandate to fulfill. That would put the future of all mankind in a very bleak position.
However, we must understand that Christ appointed the 12 apostles as the first officers of His first assembly that was made up of many disciples to begin with.
“And God has placed some in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that works of power, then gifts of healing, helps, governings, tongues of nationalities.” ~ 1Corinthians 12:28
In Luke 6:12-16, the Lord went out to a mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer unto the Father in view of an exceedingly important occasion that was to ensue the next morning. At the break of day, He called His church disciples together and out of all these, He chose 12 of which He appointed as ‘apostles.’
It is critical for us to comprehend the Great Commission to have been specifically given by the Lord to His churches. The first assembly that Christ organized out of the ‘materials’ (disciples) that John the Baptist had prepared (made and baptized – John 4:1) officially received the worldwide New Covenant Commission through the 11 apostles after the Lord’s resurrection.
It is very fair to state that the New Covenant Commission has its continuing perpetuity through the assemblies that belong to Christ, as described by the Lord Himself as “My church” (Matthew 16:18); He being their true founder and foundation stone.
“For no one is able to lay any other foundation than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” ~ 1Corinthians 3:11.
There is no other way to perceive of a continuity of the New Covenant Commission or the continuing practice of this mandate except that we understand it to have been given to all the Lord’s scriptural churches until the end of this age; until the Lord comes again for His bride people to be glorified in Him. Only by this simple logic of scripture, can we properly appreciate what Jesus meant in His promise:
“Lo, I am with you always, until the end of this age.” ~ Matthew 28:20
The apostles have already passed on, but the Lord’s church (‘church’ generically used here), as Jesus promised, will remain on earth until the end of the age, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18).
Consequently, the Lord’s assemblies in this present age, since the time of Christ’s first assembly in Jerusalem, are to engage in the making of disciples: to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the authority of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to continue to teach them to observe whatsoever the Lord has passed down through the apostles (the apostles teachings – Acts 2:42).
Obedience to this mandate can only lead to two things: the growth of individual churches within themselves, or the multiplication (duplication) of other like assemblies without, also described in our modern day term as ‘church planting.’
It is totally illogical to assume that the Roman Catholic church, including her protestant daughters, and all other churches of similar man-made authority and origin have any share in the New Covenant Commission. These had not existed at the time Christ instituted it; neither was this heavenly Commission shared with them in anyway afterwards by His apostles, or by His other true assemblies. In such a manner ought we to appreciate the importance of Scriptural authority, else we fail to grasp the essence of Christ’s words:
“All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore …….” (Matthew 28:18,19)
Churches Out Of Nowhere!
“Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” ~ Acts 8:1
“Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were built up.
And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” ~
At the mentioning of Acts 8:1, it would be fair to state that there were only two places where the Lord’s assemblies had been established – Jerusalem and Damascus. The Apostles chose to remain in Jerusalem with the suffering church amidst the mounting havoc and persecution spearheaded by Paul (then Saul). Acts chapter 9 records how Saul was set free from the curse of the Law and was converted into the New Covenant relationship in Jesus Christ. There were certain (church) disciples there at Damascus (8:10,19) when Paul journeyed there to accomplish his evil designs against members of the Jerusalem assembly. Having been blinded by the Lord and led to these disciples at Damascus, he was baptized into the Damascus assembly, and at the same instance, healed of his blindness and received the Holy Ghost. The conversion of Saul made a tremendous impact upon the spread of the New Covenant truths as Paul who once was a persecutor of Christ disciples, had now himself become one of Christ disciples.
For some reason, a chunk of history concerning the missionary endeavors of the Jerusalem brethren that had scattered since the persecution by Saul (8:1) was not recorded for us in scripture. It seems as though there was a gap in history between Acts chapters 8 and 9.
Nevertheless, we must now endeavor to establish the fact that the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria that we know nothing about before, that suddenly is mentioned in Acts 9:31 right after Paul’s conversion were properly established churches. Where did these churches come from? It is not difficult to construct the very plausible evidence from Acts 2 and 8:1. It is certain that the Jews recorded in Acts 2 who came to Jerusalem, many even from far away outside the nation of Israel were converted and properly organized by the authority of the Jerusalem assembly through the Apostles, into small assemblies just prior to their being ‘scattered abroad’ or, to use a better term, ‘being sent out’ in an orderly fashion, throughout the regions of Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and even to various regions beyond where they originally came from.
In the heat of the increasing persecution led by Saul upon the church at Jerusalem, these newly organized and authorized New Covenant assemblies were ‘scattered’ in the name of freedom seeking refuge elsewhere so that they could continue to exercise their religious liberty. Wherever they went, they carried with them the torch of the New Covenant Commission, making and baptizing other disciples, establishing other like assemblies.
It should now be very evident to us that these new assemblies in Judea, Samaria, and also in Galilee, were properly established through the authority of the New Covenant assembly in Jerusalem; and they did not just appear out of nothing or nowhere.
The only person recorded in the New Covenant who was baptized without the need for any church authority was John the Baptizer. The reason being that there was no scriptural church existing before him, or at the time he began his ministry. But still, John received his authority directly from heaven (from God Himself) to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, the message described as ‘the baptism of repentance’ and to baptize those who respond in repentance (Mark 1:1-4; Malachi 3:1; John 1:6,33). His authority clearly came from heaven – Matthew 21:23-27; Luke 7:24-30. Otherwise, Jesus would not have gone from Galilee to Jordan to find John and was adamant that John baptize Him. Jesus knew that this was a heavenly arrangement, and that their submission to this heavenly arrangement fulfilled all the righteousness of God – Matthew 3:13-15.
Although there are no exact words in scripture to tell us that Jesus Himself organized the first New Covenant assembly in Jerusalem, this fact is not difficult to conceive and establish. The existence of the Jerusalem assembly during the early phases of our Lord’s earthly ministry is so very evident in scripture.
In Luke 6:12-16, Jesus chose 12 of His disciples whom he appointed as Apostles. These disciples clearly were members that made up His first assembly, and out of them, 12 were appointed as the first officers of the assembly. Is it not obvious that the Jerusalem assembly had to already be organized and in existence before apostles could be appointed out from them? Paul’s statement in 1Corinthians 12:28 clearly attests to this fact when he said that God had set the apostles first ‘in the church.’ These were the first spiritually leaders that Christ Himself had appointed in the history of the very first assembly of Jesus Christ on earth.
During the early phases of Christ’s ministry, his disciples were given only a limited commission – to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel - Matthew 3:5-7.
After His resurrection, Christ commissioned His first assembly to a world-wide ministry as His witnesses to make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to observe all that was passed on to them through the apostles whom He had ordained and personally taught during His ministry with them – Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:18-20 (Acts 2:42 – the apostle’s teaching). So, apart from John baptizing with heavenly authority, Christ Himself had authorized His disciples to make and baptize other disciples (John 4:1,2). Being the New Covenant commission specifically given to His churches unto the end of this age, this commission has not vanished with the passing of the apostles; and it is valid and active since Christ gave it to His first assembly.
All this serves only to reinforce our understanding in what our brother Paul meant when he described the Lord’s house as being built upon the foundation of the apostles, and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone – Ephesians 2:20-22 (1Cor 3:10,11).
Baptism Demands Scriptural Authority In Order For It To Be Scriptural And Right In The Eyes Of The Lord
It should already be clear by now, that the New Covenant Commission to make disciples and to baptize them in the authority of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit was given to the Lord’s scriptural assemblies. We now move on to consider next, what the expression “baptize into (eis) Christ” truly means.
Romans 6:3 – “… so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”
Galatians 3:27 - “… as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on (enduo = been clothed with) Christ.”
The expression “baptized into Christ” clearly describes more completely that baptism involves being baptized into His body, the local assembly. Baptism adds a person into the body of Christ, the local assembly. Scriptures attest to this fact.
In Acts 2:38, about three thousand Jews repented and trusted Christ upon hearing the preaching of Peter and the 11 disciples, and were baptized. Clearly, these were added to the existing assembly - Acts 2:41,47. It is not possible to add something to ‘another thing’ when that ‘another thing’ does not already exist in the first place. Evidently then, baptism adds a person into an existing, local, scriptural assembly.
It should now also be logical that baptism and the putting on of Christ are inevitably connected to the local, visible New Covenant assembly of Jesus Christ. Baptism cannot be scriptural apart from a scriptural administrator which today, is a scriptural New Covenant assembly established by the Biblical pattern of Jesus Christ as described already in the preceding paragraphs.
Can we be sure that the account in Acts chapter 2 involved the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon the first assembly of Christ? Certainly, without a doubt! Neither the New Covenant Commission nor the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit was given to the whole world, or to the unbelieving Jewish crowd. The promise of the indwelling Spirit (John 14:16-18,26; 15:26; 16:17) was first made by Christ to His first assembly. After His resurrection, Christ reiterated about the promise of the Holy Spirit that they were soon to receive; that would empower them – Luke 24:49; Act 1:8.
“And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued (enduo = clothed with) power from on high. ~ Lk 24:49.
In Acts 1:4,15, after our Lord’s resurrection, we see only a small remnant of about 120 that made up the Jerusalem assembly. Having been instructed by the Lord Himself in Acts 1:4, this faithful remnant awaited in anticipation in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father that Jesus had earlier promised them. They were a bigger assembly before, but now they had shrunk to a small size of about 120 members. Most of the rest probably became too fearful and uncertain about their future that they left following Christ in the heat of the mounting persecution led by the unbelieving Jews that climaxed with Christ’s crucifixion.
Very clearly, the account in Acts 2 records the fulfillment of the promised indwelling Holy Spirit to that same assembly on the Day of Pentecost after Christ’s ascension into heaven, to be seated on the right hand of the Father. Verse 33 confirms this beyond any shadow of doubt! All this again points to the fact that baptism and the putting on of Christ are inevitably connected to the local, visible New Covenant assembly of Jesus Christ; and that baptism cannot be scriptural without a scriptural administrator (a scriptural New Covenant assembly) without which, a person being baptized cannot be added into Christ’s local New Covenant body.
The Remission (forgiveness) Of Sins And ‘Covenant’ Salvation
That a person’s sins are washed away in baptism is what Acts 22:16 appear to say.
“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” ~ Acts 22:16
The water or medium of baptism alone does not, and cannot wash away sin. The New Covenant relationship in Jesus Christ is where there is remission (forgiveness) of sins – Acts 2:38; Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14.
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for (eis = into) the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” ~ Acts 2:38
One enters into the New Covenant relationship in Jesus Christ through scriptural baptism, and this involves first, the hearing of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the New Covenant Gospel, the Gospel of the Kingdom) and then, a heart’s response involving repentance, faith and baptism – Mark 1:1-4.
In other words, the baptism of repentance involves repentance toward sin, a personal faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior, followed by a willingness to be immersed in water by the authority of a scriptural New Covenant assembly - Acts 20:21; 8:12,13; 18:8; Galatians 3:26-29.
“Baptism does also save us …… by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” – 1Peter 3:21. Through scriptural baptism we enter into the realm of the New Covenant promises and God endues us the power to overcome sin and death through the imparting of the new life, the quality life of Christ, our resurrected Savior, the living Spirit of God. This is the power that enables us to daily overcome the flesh and sin that otherwise would bring death. For this reason and more than this, we are to seek scriptural baptism – 1Corinthians 15:29,30.
Important Symbols Connected To Baptism
Scriptural baptism typifies the resurrection birth into a new life (the newness of life, the resurrected life of the Messiah – Romans 6:3-5). Just as Paul had emphatically referred to Christ’s resurrection as the new birth in Acts 13:32,33, Jesus also had earlier, in His discourse with Nicodemus, told him about the necessity of being born again (from above).
It is my opinion that to be ‘born of water (baptism)’ and (kai = even) to be ‘born of the Spirit’ are one and the same, or at least are related in that one is a means to the other. Jesus said in John 3:4,5 & 7:
“Except you are born from above (out of water and of the Spirit), you cannot ‘see (perceive, comprehend)’ the Kingdom of God.”
“Except you are born ‘from above,’ you cannot ‘enter’ into the Kingdom of God.”
“Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again (from above).”
It is in the Lord’s assembly (also called the temple of God), that the Holy Spirit dwells today according to the promise of Christ. Needless to say, one can only receive the indwelling Holy Spirit (born of the Spirit = experience the resurrection birth) when one is added (having truly repented and scripturally immersed into Christ) to the assembly where the Holy Spirit dwells – 1Corinthians 3:16; 6:19 (‘body’ here is singular referring to the body, the church).
One Body, One Spirit, One Hope, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God
Ephesians 4:4-6 – one body, one Spirit, one baptism …
Again, this may sound repetitive, but where does the Holy Spirit dwell today? The answer is: in the Lord’s local New Covenant assemblies.
One body – the local assembly
One Spirit – God’s Holy Spirit promised by Christ to indwell the local assembly
One hope – hope of the resurrection glory as promised to those that are Christ’s (Rom 8:18-25;
1Corinthians 15:20-23; Colossians 1:26-29)
One Lord – “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” ~
One faith – the faith of Christ (the faithfulness of Abraham, the father of us all – Romans 4:16)
One baptism – by the scriptural authority that comes from heaven invested upon His scriptural
assemblies, and not from man
One God – even the Father of us all
In you all – in His assembly (Ephesians 2:12)
The Churches ‘In Christ’
Here is something to think about: Paul described churches of the Lord as “in Christ.”
“… persecution of the churches which in Judea are in Christ Jesus” – 1The 2:14 (Gal 1:22).
There must be something significant in Paul’s description of the Lord’s churches in such a manner.