Surrogacy and Adoption – 1

Surrogacy, though legal in the UK, is a controversial and complicated process of having a baby.  The following notes describe what is involved:

Surrogacy is when a woman carries and gives birth to a baby for another couple.

Who might have surrogacy?

Surrogacy may be appropriate for women with a medical condition that makes it impossible or dangerous for them to get pregnant and give birth. These include:

It’s also a popular option for male same-sex couples who want to have a family.

How does surrogacy work?

There are two types of surrogacy:  

Full surrogacy (also known as host or gestational surrogacy) is when the eggs of the intended mother or a donor are used and there is therefore no genetic connection between the baby and the surrogate.

Partial surrogacy (also known as straight or traditional surrogacy) involves the surrogate’s egg being fertilised with the sperm of the intended father. If you go down this route we recommend you have treatment at a licensed UK fertility clinic.

Are there any legal issues to consider?

Yes. Surrogacy involves a lot of complicated legal issues which is why you should seek independent legal advice, especially if you’re having treatment overseas. The most important thing to know is that in the UK the surrogate is the legal mother of the child until you get a parental order from the court; even if the eggs and sperm used are yours or donated (ie she’s not genetically related to the child). Once you have a parental order for the baby the surrogate will have no further rights or obligations to the child.

Who the second legal parent is at birth will depend on your circumstances. If the surrogate is married or in a civil partnership her partner will automatically be the second legal parent (until a parental order is granted) unless it can be shown that her partner did not consent to her treatment. If she’s single then the man providing the sperm (if he wants to be the father) will automatically be the second legal parent at birth.

However, it is possible for the surrogate to nominate a second legal parent such as the intended mother or non-biological father if you’d all prefer. To do this both the intended second parent and the surrogate will need to give their consent before the sperm, egg or embryo are transferred.

Basically, to be blunt, surrogacy is adultery.  Instead of the husband having sexual intercourse with his wife, another woman is given the man’s sperm and either her eggs are used or those of the wife.  So, how can this be morally right?

If either the man or the woman are unable to be part of the process of conception due to various medical conditions, I would want to encourage them to adopt the many thousands of children (  who have been given up by their parents for a number of reasons, eg they do not wish to be a parent, poverty, death of parents, medical reasons, etc.

It is also important that the child is brought into a relationship of a husband and wife, male and female, so as to have an opportunity for a balanced childhood.  For women and men both bring different aspects of life to bear in life, (, so same-sex couples should not be allowed to adopt children.  For single parents, it is essential that children have a strong link with a number of role models of the opposite sex of the main parent. Although parenting is tough and has its ups and down, and can affect the marriage, couples need to work on their relationship, not only for their own happiness but also for the sake of their children.  Hence the importance on teaching about relationships in education focusing of making them last and making sure there is depth – it is not just about sex – there needs to be encouragement to empower each other to develop fully as a rounded and balanced human being.  Outside of education, there is also a need for organisations to do the same things for adults, early on in any relationship, or even before.  If a relationship is to be long-term, marriage should be encouraged to bring stability and security.  Too many relationships are about sex and getting through the day, not having shared interests that expand the mind, thus life becomes mundane, and that rubs off on the children when they come along and they in turn then have problems as they grow up and then become parents themselves.

Turning to the surrogate mother, it can be such a wrench giving up the child she brought into the world, and for the child, it can be confusing as to who their real mother is, though most children probably not aware that they are from a surrogate.

So, although surrogacy might not feel it is adultery, it is.

The Bible says that children are a gift, not a right (Psalm 127:3).

For a slightly different perspective see the following:

Question: “What does the Bible say about adoption?”

Answer: Giving children up for adoption can be a loving alternative for parents who may, for various reasons, be unable to care for their own children. It can also be an answer to prayer for many couples who have not been able to have children of their own. Adoption is, for some, a calling to multiply their impact as parents by expanding their family with children who are not their own, biologically. Adoption is spoken of favourably throughout Scripture.

The book of Exodus tells the story of a Hebrew woman named Jochebed who bore a son during a time when Pharaoh had ordered all Hebrew male infants to be put to death (Exodus 1:15-22). Jochebed took a basket, waterproofed it, and sent the baby down the river in the basket. One of Pharaoh’s daughters spotted the basket and retrieved the child. She eventually adopted him into the royal family and gave him the name Moses. He went on to become a faithful and blessed servant of God (Exodus 2:1-10).

In the book of Esther, a beautiful girl named Esther, who was adopted by her cousin after her parents’ death, became a queen, and God used her to bring deliverance to the Jewish people. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ was conceived through the Holy Spirit instead of through the seed of a man (Matthew 1:18). He was “adopted” and raised by His mother’s husband, Joseph, who took Jesus as his own child.

Once we give our hearts to Christ, believing and trusting in Him alone for salvation, God says we become part of His family—not through the natural process of human conception, but through adoption. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship [adoption]. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15). Similarly, bringing a person into a family by means of adoption is done by choice and out of love. “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave Him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5). As God adopts those who receive Christ as Savior into His spiritual family, so should we all prayerfully consider adopting children into our own physical families.

Clearly adoption—both in the physical sense and in the spiritual sense—is shown in a favourable light in Scripture. Both those who adopt and those who are adopted are receiving a tremendous blessing, a privilege exemplified by our adoption into God’s family.

Reflections on the Bible – 3

Proverbs 12:22

‘The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.’

We all lie at some point in a day. Why?

  • is it because of insecurity?
  • is it so that we can have power in a situation, or over someone?
  • is it because the truth would be embarrassing?
  • is it because we are hiding some dark secret?
  • is it because telling the truth would have dire consequences?

We need somehow to create a culture where it is ‘safe’ to tell the truth, however bad it may be.  Hence, the importance of the Church being a community where nothing should shock us and we know how to love, forgive, repent each other and bring appropriate restorative correction, with the person concerned having humility to accept the consequences of telling the truth, even if the outcome is ‘bad’. God still loves us, especially if we have repented for the sin committed and knowing that God then has forgiven us. We must also remember that, by telling the truth, good will eventually come out of the situation, ‘improving’ it in many cases. Also, the telling the truth ‘delights’ the Lord, which is a bonus and a reason to give thanks to Him.

In telling the truth, we need to make sure it is said in an attitude of love and humility, and in stating it, the context is given, having beforehand checked that the statement about to be said is actually true and not hearsay, and in the case of self-declaration, excuses are not being made if you have done something wrong, so that others can understand the circumstances of the ‘sin’.

”Truth’ has to be measured against what Jesus’ teachings as to whether it needs to be said and, if appropriate, actions taken.  For Jesus is the ultimate ‘Truth’ – He never lied but spoke to the heart to get to the crux of the matter.

Also, when ‘truth’ is about another person, it needs to be said lovingly, but also done in a way to encourage and empower them, as well as explaining the consequences of what has been said.

Questions may be needed to be asked to make sure one has fully understood what has been said and its consequences, as well as to get the ‘complete picture’.

If the Church could get this right, as every thing affects the whole community, one way or another, then our actions  will start to transform communities for the good as they really see the difference in Christians, people around them will start doing the same, and this will include wanting to know about Jesus!

Baptism – 1


This is the first of a series on baptism

On the subject of baptism, it is helpful to have a look at the various ‘baptisms’ that occurred in the Bible:

‘Historically, baptism has been used as a rite of initiation, showing the inductee’s entrance into a new belief or observance. Baptism in the church is also a token of the forgiveness of sins we experience at salvation—in much the same way that Pilate attempted to show his innocence by washing his hands with water (Matthew 27:24), Christians show they are cleansed by Christ when they are baptized by water.

Some Bible students have identified seven baptisms in Scripture. The seven baptisms are usually listed as being these:

1) The baptism of Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1–3) – when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt, they were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” That is, they were identified with Moses and his deliverance by passing through the Red Sea and following God’s presence in the cloud (Exodus 13:21). Paul uses this as a comparison to the way that Christians are identified with Christ and His salvation. Those who followed Moses passed through the water and were thus initiated into a new life of freedom and Law-keeping; those who follow Jesus Christ, who is greater than Moses, pass through the waters of baptism and are thus initiated to a new life of freedom and grace.

2) The baptism of John (Mark 1:4) – as John the Baptist preached repentance of sins in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, he baptized people in the Jordan. Those who were baptized by John were showing their faith in John’s message and their need to confess their sin. In Acts 18:24–25, a disciple of John’s named Apollos preaches in Ephesus; however, only knowing the baptism of John and the need for repentance, he needed to be further instructed in the death and resurrection of Christ. Later in the same city, Acts 19:1–7, Paul encounters some more followers of John. These disciples had been baptized for repentance, but they had not heard of the new birth or the Holy Spirit. Paul taught them the whole message of salvation in Christ, and they received the message and were subsequently baptized in Jesus’ name.

3) The baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13–17) – this was Jesus’ act of identifying with sinful humanity. Although Jesus did not need to repent of sin, He came to John to be baptized. John balked at performing the baptism, saying that Jesus should be the one baptizing him (Matthew 3:13–14). But Jesus told John to proceed with the baptism: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (verse 15). In this baptism, Jesus put His stamp of approval on John’s ministry and also began His own. As Jesus came up from the water, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form upon Jesus (verses 16–17).

4) The baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11–12) – John prophesied that Jesus would baptize men “with fire.” This speaks of Jesus’ judging the world for its sin (see John 5:22). Immediately after mentioning the baptism by fire, John describes Jesus as overseeing a harvest to come: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (verse 12; cf. Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43). Those who are judged by Christ in the last day will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

5) The baptism of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13–14; 1 Corinthians 12:13) – John also predicted that Jesus would baptize men with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). This is a spiritual baptism, and it is the baptism that saves us. At salvation, we are “immersed” in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit covers us, indwells us, fills us, and makes us a part of the spiritual body of Christ. The baptism of the Spirit is what initiates us into new life in Christ. The first people to experience the baptism of the Spirit were the believers in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. The spiritual entity known as the body of Christ is formed by this baptism: “We were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

6) The baptism of the cross (Mark 10:35–39) – Jesus used the language of baptism to refer to His sufferings (and those of His disciples). James and John, the Boanerges, had come to Jesus asking for a place of honor in the kingdom. Jesus asked them, “Can you . . . be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38). They replied that they could, and Jesus confirmed it: “You will . . . be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with” (verse 39). The “baptism” Jesus speaks of here is the suffering He was to endure. James and John would suffer, as well.

7) The baptism of believers (Matthew 28:19) – this is a washing in water to symbolize the action of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s heart. Believer’s baptism is one of the two ordinances given to the church. Different churches practice different modes of baptism, but all who follow Christ should be baptized, since it is commanded by our Lord. Water baptism pictures some wonderful spiritual truths. When we are saved, we are “buried” with Christ and “rise” to newness of life; our sins are “washed away,” and we are cleansed. It is Spirit baptism that saves us, but water baptism is our outward expression of that event. “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death[.] We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3–4).

Of the seven baptisms found in Scripture, only two are of personal significance to the Christian today: the baptism of the Holy Spirit (that saves us) and believer’s water baptism (that identifies us with the church). The other baptisms were uniquely for other times, limited to certain people, or (in the case of the baptism of fire) still future.’

The next one will be on infant baptism.

Baptism – 2

Next in our series on baptism

Infant Baptism

The Orthodox Church believes the practice is biblical, using such verses as follows:

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.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:38-39: NIV, emphasis added)

At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.  (Acts 16:33-34; NIV, emphasis added)

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  (Luke 18:16; NIV)

The Roman Catholic Church also believes in Infant Baptism:

Peter explained what happens at baptism when he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). But he did not restrict this teaching to adults. He added, “For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (2:39). We also read: “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). These commands are universal, not restricted to adults. Further, these commands make clear the necessary connection between baptism and salvation, a
connection explicitly stated in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” …..

Even in the books of the New Testament that were written later in the first century, during the time when children were raised in the first Christian homes, we never—not even once—find an example of a child raised in a Christian home who is baptized only upon making a “decision for Christ.” Rather, it is always assumed that the children of Christian homes are already Christians, that they have already been “baptized into Christ” (Rom. 6:3). If infant baptism were not the rule, then we should have references to the children of Christian parents joining the Church only after they had come to the age of reason, and there are no such records in the Bible. 

But, one might ask, does the Bible ever say that infants or young children can be baptized? The indications are clear. In the New Testament we read that Lydia was converted by Paul’s preaching and that “She was baptized, with her household” (Acts 16:15). The Philippian jailer whom Paul and Silas had converted to the faith was baptized that night along with his household. We are told that “the same hour of the night . . . he was baptized, with all his family” (Acts 16:33). And in his greetings to the Corinthians, Paul recalled that, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas” (1 Cor. 1:16).

In all these cases, whole households or families were baptized. This means more than just the spouse; the children too were included. If the text of Acts referred simply to the Philippian jailer and his wife, then we would read that “he and his wife were baptized,” but we do not. Thus his children must have been baptized as well. The same applies to the other cases of household baptism in Scripture.

Granted, we do not know the exact age of the children; they may have been past the age of reason, rather than infants. Then again, they could have been babes in arms. More probably, there were both younger and older children. Certainly there were children younger than the age of reason in some of the households that were baptized, especially if one considers that society at this time had no reliable form of birth control. Furthermore, given the New Testament pattern of household baptism, if there were to be exceptions to this rule (such as infants), they would be explicit.

The Church of England, yet another branch of the Christian Church, believes in Infant Baptism for the reasons above.  But, some churches from this tradition also believe in ‘believer’s baptism’ for those who are make their own decision to get baptised as a believer.

There are other church groups who also practice Infant Baptism.

In the Philippian Jailer passage (Acts 16:31-34) and the Corinthian passage with Crispus (Acts 18:8), the Greek text has singular verbs, not the plural verbs, to describe the action of believing. These texts do not say, the Jailer (or Crispus) “and (kai)” household members “believed [plural]” (with a plural verb). Instead, these texts teach what any Old Testament believer might have expected: the Jailer, the household head, “rejoiced (singular verb) greatly, with all his house (panoikei, an adverb), having believed (pepisteukos, participle, singular) in God” (16:34, from the literal rendering of the 1901 American Standard Version). Crispus, the household head, “believed (episteusen, verb, singular) in the Lord “with” (sūn) all his household” (Acts 18:8). However, observe Luke’s careful language indicating baptism is administered to each member of the Jailer’s household: “he was baptized, he and all his household” (kai hoi autou pantes, literally, “those of his all”) (16:33).

In the case of the Jailer, the narrative is set up in a covenantal frame (ie everyone is ‘covered’ by the head of the household’s decision – Greg), “What must I [individual and singular] do to be saved?” The answer is covenantal. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you [individual] shall be saved, you and your household” (Act 16:31). These texts, when carefully considered, strongly support the covenantal thesis.

The Philippian Jailer’s household is very important to the purpose of Luke. Luke takes some time explaining this. Why? The Jailer was the first recorded baptism of an outright pagan. Previous Gentiles had been Godfearers, worshiping the true God of Israel. The eunuch worshiped in Jerusalem. Cornelius was a God-fearer and devout. Lydia “worshiped God.” Philippi was a Roman colony. Many retired soldiers were rewarded with land there. It is likely this Jailer was a former Roman soldier. The Jailer was about to kill himself before Paul and Silas called out to him. This indicates his Roman value system which called for the duty of suicide in the face of some failures, like the loss of one’s prisoners.

In fear and trembling with an earthquake, no less, he cried out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The answer is pregnant with Biblical concepts: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). The text goes on to say after Paul preached the gospel, “He was baptized, he and all his household” (16:33). We are told Paul and Silas were brought into the house of the Jailer to eat, and the Jailer “rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (16:34).

Now we will look at some issues with Infant Baptism in the next blog.

Baptism – 3

Issues to do with Household Baptism

At what age can one be baptised?  Infant baptism is all about those who cannot speak for themselves, so others do so on their behalf.  I feel by calling it ‘Infant Baptism’, is rather confusing, especially as the baby has no say in the matter.  It is better to call it ‘Infant Dedication’ as the parents are dedicating the child to God, as they did in the Bible when the they were taken to the temple or synagogue for a blessing by the priest.

There is no fixed lower limited for baptism, but it depends on level of understanding and responsibility.  It is crucial for at least a basic level of responsibility, otherwise there is the increasing likelihood of ‘nominalism’ – belief without faith in the Lordship and Saviourship of Jesus – the relationship with God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Passages surrounding ‘covenant’ or ‘covering’ of a whole household who believed, is more about a shift from one belief system to another, not necessarily discipleship.  Even baptism of the whole family is more about a public statement that they wish to follow Jesus, than discipleship, even though by doing this statement of belief was costly, we must remember, in those days, the whole family did what the father/husband did, whether they wish to or not.

See also

‘In each example of “household baptism,” the people who were baptized were ones who had been taught what they needed to do in order to receive salvation (Acts 10:34-43; 16:14, 32; 1 Corinthians 1:16-18; 16:15-16). They were the people who could hear and understand the Word of God (Acts 10:44), believe (10:31-33), and devote themselves to the ministry of the saints (1 Corinthians 16:15)….

The Bible clearly teaches, however, that belief must precede baptism (see Mark 16:16; Acts 8:37; Romans 10:10-11; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:21), and that a sinner cannot be forgiven of sin based on the faith of another (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12; 1 Peter 2:7; 4:5; 1 John 3:23)…

Furthermore, Acts 16:34 (part of the account of a “household baptism”) reports that the Philippian jailer’s family, at the time of the “household baptism,” was made up entirely of “believers” (excluding infants), and the accounts of both Cornelius’ and the jailer’s conversions specifically indicate that candidates for baptism were those who had “heard the word” (Acts 10:44,47). When inspired writers wrote about “hearing” the Word of God, “hearing” often denoted not only the recognition of audible sounds, of which infants are capable, but also understanding the message, of which infants are incapable (see Deuteronomy 5:1; Romans 10:17; Job 13:17; Luke 14:35). The contexts of Acts 10 and Acts 16 imply that meaning of the verb “hear” (akouo)…’

Part of the problem with the debate about Infant baptism is understanding the context, both cultural and the wider biblical writings in relation to the passage being studied.  Then, there is also the issue of what the original NT Koine Greek means, to which we turn to in the next blog.


Baptism – 4

Now we get onto the use of the words for baptism in the New Testament.

‘Going (poreuthentes) therefore (oun) Disciple you (matheteusata) all (panta) the (ta) Peoples (ethne) Baptising (baptizontes) them (autous) In (eis) the (to) name (onoma) of the (tou) Father (patros) and (kai) of the (tou) Son (uiou) and (kai) of the (tou) Holy Spirit (agiou pneumtos) Instructing (didaskontes) them (autous) to fulfil (tereo) All things (panta) Whatever (osa) I gave command (eneteilamen) you (umin)’

(Matthew 28: 19, 20)

The word ‘baptizontes’ comes from the word ‘baptizo’ and ‘bapto’ which has several meanings, the main one being to submerge.  The word has been used for centuries in relation to immersing a cloth into a dye until the material is totally soaked through and through with the specific colour.  This is an illustration of the disciple being ‘fully immersed’ in the teachings and practice of Jesus.  So, its use is not always in relation to ‘baptising’ in water.  In the verses above, it is quite clear that there is a command to go through the waters of baptism as a symbol of one’s desire to obey Jesus.

Peter replied, “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….  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

(Acts 2:38, 41)

The same word is used here, but the context is different.  It is basically saying that to become a Christian, one needs to repent of all our sins, with the word ‘be baptized’ to mean to take on board what Jesus taught and put it into practice, then you will be forgiven by God, who will give you the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will guide you and empower you to live out the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.  Otherwise, one is saying that one needs to not only ‘repent’ but also ‘be baptized’ to become a Christian, which you do not.  If you look at other passages on repentance, the word ‘be baptized’ is not mentioned.

…this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.e It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

(1 Peter 3:21-22)

Here we have the NT Koine Greek word ‘baptisma’, which refers to the rite of baptism and why one is baptised (more about full immersion water baptism in the next blog).

…and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” “No,” they answered, “we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” “Into what then were you baptized?” Paul asked. “The baptism of John,” they replied. Paul explained: “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the One coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”…

(Acts 19:2-4)

Again a similar word referring to the rite of baptism, but this time it is used specifically to the time of John the Baptist who baptised before Jesus started His ministry.  John’s ‘baptism’ was different from what we do today, because its focus was purely on ‘repentance’, as Jesus had not yet been resurrected for the full meaning of salvation as symbolised in future baptisms.  The ‘repentance of John’s baptism was more about being sorry for not following God the way He had taught them in the Old Testament.  In a way it was a ‘bridge’ between the old and the new order, the Kingdom lifestyle of Jesus.

‘As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’

(Ephesians 4:1-6)

There is often confusion because as you read Scripture, it appears that there are more than one baptism.  There is water baptism, baptism of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the dead, etc.  My understanding is that water baptism (‘baptisma’ again – the rite) is symbolising our ‘spiritual death’ to our past for which Jesus died on the Cross, and our ‘spiritual rising from the dead to new life’ by the workings of the Holy Spirit as a result of the resurrection of Jesus, the beginnings of being transformed into the person God wants you to be as you obey Him.

“I (Jesus) have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!

Luke 12:49-50

Although the word here used is ‘baptisma’, it has several meanings.  It means Jesus’ own baptism as an example to others and the beginning of His ministry, it also refers to a ‘baptism of fire’, a time of purification of the people which will mean there will be division in families and communities as each person decides whether to be totally committed to Jesus or not to follow Him at all.  There will be increasing persecution, and not just in eastern lands, but also in the West.  (This does mean being bold, regularly seeking to be open to God’s correction as one reads the Bible and apply it.)

The Baptism of, in, by, the Holy Spirit

The baptism of the Holy Spirit may be defined as that work whereby the Spirit of God places the believer into union with Christ and into union with other believers in the body of Christ at the moment of salvation. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was predicted by John the Baptist (Mark 1:8) and by Jesus before He ascended to heaven: “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). This promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4); for the first time, people were permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the church had begun.

First Corinthians 12:12–13 is the central passage in the Bible regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Notice that we “all” have been baptized by the Spirit—all believers have received the baptism, synonymous with salvation, and it is not a special experience for only a few. While Romans 6:1–4 does not mention specifically the Spirit of God, it does describe the believer’s position before God in language similar to the 1 Corinthians passage: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

The following facts are necessary to help solidify our understanding of Spirit baptism: First, 1 Corinthians 12:13 clearly states that all have been baptized, just as all been given the Spirit to drink (the indwelling of the Spirit). Second, nowhere in Scripture are believers told to be baptized with, in or by the Spirit, or in any sense to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This indicates that all believers have had this experience. Third, Ephesians 4:5 seems to refer to Spirit baptism. If this is the case, Spirit baptism is the reality for every believer, just as “one faith” and “one Father” are.

In conclusion, the baptism of the Holy Spirit does two things, 1) it joins us to the body of Christ, and 2) it actualizes our co-crucifixion with Christ. Being in His body means we are risen with Him to newness of life (Romans 6:4). We should then exercise our spiritual gifts to keep that body functioning properly as stated in the context of 1 Corinthians 12:13. Experiencing the one Spirit baptism serves as the basis for keeping the unity of the church, as in the context of Ephesians 4:5. Being associated with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection through Spirit baptism establishes the basis for our separation from the power of indwelling sin and our walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1-10; Colossians 2:12).

Now, sometimes the Holy Spirit comes upon one in a powerful way that often release one from ‘bondage’ to something like a fear, or a hatred of something or someone, or it is an occasion when God gives you power to do something extraordinary.

“When it comes to the Holy Spirit, most evangelicals fall into one of two extremes. Some seem obsessed, relating to him in strange, mystical ways. Their experiences with the Spirit always seem to coincide with an emotionally ecstatic moment created by the swell of music in a worship service or a weird confluence of events: “I was praying about whether to ask Rachel out, and suddenly I saw a billboard whose background was the same color as her eyes, and I got goose bumps—I knew it was the Holy Spirit!”

Other Christians neglect his ministry altogether. They believe in the Holy Spirit, but they relate to him the same way I relate to my pituitary gland: I’m really grateful it’s in there; I know it’s essential for something; I would never want to lose it . . . but I don’t really interact with it. For these Christians, the Holy Spirit is not a moving, dynamic person. He’s more of a theory.

Yet Jesus made his disciples the most astounding promise about the Holy Spirit, one so astounding I think many of us do not really take it seriously: it was to their advantage, he said, that he return to heaven if it meant they receive the Spirit (John 16:7). If you ask Christians whether they would rather have Jesus beside them or the Spirit inside them, which do you think most would choose?

Doesn’t that show how far apart we are from grasping what Jesus was offering to us?

The Holy Spirit appears 59 times in the book of Acts, and in 36 of those appearances he is speaking. “But wait,” some say, “we can’t use Acts as a pattern for our time! The apostles were a unique group.” And I understand that Acts represents a special epoch of apostolic history. But you cannot convince me that the only book God gave us with examples of how the church walks with the Spirit is filled with stories that have nothing in common with our own. As John Newton put it, “Is it really true that that which the early church so depended on—the leadership of the Spirit—is irrelevant to us today?”

How We Experience His Presence

How then do we experience his presence? We certainly have seen this question greatly abused. As I noted, many equate his movements with emotional flurries, irrational impressions, or random confluences of events. As I study Scripture, I see six ways we experience his presence: in the gospel, through the Word of God, through the community of the church, in our various spiritual giftings, in our spirit by communion with him in prayer, and through his sovereign control over our circumstances.

1. In the Gospel

One of the most surprising discoveries I had while writing Jesus, Continued . . . (Zondervan, 2014) was how often Paul equates fullness of the Spirit with going deeper in the gospel. For example, in Ephesians 3:14–18, the apostle prays that the Ephesians would have the strength to comprehend the love of Christ—its breadth and length and height and depth—so that they may be “filled with all the fullness of God.” According to Paul, those two things—knowing the love of Christ in the gospel and being filled with “all the fullness of God”—are synonymous.

Puritan Thomas Goodwin compared this experience to that of a toddler son when his father swoops him up into his arms, spins him around, and tells him, “You are my son and I love you!” In that moment, the boy has become no more his father’s son, legally speaking, than he was the moment before. But being caught up in his father’s arms he feels his sonship more intimately. When God’s Spirit fills us, he sheds abroad God’s love in our heart, making our spirit rise up to say, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 5:5, 8:15).

2. Through the Word of God

The Spirit’s primary vehicle for moving and speaking in our lives is the Scriptures. The Spirit works in us to shape us into being the kind of people God wants us to be, because then we will do the things God wants us to do. Almost every time we see the phrase “will of God” in the Bible it refers to shaping our moral character in response to the gospel. I’m not sure this is the kind of thing you can put a percentage on, but I’d say that about 99.4 percent of God’s direction for us can be found in the Bible. The Spirit conforms us to Christ’s character (Rom. 8:29; 12:1–2) and helps us walk the paths of wisdom (Prov. 2:20–22). As we do, we accomplish the will of God.

3. Through the Church

The most common way the Spirit speaks in the book of Acts (other than in and through Scripture) is through the church. For instance, Acts 13:2 records, “While [the church was] worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” God gave the church specific insight into what Saul and Barnabas were to do. Throughout his life Paul received instructions about where to go and what to do through members of the church, and he gave similar words of instruction to Timothy. I find nothing that indicates that God has stopped speaking this way—to his children through the church.

4. In Our Giftings

Paul tells us “each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). This becomes a primary vehicle for his guidance in our lives. There is a scene in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in which Father Christmas gives each of the Pevensie children a mysterious gift. They don’t realize it at the time, but these gifts prove essential in their coming battle with the White Witch. Peter suddenly sees that his sword was given to lead an assault; Lucy recognizes that her gift—a healing ointment—was given to bind up the wounded in battle. Lewis’s imagery mirrors Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians: we perceive what God wants by looking at the gifts he has placed within us.

5. In Our Spirit

Throughout Scripture we see that God guides his people in mission by putting special burdens into their spirits. When Nehemiah left for Jerusalem to rebuild its walls, he didn’t have a command from God. He simply said that God had “put it into his heart” to do it (Neh. 2:12). When Paul came to Athens, Luke records his spirit was “provoked” within him about the idolatry in Athens (Acts 17:16). He evidently took this provocation as a direction to stay and preach the gospel there. Later in his ministry he would identify a holy “ambition” that God had put in his heart to preach Christ only where he had never been named (Rom. 15:20). Up until then, his ministry had been broad—debate the gospel, build up the churches everywhere—but the Spirit later narrowed the focus of his ministry. Throughout our lives we (at times) experience a “holy discontent” about a particular situation or the pressing in of a specific promise of God to our context. This is often the Spirit’s invitation to pursue a particular ministry.

6. Through Our Circumstances

Throughout Paul’s life we see him interpret open and closed doors as evidence of the Spirit’s leadership. In his first letter to the Corinthians he explains he will stay in Ephesus to preach because a “wide door for effective work” has been opened, which he evidently took as the Spirit’s leadership (1 Cor. 16:8). Again, no special prophetic word, no handwriting in the sky, no Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich—just an open door.

This one can be tricky, because an open door doesn’t always mean something is God’s will. Jonah happened on a ship to Tarshish, but God’s will for him was 180 degrees the opposite direction. Likewise, a closed door doesn’t always mean something is not God’s will. In Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians of why he would stay in Ephesus (mentioned above), he notes many difficulties lay ahead of him. He didn’t interpret these difficulties as evidence God wanted him to leave, but to stay.

Hold Them All Loosely

More havoc has been wreaked in the church and world following the words “God just told me to ________” than perhaps any other phrase. So we must hold our various senses of the Spirit’s movement in tension with each other and always in submission to the Scriptures. They are the final record of what he says.

Except for the gospel and the Scriptures, then, the key with all of these points is to hold our interpretations loosely. We must submit what we sense the Spirit is doing in our hearts or how we’re reading our circumstances to the Scriptures and the counsel of the church. Paul tells us we are to “test” the prophecies given to us in the church. This isn’t an exact science or a formula, and as much as that might disappoint us, it shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus said, after all, that experiencing the Spirit is something like a mysterious encounter with the wind (John 3:8).

Now, in conclusion we need to examine a little known verse in 1 Corinthians, used by the Mormons, hence their deep interest in genealogy, which we need to examine.

‘Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?’ 

(1 Corinthians 15:29)

Near the middle of his great reflection on the resurrection, the apostle Paul pauses to ask his readers: “What do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf” (1 Cor. 15:29)? The verse could also be translated: “Why do those who are baptized for the dead do it? That is, if the dead are not raised at all, why are they [certain Corinthians] baptized for the dead?”

The phrase “baptism for the dead” is so obscure and perplexing, the meaning so uncertain, and the variety of interpretations so numerous that it seems wise to say it seems impossible to know what the phrase means. Given the difficulties, some wonder why we should even bother to investigate. But baptism for the dead matters, both because Mormons place extraordinary importance on it, and also because Paul uses it to defend the coming resurrection of believers.

Variety of Interpretations

The simplest reading of the text is that some Corinthian Christians were baptized vicariously on behalf of some who’d already died, seeking a spiritual benefit. The problem with this view, though, is twofold. First, there is no precedent for baptism for the dead in the Bible, the early church, or pagan religions. No one knows who did it or what spiritual benefit they sought. Second, the notion of Christians being baptizing for the sake of those who’ve died offends our theology. It sounds like a magical sacramentalism. It seems to contradict justification by faith alone.

To avoid these problems, some scholars have proposed that Paul’s key terms have rare or figurative meanings. First, they say “baptism” is metaphorical, as in Peter’s expression “baptism with fire.” Second, they say “for” does not mean “on behalf of.” Third, they say “the dead” are the spiritually dead or the dying, not the physically dead. Yet the text gives us no reason to seek metaphorical meanings. All stripes of scholars agree that the plain sense is most likely, though no one knows precisely what the Corinthians did. The question resembles discussions of the authorship of the Book of Hebrews. So many scholars have worked on the matter that someone, surely, has proposed the right author. But since we suffer ignorance at key points, we are forced to make guesses. Even if a scholar surmises correctly, he still surmises; whoever is right cannot have the pleasure of basking in it. Still, even if certainty eludes us, we can learn important things. We may never know the name of Hebrews’ author, but we do know what kind of person he was. Likewise, we may never know precisely why the Corinthians were baptized for the dead, but we can know that the Mormon view is false.

Two Guiding Principles

Two principles must guide us. First, we establish what we know and work from there. Second, our conclusions must fit the context of 1 Corinthians and cohere with Paul’s theology.

Beginning with the context, Paul has heard some Corinthian Christians deny the future bodily resurrection of believers. Given how integral Jesus’s resurrection is to the gospel, the aposlte asks, “How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (15:1–12). In light of the union of Christ and believers, if anyone denies the resurrection of Christians, he also denies the resurrection of Christ.

If dead Christians aren’t raised, then neither is Christ. And if Christ isn’t raised, Paul’s gospel is false, our faith is vain, and we’re still lost in sin. But, Paul continues, Christ has been raised—so that all who are united to him have resurrection life. He was raised as the firstfruits of the dead (15:12–28).

With this, Paul’s theological argument for the resurrection of believers ends. The next section, beginning with our verse, adds a series of ad hoc arguments for the resurrection. Paul’s theme is that both his and the Corinthians’ practice are consistent with belief in the resurrection of the dead. The significance of Paul’s practice is clear: If there’s no resurrection, he asks, why does he face danger every hour? Why should he risk death daily? There is no gain in such sacrifices without the resurrection. Indeed, it would be better to “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (15:30–32).

Two Conclusions

Two conclusions emerge. First, just as Paul’s sacrifices presuppose the resurrection, so the Corinthians’ practice of baptism for the dead presupposes the resurrection. Second, since 1 Corinthians 15 is about resurrection of the dead, not gaining salvation, the Mormons take the passage out of context.

Additionally, since Paul doesn’t rebuke the Corinthians for their practice, then their baptism for the dead was harmless or, at worst, a minor offense. If baptism for the dead actually perverted the gospel, he would have denounced it, as he condemns other sins in the letter.

Mormon View Undermines the Gospel

These conclusions are sufficient to refute the Mormon view of baptism for the dead. Whatever baptism for the dead means, the practice of the Mormons cannot be correct, for it both disregards the biblical context and undermines the biblical gospel. Mormon baptism for the dead is a proxy administration of baptism for a deceased person who didn’t hear the Mormon “gospel” while alive.

Joseph Smith instituted the practice in 1840 in response to concern among his followers for forebears who died unbaptized. Today, these baptisms are also performed as an act of love for unrelated persons selected from genealogical records in Mormon archives.

According to Mormon teaching, the practice affords the dead the opportunity to pursue salvation through a system of works righteousness. Mormons explicitly teach salvation by good works. Baptism for the dead is part of that system.

Like some Christians, Mormons wonder about the fate of those who died before the time of Christ. Whereas Christians wonder about those who miss the gospel of his atonement, Mormons fear missing his teachings on the way of righteous living.

Further, Mormons claim Smith’s baptism for the dead restored a lost apostolic practice—something allegedly at the center of Jesus’s post-resurrection teaching. According to Mormons, the gates of hell will not thwart the salvation of the dead for which this baptism is essential. “Worthy” Mormons with special temple privileges serve as proxies by undergoing baptism in a basin, patterned after the bronze sea of Solomon’s temple.

The Mormon practice is antithetical to the gospel. The Gospels and Acts declare that Jesus’s post-resurrection teaching focused on his kingdom, the Old Testament witness to him, and the charge to make global disciples. If the Corinthians practiced what Mormons do, Paul couldn’t have tolerated it, since it contradicts the gospel.

What Does It Mean?

Still, the question of the proper interpretation of baptism for the dead remains. Confessing I’m no closer to certainty than anyone, I think it wise to take the passage at face value: it seems that certain Corinthian were baptized on behalf of people—possibly family members or friends who’d died.

Paul knew about this and, even if he didn’t fully approve, his casual tone shows it wasn’t a major error. The best guess, then, is not that they thought baptism played a role in saving the dead, which would be a major error, but that they exaggerated the value of baptism.

It seems likely the Corinthians were concerned about believers who died before they could be baptized, and feared some spiritual loss as a result. This view suits the context and coheres with other Scriptures, which show Paul as a lion when he detecting any challenge to the gospel itself.”

For me, this verse is a commentary on those who ‘baptise’ people for those who are dead are confused, for only those who personally have made a commitment to follow Jesus can be baptised and only Jesus can be a ‘substitute’ for us in dying for our wrongdoing/rebellion against God because He was perfect.

In my next blog, I want to look at the rite of baptism in a bit more detail.