It’s kind of a strange phrase, “The whole Gospel,” as if there are partial Gospels of Jesus contained in the Scriptures. The idea comes from Acts 2 when the hearers of Peter’s sermon ask what they should do in response to Jesus where Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repent, Be Baptized, Receive.
For those in a denomination like ours which desacralizes the sacraments by retaining only two of the big 7 and then calling them ordinances instead of sacraments (baptism and Eucharist), it may be strange to see the command to be baptized. How should we understand baptism for our groups and, as a corollary, understand both church and group membership in our groups?
- Baptism is not a necessary condition of justification. Such a statement is clear in numerous texts: the thief on the cross is in paradise without baptism (Luke 23:33-43), the proconsul believed in Acts 13:6 but it was not recorded that he was baptized even though he was named, a bunch of Gentiles get saved in Acts 13:48 but it was not recorded that they were baptized, both Jews and Greeks were saved in Acts 14:1, a large group of God-fearing Greeks were saved in Acts 17:4, and a few names are listed as having been saved in Acts 17:34.
- Baptism is not a necessary condition for receiving the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in Galatians 3:2, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard?” Paul reiterates this idea in 1 Corinthians 12:13, Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13-14.
- Baptism should be, and is at BBC, a necessary condition of becoming a part of the faith community. Baptism is the physical manifestation bearing witness to others that you have submitted your life to the person and work of Jesus. We symbolize Jesus’ burial and resurrection, as well as remain obedient to Jesus’ model (cf. Matthew 3:15).
- We should elevate, in our groups, the importance of church membership in a local body and in a small group. As for the former, Acts 2:46a is clear that daily, these new believers gathered in the temple together and Acts 20:20 talks about public teaching. Moreover, Jesus regularly went to the temple (Luke 4:16). But we are also compelled, perhaps more rigorously, to be in a smaller fellowship of believers:
- [they] broke bread from house to house. (Acts 2:46b)
- And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing (Hebrews 10:24-25a)
- Jesus gathered with the 12 disciples (John 13ff.)
- Acts 20:20 also highlights teaching from house to house.
To be a disciple of Jesus, we must demonstrate our love for one another, as recorded in John 13:35. Jesus is talking to his closest disciples, the 12. We simply cannot be disciples of Jesus on an island, because this statement from Jesus is aimed squarely at the church for the church.
Thus, we must belong to a local fellowship of believers, gathering in large corporate worship and in small groups, to express Christ’s love to one another. And to truly belong, we must be baptized into the local fellowship as a witness of our testimony to believe and follow Jesus.