Tag Archives: baptism

Bonhoeffer and Discipleship

November 2017 Pulse

“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” These words eloquently summarise the central message of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s influential book, The Cost of Discipleship, first published in 1937.

This book began life as a series of lectures about the Sermon on the Mount, delivered by Bonhoeffer at Finkenwalde, a seminary that trained ministers for the “Confessing Church” during the Nazi period. Bonhoeffer later joined the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler, a crime for which he was arrested and executed at the age of 39.

In this book, Bonhoeffer tried to disabuse his readers of the idea that they could take God’s grace for granted just because they have received it freely and unconditionally. Hence, in the pages of The Cost of Discipleship we find the oft-repeated refrain that although grace is free, it is never cheap.

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church,” Bonhoeffer insists. “We are fighting today for costly grace.”

By “cheap grace” Bonhoeffer is referring to a religion that makes no demands on its adherents, a religiosity that gives a polite nod at commitment but refuses to pay the price it exacts.

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate,” he writes.

The free grace of God is costly because it is made available through the sacrificial death of Christ on Calvary’s cross. But this grace is also costly for Christians because it “calls us to follow Jesus Christ”.

For Bonhoeffer, then, at the heart of Christian discipleship is obedience to Christ. No one can claim to be a Christian – a believer – if he is not also a disciple, that is, if obedience does not characterise his life: “… only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

The obedience demanded of the believer is also not something open to negotiation or bargain, but absolute, without reservation or hesitation. For if you are only partially obedient – which means that you occasionally acquiesce to sin – “you are trying to keep some part of your life under your own control”.

True obedience therefore requires self-denial, the resolve to remove the self with its ambitions, passions and wants from the centre of one’s life so that Christ may take His rightful place there. To obey is to smash the idol of the “sovereign self” and to bring the self into humble submission to the true Sovereign.

Only when we are determined to deny our selves can we embrace the suffering that comes with discipleship. Bonhoeffer writes movingly: “To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.”

In this book, Bonhoeffer also explores the profound relationship between discipleship and the moral law of God by drawing creatively from the Lutheran tradition that shaped his theology.

To be obedient is to live our lives according to the purposes for which God created us; it is to bend our wills to God’s. And since God’s will is revealed in His moral law, the disciple must order his life according to it.

But the divine law points to the holy God who, in giving it, invites His people to commune with Him. This means that the divine law, which is purposed to usher us into an intimate covenant relationship with God, can never be reduced to rules – the dos and don’ts – that govern external behaviour.

The Christian can never be an antinomian (who regards the moral law of God as unimportant) or a legalist (who thinks that the Christian life is only about rule-keeping). In other words, discipleship is not just about doing what is required by the law; but if one ignores God’s law one ceases to be a disciple.

Discipleship therefore has to do with obedient love.

“If you love me,” Jesus said to His disciples, “you will keep my commandments … Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” (John 14:15, 21)


 

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Initial Evidence?

July 2017 Credo

Reader’s Question: Is speaking in tongues the initial sign that a Christian is baptised in the Holy Spirit?

Pentecostals maintain that the ability to speak in other tongues (Greek: glossolalia) is the initial evidential sign that a believer has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. According to Pentecostal theology, Spirit baptism is the second work of the Holy Spirit, subsequent to regeneration, that empowers believers to be witnesses for Christ.

The website of the Assemblies of God, UK, states: ‘We believe in the baptism in the Holy Spirit as an enduement of the believer with power for service, the essential, biblical evidence of which is the speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance’.

Pentecostals routinely cite Acts 19:6, which gives an account of the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples in Ephesus when Paul laid his hands on them. Upon receiving the Spirit, the Ephesian believers immediately spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Other passages that Pentecostals frequently appeal to for scriptural support of their teaching about initial evidence include Acts 2:4, 8:14-20 and10:44-46.

Before we discuss the hermeneutical and theological issues pertaining to the Pentecostal doctrine of initial evidence, two important observations are in order.

The first is the fact that not all the passages in Acts that describe the so-called baptism of the Spirit specifically mention tongues-speech as the immediate consequence (See, for example, Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 8:17; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34; 18:8).

Secondly, although many Pentecostals accept tongue-speech as initial evidence of Spirit baptism, some have argued that it is not normative. For example, the NT scholar and AG minister Gordon Fee maintains that while speaking in tongues may be regarded as a valid ‘repeatable’ experience, Pentecostals should not insist that it is normative.

The hermeneutical question is important, and therefore a good place to begin as we examine this doctrine from the biblical standpoint.

How should we read the accounts of the Spirit’s activity in Acts? Should we read them only as descriptions of what took place in the early Church? Or should we read them as offering a paradigm for the Christian life?

Put differently, are these accounts in some definitive sense prescriptive? Or are they merely descriptive?

Many biblical scholars, including I. Howard Marshall and Gordon Fee, maintain that the accounts in Acts are the attempts by their author, Luke, to describe what took place at Pentecost and on the days following that important and pivotal event.

However, although Acts is a historical account of the birth of the Church, Luke’s narrative also seeks to give the read a sense of what God was doing in human history. Put differently, Luke’s historiography has a theological intent and purpose.

The question is: what was that theological intent and purpose? Was it to present a paradigm for the Christian life?

Many biblical scholars, including Gordon Fee, maintain that it was never Luke’s intention to present a paradigm for the Christian life or to teach that Spirit baptism is the work of God subsequent to regeneration.

Fee, for instance, makes his case against the doctrine of subsequence in his article entitled, ‘The Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Issue of Separability and Subsequence’ published in the Fall 1985 issue of Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

Luke’s theological emphasis in Acts is to show how Jesus’ promise to his disciples before his ascension (Acts 1:8) is fulfilled as the Church’s witness unfolded as the result of the Spirit’s empowerment.

Turning now to the theological issues surrounding the Pentecostal doctrine of initial evidence, we should note firstly that Paul’s fundamental emphasis concerning the gifts of the Spirit has to do with their diversity and with the fact that they are distributed according to the sovereign will of God.

Paul emphasized that not every Christian will receive the same gift. ‘If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?’ he asks (1 Corinthians 12:17). Furthermore, his rhetorical question, ‘Do all speak in tongues?’ suggests that even in a Church as spiritually gifted as the Corinthian Church, not every member has the ability to speak in tongues.

In his discussion on the spiritual gifts, there is no evidence that Paul privileged the gift of tongues above the rest. Yet, the Pentecostal doctrine of initial evidence privileges tongues over the other gifts because it alone is a reliable evidential sign that a believer is baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Finally – and briefly – we have to consider the way in which Pentecostals and some charismatics have understood the expression ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’. Reading Acts as presenting a paradigm for the Christian life, they conclude that Spirit baptism refers to a definite work of the Holy Spirit subsequent to regeneration.

As we have already seen, some Pentecostal scholars have argued that this interpretation is untenable. I think they are right in doing so.

According to the testimony of the New Testament, the Spirit that regenerates believers is constantly at work in their lives – leading and guiding them into all truth, sanctifying them and empowering them to be Christ’s witnesses.

The Spirit also grants Christians various gifts for the edification of the Church. To some are given the gift of mercy, to others the gift of tongues. Thus, every Christian is empowered by the Spirit for service, and therefore has a role to play in the Body of Christ.


 

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

 

Tongues

What is the purpose of speaking and praying in tongues? Should all Christians speak in tongues?

Although the phenomenon of speaking in tongues is described in only two books in the New Testament – Acts and 1 Corinthians – it has attracted much attention and controversy in the church. No consensus has been reached among Christians from different backgrounds and denominations about its place in the church today, and contradictory and conflicting views continue to persist. On one extreme end of the spectrum is the cessationist view that asserts that tongues, together with the other miraculous gifts described in the New Testament, have ceased at the close of the apostolic age. On the other end, Pentecostals maintain that tongues are a universal gift in the church and that every Christian should speak in tongues.

In his discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul devotes much attention to the gift of tongues. What was Paul referring to when he speaks of the gift of tongues? I think we can describe tongues as the gift of ecstatic speech. As this passage from 1 Corinthians makes clear, the Holy Spirit bestows this gift on some Christians. Unlike the practices of some cults and pagan religions, however, tongues-speech in the Christian church is not a type of somnambulism where the speaker is in a trancelike state.

Commenting on the phenomenon in Volume 4 of his magisterial Church Dogmatics, the Swiss German theologian of the last century, Karl Barth, describes speaking in tongues as ‘an attempt to express the inexpressible in which the tongue rushes past … the notions and concepts necessary to ordinary speech and utters what can be received only as a groan or sigh, thus needing at once interpretation or exposition’. For Barth tongues-speech is not a ‘bizarre stuttering and stammering’, but rather an ecstatic flow of inexpressible joy.

The phenomenon of tongues-speech in the Corinthian church must be distinguished from that described in Acts. The tongues that the disciples spoke at Pentecost were actual foreign languages (xenolalia). Hence Acts 2:8ff states that the bewildered crowd was able to hear the Galileans praise God in their own languages. But the tongues that were spoken by members of the Corinthian church were unintelligible to both speakers (14:14) and hearers (14:16) and required Spirit-enabled interpretation. This phenomenon is arguably similar to that which is found in some contemporary churches.

Tongues can be seen as a type of prayer for Paul says that the person who prays in tongues addresses God (1 Cor 14:2, 14). In 1 Corinthians, Paul asserts that when used in private devotions this gift can edify the believer. He explains further that with interpretation tongues can edify the whole church, and in this sense must be deemed as valuable as prophecy (1 Cor 14:5). Paul therefore urges his readers who have the gift of tongues to also pray for the ability to interpret (1 Cor 14:13). The apostle affirms the gift of tongues and even boasts that he uses this gift more than the Corinthian Christians (14:18). He teaches that the ability to speak in tongues is a gift that the Holy Spirit bestows upon Christians. This gift is to be received with gratitude and exercised for personal edification as well as that of the community of believers.  

Some Christians think that speaking in tongues is a higher form of prayer. Such a view must be rejected. In 14:14-15 Paul emphasizes that praying with the mind (i.e., praying intelligibly with one’s understanding) is just as important as praying in the spirit (i.e., praying ecstatically in tongues). The context of 1 Corinthians 12-14 also suggests that some believers in the church at Corinth had elevated the gift of tongues above the other gifts. In this letter, Paul takes great pains to refute this teaching. In verse 28, Paul delineates the various gifts of the Spirit in a hierarchy (indicated by his use of ‘first, second, third’, etc) and places the gift of tongues at the very bottom of the list. Furthermore, Paul rejects the view of some believers in Corinth that only truly spiritual believers could speak in tongues (12:29).

Some Christians (Pentecostals and some charismatics) have associated the ability to speak in tongues with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I hope address this topic in another article. The question that I wish to deal with in the final few sentences of the present article is whether Paul had expected every Christian to speak in tongues. Paul certainly desired that every Corinthian Christian would speak in tongues (14:5). But as the rhetorical questions in 12:29-30 make clear Paul did not expect every Christian to possess this gift. This is perfectly congruent with Paul’s insistence that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed according to the sovereign will of God.

Let me end by underscoring Paul’s closing remarks on this topic found in 1 Corinthians 14:39-40. Because tongues-speech is controversial and problematic, there is a tendency for some to prohibit it altogether. Paul’s response is unequivocal: ‘do not forbid speaking in tongues’ (v. 39b). How can the church prohibit what God by his grace wishes to grant? But tongues-speech must be regulated and practiced in a ‘fitting and orderly way’ because God is not a God of disorder (14:33).  In dealing with this controversial practice, Paul counseled propriety, not prohibition.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was published in The Bible Speaks Today (June 2014).