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To what does the "one baptism" refer in Ephesians 4.5? Is it the baptism of water or the Spirit?

It is the judgment of the writer that the "one baptism" in Ephesians 4 refers to water baptism for the following reasons. Such an interpretation is more in keeping with the context because the Spirit has already been mentioned in v.4. To view the one baptism of v.5 as the baptism in the Spirit seems out of place in v.5, for it is a positional collective truth and not a practical or individual truth. Therefore, in the first three aspects of the sevenfold unity we have a sphere of reality: one body, one Spirit, one hope. These have to do with doctrine. In the next three we have a sphere of responsibility: one Lord, one faith, one baptism. These three have to do with what is practical, the obedience of the believer. One Lord to bow to, one faith (the body of revealed truth) to maintain and one baptism to practise. In no way is it the responsibility of the believer to receive the baptism in the Spirit, for all believers have already by Christ been baptised into one Spirit (1 Cor 12.13). We are never exhorted in the New Testament to be baptised in the Spirit as if it were an essential after-conversion experience, but we are exhorted, yea commanded, to submit to water baptism. Finally, we have the sphere of relationship, "one God and Father of all". The order, then, of this sevenfold unity demands that the "one baptism" is water baptism.

To interpret the one baptism in Ephesians 4.5 as water baptism is more in keeping with the background of the epistle. When Paul arrived at Ephesus he met disciples who only knew the baptism of John. These were baptised again in association with the Lord Jesus (Acts 19.5). Thus, at Ephesus there had been a rival water baptism of John the Baptist. John’s baptism compared to Christian baptism was elementary, preparatory and national (Acts 13.24). His ministry was to Israel, but his baptism at Ephesus was superseded by Christian baptism. With this fact we understand the force of the "one baptism" in Ephesians 4.5. It is a water baptism that has now no connection with John’s baptism or any other baptism practised today, even infant or household baptism.

John J Stubbs

Looking around when few unsaved come to assembly gospel meetings, we see that the introduction of something "extra" seems to bring in the crowds. Music, drama, a less formal atmosphere or "bridge-building" events all seem to help to this end. I have always resisted thinking along these lines, but how far can we go to attract people in to hear the gospel?

It must be acknowledged that there is no "chapter and verse" to which one might turn to substantiate the holding of a weekly gospel meeting as has been traditionally practised by assemblies of the Lord’s people. However, Paul does envisage the possibility of unbelievers coming in among the people of God as gathered together: "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place...and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers" (1 Cor 14.23). No doubt, opportunity would have been taken to proclaim the glad tidings.

The questioner mentions "music". There is no Scriptural support for musical instruments to be used in the gatherings of the Lord’s people. Some have suggested that the word "sing" in 1 Corinthians 14.15 implies accompaniment with instrumental music. However, the Greek word is psallo which, according to W E Vine, means "primarily to twitch, twang, then to play a stringed instrument with the fingers"; it "denotes in the New Testament to sing a hymn, sing praise". The context of 1 Corinthians 14.15 rules out any thought of a musical instrument, for Paul says, "I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also". Neither of these qualities is likely to be found in a stringed, wind or percussion instrument!

As to "drama", we should remember that it is not our commission to entertain sinners; to seek to attract people into meetings by advertising such is to attempt to accomplish spiritual results by soulish means. There is reference in the question to "a less formal atmosphere"; as we preach the gospel we are dealing with serious issues relating to life and death, heaven and hell. There needs to be an atmosphere that is conducive to the operation of the Holy Spirit bringing the Word of God to bear upon the conscience.

As to "bridge-building" events, these really have no place. We should as individuals be "building bridges" with neighbours and work colleagues by winning over their confidence and living the Christian life before them so that they will desire to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ who is so precious to ourselves.

God will still save men by the faithful preaching of the gospel, but let it be the gospel in all its purity and power, without any added attractions. If no unbelievers are attending such gospel meetings, then a different form of outreach should be considered.

David E West


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