Ronny H. Graham: Before Jesus Christ's ministry began, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness about repentance from sin and baptism. In Matthew 3:11, he speaks of three different types of baptism: ...
Ronny Graham, focusing on Matthew 3:11, cautions that the portion about baptizing with fire may have been inserted by translators having an agenda, observing that the other Gospels make no mention of fire. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread are associated with the covenant we made at our baptism, when we were figuratively buried and resurrected from a watery grave. The Last Day of Unleavened Bread depicts the baptism of Children of Israel into the Red Sea, at which time they watched the destruction of the emblems of their captivity as they themselves were being freed. The Earth itself went through a baptism during Creation when the land emerged from the sea. Noah witnessed a baptismal cleansing of the entire earth as he and his family were saved. At the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth there will be no more sea. The pattern of burial and rescue from a watery grave appears often in scripture, indicating that the rite of Baptism plays an enormous role in God's overall purpose.
Jesus' born-again teaching has been prone to misunderstanding since Nicodemus first heard it from Christ's own lips almost two thousand years ago. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must understand His instruction entirely from a spiritual perspective. Interpreting Jesus' symbols physically obscures necessary truths about how God sees His children and how we see ourselves.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an episode in which he was 'baptized' during Vacation Bible School, examines the correct process for baptism, leading to conversion, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, overcoming, and sanctification. Noah's rescue from the flood and the Exodus through the Red Sea are types of baptism. John the Baptizer received his understanding of the ordinance and principle of baptism from his parents, emphasizing repentance, belief, and faith, as well as keeping God's laws, bearing fruits of repentance. When God calls us, there is an irrevocable contract committing ourselves to a lifetime of overcoming, counting the cost, and forsaking all, following the example of our older brother Jesus Christ, becoming living sacrifices, totally relying on God for our strength. In the great commission to the church, Jesus commands, through His Father's direction, baptism into God's Holy Spirit. Baptism symbolizes a burial and resurrection from a grave, or the crucifixion of the old man or carnal self. After a person realizes his ways have been wrong, turning from his own ways, repenting of his sins, wanting to follow Christ, and wanting to become a child of God, he should counsel for baptism.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on Christ's teachings on the Holy Spirit, expanding into its more complex spiritual parameters. Jesus instructs about the function of the Holy Spirit to carry out God's work, including inspiring one to speak the words of God as a witness and to cast out demons and resist the power of Satan. To deliberately attribute these powers to the Devil (to call good evil), willfully denying God's power to save, constitutes blasphemy against God's Spirit—the unpardonable sin. The Spirit sets apart, inspires the preaching of the gospel, provides healing, frees from bondage, and opens the eyes to truth. It plays a major role in enabling one to become born again, motivating, inspiring, and transforming us from lowly, sinful humans to righteous children of God. Our sole means of worship must be in spirit and truth—living in the Spirit—manifesting concrete acts of service and obedience and deploying rivers of living water.
John Ritenbaugh contrasts the genuine miracle of tongues or language at the first Pentecost with the current practice in Pentecostal groups. In Acts 2, the crowd actually heard the disciples speaking in their own languages - dialects already in existence - not gibberish. The apostle Paul, chastising the spiritually immature Corinthians for the abuse of this spiritual gift, affirms that there is no reason for people to use language except to communicate intelligently. Tongues originally served as a sign for unbelievers, not as a secret "rite of passage" for the initiated. It is a mistake to equate speaking in tongues with 1) the baptism of the Holy Spirit, 2) being filled by the Spirit, 3) evidence of the fruits of the spirit, 4) evidence of faith, or 5) evidence that God is working through the speaker.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the receiving of God's Holy Spirit is not so much for our use as it is for God's use that He might carry out His creative effort in our lives. Metaphorically, the Holy Spirit can be compared to the water which the potter uses to bring the clay to the right consistency. God's Spirit brings about a transformation- turning something from a state of destruction into a state of purity. God desires to give us His Spirit and gifts in abundance, but on the condition that our motives for wanting them are unselfish. God uses His Spirit: (1) as a bridgehead through which He works His spiritual creation,(2) to empower the church, and (3) to empower us to yield to Him.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's work in Ephesus, during his third evangelist campaign, where he entered the stronghold of worship of the mythological multi-breasted goddess of fertility or providence — Diana or Artemis- whose statue supposedly had fallen from heaven by the hand of Zeus. Initially Paul had to augment the understanding of new converts to Christianity who had received the baptism of John, but who were ignorant of the function of God's Holy Spirit. For several years, Paul used the school of Tyrannus to continue his evangelistic teaching. From this venue, the precedent of anointed cloths for the healing of the sick had its origin. Paul's success at promoting the Way started to undermine the prosperity of vendors promoting the worship of Diana, leading to a riotous assembly (actually a hastily called 'union meeting') in the Temple of Diana, a tumult which the city clerk was able to diplomatically quell, giving Paul and his companions room to breathe and regroup.
John Ritenbaugh explores the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile. This event is nearly as pivotal a benchmark as the original Pentecost because the Gentiles at this point are given the same portal of salvation (repentance, belief in Christ, and receipt of God's Holy Spirit) originally offered to Israel. This portion of Acts highlights: (1) The church's initial resistance to Gentiles fellowshipping in the church, (2) God's leading the church into the right understanding of Gentile conversion, (3) God's using Peter (originally relatively rigid and unyielding in his scruples) instead of Paul (more cosmopolitan), and (4) Jerusalem's acceptance of Gentiles (originally considered ceremonially unclean from the Jewish point of view) apart from the influence of Judaism. Peter's vision about the unclean beasts is to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically rather than literally: Gentiles are not to be regarded as impure or ceremonially unclean.
John Ritenbaugh refutes the erroneous belief that glossolalia (or speaking in tongues) constitutes a sign or condition of having received God's Holy Spirit. The dramatic manifestations in Acts 2 (cloven tongues of fire, rushing wind, and the miracle of speaking and hearing extant languages and dialects) were event specific, and not to be a perennial spectacle in so-called "Tarry meetings." Adherents to the Pentecostal movement try to mimic some of the superficial surface manifestations (noise, commotion, and unintelligible gibberish) rather than follow the teaching given on that day- including repentance, unconditional surrender of our will to God, and keeping His Commandments through the power of His Holy Spirit. Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (the power to subdue our carnality and live righteously) is dependent upon repentance and baptism. The ability to speak in tongues, although a legitimate spiritual gift for a very specific purpose, is not the identifying hallmark of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that our historical and theological roots are advanced in a polished, literary, chronological narrative, perhaps designed as a trial document authored by Luke. It defends the apostle Paul and the early church, with a larger purpose of 1) augmenting or increasing the faith of the saints, setting a pattern for all future generations of the church, demonstrating its continuity with the acts of God in the Old Testament; 2) proclaiming the church's mission and message; 3) showing progress despite seemingly overwhelming opposition; 4) tracing the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles; and 5) revealing the life and organization of the church, emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the church's formation, growth, and empowerment. Peter's sermon 1) explains the scriptural and prophetic significance of the Pentecost miracle, 2) proclaims the identity, death, and resurrection of Jesus, 3) and calls for repentance, a major condition for receiving God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.