Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:5a “. . .one Lord, . . .”
The earliest basic Christian confession was, “Jesus is Lord.” Without Christ, there is no Christianity. Christ is Christianity, Christianity is Christ. Christianity is not a body of teachings or a collection of philosophies. It is the Lord Himself and our relationship to Him.
The word “Lord” bespoke a master who owned slaves, served as the official term of reverence when speaking of the Roman Emperor, identified a teacher who had disciples, and was substituted over 5000 times for the name of YHWH in the Greek Old Testament. These four uses of the term “Lord” affected our primitive confession.
We are servants of one Master. Jesus bought us with His own blood. We no longer belong to ourselves. Jesus owns us. He is not only the Savior through whom we are saved, but also the Lord to whom we submit. We are not our own masters. All believers pledge allegiance, “Jesus is Lord.”
Since Jesus is Lord, and we serve only “one Lord,” no one else can be our master. Thus, we declined to say, even only once a year, “Caesar is Lord.” For this refusal, many of our forbears shed their lifeblood. We must confess, though Rome was a conquering, totalitarian regime, it was extremely tolerant of the divergent faiths which came under its far-flung umbrella.
To honor all the gods worshipped throughout the Roman Empire, Hadrian built the Pantheon, one of the most beautiful buildings ever devised by man. Every known god was given a niche in the edifice, but Christians, who serve a God invisible and spiritual, had no idols to contribute to the Pantheon. We would not have our Jesus’ name mentioned in the same breath, or a likeness of His image be seen in the same glance, with Jupiter, Venus, and others. Christians acknowledge only “one Lord.” Jesus is Lord.
Since Jesus is Lord, believers accept Him as the ultimate teacher, the final spiritual authority. Understood aright, Christianity is the most tolerant and intolerant of all faiths. We are to be tolerant, in that our belief must be forced on no one. Servants under a Master can certainly make no claim to be masters over any one else. Jesus, not His servants, is Lord.
Christians are to be intolerant. We do not force others to give up their faith, but we deem them wrong. Comparative religion classes often imply one religion is as good as the others. This is true of all faiths but one. All the others are on equal footing, but Jesus stands alone. We need to learn about other religions, but we do not need to learn from them, for in Jesus “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (CL 2:3). Jesus, our “one Lord,” is a Master-teacher who needs no assistant.
When Paul and other early Jewish believers called Jesus “Lord,” they knew exactly what implication would be drawn from their claim. Lord was a title the Jews reserved for YHWH Himself. For fear of mentioning the holy name of God, the Jews had substituted for it the word “Lord” in their Greek translation of the Old Testament. For a Jew to call Jesus “Lord” was tantamount to calling Him God. Jesus is God incarnate. There had never been anyone else like Him, and there never will be. He stands alone.
Eph. 4:5b “. . .one faith,. . .”
We respond to “one Lord” with “one faith.” Believers share this in common: we have all completely surrendered our lives to Jesus, thereby expressing our own weakness and our total trust in His strength. Paul says nothing here about works or deeds of merit. Faith, the outgoing of one’s whole self toward Christ, is the one and only means of contact with Jesus.
Eph. 4:5c “. . .one baptism,. . .”
“One baptism” is the initial outward sign of “one faith” placed in “one Lord.” The order in our text is significant. Baptism follows faith. Baptism is not the means of salvation, but a public confession of faith. A soldier is inducted into the service only after he chooses to join. His public oath of allegiance is based on a personal decision made previously. Similarly, baptism does not save. It is rather a public disclosure of prior, private faith.
The early church knew nothing of unbaptized believers. Secret discipleship was disallowed. When baptized, we unashamedly declare we are followers of Jesus. Allegiance played an important role in Jesus’ own baptism. In submitting to immersion at the hand of John, Jesus identified Himself with a preacher scorned by the religious establishment of His day.
The Lord’s Supper, not mentioned here by Paul, is usually repeated often by each believer, but baptism, when all elements which make it valid are present, is not to be repeated. What, then, makes it valid? New Testament baptism is the immersion in water of a believer as a symbol of faith placed solely in the finished work of Christ for salvation. Analyzing the details of this definition may help us understand its meaning better.
Immersion in water is based on the fact the Greek word “baptizo” only means immersion. Sprinkling and pouring have no Biblical basis.
We are to immerse only believers, ones who on their own have made the choice to trust in Jesus. The baptism of infants is not Scriptural. The act is a conscious, volitional, outward expression of allegiance to Christ.
All who sprinkle, pour, or baptize babies admit our Baptist position on baptism is Biblically correct. They, however, have their own reasons for pressing past the Biblical precedents, and instituting their own practices.
Regarding baptism, the most intense criticism we Southern Baptists usually face is when we refuse to accept another denomination’s immersion of a believer. The reason we do this is because we believe baptism must be a symbol of faith placed solely in the finished work of Christ for salvation. The very act itself pictures the event which made salvation possible. Standing in the water, one identifies with Christ on the cross; immersion pictures the burial of Christ–the ultimate proof He actually died; coming up from the water pictures the resurrection of Christ; walking out of the water pictures the new life one has found based solely on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We do not accept the immersion of believers when this imagery is not portrayed in the baptism itself. For instance, we do not accept the immersion of believers who were baptized in churches which believe in falling from grace. Theirs is a baptism which pictures salvation as requiring works in addition to faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. In our opinion, immersion which pictures salvation based on grace plus works negates the very symbolism intended in the event.