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More Questions from You: Water/Spirit Baptism, Faith in Other Countries, Dinosaurs, Mormons

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This week we are taking a break from the series on the Belgic Confession to answer more of the questions we received in the Questions from Jesus series. We should resume Belgic posts next week.

While the Questions from Jesus sermon series is over (with our “Animal Kingdom” sermon series starting this past week), there are still some questions that you sent in via the textline that I wanted to address. These concern the baptism of water and the Spirit in John 3, views of Jesus in other countries, dinosaurs, and Mormons.

Jesus said in John 3:5 (NIV), “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” A couple of weeks ago [in a sermon at Faith] we covered this during the service and it was explained about being born of the spirit, which I fully understand. Why if it says water and spirit, why is water not explained? Is not baptism of the water as important and are we not commanded to do so in obedience?

What Jesus is talking about when he mentions being born of water and the Spirit to Nicodemus in John 3 is something that Christians have discussed for a long time. There are three primary views. (1) The first is that being born of water refers to the natural birth (as we are in water in the womb) and of the Spirit is spiritual birth, so Jesus is saying we need to be born physically and born spiritually. However, the idea of being born of water referring to natural birth is not common in Bible times. (2) The second view is that Jesus refers to the need to be baptized as a Christian and also to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit to be saved. One significant issue with this view is that one can be a Christian without being baptized – for example, the criminal on the cross who believes in Jesus in Luke 19 is saved but never baptized. In addition, it is unclear if that speech about baptism would make sense to Nicodemus, the guy who Jesus was talking to in this speech; while we think of water baptism when we hear water in the church, this might not be what Nicodemus would think of (as people had not been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit yet). In addition, nowhere else in the speech to Nicodemus does Jesus talk about baptism; as the question notes, Jesus does not really explain what water birth is in the passage, only spiritual birth. (3) The third view is that “water” is a symbol and synonym for Spirit, so that Jesus is saying, “Being born of water, that is the Spirit.” This view notes that water is often a symbol for the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John and even the Old Testament, with Ezekiel 36:25-27 using water for a symbol of the word of the Spirit. Nicodemus knew the Old Testament so he would catch this reference to the Spirit as well; when Jesus says to be born of water then, he is saying that we need to have this spiritual birth.

While I think the third view (water as a symbol of the Spirit) makes the most sense here, I would still say that Christians should be baptized – just not that this text is the one that shows this. We see it in Matthew 28:19-20 when Jesus tells his disciples to baptize people and in Peter’s speech in Acts 2:38-39 when he tells people to repent and be baptized as the promise is for them and for their children.

Many countries do not believe You (Jesus) are the son of God. It is a belief they are taught from birth; they say there is too much proof for them in their own religion to believe in Christianity. What happens to all these people who may not have had a chance because of where they live and coming from different levels of education, family leadership, etc.?

Two things to remember in these sorts of discussions are the fallenness of humans and also the sovereignty of God. When we talk about humans, it is important for us to remember that each and every human is a sinner and that our default state since the sin of Adam and Eve is to reject and rebel against God. Therefore, there is no innocent person on earth; we all have sinned and reject God and desire hell unless we experience God’s grace and turn to him. In our own nature, we all suppress the truth of God. In addition, God is sovereign and does what He wills and saves whom He will save. In Acts 17:26-27, the Apostle Paul says that Godmade from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” That is, God has placed people in homes and countries according to his choosing and plan; while it might seem like an unfair advantage that some are place in Christian homes and Christian countries and others are not, it is all by grace that people are saved and by God’s power and work in their lives (and also all people placed in Christian homes are not ultimately saved). We also see God work in special ways, as right now we are hearing about people in Islamic countries who have visions of Jesus and come to faith in him. God can do things like this to save those whom he wishes; God’s grace is not bound to national borders or the culture.

In addition, there should be a practical application to this question – we need to go to all the world and tell people about Jesus, as people need to hear the gospel message (see Romans 10:14-17 which asks how people can believe if they do not hear). God can work outside of those means, but this is the normal means for people to be saved. If we would say that those who do not hear the gospel message are okay, that God will just save them if they are good — well, then we might actually be doing them a favor by not telling them the gospel. We need to see each and every person as in need of hearing the gospel message and to go or send people to reach all peoples, but also trusting that God is good, gracious, and just and will do what is right in each and every circumstance.

Please explain how dinosaurs fit into Christianity. Do we believe they are fake and that science backing it is wrong?

This is a common question in America, where we seem to have a large obsession with dinosaurs (think about how many kids have dinosaur toys — and even each dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets!). It is one of those questions that there is not a clear and direct answer for us in Scripture (we must remember that the Bible is primarily concerned with the question of how we can be saved from sin and how to live in light of it, not answering all of our questions about the world — Jesus, not dinosaurs, is the main message!). Sometimes, Christians will say that they existed before the flood but the flood wiped them out, but that would not make sense of the biblical story of the flood in which animals are saved. At times, people have claimed that the fossils are fake and plants, but that would seem to undercut any sort of scientific inquiry that we can make. Some Christians have stated that just as Adam and Eve were not created as babies (who would take care of them) but as adults, so the earth was created with the appearance of age. This is possible, but it would also seem unlikely that the appearance of age would include fossils of animals that never existed. The question remains, how do we make sense of the fossils and data we have with the Bible story?

Before discussing some different views, there are a few big picture thoughts I want to talk about. One thing that is also always important when it comes to conversations about the age of the earth is that dating measured used in science assumes a never-changing system of how things have worked on earth. Christians, however, view the Fall as having an effect on the earth, changing things in our world, and also that there is a worldwide flood, which likely also had effects on the earth and how things age. These statements are not meant to criticize science but just to make us think a little bit more about how science works. In addition, it is always good to think about what conclusions we draw from limited data; I am amazed at the knowledge we simply accept as fact based on the discovery of bones and minor pieces (this is true for other elements of archaeology). I am not saying to doubt everything, but just think about what data we have and how certain to be of our conclusions from it.

There are two major approaches to this question of dinosaurs among Christians. Some Christians would view the “days” of Genesis 1 as being either large time period (as the Bible also says a day can be like a thousand years) or more of a literary device (at times today, we talk about things back in “the day.”). A major reason for thinking of Genesis 1 as not being 24 hour solar days to these scholars is that the sun does not exist until day 4; early Jewish and Christian scholars wrestled with that fact long before science started making claims of an old earth or evolutionary origins. In these Christian views of the age of the earth, the earth might have existed and creatures may have been on it before the special creation of Adam and Eve (who did not evolve but were special creations – these Christians affirm they are historical people as the gospel is grounded on Adam’s sin in Romans 5). In which case, dinosaurs might have lived before humans and reflect elements of what the fossil records show.

The other major view of Christians is that humans existed alongside of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs would have been on the ark (though it is unclear how many species of dinosaurs that there were, and also how many different types of each animal were on the ark, for example dogs or every type of dog?), but they became extinct after the ark for some reason (of course, scientists who think the dinosaurs lived for thousands of years before humans don’t have a clear explanation for what happened to them). Some will point out the discussion of Behemoth in Job 40:15-24 as pointing to the existence of something that sounds like a dinosaur (remember, dinosaurs are a name that we have given to what we have found). There are also mentions of sea monsters and dragons that might be viewed as dinosaurs.

It is also good to put this in perspective — Christians debate and discuss what to make of dinosaurs and bones, but we agree on something that there is great data about – the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is the heart of the Bible. That is what saves us; the question of dinosaurs is interesting, but it is not the most important issue that each and every one of us must wrestle with.

What is the difference between Christian belief and Mormon belief?

The relationship between Christianity and Mormonism (Church of Latter-Day Saints) is an interesting one and one that I have thought about for a while since I have known Mormons, who are great people. Mormons will have many similarities with Christians, using many of the same words but with a different meaning. At its root, the claim of Mormonism was that Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) had lost its way and that true religion was restored in the ministry of Joseph Smith, who they view as a prophet of God that God revealed where lost writings (what is the Book of Mormon) were to be found; therefore at its core, Mormonism would say that Catholic and Protestant Christians follow a corrupted form of Jesus’s teaching. While Mormons will use the Old and New Testament, they would see the Book of Mormon as the truer guide; they do not believe that the Bible alone is the authority for Christians. Mormons do not believe in the Trinity in the way that Christians of all denominations do (they do not believe in three persons and one being), and they view of how one is saved is different – as they teach a salvation by faith and works.

When I talk about what is the dividing line between Christian groups (of various denominations) and non-Christian groups, I typically point to two things – creeds and canon. That is, do they confess the Apostles’ and Nicene creed (or if not the creed themselves, the beliefs of the creeds)? If so, then Christian, but if not, they are outside the Christian tradition. Also, do they have the same Bible that we have or is there something in addition? If there is something in addition, then this group stands outside the mainstream Christian tradition. Therefore, Mormons fall outside of the mainstream Christian tradition.

There is an important lesson I have learned as a Protestant in thinking about Mormonism as well. For some Protestants, they seem to think that the Christian church started in the 1500’s; that the true faith had been lost before the Reformation. That is similar to what Mormons would say. A better way, and the way the Reformers would have articulated, is that the church was not lost before the 1500’s but some truths had been obscured that the Reformers sought to make clear. The church has never been so corrupted that the faith was lost – as Jesus said, the gates of hell will not overtake the church.

 Questions about Bible or theology? E-mail them to Pastor Brian at Theology@wearefaith.org. You can also subscribe to get weekly e-mails with our blog posts by filling out the info on the right side.

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