By Larry Ray Hafley
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The “preaching of the cross” testifies to the ugliness of sin and the beauty of forgiveness. It manifests the retribution of evil and the reward of righteousness (Acts 24:25; Rom. 2:6-11). It reveals the hatred of man and the love of God (Tit. 3:3-7). It is not an exaggeration to say that “the preaching of the cross” was prefigured in every lamb that bled from the smoking altars of Sinai unto the Lamb of God who shed his blood on Calvary’s hill. Every sin of every man, from Adam to you and me, demanded damnation and commanded the cross. The order for every offering ever made, from the sacrifices of Abel to Abraham, from Moses to Malachi, even that selfless, sacrificial surrender of the Son of God, was given by sin. The need for the cross was created by sin; the cross itself was the design of the grace of God; the message of it is love, mercy and peace. Without “the preaching of the cross,” we die in our sins, we perish. With it, by it, through it, we are saved. Truly, in the praise and prayer of that precious hymn, “Jesus, keep me near the cross.”
As noted in the first article of this series, there is a trend toward limiting “the preaching of the cross” to the death of Jesus. As I have been told, “Larry, preach the cross. It is the greatest love story ever told. Do not preach so much on baptism and the ‘right church,’ but bring people to the cross, to Christ, not to baptism. You ‘turn off’ a lot of people when you show what is wrong with the denominations. Preach more on love and grace and not so much on how ,right we are’ and how ‘wrong they are.'”
“The preaching of the cross” is too important and the issues of truth and righteousness are too valuable to waste time either to defend or offend a worthless worm like me. That is not the point or the purpose of these articles. The only thing worthy of defense is the gospel (Phil. 1:17). The power and glory, the might and majesty of the Son of God are everything.
That being understood, how, then, do we approach “the preaching of the cross” in order to avoid the reproach of men? “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Does this mean that if we fail, that if we “turn off” those who hear, that we have not followed the wisdom of the Lord’s admonition? No, keep reading, for immediately after that verse, Jesus said, “Beware of men: for they will deliver you up , . . and they will scourge you. . . . And ye shall be hated of all men . . . they (will) persecute you” (Matt. 10:17-23). Even though one may be perfectly right, he will be hated and persecuted – “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” (Matt. 10:25) Jesus was the world’s only perfect preacher, and they crucified him.
Our Lord’s life and labor, his mission and ministry, was that of repentance and redemption (Lk. 5:32; 19:10). Did he stray from that course when he reprimanded the Pharisees and told them “how wrong they were” (Matt. 15:1-14)? John the Baptist had a specific message (Jn. 1:6,7,23). Did he swerve and sway from his appointed purpose when he told Herod that it was not right for him to have his brother’s wife? John’s manner, method and message were all fairly harsh and severe (Matt. 3:1-12). Was he, therefore, unloving, untactful, rude and crude? Did he violate the terms of his prophetic purpose by his caustic condemnation of sin and sinners? Who will answer, “yes,” to the questions above?
Hence, Jesus and John spoke in a critical and condemnatory fashion, yet they did not violate the terms of their professed purpose. Both dealt with local and contemporary evils and errors, but neither violated their prophetic place. Therefore, may not gospel preachers today reveal and rebuke the doctrines and commandments of men, the trappings and traditions of denominational religion, and still be faithful to their sacred trust of preaching “Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2)? Paul answers that question like this, “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers . . . who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach. . . . This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith” (Tit. 1:9-13- NASB).
This is not a smooth transition. Nevertheless, we shall shift gears, even if we have to grind the clutch, as we consider:
What Philip Did Not Preach
“One of the seven” in Acts 6 was “Philip the evangelist.” His example, with the approval and approbation of heaven, will help us see what it means to preach the cross. In preaching the cross, did Philip preach baptism and the church, or did he limit himself to the ordeal of the cross itself and seek to lead men to a “personal relationship with Christ” rather than to an appointment in a baptistry? Let us see.
“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5). “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:35-39).
First, from the text of Acts 8:5-39, let us note what Philip did not preach:
1. That sincerity alone will save. The people of Samaria were sincere. They sincerely believed that Simon the sorcerer was “the great power of God” (vv. 9-11). Philip’s miracles and message exposed their error (v. 6). Had Philip believed that, “It does not matter how you serve Deity, just so you trust in something larger than yourself, you will be alright, ” he would never have caused the Samaritans to receive the word of God (v. 14). He would have let them alone in their sincere ignorance if he had believed that sincerity alone will save.
Further, the eunuch of Ethiopia was a sincere, Bible reading man who had travelled a great distance “to worship” (v. 27). Philip knew, from the events of Stephen (Acts 6:10-8:4), what could happen to one who would dare to declare the truth of Old Testament prophecy! He could have left the eunuch and said, “We both love Jehovah and the prophets, so why risk antagonizing this sincere, spiritually minded fellow?” Yes, he could have, but he did not. Philip knew that sincerity alone will not save, thus, he did not preach, “Come to God, whatever you conceive him to be, just so you are sincere.”
2. That Holy Spirit baptism and tongues are for everyone. Pentecostal preachers use this passage to teach that Holy Spirit baptism and tongues are for everyone, but Philip did not do so. Holy Spirit baptism is not even mentioned in the text. Even Simon saw what Pentecostal people cannot or will not see, and that is “that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given” (v. 18). Philip worked miracles, but there is no evidence that he could transfer this power unto others (vv. 14-18). The apostles could do so (v. 18; cf. Rom. 1:11). Since there are no living apostles today, there is none who can impart miraculous gifts of the Spirit. Philip did not preach what Pentecostal preachers proclaim.
3. That baptism is sprinkling or pouring. Vv. 36-39 illustrate and demonstrate the “mode” of baptism that Philip preached. (A) “They came unto a certain water.” (B) “They went down both into the water.” (C) “They (came) up out of the water.” In conjunction with the meaning of the word and the rest of the New Testament, we know that Philip did not preach that sprinkling and pouring are “ways” to baptize people. Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics and others teach that sprinkling and pouring are acceptable forms of baptism, but Philip did not.
4. That baptism is for infants. When the Samaritans believed Phillip’s preaching, “they were baptized, both men and women.” Did none of these women have babies? If so, why is the mention of infants so conspicuously absent, especially in view of the practice of Catholics and prominent Protestant religions? The Samaritans and the eunuch were baptized after, not before, they “believed.” Belief precedes baptism (Mk. 16:16). That fact alone bans and bars babes from baptism. Unlike Lutherans, Catholics and others, Philip did not preach that baptism is for infants.
5. That baptism is not a part of the gospel. Baptists have argued for years that “baptism is not a part of the gospel.” We know what Philip preached. He “preached Christ unto them” (v. 5). Did he preach that baptism is not a part of “the preaching of the cross”? To the eunuch, did he preach “unto him Jesus” and leave off baptism? No, for the very next verse says, “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” Some say, “Just preach Christ and not baptism.” Well, all that Philip had preached was “Jesus.” After hearing Jesus preached, the eunuch knew about baptism and that it was to be performed in the element of water (not the Holy Spirit) and that he needed to be baptized. How did he know all of this since he had only heard “Jesus” preached? Could it be that inherent in preaching Jesus is the preaching of baptism (cf. Lk. 24:47; Mk. 16:15,16; Acts 2:38)? At any rate, after hearing Jesus preached, the eunuch knew about baptism.
This is equivalent to a trio of cases. (A) Cornelius was to hear “words” whereby he and all his house would be saved (Acts 11:14). Peter said these “words” which were to save were “the word of the gospel” (Acts 15:7). Part of the “word of the gospel” which saved Cornelius was the command to be “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 10:48), and baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ” is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). If one preaches the cross, the gospel, he will preach faith (Acts 15:7), repentance (Acts 11:18) and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 10:48), so that people, like Cornelius can be saved “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:11).
(B) Saul was told “arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6). A truly “God sent” gospel preacher told him to “arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Later, this same Saul, also known as the apostle Paul, said he had been saved by grace, not by works, and that “the preaching of the cross” was the power of God unto salvation (1 Cor. 1:18; Rom. 1:6). Acts 22:16 was included in that “preaching of the cross” that saved him.
(C) In Acts 16:30, a jailer inquired, “What must I do to be saved?” He was told, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But he cannot believe on him of whom he has not heard, for “faith cometh by hearing” the word of God (Rom. 10: 14,17). So, in order that he might believe and be saved, “they spake unto him the word of the Lord” (Acts 16:32). What did they preach? They preached “the word of the Lord.” Someone says, “That is what you preachers in the church of Christ need to do. You need to preach ‘the word of the Lord’ and not baptism.” Well, they spoke the word of the Lord, and the very next verse says, “And he . . . was baptized.” How did the jailer learn about baptism? How did he know to be baptized at such an inconvenient hour (midnight – Acts 16:25,33). All he had heard was “the word of the Lord.” So, how did he know to be baptized? Could it be that baptism is a part of preaching “the word of the Lord”?
6. That one can do nothing to be saved. Primitive, Hardshell Baptists and other Calvinists teach that man has no part to play in his salvation, that salvation is “all of grace,” that is, unconditional. From vv. 12,36-38, it is obvious that Philip did not so teach. “Save yourselves” sounds heretical to some, but it is a part of the word of “the preaching of the cross” (Acts 2:40). “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21; Heb. 5:8,9; Rev. 22:14; Acts 10:34,35). Philip preached that men should believe and be baptized, for that is what they did when he concluded his preaching of the Christ and his cross. Should we do any less today and call it “preaching Christ”? If we leave off the command to believe and be baptized (Mk. 16:16; Acts 10:48), can we say that we are preaching Christ as Philip did?
There are things that we cannot preach if we would preach Christ. There are some items that we dare not leave out if we would preach the cross of Christ. In an attempt to appear more trusting in grace, do not be deceived by those who would, however unintentionally, water down, weaken, corrupt and pervert the gospel. One does not truly glorify the blood of Christ when he speaks against any part of the covenant which is instituted and inaugurated.
(Next week, in our fourth installment of this series, we shall consider what Philip preached as he preached the cross.)
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 12, pp. 359-360
June 18, 1992