In this 29th installment of our series “Is Christianity True?” we transition to a place from which we view this question at a very different angle. When one comes to believe and wholeheartedly embraces the apostles’ testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ one must ask the question asked by Peter’s audience on the day of Pentecost: “Brothers, what shall we do?” Theoretically, one could come to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead but retain the same way of life as before. But Peter’s listeners realized that God’s act of raising Jesus placed them at a crossroads of decision, because they had cooperated with their leaders in handing Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified. Peter replied to their plea, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Hence, according to Peter, coming to believe the apostolic testimony to Jesus demands a decisive act of will, that is, to repent and submit to baptism. Repentance is a change of mind and direction. It renounces the past and turns toward a new way of life. In submitting to baptism we admit that we cannot wash away our guilt by ourselves. Only God can forgive sins. In baptism in Jesus’ name we submit to God and trust him to wash away our sins. Just as water washes away dirt from the body, the Holy Spirit washes away guilt from the soul. In baptism we see three actors, a repentant sinner asks for the washing, the baptizer (or the church), who represents Jesus, and the Spirit. In baptism, the Spirit comes to stay and empowers the life that flows out of faith, repentance, and baptism. Apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit, repentance is just a fickle human resolution and baptism is just a bath. But because of the grace of the Spirit we can mark the event of our baptism as the beginning of a new life. And that new life is accompanied by a new community and a new ethics. Consider the Acts of Apostles’ description of the new community that resulted from Pentecost:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
Though these verses do not provide a complete theology of the Christian life, they do picture the transition into new community and a new way of life. (1) As verse 42 makes clear, this community devoted itself to learning from the apostles. What did the apostles teach them? Surely they taught them the full story of Jesus and everything Jesus taught. They taught them about the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. (2) They devoted themselves also to fellowship or koinonia with fellow believers. They wanted to be together to share in this new life. Christianity is not a personal philosophy one can adopt individualistically. It is a comprehensive way of living, and hence, since human beings cannot live a full life alone, it takes shape in a community that corresponds to its vision of life. (3) They broke bread together; that is, they shared meals together, which most likely were modeled after the supper of the Lord. They would have begun by breaking and sharing bread and ended by drinking the cup of wine. The meal reminded them of the new covenant in the body and blood of Jesus and of the great banquet in the coming kingdom of God. (4) They prayed. This community lives in the presence of God and relies on the love of God, the grace of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit.
How does the question “Is Christianity true?” look after the transition into the community of faith though repentance and baptism? First, there is still much to learn. Those first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” There are many questions to ask about doctrine and ethics. Misunderstandings are common. Debates occurred and continue to occur among Christians about the proper church order, the exact nature of the atonement, predestination, the sacraments, and many others. But perfect understanding is not necessary before one begins the Christian life. And second, Christians find themselves questioned by outsiders, by atheists, by adherents of other religions, by deists, by adherents of heresies, by pantheists, by critics of miracles, by doubters, and skeptics, and many more. We are challenged on hundreds of points concerning the historical accuracy, philosophical cogency, and ethical acceptability of the Bible’s teaching. And the problem of evil is always on the lips of the outside objector. Nevertheless, since we have already accepted and wholeheartedly embraced the resurrection faith and the authority of the apostles for explaining the meaning of that faith and since we have experienced the grace of God and power of the Spirit and entered into the life of the community, we need not be disturbed by these questions and challenges as if one of these objections might destroy our faith in Jesus Christ. Since we made a reasonable judgment and a responsible decision to become Christians, we need not feel jerked around by every objection. And we are not waiting for a solution to all these problems before we can live our Christian lives with confidence.