The Holy Spirit and the Church
It is crucially important to understand the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the church. It is clear that the church is the body of Christ (Eph 4:4; 5:23ff). She is thus the habitation of the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:22). This is why Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling” (Eph 4:4). The church is also God’s temple, as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16f). Paul was making explicit the inseparability between the church and the Holy Spirit. This truth dismisses any human right to the ownership of the church; she belongs solely to God.
By having the Holy Spirit, the church becomes a spiritual living organism that grows. Thus getting others to become the members of Christ’s body is one of the most important duties of the church. From the Bible, the way to become a member of Christ’s body is fairly simple. Acts 20:28 tells of the way – to receive the redemption by Jesus’ atoning blood.
But how exactly does the blood of Jesus redeem us? Paul says that if we are ‘in-Christ’, then the blood of Jesus will redeem us (Eph 1:7; 2:13f; Col 1:14). This ‘in-Christ’ position means that we have to be admitted into the body of Christ. How? According to Paul, baptism is the means to enter into Christ (Rom 6:3). A simple analogy can be used to make this point clearer: if we are inside a room, it must mean that we must have come in by some way. In this context the way to enter into the body of Christ is to be baptized (1 Cor 12:12f; 12:27). To be in Christ is to be in the church (cf Gal 3:27f).
To avail ourselves of the blood of Jesus in baptism, there are two key points we must bear in mind. Firstly, baptism must be in accord with the Bible. Upon reflecting on the Scriptures, we know that since there is only ‘one body’ of Christ then there can only be ‘one baptism’ (Eph 4:5). Since Paul listed it as one of the essential elements of the Christian faith, there must be something significant and unique about it to make it the one and only one way. In other words, we must act upon all aspects of the complete baptism, to make a baptism effective. These include repenting (Acts 2:38), invoking the name of Jesus (Acts 2:28; 8:16; 10:45; 19:5) and being fully immersed in living water (Col 2:12).
Secondly, the Holy Spirit must be present at the administration of the complete baptism. It is needful to examine the eternal nature of His blood, to know how Jesus saves us with it: (a) His sacrifice is one-off, which comes about by His resurrection and His appearance in the presence of God (Heb 9:24; 10:12). It is a living sacrifice. In contrast, in the OT, the slaughtered animals remained dead after their blood had atoned for the sins of God’s people. Hence the need for repeated sacrifices. (b) His sacrifice is also for all time (Heb 10:14) – once and for all (Heb 9:23-26; 10:10). By the eternal Spirit, His blood has become imperishable (1 Pet 1:18-19) and eternal (Heb 9:14). This is why the Bible describes Jesus as having obtained eternal redemption by His own blood (Heb 9:12) for those who have been called, irrespective of which point in time, to receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Heb 9:15).
The crucial question at this point is “How can we be sure that the Holy Spirit is present at baptism?” According to John, the Holy Spirit is the truth (1 Jn 5:7). And it is the Holy Spirit who baptises a person into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13), apart from its physical administration. So, before a baptist can carry out a baptism, first he himself must have obtained the truth (this is the criterion by which the apostles used to confirm the genuineness of the Holy Spirit in a person – 1 Jn 4:1ff); second he must have been baptised into the one body of Christ; and third he must have received the Holy Spirit. If he does not fulfill the above requirements, his baptism of another person is ineffective, despite performing all the aspects of the complete baptism. Simply, the Holy Spirit would not be at the baptism to avail and testify to the presence of Jesus’ atoning blood.
From the foregoing biblical facts, we see that the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the One Body of Christ (the only One Church) becomes the only source of salvation of all who come to believe in Jesus. For the divine intention of Jesus’ death, in which we participate during baptism (Rm 6:3ff), is to reconcile us to God in one body (Eph 2:16).
This claim of the One Church is neither superfluous nor, viewing from the Bible, damaging to our Christian identity or beliefs. In fact, this falls neatly into the apostolic paradigm. From the New Testament perspective, after the downpour of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, many churches were established. They were either called the church of God, the church of Christ or the church of the living God. These names were merely designations of their belonging to God. However, they were of the One Body of Christ – the members who formed these churches were baptised by agents from the apostolic line. Examples include Philip lifted by the Holy Spirit to preach to, and baptise the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8); Peter who was directed by God in a vision to preach to and baptise the first gentile group (Acts 10); and Paul who preached to Lydia (Acts 16:14ff).
Here we realise how important the role of the Holy Spirit is with the One True Church: A correctly performed baptism can wash away sin only when the Holy Spirit plays His necessary part and the Baptist himself has received the Holy Spirit and the truth, thus himself belonging to the One Body of Christ – the only True Church. ‘For in Mount Zion and Jerusalem there shall be deliverance’ (Joel 2:32) and ‘I will place salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory’ (Isa 46:13b).