Back to the Basic Spiritual Foundations The American Church Needs
Summary: The American Church must return to the apostolic basics: preach Christ ... call for personal repentance ... preach water baptism ... and teach the present-day importance of receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:14, 36-38 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.... [36-38, KJV] Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
•• In watching the American Church over the past 40 years, I have concluded with sadness that the apostle Peter’s foundational message is rarely preached and practiced in the churches.
•• Instead, in many churches you will find an accommodating, “seeker-sensitive,” feel-good atmosphere. Counseling has replaced repentance. “Me”-centered music has replaced genuine worship. There are seminars on money management, inner healing, and meeting your “felt needs,” but very little preaching of the Cross. Religious forms and traditions like confirmation have replaced the mighty power of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Sinners under conviction coming forth for prayer at the altars are rarely seen at the close of church services. Preservice prayer times are found in only a small fraction of the assemblies. The sick are comforted with words, but no one lays hands on them in faith and prays for divine healing. The supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are never manifested in most American churches.
•• By contrast, the apostle Peter, who had walked with Jesus and was personally trained by Him, focused in his Pentecost sermon on four simple things that brought profound results:
1) He preached Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-36), which brought his hearers under conviction and prompted them to ask, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (vs. 37, KJV).
2) He exhorted them to repent (vs. 38).
3) He exhorted them (vs. 38) to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, which name he had just revealed to them in verse 36.
4) He assured them that they, like Peter and the 120 earlier in the chapter, would receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit (vs. 38).
•• If these four basic spiritual, foundational truths are emphasized once more in the Church, revival fires can come again to America.
• Preach the Lord Jesus Christ —
•• The apostle Paul summed it up simply with his “...we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). After all, it is the “Good News” about Jesus. The central focus of the New Testament is “the gospel about Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1).
•• Preach what some have called “the foursquare gospel” — Jesus Christ as Savior, Healer, Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and Coming King.
•• And as Jesus Christ is preached, as at Pentecost, unbelievers will be led to faith in Him, will come under conviction of sin, and will ask the important question, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
•• And that leads us to Peter’s threefold prescription — repentance, water baptism, and the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
• Repentance —
•• The Bible is full of exhortations to repent before God for our sins. Yet, sadly, the word “repent” is never heard from many pulpits. Hear what the Bible says:
• John the Baptist’s main message in announcing the coming Savior was “Repent!” (Matthew 3:2).
• Fresh from His 40-day fast in the desert, Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).
• At Pentecost and thereafter, the apostle Peter preached, “Repent, then, and turn to God” (Acts 3:19).
• The writer to the Hebrews (6:1, KJV) spoke of the biblical “foundation of repentance from dead works”.
• In Revelation, the closing book of the Bible, Jesus called out five local churches by name and demanded repentance (chs. 2-3).
•• May this truth return to the pulpits and churches of our nations. May a renewed preaching of the Cross leads multitudes to repentance from dead works and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. As people hear the Gospel, come under Holy Ghost conviction, and ask, "What shall we do?", let us be courageous enough to say, "Repent!"
• Be Baptized in Water —
Romans 6:4-7 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
•• There is in water baptism a burial of what many have called the “old man of sin”. This imagery is elaborated on in vss. 6-7. Paul repeats elsewhere that we are “buried with Him [with Jesus] in baptism” (Colossians 2:12).
• This understanding of baptism as a burial of the old man helps us to understand Ananias’s charge to the newly converted Paul: “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). We know that we are cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ (Revelation 1:5, KJV). But there is something that occurs in water baptism that puts our “sins away” (vs. 16 just above).
• The Amplified Bible elaborates on this putting “away” of sin in water baptism — “Repent ... and be baptized ... for the forgiveness of and release from your sins” (Acts 2:38 Amplified).
•• It is also vitally important to notice that Peter in Acts 2:38 did not say to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Yes, Peter had specifically heard Jesus, in Matthew 28:19, speak of baptizing “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Yet we see two fascinating things about this Father-Son-Holy Spirit phrase related to water baptism:
1) it never again occurs in Scripture.
2) Neither Peter nor the other apostles are ever seen as using this quote in water baptism in the Bible.
•• The reason is that Peter (and the others) correctly understood that Jesus was saying to baptize in a “name” — the “name” of the Trinity! When Peter said in Acts 2:38 to be “baptized ... in the name of Jesus Christ”, he had just revealed that full name two verses earlier (vs. 36), when he said, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” This, to many Christians’ surprise, is the first revelation in the Bible of the full name“Lord Jesus Christ” (in any order of those three words). Check it out; go to your concordances. You will not find “Lord Jesus Christ” (in any order) in any of the four Gospels.
• Acts 2:36 and 2:38 show how Peter correctly understood Jesus’ command (Mt. 28:19) to baptize in the Trinitarian name. In verse 36 he shows how God had “made” Jesus “Lord” and “Christ”. Lordship from God the Father was conferred upon Jesus, who after His resurrection could then say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”(Matthew 28:18). Likewise, the anointing, or “Christ”,influence of the Holy Spirit was upon Jesus, reminiscent of Acts 10:38 — “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power”.
• God “made” Jesus Lord, and God “made” Jesus Christ. So when we call Him “the Lord Jesus Christ”, we are identifying the second Person of the Trinity, our Savior. But we are also identifying the fullness of the Trinity in His name (Colossians 1:19; 2:9) — the Lordship of the Father ... Jesus the Son ... the anointing or “Christ” influence of the Holy Spirit.
• Therefore, when we baptize in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are fulfilling Jesus’ command to baptize “in the name of the Father [‘Lord’] and of the Son [‘Jesus’] and of the Holy Spirit [‘Christ’]” (Mt. 28:19). I have written in greater detail on this elsewhere. That bible study may be read by clicking the blue link just above.
•• In sum, my hope and prayer is that the churches will return to Peter’s inspired apostolic exhortation and will once again be diligent to baptize new believers by full immersion in water in the Triune Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
• Be Baptized in the Holy Spirit —
•• The Church in the 21st century will never fulfill Christ’s Great Commission without the enablement that He gave His Church in the first century. That is, the mighty baptism with the Holy Spirit. Man’s best efforts and his highest wisdom will never replace the power of Pentecost. Otherwise, we will fall prey to the error of the early Galatian church — “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3)
•• The baptism with the Holy Spirit was of such basic, central, foundational importance to the early Church — and to the Church in all centuries — that Jesus forbade them to go forth in further ministry until they had received it.
Luke 24:49 “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Acts 1:4-5, 8 “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit....  you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
• And upon receiving this powerful Pentecostal baptism in Acts 2:1-4, with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, the same men who only weeks earlier had forsaken Christ and fled (Mark 14:50) now preached boldly in His name and saw thousands converted! (Acts 2:41; 4:4).
•• We Christians today need a renewed Pentecost in our lives. We will never fulfill Christ’s commission in our own strength. Like the early Church, we need to be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). We need the same Holy-Ghost power the early Christians had to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, and to cast out devils.
In my humble opinion, the Church in America has lost touch with the essentials of our faith. Messages, practices, and events that please man have often replaced the simple yet extraordinarily effective preaching of Jesus Christ in Pentecostal power.
In closing, my fellow Christians, listen once more to the heart cry of Peter's audience: "What shall we do?" In response, may we be faithful, as the apostle Peter was, to get back to the basics, back to the important spiritual foundations of...
•• preaching the Lord Jesus Christ...
•• commanding people to repent...
•• exhorting them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and...
•• urging them to receive their own personal Pentecost, the baptism with the Holy Spirit.