Becoming a Christian on one’s own terms

Before leaving, Jesus instructed His disciples to preach the gospel to all nations. This did not mean that everyone would believe. Some would believe, but others would not believe. The prerogative was left at a person’s own determinism. The gospel had to be exactly the one that Jesus had advanced. Those who would believe would be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

The four gospel Books contain the entire gospel. The distribution of the Bible has successfully been done to all corners of the earth. Although there are reported areas where the Bible is not allowed. But, thank God, the internet has made it possible for anyone, from whichever part of the world, to access the Bible.

Humanly speaking, there is confusion in Christianity, making it almost impossible for anyone to be directed to the correct terminal, representing Jesus. However, even though the preaching of the gospel was left in the hands of the disciples, there is a component of the Holy Spirit. The deception in Christianity can be appalling. But the Holy Spirit makes it possible to reach the unreachable.

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way, he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:26-31 NIV).

The servant of God, Philip, had no plan to access a new convert, to discuss Biblical matters. His day may have been planned for other things. But he was visited by an Angel that came instructing him to travel to Gaza. The Ethiopian eunuch had been working on his own, trying to figure out the meaning of some prophecy about Jesus.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation, he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33 NIV).

The role of Philip came in handy, to help the eunuch appreciate that the prophecy had been fulfilled in Jesus. But this did not mean that the eunuch had to base his faith on Philip who facilitated his understanding. The relationship between Philip and the eunuch came to an end, immediately after the eunuch had been baptized.

As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again but went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39 NIV).

After baptism, it was no longer necessary for anyone to visit the eunuch. The Spirit would provide further details on matters of understanding. This passage serves to clarify everything about Christianity. This idea of pontificating over other people is foreign. Paul may have introduced it, but it was not captured from Christ’s teachings.

To start with, we have to understand Paul’s background. He had not been included among those apostles who directly interacted with Jesus. The four gospel books had not yet been produced, for Paul to browse through the messages of Jesus. There was nothing else to fall back on, for Paul, except to rely on the Holy Spirit.

Of course, some people can strongly argue that everything said by Paul should be taken as true, as Paul was authenticated by Jesus. That argument loses its value when appreciating that there is only one name under the sun, through which we are served. There are many things that can be learnt from Paul, but only as agreeing with Jesus.

The Holy Spirit remains responsible for directing those having accepted baptism. The apostles were necessary as conveyers of what Jesus taught. The Evangelist preaches the gospel. This means introducing the services of Jesus, letting the person know that everything said by Jesus is true.

When the person believes, he gets baptized, for the purpose of receiving the Holy Spirit. What the person does, after baptism, has nothing to do with the person who baptized him. The Spirit would have taken over. The biggest challenge in modern Christianity is false teaching. Thousands of denominations profess representing truth, better than others.

Basically, most of them would baptize in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Instead of highlighting the significance of that reality, the doctrine of Trinity is highlighted. Church leaders are given significance, to represent the authority of the Trinity.

This is notwithstanding that this would be a departure from God’s word. The congregational Churches adopt organizational structures from Paul’s teachings. The other disciples did not adopt organizational structures. Rightly so, because Jesus had specifically told them not to occupy leadership positions. The Holy Spirit was to lead individual members.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:8-12 NIV).

Obviously, the apostle Paul did not have the privilege of accessing what Jesus said in the above Scripture. But the apostle Paul cannot be blamed for misleading people. True Christians know that there is no other source of information, except as extracted directly from Jesus.

The extensive writings of Paul were directed to groupings who also had not had the privilege of hearing Jesus. They could not compare the messages of Paul with what Jesus taught. But Paul contended with people who had failed to understand Christianity according to Christ’s teachings.

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.  My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-17 NIV).

In this passage, Paul clears himself of any possible accusation from those attempting to blame him for misleading Christians.  A clear distinction is that Jesus is THE authority. Paul faced a similar experience, at Lystra, from those with the proclivity for idolatry.

“When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas, they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” (Acts 14:11-15 NIV).

Those who base their understanding of Scriptures on Paul’s teachings are not different from the people of Lystra. Whatever the reason, given for doing so, those people are gripped in idolatry, whether realizing it or not. Paul should not be regarded as different from any of us.

If Paul’s works were accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit, any person, with the Holy Spirit can equally do so. This idea of idolizing or invalidating personalities is not from God. As humans, Christians are on equal status, according to the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 23:8-12).

The possible reason why the other apostles did not encounter the challenge of disciple followership, could be avoiding Paul’s organizational philosophy. Peter and the other apostles, simply preached the gospel. Baptized in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Due to there being no written Scriptures about Christianity, the early apostles may have played a referral role. But not as authoritarian leaders.

Any person who helps a convert to access Christianity, ought to baptize the convert. There is nothing esoteric about baptizing. Paul clearly stated that he did not baptize many people, but a few. Paul is viewed as having been authoritative. But who did he authorize to baptize, if baptism is anything that requires authoritative consideration?

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Corinthians 1:13-17 NIV).

Christians should never entertain the idea of authoritarianism having any basis, in Christianity. Quoting Paul’s opinions should not be taken as authenticating Paul’s authority. Even Peter, on whose understanding, Jesus said would build His Church, should not be regarded as an authority. The basis of Christianity is the Holy Spirit.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:15-21 NIV).

Nothing can be as mischievous as attempting to superintend over someone who has received the Holy Spirit. That would be similar to attempting to superintend over Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, we have to take comfort in that the Love of God endures forever. What is most important is what one does, after hearing these words.

Allowing the Holy Spirit to take over and guide the convert would be the most basic, but ideal thing to do. The idea of Christianity is personal. What one does with the communication from the Holy Spirit is between that person and God. My hope is that this article clears all confusion, among those, all along, not clear on these matters.

Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope.

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