Contrasting Gnostic Spiritual With Scriptural Spiritual

“The spiritual is that which is of or by the Spirit. It is not the same thing as spirit, which is invisible and non-physical (i.e. like “breath”). Spiritual is that which is empowered by or shaped by the Spirit. The original creation was spiritual in this way in that Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep and formed and filled the formless and empty world. The creation which comes under the effects of the curse of sin is re-created by the Spirit so that it might fulfill God’s original intentions for it as creation. So, for instance, when God promises to Abraham that in him all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen 12.3), I believe that he is promising that families as families will be brought into a state of blessedness. They will have to go through death and resurrection through the waters of baptism (cf. e.g., Rom 6.1ff.), being transformed as a families. But they will be transformed as families, fulfilling God’s intention for the family in creation. Spiritual, in my understanding, is not, then, the opposite of or to be sharply distinguished from physical or material creation. It is not that which parallels but stands outside of the physical. Rather, spiritual has to do with the Spirit empowering and shaping and transforming a very material creation.”

Bill Smith
INFANT BAPTISM, THE NEW MAN, AND THE NEW CREATION: A Response to Stephen J. Wellum’s “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ

Given Smith’s observation above we can seee that “Spiritual” in the NT does not mean ephemeral, invisible, or incorporeal. A spiritual reality is not a non-corporeal reality. Conversely, when we are told that “our weapons are not carnal” we are not being told there that our weapons are not corporeal. We are being told that our very real corporeal weapons are to be handled in a way that is in keeping with the Spirit empowering and shaping and transforming a very material instrument — whether that instrument is a protest sign or a evening gown.

“Spiritual” thus has more to do with that which animates the behavior or actions of the actor. Spiritual is the afflatus that animates the Christian in whatever they do in this corporeal world. The Christian, when animated by the Holy Spirit, so as to be walking according to God’s precepts, while full of faith in Christ, is at that moment the “Spiritual Man” — and that status of Spiritual applies whether the Christian is on their knees in prayer or in a foxhole fighting God’s enemies.

That “Spiritual” has to do more with the divine afflatus that animates us then it has to do with some kind of gnostic connection to matters non-corporeal or invisible is articulated by Sinclair Ferguson in his book on the Holy Spirit,

“Energy rather than immateriality is what is in view… While in the natural order ruach may occasionally denote a gentle breeze (as in some translations of Gn. 3:8), the dominant idea in the Old Testament is that of power. The parallelism in Micah 3:8 well illustrates this: ‘But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord.’ When used of God (around one third of the Old Testament uses), therefore, ruach does not connote the idea of divine immateriality (spirit, not matter), although doubtless that is implied in the general biblical perspective. The emphasis is, rather, on his overwhelming energy; indeed one might almost speak about the violence of God.” (Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

The attempt to make “Spiritual” mean something pietistic so that we are passive or so as to support a quietistic disposition in the Christian life, or something disconnected from our daily living in the public square has been one of the most successful tools at castrating the modern Christian. It’s time we started re-thinking this idea of “Spiritual” so as to be better equipped for the times God has given us.

Bavinck And McAtee on Grace Restoring Nature

“Because the gospel is concerned exclusively w/ liberation from sin, it leaves all natural institutions intact. It is in principle opposed to all socialism, communism and anarchism, since these never oppose only sin, but identify (through the denial of the Fall) sin w/ nature, unrighteousness w/ the very institution of family, state and society, and thus creation w/ the Fall. For the same reason the Gospel is averse to revolution of any kind, which arises out of the principle of unbelief, since such revolution, in its overthrowing of the existing order, makes no distinction between nature and sin, and eradicates the good together w/ the bad. The gospel, by contrast, always proceeds reformationally. The gospel itself brings about the greatest reformation, because it brings liberation from guilt, renews the heart, and thus in principle restores the right relation of man to God.”

Herman Bavinck — 1854 – 1921
Dutch Reformed Theologian

The Kingdom of God as it expresses itself in creation does not work to the end of changing the creation realm into a grace realm. What Grace does do is that it restores nature. The Kingdom of God has the effect on the creation realm much like the effect a poultice has on drawing the poison from a snake bite.

The creation, with the fall, has been snake bitten so that it is a present wicked age. What the Kingdom of God does upon the creational realm is that it sucks the poison of sin out of the Creation realm so that the creation realm is restored to what its original intent was so that this present wicked age is healed by the poultice power that is “the age to come” as expressed by the Kingdom of God at it works as leaven in restoring nature.

This is the difference between the work of the Kingdom of God upon the creational realm and the work of the Kingdom of man as it seeks to create Utopia in creation. The Kingdom of man identifies creation with the fall and so in order to restore creation it seeks to destroy creation thinking that creation can be regenerated out of destruction and chaos. As such kingdom of man type movements like Communism, Anarchism, and Socialism in its variant forms, seek to destroy family, destroy the Church and destroy the State so that out of the ashes a new order may arise Phoenix like. Again, they do this because they identify nature with the fall. To the contrary the Kingdom of God does not identify creation with the fall and the effect of the Kingdom of God upon creation, as we noted above, is to suck the poison of the fall out of creation so that creation reflects the beauty it was intended to reflect.

Recapitulation In Matthew & Baptism Insights

The Gospel of Matthew gives us a great deal of recapitulation of the OT wherein Jesus is the Faithful Israel that answers to unfaithful OT Israel. One such example is the Baptism of our Lord Christ.

Just as Israel was led by Moses and had to go through the water at the Exodus to enter the the promised land, and just as the second generation had to do the same thing at the Jordan River under Joshua’s leadership, as a miniature second exodus, so again, now that Israel’s restoration is imminent, as led by one who is greater than both Moses and Joshua, true Israelites must again identify with the water and their anti-type prophetic leader in order to begin to experience true restoration and entry into the new creation.

And so, like Moses and Joshua, Jesus and His people are Baptized as on the cusp of entry into a new Kingdom.

Of course this has implications for the Church. Clearly Moses and Joshua and God’s people with them, were not immersed in their Baptism but rather they went through the water without going under the water. This would give strong circumstantial evidence that Jesus Himself was not immersed but as a true Israel passing through the Red Sea and later the Jordan was sprinkled. If this continuity holds this means that immersion is not Biblical as a mode of Baptism.

Another implication, if this observation about recapitulation is true, would be that Adult only Baptism (as practiced by Anabaptists) is also not Biblical. As infants and children were participants in those OT Baptisms of Moses and Joshua, together with all of God’s people, so this would mean that infants and children today should be identified with the Baptism of Christ just by virtue of belonging to covenant member parents.