And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38, KJV)
I never paid much attention to Acts 8 until I was preparing to be baptized in Jesus’ Name. This was many years back, when I was hook, line, and sinker figuring out my way as a Oneness Pentecostal. They wanted me to focus on the fact that the eunuch was baptized in Jesus’ Name (which I noticed, of course), but there was another part of that passage that jumped out at me, and still remains with me today: What doth hinder me to be baptized? In other words, what is stopping – hindering or blocking – me from being baptized? His point was clear: he wanted to be baptized, he wanted to be baptized now, and was there any reason why that couldn’t happen? He was ready to be baptized and there was nothing that he desired to stop, nor stand, in his way.
We hear this passage invoked as a criticism against new believers classes, when someone wants to be baptized, but has to go through a twelve-week class before baptism can happen. Yeah, it can apply in that way, although I think there’s nothing wrong with new believers classes before or after baptism, as it deemed appropriate by the circumstances. I think there is something more relevant that we need to hear in this passage, however, and that is the question and its answer, What doth hinder me? The answer to the question was, nothing hinders you. There was water, there was a willing individual to do the baptism, and there was an individual who was prepared to be baptized. He knew enough of Christ to embrace the idea of being buried with Him and risen again with Him. There was absolutely no good reason why the Eunuch should not be baptized, so he was baptized.
The reality, however, is that Philip the evangelist could have hindered him…had he desired to. He didn’t…but he could have been a hinderance.
Let’s imagine the story if Philip had decided to be a problem. “Look, here’s water! Look, let’s get this show on the road! I want to be baptized!” And instead of doing the baptism, Philip responded like this, instead:
“Are you a member of a church?”
“Well, you don’t go to my church, so I can’t be sure of your beliefs.”
“I’m not used to baptizing in this river. We’ll have to wait until we can do it somewhere else.”
“I don’t like doing baptisms outside.”
“You’re not using the King James Version of the Bible.”
“What is your doctrine on baptism?”
“Have you been baptized before?”
“You didn’t take our church membership classes.”
“Are you gay?”
“What sins have you committed lately?”
We can laugh as we look down this list, but there are an awful lot of ways that Philip could have hindered the eunuch’s baptism into the Kingdom. There are any number of ways that had Philip wanted to make this about himself, distract from the issue at hand, or exercise ungodly power and control, that he could have “doth hindered” the baptism of the eunuch.
Let’s take this out of the context of baptism now, for a few minutes. There are an awful lot of ways that we act as hindrances toward others who desire to come into the Kingdom. We get so wrapped up in our concepts, our traditions, our rules and regulations, that we avoid the real issue at hand – someone is before us and wants to be a believer. They want to get this right, for themselves, with God. No, it’s not going to happen all at once, but we find a million reasons why they shouldn’t even start. We tell them they can’t do this, or that, because of this, or that. We make sure they know just how opposed we are to them, and whatever it is about them that bothers us. Jesus says He’s the open gate, and that He stands at the door, and knocks, and instead of opening it up to others, we slam it shut, making sure that there is no way someone can enter the Kingdom on our watch.
Does this sound right? It shouldn’t, but it’s all too common. Most of the time, it’s not lack of access, interest, or desire that keeps people out of the Kingdom – it’s those who appoint themselves as personalized gatekeepers, as the official door slammers of the church who make sure no one comes and finds their way in if there is something about that person that the door slammer finds offensive.
About four years ago, I was working with another local minister to try and establish a church in the area where I lived at the time. It was a great challenge, as we found many people on both sides of our groups that were uninterested in attending services, for one reason, or another. There was a family I’d met in the area, a woman who had a daughter and a son, and the woman’s mother, who was very drawn and interested in working with me, for whatever her reason. She’d had a long history of floating from church to church and of power and control struggles therein, and at the time, we were so looking for members, I didn’t think that maybe I should sit down and talk to her about what joining the church would mean, beforehand. They’d come, entire family (husband, mother, woman, and kids, included), and seemed real excited about what we were doing. Then they didn’t return for several weeks, and I got an inbox, full of complaints. Apparently, they weren’t quite as happy with the church as they’d indicated. One of the primary issues she raised was that she felt there was a specific “spirit” (what she raised is not in any way a spirit) on the men present in the church, and that she wasn’t “comfortable” with it. She then went on to tell me that when that “spirit” is present, there is nothing that can be done about it, and it just has to rest there, and will eventually lead to everyone’s spiritual destruction.
I was livid with her for two reasons. The first was that she wasn’t honest and upfront enough to say anything to anyone’s face about this. The second reason was because she seemed so comfortable with the idea of damning everyone she felt was unsalvageable, instead of praying for them, believing God, introducing them to some teaching, or doing something to work with those she felt had a “spirit.” She felt, in her opinion, that for people who had the “spirit” she perceived to be over those individuals, they were done for and that they needed the door slammed, right in their faces.
She was so busy declaring them to be beyond salvation that she didn’t realize she, herself, had become the hindrance. It wasn’t that they couldn’t be saved or weren’t saved, it was that she decided they weren’t and couldn’t be and that meant it was the end of the discussion, in totality, for her. They wanted to be saved, they wanted to learn the Scriptures, they wanted to know God for themselves, the water was there, and when the question “What doth hinder me?” came up, the answer…was her.
I’m not one who believes that when the last day comes, everyone is going to make it into the presence of God without any consequence for sin. I don’t believe God forces us to be saved, and if we do not want to remain in His presence forever, He is not going to force us. But there are many out there in the valley of decision, on the ledge, not one way or the other, uncertain, who are finding themselves shoved off unto the other side because there is something about them that others deem about them as undesirable.
The eunuch had a lot of things not going for him, especially in light of the way we view individuals today. He’d been sexually castrated, he was not considered “a proper man” by modern standards, he held a certain realm of political status (well, not all would find that a negative, but anyhow), he required individual instruction, and he lived in Ethiopia, so it wasn’t like he could join Philip’s church in the next town over. Whatever the eunuch did after his baptism was between him and God, because Philip didn’t have the ability to assess and control everything he did after that moment. The odds are good, he probably never even saw him again. But Philip recognized an important precept: he didn’t want to be a hinderance to the man’s salvation, nor his relationship and experience with God. He wanted to make sure that whatever chance that man had at finding God, he supported it.
Whenever we talk about throwing off hinderances that block our salvation, we always think of things that hold us back, are negative or cumbersome, or that impact our relationship with God in a negative way. Hinderances are far more than just things we don’t want to deal with. Anything that keeps us from God can be a hinderance, and most relevantly, we, ourselves can be a hinderance. We can hinder ourselves and others, and we can keep ourselves and others from the fullness of the Kingdom.
Instead of making stumbling blocks, let’s make roads. Let’s make connections. Let’s make sure that when others are seeking God, and they do so through us, we give them every opportunity to be successful and to find what they are looking for. I know that when I stand before God, I don’t want the answer to “What doth hinder me” to in any way, shape, or form, be me…based on what I did or didn’t do for someone else…and I am sure you don’t, either.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2a (NIV)