What is the practical meaning of “calling on the name of the Lord” in Acts 2:21?
I wanted to see if you could please help me with Acts 2:21 “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” I am studying with a friend who believes in Romans 10:9-10, Acts 16:31 and Acts 2:21 to be saved. It is my understanding that in the first century the disciples taught that when a person “called on the name of the Lord”, it was done at baptism? Is there more than one meaning for – calling on the name of the Lord?
I am afraid that your friend is guilty of proof-texting. I only hope that you and I are not guilty of the same thing, except in other areas.
What your friend should be doing is asking what the biblical definition of “calling on the name of the Lord” is. He can do this by looking at all the passages that discuss this. It is rather obvious that he is not doing this as he is not taking into account 2 Timothy 2:19, which goes against his teaching. It says that all those who call on the name of the Lord must turn from wickedness. Apparently, from this passage, supposed calling on the name of the Lord which does not also include repentance is not biblical calling on the name of the Lord. There is another passage he is quite obviously ignoring, which is Acts 22:16 in which Ananias tells Paul that in the act of baptism he is calling on the name of the Lord. As far as I know, this is the only passage which gives a clear definition of what act is equivalent to calling on the name of the Lord. I see no examples of someone calling on the name of the Lord by saying a prayer–which is the most common interpretation of American evangelicals.
After looking at all passages specifically about calling on the name of the Lord, what your friend should do is look at all passages which talk about how and when one is saved from one’s sins. We cannot use one passage to disprove another. If someone wants to prove that all that is needed is some sort of prayer to call on the name of the Lord and that is all which is required, then that person must ignore a lot of passages that talk about how and when we receive forgiveness. For example, in your friend’s proof-text from Acts 16:31, when people are asked what to do to be saved, they were immediately baptized. Obviously the response to the question of what to do to be saved included baptism.
In the end, if one asks with an open mind what it means, biblically, to call on the name of the Lord, then one will conclude that this calling on the name of the Lord includes repentance and it is culminated and completed at baptism. When are we included in Christ? The Bible says that we are baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:26-26, Romans 6:3). There is no passage that teaches we get into Christ by saying some sort of prayer in which we call on the name of the Lord. There is no biblical statement supporting this belief and there is no biblical example supporting this belief.
There are two possibilities with regard to your friend. Either he/she is not very knowledgeable of the scripture and is simply parroting what was heard from others, or your friend is quite knowledgeable but is, for whatever reason, reading with bias into the text and using a proof-text approach rather than honestly approaching the scripture. I hope that it is the first option.