What’s Your Beef with Baptism Todd?
I need to make it clear. I do not have a beef with baptism or my fellow Baptists. Even if they aren’t Calvinists. My beef is the rush to baptize people today. (the provided link was discovered by me just a few days after I wrote this article.)
As Baptists we struggle with understanding the non-Baptist perspectives. We often confuse the meaning of Roman Catholic baptism with traditional Lutheran baptism. If that isn’t bad enough, we tend to also confuse the Presbyterian views of baptism with Roman Catholic and Lutheran. Moreover, we often embrace any baptism performed by any denomination that practices baptism by immersion as being authentic.
I recently had a conversation with dear friend that was disappointed to learn about the aberrant view that the Church of Christ holds to. Yet, I know many Baptist that will embrace CofC baptisms as valid. So, all of that to say this; the variant views of baptism require that we study this topic with a desire to do baptism rightly.
Is Baptism Salvific?
If we understand baptism properly we understand it to be a command; not a mere suggestion. Peter is very clear in Acts 2 when he preaches to the masses on Pentecost. Repent and be baptized is his cry. Peter does not seem to think that baptism is a mere suggestion. Consequently, we must ask ourselves
What was Peter communicating to us. How are we to understand baptism?
Was Peter attempting to tell us that baptism is necessary for salvation? Or, was he stating something else? Obviously, there are those who hold to baptism as part of salvation.
Roman Catholics view baptism as an act where the recipient receives an infusion of the righteousness of Christ. This infusion works as a bank of righteousness that is “stored up” and used to cover the sins of the person. Eventually, the righteousness is used up and the person must start to do works of penitence to make up for their sins
In the case of the Lutheran view of baptism it does not infuse the recipient with righteousness. Instead, baptism grants new life to the recipient. In a conversation that I had with a friend that is a Lutheran pastor, (of the orthodox conservative vein.) I was told that my baptism was the beginning of my salvation. Subsequently, when I truly converted at the age of 33, I could look back on the act of being sprinkled with water as an infant as God’s working to bring me new life.
The Church of Christ view of Baptism is too confusing to address in this article. However, suffice it to say that they believe that salvation is completed in baptism and without it there is and can be no salvation. This is heresy and like the view of infused righteousness it must be rejected.
Presbyterians and Baptists and Others, O! MY!
Oddly enough, the Baptist view of baptism isn’t too far removed from the traditional or orthodox Presbyterian view of baptism. My Presbyterian brethren see baptism as bringing children into the covenant of salvation that the parents enjoy. However, they do not view baptism as salvific in a specific sense. While Presbyterians do not require a new convert that was baptized as an infant to be baptized as believer, they do not reject baptism for a new convert. Furthermore, many Presbyterian congregations will practice both covenant baptism and believer’s baptism. Trinity Presbyterian, my church home, fully embraces her faithful Reformed Baptist members and recognizes our differing views.
I would suggest that the reason this is possible is because sound Presbyterians adhere to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. When this is embraced, taught and adhered to, baptism, when viewed rightly, becomes a secondary or even tertiary matter.
Unlike many other issues that are adiaphora, baptism is not such an issue. Baptist perhaps single-handedly have both protected and bastardized baptism today. When we look across broader evangelicalism we see many so-called evangelicals that are clearly baptistic in their roots. Current Western Christian Culture (WCC) has any number of denominations that are at their core, Baptist, if for no other reason than they “practice” Believer’s Baptism and child dedication.
So, while there may be some stark doctrinal differences between The Assemblies of God and Fundamentalist Baptist, they are all “Baptist” in their approach to who is to receive baptism and when. The entire Evangelical Free denomination is baptistic at its core but not fundamentalists or AOG in their practices.
A Brief Comment on Differences
So, while the differences can be somewhat stark, those that are Baptist in practice have a core practice in common. In the case of the Reformed or Calvinistic Baptist our differences aren’t vast enough to separate from our traditional or orthodox Presbyterian brothers. In fact, Calvinistic Baptist tend to have far more in common with Presbyterians than they do Fundamentalists Baptist. The Fundamentalists in our midst won’t like this, but they are far more in line with traditional AOG theology than they are with ancient Baptist. The ancient Baptist were almost without fail Calvinistic before that was even a thing.
So, what is the Point of this Article on Baptism Todd?
A while back I spoke about baptism and what I see is a great weakness of WCC in how we view baptism today. It is my conjecture that while God clearly views baptism as vitally important, we; as with almost everything that we do in WCC, have missed the boat.
Ancient baptism was a very public identification with Christ. It was a milestone if you will. Men and women were leaving their old religious practices for a new way of life and this was marked with an announcement to the watching world that they were different. They were bearing witness to being followers of the Way.
This announcement was marked first with a very public proclamation of Jesus as Lord over Caesar and as Savior. This was often a rejection of both Judaism and Roman rule and all other religions at the same time. This Romans 10 announcement marked the person as both a blasphemer (according to Judaism) but also a traitor to Rome. This often meant the death sentence for the one doing so.
Following this very public announcement of Christ as Lord and Savior by the convert they would then be baptized publicly. In the early days of the Church this meant at a local gathering place where there was sufficient water to immerse the individual. This would be a second identification with Christ and further work to inflame any of those who were not of Christian faith. Moreover, the ramifications were often well understood long before the public confession and baptism ever took place.
Paul and Witnessing
Consider Paul. He had personally seen to the persecution of the ancient Church. He was directly responsible for the martyrdom of Stephen. Make no mistake, Stephen was not just wandering by the synagogue the day of his martyrdom. (By the way, the Greek word translated witness in the NT is martureo, which is where we get our word martyr.) Stephen had already publicly announced Christ as Lord and Savior. It was this action that got him hauled before the counsel.
So, to answer the question, what is the point? Baptism, for those of us with baptistic roots here in WCC has become too easy. It looks nothing like what the ancient Church understood baptism to be. Baptism used to be costly.
Baptism Was Once Costly, Now it is Just Comfy…
As I already laid out, baptism was often the death sentence for early Christians. Today, baptism has become all-together different. We have turned baptism into a party environment where ease and comfort has become the order of the day. I recently went to preach at an event where there were games and grilling and all matter of fun before and after the mass baptisms. If I remember correctly the number of folks being baptized was well over 20. Now, considering Pentecost and the thousands that were added to the Church that day, twenty is mere drop in the bucket.
I will grant you that the event was held at a public beach so in this case the baptisms were slightly different than what normally occurs today, but there was still a party like atmosphere. In recent years there have been “churches” that have used diving boards and other such trifling to make baptism more entertaining. (Reports of Elevation church using water-slides were actually the Babylon Bee doing what it does best and that is using absurdity to make a point. The fact that so many people fell for such satire says more about Elevation than it does about the people who fell for it.)
However, that aside, baptism has become all too comfortable today. Instead of publicly announcing before the watching and hostile world that you are now a slave to Christ, you sit comfortably surrounded by other Christians. These folks then applaud as you are dipped in water that is pleasantly warm and overly clean. There is no threat from ruling authorities. There is rarely any examination of you to see if you can articulate even the basics of the faith.
Baptist Get it Wrong Too
When questions are asked, they are normally overly simple yes or no questions that do not elicit a thoughtful response. In recent conversations about baptisms and the differing views, one person protested that the Presbyterian view of baptism seems to give people license to feel secure in their baptism. This can certainly be the case.
However, I can speak from three very profound personal examples of people I love dearly that have rejected the faith and become disobedient rebels against God despite being “baptized” the Baptist way. In one of those cases the recipient of the baptism was asked the same route questions as everyone around them. In another case I was asked to baptize the man who then turned and baptized his wife. All three have now abandoned the faith.
Does the blame for this falling away lie with those doing the baptizing? Absolutely not. Yet, there is some blaming to be done. When we consider that most congregations do little to no examination of the person being baptized I believe that we Baptist are running almost the same risk if not more risk than others.
Stop Hand-holding Those Receiving Baptism
When we settle for shallow affirmation and unbiblical language such as below:
“Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior?”
“Have you asked Jesus into your heart?”
“Did you make a decision for Christ?”
We are settling for far too little when it comes to our Lord and Savior and what it means to identify with His life, death, burial and resurrection. Look, I am not talking about a Calvinistic litmus test before baptism. Salvation by sound doctrine is salvation by works.
However, what I am talking about is a time to sit back and examine a candidate for baptism. These decisions should be made with solemnity and severity. They need to understand the repercussions of identifying with Christ. There needs to be a protracted period of time where each candidate is asked hard questions. They need to display signs of new life in Christ, not mere lip service. The pastor, or whoever is doing the baptism, needs to get out of the way. If the person who is about to be baptized cannot articulate their reasons for desiring to be baptized then they should not be. If they cannot articulate the Gospel, then baptism can wait.
By-and-large, Baptist, especially the Easy-Believism types and Fundamentalists, are solely responsible for making many people twice fold the sons of hell.
When we consider that WCC looks little like the Ancient Church, or even little like most of the rest of Christendom, we should be convicted. Christians seeking to be baptized in China today, risk great loss. Being baptized in Saudi Arabia can lead to death.
There are people passing themselves off as pastors today that have no grasp of sound doctrine. Moreover, they do not preach the whole counsel of God when it comes to the Gospel. The Justice, Wrath and Holiness of God no longer fill the preemptive measures before the declaration of God’s love and mercy and grace.
Jesus is passed out to people like a sweet candy treat. These hirelings say such things as, “Try Jesus on. He will give you a happy life and deliver you from the earthly and material consequences of your sin.”
These days repentance is missing from the Gospel call and sin is made little by calling it mistakes and poor decision making.
Instead of being a place where sound doctrine permeates the teaching the pulpit instead has become a place where congregants are given self-help motivational speeches.
This is the light in which people are “making decisions for Jesus” and then being baptized.
Until such a time that this kind of dumbing down of Christianity is done away with, we will continue to see false converts coddled and comforted through the waters if baptism. They then walk away often time twice fold the sons of hell.
A Final Thought
In a recent conversation with someone I love dearly, I was told that that it isn’t necessary to tell people that they will face persecution for their faith. Instead they can be told that life won’t be easy. It pains me to say this and truly gives me no joy. However, this is precisely the problem we face in WCC and it ties into baptism. The first great promise of the cross is salvation from the wrath of God and the due reward of hell.
The second great promise of the cross is, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The Greek word for persecuted is diōkō. It literally means to be made to run or flee. Put to flight or drive away. If we are not willing to tell people of this reality, then we should refrain from preaching the Gospel. Furthermore, if we must refrain from this truth and therefore refrain from preaching the Gospel, we have no business baptizing people either.
Soli Deo Gloria!