Thursday, October 24, 2013

Baptism - Missing What the Bible Says About It

I was recently doing a little research on a popular, non-denominational church in my area.  I know that they have dynamic preaching and, from the snippets that have been shared with me from the lead pastor's messages, he appears very knowledgeable about Israel in both Old and New Testament times.  I like the fact that they have a Statement of Faith on their website, as well as short position papers on Baptism and Communion.  As I read their paper on Baptism though, I was immediately struck by how incomplete it was from a biblical perspective.  I don't think this is rare, so on the chance that you the reader might come across something similar, I wanted to quote the meaty portion of the paper and offer commentary.  Here we go:
There is not one single Biblical example of baptism before conversion. The New Testament order was always "believe and be baptized" (Acts 2:38-41). Christian baptism then, is not what causes you to become a Christian—it is response action taken after becoming a Christian. It is not something you do to earn God's acceptance—it is something you do because you have received the free gift of God's acceptance through faith in Christ. We become Christians when we admit our sin and trust Christ as our Forgiver. Baptism is a symbolic act—the water cannot wash away sin. Baptism is merely an "object lesson" of how our sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
The statement that Baptism "is not what causes you to become a Christian" is simply false.  The authors of the paper assert that someone becomes a Christian the moment they interiorly decide to accept God's offer of grace in Christ.  But Scripture does not say that.  Rather, the Bible says, "to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (Jn 1:12).  "Conversion," as defined by this church is the interior acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior.  And that is true, but it only gets us half the way there.  What makes us children of God is reception of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is given to us in Baptism!  The ironic thing is how the verse they cited in affirming their position actually teaches the opposite of what they claim:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:38-41)
Let me address their second claim: "Baptism is a symbolic act—the water cannot wash away sin."  In one sense they are correct - the waters of Baptism have the symbolic value of showing us that are sins are washed away.  But they stop short of the full truth; they deny that Baptism actually does what the water symbolizes - wash away sin. And that is incredibly problematic because it directly contradicts the Apostles Paul and Peter.  It's not an "either/or" situation, but a "both/and." the outward baptismal cleansing makes present to the senses the forgiveness and regeneration poured into the soul. Look at what Paul wrote to Titus:
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-6)
And Peter was even more blunt - "baptism now saves you"! (1 Pet 3:21).  It is a shame the authors of this paper on Baptism stopped their quotation of 1 Peter at chapter 1, verses 18-19.  Those verses remind us that we are redeemed by the "precious blood," the sacrifice of Christ our Savior.  But had they kept on, to the verse I just quoted from chapter 3, they may have made the connection between Christ's sacrifice and Baptism that Paul made in his Epistle to the Romans:

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom 6:3-5)
Baptism unites us to the very death and resurrection of Jesus!  It is our birth into the Family of God.  As Jesus taught in John's Gospel, "I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God's kingdom without being begotten of water and Spirit" (Jn 3:5). It doesn't get any plainer than that.  Baptism is no mere "object lesson" of how our sins are washed away; it is a supernatural act, administered by Christ Jesus Himself through the members of His Church!  And that is why it was at the heart of Jesus' final commission to His Apostles:

Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations.  Baptize them in the name "of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.  And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world! (Mt 28:18-20)
I guess what makes me most sad is that a church that, in its Statement of Faith, calls the Bible "the unique, full and final authority on all matters of faith and practice," would overlook such important passages for reaching a correct understanding of Baptism.  I guess it is an illustration of an important truth - that God never intended for the Bible to stand alone.  And when we try and make it, we miss out on  much of what it has to say.  What we get is good, and it will benefit us; but it won't be the huge feast for our souls that God intends!

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