Let’s be honest about Baptism?

The last two times that Baptism came up for discussion the first thing that the person said was ‘What about deathbed confessions’? The implication is that if I believe that a person must be baptized then I’m a meany who doesn’t want people to be saved on their death bed. The reality is that it doesn’t matter what I believe. God is going to do what he wants to do anyway. Our goal as Christians should be to bring our values and opinions into line with what is true not try to say that the truth is what we already value or believe.

The case for Baptism is very strong. We have the very a direct answer to a direct question in Acts 2:37-38.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do? 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

We also have some very strong supporting evidence in Acts where every conversion was followed immediately with baptism. The case against Baptism is more secondary. It is more of the ‘if this verse means this then that verse means that’ variety.

Compare the evangelical doctrines on Baptism to the doctrines on the Trinity. Anyone who would dare question the Trinity would be run out of the church on a rail but the evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity is far weaker that the evidence in favor of Baptism being necessary. Nowhere in either Testament is the word Trinity ever used or the doctrine ever presented with the strength of Peter’s Acts 2:38 statement. Everything we believe about the nature of the Triune God is derived. There is nothing wrong with that. Much of what we believe and almost everything that we argue over is derived but let us be honest about it.

What we need to learn to do is to say “This is what the Bible says but this is what I hope it means.” For instance “The Bible says children obey your parents but I hope it means minor children” or “the Bible says to cut off any part of your body that causes you to sin but I hope it means only that sin is to be taken seriously.” Do not say “The Bible says you do not need to be Baptized to be saved” because you may be telling someone the spiritual equivalent of “Don’t bother getting a small pox vaccination”.

This blog is not really about Baptism. I’m agnostic on the subject myself. If I’m around an Acts 2:38 person I tend to be against. If I’m around an against person I tend to be the Acts 2:38 guy. What this blog is really about is being honest in our interpretation of scripture and I can tell you why it is important. The souls of your children may depend on it. If you are not completely honest about your interpretation of scripture when your children are old enough to think for themselves and if they actually do what you tell them to do, which is read the Bible on their own, you run the risk of crushing their nascent faith. I have four examples from (make that five) my own childhood but I’ll only tell two.

My Dad taught me not to say bad words because the Bible said ‘swear ye not’. I was pretty tick off when I found out that the verse was talking about taking oaths and I saw it as hypocritical that Christians swear on the Bible when it says in the Bible not to swear by anything. My faith in my Bible teachers dropped two notches. On the other hand, when I was a teenager Hal Lindsey was predicting that the Lord would come within one generation of Israel becoming a nation (that would have been 1988). I asked my Dad how he interpreted the book of revelation. He said ‘well (it seems like he started all explanations with the word ‘well’) sometimes I read in one way and I see it (meaning like Lindsey) then I read it another way and I don’t. I always appreciated his honesty.

Remember Humility is the key to everything and honesty is the key to humility.

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7 Responses to Let’s be honest about Baptism?

  1. Christine Norman says:

    Humility is the key to everything. My own study of baptism was precipitated by the decision of Athletes in Action to refuse Andre a chance to start an AA Bible study at college because he believed in baptism. He was really disappointed. My natural response was to study the subject exhaustively. While I was looking up every scripture on baptism, studying the history of baptism and the word baptism, I began somehow to see the bigger picture of God and the importance of water. Think of water covering the face of the deep and out it God births dry land. When the people of the earth were so evil that God regretted his creation, he immersed the entire earth in water. He baptized it. The symbolism of baptism is so profound that I cannot understand why anyone would forego or argue about this beautiful connection with God. It was the very last command of Jesus to his ADD disciples too.:)

  2. Don Bradford says:

    Joel, I fondly remember Dad’s “Well…” and the tilt of his head that went with it. Dad was one who just accepted what the Bible said. I have a sense that when he said,‘swear ye not’, he understood it to mean, ‘don’t say bad words’. Dad kept it simple that way.

    When it comes to the subject of Baptism, I can appreciate those who say you must be put under the water to be saved, yet I cannot be as dogmatic. I thought it strange when I was Baptized, that everyone kept saying, “Welcome to the family” as though I had just been saved. I know that I had been saved four years earlier at a special meeting in St Catherines. I wanted to get baptized right away, but the Children’s Aid would not allow it. I had presented the situation to a Bible College president and asked him when I was saved and he told me after I was Baptized. I walked away knowing he was mistaken. I have dear friends who love the Lord and live godly lives that I hold as examples for myself, but they are from a reform denomination and were sprinkled as babies. I know that other friends would condemn them to hell for not being immersed in ‘believers’ Baptism. I cannot.

    There is a verse in Matthew (Matt. 16:19) that has greatly affected my thinking when it comes to understanding the Bible. In fact you will find it twice recorded in Matthew (Matt 18:18). I discovered it when I was learning Greek. I had heard preachers teach that what you bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. Of course they taught that you needed faith to do this. But the actual Greek says, what you bind or loose on earth shall have been bound or loosed in heaven. I came to understand that, especially in prayer, we need to ‘hear’ from heaven first in order to proclaim the binding or loosing on earth. I began seeing it throughout the Bible. There it was in the Lord’s prayer, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. I remember Dad talking about moving mountains by faith. He said, “Make sure you are suppose to move that mountain.”

    I discovered this to be a principle. It is the same with Baptism. Ephesians 4:5 says (there is) one Lord, one faith, one baptism. I believe that when we believe on Christ for our salvation, God works His miracle of putting us into Christ. We are Baptized at that moment in the Spirit. When we are immersed under water, it is a proclamation of what God has already completed. We are proclaiming to the world that we belong to God through Jesus Christ. I do believe that we should be Baptized, but I am not dogmatic to the point of forcing what I believe. I believe the Lord is able to convict a person’s heart to come to the place that they need to be immersed.

    I know you said the bog was not about Baptism, but, hey, the door was opened a crack and I thought I would come in. Thank you for the opportunity.

  3. Jon Sprenger says:

    Donny, my science teacher told me the mass of the Earth causes gravity; but I know he was wrong. Actually, there’s a huge monster under the ground with a giant magnet.

  4. Thanks for your comments. It is great to get comments even when it is all from family. I don’t disagree with anything in particular. Don’s point about the Children’s Aid forbidding his baptism is a good one and Jon’s point about not relying on our own ideas is also good to remember. Chris’ point about baptism even being metaphored by the Noah’s flood is also great. Thanks everyone.

  5. Jim says:

    Hi Joel,
    You state that the case for baptism is very strong and then you make the case from Scripture. So how is it that you are an agnostic regarding baptism. You are such a logical guy – which I respect, along with your assertion that God can do anything – so wondering how you can assert a strong case for baptism and then claim ambiguity?

    • Jim

      I’m wrong, please forgive me.

      A while ago you were party to a discussion thread where I excoriated Scott for arguing dishonestly. In that discussion Scott used the ‘real’ meaning of the word doctrine to prove his point. It really bothers me when people do that, and ten times more so when Christian teachers do it. (and really,really bothers me when I do it) Anyone who claims to teach Christ should not only know what words mean but what they mean to their audience and they should never use words deceitfully. I now see that I used the word agnostic incorrectly and when I examine myself I have to confess that there was some intent to deceive and hence the need for forgiveness. So I’ve already asked but it bears repeating, please forgive me.

      So now for my apology and by apology I mean it in the original meaning of ‘an explanation’.

      As you know from your Greek, the word agnostic means someone who does not know. It comes from the root gnosis (knowledge) and the ‘a’ prefix means not, therefore an a-gnostic is someone who does not know. That is the sense in which I used the word. However, the way the word is used today it means ‘don’t know and don’t care’ or as you said ‘ambivalent’. I think I used the word agnostic to appear even handed but that is not really true. At my most generous with myself I would say that I was 60-40 and more likely 70-30 favouring baptism as the restoration movement understands it. Since then my position has moved to more like 80-20. Can I claim to be agnostic? Well there is still that 20 percent of doubt. I attended a Baptist church for years and they emphasize that we are saved by faith not works. I agree,but it seems perfectly reasonable to me to say that Baptism is an act of faith not a work. I don’t KNOW for sure that God sees it the same way but it seems reasonable. I am also aware of Romans 10:13 “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” but it seems reasonable to me that Paul assumed that Baptism would follow immediately just like it always did in Acts. It seems reasonable to me but I still don’t KNOW. And what about hard cases like Don’s? I don’t KNOW but I have an idea.

      Back when I worked at Campbell’s soup I made friends with a colleague who was Muslim. We worked night shift and during Ramadan he was scarfing down his lunch like the rest of us. I asked him about it and he said that he just wasn’t allowed to eat when the sun is up. To my Christian trained mind that seemed very legalistic and even Pharisaical so I asked him what would happen to a Muslim who lived in the far north when Ramadan comes at the time of year when the sun does not set. He shrugged his shoulders and said “God will have to make allowances”. So even a guy who is part of a legalistic religion and who is happy to take advantage of a loophole could allow that his God could make exceptions for special circumstances. How much more our God. Christianity is not a legalistic religion, despite our best efforts, and our God is known for being merciful. The point of all that is to say that just because you can think of a situation where Baptism may be impossible it does not change the requirement. Still, I suppose I really don’t KNOW.

      Now for my defense. I’m still not so good a Christian that I can unequivocally ask for forgiveness without trying to defend my pride.
      I am agnostic enough (now using the word in its modern sense) that I am willing to fellowship with other Christians who have different opinions. When the topic comes up I try to say ‘you may be right’ and say it truthfully and to make my point without getting my back up. It is very difficult, but for the sake of Christ and the unity of his body I make the sacrifice. Yeah I know. It is not quite on the same level as the sacrifice that Christ made for me.

      Thanks for pointing out my error.

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