Baptism

InsanityBytes wrote a charming piece on baptism which you can (and should) read here. As I commented to her, I agree with most of what she wrote. Many of the other comments began to head in several different directions. There are some more things I want to say about baptism, but rather than trying to say them all in her comments section, I decided to say them here.

First, Christians can disagree about baptism without condemning one another. We can have different opinions about what baptism is, what it accomplishes, where and how it should be done, and so on. To use technical language, each Christian believes that he or she is orthodox (or correct) and that Christians who disagree are heterodox (or incorrect), but we do not accuse the heterodox of being heretics, hypocrites, or unbelievers. We have the same Lord and Savior. We will meet in the same new creation, where we will know and understand all truth and will be able to identify (without shame or embarrassment) who was wrong about what teachings in this world.

Why then continue to discuss baptism? Why not “agree to disagree” and remain silent? Because those Christians who misunderstand baptism are missing the fullness of a blessing God intends them to enjoy. Because of their misunderstanding, they are missing the peace and comfort that comes to them through their baptism.

The key question is: is baptism something we do for God or is baptism something God does for us? If baptism is a work we do for God, then it cannot be involved in our salvation, for we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But Peter wrote, “Baptism now saves you” (I Peter 3:21). On Pentecost, to answer the question “what shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children” (pardon a little throat clearing at that last phrase) (Acts 2:37-39). Mark 16:16 says, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Can God save people apart from baptism? Of course; God can do anything. Unbelief condemns; lack of baptism does not condemn. But God links salvation to baptism for a very important reason. Even the most faithful Christian sins, and we all need assurance of forgiveness that goes beyond our repentance and our faith. We all have bad days when we wonder if we have repented correctly and sufficiently; we all have times when we wonder if our faith is strong enough for us to be saved. If we were left only to measure our repentance and our faith by the way we feel or by the good works that we do, we would be left in doubt.

To rescue us from doubt, God gave us the gift of baptism. When the devil and the sinful world and the sin still within us accuse us and make us doubt our faith and our salvation, baptism is our escape. Because God has linked the promises of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life to the blessing of baptism, we use baptism as our defense when we doubt or when others attack. The correct attitude is not, “I was baptized on a certain day,” but, “I am baptized.” Baptism is a state of grace under which each Christian lives in this world while looking forward to the life to come.

Earlier this year I wrote more about baptism, which you can read here, here, here, and here. J.

10 thoughts on “Baptism

  1. I much appreciated you stating that we are saved apart from Baptism. Obviously, being the Baptist that I am, we have strong feelings on the topic. Most areas where I might diverge with another believer on this issue I don’t get too worked up about it. Now, some faith traditions tie Baptism inexorably to salvation; that becomes problematic. Now, even in our own work, I fear that our emphasis on Baptism as purely an act of obedience, and a symbol of our own death to sin, and resurrection to new life, has caused some to not consider it as important as it is. Other than that thought, carry on.

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    • Thank you, Wally. Clearly baptism is important to the Lord, or he would not have emphasized it so much. I truly believe that he wants us to trust baptism as an external sign from him of our salvation and not as our act of obedience to him. The death to sin and resurrection to new life is important too, as you say. J.

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      • While I do consider it to be an act of obedience, J, I have to say I actually rather like what you said about an external sign. I find that appealing for sure. I am going to remember that one for future reference. Gosh, I remember my own Baptism as clear as yesterday, and won’t ever forget it. I was crazy blessed that day. You know, we observe closed communion as I mentioned over at IBs place. Well the day I was Baptized was also the Lord’s Supper, so as a newly Baptized member, I was able to partake. I actually can’t describe the complete and total awesomeness of that day!

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  2. I read IB’s article and had many things I wanted to say, too. But the subject is just so complex. What you say here, I agree with. But it sort of leaves out those who believe in pedobaptism? I don’t think someone baptized as an infant can derive any sense of security from their baptism. But I know some strong Christians who hold to infant baptism. So there’s a lot to discuss, I think. And I wish we talked about baptism more so that believers understood the awesome picture it is of new life in Christ. And I wish we coupled it more with actual declarations of faith—“I’m doing this because I now believe something new, and here’s, why, here’s what it is.” That sort of thing.

    Maybe I need to do a post on baptism, too. 😉

    Becky

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    • Thank you very much, Becky. Yes, I hope to read a post from you on baptism in the near future. I did make one reference to the baptism of children–my throat-clearing when quoting Acts 2:37, “This promise is for you and for your children.” I have no doubt that God accepts the baptism of any person, done at any age, and the security is exactly the same. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,” and before they are old enough to teach, we can make them disciples through baptism. Martin Luther wrestled with this issue and concluded that the millions of Christians over the centuries (including himself) who had been baptized as infants could not be lost because of their age at their baptism. I enjoy the picture of the small helpless baby being, not dedicated to the Lord pending his or her future decision, but claimed by the Lord through baptism, even as we are all claimed by the Lord, no matter our age, in the manner of little children claimed by their Father. J.

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  3. This is cool, Salvageable! Thanks for the mention, I appreciate it.

    LOL, I also really value that “heterodox” versus “heresy” distinction. I think there are many things in faith that are like that, we have to follow the Holy Spirit, honor our spiritual convictions, and sometimes they will look a little different between different people, but the tenets of our faith are surprisingly consistent. It’s actually the unity, the consistency that surprises me.

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    • Yes, IB, we confess faith in one holy Christian Church, yet sometimes that seems harder to believe than many other doctrines we confess. God sees only one Church and each believer as a member of that Church. When we take him at his word, we must accept the unity and consistency over the apparent differences. J.

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