Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Baptism

Does the act of baptism save? In some circles of theology the answer is yes, and in others the answer is no. The differences on this issue are a microcosm of the differences on the overall theology of justification.

I hold to the position that the baptism is the act of a Christian who is obeying a command of Christ, and it is a symbolic and public profession of the faith that the believer holds. The act and meaning of baptism is summarized in the doctrinal statement of my church like this, “We believe that baptism is the immersion in water of a believer in Christ into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to show forth by solemn and beautiful symbolism, the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, and that it is a Scriptural prerequisite to church membership (Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:36; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38-41).”1

Before I go further, I must explain the reason why we hold that baptism (adult baptism by immersion) is a prerequisite of church membership. Jesus sets forth two ordinances, or acts, that are to be observed by all believers for all time, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion). The basic reason why baptism is necessary for membership at Ambassador Baptist Church is that baptism seems to be the first act of obedience to the Lord following conversion. All of the leaders, teachers, and other servants in the church must be found to be faithful and devoted servants of Christ. Since baptism is the initial basic command that believers are to obey, one cannot be an obedient servant of Christ if they have not been baptized.

John Piper was asked if you needed to be baptized in order to be saved. His answer was very profound. He said that one does not need to be baptized in order to be saved, but he went on to say that if a person willfully rejects being baptized after they have made a profession of faith, they might not be saved. Not for the lack of baptism, but for the lack of the fruit of baptism. If I reject to follow the command of my Savior, is He truly my savior? So, as much as I must affirm that baptism is not a prerequisite for salvation, the lack of submitting to the command of Christ to be baptized is a clear sign that one is not obeying Him, and this is a sign of an unbeliever.

Another point that I must articulate before going further is which position on baptism I am arguing against here. There are some traditions that embrace infant baptism as a symbol of the new covenant while not making the leap to affirm that one is saved by baptism (infant or otherwise). I do disagree with this understanding of baptism (held by Presbyterians and some other protestant denominations), but it is not nearly as big of a theological issue as the idea of baptismal regeneration held by others.

In my experience, two of the many verses that are brought up when someone is promoting a type of baptismal regeneration are John 3:5 and 1 Peter 3:21. On the surface, both of these verses seem to be saying that baptism is necessary for one to become a Christian.


“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’” John 3:5


“Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter 3:21


The first hurtle to jump over is the language barrier. The specific hurtle is with the Greek word “baptizw” that is translated baptize. The word and the use of this word don’t always require or imply a water ceremony, but it has gained that meaning because the Greek word was transliterated into English instead of translated. I deal with this issue in the first part of my pervious article, apostle.

John 3:5 is not a problematic verse when it is tossed in the face of someone who rejects baptismal regeneration. One of the ways that this has been argued in the past is that the baptism by “water” is referring to natural birth and the breaking of the bag of waters of the pregnant woman just prior to delivering her baby. Now, where this argument seems reasonable from a Western European standpoint, it would not have been the way that a first century Jew like Nicodemus. He was a teacher of the Law and any mention of baptism would have brought to mind the various places in the Law where cleansing was symbolized by baptism. One such place is with the story of Elisha and Naaman found in 2 Kings 5. The basic story is that Naaman (a Syrian) had leprosy and he went to see Elisha to be healed. Elisha told him that he needed to go to the Jordan and dip into the water 7 times, and if he did that, he would be healed. After some time, Naaman finally bends his will and humbles himself to go do the foolish act of dipping in the Jordan. Once he comes up the 7th time, the leprosy is gone.

This is not a story of the cleansing nature of water, nor is the point that the act of baptism saves. 1 Kings 5:13-14 show us what was going on in Naaman’s mind and why the humiliation of dipping in the Jordan was initially not acceptable to him. He wanted to do something, pay something, or otherwise have some credit for his healing. But the command of Elisha was to show that the power of God alone is what is able to cleanse a person.

Nicodemus would also have thought of Ezekiel 36 where the sprinkling of water was God’s way of saying that He was going to purify His people form the wickedness and idolatry that they were involved in. It was with not the sprinkling of the water that God would perform this cleansing; it was symbolic language to show the cleaning process of God.

1 Peter 3:21 seems a little more daunting to the Bible student at first, but once it is read in context, you can see that it is not advocating baptismal regeneration. The first key is found in the word “corresponding”, and we must understand to what illustration of Noah and the flood mean.

The story of Noah is found in Genesis 6-9. God was angry at all of humanity for our wickedness and he was going to destroy everyone, but He decided to save Noah. The text goes on to show that Noah and his sons built a very large boat, brought animals and supplies into it, and then Noah and his 7 relatives (his wife and his 3 sons and their wives) got into the ark. God then shut the door and He deluged the planet in a terrible flood that killed the men and animals that were not on the ark.

The question needs to be answered – what saved Noah. The obvious answer is God, but by what method did God save Noah? It was not the water that saved Noah, the water only brought death. Noah and his family were saved by the ark, by being inside of the ark they were protected from the wrath of God that He poured out on the world.

When did God pour out His wrath in order to deal with or judge the sinfulness of humanity? He did this to Christ on the cross. Christ was baptized into God’s wrath on the cross (Mark 10:38, Luke 12:50). We are saved by a baptism, but not the water baptism that the believer undergoes. No, we are saved by being found in Christ who was baptized in God’s wrath for the sins of those who would believe. The question then becomes, how can a man be found in Christ, and the overwhelming answer of scripture is that faith is the vehicle that God has divinely chosen to connect the sinner to the Savior (Acts 15:9; Romans 3:21-27; 4:5-20; 5:1-2; Galatians 2:16; 3:2-15).


1 Constitution of the Ambassador Baptist Church p. 4

1 comment:

steph said...

Great post, sweetheart. You have been abundantly clear, and did a wonderful job of gaining the Biblical understanding of Baptism through scripture. Thank you, again, for your dedication to God alone through His inspired word. It is truly all that we need to know God and to understand how to live a life in obedience to Him.

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson