Questions and considerations regarding baptism, from both Old and New Testament perspectives.
- The Dilemna: Scripture versus Common Belief
- Peter's Declaration on the Day of Pentecost
- "What about Romans 10:9-10?"
- "I prayed the sinner's prayer."
- "But we are not saved by works, and baptism is a work."
- "But Paul said, "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach...,"
- A parallel from the Old Testament
- What think Ye?
The Dilemna: Scripture versus Common Belief
Baptism seems to be a confusing subject. I have read what scripture says, but I am reading books and articles, as well as hearing people say, “It’s not really necessary.” Or, “It’s a good idea, but not essential.” How do I reconcile these statements with what I read in scripture? In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 28, verses 18-20, Jesus commands to ‘teach, baptize and teach’ in what is called The Great Commission. But if I am to believe these things I’m hearing and reading, should it rather be called The Great Suggestion? Please don’t think I’m being irreverent, but this seems to be how some folks treat the idea of baptism. Someone who insisted that baptism was essential was countered by another, who said, “But if the person who was intending to be baptized was killed on the way there, surely God wouldn’t send them to @#!*% for failing to be baptized?” These ‘worse-case scenario folks always seem to pop up whenever a discussion on the topic of baptism arises. No, I don’t believe God will send them to @#!*% because they failed to be baptized. God is surely a just judge, and we are told in I Samuel 16:7 that God looks on the heart – meaning He knows the intention and the attitude of the heart, and will surely honor them. But the ‘worse-case scenario’ argument seems to be frequently used to declare baptism as a ‘nice option’, but not really necessary.
Peter's Declaration on the Day of Pentecost
On the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached the sermon that would begin the church, Peter’s statement, in Acts 2:38, was in response to the question asked by those who were guilty because of their approval of wrongly putting Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to death. Peter said that one would, as a result of submission to baptism, be forgiven their past sins and would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. If I choose to believe in Christ, yet fail to be baptized, what assurance do I have, from scripture, that my past sins will be forgiven and that I will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? Every passage referring to baptism must be similarly considered. Gal 3:27 says, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." While the meaning of the expression, "have clothed yourselves with Christ" must be explored and determined, whatever it means, it cannot apply to the individual who has failed to be baptized. The apostle Peter, in his first epistle, draws a parallel between the ark which saved the lives of Noah, his wife, and his 3 sons and 3 daughters-in-law, and baptism. 1 Pet 3:21 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. Are those who reject baptism or fail or refuse to submit to baptism not interested in appealing to God for a good conscience?
"What about Romans 10:9-10?"
I knew someone would ask that question. I often hear Romans 10:9-10 quoted: “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” After Paul goes through the discussion in Romans, chapter 6, drawing the parallel of baptism to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and the reference to ‘rising to walk in newness of life’, did he intend for us to dismiss baptism, and that discussion, from our thinking? If Romans 10:9-10 is valid as it stands, why bother with the Romans 6 passage at all? The discussion there must be read and seriously thought through.
"I prayed the sinner's prayer."
Nowhere in scripture is one told to pray to ask Jesus into his/her heart, and assured that this action has guaranteed them that they are now Christians. Rev 3:20 is often quoted and believed to uphold the 'sinner's prayer'. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me." But, in fact, this is a part of the letter addressed to the church of Laodicea - a body of those who already believe, however wayward they may be. And Jesus' intent is offering restoration to those in that church who are wayward.
"But we are not saved by works, and baptism is a work."
I've heard that said, and agree with the first part. But nowhere have I read in scripturethat baptism is a 'work'. Rather, it is an act of submission to what we read in the Acts 2:38 passage.
"But Paul said, "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach...,"
Though Paul did indeed say that, that doesn't for an instant minimize the command in the Great Commission, nor Paul's discussion in Romans, chapter 6, nor anything else that we read in the New Testament regarding the subject of baptism.
A parallel from the Old Testament
In Colossians 2:9ff, the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, speaks of the deity of Christ, and His headship over all rule and authority. Paul says we have been made complete in Him , and then says, in Colossians 2:11-12, “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Paul seems to define the “circumcision made without hands” and the “circumcision of Christ” by speaking of one “having been buried with Him in baptism.” The connection he makes cannot be denied, and should cause us to pause and think. Circumcision as a sign of the Old Covenant was so significant that failure to comply with its demand meant a breaking of the covenant and death. If this sounds extreme – failure to abide by the command of circumcision could mean death, please note what happened to Moses in Exodus 4. At the beginning of chapter 3, God has called Moses and given him the task of delivering the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. As chapter 4 begins, God is giving Moses the ability to perform miraculous signs to emphasize God’s presence and power . But, at the end of that chapter, God strikes Moses down! Why?? Moses had failed to circumcise his son, which amounted to a breaking of the covenant, punishable by death. Only after Moses’ wife circumcised the boy does the scripture say, “Then He let him alone.” Exodus 4:26a. If the apostle Paul could draw a parallel between the two – circumcision required by the Old covenant and baptism with its various results for the believer as taught in the New Testament, are we treading on dangerous ground by minimizing baptism, or even declaring it entirely unnecessary?
What think Ye?
So many have been taught, and yet have not seriously studied the matter for themselves or asked the serious or hard questions. Do we take the matter of Christian baptism too lightly? Have we studied the matter and answered the hard questions, or simply taken the word of those who have been our preachers or teachers? Every believing person, on any and every topic in the Bible, has the individual, personal responsibility to read, study, and think through what scripture says. Beware the preacher, teacher, radio or TV personality who would nay-say or sweep aside the teaching of scripture.