Baptism: yes, no, maybe?

baptism

Should we baptize the energetic five-year-old who just bounded down the aisle to tell us they love Jesus? Should we require Sarah to get “re-baptized” even though her Christian parents had her sprinkled as a child? Should we ask Jerry to get re-baptized since he just told us about how he is finally following Jesus. He was dunked as a kid, but now his life is changing. He has stopped getting drunk; he faithfully attends church; and he has begun to final treat his wife with dignity and love. And what about Sally? She was dunked by a Roman Catholic priest. She went was fully submerged and everything. Does she need to be baptized before become a member of our church?

The answer all of these questions and the many others that play on the sands of baptism’s shore, we must turn to the Scriptures. We must look at how the Scriptures speak of baptism and then baptize accordingly.

What does the Bible have to say about baptism?

Baptism is For The Redeemed

The New Testament church only baptized those who had repented and believed in response to the Word of God. The three thousand souls added at Pentecost, the Ethiopian Eunuch, the apostle Paul, the Gentiles at Cornelius’s house, and the Philippian Jailer all heard the gospel, repented, and then entered the waters of baptized (Acts 2:37-41; Acts 8:34-36; 9:17-18; 10:47; 16:29-34).

Luke documents Peter’s words in Acts 10:47-48:

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Baptism never precedes faith and repentance. It is often closely tied to faith and repentance. After all, the believer who has been redeemed will undoubtedly want to publicly obey Christ and unify with the people of Christ through the waters of baptism. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4-6:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all

All who believe in Christ become part of God’s people and share a common hope that is defined by the Lordship of Christ, faith in the his resurrection, and baptism. Baptism cannot be detached from faith. All who believe and have the opportunity to get baptized will eagerly embrace the waters of baptism.

The 1 Peter Objection

But then we encounter 1 Peter 3:21-22 which states:

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Peter just said that baptism saves, but the Scriptures mentioned above teach the opposite. What is going on?

The word “corresponds,” ἀντίτυπον, refers to an impression made from stamp used to seal envelopes. It could also be translated as “representation.” Peter is saying that baptism, dunking, is a representation of how God saves us. The salvation is not based on works. Rather it is based on faith in God which grants us good conscience through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter is explicitly revealing that the physical act of baptism does not save. Salvation comes through Christ alone by faith. We cannot initiate salvation for ourselves or for anyone else through the waters of baptism.

Baptism By Immersion

How do we do it? How should be baptize people? Do we immerse them? Do we sprinkle them? Do we need running water? Do any of these things matter?

Correct and biblical baptism always consists of immersion. The baptism described in the New Testament indicate that the baptismal candidates where dunked. Both Mathew 3:16 and Mark 1:10 record that Jesus “when up from the water” following his baptism. And in Acts 8:38-39 we read the following description of the Ethiopian Eunuch’s baptism:

And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Moreover baptism points to the salvific work of Christ in the believer’s heart. The sacrament does not signal future salvation or hope for salvation. Baptism shows what Christ has done in our hearts. Notice Romans 6:3-4:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Colossians 2:12-13, Titus 3:5, and 1 Corinthians 6:11 all confirm the Biblical maxim that baptism should be by immersion. The believer goes under the water to express death to sin and comes back out of the water to express their new life in Christ. Such powerful imagery, such gospel explanation is lost when we dip our hands in small bowl of water and sprinkle someone’s head. Such little amounts of water couldn’t wash dirt off a child’s face. The picture fails to accurately represent the powerful, awesome, and beautiful act of salvation which is tied to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Baptism In the Church

Baptism is a proclamation, a demonstration, and an identification with the gospel. Those who go into the waters of baptism declare that they have been redeemed and our now part of the people of God. The church is charged by God in Matthew 16:19-20 to both bind and loose. The church is supposed to recognize those who have been redeemed and excommunicate those who evidence no fruit of continued repentance. Since Baptism is, “The boundary of visible Christianity” the church should guard and administer the sacrament. The local church should determine who has demonstrated faith and baptize them. The local church (and not camps, college ministries, or para-church feeding programs) has been given the keys to the kingdom and should oversee the sacrament of Baptism. More specifically, the pastors and elders of the local church should do the baptism. They have been appointed by the church to teach, guide, and when needed represent the church.  God honoring Baptism takes place when a believer who has heard the gospel and repented is baptized by immersion by an elder in the presence of the local church.

We could summarize all that has been said above in the below definition:

Baptism is the first sacrament of the new covenant which initiates believers into the local church through immersion which symbolizes that the believer has died to sin and been raised with Christ.

The Answers

Who should be baptized? Those who believed in response to the preached gospel. Who has truly been baptized? Those who were immersed after faith. All other baptismal acts including sprinkling and being baptized in a non-gospel affirming church are not biblical baptism. Who needs to be baptized? All who have believed and who have not been immersed in the presence of a gospel believing church by a recognized leader of the church.

Hope For Hopeless Christians

sad-adultA bunch of hopeless people. This is what you will find as you make eye contact with the people sitting in your church pews. You will be greeted by smile after smile that is nothing more than a cheap movie set façade. Turn the corner and you will realize there is no firm foundation of joy. All that exists is some thin piece of painted plywood held up by two supports of flimsy church culture.

The hearts around you and me are hurting, struggling, and hopeless.

Many of us Christians gave up on the idea of the sufficiency of the Scriptures. We took up God’s script with interest when we first heard about the king of heaven. We eagerly followed every divine word of Scripture up to the base of the cross.

But as we left the cross and began the next scene of our life, we felt that the script was inadequate. The lines mentioned nothing about anorexia, ADHD, and our many other problems. Perhaps the script was no longer useful.

joseph-gonzalez-273526We addressed our concerns to local co-director. He heard our complaints and empathized with us, but agreed that the God’s script was actually kind of lacking. He patted us on the back and ushered us out of his office offering a few trite words encouraging designed to keep us reading and praying.

And so we conclude that the gospel that saves us essentially ends at salvation and will only pick up again at heaven. In the meantime, we improve things as best we can, trying to determine God’s will for our life by asking our heart, “what do you think is best?”

Quite naturally the heart that has put down the Scriptures and devoted itself to the study of itself, pop-culture, and modern thought, finds only cultural wisdom.

Our culture’s mindset is one of hopelessness. There is no hope for the sex addict, for the far too thing teenage girl, and for the out-of-control kid. Sure, we can toss some medicine and therapy their way. But at the end of the day, we can only medicate them. We cannot cure them.

And Christians who are more defined by their sin than their savior are going to be helpless. They cannot hope to be anything else. If God cannot help us with our problems, then we really are hopeless.

This is where all the lonely people come from.

Thankfully, we do not have to remain in this state of hopelessness. God does not call us to be facades. He calls us to build full and vibrant lives on his Word. The script does not end at conversion. That is the point when the plot gets really good. At conversion, we get the power of Christ to overcome our sins. The story of our life goes from being one of failure to one of success, because the hero Christ has arrived and empowered us with his helper, the Holy Spirit. Paul said it this way,

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with temptation he will also provided the way of escape that you may be able to endure it.

– 1 Corinthians 10:13.

The message of the Bible is that you are sinners redeemed by grace. If you are stressed to the point of panic attacks, cannot handle you porn addiction, and cannot control your body weight, the Bible is for you. Dive into it, find a biblical counselor or a godly pastor, and you will see that there is a way of escape. God rescues his people.

Your ultimate problem and my ultimate problem when I think life is hopeless is our theology. The divine script is not wrong. We simply misread the text with our modern, sinful eyes.

To overcome our stress, worries, and depressions, we need to dive into God’s script. As Paul told the Corinthians,

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come – 1 Corinthians 10:11.

We like the New Testament believers live in the last age. Living in the last age does not imply the Bible is outdated. Rather, Paul says the Bible is full. We have all the stories of the Old and New Testament precisely because they are relevant to our lives today. The show us how to repent of sinful idols and how to refocus on Christ. The Scriptures are never more, relevant, important, and helpful than now.

All those fake smiles in our church by the power of Christ could one day be real and meaningful.

If you have more questions about how the Bible applies to your life or about how you or your church could start practicing the disciplines of grace, please reach out to me. I would love to help.

The One Thing Leaders Can Learn From Joshua

Joshua-leaderJoshua was quite the leader. Joshua is known for his amazing courage, for his ingenuity in conquering Jericho, and for his famous farewell charge. While these are all important moments in Joshua life that helped define him as a leader, they were not ‘the’ defining moment of his leadership career. The defining moment, that brief period during which people final saw him as, “the guy,” happened in Joshua chapter 4.

The author of the sacred Scripture reports,

And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the Lord and the priests passed over before the people. The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. About 40,000 ready for War passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho. On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. (Joshua 4:11-14).

The moment at which signified that the torch had passed from Moses happened as the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River. The forty years of wandering in the wilderness was at an end. Moses had died. The era of promise and new leadership had begun.

But the people of Israel still faced a massive problem. Before they could claim their promise land and start capturing cities, they needed to cross the Jordan River. According to text, the Israelites hit the Jordan sometime during the months of March and April, flood season. Joshua 3:15 says “now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest.” The Jordan River which could reach lows of four feet was probably running around thirteen deep.

Thankfully, God had a plan. He told Joshua to line up all the people as Moses had done. Once in order, the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the Jordan River. As the priests walked into the river, the waters would stop, allowing the people of Israel to walk on dry land (Joshua 3). Once all the people were on dry land and a man from each tribe has taken a stone from the dry river bed, the priest would walk out of the river and the flow of water would resume (Joshua 3-4).

Joshua relayed the message to the people. They listened to Joshua, obeyed the Lord, and the miraculous happened.  Joshua 4:14-17 reads,

 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

Joshua is the guy!

Ironically Joshua’s defining leadership moment in the eyes of his supporters had nothing to do with him. He did not walk into the water first. He did not slam a stick into the ground, he did not offer great sacrifices, he did nothing heroic. He simply relayed the Word of God to the people of God.

Joshua was a great leader because he obeyed God. If we hope to be great leaders with must do the same. Great, godly leaders are not the ones who perform heroic feats. Great leaders are not the men who can payoff a million dollar church loan in a month, great leaders are not women who grow their children’s ministry from 5 kids to 500 kids, and great leaders are not the person who can create the next great program. Great leaders are those who obey God.

And great leader desire to obey God because they know that God gives the increase. Notice that Joshua grows in the estimation of his people because “the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel. (Joshua 4:14).God choose Joshua. God told Joshua how to lead. And God made Joshua great.

Friends (and my own dear heart) do not miss this. Greatness is bestowed by God on some of his children.  We cannot win people over by getting a picture published in the newspaper. We cannot gain greatness by creating a massive social media platform. We cannot work our way to greatness by starting new program after new program.

The ability to create a great ministry legacy does not reside with us. God gives the increase. God exalts us. God grows our ministry from 5-5000. God does it. Not us.

To be great godly, leaders we need to simply obey God and share his word with others. God told Joshua

This Book of the Law shall not depart form your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you maybe careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and the you will have good success.  – Joshua 1-8.

Paul said it this way in I Timothy 4:16

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Great leaders are humble men and women who seek to obey God and to tell others to obey God. Good leadership is never anything less and definitely is nothing more.

Brothers and Sisters are you leading like Joshua?