Friday, March 23, 2007

Teaching Baptism

I love baptism. It was through an understanding of baptism that God reached out to me and found me and saved me. I was raised in the Lutheran Church and was baptized as an infant. When I was twelve we moved to a new town and there was no active Lutheran Church there. My parents had both been saved in the past few years in what was known as the Jesus Movement in the West so they wanted to go to a Church that was vibrant and alive. A Southern Baptist friend of ours kept inviting us to go to his Church but my father was hesitant. He was pretty wary of SB doctrines- especially concerning the debate between the cessassionists and the continualists. I won’t discuss that here. But finally we did go and it was a wonderful Church.

One day I was standing in the hallway outside of the auditorium after Sunday School, before the main service began, and I ask an old deacon (he was probably the age I am now), “What is this ‘believers’ baptism?” I asked the right guy. He heard me asking about Jesus and not about the ritual and that is what he explained to me. I knew immediately that although I had believed there was a God my whole life that I needed to choose to follow Him and commit my life to Him. I went forward that morning- coincidentally with my parents and my brother- and we were all baptized that night.

Because the understanding of Baptism as a dying to self and a raising to walk in the life of Jesus was so important to me I thought I would share with you what I teach my local team and the villagers whom we work with. Over the last year in some circles of Southern Baptist life there has been a lot of debate on Baptism. Here is what God has taught me and done in me.

I am a story teller so I like to start at the beginning. Now, the beginning is not quite where you think it might be. The first recorded instance of baptism is when John the Baptist started baptizing people along the Jordan river shortly before Jesus began his ministry. But according to 1 Peter 3 the story begins long before John.

20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you- not as the removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

So, we see that Noah and his family’s ordeal ‘prefigured’ baptism. What is the Lord trying to teach us here? The word baptism means to submerse under water. But obviously the Lord is not so much interested in the water as He is in something else. Noah and his family went through a life and death ordeal. They placed their lives in the hands of God and let Him take them. As the flood came upon the earth it was a violent, terrifying event. They obeyed God’s command and gave up their lives to do exactly what He said. They sacrificed their own lives for 120 years of ark building to align themselves with His plans. The picture that this paints is one of God Himself saving them through the waters of death. The water was actually the test that showed the ‘good consciences’ that God had given them. The ordeal did not save them. It revealed their salvation.

Next we see Moses who, according to 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 also demonstrated baptism.

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. for they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Verse six goes on to say that these things were and example for us. It is clear that in the typology of the Old Testament that Israel is God’s people and Pharaoh is a type of Satan. The four hundred years of slavery represent man’s separation from God and enslavement to sin. God sends Moses as a type of savior to His people. It is very interesting that God calls going through the Red Sea a baptism. It doesn’t look like my baptism at all. But it is a baptism none the less, a baptism ‘into Moses.’ They moved from outside of ‘Moses’ and into ‘Moses.’ They were slaves of Pharaoh and they moved to ‘Moses people.’ I think this is a key in understanding baptism. Moses was the ‘Christ’ figure in the Exodus story. The people were baptized ‘into’ him. They moved from being slaves to being his. In the bigger story that God is telling we are now baptized into Christ Himself. Just as Romans 6: 3-4 says:

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

It is interesting to note while everyone would acknowledge Romans 6 as key verses on Baptism yet water is not mentioned. What is talked about is not the symbol but the reality. In each case, Noah, Moses, or us today what is important is the reality of Baptism. So, what is the reality? Death. In each case what was needed and what is emphasized again and again in the Word is that we must lay down our lives and die to ourselves so that the resurrection power of Christ can be experienced. There are many many verses on this but I will let 2 Timothy 2:11-12 stand for them all.

11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;….

John the Baptist came asking people to repent of their sins. He went on to say that the one who came after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. We have such a phrase in English, ‘A baptism by fire.’ What does it mean? It means that trial and difficulty come and purify us. We are being pursued by the great lover of our souls. Just as Moses and his people were chased around until they were cornered by the enemy so we are pursued and seemingly trapped by God. Does it not seem so in your own life? He pushes us to a place where we must die to all our sin and selfishness. All our vain ambition, our hopes, our dreams, our lives, they all must go to the cross and be crucified. When this happens to a person who is outside of the family of God then he or she goes through the real baptism, a Baptism by fire. At that point, a choice is made. The person either charges headlong into Pharaoh’s army and remains in slavery forever or he goes through the deep water of death. When someone decides to accept death he lays down his own life and aligns his will with the work of God. He is not a follower in the passive sense of the term- perhaps thinking he will mill around at the back of the crowd while God’s plans and purposes go forward. No. His life is forfeit and he is aligned with the King’s own plans for His Kingdom. He moves from being outside of the family of God into ‘Christ.’ He moves into the eternal family.

Some have compared the baptism ceremony with a wedding. I think that is a great comparison. A young couple from two different families come together and decide to become one family. Jesus has said that the spiritual reality of this is deep in the Father’s heart- even declaring that what God Himself joins together no one can separate. But what about the ceremony- is it just ‘symbolic?’ Try explaining that to the bride! And as long as I am at it I have a pet peeve- when should a new believer be baptized? Which pastor consults with a young couple and says, “Well, you two look like you are in love but I am not sure. Why don’t you live together for about six months, take some classes together and then we will see about a ceremony.” I have never heard a good Baptist pastor say such. But I have heard that same counseling over baptism. Think about it for a minute. We are commanded to baptize (Matthew 28: 18-20) and we are commanded to be baptized (Acts 2:38) but we wait. I submit that there are many reasons for waiting but they all pale in comparison to the damage done. The damage is that the very first lesson in discipleship for a new believer is that we can set aside the King’s commands. A dangerous lesson to teach indeed. Knowing the right time to push for baptism is very difficult. It requires real discernment as the spiritual reality is only known by God himself. But when the individual or the Church sense that a person’s baptism is a reality in the heavens we should immediately take action on earth. If it is inconvenient then that teaches the lesson all the better that we are now in Jesus’ Kingdom, He is Lord, and we do what He says.

All followers of Jesus were commanded to baptize (Great Commission). Jesus own disciples baptized but Jesus himself did not (John 4:1-3). Paul had those he worked with baptize but he himself baptized very few (1 Corinthians 1: 14-16). If the position of the baptizer was important then Jesus and Paul would have done it themselves since they clearly carried the greatest spiritual authority. They did not, and I believe the reason they did not is that the issue was not the baptizer (consider that Judas was likely baptizing along with the others!) but rather what they were baptized into. Christ. There is no mention of being baptized into a local church. We can be a part of a local church because we are baptized into Christ. For anyone to claim that baptism ‘belongs’ to the local church- worse, their church- is stealing from God himself. The Word is clear. Noah and his family were baptized by God’s will by God’s own hand into the family of God. Moses and the Israelites were taken by God and baptized by Him into a new family created by and for Him. We are also baptized by God Himself at the cross of Christ into Christ own Kingdom. It is not that the local church does not have meaning or importance it is just that the gift that is the baptism ceremony is God’s alone that he allows the local Church to enjoy. For me and my own experience of the mystery of salvation this much was clear: I had to lay down my own life for Christ even as He laid down His life for me. As I died with Him, I rose with Him. Let us all be about proclaiming this message of humility and death that those around us might know the life of Christ and be joined to our eternal family.

This post is long but hey, I usually take two to three hours to teach all this so this is clearly the condensed version.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Strider, Okay now I am reeling here kinda confused so I hafta ask a question you believe in Baptism with water but your point goes much deeper than just water it is all about spirituality? Angie

Anonymous said...

Follow up in no was the previous a criticism just a bit curious and I might add this post is very thought provoking. Thanks :)Ang

Anglican said...

Well, if Noah and Moses water were literally prefiguring Christian baptism then it obviously doesn't have to be immersion because they never went under the water.
I can just see the seen in The Ten Commandments. I have no doubt that those people got a lot of water falling on them but they didn't get submerged. Pharoah's army is another matter. They got dunked.
No, I am in no manner making light of baptism. It's the most serious thing in a person's life. That and the living into his baptism afterwards.

Anglican said...

Sorry, that should have read scene.
Previewing a post is always a good thing.
I must try it sometime.

Alan Knox said...

Strider,

Great post on baptism! Very biblical and challenging. When are called to baptism, we are called to die. As Paul told the Ephesians, there is one baptism - and I think it has little to do with water. As Paul told the Corinthians, we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body. I think that about explains it all. Great work!

-Alan

Strider said...

Anglican- I am a Baptist by choice. Full imersion does not save you but it is the best picture of a full death and resurrection. Sprinkling reminds me of someone who only beat the ground three times instead of many... it meets the bare minimum maybe but the spirit of the thing should be whole hearted.

Anglican said...

Strider, I am an Episcopalian/Anglican because that is where God put me.
Indeed, it is "the spirit of the thng" that matters.
I was washed in the blood of the Lamb.
Any Christian can baptize.
What do you think of emergency baptisms especially in cases where death might be imminent?
More often than not there's not going to be a lot of water around.
I was poured not sprinkled.

By the way I keep meaning to ask Reverend Burleson and now you do you mind if non Baptists comment ?

GuyMuse said...

Good stuff, Strider, thanks for sharing. It seems there is all kinds of discussion going on about baptism in SBC circles these days. It is nice to hear someone saying what it is we do believe, without getting all tangled up in extra-biblical requirements that only lead to controversy.

I like your explanation of what has always been a tough passage for me to explain, the 1 Pet. 3.

Strider said...

Anglican- It may interest you to know that my wife if Scotish and her mother lives in England. We visit there and the little Anlgican church there prays for us regularly. We love those guys. Some issues that are discussed on other blogs are very political and if I were you I would be wary of voicing an opinion. For my blog which is about what I see God doing here and in my life I am eager to hear from any and all fellow pilgrims.
As for 'emergency' situations they happen. I think that we should always get as close as we can to obey the command. But, we did put guys under showers once in the prison when the guards would not let us fill up tanks of water for the baptism. The step that the guys took that day to be bapized indicated to us that they were ready and that their testimony in the prison- in our muslim country- was more than powerful in spite of the non-perfect circumstances.

Strider said...

One more thing for Anglican- Noah and Moses situations could both be 'under' the water and fully immersed depending on your imagination of the event. Noah's little craft was most certainly drenched and beneath the waves on multiple occasions. Moses folks looked up at the surface of the water from perhaps a long way down- even though they did go on dry land. The point of scripture there is still the surrender to the Lord's purposes and not the mode of the symbol which was not given until John the Baptist came around.

Anglican said...

Strider, Thank you for the caution about other blogs.
Am I misunderstanding you ? Are you saying that the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus are the same or are you saying that there was no baptism before John ?

Anglican said...

Strider, I just read your profile.
I rather like Joe vs the Volcano also.
Have you noticed they hardly ever mention Joe vs the Volcano when they talk about Tom Hank's movies, and especially his movies with Meg Ryan?
Talk about getting off subject, but I guess they did get wet.

Strider said...

Anglican- No the baptism of John and Jesus were not the same as John clearly states. But John is the first to present the word 'Baptism' and the first to present a 'mode' for it- dipped in the Jordan.

As for Joe vs. the Volcano- it was meant to be quirky and campy but the audience didn't get it and it failed at the box office. There was then a big 'rights' fight for the failed film and it took years to finally come out on VHS tape. But I guess I am quirky too because I think it is a classic.

Anonymous said...

Strider, D read this one and we had interesting conversation about it. I am wondering and I think going back several years I should know the answer to this question, are you a Litheralist or a non-literalist? Striking how this post caught on. Angie.

Anonymous said...

Jeepers it would help if I could spell I meant Literalist NOT LITHERALIST. The perils of being in a hurry with kids running a muck and a crying spoiled dog! HA HA

Strider said...

I am an inerrentist who always prefered the word 'infallable'. Inerrent means to me that the Word is completely true. The verses before us are as they are intended for us and with the empowering of the Holy Spirit we can know the truth that God wants us to know. But that is all about 'knowledge'. I much prefer the word 'infallable'. Which means that as I use the Word and put it into practice in my life it will not fail me. I will find God and his will by doing what the Word says.
Of course, your question was do I take the Bible literally. The answer I suppose must be that I take it as it was intended. History for history, poetry for poetry, etc. Hope that helps.

bryan riley said...

You say baptize means to submerge into water. I think it just means to submerge or immerse. The word itself does not limit itself to water as the object, does it?

I love what you have written and agree with much of the rest, but I continue to be confused by many of our Southern Baptist teachings on baptism (even though I was immersed as a believer and have immersed my son as a believer). Here's my confusion:

1. We teach it is a symbol only.
2. We teach it is not regenerative.
3. We teach that it is like unto a wedding ring (a symbol).
4. Yet we require that it be done a particular way in spite of the lack of any real biblical evidence as to whether our way emulates what was done in biblical times.

I have more questions but in the interest of space and my time, i will stop.

Strider said...

Thanks Bryan, yeah I suppose the word baptism itself does not specify water but it is just not practical in most of contexts to immerse people in yoghert.
What my post was an attempt at was to take this subject and teach what we do believe without addressing our theological opponents. The reason for a lot of our arguments is our desire to 'guard' against those who we do not believe to be correct. We do this with baptism, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, just about everything. Ask the average preacher what he thinks about a certain subject and you will get hammered by how wrong everyone else is on the subject. Calvin's tulip is a good example of this. The TULIP was created to address their opponents. It really says very little about what they believe to be true. Calvinist are all about the glory and the soverignty of God but instead of agreeing on these excellent things we fight about limited atonement as if it were the real issue. In recent blogs I have seen the same thing on Baptism. Fighting about the authority of the baptizor etc. is an insult to the Biblical teaching.
So, we need to quit reacting against everyone else and just proclaim the truth of the Word. This is what Jesus did. He did not spend huge amounts of time critiquing what the Priest had done to the Temple system. He just declared the truth. Let us all try and do the same.

David Rogers said...

Great post! As I understand it, what sets Christian baptism apart is we are baptized into (that is to say, "identifying ourselves with") the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Both Noah and Moses pre-figured this identification. I also agree we are baptized into the Body of Christ, not into a local congregation. Actually, if we study the New Testament, we are hard-pressed to find any example of water baptism as a specifically congregation-based event. In the occasions where a baptism is narrated in the NT, and anything is said about who was present, it was never, not one time, a gathering of a local congregation. Not to say I find anything wrong with baptizing in the context of a church service. Just that the NT never comes close to mandating that this how it should be done. Neither is baptism specifically linked anywhere to membership and fellowship in a local congregation (with the possible exception of Acts 2.41, though this is far from conclusive, in my opinion, as well).

Anonymous said...

Strider, SO your answer is yes you are a literalist. Not trying to get off track regarding this post but curious that's all. A.

BKC said...

Strider,
I like your post and your approach to talking about baptism. Good stuff. I would like to see you add some words though. Maybe it is in the extended version. You do a great job of laying the foundation for what baptism is and starting the discussion with Jesus. I agree with the things you say. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. But it seems that as you move the discussion toward water baptism, you skip some steps. Going from "he moves into the eternal family" to "the baptism ceremony". I would encourage you to work on the link here. You have good stuff on spiritual baptism into Christ and then some stuff on water baptism but they are almost two separate posts, as written. Anyway, that is my suggestion...you did ask for a comment :)

One other thing in regard to David's comment. I am not so quick to downplay the importance of the local church in this discussion. I do believe, in a sense, that baptism belongs to THE local church. Not A local church. So let me go ahead and say that I would never ask a brother or sister to be re-baptized if they changed churches. I would not doubt the veracity of another's baptism just because it is of another denomination or another church. That said, let me say what I do mean. I believe that we are baptized by the spirit into the Church of Christ. This is the one holy, catholic church. This is not a baptism we can touch or see. I believe the parallel is that by a physical water baptism we are baptized into the visible church. I think if we divorce water baptism from the intentional entrance into a community we err gravely. To offer baptism to one who will never be a part of your congregation seems to be out of step with the New Testament. There can be exceptions and, sure, we can also err on the side of requiring too much from people seeking baptism but I think most baptist churches are far in the other direction. Just as we enter the body of Christ we also enter the visible body of Christ.

I also think it is a little oversimplified to say that no baptisms in the NT were in the presence of congregations. Certainly it was not like a Sunday service at Local First Baptist where they baptize someone between the announcements and offertory hymn. But still, if we have apostles there as elders and we have some believers watching...the church IS there. Okay, this is way too long for a comment. Thanks for the post.

Strider said...

David, thanks for the good comments. I needed to hear from guys like you that I am not completely off track.

BKC- This post was already too long, I couldn't keep going on it and make the connections you are talking about although I like you believe there is much more to be said there. As far as the local church issue- I have opinions about it but there is no scripture to back it up. The Bible never ties baptism to the local church in any verses specifically so we are left with our 'logical inferences' which I tend to hold with more than a grain of salt. I have just about decided to do a second post on this and then we can get a bigger picture.

BKC said...

Strider,
I agree, the connections to the local church I mention are inferences. Looking forward to the next post.

David Rogers said...

BKC,

If you could give me some specific Scripture references to back up your assertions regarding the role of the local church in baptism, I would be more than happy to prayerfully consider your point of view.

Blessings,

David

BKC said...

David,
I did not mean to avoid your comment. No internet for a couple of days. Anyway, my other comment was probably a reaction to a lot of the things I have seen in the American churches I am familiar with. Baptism is often offered to people that will never be a part of a local church. I think this is careless. We are baptized into the body of Jesus. The visible church is the body. If you are baptized into the body then it seems you should actually enter into it. The (imperfect) way that we do that in a physical sense is to be the church here in the world.

As for Scripture references, of course I have no chapter and verse to point to. As I wrote to Strider, most of my opinions are inferences. The most important passage that shapes my thinking is probably Jesus' Great Commission in Matthew. The commands make disciples, baptize, and teach Jesus' commands are given. I don't think we can separate them. Further, I think that in the NT the way that discipleship and teaching happen are in Christian community. So those that are baptized should be discipled and taught as a part of the church.

Now, let me also say that to refuse fellowship to someone because their baptism is of a different church is silliness and is very prideful. I am not trying to say that every local church has their own baptism. I still maintain, however, that intentional entrance into the visible church is not to be taken lightly and should not be completely separated from the idea of water baptism.

I am sure we really don't disagree a great deal on this and I am not out to "convince" you of my opinion. I just wanted to share the Scripture that you asked for.

Strider, sorry for such long comments. Get to work on that next baptism post!!

David Rogers said...

BKC,

I would agree that, as a part of making disciples, we must teach people to be baptized (or baptize them ourselves), and also help them to join in fellowship with other believers in the context of a local church. I just don't get from Scripture that water baptism is the entrance into the visible church. That seems to me to be a supposedly logical jump that some people want to make. And I think it is dangerous to claim something to be necessarily true that Scripture does not clearly teach.

addicted_to_chocolate said...

Wow Daddyjon! This post really grabbed a lot of peoples atention! I didn't really understand it, but i can ask you about it when i get home. Oh I did want to ask you about something though, one of my dorm brothers is a christian and very strong in his faith too, but when i asked if he had been baptized he said when he was a baby. He said he didn't really see why he had to be baptized becuase it's just a symbol and he can still be a Christian even if he wasn't baptized, he asked me "What's the point?" I didn't have any answers for him, I was just wondering if he was right, is he? He said that he would get baptized if he understood why he had to. But yeah that's my question. luv u daddyjon! btw i put something else on my blog, and hey why don't you comment properly on my last one? luv u always!
Ur faithful daughter

Strider said...

Goldberry, You asked some good questions. Does your friend need to be baptized? The scriptures teach that we should be. Was his baptism as an infant good enough? Let's look. In Acts 2 we see Peter standing and saying in vs 38,

Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the Holy Spirit."

So, we see that Peter ties baptism with the act of repentence and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. What this post was about was explaining why this is true. Baptism is just a symbol but it is a symbol of something very real. Real baptism is the death of yourself and the infusing of the life of Christ (Holy Spirit) into you. Now, this can happen without actual water- remember the thief on the cross was saved and he certainly never got dunked!- but the issue then is obedience. Jesus commands us to go and to batptize and to make disciples and to teach them obedience in Matthew 28. So, water baptism is important because to not do what Jesus has commanded is to be disobedient.
Our walk with Jesus is all about obedience. When we don't understand, when it isn't convenient, when it is dangerous, when it is foolish, we become His followers by doing what He says anyway and in doing so it changes us to become His true children. I don't condemn your friend. Jesus is his Lord and will lead him into all truth. But if you ask about Baptism the truth is the truth. Regardless of his church tradition the Word of God is clear on this matter. We must be obedient to all that He has commanded us- whether we understand it or not.

Anonymous said...

Hey Strider... see ya this summer. Never met ya but lovin the site. Look forward to working with you. I'll be bringing a partner with me to Miras Tirith to work out ... sorry I can't decipher all the code names... out by the border and your second team. Praying for ya.

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