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
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
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
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.
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.