Monday, February 19, 2007

After Three Years

After more than three years of this blog, it is time to take stock and answer some questions. It amazes me how many stumble across these babblings. Some respond. A few ask for clarification or to seek permission to use something I've written. Others chastise me for my "legalism" or my "old fogey" ideas. All in all, it's been interesting.

To those who think I'm old, perhaps I am. Some cultures, you know, value the wisdom that often accompanies age. To those who think new ideas and thoughts are "with it" and more current, I want to remind you that "the newer the truer" is rarely so. Is the corporate structure of today's mega church more faithful to God's Word than the simple oversight of New Testament elders in the first century? I doubt it! Some think today's Christians must identify with their culture, but when does identification surpass understanding to accommodation?

I think most of the responses I've gotten came over the several entries I wrote concerning baptism. My position in those entries is clear: baptism is immersion in water for the remission of sins. I believe two things happen at the time of baptism. First, baptism in water is a clear and precise picture of one's faith in Christ who died, was buried, and who rose again. In baptism, the believer identifies with Christ, is united to Christ, and it is the time when one's sins are formally remitted. Second, concurrent with water baptism is the "baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit." It is the Holy Spirit who accomplishes the cleansing of the individual not the water.

Having said this, let me respond to some questions submitted some time ago by a Royce Ogle, an occasional reader of this site.

1. In your understanding of the doctrine of salvation must one have faith in baptism as well as faith in Christ? Faith is always directed to Christ. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Because a person trusts Jesus to do what he says, it is always proper to demonstrate that confidence by doing what he tells you to do. The "doing" is an indication of the depth of one's faith in Christ.

2. Is baptism faith? According to the Apostle Paul, faith is "being fully persuaded that God had (has) power to do what he had promised" (Romans 4:21). In Romans 4, Abraham trusted God to the extent he was willing to go into his wife so to conceive a son even though he and she were both past the age of child bearing. Hebrews 11:1 provides us with a description of faith. In the verses that follow, one can easily see that faith always produces an obedient result.

3. Is baptism mechanical? Or, to ask another way; Is every person who is immersed saved? The answer to this question should be fairly obvious. One is not saved by baptism (strictly speaking), one is saved at baptism. It is faith that saves. Therefore, if one is immersed but is devoid of faith it is an invalid act. The same can be said of repentance which is also a response of faith (see Acts 2:38) or confession (Romans 10:8, 9).

4. Why have so many coC folks been immersed more than once? If baptism saves why do it more than once? I have ministered for more than 40 years and have only seen a handful baptized more than once. On occasion, those immersed at a very young age came to question the nature of their response. Some think they responded only because others did so and they "joined the crowd." Others have the erroneous idea that sin separates them from God and thus they need rebaptism. In most cases, I refused to baptize someone a second time. On rare occasions, however, I have done so only because it provided comfort. By the way, I do not save "baptism saves you," Peter does (see 1 Peter 3:20-22).

5. If I adopt the historical view of baptism as taught by Restoration churches must I not conclude that everyone else who believes otherwise is lost? Of course not. The clear teaching of Scripture is that God holds people accountable for what they know or understand. Although it took hundreds of years, the Roman Catholic Church gradually adopted sprinkling or pouring in place of immersion. Tradition and Canon Law took precedence over Scripture. What will God do with all of those who were never immersed? I do not know! The
Bible does not tell us.
My opinion is that God takes the intent for the act. After all, salvation is by faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9). In other words, in my opinion, the person who trusts Jesus but mistakenly responds through no fault of his own, is right with God. On the other hand, those who understand what the Scripture says but rejects it or refuses to obey are another case.

6. Just to stir our thinking... If when you get to heaven you discover God loved sinners more than you and I and wanted to save sinners more than you and I want them saved, and in fact did save everyone who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, would it be ok with you and me? Whatever God chooses to do is fine with me! In fact, in some ways I hope God goes far beyond my understanding. I think I expressed that in another way in question 5 as well. I fully expect to see some in heaven I don't expect to be there and I also expect not see see some I expect to be there.

I guess what bothers me about the current state of affairs in the Restoration Movement is the tendency of many to become "baptismal agnostics." In spite of Scriptures clear teaching that remission of sins occurs at baptism (Acts 2:38), that one puts on Christ in baptism (Galatians 3:25, 26), that baptism saves (1 Peter 3:20-22), that baptism is a transition point between spiritual death and spiritual life (Romans 6, Colossians 2:11, 12), that sins are washed away at baptism (Acts 22:16), and that baptism is a part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, 20), there are those who say, "We aren't sure about the place of baptism!" In a rush to avoid the denominational accusation that we are "water regenerationists," we are no longer willing to give a biblical answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" What's worse, many of those graduating from our Bible Colleges no longer know the answer to that question either.