Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions About Baptism

Frequently Asked Questions About Baptism

Salvation Is The Gift Of God

Q: Do you have to be baptized to be saved?

A: The question is not simply about baptism, but the scriptural teaching regarding ceremonial righteousness. Christians might think of this question in terms of baptism, but more broadly it is a question about ceremonial righteousness. The scripture has a lot of teaching about ceremonial righteousness that must be applied to both Old Testament ceremonies and to New Testament ceremonies. Is a New Testament ceremonial washing more able to save than an Old Testament ceremonial washing? Absolutely not. A male in the Old Testament was considered unclean until he was circumcised. The Old Testament had numerous ceremonies and while the New Testament introduces just a few. Just because the New Testament has fewer ceremonies, one must not treat them as if they are something other than ceremonies. Jewish Christians of the first century would have keep the Old Testament ceremonial law while at the same time adopting the New Testament ceremonies of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Occasionally, someone insists that baptism is necessary for salvation. An underlying assumption behind that idea is that ceremonial righteousness can save you. The scripture commands Christians to be baptized and to baptize should be taken seriously.

Not A Trivial Issue

God takes ceremonies seriously in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the ceremony that defined the covenant people was circumcision. Abraham was called to be the father of many nations.
"You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner those who are not your offspring." (Genesis 17:11,12)

The command to Abraham to circumcise is direct and extensive in scope. Years later when Moses failed to circumcise his sons; he almost incurred the judgment of God (Exodus 4:24-26). Some would discount the severity to the fact that it took place in the Old Testament. However those who abused the Lord's Table (1 Corinthians 11:27-32) and those who lied about their giving to the church (Acts 5:1-11) also incurred judgment in the New Testament. We should not assume that God takes ceremonies less seriously in the New Testament, on the contrary there is a consistency from Old to New Testament in regard to God's judgment. Are we suggesting from this seriousness that any of the ceremonies of baptism, giving, receiving the Lord's Supper or circumcision have saving merit? Absolutely not!

No Saving Merit

While God demanded obedience from the Children of Israel in circumcising their boys, it is clear that circumcision does not save. Galatians 3:1-25 makes it clear that keeping law of circumcision did nothing to save Galatians Christians. Specifically, the law that Galatians were erroneously told to follow was the law of circumcision. The book of Galatians is a refutation against possibility of attaining righteousness through the law of circumcision. When Paul talks about the 'foolish Galatians' being 'bewitched', he could be talking about anyone who turns from the grace of God back to the law (Gal. 3:1). Modern day attempts to create a New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament law are shrouded in the context that the New Testament has replaced the Old. When in reality, the law is law regardless of Old or New Testament and is not the grace of God (3:2). It is still a form of human effort (3:3). Paul's question whether one receives the Spirit by observing the law or by believing implies clearly that we cannot be regenerated by acts of the law (3:5). That would include such New Testament ceremonies as baptism. Abraham is lifted up as having faith and his ancient example shows the road to receiving the Spirit and righteousness (3:6-9). Paul introduces the concept that to be under the law is to be under a curse. This curse is mitigated by the work of Christ on the cross (3:10-14). Paul goes on to show that in the Old Testament, the righteousness of God did not come by the law, but by a covenant, or a promise. He contrasts the law with the promise to show that faith in God's work is the source of righteousness (3:15-18). Then he tells how the law was not intended to be a means of salvation but the law was intended to show our sinfulness and bring us to the promise and faith (3:19-25). Clearly, the New Testament was not meant to replace works of the law in the Old Testament with better works of law.

Works Promise Control But Fail To Deliver

Human nature makes us want to depend on our own efforts, and create a new law because we are more comfortable with a merit system. Depending on the promises of God takes all the focus off us and makes us look to God. Whether this merit system is based on baptism, reading the Bible, praying or attending church, it still is a merit system of law. By the way, we should be doing these things, but they are not the source of Christ's righteousness but the source of self-righteousness. If the grace is not our true source of righteousness then our good practices are counted as if we had not done them as seen in Jeremiah 9:25,26.
"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh. Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab, and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart." (Jeremiah 9:25,26)

As you can see, whether we are in the Old Testament or New, the ceremony is worthless unless you have the regenerating work of the Spirit. If a person has not been through the transforming work of regeneration, then they are not righteous, even if he or she has kept the ceremonial law. In other words, salvation is the free gift of God, not by works of the law, not even a law extrapolated from the New Testament.
"For it is by grace are you saved through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9)


Q: Baptists and other Christians often insist that the right way to be baptized is to be immersed. It seems Presbyterians allow for sprinkling, pouring or immersion. Why don't we all just follow the Baptist mode to make it more simple?

A: It is true that Baptists insist much more strongly on a particular mode. We could take the approach that since we allow immersion and others insist on immersion, why not immerse too. Imagine three friends are going out to a restaurant, one doesn't care where they go, one just doesn't want Italian food and the third insists on hamburgers. All three friends in this situation will probably be eating hamburgers before the evening is done. While this is not a bad way to decide on a restaurant for the evening, it is not biblical to hold to a teaching simply because someone is being forceful in their opinions. There is no verse in the Bible which prescribes a specific mode of baptism.

Q: Doesn't the word baptism mean to immerse?

A: The word baptism is a transliteration of the greek word baptizo. Our word does come from this word which meant to wash by dipping in water but is an over simplification to merely say it means to immerse. The word used several times in the New Testament to mean wash, as in to wash dishes or wash ceremonially . (Mark 7:4 Luke 11:39 Hebrews 9:10)

Mark 7:4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles. )

Luke 11:38 But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.

Hebrews 9:10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

While it is clear that this type of washing is a dipping in water, we must not add to the Biblical text by making the word baptism say more than the Biblical writers meant it to say. You see people wash their dishes and have little arguments how they do it. As long as the dish is clean, you are satisfied. When we look at the earliest artistic renditions of baptism from the second century, they clearly show someone standing in water and water being affused on the head. The earliest written instruction on "how" to baptize is written in the Didache which prescribes immersion as the proper way to perform the ceremony. The act of baptism was a ceremonial washing. Those in the early church saw or participated in ceremonial washings performed by both Jewish and pagan religions. Likewise, they bathed. We should not think of baptism as a special method of washing, but rather having a special meaning. The immersion practiced in today's churches does not look like those recorded in the graphic arts of the second and third centuries. In all probability baptism was practiced in the early church in a variety of modes depending on how various people bathed or had seen ceremonial washings being done.

Covenant Baptism verses Believer's Baptism

Q: Why would you baptize a child?

A: When God called Abraham, he also called his family to faith. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of the father, his son and grandson. (Genesis 12:2 Exodus 3:6) God works in families, so much so, that in the Old Testament, the men in that covenant community received a sign to show that they were called of God, circumcision. (Genesis 17:10-15) Though some who received the sign did not believe God, he stilled wanted this to be the mark of the covenant between Abraham's descendants and God. (Romans 4:9-11) Only those who believed, as did Abraham, were the true son's of Abraham. Circumcision of itself did not save. Even though circumcision does not save anyone, it was very important in the Old Testament covenant. It was so important that God indicated that Moses would suffer death unless his son became circumcised. (Exodus 4:24-27) Since the New Testament times the sign of the covenant is baptism. (Colossians 2:11) And the covenant has been given us and our children. (Acts 2:39) God considers our children of the covenant to be holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14) Parents are to train and instruct their children in the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) This is far cry different than raising our children to make their own choices. That is not to say that they don't have choices but the Lord tells us he is our only real choice. (Exodus 20:3)

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