Searching for a Third Way: Baptism, Part 5.5

three.jpgI get emails. This one is particularly intringuing.

… That is, is our view of baptism too narrow?  To wit: Is our view that baptism is only the act of the dunking too narrow.  Should it be more broad as including the process of submission to the lordship of Jesus that culminates in the immersion?

“Faith” unquestionably includes submission to the Lordship of Jesus (Rom 10:9). I don’t think baptism “takes” without submission to Jesus as Lord. Indeed, that’s the meaning of “repent” in the familiar 5-finger plan of salvation (and Acts 2:38).

I see your point that seeing faith and baptism being one and the same solves some of this problem.  But I think it is too simplistic to say that Paul saw the moment of faith and baptism being one and the same.  Unless you are teaching in the baptistry and faith is acquired during the process of  the baptism, “What happens to the believer who falls over dead on his way to the baptistry or Roman bath or nearby creek, river, pond or lake?”  You still have that gap in time between the moment when one believes and the moment when he/she is actually baptized.  This is true whether one is taken straight away to water to be baptized or his/her baptism is scheduled for a later more convenient time.

I think people were baptized as soon as they came to faith — like the Jews at Pentecost, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Phillipian jailer. I don’t see Paul being that worried about someone dying on the way to the local creek or bath house. It’s an exceedingly rare event and surely one that Paul would put confidence in God to remedy graciously. We only focus on it today because (a) Baptists use that possibility to argue against our baptismal theology and (b) we’ve all been in church meetings where the risk of dying before baptism was the centerpiece of the sermon. But these are modern phenomena. 

I grant the possibility, of course, but don’t think the possibility was great enough that it affected apostolic modes of expression.

Would a better view would be to expand our understanding of what is baptism beyond the actual instant of the dunk and lift?  Doing so, solves this problem and reconciles the faith verses with the baptism verses and gives credence to both the future language “will be’s” and “may’s”.  It also acknowledges the necessity of coupling belief with submission and reconciles the “not everyone who says unto me Lord, Lord” passage.  Furthermore, it allows for grace to cover the incomplete or imperfect baptism just as it covers our imperfect repentence and incomplete faith.

Ah … now the conclusion, I think, is surely right. It’s all grace — beginning to end. Or as Paul says, “From to faith to faith.” Baptism is an act of faith — whereby God, through the church, announces his judgment of “not guilty” (or better yet, “innocent”).

Yes, the baptism verses are in there and God means them. But God’s grace covers the imperfections of those with imperfect faith in Jesus and imperfect repentance. 

Now, I’m not sure I’m following the part about expanding our understanding of what is baptism. I agree that the five-finger exercise tends to artificially separate “steps” that really are the same thing. Hearing, believing, confessing, and repenting are all included in “faith” or “believe” in most contexts. 

On the other hand, I’m wary of the argument that “faith” means faith + baptism, so that “faith” doesn’t exist for those not correctly baptized. But I certainly agree that “baptism” isn’t baptism at all in the absence of faith, which includes submission to Jesus as Lord.

If Paul were outlining a “plan of salvation,” I think he’d say it something like “Step 1: believe. Step 2: receive baptism, the Spirit, adoption as son, and forgiveness of sins” (paralleling Jesus’ baptism). From that standpoint, the problem disappears. The absence or flaw in baptism becomes the fault of the missionary or church, not the convert, and is surely covered by grace.

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