But where’s the bottom? At what point is it not a baptism at all? If there’s no bottom, then no one really needs baptized at all. Because if everything’s a baptism to some degree, then nothing is.
It’s a legitimate question, but not a question that I create. After all, the Churches of Christ have wrestled with and divided over exactly this issue for over 100 years: Where is the bottom? No one gets to escape the question.
And it’s easy to show that most people’s answer is subjective — “You must at least understand that it’s for remission of sins but you don’t have to understand that it’s for receipt of the Holy Spirit” — that sort of artificiality fills the discussion.
My answer is found in (among other places) —
(John 1:31-34 ESV) 1 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Notice John the Baptist’s explicit contrast between baptism in water and baptism in Spirit — and he is quoting God. Jesus came to bring baptism with the Holy Spirit. Of course, in the normal case, baptism with the Spirit and baptism with water correspond in time. Hence, Paul can speak of there being but “one baptism.”
But in the case of the apostles at Pentecost and Cornelius, the Spirit was received separate from water, and thus was “baptism with the Spirit” only. But, quite plainly, God reveals to us that he is capable of baptizing with the Spirit separate from water when it suits his purposes.
The test of salvation Paul gives us in Rom 8:9-11 is whether we are indwelt by the Spirit. It fits. Just so, John says,
(1Jo 4:13 ESV) 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
I think the scriptures teach that the botttom is the Spirit. Either you are baptized with the Spirit or you are not. The evidence of this is normally water baptism following a profession of faith, but the scriptures offer multiple exceptions. God is not bound to that rule — and he has made that abundantly clear.
Guy also asks,
But c’mon, biblically baptism is not in the same boat as IM or order of worship. Surely you could acknowledge that a person with a “hard” stance on baptism is not in precisely the same category as a person with a “hard” stance on instrumental music. The biblical treatment of the two topics just aren’t the same.
I agree. As I said in Part 1.5, those insisting on an entirely correct baptism can go down either of two paths. Either they can argue that baptism is essential because it’s a matter of obedience or they can argue that it’s an absolute condition. Arguing that it’s a matter of obedience is, in my view, heresy because the same arguments compels perfect obedience to all commands and thus damns us all. It’s the Galatian heresy.
But arguing that baptism is an absolute condition — like faith — is not nearly as flawed an argument. When readers argue from obedience, the instrumental music response is accurate. They are simply repeating the errors of the 20th Century Churches of Christ and repeating the same flawed reasoning — a flawed way of thinking that has led to countless divisions and misery.
But if you argue from the baptism passages that baptism is an absolute condition, like faith, then we can have a serious discussion about the deep things of God, such as —
* If God reckoned Abraham’s faith as righteousnss, without baptism, why doesn’t the same hold true today — for someone who misunderstands the Bible’s teachings on baptism?
* Why is faith an absolute condition? Is it an arbitrary law God made? Or is there a deep reason why we must believe in Jesus to be approved by God? And is that underlying reason the same reason God chose baptism as his initiatory rite?
* As Alexander Campbell argued, was there no one saved from Constantine until Campbell? I mean, even the Anabaptists often had a Zwinglian understanding of baptism, and many baptized by pouring. It seems hard to imagine that the Gates of Hell prevailed for 1,500 years.
* And there’s a careful consideration of the work of the Spirit to be had. Why is it that Church of Christ members and preachers constantly look to writers outside the Churches of Christ for deeper, richer insights into the scriptures? If we have the Spirit and they don’t, how can they be our teachers? Does 1 Corinthians 2 teach that the Spirit is required to understand spiritual things?
* And then there’s the “where’s the bottom?” problem. If baptism is an absolute condition, what are the minimum requirements? What does the believer have to understand is happening? What words must be said? What confession is sufficient? What about emergency situations? You see, when it gets down to the emergency situation — the person whose health won’t permit a baptism — just as the author of the Didache concluded, you do the best you can do under the circumstances and figure God’s not going to deny someone salvation over baptism if they have a genuine faith and truly want to obey God’s command but are held back by reasons beyond their control. And in such a case, we find ourselves fully expecting God to baptize with the Spirit without water — because God keeps his promises.
I’ve explored most of these thought in the comments. While the “absolute condition” argument isn’t heretical, I think it ultimately fails when we peer very deeply into the scriptures. But it takes some serious peering.