A Reader’s Question on Defending Baptism

baptism of JesusI get emails —

My daughter has been routinely put on the spot by kids in her class for her doctrinal convictions. She does not accost her friends with her beliefs but is regularly asked how in the world she could believe that baptism is part of salvation.

She engages them in discussion and will give reasons and Scripture references for her beliefs, but will not resort to “endless arguments”. Neither of us feel it’s healthy to do so, and we are not there to debate issues, put people down, tell them they’re not saved–and neither do we feel that they are not followers of Jesus. We believe what the Bible says and we follow it accordingly, but we’re not trying to prove anything to those who believe otherwise.

For being young my daughter is spiritually minded and quite mature in her responses. My question is, just as other believers don’t want to be “judged” for their doctrinal beliefs, why do they tend to put us on the spot for our beliefs about baptism? 

I know you’ve stated before that those who are inadequately taught about baptism fall under God’s grace, and I know what you mean. I’m not one who is eager to condemn those who don’t know better, intend to be baptized or just have never been taught but have lived their lives for God.

My issue is with those who have been exposed to the teachings about baptism, forcefully preach against it, and ridicule those who believe in it. They go overboard to try to prove that baptism is unnecessary and unimportant.

Do you have thoughts on why this is still such a hot button and how we should be responding? I grew up with friends who also thought my family was crazy for baptizing people. It tends to be those with Baptist roots and there is a real defensiveness and anger that comes through in their attitudes. Any input you have would be very helpful (and hopefully encouraging!).

Perhaps the best statement on the subject I’ve found is an excerpt from a sermon by Francis Chan —

What I love about his presentation is he cuts through the debates and microscopic distinctions and gets to the heart of the matter: just do what the Bible says: repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit.

I have to confess that I don’t understand the militance of some Baptists on the subject. Most Baptists whom I’ve encountered take from their teachings grace and acceptance of all fellow believers in Jesus. But a very few see the Baptist Church as the very best kind of Christian — which I guess is better than seeing one’s denomination as the onlyest kind of Christian — so we really can’t throw stones — but it’s still lacking in grace. And a few, in congregations with Landmark Movement roots, which share roots with our own Churches of Christ — see themselves as the only ones who get it right and please God. But that’s very unusual in my experience.

I’m no expert on how to persuade teens to act like adults — and in this case, better than their parents, in all likelihood. The temptation to vainglory, to see oneself as particularly pleasing to God and therefore allowed to look down on others, is all too common. And it’s all too common in the Churches of Christ, and not just the more conservative churches. Pride is a sin that infects us all, and the only means of removal for most of us is an humbling experience — and those are none too fun. No one likes to be humbled. And none of us has been anointed to humble others. That’s God’s job, and he can be quite good at it.

My advice is for your daughter to speak in simple terms of obedience. I would not debate when salvation comes or when the Spirit comes. I would only argue that after a sermon focused solely on Jesus and the Spirit, Peter urged repentance and baptism. We should do the same. We are not more inspired than Peter, and whether or not we understand all that goes into the command, we surely understand the command.

Obviously, Baptists believe the same thing. They may disagree as to the exact motivation for baptism, or the exact timing of the Spirit, but they believe that the proper response to the gospel is repentance, baptism, and receipt of the Spirit. So let’s agree that we agree and move on to more important topics: like now that we are Christians, how should we best honor our Savior with our lives?

Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and David Lipscomb, indeed, nearly every Restoration Movement preacher in the early and mid-19th Century, happily accepted Baptist baptism as sufficient. Campbell himself declared that requiring a Baptist to be rebaptized makes one a “heretic” because it divides the church, the Baptists already being in it and not needing to re-enter! To say otherwise is to treat baptized, penitent believers as damned, which is certainly wrong.

Campbell himself was baptized by immersion as an adult to obey God, long before he realized that baptism is for remission of sins. He was never rebaptized. David Lipscomb was baptized because he wanted “to obey God.” Tolbert Fanning, the great Church of Christ missionary who planted the first Church of Christ in nearly every Southeast town, baptized Lipscomb, declaring that the best confession he’d ever heard!

So maybe her best response would be along the lines of, “I’m just glad we’re sisters in Christ who will be in heaven together forever.”

My own response tends to conclude with (and perhaps this isn’t advisable), “… and when we see Jesus together in heaven, I’m going to ask him that very question, and you are going to be so embarrassed when he answers.” Be sure to smile as you say it.

I look forward to the combined counsel of the readership.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to A Reader’s Question on Defending Baptism

  1. David Himes says:

    I believe there are two issues at play here. One is an incomplete appreciation of God’s grace and the call for us to be as gracious to others as God is to us.

    The other … and they are certainly related … is the pre-occupation with law as the path to God.

    It is natural for us, individually, to want to know we are “right” with God. And if another person, especially one we like or respect, has a different view of how to be “right” with God, it poses a threat to our “righteousness”.

    As a result, we tend to want to prove the other person wrong, or persuade them to agree with us. Because if we all agree, then certainly God won’t condemn us, will he?

    So, what do you do?

    Be gracious … God is our judge, thankfully. So my understanding or your understanding are not the controlling views. Only God’s view counts. One day, we’ll all know. But for now, we are called to seek to follow what we understand God’s will is. We can do no more and should try to do no less.

  2. Neal says:

    Baptists may be responding so defensively because they use guilt and condemnation as deftly as the Churches of Christ do. We rabidly teach and practice process and scheduling over relationship with a Father who is the creator and perfector of our faith. God with us and now in us. Let’s not judge or condemn but instead let love bind us together as we each follow Messiah.

  3. Part of our problem in the Church of Christ is an incomplete understanding of baptism. Baptism alone does not save us. Being planted in the water does not make us children of God any more than circumcision of the flesh made Israel what God called them to be without a corresponding circumcision of their hearts.

    Likewise, baptism must be not only in water, but also in Spirit. Otherwise, our baptism is a mere bath. True baptism looks back to God’s work in Christ in His life, His death, and His resurrection for our forgiveness. It also looks forward to our walk with him in new, resurrection kind of life. Thus it is both an appeal to God for a good conscience and a pledge to God of a good conscience as we walk with Jesus in the newness of His life in us.

    This walk of faith is a demonstration of our repentance, and here is a true mystery: how can God give us the blessing that flows from repentance and faith without our having brought forth the fruits demonstrating our repentance? John the Baptizer demanded that an evil generation bring forth such fruit before he would baptize them. Yet, this is almost passed over in our haste to get someone into the water!

    It’s almost as if we are sent to baptize instead of to preach Christ crucified and risen. Yet, it is faith in the risen Christ hat will make a real difference in our lives, not faith in baptism or faith in the burch. Is baptism a commandment of Christ? Absolutely! Is it the greatest commandment? It did not even make the top three that Paul said endure: faith, hope, and love of which the greatest is love.

  4. Dwight says:

    One of the divisive points within the coC of which I used to believe is that you must be baptized for salvation, meaning you must believe that the baptism is for salvation, but that is not what we are baptized into, we are baptized into Jesus Christ the savior. Once we believe that you must be saved and that Jesus is the savior, then everything else is a response to that…faith, repentance, baptism. The Baptist might not make the baptism the point of salvation, but they do baptize into Christ the savior, so it must be a saving baptism. Apollos was re-baptized from John into Jesus, whereas John couldn’t save, Jesus could. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized”, when asked what they must do to be saved, so repentance is a must as much as baptism is for salvation, but they both must be in Christ for them to work. Peter preached Jesus in Acts 2 and then introduced what gets you into Jesus later.
    A man went to a doctor and the doctor told the man, “You must have this surgery to live”, so the man went and had this surgery. He died. The family members went to the doctor and were distraught and asked, “Why did he die, after all he had the surgery.” The doctor looked at them and said, “Yes, but while the surgery is important, this surgery must be done by a surgeon that is qualified to do it and there is only one surgeon qualified to do it.”
    So then the baptism while saving is not more important than the one in who you are baptized in and gives it power.

  5. laymond says:

    ” Is baptism a commandment of Christ? Absolutely! Is it the greatest commandment? It did not even make the top three that Paul said endure: faith, hope, and love of which the greatest is love.”

    Jerry, Baptism, or being baptized is a action of work, “faith, hope, and love”, is a state of being. If you are not in the state of faith, hope, and love, I really doubt that baptism would do you much good.

  6. Neal Roe says:

    Why are we so afraid to let go of preaching process and let God work it out? Both sides of this argument see the other as heretics and not saved. Let’s learn to teach Jesus and submission to the King. We have a log in our eye. what is patently needed is clear expository teaching. Let us reason together and believe. Is there any parall to this and the Jerusalem Council of James and Paul? The Greeks had a path and the Jersalem church had a different one.

  7. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    It’s been an amazing trip to be able to learn from communications here information that could not have been learned while boxed in at the local coC. We all believed in the Church and baptism was considered an entry door. But, we believed that baptism would not be valid and that entry into the Church was not possible unless the convert was also indoctrinated by coC. If any other group baptized someone they just got wet, the saving power was only in the court of the coC (non-denomination).

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