“And he took them the same hour of the night
and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once,
he and all his family.”
A friend asked me about baptism. As with anything in scripture, if you ask enough people, you’ll get disagreement. Baptism is one such topic. Now, I’m not a board-certified theologian. I didn’t go to seminary (nor do I want to). I do enjoy studying my bible and listening to different people preach. We may disagree on topics, but none of us gets a pass from God to be deliberately ignorant of his Word.
It would be safe to say that we all agree that baptism is an important topic if for no other reason than through what is known as Jesus’ Great Commission:
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There’s no getting around this one – and that’s where the disagreement starts. What, exactly, is baptism? Now, from what I can discern, there are two schools of thought. One school says that baptism is the mechanism that saves a soul from damnation. The other says it is an act of obedience for those who are already saved.
I grew up in the Catholic Church believing that baptism was critical to salvation. This was why infants were baptized. In fact, as I was taught, an infant that wasn’t baptized would go to hell if s/he died prior to this ritual. I heard stories how the priest rushed to the hospital in cases of life-and-death delivery emergencies. I have since done some research on the Catholic teaching, and it isn’t quite as dire as that. If I recall correctly (forgive me if I haven’t), they believe baptism is required for entrance to heaven, although in certain circumstances it’s not. It’s safe to say that if there is knowledge of the need for baptism, there is no reason not to perform this sacrament.
But baptism isn’t the only requirement for salvation. Good works is mandatory, although I couldn’t pin down exactly what is required. Even so, with both baptism and good works covered, salvation can be lost through unrepentant mortal sin. I found great difficulty in pinning this concept down.
As a late-in-life believer, I rejected the Catholic teaching and aligned myself in the Protestant camp. To my surprise, these folks didn’t agree on what baptism meant. Some believe that baptism is what saves a person and others believe that it is an act of obedience by an individual. The former believe that one person can act on behalf of another while the latter believe that it is an individual’s act. The former believes that comprehension by the one being baptized is not necessary. The latter believes it is.
Therefore, one camp believes infant baptism is required. The other completely rejects that idea. I found just how important this idea of infant baptism is at funerals in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches. Here’s what the Episcopal Catechism states:
Q. What is Holy Baptism?
A. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.
Q. What is the outward and visible sign in Baptism?
A. The outward and visible sign in Baptism is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?
A. The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.
Q. What is required of us at Baptism?
A. It is required that we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
Q. Why then are infants baptized?
A. Infants are baptized so that they can share citizenship in the Covenant, membership in Christ, and redemption by God.
Q. How are the promises for infants made and carried out?
A. Promises are made for them by their parents and sponsors, who guarantee that the infants will be brought up within the Church, to know Christ and be able to follow him.
I’ve been to enough funerals to know that in practice, these churches plant a flag on the concept of infant salvation. I’ve been to many funerals of people that in thought, word, and deed acted in ways CONTRARY to biblical discipleship yet the priests, pastors, and congregation alike all celebrated the fact that this person was now in heaven. Why? Because he was baptized as an infant.
Fine. Actually, that’s really good news. Why? Because you and I have it in our power to baptize each and every person we know. There is no reason that ANYONE should perish spiritually if we can sprinkle them with water and guarantee we will do the best we can to get them to follow the Lord, then they are good to go. Right? Then, I say, let’s send airplanes up and mist the entire planet! Seriously! If we can celebrate in church our belief that a non-repentant dead man is in heaven, then we have NO EXCUSE for not baptizing the whole world. In fact, wouldn’t it be our moral OBLIGATION to go to war, if necessary, so that we could baptize everyone? Furthermore, we could force religion on them so that we can look God in the eye and say we made good on our guarantee as parents or sponsors.
That’s ludicrous. Yet, when our words are unable to stand up to the scrutiny of logic, they fail. What we have here is salvation in the hands of man, not God. Is that really what salvation is?
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Look, we want all of our loved ones to enjoy eternal life, but the fact is that most will reject Jesus. Only those who have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside have eternal life (Romans 8:9-10). How do I get the Holy Spirit? By baptism? No. Nicodemus was schooled on this by Jesus himself (John 3:1-21). How do I know if I have the Holy Spirit? Long story short, the Spirit resides in us, it testifies to us (Romans 8:16) that we are children of God. Furthermore, we see fruit in repentance, our testimony, our walk with Jesus, our hunger for scripture, our love for other believers. We are rewarded by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Oh, and we are obedient. That’s where adult baptism comes in. You see, adults don’t want to be baptized. The Holy Spirit drives us to this. Is it necessary? No. The man on the cross joined Jesus in Paradise without being baptized. Still, Jesus commands us to be baptized.
Why? Those of us who are saved by the Spirit will one day be able to ask Jesus face-to-face. Until then, I’ll be content that obedience and humility fit into the picture.
To close this topic, I know that all this will tick some people off. Infant baptism is a very touchy subject. There are lots of touchy subjects. However, if we are born-again and willing to honestly examine the Word of God – not of man – then the Holy Spirit will reveal truth to us (John 14:26). Now, we may struggle with that, but truth will prevail. Let’s also remember that Jesus embroiled himself with devoted, religious Jews – experts in their faith, so they thought. Things are no different today. Remember what Jesus told Nicodemus?
John 3:10-15 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Is there any point in arguing about all of this? No. Present truth and be done with it. What if you are in a church that practices infant baptism? Let me say it this way. Those with saving faith will be disturbed by a church that practices contrary to the bible. Infant baptism won’t be the only issue.
Revelation 22:11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.
So, to wrap up my position. Baptism should be only for those who can comprehend what they are doing. Infant baptism? Nope. Can we promise to teach our children of things of God. Certainly.
Father, guide your church. If I have said anything in here that isn’t according to your will, let it be immediately forgotten by those who read it and teach me what you desire. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Scott Powers