Sunday, January 4, 2009

Thoughts On Baptism

I believe more people have lost their lives over the issue of baptism than any other spiritual practice. In many parts of the world where being a Christian is illegal it is not uncommon for someone to accept Jesus and go to church with very little repercussions but if they choose to be baptized they reap all manner of persecution. Even in history some of the great heroes of our faith (Luther, Calvin, Zwingly and others) would have people drowned (or executed in some other way) because they wanted to be baptized as adults. Even my own denomination (Grace Brethren, who have anabaptist roots) has had several splits over the issue of how baptism is to be done properly and to whom it is acceptable.

Even in Los Angeles today there is heat involved with being baptized. I have had Muslim converts get excited about following Jesus and obey everything but baptism because they fear being completely ostracized from their family. I have seen fear in the eyes of people who have surrendered to Christ from a Roman Catholic background when it is suggested that they be baptized as adults in obedience to their new faith because they fear their parents will disown them. Recently, I even had a young man in my church receive some mild abuse from his parents who are part of an independent Christian church because he wanted to be baptized. His parent’s pastor stepped in to the mix and said that the people doing such (our organic church) are “novices” and “heretical” and that the young man should only be baptized by those who have the spiritual covering of their church. What does that even mean? Where is that in the Bible?

Baptism is so important to some people that they have adopted the term to identify themselves and thus separate themselves by it…they are Baptists. Of course, now we have so many varieties of Baptists that we need other words to clarify which brand we mean.

Why would such a simple act be so volatile? Why are secular and religious people, denominations, institutions, pastors and historical figures so threatened by such a short action that is over in a matter of seconds?

Even as I write this many of us may be tempted to say, “Forget about it. This is just a symbolic act that is done one time, it isn’t worth all this hatred, division and spilled blood.” While that sounds calm and rational, it may very well be exactly what Satan wants. You see, I think there is a reason why the true enemy, the Devil, has done so much to keep baptism from being what Jesus always intended.

I am going to explore the significance of baptism and communion in my blog for a few days. I trust that these blog entries will receive more flack than previous entries, simply because it is a very sensitive topic. Why? Because baptism and communion are to be at the heart of each disciple loving Jesus—following Him in obedience, telling others about him and making more disciples. If Satan can disrupt all that from the very start, in the beginning of a disciples new life, he will be able to disrupt a great deal down the road. I hope to show what I mean by this as I write more.

I fully understand that many of my friends have differing opinions about this, so I will allow for great liberty. I have friends, that are unable to agree with me and remain in their current church roles or associations, so please feel free to disagree with me. All I ask is that you think with me about this subject.

I will endeavor to take my lead from the New Testament Scriptures. I want to be bold where they are bold, and silent where they are silent. I do not want to add artificial religious baggage to them, where it does not exist.

I may be labeled a heretic for some of what I believe on these subjects, but as I grow older I have come to appreciate the company that bears such a label. In fact, glancing down the long road of history, I would rather be on that side of the aisle than the other side which is busy labeling said heretics, for it is in this company that you will find some of the greatest men and women of faith. You would even find Jesus there.

1 comment:

Joshua Tucker said...

I'm interested to see what you'll be writing on the subject. I came out of the baptist church into the church of Christ based primarily on the issue of baptism. The modern evangelical world teaches to pray Jesus into one's heart for conversion, but this practice is found nowhere in the New Testament.

Instead, many Scriptures point out clearly how people in the New Testament became Christians (Matt. 28:19-20, Mk. 16:15-16, Acts 2:38, 8:12-13, 18:8 etc.) It was always belief and baptism, as Jesus Himself said.

The problem is that the Catholic Church turned baptism into a sacrament. But it was never meant to be a work as the Bible speaks of it. It's instead where one is buried with Christ, and risen to life a new life (Rom. 6:3-4). It's the place where sins are forgiven and our sinful lives are spiritually circumcised (Col. 2:11-12, 1 Pet. 3:21).

It seems to me that the New Testament is very clear on the issue of baptism, both for its mode and essentiality. However, throughout history the church has changed it into either a sacrament or only an "outward expression of faith," neither of which are taught in the New Testament.

Looking forward to reading your thoughts about it.