Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Weirdness in the Church over Baptism

Christians who are not clergy are often times instructed by the church to disobey Jesus when they are not allowed to baptize their disciples. The practice of baptism is not something Christ gave to the “clergy,” church organization or institutions, but to all disciples. One of the sayings in our own church-planting movement is: “The Bible doesn’t command us to be baptized but to be baptizers” (Matt. 28:19–20).

There is absolutely no biblical support for the idea that only the clergy in the local church can baptize. Though our traditions and experience may reinforce such standards, the Bible does not. In fact, it is my opinion that the Bible is slanted in the other direction. Those who are seen to be the leaders in the New Testament are often not the ones who are doing the baptizing but instead their disciples are. It specifically states that during Jesus’ baptizing he wasn’t actually the one doing the baptizing but his disciples were. Paul states that he is glad he only baptized a few in Corinth.

It is amazing how much damage the simple idea of baptizing another has caused through church history. People have been killed, cults have been initiated, denominations started and split, heretics burned at the stake, and parachurch organizations have been formed—all because we view baptism in a strange, unbiblical fashion. If we would only read the Bible and take it for what it says literally, rather than defend our “sacred” traditions, the church would be healthier.

We have created spiritual boundaries to manage spiritual practices, but these boundaries are not in the Bible. When false boundaries begin to take on a biblical sense of authority, they are quite insidious. We accept them as truth and even rise to defend them as though they come from the Bible, when they do not. Unfortunately, we are often willing to submit to these false divisions more than to Scripture itself. This is how the subversive strategy of the Enemy causes much damage. Because we have allowed artificial boundaries to separate Christian groups weird things happen.

For instance, one motto for a parachurch ministry has been: “To fulfill the Great Commission in this generation.” This seems honorable, except that they have rules in place that prevent them from ever fulfilling the Great Commission in any place. Right in the middle of the Great Commission is the command to baptize disciples, which they strictly forbid in order to maintain their parachurch status since (in their view) only churches can baptize.

I want to raise awareness of the weird, almost schizophrenic policies we have made in the church. Whether it is separating a spiritual family into voting “members” and silent “nonmembers” or telling Christians to fulfill the Great Commission by disobeying it, false and artificial divisions have caused some strange practices to be established.


Chris said...

So I'm not a greek scholar at all, but I did some digging. Literally, the Greek verb “baptizo” means “to immerse,” but it doesn’t necessarily include a medium (though the image used is of water). Second, “in the name of” was, in the Hebrew tradition, a means of invoking all of the qualities associated with that name. For example, if I was to say “in the name of Aurora,” it would mean invoking the qualities of “the dawn,” or light, morning, and by extension, “early,” “brilliant,” etc. But God’s names don’t actually have meanings, they have qualities associated with them – compassion, mercy, justice, redeemer, liberator, etc.

So to read it with the new translation, it would read “Make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the qualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” In other words, it’s making a metaphorical comparison to the rite of passage, using the imagery of water surrounding a person to show how the person is to become part of a community that embodies those principles, those qualities of Justice, mercy, compassion, etc. found in the old testament (which, by the way, was the scripture used by Matthew, he didn’t have a New Testament yet).

Also, I can't help but notice that the disciples were never baptized in water – not a single one of them was ever recorded as having been immersed in a ceremonial rite. Unless you've heard of that, maybe I've missed it.

Just some thoughts, what do you think?

Anonymous said...

Insidious, subtle, and for too long invisible to the eyes of Christians; too much of what we call "Church" has been taken captive to false gods. Martin Luther brought reformation through his writings, such as Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Well, it appears we're in another generation ready to bring reform.

To gain freedom from these insidious ideas you mention, we will need a ruthless examination of our culture, our church practices, and the ideas that led us to those practices. This is no less than the ruthless self-examination that Paul, the apostle, endured in order to gain the revelations we read in his letters.

The elementary principles Paul often mentioned are powerfully influential and foundational ideas. (See Newbigin, Gospel in a Pluralistic Society 1989) These basic ideas are deep-seated and necessary, though dangerous. Paul referred to the law as the “custodian” or “guardian.” (Galatians 4:8-9) Then he asks why, after you have known God, would you go back to be slaves of the elementary principles? (Col.2: 8,20) Elementary principles, ‘stoichaea’ in Greek, may be used for good or for evil to influence our thinking, divide people, or unite us on a false basis.

Jesus taught a parable about a rich landowner who appointed tenants and went away on a journey. It’s unclear, however there appears to be similarity between the tenants Jesus refers to and Paul’s reference to the guardians. This will require further study, however it may be that these guardians or tenants are the “Sons of God” who appear before the Lord. (Job 1:6 NIV) The elementary principles or building blocks of culture, it may be reasoned, are taught and reinforced by these custodians of culture. We should also recognize that those Sons of God, originally appointed for good purposes, have taken cultures captive.

Though God has sent messengers into his vineyard, “some of them they beat, others they killed.” Finally God sent his son. “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’” (Mk. 12:6-8 NIV)

Understanding the level of spiritual conflict over cultures and the powerful spiritual forces, which have “blinded the minds…so that they cannot see the light of the gospel,” will help us appreciate the need for a new reformation. (2 Cor 4:4 NIV)

It is vital to the life and mission of the Church in culture to oppose these powerful forces holding people and cultures captive. Learning and being taught requires a spiritually submissive posture; it requires a “bowing down” to a teacher. If the Church does not recognize this principle, it will ignore the spiritual forces and allow the surrounding culture to become captive.

Joshua Tucker said...

Great post, Neil.

Chris - Hope you don't mind me responding a little bit to what you wrote.

I think it's interesting what you wrote. We do not have record of the apostles (the 12) being baptized, except Paul, which is recorded several times (Acts 9, 22:16 etc.) But since Jesus was baptizing (not Himself, as John writes) we have to assume His own disciples were baptized in the lot with the other disciples He baptized.

In John 3:23 when John writes of both Jesus and John baptizing, it mentions they did it at this particular place "because there was plenty of water there." Clearly this is water baptism.

While baptism probably does have some connotation of being baptized into the principles of Jesus (compassion, mercy, etc.), this is not the only way the early disciples took His command in practice. After He commanded His apostles to preach the gospel, and that everyone who believes and is baptized would be saved (Mark 16:15-16) we see them doing just that in Acts (2:38, 16:15, 18:8 etc.)

We also know that it was in water. In Acts 8:36-38 Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch. In fact the eunuch asks, "Look, here is water. What keeps me from being baptized?" The text continues that "both Philip and the eunuch went into the water, and he baptized him." I might add that from early Christian writings it is very clear they unanimously took Jesus to mean that baptism was being immersed in actual water. We can't, 2 thousand years removed, really claim to understand what His commands look like in practice more than the original hearers did.

As to it being a "ceremonial rite," it was never used like that until the Catholic church turned it into a sacrament. It has become a ritualized event, whereas beforehand it was a spiritual rebirth (John 3:3-5). Today, baptism is typically highly ritualized and removed from its original reasons: to go down into the water, be buried with Christ, and to arise a new person (Rom. 6:3-4).

I hope this doesn't come off as aggressive, because I don't mean it that way. I'm just trying to share what I see from the New Testament about the subject. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts further on the matter.

In Christ,


Neil Cole said...


I agree with much of what Joshua says. It was water baptism in the NT, it would be a long stretch to think otherwise given the abundance of revelation. There are some points where I would probably differ a wee bit with what Joshua says.

That said, We are indeed immersed into the qualities of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that is being a disciple.

As to whether the apostles were baptized or not, Andrew was first one of John the baptists disciples. He probably was baptized by John.

Yes, it is assumed that if they are disciples baptizing others that they indeed would have been baptized. Even Jesus Himself was immersed in water. As Josh points out, Paul was as well.

I do not think it is a good assumption to make that just because the NT doesn't give an account of the disciples baptism that it didn't happen. Perhaps, it didn't, but the Bible doesn't tell us that it didn't happen, so it is not right to make such a claim.

Thanks for generating some good conversation!!!