Thursday, November 05, 2009

I Just Don't Get It

"He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and prays the believer's prayer will be saved . . ." (Mark 16: 15-16)

"Go and make disciples of all nations, having them pray the believer's prayer in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . ." (Matthew 28: 19)

"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and pray the believer's prayer, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 2: 37-38)

"Or don't you know that all of us who prayed the believer's prayer prayed the believer's prayerinto his death? We were therefore buried with him through the believer's prayer into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6: 3-4)

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who prayed the believer's prayer into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3: 26-27)

"He saved us through the believer's prayer and renewal by the Holy Spirit . . ." (Titus 3: 5)

". . . and this water symbolized the believer's prayer that now saves you also -- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God." (1 Peter 3: 21)

I hope you recognize that the phrases I have italicized in these passages are actually substituting for "baptism." Yet this is what many in the evangelical Christian world teach today. Not only that, but anyone who dares to insist upon obedience to the verses cited above as they actually read is prone to being labeled as a legalist, narrow-minded, a cultist or even a heretic.

Yet for over 1500 years of church history, from its inception until the Reformation Movement, baptism was considered to be the means through which grace and salvation is mediated. While there was disagreement as to the mode of baptism (immersion, pouring, sprinkling), its purpose was never discounted. That is, not until Ulrich Zwingli, the lesser known of the big-3 reformers, decided that it was not necessary or essential.

So over the last 500 years, a "new way to Jesus" has become the norm: the believer's prayer. It is so much more convenient. People don't object to it as much. You can get whole crowds to do this simply by raising their hands.

I wonder why the disciples didn't know that? On the day of Pentecost, it would have been SO much easier to have just had those 3,000 people pray the believer's prayer. Of course, it hadn't been invented yet -- but that's beside the point. Instead, those narrow-minded disciples must have spent wasted hours baptizing all of those folks (I know, my sarcasm is leaking through).

To claim Jesus without baptism seems to me like a couple who shack up but never get married. They never experience the commitment that comes with making a covenant -- which ALWAYS includes a covenant symbol. It is so beautiful. It was Jesus' idea. The apostles taught it and practiced it. Not one person comes to Jesus in the book of Acts without being baptized. Why, oh why, is there such a rejection of it -- and anyone who teaches it -- today?

As a part of the Churches of Christ, I personally carry some baggage. There are verses we have used out of context to say things they were never intended to say. I repent of ever doing that. I repent of having been a sectarian. I repent of holding myself and my "church" up as the only lovers of truth. I repent of arrogance and self-righteousness. I have re-evaluated many of my preconceived assumptions and positions. But I've got to say, I still believe Scripture teaches a lofty view of baptism. Not as a work. Not as earning us anything. But rather, as a means through which grace and salvation can be mediated.

I would rather stand at the judgment and have to say, "God, I am sorry to discover that You didn't think baptism is necessary. But I was just preaching what You wrote in the Word" -- than to say, "God, baptism didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, so I just told people they could come to Jesus another way. So we came up with 'the believer's prayer.' It was all for You, You know. I'm sure You will understand."


Jeff said...

I truly do not under resistance to baptism and see it today as more essential and more necessary to salvation than ever, not as an effort or work on my part but, as a point where one is clothed in Christ, where one gives their old self to him to be made new and fresh and pure.

I leave it up to God whether he chooses to do this through a prayer or through baptism but what I read about baptism brings to life the joy and hope I have when I share in Christ's death in resurrection through the water of baptism and I just simply cannot fathom not running to the water when deciding to live for Christ. I only wish I would have understood it better when I was young.

Thanks for your comments. I get chills thinking about the power of baptism and what it means in my life.

randy said...

I can think of a new testament full of reasons to be baptized in the name of Jesus and not a single reason to avoid immersion.

Kyle R. said...

I've come to at least this conclusion on the matter of water immersion: I'm going to accept someone's word that they are Christian simply based on their testimony to me (and the fruit of their life). Who am I to precisely say that God can't work without water. But I cannot resist the written word which clearly teaches that there is no such thing as an unbaptized Christian.

It seems to me the argument is more about timing than most other things, most of the time. Afterall, most factions of believers in Jesus practice baptism of at least some sort. And most actually do immerse at some point. For the life of me, however, I cannot understand (for someone who can read the Bible) how faith and immersion ever got ever got separated. The only thing I can come up with is that it is reaction against legalism and/or abuse.

As for me, when the subject comes up, I am quite content to insist on biblical teaching of faith/baptism together. Together.

I will compromise with other people on other perhaps more obscure biblical discussions (practices and teachings which I actually hold personally dear), but I do not compromise on the emphasis that the written word and the incarnate Word place on baptism. Afterall, that is indeed in black and white print, not just here and there, but throughout the New Testament.