Thursday, June 28, 2007

Contemplating the Importance of Baptism

Recently, I have been spending some of my time in the book of Acts. I have specifically been focusing this study on the practices and make-up of the early church. While I have only journeyed through chapter 8 on this particular reading, the prominence of baptism in the early church has been extremely interesting in contrast to the role baptism plays in the modern church. Let’s take a closer look.

After being asked “brothers, what must we do”, Peter said they must repent and be baptized. Those who truly believed were subsequently baptized right then and there. Peter didn’t wait until next week or whenever it was convenient for the new believers. No, he made sure all 3,000 were baptized that day. It was after they were baptized that the 3,000 were “added” to their number.

2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, 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.”
2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

In Samaria, those who believed the gospel message preached by Philip were baptized. Notice that belief was again immediately followed by baptism. It didn’t say that they joined a Bible study or a small group. They weren’t told to consider baptism at some later date when they were able to invite their friends and family to witness the “ceremonial” event. No, they were immediately baptized.

8:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon (a practicing sorcerer) himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

Philip again shows us the importance of immediate baptism for those who believe. In fact, this passage involving the Ethiopian eunuch also demonstrates that a complete presentation of the gospel will have a true believer begging to be baptized. So, if someone is not interested in baptism one of two things are present (1) they have not been presented with the true gospel or (2) they do not truly believe.

8:35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

Ok, I had to move into chapter 9 because it shows that even Paul was immediately baptized upon his conversion.

9:18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,

Why don’t we (the modern evangelical church) immediately baptize new believers? Why do we allow even a day to go by before they are baptized? The early church fathers, the apostles, those who were extremely close friends with Jesus all treated baptism as an immediate act of faith. In the case of the converts at Pentecost, the apostles didn’t even count them as fellow believers until they were baptized. This reality of how our church fathers valued baptism makes me want to see new believers immediately ushered to the baptismal before they leave the church. Do we not do this because it is just too messy or inconvenient? Would we be raising the bar too high and therefore turn people away from accepting Christ? If someone would be turned away because of an immediate baptism (they would have to get wet), then are they truly ready to give their life to Christ? The response of a new believer should always be like that of the Ethiopian eunuch “why shouldn’t I be baptized”. In other words, "show me the water because I am ready right now".

8 comments:

Peter Kirk said...

Thanks. It has always struck me that in the New Testament baptism happened in the same way as nowadays we ask people to come to the front or raise their hands to indicate that they want to receive Christ. But within a century or so, perhaps because of bad experiences with false converts and perhaps because of the growing fear that sin after baptism could not be forgiven, it became normal to delay baptism at least until after thorough catechism. My own feeling is that we should return more to the NT practice rather than later tradition, but I guess not all would agree. There is also a practical issue, which was even one in Acts 8:36, which is that there is not always sufficient water available, at least for immersion: not all churches have permanent baptistries, and not all people become Christians in a church.

Brian said...

I can see some postmodern churches taking to this idea of immediate baptism. I think it would fit well in these type of services/settings.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Baptism has become a thorn to modern religion becasue religion has largely forsaken Biblical faith. We want to be "acceptable" or "popular" rather than Biblical. We are afraid that if we really begin to LIVE the Word, we will run people off. The only thing about that is those that will run are not "of us" and more of those will actually be saved. But apparently even eternity is not important to our modern religion, because we don't speak about sin anymore - Paul said that there was no way he could known his need of salvation without knowing his sinful state. Repentace is not Preached anymore either - Jesus said "Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." We have the hateful legalistic brand who counters the complacency of the modernist liberal who counters the hatefulness of the former. What happened to being Biblical?

Anonymous said...

As the other posters have said, the early church of the ante-Nicene period postponed baptism until the catechumen were schooled in the faith, this was also a honeymoon period to confirm that there was a true conversion. They also postponed baptism until death to guard against any post-baptismal sin. This was done in sincerity and not so the individual can enjoy all life of sin. Constantine had a bishop follow him around ready to baptize him in the event of death. Many of these practices of the ante-Nicene church were sound and many were obscure; none the less we need to take the patently open teaching of the bible and baptize the convert ASAP; just as Phillip baptized the eunuch.

I personally don't have a problem with pouring or immersion; I can actually build a strong case for pouring in that it is a nice picture of the descent of the Holy Spirit. I personally take a middle ground in that I will not commit to the memorial view of baptism nor will I commit to the Salvific view. All I know is the bible says "Repent, believe, and be baptized" and anyone who will not follow the biblical command is assuredly not following Christ in most other aspects of their lives either. Coherence in ones theology should not be a goal because the bible is a partial revelation from God and we will have many mysteries that are unexplainable and some that seem to confound our logic such as the Trinity and the Christology.

I believe that the Holy Spirit is given to the believer as an 'earnest deposit" and there is nothing stopping God from taking back His earnest money at Judgment Day. Remember the great commission is "Preach repentance for the remission of sins", not "Preach unconditional love or eternal security...". Too often Christians have to twist and ignore scriptures that patently teach the provisional nature of salvation in order to maintain coherence in their theology. What they don't understand is that the bible is not a coherent book of systematic theology; it is God's revelation to man that is sufficient for salvation and holy living. If one is to accept the bible as God's revelation, he must accept a little bit of incoherence in his theology.

To be continued...

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