Friday, March 23, 2007

PURPOSE OF BAPTISM

With many religious people, there seems to be very little interests in discovering and teaching the original intent of Christian baptism. The interest today seems to be more to preserve tradition than to discover what the Scripture says. As an example, a Lutheran writer offered the following: "...the early Christian Church understood baptism as we continue to understand it today—a means of grace through which God graciously washes away all sin through the creation of faith in the hearts of infants or confirms faith in the hearts of adults."1 The first part of his statement, that baptism is a means of grace through which God washes away sin, is correct if we understand that God gives this grace to people who are being Baptized in Faith. The following passages of Scripture show that forgiveness is associated with Believers being Baptized:
Baptism is with a view to forgiveness, Acts 2:38. Baptism is where we call on the Lord and wash awayour sins, Acts 22:16. Baptism is where we are raised to walk in newness of life, Rom 6:3-5. Baptism is where our faith puts on Christ, Gal. 3:26,27. Baptism is where we are raised to walk innewness of life, Col. 2:12.
So the Lutheran position that Baptism is "the means" of receiving God's grace is clearly seen in Scripture as it is the most ancient purpose for Baptism.

But the second part of the Lutheran's statement, that "through" baptism faith is created in infants or confirmed in adults, is a position unsupported in Scripture. First, if baptism "created" faith in infants, why wouldn't it do the same for an adult? And second, the Lutheran's position that Baptism only confirms that faith dwells in an adult being Baptized, is in my experience a way of saying that the adult is already saved, and by submitting to Baptism the person is confirming he has already received saving grace. Thus, the "means" of God's grace would be something other than Baptism. There is a contradiction in this teaching. The Lutheran position that Baptism in infants is not confirming the presence of faith, but instead has an additional purpose of "creating" faith is confusing and contradictory to Scripture. It makes no sense to have alternate and competing purposes for baptism simply based on the age of the recipient. There is no Scriptural support to show that "through" baptism faith is created. Think about it, in what manner, shape, form, or fashion is faith created in an infant? And there is no Scriptural support for asserting that Baptism is only a confirmation that one has already been saved. Our Lutheran friends continue to teach it as a matter of tradition though it is not supported by Scripture.

Other groups say that baptism is not related to one's salvation, but that it is still necessary for church membership. Baptism to them is a testimony to others that because they were saved, they naturally want to physically and visibly show it to others through a public ceremony. They repeat the phrase "it is outward sign of an inward grace" as if it were written somewhere in Scritpure. By this they mean that they participate in the outward sign after having in the past received salvation. Again this position is only partially true. These people have the mode, i.e. the form of being submerged, right. But they err on the purpose of Baptism when they insist that it only follows being saved instead of in fact being the point of salvation. The passages that I listed above serve to establish that Baptism is the place or point in time at which God's saving grace is first received. In Scripture, there is no lapse of time between salvation and baptism. At baptism God's grace and man's faith converge so that the sinner is raised by God's power to walk in newness of life (C0l. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-5). Amen.

Because we are people of faith it is important to address this issue. As people of faith, we understand that our reasons for following God's commands are as important as doing the act itself. In Zechariah, that people had been weeping and mourning for the temple worship was not as important as their purpose for doing them (Zech. 7:5-6). Why they performed their acts of worship was as important as what they performed.  When it came to being baptized in Acts 19, the immersion the disciples received wasn't valid because the people had been taught wrong. Why they were baptized was for the wrong reason.  It is as someone said, you can't be Baptized right if you are taught the wrong purpose for Baptism. This is why the disciples had to be immersed again for the right reason (Acts 19: 1-6). To say that Baptism is "an outward sign of an inward grace" is teaching only half truth. 

Baptism does not create faith in a person. Faith must already be present in the person if the Baptism is to be effective. Baptism is not merely a symbol of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. It is, as the old Gospel preacher Benjamin Franklin said, "a symbol with power". It is as the Apostle Peter said, "an appeal to God for a clean conscience" (1 Pt. 3:21). Let God be true.  Let us approach God with reverence by listening to His Word and by following His commands with the spirit and intent that pleases Him. "Now why do you delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on His name." - Acts 22:16

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Joel D. Leyrer. Baptism in the Early Church (Pentecost to AD 325). Accessed from:http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&q=cache:1YltiUvv6iwJ:www.wls.wels.net
/library/Essays/Authors/L/LeyrerBaptism
/LeyrerBaptism.pdf+%22one+baptism%22

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