Concerns About Baptism

Many years ago a listener came to me expressing concern. I had just preached and concluded an entire sermon without even mentioning baptism or its relationship to salvation. Such was expected to be a part of or in the conclusion of every sermon. After all, were we not in the Salvation business with Jesus.

There have been changes since that long-ago episode. Now, we sometimes hear expressions of concern if baptism is mentioned "too" frequently. In many churches, members cannot even remember when it was mentioned and would be surprised if it was mentioned, let alone emphasized. When we see people transferring to denominational groups or community churches we should not be surprised. We have made the transition too easy. The difference may not even be noticed and, if it is, it will not likely be consider of much importance.

In this matter, one thing that has been a marvel to me is what must be a deliberate exclusion, by many, of baptism from the things leading to salvation. There are tracts and other printed items that, although entitled, "God's Plan of Salvation" or something similar, manage to make no mention of baptism. These can only be the product of those who have chosen to leave out what the scriptures repeatedly include.

The reader is challenged to go through the New Testament and make two lists. A list of the scripture references where baptism is stated to be related to salvation, forgiveness, cleansing and church membership (i.e. becoming a part of the body of Christ). And a list of the references where baptism is mentioned but not related to the above. The results will be interesting and should be convincing. Accept this challenge!

Another marvel to me has been the manner in which proponents of salvation prior to and without baptism are quick to call it a work of man and therefore not required because "Jesus did it all" and there is nothing that man must contribute. It is not of works. We must recognize that, although baptism is a re-enactment of the death, burial and resurrection of our Saviour and involves an act of submission on man's part, it is only truly baptism because of God's work in our hearts when we are baptized. On man's part believing, repenting and confessing faith, all of which are usually included, involve more work than is involved in submitting to being immersed in obedience to God's will.

Again, I marvel to hear well-read Bible scholars when discussing the question of what makes one a Christian declare without hesitation and dogmatically, "It's not baptism." Does this come from man's reasoning or God's teaching? Certainly, salvation does not result from dipping one in water. Yet that it is a vital part of the "Plan of Salvation" cannot honestly be denied by one who reads without prejudice.

Another marvel is that men have been so bold as to change the mode of baptism. What the scriptures frequently call a burial, what is understood to have been the meaning of the word itself, what is admitted to have been the practise of the church for many centuries and what was evidently meant to be a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ has been changed to an act of sprinkling or pouring water. This neither fits the meaning of the word, conforms to the original practise nor presents the intended picture. How dare men do such a thing.

Lastly, these changes and interpretations become even more daring when one considers that baptism's part in salvation, which men have tended to deemphasize or deny, was a dominant feature of the parting statement/instruction that Jesus made to his closest disciples. His parting wish was that the "good news" of salvation be preached to all the world so that those who believed and submitted in baptism would be saved. (Mk 16:15,16; Mt.28:19)

If anyone doubts this or perhaps thinks it is being misinterpreted or misunderstood by us, the matter is easily clarified by an observance of the apostles as they went about carrying out Jesus' parting wishes. What did they understand?

Their first efforts are recorded in the second chapter of Acts. Note Peter's statement, "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins . . ." (v.38). Surely these people who actually heard Jesus statement and who were led by the Holy Spirit had a better perception of the Lord's intent than any "scholar" or "interpreter" lacking these benefits and part of a different culture.

The wishes of a departing loved one are usually consider significant and are carefully and respectfully carried out. To ignore them or alter them is to practise shameful disrespect. We are also careful to recognize the intent of the departed. The beneficiary often receives the inheritance upon compliance with conditions. The inheritance that Jesus willed to us is "salvation" and the conditions are faith, repentance, confession and baptism.

Remember that Jesus came to bring salvation. He died, was buried and was resurrected to make this possible. Baptism is a re-enactment of this (Rom.6:3-7, 17, 18). Jesus' departing words linked baptism with salvation. The apostles, in compliance with these parting words preached and practiced baptism in relation to salvation.

Don't throw it out. Rather check it out and then carry it out.

Eugene Perry

Published in The Old Paths Archive