Baptism Questions

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say you were baptized in my name. I did, in fact, baptize the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t recall if I baptized anyone else. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.

-1 Corinthians 1:14-17
Baptism is a divisive issue in the church.  If you read the whole NT, objectively, setting aside your predilection about water baptism, you will read of a variety of occasions for baptism.
Water baptism can occur anywhere along the timeline of a person’s life.  That is a conclusion you would draw if you just read the Bible.  It gets awkward when we change the “can” to a “must”. 

The popular notion that conversion necessarily precedes baptism and should be seen as a seal or testimony or even a confession to conversion and commitment previously made is nowhere clearly stated in the New Testament.
(Ben Witherington: Troubled Waters: The Real New Testament Theology of Baptism; p. 111)

I’ve written three articles on water baptism:

Notes On Baptism From Michael Green

Baptism Notes and Bio

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

-John 1:29

I was baptized by Paul Cox, a Presbyterian Reverend, when I was about 5 years old.  Based on the traditions of that church and my parents wishes, they waited till I was 5, so that I could be baptized the same day as my brother, who is 2 years younger than me.  My father would have also had the occasion to be baptized in that season, because he had just come to faith in Christ; while my mother was already a believer and would have had the opportunity to be baptized either in the Congregational Church of her childhood or the Brethren Church of her teen and early adult years.
Years later, when I was in high school, I was forced to go to confirmation classes, at our Covenant Church.  The class culminated with baptism for those of us who completed it; but was optional.  And I opted not to do it.  
A few years later, I attended a Foursquare Church, and they had an annual baptism, at the beach, with a luau.  One of my close friends got baptized on one of those occasions; which was preceded by a one hour class, at the beach, where they made sure that you knew what you were doing or what the whole thing was about.
Some more years later, I joined the Vineyard Church, which I later found out had Quaker and Calvary Chapel roots.  Quakers do not water baptize, while having a strong belief in the baptism of the Spirit.  And Calvary Chapels do water baptise, having their roots in the Foursquare church.  
A few years later, I worked at the Salvation Army for two years.  They neither baptize nor take communion; but they are not against nor forbid it.  When the Quakers and the Salvation Army began, Christians were very divisive over baptism and for various reasons they formed their convictions to stay out of the fight.
Baptism is not a major doctrine.  Disagreement on the who, how and when of baptism should never be a cause for division.
Baptism is a blessing, a means of grace; spiritually beneficial, a joyful experience, strengthening and encouraging.  Jesus even commanded baptism.  But baptism is not necessary for salvation.
To say that baptism or any other act is necessary for salvation is to say that we are not justified by faith alone.
Baptism is not a major doctrine, a hill to die on.  Major doctrines are:
  • The authority of the Bible
  • The Trinity
  • The deity of Christ
  • Justification by grace through faith alone
To me, it is just silly or foolish and sad for someone to believe that one must be baptized, and perhaps in a particular way, in order to be saved.

I always say, “what about the thief on the cross?”  I recently read someone who said that won’t fly because it was still the old covenant time.  The truth is, that the new covenant took effect when Jesus died and he died before the two thieves died, so they died under the new covenant.

Baptism is also not necessary for salvation, because our justification from our sins takes place at the point of our saving faith.  By faith, through grace, we connect with God’s faithfulness in Christ and enter into salvation.

The backdrop for believers baptism is that the church is made up of believers, with seekers and pre-christians or children-who-are-not-old-enough-to-believe.
The backdrop for infant or young child baptised churches is that the church is a covenant community, made up of believers and children of believers who are not yet old enough to articulate their faith or have not yet had a personal salvation experience or decision for Christ.

In the NT we have all these occasions of baptism:
  • People being baptised after coming to faith
  • Whole households, including children and slaves being baptised, with no evidence of their faith
  • People being baptised in masses immediately after they say yes, Jesus is Lord
  • An individual being baptized after personal study, tutoring and hearing the gospel
  • People being baptized with water after they were baptized with the Spirit
And, any believer can baptise people.  We really do believe in the priesthood of all believers.  Priestly functions are to pray for, listen to, serve, and administer baptism and communion.

Notes on Baptism From Witherington and Dunn

John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

-Luke 3:16 

Ben Witherington: “it is no wonder that we have been debating baptism for two thousand years now, with no sign of the debating abating.  The New Testament does not answer all our modern questions about baptism, and it especially does not answer questions about what to do with Christian children when it comes to baptism.  As Dunn said earlier, the popular notion that conversion necessarily precedes baptism and should be seen as a seal or testimony or even a confession to conversion and commitment previously made is nowhere clearly stated in the New Testament.
Unfortunately, baptism is one of those contentious issues that pushes us so that we can not and do not allow the silences of the New Testament text to rest in peace.  We fill in the gaps with our own theologies and urgencies, which has led to turning baptism into something it is not: a Christian dedication ritual, or a Christian bar mitzvah or confirmation ritual.  The result is understandable, because the church today is mainly a nurture organization which has a missionary committee or two.  If it were rather a missionary movement that also did nurture, I suspect we would read Acts and other New Testament evidence quite differently, for what we see in the New Testament reflects the missionary situation, not a settled system of church and sacraments.  Most of all, if the New Testament teaches us anything on the subject, it is that we should be prepared for surprises and divine irregularities, and we should accept that Acts tells us that sometimes water baptism comes before, sometimes with, and sometimes after the Spirit has baptized a person into Christ.  God can do it how God wants to.”  (Witherington, Troubled Waters, (2010) pp. 111-2)
James Dunn: “In scholastic Protestantism the Spirit became in effect subordinate to the Bible, and the latter replaced the sacraments as the principal means of grace and inspiration.  Where Catholics fastened on to the objectivity of the sacraments, Protestantism fastened on to the objectivity of the Bible (see Brunner, Truth as Encounter, (ET 1964) 77f.).  Though the Spirit was regarded as the principal participant in the work of salvation, he was still hardly to be experienced apart from the Bible (see H. Watkins-Jones, The Holy Spirit from Arminius to Wesley (1929) 170f.; G.F. Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (1946) 23f., 31-33, B. Ramm, The Witness of the Spirit (1959) 64, and J.I. Packer, ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (1958) 119.) ‘The Bible only is the religion of Protestants’, and conversion is essentially justification by faith alone.
Like earlier ‘enthusiasts’ Pentecostals have reacted against both these extremes.  Against the mechanical sacramentalism of extreme Catholicism and the dead biblicist orthodoxy of extreme Protestantism they have shifted the focus of attention to the experience of the Spirit.  Our examination of the NT evidence has shown that they were wholly justified in this  That the Spirit, and particularly the gifts of the Spirit, was a fact of experience in the lives of the earliest Christians has been too obvious to require elaboration (eg., Acts 2:4; 4:31; 9:31; 10:44-46; 13:52; 19:6; Rom. 5:5; 8:1-16; 1 Cor. 12:7, 13; 2 Cor. 3:5; 5:5; Gal. 4:5; 5:16-18, 25; 1 Thess. 1:5; Titus 3:6; John 3:8; 4:14; 7:38; 16:7 – the presence of the Spirit was to be better than the presence of Jesus).  It is a sad commentary on the poverty of our own immediate experience of the Spirit when we come across language in which the NT writers refer directly to the gift of the Spirit and to their experience of it, either we automatically refer it to the sacraments and can only give it meaning when we do so (1 Cor. 6:11; 12:12; 2 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 1:13; Titus 3:5-7; John 3:5; 6:51-58, 63; 1 John 2:20, 27; 5:5-8; Heb. 6:4), or else we discount the experience described as too subjective and mystical in favour of a faith which is essentially an affirmation of biblical propositions, or else we in effect psychologize the Spirit out of  existence.
The Pentecostal attempt to restore the NT emphasis at this point is much to be praised, but it has two unfortunate aspects.  First, the Pentecostal has followed the Catholic in his separation of Spirit-Baptism, from the event of conversion-initiation (represented in water-baptism), and has made the gift of the Spirit and experience which follows after conversion.  This is quite contrary to NT teaching….
The second mistake of the Pentecostal is that he has followed the Protestant in his separation of faith from water-baptism…
If the NT is to be our rule, therefore, the rite of water-baptism may not be given the central role in conversion-initiation.  It symbolizes the spiritual cleansing which the Spirit brings and the finality of the break with the old life; it is a stimulus to faith and enables commitment to come to necessary expression; it is the rite of acceptance by local Christians or congregation as representative of the world-wide Church; but otherwise is not a channel of grace, and neither the gift of the Spirit nor any of the spiritual blessings which he brings may be inferred from or ascribed to it,  A recall to the beginnings of the Christian life in the NT is almost always a recall not to baptism, but to the gift of the Spirit, or to the spiritual transformation his coming effected.
In short, in the beginning, no Christian was unbaptized, but not all those baptized were ‘ipso facto’ Christians.  The NT teaching at this point may be expressed epigrammatically thus:
  Faith demands baptism as its expression;
  Baptism demands faith for its validity.
  The gift of the Spirit presupposes faith as its condition;
  Faith is shown to be genuine only by the gift of the Spirit.
…What is a Christian?  What is the distinguishing hallmark of the Christian?  Our study has given us the NT answer to this question with some precision; with remarkable consistency the answer came:  That man is a Christian who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit by committing himself to the risen Jesus as Lord, and who lives accordingly.”  (Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-Examination of the New testament on the Gift of the Spirit (1977), pp. 225-229)

Notes On Baptism From Michael Green

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
-Acts 2:42

Photo: Luke Addison (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Here are some notes about baptism from Michael Green (b. 1930), in his book, Evangelism Now & Then (1979), pp. 81-3:

They baptized new believers

There can be no doubt that in the first days of the church baptism was administered as soon as possible after profession of faith. Quite apart from the day of Pentecost, the case of the Philippian jailer and the Ethiopian eunuch give a good guide to early practice in the matter. Commitment to Christ, baptism in water, and reception of the Holy Spirit were three sides of the same thing, Christian initiation. In Galatians, for instance, we see that justification by faith or becoming ‘Abraham’s offspring’ comes about through reception of the Spirit, or being baptized into Christ, or believing in Christ (3:2, 14, 29, 26). Ideally, they belong together. In practice, however, one element would come first, sometimes another: such is still the case.

Two second-century developments can be traced back, at least in outline, to the earl days of the church. First, there was a growing tendency to postpone baptism, preface it by a period of instruction, and perform it, along with first communion, at the highly significant season of Good Friday and Easter. Scholars have seen many signs in the New Testament itself of a basic catechism leading up to baptism, and many people think 1 Peter was written as a homily for a baptism occasion.

Infant baptism?

Second was the practice of baptizing infants when born into a believing family. This is a divisive subject nowadays, and was to the end of the second century when we find Tertullian discussing it in his Treatise on Baptism. He was advocating delay in baptism when only one parent was a believer: it is clear he wrote against a background where the baptism of infants was common. How could this be justified when originally baptism was the mark of the new birth, and appropriate only for believers?

Well, I doubt if baptism was ever as clear-cut as that. We read in the New Testament of whole households being baptized, and an ancient household consisted of not only children, but the slaves, all of whom were committed by the action of the head of the house (1 Cor. 1:16, Acts 16:33, etc.). You see, baptism was not exclusively the act of man, representing his faith: it was also the act of God, representing his grace. And that free grace of God sent Jesus to the cross to die for us and rise again whether or not we ever respond. It is that once-for-allness of Jesus, his sacrifice and triumph, which is marked upon us in baptism. It should ideally be matched by our total and immediate response. But that sometimes comes later – and sometimes does not come at all. Even if it never follows, that cannot destroy the initiative of God, who gave himself once for us in history: that holds good whether or not we respond – thought of course we cannot make any use of his gift unless we receive it in adoring gratitude. By far the largest part of the Christian church has believed in baptizing not only believers but their children. The Baptist view regards baptism as appropriate only for those who have already responded in faith to God’s gracious initiative. Christians will continue to have differing views on this matter since no clear Biblical teaching clears it up one way or another. And as far as the nurture of new believers is concerned, you will find that some of your converts have already been baptized (generally in infancy) while others have not.

Rebaptism?

I believe that those who have already been baptized should not be rebaptized. It makes no more sense to be baptized again than to be justified again or to enter the Lord’s family again. Baptism emphasizes the once-for-allness of our incorporation into Christ, and by its nature cannot be repeated: communion is frequently repeated and stresses the ongoing side of the Christian life.

– Michael Green (b. 1930), Evangelism Now & Then (1979), pp. 81-3

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