Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Inconsequence of Baptism

When my wife and I moved to North Carolina and  began searching for a new church, I put out a request for Useful Church Criteria. I decided then to use church doctrine as my primary measure and we found ourselves at another reformed presbyterian church. After three years there we left with very few long term relationships. So when we moved to Greenville, we used intimacy as our primary criteria. For almost a year now, my wife and I have been attending a non-denominational house church of about twelve in Greenville. The church's larger gathering has clear baptist roots and now that we are pregnant we have come face to face with church doctrine once again. I am meeting with my church leaders today to discuss the issue and I assured them I would give it significant thought. Here are those thoughts.

The New Testament introduces a new sacrament to the God's people, baptism. There are several examples of baptism in the order of conversion and then baptism: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved"“Repent and be baptized", "Simon himself believed and was baptized", etc. However, because this was a new sacrament, none of them would have had a chance to be baptized as a child and some of them had already been baptized once by John the Baptist. The issue is complicated when household baptisms are discussed: "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized"“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved —you and your household.”, "I also baptized the household of Stephanas", etc. Did these children, wives, servants all believe simultaneously? Possible, but it is unclear. Baptism is further muddled when you look at all the other ways the word is used: "in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”, "They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea", "don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?", or finally “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

This post is not primarily about how I side on the issue of baptism, it is about how I think the local church should deal with it. So I will quickly explain the conclusions that I have come to agree with. Like the New Testament term baptism, the Old Testament term circumcision is used in a variety of ways. Everything from the literal act, to more figurative, and to even more figurative. And in many of these uses, they apply to those who are special to God and/or those who are submissive to God. All the men of Israel were physically circumcised, but not all the men in Israel had figurative "circumcised hearts". So there is a presidence for sacraments to be a signal of God's devotion to men, not of men's devotion to God. In fact, I see few Biblical examples of people choosing God and numerous examples of God choosing people, who then resist, and are eventually overwhelmed by God's pursuit. Circumcision, grace, and salvation are all a gift, one that cannot be denied. Baptism, I believe, is the New Testament sign of that gift for all those within his church, believers and their children.

Though my conviction in the good news of Jesus is strong, my conclusion on the issue of baptism is not conclusive. For this reason I believe theological differences of this kind are inconsequential to church membership and leadership. For the baptist tradition to not allow membership on this basis and means to prevent 80% of current believers and essentially all believers prior to the rise of Anabaptists in the 1500's from joining your community in good conscience. Is scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the collective wisdom of the global church that unhelpful? When you consider the issues worth dividing the church over, and there are certainly some, I don't believe this is one.

I understand this post lacks both depth and breadth, but I stand confident my charge to "preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." I should however clarify my likely overly controversial title. I do think baptism should have little consequence over church participation. I do not think baptism is trivial. It is inconsequential, not unimportant. It is mentioned way too often to ever be ignored. What is consequential is my church's support of my decisions as a father. I need them to trust my commitment to my family more than they trust their commitment to a specific type of baptism. That is the question I optimistically look forward to having answered at my meeting today.

Monday, July 09, 2012