Thursday, June 11, 2015

Christian Baptism - The Water and the Spirit

I grew up in the churches of the Campbell-Stone movement. Since the 19th century, this movement has split at least three ways with various smaller splinter groups rising to the surface from time to time. Older, more staid denominations like to refer to us as a cult, but we have become more mainline, particularly in the 20th and 21st century. We are The Churches of Christ and Independent Christian churches (my group), The Churches of Christ (A Capella), and the Disciples of Christ. The most conservative among us is the middle group, they hold fast to non-instrumental worship music during the song service. The most liberal are the Disciples of Christ. Depending on where you go, you might get a very conservative pastor or you might get one that does not even believe in God. They are an interesting mix. Then you have my group which is the first in my list above. We are conservative, we have set doctrine, we believe in the inspiration of the scriptures, the virgin birth of Christ - the whole faith scheme of most modern evangelical protestant churches in the world. There is one exception to this however.

Unlike most protestant, evangelical churches, we believe that baptism in water is for the remission of sin; something we hold in common with the Catholics. Our baptism however is complete immersion in water as opposed to sprinkling that is practiced by the Catholics. We advise people when they want to become Christians that baptism is part and parcel of the conversion process. If there is true faith and repentance, then baptism must follow to complete the conversion.

Jesus said we had to be born of the water and the Spirit. Christian baptism is the place where we believe this happens. When the repentant believer is baptized in water several things happen at the same time. We are buried with Christ in His death. We die to our sins, we are forgiven of our sins and our propensity toward sin. We receive the Holy Spirit. We are baptized by that Spirit. The Holy Spirit then regenerates our spirits. We become enabled to resist sin to a greater degree than ever before. We are then justified by our faith and our sanctification commences. Baptism is our one stop shop. It all happens in the water. Paul, in is letter to Titus explains the entire process.

Titus 3:3-7
 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

So I ask there something magic in the water? Is the water merely symbolic of burial while the Spirit does His all important work of regeneration? Is the water really necessary to ensure salvation? Or is it possible that Spirit baptism can take place without complete immersion in water?

There is much evidence on all sides of this discussion that has gone on for centuries. I will say this. If you look at the New Testament, you will see the following facts.

1) Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in water. It fulfilled all righteousness, it pleased His Father and it brought the Holy Spirit into the act.

2) Jesus commanded His apostles to baptize.

3) Water baptism follows most all of the conversions recorded in the book of Acts.

So, you could say that water baptism is more than just a good idea. It was practiced at Christ's command by the earliest adherents to the faith.

But does this mean that water baptism is absolutely necessary for complete conversion to the faith? Does it bring salvation? (I Peter 3:21)

My answer is this. I will always recommend it and give my reasons why I believe it is important and necessary to the salvation process. What I will not do is exclude people from fellowship on the basis of water baptism. I think there is room for discussion about the meaning of Christian baptism. I will leave it to God to sort out what really matters.

I will also add this for discussion sake. If water baptism (full immersion) is absolutely necessary for complete conversion to the faith and for salvation according to the New Testament, then does this mean that any believers who have not done this are going to Hell; going to Hell in spite of strong faith and accompanying good works and apparent spiritual growth? If so, does this not relegate water baptism to a work in itself? From whence then is God's grace?

You see what I am saying? There is room for argument. Understanding of these things is diverse in the Christian world. God will be the arbiter of what obedience really is in this regard. The fact is that none of it would happen without faith.

Paul said, " For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

He also said,  "12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." (Philippians 2:12, 13)

My advice is this. If you call yourself Christian and you have not been baptized in water - do it. Jesus did it. He commanded it. The apostles practiced it. New Testament believers did it. Let your reasons for doing it be your own. Let God interpret those reasons. Your faith, intention and personal sincerity will be His guide. 

Just get yourself baptized if you have not done so. It's a good thing.

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