Baptism - Ask the Question
A wife of a church member was coming to church regularly. One day she asked me, as the preacher there, if I would come to her home to talk to her about "joining our church." She told me that she had been immersed in a local lake years ago by an Assembly of God minister, so I knew her method of baptism was correct — immersion. Then I asked an absolutely essential follow-up question, "What happened when you were immersed, what was your baptism for?" I told her that as I understood it the Assembly of God was "faith only" in regard to the plan of salvation (removing baptism as an essential part of the whole plan and when you actually received Christ and salvation).That group normally uses the manufactured "sinner's prayer", and at that point you were saved. Baptism was something you did after you were saved for various reasons.
The lady told me that she believed that when she was baptized she had received Christ and salvation at that point. She pointed out that she had read her Bible, and that Acts 2:38 was very clear to her in regard to being saved. She said, "I do not care what he thought was happening when he baptized me, because I had read my Bible and I knew why I was doing it." Praise God for sinners who desire salvation so much that they will seek and heed God's authority.
A recent editorial in the "Christian Standard" dealt with people who want to transfer into one of our congregations. He wrote that our churches accept all those who have been immersed "in the name of Christ" and "on the profession of their faith." The editorialist then went on to write that this is in line with our Restoration principle that "We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only." For many reasons this thinking has created many problems for many of our churches; many have thought that slogan means that it does not matter what you understood you were doing in obedience to God at baptism. Today a second question begs to be asked!
Horrors! Is that not legalistic judging, and therefore sin? I had a couple of elders tell me that to ask such a question would be unscriptural, unloving, and just plain wrong. Is it sin, or is it obedience to God and love for the person being asked? I believe with all my heart that it is the latter.
One day, during a Bible study, an elderly man, long an elder, obviously pained, asked, "Why have we let so many Baptists into our church?" The fact was that many had transferred into membership over the years, and some were in leadership roles. Many who held Baptist beliefs either knowingly, or by misunderstanding this very issue, have come in, and all because the follow-up question beyond method had not been asked. I could only answer that too many in our churches today are either wrong-headed on asking the question, some simply do not care, some were lied to, and a few might have been more interested in additions and all that that means.
I continued by saying that those who believe the authority of God must rule over the antics of humans should address this problem where it arises. They must seek (lovingly) correction. The problem is that too many are more concerned with statistics than with souls. There is a resistance to doing what God's obedient people always did — ask pertinent questions to make sure people have all the facts, the truth, so that the person's salvation can be assured and the health of the congregation preserved. The church must be protected from any false impressions and teachings that come with that toleration which glibly exclaims, "Close enough!"
About now someone is thinking, "Judge not lest ye be judged!" The abusive misuse of that scripture (Matthew 7:1f) is used to stop obedience to scripture in a misguided attempt to appear loving. If we made no judgments, friends, we would have to close down all of our evangelism and discipleship efforts. You see, teaching requires the teacher to ask questions, so that truth can be known. Questions force us to face facts. When the goal is the assuring of salvation and the health of the church, questions are love in action.
The Holy Spirit puts us in situations to ask such questions. In Acts 8:25ff, Philip, Spirit-led, goes to the Gaza road to help the Ethiopian eunuch. How does he start? He asks a question! Acts 8:30 "Do you understand what you are reading?" The eunuch replies, "Well, how could I unless someone guides me?" Thus, we learn that question asking is a work of the Holy Spirit within us-the obedient Christians.
The apostle Paul (Acts 19) encountered some sincere people wanting to be disciples of Christ. Their problem was that they had been mis-taught, or under-taught, about baptism. They were not (here is Paul judging) saved. He discovered this by asking questions. Read the passage, see the questions. Then Paul taught them the whole plan of salvation, and he immersed them in the name of Jesus the Christ, into that Christ, into their salvation, and they then received the presence of the Holy Spirit within their lives! I bet there are some Christians today who would run to their elders if Paul was their preacher, and demand that he be fired. Fired for asking the questions which led to some people being saved and Spirit filled!
Facing such a situation in your church may be scary. People fear upsetting people more than they fear hell. People desire to please people more than they desire to please God. The bottom line is that some Christians are trivializing, minimizing, and ignoring obedience to the clearly revealed word and will of God. The possibility of losing those who will not accept that word and will drives some Christians into panic, especially if they are already small. In that panic they will attack the faithful remnant trying to bring about obedience to God, salvation to sinners, and a healthy congregation.
Sad, sad situation. But did not Jesus give us the answer in John 17? If people had not sneered at Christ's plea for all His people to love and obey the unity of God's plan of salvation and the rest of the word of God, we would not have this problem today. We would not have the sin (yes, sin) of denominationalism, of evangelicalism, of universalism, all ignoring the authority of God and blurring God's word. One of the best ways to address this problem is for those who love God, love His authority, His church, and His truth to be willing to — Ask the Question! Someone transferring there? Want to serve their best interests and God's? Ask the question.