A young man walks into your office, and you share the gospel with him – that he is a guilty sinner headed to an eternal hell for whom Jesus died, paying the price for those sins. You explain that Jesus rose from the dead to offer new life to anyone who would believe in him. He responds to the message of love and grace, turning from his sins and trusting Christ.
What do you do now?
If we were back in the days of the book of Acts, I am convinced that the next thing we would do is seek out a body of water in which to baptize him. We would not even wait until the next Sunday service. Salvation, then baptism. Within the hour he’d be dripping wet from head to toe, a new believer, a baptized believer, a believer beginning his walk of obedience.
No one does that anymore. No one I know of.
Many churches run people through the gauntlet to confirm the reality of the conversion before they will baptize. We have formalized baptism as a part of the worship service of the church. Many will not even recognize the validity of a baptism that is NOT performed within the boundaries of the church itself.
These tendencies – to vet the genuineness of the profession before baptism, to catechize the new believer before the baptism takes place, to demand that baptism takes place inside the boundaries of the local church – all of these come from noble concerns. We’ve all seen false conversions; people who make a profession then disappear into the darkness. We’ve known people who are lone wolfs and want to follow Christ without fellowshipping in the church.
So, we react. We vet. We counsel. We test and approve. All of these are understandable. But they are not, as far as I can see, biblical. There is no evidence I’ve found to justify any of these practices.
A man (or woman) was saved. He (or she) was immediately baptized. The process of discipleship then began.
Here are some points as to what I see in biblical baptism.
1)) No evidence of redemption is required for baptism other than a clear profession of faith in Christ.
No one was asked to burn their idols before their baptism. They did not have to make any lifestyle changes to demonstrate their new life. Baptism took place on profession.
2) There is no evidence of any church process of instruction, vetting or discipleship prior to baptism.
It bothers a lot of folks, but there is no evidence in Acts of any local church part in the baptism process. One man (part of a local church, of course) led another man to Christ and they went to find a puddle deep enough to immerse him in as a testimony of salvation.
3) Baptism is the beginning of the discipleship process, not the result of the church’s vetting process.
The first thing anyone did after salvation was baptism. Immediate. Same day. Perhaps same hour.
Here’s the question. The pattern of Acts is clear, but is it normative? Ought we to follow that pattern today? Does the changing nature of the church in the modern era necessitate or justify a changed process between conversion and baptism?
Here’s what I do.
Obviously, we do not baptized on the day of conversion, though I would like to do so. Perhaps we are disobedient, but that is not practical. I think that immediate baptism is a noble goal and a worthy practice, perhaps, but we are not there yet.
We do not, however, require much in the way of classes or so-called “evidence” between conversion and baptism, for the reasons I articulated above.
1) All I require for baptism is a reasonably clear profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
They must understand that they are sinners who stand guilty before God, that their only hope is Christ’s death and that Jesus was raised to raise them to new life. They must also understand that baptism does not save.
2) I regard baptism as the BEGINNING of discipleship, not a stop along the way.
Now, let me get specific. Here is where the rubber hits the road.
Imagine that the young man I spoke of above was a) living with a girl to whom he was not married or b) an active homosexual. What would I do?
Many would demand that he break up with or move out on the young woman, or renounce his homosexual lifestyle prior to baptism. To me, that is putting the cart before the horse. Yes, repentance is a part of coming to Christ, and those issues ought to be raised, but baptism is the BEGINNING the process of obedience. The new believer must be taught to obey the commands of Christ.
But baptism is not the reward for sorting out your life and getting all your spiritual ducks in a row. It is a public commitment that you have placed your faith in Christ and plan to follow him as he PUTS all your spiritual ducks in that row!
I know this will not please many of you. May even anger a few. I’m willing to be instructed differently.
How does your church practice baptism?