Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Big Baptism Lie

It doesn’t take a first century scholar to read the historical record of the early church and realize Christianity in the 21st century is strikingly different. And the differences aren’t merely artistic or technological. If the book of Acts is truly the blueprint for the church, by all means necessary, we must protect the doctrine and practices found therein. Like a pounding wave eroding the coastline, the Father of Lies (John 8:44), by a gradual but consistent effort has sold the world a lie about water baptism.

Central to much of the marketing used to promote baptism today is the idea that it is primarily about the baptizee and other people. Phrases like “going public” abound to convey the thought that by being baptized, you are making your faith in God public to those around you. This is the big baptism lie. Certainly there is some truth in that being baptized makes a statement about your faith, but to claim that as why one should be baptized is weak theology and an open neglect of Scripture. Baptism isn’t an act of confession to people, it is an act of covenant with God. 

In the New Testament epistles, Paul repeatedly uses the phrase “in him” in reference to Christ. It can be easy to read over such terminology without fully giving thought to how one gets into such a position. Scripture teaches there is a literal, physical act of obedience that places us in Christ. In Romans 6, Paul speaks of “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus” and in Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The relationship between baptism and our position in Christ is evident.

This is important because in Colossians 2, Paul says “In [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands.” Remember, Paul is a Jew and the historical significance of circumcision cannot be overstated. It was the identifying mark of God’s covenant with man (Genesis 17:10-12). To not comply with God’s command was to break His covenant and be cut off from His people (Genesis 17:14). Paul has a fruitful understanding of the atoning work of Christ and the new covenant. He is not advocating we return to the former ways but draws on the practice of the old covenant to reveal a precious truth about the new covenant. There is still circumcision in the new covenant, but like many things, it is no longer physical but spiritual. This spiritual circumcision is brought by being “in Him” which he again states is through baptism (Colossians 2:12).

Paul, being well versed in the Jewish customs would not have drawn on such a strong Old Testament example had he not intended to make a strong statement about the new covenant. Just as uncircumcision in the old covenant was to break God’s covenant, to neglect water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is to break the covenant God makes available to us. The Scripture is quite plain in 1 Peter 3 when recalling the story of Noah’s ark and the flood. Verse 21 says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” If the Scripture makes an unavoidable relationship between salvation and baptism, we better not try to separate it.

Baptism is not merely about going public with your faith. It is about coming into covenant with the one true God. Given the sacredness of such an act, one should approach it with a sense of awe, reverence and then celebration. It is time we raise our voice against the big baptism lie. It is much more than a mere public proclamation of your faith, it is an act of covenant relationship through which we obtain the remission of our sins (Luke 24:27, Acts 2:38).

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