As a Baptist, I defended the common FE view of baptism without questioning it. This view is simply that baptism is a symbol (no more) of being united with Christ in his death and resurrection. I can say, with shame, that this particular aspect of the Christian faith (and the Lord’s Supper) is one that I had left unstudied for quite some time; I lived most of my 20’s without thinking much on the topic beyond what I was taught from my Baptist teachers and preachers. I was “too busy” pondering and discussing other topics.
With great anguish, I deliberated with myself and others over God’s inscrutable mind in election. My Baptist friends and teachers were almost always opposing me on this topic, even in the last year of my life as a Baptist. Thanks to a Presbyterian professor introducing me to R.C. Sproul’s works when I was 19, I became quite convinced of the Biblical doctrine of original sin and the necessity that God must perform all work in salvation and that the only role man plays in salvation is needing to be saved. Though I could and should have been much (much) more charitable and respectful at times, I felt that my Baptist teachers just weren’t reading the scriptures in their plainest sense regarding predestination, all so they could preserve their own definitions of God’s holiness and man’s dignity (I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “God doesn’t want to be worshiped by robots!”). They accomplished this defense by creating one singular act of volition a man can perform in order to please God (the sinner’s prayer). In hindsight, I can appreciate their fears and warnings concerning most of the T.U.L.I.P. but the sticking point is still in that T. All of the philosophical concoctions in the world cannot explain away the fact that our natural desires are to follow Satan. Our natural inclination since Adam’s fall is to disobey God, and we have no desire to please Him or repent of our wicked deeds and disposition. In the scriptures, one can find many commands to repent and believe God, but one cannot find a verse that indicates men have the ability to do so. On the contrary, we find verses of the opposite position, with even Jesus himself telling us that no man can come unless the Father draws him. This is original sin. This is our condition. We come into the world, and apart from God’s grace we are blinded and bound in the devil’s kingdom. And we are commanded to repent of this.
However, a command does not carry with it the power to repent. Realize for a second what this means… God has commanded what he knows we can no longer give to him in our fallen state. Is this unjust? Is God wrong to do so?
No. God is perfectly just to command that we perfectly obey, though we do not have the ability. We were the ones who put ourselves in this position in the first place. For instance, if I am driving 85mph in a 50 mph zone and suddenly come upon a 40 mph zone, all of the good intentions in the world can’t compete against the laws of physics and I will be unable to obey the 40 mph law since I was already disobeying the 50 mph law, and by such a wide margin. The problem in my disobedience is not the law; it’s me. The problem with our disobedience is not God; it’s the sin nature we inherited from Adam that corrupts every part of our being (and this is why we each must die!).
So despite the fact that I’m no longer a Calvinist, I still believe the “T,” that the scriptures show we are so radically corrupt in Adam that we have no chance of ever desiring God, let alone being saved. I had become convinced of this by the time I was 20 years old. In all of this though, baptism never entered my mind as being relevant to salvation (and truthfully, I don’t give myself the brunt of the blame for this; it’s what I was taught from infancy). But the scriptures simply don’t speak of baptism in terms of mere symbols. They speak in terms of efficacy, that baptism saves.
Imagine the mental gymnastics that must have taken place and impositions upon the following scriptures to make my Baptist view be sensible:
- We are buried with Christ by baptism.
- Again, buried with Christ in baptism.
- Baptism saves us.
- We who are baptized have been baptized into Christ’s death, that is, this rite has admitted us into his death.
- We who are baptized have put on Christ.
- Baptism washes away sins.
- Baptism makes us disciples.
- Baptism works the forgiveness of sins and gives the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- The church (us) is cleansed by the washing of water with the Word.
- Baptism is our full assurance of faith.
These passages demonstrate that baptism is more than a symbol! There are promises of God bound to the rite when it is performed. Yes, combining water with the Word of God yields what the scriptures say. As demonstrated before on this blog, it is not uncommon for God to bind his promises to physical things. And this is what Baptism is, water with the Word.
And here is the linchpin to understanding Biblical baptism: if it is mere water that is applied to a person as a work of man, performed by man’s hands, then I agree that this has no power to save. But when such water is poured on a person by God via proxy (the pastor… God has given his church the power to retain and free sins through the office of the keys), and the person is baptized in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, then God’s name is applied to the baptized person. Having been given God’s name, the baptized is now a son of God through faith in Christ. God does all the work in salvation, and baptism saves, thus God does all of the work in baptism. Baptism is a gift of God where he cleanses, forgives, adopts in his name, and seals with the Holy Spirit.
So already we see that there is a mountain of difference between the Lutheran and the FE perspectives on baptism, but I want to discuss one more topic in this post.
In every Baptist church I have ever set foot in, the entrance into God’s kingdom was through the emotional process of saying the sinner’s prayer and inviting Jesus into one’s heart. First off, this is nowhere to be found in scripture; these words are not found, and this ceremony is not found. This ceremony is DANGEROUS. Why? because it removes one’s focus from Christ, his work, and his one-sided gifts given in baptism and replaces Christ-focus with a focus on one’s self and human volition. Thus, being “born again” is something that a person chooses to do, an act of man’s will. This is contrary to the scriptures and undermines the truth that we’re all hell-bent on following Satan rather than God. This lays the groundwork for a gospel based not on God’s grace but on obedience to the Law (as if the first step to being saved is for a man to obey just this simplest of commands!). And when our religion is based on the Law rather than grace, all sorts of doctrines become confused.
But FE’s don’t hold these statements to be true, so why are FE’s baptized?
Since FE’s don’t hold the baptismal ceremony in the same regard as the scriptures, it cannot be an entrance into the kingdom of God for them. In fact, the sinner’s prayer has been elevated to fill the void left by re-defining baptism. Some FE’s point to the beautiful symbols present in baptism. But why not use simpler symbols that are more culturally-appropriate and meaningful to the audience? Some FE’s point to baptism as the primary place for confessing their faith. Why not just turn to the audience and confess the faith, then? Why the water? Why all the pomp?
It is because they wish to be obedient to God’s command, and God’s command is to baptize. This is admirable on the part of the FE, but in this case it is askew. They’ve taken a beautiful gift from God and have turned into nothing more than another rule to be obeyed. No grace is conferred. Nothing of eternal import is given. All gospel has been removed from this ceremony. Besides the obvious and what was already spoken, why else is this such a bad thing?
First off, because it’s almost or else outright blaspheming God’s name (I’m honestly not certain that a misinterpretation passed down several centuries constitutes blasphemy beyond the typical breaking of the 1st and 2nd commandments that we all do, and I don’t feel qualified to make the call). Jesus said “baptize all nations in the name…” What then, is God’s name issued to no effect? Is God encouraging his own name to be used in vanity? Not hardly! But there is another reason why the FE’s baptism is wanting.
When sin inevitably creeps into a person’s life, where will they go for assurance of salvation (and thus desire to keep fighting the good fight because it’s not a lost cause)? FE’s point to God’s love. This is very good, but how does God’s love become effective unto salvation? To what can the FE cling that hasn’t been corrupted by his own sin? How does the FE convince himself that he’s not lost, despite whatever confession of faith that he makes? Jesus gives some scary words in this regard! Here are some potential sources of comfort, and some thoughts of an FE straw-man (that aren’t that far off from truth, really):
- Communion. I like the ceremony, but it’s just a memory of Christ’s work. How do I know my faith is genuine and applies his blood to me?
- Baptism. I confess my faith in this symbol, but how do I know I truly believe? How can I trust my own confession as being authentic?
- My fruit, from the Spirit. Dear God, please do not place this burden on me. The more I read your word, the more I see how I fall short. I don’t commit the same sins the same way I used to, but it seems each year like I recognize a dozen new ways I sin. I stand no chance.
- The sinner’s prayer. This is how I entered the kingdom, and I remember doing it (even wrote it in the front of my Bible!). The trouble is, I don’t know that I meant it. I mean, I expected more progress over sin by now. How do I know I’m not an impostor?
Anywhere an FE may look, there are only more questions. There are no answers because the question isn’t whether God loves every person on the planet (that is well-explained), the question is if the man has truly believed so that God’s loving work can save him.
This is dreadful. I know, because I’ve experienced this.
But the scriptures have an answer for this. Look to baptism! Am I baptized? Yes? Then God has placed his name upon me, forgiven me my sin, washed me clean, and has given me the Holy Spirit, all because he’s promised it is so. I don’t need to explore the depressing caverns of my inner self, hoping to find something worth saving when compared against God’s Law. No; Christ has performed all this work outside of me and has availed me of it in baptism. I am saved. I am a sinner, but I am saved. To HELL with my effort (where it belongs!) to become saved. God has saved me without my help! Glory be to God!