The Humble View
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In my last post I argued for a “high” view of water baptism (immersion) that essentially understands and practices baptism as a necessary process in receiving God’s free gift of salvation in Christ. For some who agree with me, there is a tendency to make baptism the platform for which a rendered judgment of “not-saved” and “not part of Christ’s church” is made upon all others who confess Christ but disagree with and/or do not practice my view of baptism. This means that in order to be a Christian, an individual must not only trust God and obey him to the best of their understanding but also must possess correct knowledge (epistemic certainty) concerning the doctrine of baptism Therefore I want to say a word about what I like to call a “humble” view of baptism.
Am I correct in my understanding of baptism? I think so! In fact, I not only think so but I also think that my understanding is based upon a sound, well reasoned, and coherent interpretation of scripture. If I am right, where does that leave those with a different theological understanding and practice? Are they still Christians or are they still facing God’s wrathful judgment?
I italicized the word “interpretation” in the above paragraph for a reason and that is because I must recognize that no matter how correct I believe I am it is still an interpretation of scripture. Since it is an interpretation, one among many others, I must be humble and admit that I still could be wrong. That’s right, I am a fallible thinker and I just might be wrong. What if I am wrong? I asked this question to a professor of mine one time and he replied that if I am wrong, then there will be more people in heaven with us (those of us who understand and practice baptism with correct knowledge). But wait a minute, if I am wrong and being a Christian requires correct knowledge about baptism, then I am the one who is lost because I am the one with incorrect knowledge.
But I am rejecting such a “modern” notion. Making correct knowledge of baptism the standard, means that I must place an awful amount of faith in my human ability to reason (do we need reminding that our human mind is prone to error?). Furthermore, that makes salvation more dependent upon the ability of the human mind than on God, who can save people who seek his grace despite their particular misunderstandings and ignorance. And I, for one, am one of those people full of much ignorance and many misunderstandings.
Perhaps this is why Luke was able to identify the people in Acts 19 who had not been baptized with the baptism in the name of Jesus (and therefore had not received the Holy Spirit) still as “disciples” and as “believers” (Luke’s code word for “Christian”). This is because they were still seeking God and submissive to the will of God inasmuch as they understood.
Does God command baptism? Absolutely, and it is never an option. But is God bound by his word in such a way that he can never change in light of historical developments that have become so engrained in the thinking of contemporary people? When people seek to please God through a practice and believe that their practice is correct even though it actually is wrong, can God still be accepting in spite of unknown error? To answer negatively not only binds God but it seems to make God a legalist. In the Old Testament, sinners we to seek forgiveness through the priest but Jesus broke that law and forgave a man so that everyone else would know that God has the right to forgive whomever he wants whenever he wants (Mark 2.1-12). It seems that we should be careful not to be deciding for God who exactly God can save and cannot save.
So getting back to the beginning, I believe God is active in transforming those who submit to him in baptism from a dead life to a living life in Christ. That I believe is a high view of baptism that takes seriously the practice as an important step in the path to eternal communion with God. Because that is what I believe scripture teaches, that is what I must practice and teach others to practice – the “high” view of baptism. But because I could be wrong, I want to practice the “humble” view of baptism, and not be judging other Christians who differ but instead embracing them as brother and sister in Christ and allow God to judge them. Besides, God will do a better job of judging than I could ever begin to do. Furthermore, it is hard enough for me to live out my own baptism on a daily basis without worrying about judging others.