After some good conversation in this post as well as on some other blogs, I decided it might be helpful for me to do a few posts on the subject of baptism in the life and conversion process of a believer in Jesus Christ. I want to uphold baptism as the normative means by which God initiates a confessing believer into the resurrected life of Jesus Christ and his church. That is a big claim that is fraught with much controversy throughout Christian history and therefore I readily acknowledge my own intellectual limitations in trying to parse out Christian doctrine without the possibility of error. However, I do believe I can write on this subject with a degree of reasonable certainty without lapsing into the perception that I (and those who would agree with me) have everything perfectly understood. and have no need to still learn and be taught ourselves.
With that in mind, I think it might be helpful at this point to remind ourselves that as Christians our faith is in God the Father who works in the Son, Jesus the Messiah, by the power of the Spirit to redeem humanity by grace through faith. As we proceed, we should be careful to not misplace our faith in God with faith in our doctrine of baptism.
As I share my humble thoughts on the subject of baptism, I want to discuss not only how baptism relates to salvation but also how it relates to the call of discipleship and unity within the body of Christ. After that, I want to say a word or two about why I believe baptism as I understand it can be practiced without ever espousing baptismal regeneration or a works-based salvation on our part. I also would like to say a word or two about those who live committed to their confession of Jesus Christ but do not share all of my belief and/or practice regarding baptism
There are numerous passages which could be discussed but time will not permit that. So in an effort to keep these posts as simple as possible, the primary text I want to discuss is found in Romans 6.3-11 which reads:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus. (NRSV)
Other significant passages in any study about baptism include but not limited to the following passages: Matt 3.13-17; 28.18-20; Mk 16.15-16; Acts 2.38-41; 8.35-39; 10.44-48; 19.1-7; 22.14-16; 1 Cor 1.11-17; 12.12-13; Gal 3.27-28; Col 2.11-13; 1 Pet 3.21-22. Further more, a couple of books which have been helpful to me are: Gordon T. Smith, Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010; John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor, Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work, Siloam Springs, AR: Leafwood Press, 2004.
It might be helpful to share a word about my own Christian history and theological tradition. I am a product of God’s work among the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. I was raised attending a small conservative Church of Christ (a capella) in the mid-west. This movement has a long history of trying to teach and emphasize the importance and necessity of believer’s baptism (immersion). However, even this has not been without controversy, going back at least differences between Austin McGary and David Lipscomb. I believe there is much to celebrate about the contribution of the Restoration Movement in both the shaping of my faith as well as what it can offer to the larger body of Christ. At the same time, my faith is not bound to traditional Restoration thought and I think that will be reflected in some of my thoughts.
One last word about making comments on these posts. Please feel free to voice and comments, questions, or criticisms. But please know this…I am not interested in any long debates or arguments. If you disagree with me on a particular point, say why in your comment and perhaps I will respond by questioning your view or just raising another question with you. But I do not see how prolonged debates and arguments are helpful.