What has made the topic so hot on my mind might require a little background. I was raised a very devout and strict Catholic. Without rambling on and muddying the waters, I parted from my Catholic background and searched out through the denominations of what I felt God was after; what I was after. I have found myself most comfortable in a “non-denominational” church. I have found that for me, by removing the denominations, you begin to remove most of the “religion”. (I’m going to take a short break and let you chew on that for a minute….).
But most recently, our church was conducting a census and was asking those that attended to join in a “partnership” with the church and to fill out a form stating such. The form, however, had a couple small requirements.
1. Have entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. (OK, I’m not having any problem with this.)
2. Have been baptized (or will be in the next 6 months) as a follower of Christ as a public declaration of my faith. (Check!)
3. Commit to being a partner by investing in what God is doing through the church. (OK, I’m in.)
So I’ve read through this and am getting ready to sign; and it starts to gnaw at me. I was baptized as an infant according to my Catholic upbringing. But is that what they mean? Are they talking about a water baptism to include submersion? One that is done after a decision made after the “age of consent”? I’ve never done that! What do I do? Does that mean I can’t be a “partner” in this church? Am I really saved?! Am I going to go to heaven?!! Stand back…I’m gonna’ pop!!! (Moment to breathe…)
After talking with one the elders about not being “baptized”; I was told it was not a disqualifying issue for membership and then it was dropped. BUT NOT FOR ME! I’m not getting off the hook that easily! OH NO! Not letting this go!
So I set out on a search for answers. What does it mean to be “baptized”? Heck, I had even heard someone say that it was Christ’s commandment to be baptized. The questions just kept building up and I wanted to know if I needed to be baptized after nearly 25 years of “being saved”; and was I being disobedient to Jesus Christ because I had not been baptized?
When I first started researching to write on this subject; the first direction I started was down the philosophical, theological, biblical…seminary, Bible College, “I’m going to set you people straight” approach. (Whew! That was a mouthful.) I researched the Word (Bible-for those of you who are new to the program). I studied from “Systematic Theology” by Wayne Grudem; which is a leading textbook in Bible Colleges. I got my hands on “The Documents of Vatican II” which is a comprehensive copy of the 16 Documents of Vatican II (that’s for all the Catholic’s). I took a thorough approach on solving this dilemma once and for all. After all, this very topic had divided entire religious communities! Denominations have been split and with strict interpretation of each denominations beliefs; how and when you had been baptized could be the difference between Heaven and Hell! WHAT?!
After much research, much study and a whole lot of prayer; I came to a very clear conclusion as to what the Bible has to say about Baptism. And what I have found will certainly anger a lot of people, shock a few, and just plain confuse most; but hear it goes.
I hate to go all WWJD on everybody; but as I looked closer at this subject, the question as well as the answers just kept coming to this: What would Jesus do? This is what I found:
In John chapter 8; a woman who had committed adultery was brought before Jesus and as per the law was to be stoned. Jesus did not question the law, he questioned their hearts. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
In Matthew chapter 5; Jesus delivered what has become known as the beatitudes which over simply put, is an instruction on the condition of a humble heart.
In Matthew chapter 6; Jesus is instructing his disciples on giving to the poor, praying and fasting. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus strictly warns against public displays and charges them with the importance of the condition of their heart in their relationship with their heavenly Father.
In Mark chapter 2 and into chapter 3; the Scribes and the Pharisees are challenging Jesus with the Law regarding; healing outside the law, not honoring the law on fasting, harvesting grain on the Sabbath and healing on the Sabbath. Jesus again did not challenge the law, but he challenged their hearts in their application of the law.
In Matthew chapter 13; again the Scribes and Pharisees are challenging Jesus for his disciples not keeping the “traditions” of the elders. Again, Jesus responds by challenging their hearts and quotes scripture: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Jesus goes on to issue the “seven woes” to the Scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 23 which are all about the condition of the heart and actions verses real relationship with their Heavenly Father.
In Matthew chapter 4, Mark chapter’s 1 and 2, Luke chapter 5 and John chapter 1: When Jesus called and invited his disciples there was no ceremonies, no rituals, no requirements; it was simply, “follow me”.
I could go on and on giving examples of how Jesus handled different situations as he encountered them, but it ultimately all comes down to the question of rituals versus relationships; the condition of your heart. Now here is where most of you start revving up your engines and your blood begins to boil. “So you’re against baptisms then”. You’ll cross your arms, squint your eyes, set your jaw, look down at me (my favorite part), and quote me “the Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19 where Jesus says; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” Then you tell me it’s quoted again in Mark, however not acknowledging that from Mark 16:14 on is questioned by most Bible scholars as being written by Mark because it is not found in any early manuscripts. You also won’t quote or explain Luke’s writings in Acts chapter 1 when Jesus told his disciples that; “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” You also won’t explain to me why there is no recording of Jesus performing any rituals, including a water baptism, anywhere in any scripture or any part of the Bible.
Now before I get too far gone here. I want you to understand that I am not against baptisms. I also want you to understand that I believe that being baptized plays a very important role in the maturation of new Christians by making a public declaration of their decision to follow Jesus Christ. I believe that a physical display can help to cement the reality of the spiritual decision that is being made. I also understand that as broken and sinful human beings, we need such rituals to make our decisions real to us and to remind us of the commitment we are making.
However; I just want to make clear as Paul wrote in many of his letters. We are justified by faith, not through an act, behavior or ritual. Just as the act of a baptism, circumcision, or display of spiritual gifts cannot guarantee your salvation. Any more than by not being baptized, circumcised or displaying spiritual gifts can prevent your salvation.
Listen very carefully here. I am not writing this to cause dissention, arguments or controversy. I am not advocating one practice over another or placing one denomination or even one religion over another. I am simply pointing out that your Heavenly Father; our Lord Jesus Christ is simply seeking a relationship with you.
If you are feeling led or an urge to be baptized and in that act it assists you in a better understanding of your relationship with Jesus Christ and furthers your growth. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest body of water and be baptized. Submerge yourself into what it is to die with Christ and be raised again as a new creature. Know what it is to be washed clean of all your sins and come out of the water a new son or daughter of our Lord and Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ. In that baptism I urge you to pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit; pray for all the power, blessings and strength that God has for you in the Holy Spirit. Do it, and do it soon!
But caution to anyone who mandates a ritual. For then we become those same Scribes and Pharisees that knew and practiced the law, but did not understand what it was to have a relationship with their creator, their Lord, their Heavenly Father; Jesus Christ.
May all the blessings and love of our Heavenly Father be with you always. May we walk in love as we all continue in our daily struggle against flesh to grow; not only in our understanding, but in our relationship with the one who sacrificed all; so that the penalty for our sins are paid. It is by His grace and in His name we pray; Amen.