(Photo: Dan Delzell)
How did we get to this point in the Christian church where so many believers dig in their heels when it comes to their view of baptism? It's not like your belief about baptism gives you any more of the Holy Spirit than is given to those born again disciples who believe differently about baptism. "Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it." (1 Cor. 12:27) Your doctrinal position on baptism does not make you as a believer any more a part of the body of Christ.
Whether you choose infant baptism, or believer's baptism....sprinkling, or immersion....your belief about baptism is not saving faith. Believers hold a wide variety of views concerning what actually happens in baptism. These conflicting views among Christians in no way limit or take away from their saving faith in Christ. Saving faith is faith in Christ's death on the cross for your salvation....not believing this or that about baptism.
Some religious leaders attempt to bind a believer's conscience to approve of only one approach to baptism. This close-minded indoctrination leads some born again people to wisely balk at the idea of being that unequivocal on this issue. Let's face it....baptism is one of those mysteries in the Bible which Christians struggle to fully understand on a number of levels. Unfortunately, that lack of clarity doesn't seem to keep some Christians from becoming unflinchingly dogmatic on this topic. The truth is....there are several different angles to baptism.
For example, Jesus said, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." (Mark 16:16) So does the baptism of a believer fall into the realm of justification....or sanctification? Is it God's action to wash my body with pure water as it says in Hebrews 10:22....or is it a Christian's first act of obedience? If it is a believer's first act of obedience, then Jesus' words might be interpreted, "Whoever believes and does one good work will be saved." That is, if baptism is "man's work" upon his own soul.
It is interesting that Scripture does not instruct us to baptize ourselves. Nor do we get baptized into the name of our church. Someone else does the baptizing for us....and it happens in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What other Christian experience can be compared to this unique and mysterious rite? When I am baptized, am I doing it to myself....or is God doing something to me? It is a deep and puzzling question and it has confounded and confused theologians for centuries. That is why there has been so much disagreement and even contention on this issue among Christians.
In Acts 2:38, Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." One might interpret it this way: "Repent and do one good work for the forgiveness of your sins." That is, if baptism is something man is doing to himself and by himself. So does baptism purify my body? Or my soul? Or is it only symbolic of the inner cleansing of my sins which is accomplished by the blood of Jesus through faith?
It is hard to say exactly what goes on in each instance a person is baptized. A segment of Lutherans teach that infants are able to believe the good news, and that baptism absolutely creates saving faith in the soul of every infant who is baptized. Where does the Bible teach such a thing? If an infant can believe, then can an infant also reject the Gospel? Where does the Bible say that babies can believe, and that baptism creates faith?
Scripture teaches, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ." (Romans 10:17) Thousands upon thousands of people who were baptized as babies hear the Gospel as they get older, and believe. Thousands upon thousands of people who were baptized as babies live and die without saving faith in Christ. In those instances, will their infant baptism grant them a white robe on Judgment Day? Certainly not.
Many Christians who practice infant baptism do not teach that baptism creates saving faith in the heart of the infant. They view infant baptism more as a sign of God's grace and His spiritual protection over the child. They do not teach that babies can actually believe the good news.
A large number of Christians have their babies "dedicated" to the Lord, but not baptized. No Christian parent would want to go against his or her understanding of Scripture as it relates to their children, regardless of whether they choose infant dedication or infant baptism. Neither approach is sinful, provided the parents are acting in faith.
Wherever you land on this issue, your belief about baptism is different than what many Christians believe about it. Whether you think baptism is God's action upon man, or man's first work of obedience....either way, many Christians disagree with your interpretation. There is only one Gospel message, but there are a variety of interpretations held by Spirit-filled believers on the topic of Christian baptism.
Some churches accept the infant baptism of new members who join their church. Other churches will not accept your infant baptism and will require such people to be baptized by immersion when joining their church. There are very few Christian churches or pastors who would go so far as to teach that parents are sinning by having their infants baptized.
John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards all practiced infant baptism. Were those Spirit-filled men sinning by engaging in that practice? Good luck making that case. Of course, there are many solid theologians past and present who do not practice infant baptism.
Go ahead and believe whatever the Bible leads you to believe about baptism....but don't confuse your belief about baptism with saving faith. There have been a number of acceptable approaches and views regarding Christian baptism over the centuries. There has been only one correct view concerning the Gospel in all 2000 years of its proclamation.
If you find yourself becoming increasingly rigid in your teaching on baptism, relax....and study the history of the Christian church. No man is an island, and no single Christian group is an island. God has mightily used His disciples over the centuries who have a different view of baptism than your own. It's OK to lighten up a bit on this topic....God won't mind, as long as you do so in accordance with Scripture and your conscience. Maybe some others in your church will even follow your lead and begin to take a fresh look at this challenging theological issue.
And it doesn't hurt to take a peek at why other Spirit-filled Christians believe what they do about baptism. It may not change your view, and that's OK....but hopefully it will help you to reaffirm your commitment to the axiom that "saving faith is not belief about baptism." That commitment helps to keep us from looking down on other Christians who in good conscience approach baptism from a different perspective than our own.
The moral to this theological story: Love all people....including your fellow believers who come from a variety of doctrinal traditions....otherwise, you could end up throwing out the baby with the bath water. Remember....we as Christians are already on the narrow road. You don't have to try to make it narrower and only accessible to those who share your group's perspective on the perplexing rite of baptism.