In this continuation of the Twisted Scripture series, Greg explores the various differences in opinion about baptism, and clarifies where WHC falls in this spectrum.
Baptism has long been a point of contention between various Christian denominations. Whether baptism should be done for infants, or as adults, and exactly what role in salvation baptism plays, has challenged Christians almost since the beginning.
In Acts 2:37-38, Peter is asked what they must do to be saved. He answers them “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
An argument against original sin:
Many people interpret this verse to mean that baptism is a requirement for salvation. This is fueled partly by a belief in original sin, a view made popular by Saint Augustine in the 5th century, who taught that humans were tainted with Adam’s sin. He believed that babies, if not baptized, were destined for hell (technically called “Limbo”).
But whenever considering a theological position, we must ask what picture of God does this presuppose? We know that Jesus loved kids, for example in Matthew 19:14 he said let the little children come to him. Also, we don’t see anything in scripture to support view that were born guilty. By contrast, Ezekiel 18:20 says that guilt or righteousness is only for the individual person. Finally God forgives freely throughout the bible. All people are asked to do is repent. In Acts 3:19 Peter simply says repent and turn to God. So we feel that a more accurate picture of God is one who loves children, judges people only by their own actions, and asks primarily that we repent and turn to him.
Digging deeper into what it does mean:
This interpretation of baptism being a requirement for salvation all rests on the word “for” which is what most translations use in this verse. But the Greek word is “???” (pronounced “ace”) which commonly means “in light of” or “in the context of.” It is not a cause, it’s simply in reference to.
Another question has to do with the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Many feel this is an important part of a “formula” for forgiveness. But in Colossians 3:17 Paul says to do everything in name of Jesus. This would be ridiculous if taken literally. We believe the same is true here. The phrase In Jesus’ name is not a formula. It simply means “under authority of.” Therefore just as Paul means do everything under the authority of Jesus Christ, Peter simply means to be baptized under the authority of Jesus.
So baptism is not magical and is not a cause or part of a formula for salvation. However this is not to say that it is unimportant.
Throughout the Bible, whenever God (or people) entered into covenant, there would be a ceremony. The ceremony was an integral part of the covenant. It was the inauguration and expressed the terms of and served as a permanent reminder of the covenant. This is exactly what baptism is. It is also like another popular covenant, Marriage. The wedding is the beginning of the covenant. It serves as a permanent reminder, outlines the terms, and marks the time when the covenant began, and the moment when your identity changed from being a single person to a married person.
It is also the reason that in Rom 6:2-4,11 Paul calls upon their baptism as the signifier of their new identity. Starting at that moment, the baptized person is dead to sin and resurrected with Christ. It changes our identity (even though we often forget this fact. So a major part of discipleship is trying to remember this fact and live like it is true).
In this way, baptism is like the tombstone of the old self, and the birth certificate of your new self.
They are not the cause, just the commemoration.
This leaves two other important questions that people commonly ask:
First, what about infant baptism?
WHC believes baptism should be reserved for people old enough to enter into covenant.
In Matt 28:19-20 Baptism was the first act of discipleship. It assumes you are old enough to choose and understand the commitment you are entering into.
Infant baptism is like an arranged marriage. But the wedding ceremony is where the couple owns it for themselves. similarly we view adult baptism as the believer fully owning their dedication and covenant. It does not negate the dedication or the pledge, rather it affirms it. WHC encourages all believers to own their commitment for themselves and get baptized, if they have never done so as an adult. To that end, WHC is having a group baptism July 26. It will take place at Lake Phalen after the second service. And, since it is like wedding, there are three “marriage precounseling” classes that we ask you to attend. Those take place July 12,19 and 26. We ask that people go to all three classes. (They will be taped if you cannot attend one).
Second, do you baptize by sprinkling or immersion?
We baptize by Immersion. We believe this is the more biblical way to perform baptisms because the Greek word for baptism, “?????,” (“bapto”) means submerge or dunk. In John 13:26 we can see from the context of this verse that it means dipped. Also in John 3:23 John the Baptist needed plenty of water to perform baptisms. If they were only sprinkling it, they would not need much water at all. People always had flasks of water on them, so they could have just used that. Since that was not an option, it indicates that they did not sprinkle. Finally in Romans 6 Paul says we are”buried” with Christ. Being buried presupposes being dunked under water, which is much closer to burial than a simple sprinkling would be.
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