When it is asserted by Baptists that unless a newly converted Christian is baptised, immersion being understood as the only biblical way for this to be done, to demonstrate his obedience to Christ, does they mean that this is the best or only way of demonstrating such obedience? Or, is it implying that those who do not do this are by definition disobedient Christians? For Baptists, this appears to be the case. If a converted Christian remains unbaptised as a believing adult and the mode of baptism being total immersion, that Christian’s obedience to Christ is open to question. Is this the case?
Looking at this situation generally, let me ask a few other equally relevant questions. Is a Christian being disobedient to Christ who does not seek to speak in tongues? Some Pentecostals would answer, Yes. Is it a mark of disobedience to admit women to the Lord’s Supper? Some Christians, on the basis of their grasp of biblical teaching, would answer, Yes. Is it an act of disobedience, repeated every week, for the Christian Church to meet for worship on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, and not on the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday? Some would answer that it is. Is it an act of perpetual disobedience for Christians to use hymns and paraphrases in the worship of God, and not Psalms exclusively? Reformed Presbyterians would answer ‘yes’ to this question. Is it disobedience to the Scriptures for ministers not to receive Episcopal ordination? Anglicans would answer, Yes. Is it disobedience for churches not to maintain their independent status? Congregationalists would say, Yes. Is the use of other translations of the Scriptures and not the exclusive use of the Authorised King James Version a mark of apostasy from the Christian faith? Free Presbyterians and others who insist on this, answer Yes. Can a Christian’s obedience to God be determined by whether or not he belongs to a ‘mixed’ denomination? Again, Free Presbyterians and other separatists will answer, Yes. Is it disobedience for Christians not to accept the credentials of any religious grouping that claims to be Christian and a Church? Liberals and Ecumenicals would answer, Yes.
Let’s broaden this out just a little. Some Christians have castigated other Christians for being disobedient to God’s Word when they voted for the Belfast Agreement, whereas these same critics, not all of them but many of them, would claim that they were correct to vote for the St Andrews Agreement and go into government with terrorists, and that those who voted against this move were disobedient to the Scriptures. Some believe that compromise is a sign of Christian obedience whereas others see it as evidence of disobedience.
Now if all these issues determine whether or not a Christian is living in obedience to his Lord, who is left that really does live under the lordship of Christ? No one. So to teach and insist that obedience is measured by a Christian’s acceptance of believer’s baptism by immersion is to go beyond what is accepted in other areas of doctrine. Baptists can claim to be theologically correct in their understanding and practice of baptism, but Presbyterians will claim that Baptists are in error because they are more restrictive than the Scriptures. And Psalms-only singers will claim that every hymn-singing church has departed from the clear teaching of Scripture, including the Baptists.
So adherence or not to denominational distinctives must not be used to determine any Christian’s obedience to Christ, for the simple reason that church bodies exist to maintain these distinctives.
Our obedience to Christ as Lord and King must be determined in a different arena. For example, if we do not “love the Lord our God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbour as yourself,” then our obedience to Christ may be questioned. If we seek to order our doings in a way that does no harm to our neighbour, which is how Paul understands love, then we may be said to be living obediently to Christ.
When we try to live within the Moral Law as expounded by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, then we have a degree of confidence that we are living obediently to Christ.
Some Christians can get so caught up in their own distinctives that they lose sight of the bigger picture, and believe that their grasp of Christian doctrine is so correct that it is inconceivable for any Christian to think otherwise.
This smacks of arrogance, spiritual pride and hypocrisy. Where such arrogance, spiritual pride and hypocrisy exist, Christ is being dishonoured and souls left in confusion.
If Christian obedience is required in an ongoing manner, as it most surely is, and if baptism as a professing believer is one such requirement, then every time we wish to show our obedience to Christ, we must undergo baptism. Yet not even the Baptist church requires any such act on our part, which questions whether or not submission to adult believers’ baptism is really an act of Christian obedience. Christians show their love for, and obedience to, the Lord by seeking to honour Him in all of life.
On the amount of water to be used in baptism, we can look at the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the other of the two Gospel sacraments. There, all Christian churches accept that the amount of bread and wine used is immaterial, since it is the significance of the sacrament that is important. Baptists also accept this understanding of the Lord’s Supper, because the NT records that this was a full meal that Jesus and His disciples had. Yet, when it comes to the practice of baptism, Baptists insist that for baptism to be valid, total immersion alone fulfils the biblical requirement. This basic inconsistency is so obvious that the discerning believer cannot miss it. If a small amount of bread and wine suffices for one sacrament, why cannot a small amount of water suffice for the other? Baptists must answer this question.
One further point is worth raising. Baptists keep on asking Paedo-baptists, that is those Christians who believe that the children of believers ought to receive this sacrament, as well as adult believers who have not previously been baptised, to produce the biblical proof for their practice. Yet Baptists have not provided any biblical proof, either textual or by good and necessary theological deduction, that in the NT the children of believers, who would have been baptised as infants, were baptised on profession of faith. This point also requires an answer from our Baptist friends.
Whilst it is not my intention to sow seeds of discord between Christians, the insistence of believer’s baptism for new converts is doing just that. Such insistence is theologically wrong, sends out a confusing message, and is an attempt to undermine the practice and credibility of other equally good Christians. Surely there is enough confusion in the churches today without increasing it by this issue!
Let me be very clear: there is no biblical need for new converts to be baptised as believers, since their baptism as infants pointed to the grace of God in salvation, and forward to their faith in Christ, which is where they have come to; to follow the position and practice of the Baptists may, in fact, be an act of disobedience and amount to covenant breaking, a sin that we do not want to commit.