I need your help with something.
I got a comment on my blog a few days ago that has troubled me ever since. It’s from a woman named Sally who challenged the very foundation of our year-long, every-member mission trip. As I’ve said repeatedly, Richmond’s First Baptist Church is on a mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, but Sally says that’s not what Jesus would do, and suggests very strongly that it’s not what Jesus would want the church to do.
Here’s where I need your help.
Is she right about that? Because if she is, we’re wasting our time and energy. We should probably give up on this mission trip, turn the bus around, and head back home. I’m going to paste her comment below, and then ask you to comment on the comment. Let’s have a conversation about what Jesus did and what he wants us to do.
In response to an article about the future of the church Sally said: “I, too, worry about the future of those churches in America that follow the ‘emergent church’ path described in this article. While I do not deny biblical instruction to help the less fortunate, that is not why Jesus said he came into this world. Jesus said he came to seek and to save the lost who are headed for eternal Hell. That’s why he died on the cross. He didn’t come to fix our world, to eliminate poverty, to put an end to slavery. Jesus didn’t even try to fix the world he lived in. A social agenda was not his focus. We should never take our eyes off heaven or the theology of sin, righteousness and judgment. Jesus did not ask us to bring heaven to earth. He asked us to believe in him, to join him in heaven for eternity and to bring as many fellow believers with us as we can.”
Is that the church’s mission? Click on “Leave a Comment” below and join the conversation.
That’s what people often tell me after they’ve heard all my arguments for welcoming Christians from other denominations into our membership without re-baptizing them. To them baptism is believer’s baptism by immersion, and therefore infant baptism is no baptism at all since it isn’t (usually) by immersion and since an infant is incapable of making a profession of faith. They say, “We’re not re-baptizing these people; we’re baptizing them!”
And the argument starts all over again.
But at the end of it I rarely have the feeling that I have been understood. So, let me see if I can put it another way, a way that would make sense to lifelong Baptists, and let’s talk about those people Baptists often place at the opposite end of the Christian spectrum—Catholics.
- Baptists baptize believers by immersion; Catholics baptize infants by pouring water over their heads three times in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- As Baptists, we do not believe that infant baptism is sufficient (as some Catholics apparently do). We do not believe that it “saves” the child or “washes away the taint of original sin.” We believe that salvation requires our faith as well as God’s grace.
- This is why we wait to baptize until a child is old enough to profess his faith. Then baptism becomes a celebration of salvation in which the gift of God’s grace is received through the believer’s faith.
- This is why we believe that infant baptism—on its own—is unacceptable.
But (and you knew it was coming), when infant baptism is followed by an extended period of Christian formation, by a confirmation process in which children learn what it means to believe in Jesus and belong to the church, and by a public opportunity to claim their baptism and profess their faith, then it becomes one piece of a process whereby the grace of God that was celebrated in baptism is received through faith. As Paul might put it: grace + faith = salvation (Eph. 2:8).
What I’m trying to say is that I can’t accept infant baptism either, not on its own, but I can accept it as part of a process of authentic Christian discipleship. Understood in that way it is almost identical to our own practice of baby dedication, and I don’t think any of us want to do away with that. What we mean when we say “I can’t accept infant baptism” is that we don’t believe water, by itself, does anything for that child, but we need to carry that thinking all the way out. Water, by itself, doesn’t do anything for the person who gets into our baptistry, either. It’s just water. We use it as a symbol of God’s grace and our surrender to it.
Which makes me think that being a Christian is a matter of the heart, and not a matter of how much water was used or when it was applied.
What do you think?