…And Then to Be Understood

In my last post I tried to state as clearly as possible my understanding of the position held by those who believe we should continue to require Christians from other denominations to be re-baptized when they join Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  It wasn’t my position, but only my understanding of that other position.  As Stephen Covey has suggested:  “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”

So now, in an effort to be understood, I’d like to state my position:

Those who say that believer’s baptism by immersion is the New Testament model are absolutely right, but the New Testament tells the story of people who were hearing about Jesus for the first time.  That crowd on the Day of Pentecost, for example, had never been given an opportunity to profess their faith and be baptized.  When they were, they jumped at the chance.  Some 3,000 were added to the church.  As the gospel swept across the ancient world it was good news in the most literal sense: it was good and it was news.  So, what do you do when someone repents and believes in the gospel?  You baptize them, and that’s exactly what you ought to do with converts. 

But that’s not what you ought to do with Christians.

If I were trying to invent a way of welcoming converts into the church, I think I would do it in just the way we do it now, and for all the same reasons given in my last post:  I would want to stand waist deep in the water with that new believer, just as John stood in the Jordan with Jesus; I would ask her to profess her faith in Christ by saying “Jesus is Lord,” and to do it in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear; I would dip her down beneath the surface in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus commanded; and I would raise her up to her new life in Christ as if she were rising from the dead, just as Paul describes.  I think believer’s baptism by immersion is the perfect way to welcome converts into the church of Jesus Christ.

But if I were inventing a way of welcoming Christians into the church I might simply ask that person coming down the aisle:  Are you a believer?  Yes.  Have you received baptism in some form?  Yes.  Have you made a public profession of faith in Christ?  Yes.  And do you earnestly seek to follow Jesus?  Yes.  Then welcome to First Baptist Church!  

And then maybe we could toss confetti from the balcony.

I say this because I don’t believe we should treat Christians in the same way we treat converts.  There is a difference–a real difference–between someone who is making a first-time profession of faith in Christ and someone who has been a faithful Christian for years.  Our membership requirements should reflect that.   To those who fear we would be leaving behind the clear teaching of Scripture on this matter I say no, we would not.  There is no clear teaching of Scripture on what to do when a Christian from another denomination wants to join the church.  There is only clear teaching on what to do when someone becomes a Christian for the first time.  When it comes to that we Baptists try to be as faithful to the New Testament model as possible.  We baptize believers by immersion.  That’s the way we’ve been doing it for the past 230 years at Richmond’s First Baptist Church and that is the way we will continue to do it. 

In other churches they make disciples in other ways.   I’ve written about this in previous posts, and talked about how Presbyterians, for example, make disciples by baptizing babies, doing everything they can to bring them up in the Christian faith, and then, when they are old enough to make up their own minds about Jesus, confirming them as believers.  We make disciples by dedicating babies, doing everything we can to bring them up in the Christian faith, and then, when they are old enough to make up their own minds about Jesus, baptizing them as believers.   Unless we are willing to say (out loud) that that process of discipleship is not valid, and those churches are not churches, and those people are not Christians, we ought to welcome them as our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Perhaps we could even feel honored that of all the churches they might have chosen, they have chosen this one.  What I hear from them over and over again is what a warm welcome they have received here, how much they sense the spirit of Christ among us, and how eager they are to be part of this church.  You might think we would throw open the doors to people like that instead of going down a checklist of Christian credentials and furrowing our brows when we discover they weren’t baptized in the same way we were.

I told someone recently that when we stand before Jesus he won’t ask us how much water was used or when it was applied.  He will only ask us what he asked Peter that day by the seashore:

“Do you love me?”

12 thoughts on “…And Then to Be Understood

  1. I like how you ended this post.

    My question is, it seems we’d have two standards… “we believe baptism involves immersion except when you come from another denomination, then it means whatever your previous church said it does.” Now, as people from other denominations join, over time, wouldn’t the question eventually turn into, “Why do we immerse new members? Let’s give them the option to just be sprinkled; it was good enough for me.” Now we’re back to the same debate but this time over new members.

  2. Your point is more than well made, Jim. Being a Christian is all about LOVE…realizing and feeling the love of Jesus Christ our Savior. It is a full commitment by declaring, “Jesus Is Lord”. Just what is “re-baptising” anyway? Wasn’t the first time good enough? Are we finding fault with those who are already Christians by saying, “You need to do it our way”? It is the Lord’s way that matters, and I agree with your point whole heartedly.

  3. Well Said! I don’t think I could add anything to that statement except a loud AMEN! Thank you for helping us to understand the various points of view so clearly. Good people can disagree, agreeably; however, I pray that many may see your expression and understand it as well as you have understood a different perspective.
    Blessings on all God’s children.

  4. Jim,
    All I can say is this: your position makes perfect sense to me. All the best to you and FBCR as you grapple with this question.

  5. You know, I guess the good thing about Baptists baptizing people by immersion is that modern Baptists don’t follow the practice of some of the earliest churches. I was recently watching a program about Biblical archaeology (did I misspell that?) and they told about findings showing that some of the earliest churches required new Christians to, um, uh, “totally undress” so that they would be like newborn babes and then were given a new, white robe to put on when they came up out of the baptistry. David Powers would have to do some editing, if that was the case at First Baptist nowadays, or the church would be in trouble with the FCC!! Not to mention the number of people seeking baptism would be way lower! Of course, when I was baptized at another church, they gave me a white choir robe to put on before I went into the baptistry. That thing really wicked up water and I must have been hauling about 50 pounds of water with me as I went out of the baptistry! Praise the Lord I didn’t drown!

  6. I will try to make it short
    My frist confession was in refugee camp small group of people in a church and among crowd of people with diffrent social aspect. It certainly was a challenging but wounderful feelings in the mist of suffring,and hunger for truth. Not knowing the mercy for it was given while i was sinner, my pain grows,worst time of life begin as i keep on sinning desperately. The point is bible, isn’t the word in it inspired us, guide and hold us when no one else? Rom.7:18-25 i know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For i have the desire to do what is good but i can not cary it out……..thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! I have guilty feel in my heart of my sinful nature.While i wounder how many times he would have pull me out from darkness by his own hand but……. am i honest? forgive me lord i’am not, and as i feel him on the cross, i cried. i confessed of my sin this time and i asked for forgiveness and his salvation. Finally that i realized that my choices can makes me good or as bad as evil as i chose to be. I feel BAPTISM is a act of commitment and dying with him wich is important for me. Faith along with commitment will surely inspire and help me as to be obedient, it was blessing to read your blog and comments, that really helps. Thankyou, thanks for teaching and your helping hand. you make a diffrences in our life (FBC member and all of you) forgive my grammer and also my understanding if im wrong. will you pray for my baptisim?

  7. Wow…Kumar, you’re reminding us why all of this matters so much. It’s not just about a ritual of the church, no matter how meaningful, it’s about a realization that we need Jesus—desperately! Thanks for sharing so beautifully and honestly.

  8. Dr. Somerville:

    With all due respect, this would put FBC to the left of the theological center and would cease it to be a moderate congregation.

    Respectfully,

    Mark Waggoner

  9. Jim I wish I could write like you think, and think like you write. Your position puts FBC right in the middle of Christianity, with a theology that reflects the unearnable and limitless love of Christ that embraces the “right,” the “left,” and everything in between. Imagine a church like that! I believe I am a member of a church like that.

  10. Well it seems I am not in the majority on my opinion here. I am not opposed to other forms of baptism, just the order in which it happens. It is not all about “love” to me, it is an act of obedience to command that was given to us, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.”
    I understand that a baby baptism may mean a lot to a person and their family and I respect that, that does not mean I think it is way that was intended.
    I know baptism does not make or break your path to heaven in God’s eyes. If we believe Jesus when he said to the criminal he would be in paradise, we know that baptism is not the foothold to salvation. However, I am opposed to changing our ways just to make people feel accepted. I know we currently live in a world that tells us it is right to love and accept without reservation, but some things God has given instruction on, and not that we aren’t going to love and respect everyone, but we don’t have to give into their ways just because we love them. No one is telling people their original baptism was a waste of time. It was obviously important to them and their family, but I think what we have been saying is we are doing this out of obedience to God.

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