Affirming positives from Viola

From the Viola/Barna book Pagan Christianity?, I have in the last two posts shared some rather negative appraisals of certain practices and philosophies.  Below is a far more positive sampling of thoughts on immersion.  One might pick a little with a few of the seemingly absolute statements; please simply realize that I have not shared all the context.

Although not without negative implications viz. certain habits in much of evangelical Christendom, these points are as salient as they are correct and affirming of one very biblical practice.

Evangelical Christians believe in and practice believer’s baptism as opposed to infant baptism. . . .

However, it is typical in most contemporary churches for baptism to be separated from conversion by great lengths of time. . . .

In the early church, converts were baptized immediately upon believing. . . .

In our day, the “sinner’s prayer” has replaced the role of water baptism as the initial confession of faith.  Unbelievers are told, “Say this prayer after me, accept Jesus as your personal Savior, and you will be saved.”  But nowhere in the New Testament do we find any person being led to the Lord by a sinner’s prayer.  And there is not the faintest whisper in the Bible about a “personal” Savior. . . .

So when did baptism get separated from receiving Christ?  It began in the early second century.  Certain influential Christians taught that baptism must be preceded by a period of instruction, prayer, and fasting.  This trend grew worse in the third century. . . .

As stated earlier, the sinner’s prayer eventually replaced the biblical role of water baptism.  Though it is touted as gospel today, this prayer developed only recently.  D.L. Moody was the first to employ it. . . .  There is nothing particularly wrong with it. . . .  However, it should not replace water baptism as the outward instrument for conversion-initiation. . . .

Through our tradition, we have evacuated the true meaning and power behind water baptism.  Properly conceived and practiced, water baptism is the believer’s initial confession of faith before men, demons, angels, and God.  Baptism is a visible sign that depicts our separation from the world, our death with Christ, the burial of our old man, the death of the old creation, and the washing of the Word of God.

Wpagan xianityater baptism is the New Testament form of conversion-initiation.  It is God’s idea.  To replace it with the human-invented sinner’s prayer is to deplete baptism of its God-given testimony.

Frank Viola, George Barna, Pagan Christianity?, 2002-2012, pp. 188-196

A brief post of my own on immersion may be found here.  Its title is from the song referenced below.

I surely wish I could carry with me daily the perspectives and feelings of the words of the Kenny Chesney/Randy Travis song “Baptism,” whose lyrics may be found here.

B. Casey, 7/17/15



3 thoughts on “Affirming positives from Viola

  1. John Eoff 07/29/2015 / 9:09 am

    The question is asked above: “So when did baptism get separated from receiving Christ?” The correct answer is there never was any connection between the two. If by “receiving Christ” salvation under consideration Jesus stated there was no connection. He stated that everyone who believed in God’s son would be saved (have eternal life). Baptism is not even mentioned. Nor does Paul mention it when he relates the content of the gospel which he preached (Romans 10:8-10), or the gospel by which the Corinthians were saved (1st. Cor. 15:1:5). “Receiving Christ” is neither a Biblical principal or a scriptural phrase.


    • Brian Casey 07/29/2015 / 9:24 am

      John, I think you’ve hit on a little carelessness in Viola’s wording. In the course of talking about things that have human/pagan origin such as the “sinner’s prayer,” Viola positively employed another human phrase — “receiving Christ” — that also has no biblical foundation.

      Now, I think you’re on logically shaky ground if you’re looking at one or two verses (say, in John 3 or Rom 10) and making them out to proclaim that there is no connection between water immersion and coming into saving relationship with the Christ. (I just used another human phrase, I know, but we have to say it somehow. A bigger problem with phrasing can crop up if we end up using one phrase to the exclusion of others; then the phrase like “receiving Christ” takes on a holy life of its own.)

      If you’re mostly combatting the phrase “receiving Christ,” I’m with you. Nor do I want to be saying what God does or can do in accepting others, with our without immersion. I will say that those who want the “one immersion” to be “Spirit baptism” are blinded. Not that the Spirit isn’t involved in the water. John 3 speaks to the fact that God’s spirit IS certainly involved, I think.)

      But with the abundant examples of water immersion at, or near, the point of “conversion” in the NT, I can’t imagine that we would want to separate water from an initial stepping into faith. That’s what I took Viola’s main point to be: that evangelicals, although “practicing” immersion in some ways, have inappropriately distanced water from early faith-steps.


  2. Brian Casey 07/29/2015 / 9:55 am

    Here’s the blurb that introduced this post to any Facebook friends who might be interested:

    Here are some affirmations from Frank Viola on the place of immersion. Given the uber-sufficient scriptural evidence, it’s almost ludicrous when a religionist fights against immersion in water as a normative Christian initiation practice.


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