This is the longest “break” I’ve taken from blog attention for months. As my boss is fond of interjecting, when inviting us to attend this or that, we do things “when life permits”! So, back to the discussion, because life permitted during a particular lunch hour on Friday, and again before bed on Sunday, and….
Here again is the 5-step plan encountered recently:
- Admit you are a sinner. (Rom 5:8, 6:23)
- Ask God’s forgiveness. (Rom. 10:13)
- Believe in Jesus. (John 3:16, John 14:6)
- Become a child of God by receiving Christ. (John 1:12, Rev. 3:20)
- Confess that Jesus is your Lord. (Rom. 10:9, 10)
I have three major gripes with this list. First, it is objectionably simplistic, requiring no cost-counting, and potentially cheapening God’s grace. Second, it is mere human codification that is presented as biblical procedure. And third, it omits at least two integral parts of Christian practice, as evidenced in early conversions and lives in the history of the Christian church (book of Acts).
In discussion, these questions arose, vis-à-vis #5 and the missing #6, #7, etc.:
- Q: About how many “prooftextily used” Bible verses support the idea that all you have to do is “invite Jesus into your heart” or “confess Him”? A: Oh, maybe 3 or 4.
- Q: About how many prooftextily used Bible verses support the idea that baptism is part of it? A: Oh, maybe 25 or 30.
- Q: How can people misunderstand that all there is is confession? A: I don’t know. It’s really not a scriptural position. Did you notice the use of the word “weaned” (i.e., weaned from the Bible) in the first post?… I suspect it’s mostly because of what people inherit from their “pastors,” and ultimately, maybe from Luther, one of the fathers of faith-only thinking.
It’s not as cheap or simple as those five steps. Immersion is part of the picture, and there’s a lot more beyond that!
Now here’s a fair question: why is there no biblical record of the immersion of the twelve (eleven)? Maybe they didn’t experience water in this way, because it’s a NC ritual, the new covenant wasn’t initiated yet; or maybe they did experience it, and it was just assumed that everyone would know it, so the writers didn’t record the instances. Any other answers to this question? I might add that Saul-Paul was of course famously immersed, and you’d think it would have been difficult for Peter not to have been immersed before he wrote the words we know as 1 Peter 3:21 (and the surrounding thoughts!).
Nine out of ten times, others’ conversions in the NC writings appear to include immersion. The symbol itself is very compelling and is obviously connected to being reborn, starting a new life, expressing faith in Jesus’ atoning death and His rising, etc. Although I would never limit God with regard to those who haven’t been immersed, I do have concerns about those who “get” the idea of baptism but then reject it, based on human logic or illogic … or, I should say, based on the formulations of religious leaders. It is more than informative to read the records, to see the picture, and to comprehend the cataclysmic nature of Jesus’ sacrificial death and the believer’s identification with it. The connection is a spiritual reality, but the physical symbol of water-immersion is certainly a part of the picture, in the individual’s experience. And immersion is without question a part of the eminently visible, biblical model!
Immersion is a rather simple act of submission to God. Beyond the water heater (whoa! Deacon Ernest forgot to reset the thermostat in the baptistry after the power went out last month, and the creek is even colder!) and waders … beyond the thoughts of wet hair and wet clothes … spiritually, to be immersed is at once simply subservient and responsively profound. To submit to immersion is to do what Jesus did; it is to do what so many converts did, as recorded in the Acts; and it is to submit to God. (Calvinists may wish to stop reading here.)
To be immersed is also a response to divine grace extended. Purely speaking, although people may corrupt it, immersion is no more a work-to-earn-standing than the so-called “sinner’s prayer” or any other, more heartful, inner-world set of thoughts that emanate from a “decision to receive Christ.” Response is required of believers throughout all recorded history of God’s dealing with humans. It does no disservice to grace to say that a believer must respond to it–whether by being immersed or by praying or by confessing or by living within the light, etc.
[Caveat lector: I avoid the use of the word “baptism,” when it’s practical to do so, because it is a) a religious word with b) faulty connotations in some denominations. I’m sorry, but arguments that attempt to say baptism can be pouring or sprinkling are vain appeals to apostasies and Christendom’s morphings-for-convenience. There is simply no question that the word baptizo primarily means “immersion” and that the early church’s practice was immersion. Through the centuries, presumably based on convenience and on the mistaken practice of infant “baptism,” pouring and sprinkling were brought into practice.]
Confession and immersion are simple. But repentance is not. Repentance … now there’s a difficult practice. Not so difficult in its philosophical essence, maybe, but exceedingly difficult in its working-out. Having visited the rural church-planting work in Eldoret, Kenya years ago, I was impressed that the Christians there had come to emphasize repentance in their references to others: “Did so-and-so repent?” “John Matatu repented two months ago and is having struggles now.” Etc. Of course, “repentance” doesn’t get at the whole story, either, but it’s an integral part of conversion, and one that is not often stressed by evangelists these days. After all, it’s hard to get people to commit to changing sinful ways; it’s a lot easier to get them to say the “sinner’s prayer” and start contributing money to your church.
And ongoing discipleship certainly is not easy, either. Could we all just move past whatever misinformation and off-center practices have come down to us, and dig into the depths of discipleship . . . into what it means truly to follow Jesus, not stopping at immersion? (There are some off-base formulations heard from the mouths of those who emphasize water immersion, too, and every human codification put in place of Jesus is blasphemous.)