Look To Your Baptism?


Bill Smith spells out the reasons behind the exhortation for struggling Christians to find comfort and strength in their paedobaptism. And I respond.

Firstly, why should I respond? It is not for the sake of dyed-in-the-wool paedobaptists. I have come to the conclusion that they do not really care what the Scriptures actually say. They are willing to steamroll and redefine just about everything to accommodate this doctrine. Like same sex marriage, this is a rite that alters the very foundations of the order established by God. I respond partly for the sake of those who are confused or sitting on the fence or at least open minded. But mostly I respond because I can’t bear to see the “beautiful music” of my favourite book played so disturbingly off-key, even if this is done with the best of intentions.

Bill writes:

If you had to talk to another Christian about some sin in his life and the fact that he is presuming upon God’s grace, where would you begin the discussion? Go ahead, think about it. I’ll give you a minute…

If I were a pastor, I’d begin by reminding the person that sin has consequences for yourself and for those around you, and that a lack of conviction for sin might indicate that the person is not actually a child of God, since God disciplines His children. John tells us that sinning habitually without remorse is impossible for those who have heard and received the “seed of the Gospel.” That should be the end of the story but Bill has a doctrine to prop up.

Some might begin by questioning the salvation of the person. The question might be, “Has there ever been a time in your life when you prayed the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus into your heart?” Others might not go that far, but may appeal to the person on the basis that he knows this isn’t the right thing to do. In our Protestant, evangelical world (which is the world in which I live) we will, normally, appeal to almost anything except what the apostle Paul appeals to in Romans 6: baptism.

Some might mention the sinner’s prayer, but that is a bit of a straw man. Bill’s intention is to point out that there is nothing we can contribute to our salvation. I agree. But by misrepresenting the biblical command to “repent and believe” he has removed the actual Gospel of Christ from the picture entirely. That is why this sort of talk makes me so angry. It also amazes me that those who are so focussed on the benefits of liturgy are willing to discard a prayer of faith and repentance because it has been abused as a magic mantra.

But it gets worse. Paul does not appeal to baptism per se. Paul appeals to Christ. Bill has rejected one apparent “error” (a magic prayer) for a more heinous one, a magic baptism. Paul is not appealing to infants. He is appealing to those who had voluntarily submitted to baptism and exhorting them to continue in that voluntary submission, a mortification of sin. There is not an infant in sight. To pervert baptism into an involuntary rite is to change its meaning entirely. It is not about obligation, since all are now obliged to repent and believe. It is about voluntary obedience. The only way this could be overlooked in Romans 6 is if the reader were looking for evidence to support a predetermined agenda.

Pointing to an objective baptism which the baptizand had no choice in and cannot even remember is actually worse than pointing to a prayer which may or may not have been prayed in faith. Paul is not pointing to a rite. He is pointing to Christ, who presented His own body as an instrument of righteousness voluntarily, who was crucified voluntarily, and who died voluntarily. He is calling the saints to identify with Jesus in these acts voluntarily.

For Baptists, if the person isn’t living right, that might mean that he “didn’t get his baptism on the right side of his conversion.” Consequently, his baptism didn’t mean anything. To appeal to his baptism would be useless because it was just an empty, external rite. For the Reformed, well, we’re too busy all the time telling you what baptism doesn’t mean. “Baptism doesn’t mean you’re saved.” “Baptism certainly doesn’t mean this, and baptism most certainly doesn’t mean that.” By the time some of our brothers are finished telling us what baptism doesn’t mean, we start wondering why God is wasting our time with it!

Certainly, if it turns out that someone was never a believer, then their baptism was not an act of faithful obedience to God. It may have been a deception, or a misunderstanding, or a desire to please family or friends. However, as a rite it did mean something, and that something is what baptism actually means: public submission to the Body of Christ, and a commission to preach the Gospel under the accountability which that public profession brought about. One thing that many Presbyterians do get right is the idea that baptism is a component in a Covenant oath or vow. The problem is that they assume this vow can be taken by proxy, since they conflate Abrahamic circumcision of flesh (obligation) with the Mosaic oath which called for circumcision of heart (obedience). These two circumcisions, external and internal, were separate things even under the Old Covenant, which is why not “all Israel” were Israel. Some were Jacobs. Some were Esaus. Did that make circumcision ineffective? No, because circumcision was obligation, not salvation. Thus paedobaptists like Bill make exactly the same error that the Jews of the first century did, since they “looked to their circumcision.” All people everywhere are now obligated to Christ. But baptism is for those who hear and respond to Jesus’ “If…”

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

It seems that Jesus is very happy with a “subjective” response to His “objective” Gospel. Bill continues:

We Protestants are a little afraid of water. We’re afraid that if we speak like Paul in Romans 6 that we will be misunderstood. His language is too strong and absolute. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him in the baptism into the death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, even so we also might walk in newness of life.” No qualifications. No, “If you got your baptism on the right side of your conversion” talk. No, “Well, you know baptism can’t mean that.” Baptism is participation in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Period. Full stop. No way to get out of it. Baptism changes you.

According to Bill, who has misinterpreted Romans 6, baptism can bury somebody with Christ even if they have no clue what is going on. Besides the fact that Bill does not seem to understand the meaning of the word “participation,” if that is the case, what is the point of the Gospel? It becomes redundant. That is precisely what happened in many European countries where almost everyone was “baptised” but almost nobody was a believer. Because the Gospel is a call to everyone on the planet, paedobaptism is as redundant as circumcision or uncircumcision. Paul calls such rites and hereditary “identities” skubalon, something to be discarded as used up, useless and unclean. God is not wasting our time with paedobaptism. Paedobaptists are.

Some have tried to wriggle out of this language by saying that Paul is referring to some invisible inner work of the Spirit on the hearts of individuals. Paul is only speaking to those who have really been baptized; wink, wink, nod, nod. There are many problems with that. Paul has never met these people. He is writing based on what he actually knows about them and what they know about one another: they have all been baptized … with water. They don’t know everything that is going on in the hearts of one another. But he and they both know that they have all been baptized … with water. His appeal to them is to live in accordance with what has happened in this baptism.

This is a good point, but our inability to immediately discern the hearts of people is not a reason to reject that calling. The very fact that the Christians in Rome had submitted to baptism is a fair indication that at least many of them had indeed heard and believed the Gospel. He is not saying, “Well, you were baptised, so there is no escape now.” He is calling them to return to the faith which they demonstrated at the beginning, the faith which resulted in their baptisms. I would have thought this was obvious. It is faith in Christ that was central to Paul, not baptism. Faith is the “oath” (voluntary submission to heaven) and baptism is the resulting “sanctions” (blessings and dominion upon the earth). Paedobaptism puts these around the other way. It is the soteriological equivalent of the Bootstrap Paradox. Israel fell into the same error. “We are Jews, therefore God is pleased with us.” Under the Old Covenant, sacrifices were not magic, and the Ark of the Covenant was not a lucky charm. Without a conscious faith in God, all of these things were worthless. The sacrifices of God are voluntary confession, a broken spirit, and the “cutting off” of the flesh in a contrite heart (Psalm 51:15-17). Sons of men can become sons of God, but as with the Jews, that is not automatically so.

Your baptism has meaning. It doesn’t matter what you were feeling or not feeling at the time. It doesn’t matter if you were an infant, a teenager, or an adult. Your baptism means that you have become a part of Christ’s people. And it means that because God gives it that meaning. You don’t give baptism meaning. Baptism is not yours to give meaning. You receive it from God. It is his work, not your work or even the work of the person who baptized you.

This is good advice, especially for young Christians. Feelings are simply reactions to stimuli. But exhorting a Christian to trust in an “identity” which is basically hereditary and tribal (despite the ridiculous claims to contrary, since the only reason Pastor Bill, I assume, was baptised was because of whose family he was born into) is just another form of idolatry. It shifts the focus from subjective feelings to an object rather than to the Saviour. It depersonalises Jesus. Rediscovering the Old Testament is invaluable for Christians, but failing to comprehend that the “Covenant” is no longer written on tablets of stone is a serious error. This is why for many who were “bap-cised” as infants, their assumed obligation to Christ via their family is a terrible burden which they come to resent. They have no desire for Jesus Christ, and no one should be baptised without desire. Baptism is a demarcation of Spirit, not flesh, and paedobaptists are at constant war with each other because Spirit and flesh are at constant war with each other (Galatians 5:17). Circumcision of flesh and of heart cannot be conflated. Once again, it amazes me that this is still an issue. The solution is so obvious if we are willing to read the Scriptures objectively.

Because of this you can’t blow off your baptism by making it dependent on the meaning you give it. God re-defined your life in your baptism. You have obligations. The first, foremost, and fundamental obligation is that you respond to the gift of God with allegiance to Christ Jesus; that is, biblical faith. He is your Lord. Do what he says. If you don’t, the consequences are bad and everlasting. We should handle the gift of baptism with great caution. Don’t presume upon God’s grace.

This is rubbish. Baptism is not a revived circumcision. Jesus died to destroy the bifurcation of humanity. All people are now under an identical obligation to Christ, and all people are offered the gift. The entire world was “redefined.” Turning baptism into a “Covenant boundary” makes the New Covenant just as parochial as the Abrahamic Covenant was. Because Jesus “grew up,” so did Covenant history, and we are to put childish things – the stoicheia – behind.

This means that “You have obligations” is simply legalism for those who are not actually believers. This does not mean that exhortations and church discipline are without purpose. They are the means of discerning the hearts of men. Like the Gospel, those who not only hear but also do, that is, respond with repentance and faithful obedience, are the children of God.

But there is a flip-side to this. God defining you by baptism is also a great comfort. Baptism is God’s word to you in water. You belong to him. It is not dependent upon how you felt at the time or if you did this or that “just right.” Your heart will constantly be deceiving you, calling into question the promises of God in your relationship with him. Your guilt over confessed sin will keep you guessing if you really have a relationship with God. Baptism tells you, “You belong to God in Christ. Now trust him and continue to fight to overcome sin.” That is basically the message of Romans 6. That is God’s word to you.

Baptism is indeed a word to the believer in water, but it is a word which comes after the Word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not itself the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By making baptism the initial “word,” baptism becomes a rival Gospel. There is no problem with calling a Christian back to their first love, but paedobaptism is not a response to the Word. Faith comes by hearing, and that simple phrase destroys paedobaptism and the redefinition of “faith” by many who attempt to defend it.

Will we be misunderstood if we take the trek of the apostle Paul and appeal to someone’s baptism for caution and comfort? No doubt. But should we neglect the Scriptural appeal to baptism and replace it with our own conjured up traditions of men out of fear? By no means!

Paul never went on that trek. It is a dead end in the wilderness. It is the fate of those who appeal to circumcision and the Law rather than to God. The greatest irony here is that Bill fails to realise that his own baptism and his appeal to it is nothing more than conjuring and tradition.

Look to your baptism, and hear God’s word to you.

Yes, look to your baptism, and remember why you chose to be baptized. It was your trust in the finished work of Christ after you heard the Gospel, and willingly followed Him into the grave. Take up that cross daily, and rise again in power from that grave daily. That is what pleases God. And if you have not been baptised biblically, be baptised. That is the first step a believer takes after looking to Christ. Paedobaptism is an unwitting rebellion against the New Covenant order.

Share Button

Comments are closed.