Monday, 29 November 2010

Baptism: Is Immersion in Water Necessary to Receive Forgiveness of Sins?

I took the title of this post from the blog of Steve Finnell, a commenter on the previous post. In it he states categorically that yes, immersion in water is necessary to receive forgiveness of sins. I must state equally categorically that I believe he is completely wrong. His arguments seem, to me, to be characterized by non sequiturs and going, "...beyond what is written." (1 Cor 4:6)

I don't pretend to able to elucidate completely the Baptist position on baptism, even though I attended a Baptist church for 7 years and having only received infant baptism myself. I must also state that I could not have been more warmly received by the Baptist congregation I attended, in spite of our obvious differnces in this matter, nor could I think of a more Godly congregation of saints. But I understand that at the very least, they see baptism as a sign and a public declaration of one's faith in Jesus Christ after coming to faith in him.

Nor will I attempt to argue the issue at length. A couple of links
and Here...
...explain things very nicely. That is not to say they will convince anyone holding the Baptist position, but they attempt to explain why those who baptize their infant children feel it is not an unreasonable postion.

What I would like to do is address the one passage often used as a proof text to by proponents of believer baptism, and just ask a few questions about it. The passage is Acts 2:38.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I have had people take this verse to the point that Peter's words, "...repent and be baptized..." are to be understood as a chronological requirement for all time. You have heard the saying that a text without a context is a pretext. So let us ask the questions.
Q. To Whom was Peter speaking?
A. He was speaking to God-fearing Jews from every nation (Acts 2:5)
Q. When was he speaking?
A. He was speaking on the day of Pentecost, the first pentecost after Jesus' death and resurrection, and upon the occasion of the first ouptouring of the Holy S[pirit; what we now recognize as the birth of the Church.
Q. How many of his audience would previously have baptized in Jesus' name?
A. None.
Q. Is it necessary, in light of the order in which Peter mentioned things, to be baptized before receiving the Holy Spirit?
A. No. Even Baptists would agree that one must have received the Holy Spirit before being baptized. No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3)
Q. Is it necessary, in light of the order in which Peter mentioned things, to repent before receiving the Holy Spirit?
A. No. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin, so one cannot truly repent apart from the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit must come first.
Q. Had any of those who received the Holy Spirit that day, including the apostles themselves, been previously baptized in Jesus' name?
A. There is no evidence to indicate so.

In other words, it was a first on many levels; an occasion unprecedented and never to be repeated -- a one time occurrence. Now, we Christians would all agree that someone who has never been baptized, and who comes to faith in Christ, should indeed be baptized. And frankly, every one of Peter's audience would have been in that position on that day, so every one of them should have been baptized. But to take Peter's command in such a wooden, literal manner without really thinking it through; insisting on the chronology of repenting and being baptized, but ignoring that, in the passage, both precede the giving of the Holy Spirit, does it an injustice, and lays upon those who would be followers of Christ, a burden they do not need to bear. In short, it is a proof text that doesn't prove what they want it to.

Take Care

PS: Just a couple of more things.
1. In the very next verse, (Acts 2:39) Peter tells his audience, an audience of adult men, that this is for their children as well. What did he mean? I just ask the question, even if my tongue somewhat in my cheek.

2. This is anecdotal only, but I have been told by a pastor friend who has been to the place in the Jordan River where John is said to have done his baptizing, that the river is so shallow that total immersion was most probably impossible. Christian groups do baptize there today, but apparently an area had to be dug out deep enough for the purpose.


Warren said...

A quick Google search reveals that Steve Finnell has posted his carefully crafted words - you are invited to follow my blog - at many sites. I should have recognized him for a spammer before I posted. His use of coloured text is really cool though - you should try it. :-O

Anonymous said...

Well, I actually was baptized by immersion a number of years ago. It wasn't so that I could be could receive forgiveness of my sins - if that were the case, I might as well stay in the baptismal.
My reason was that - I was attending a Baptist church and was.
I had all the excuses lined up as to why I didn't need to but felt that I was called to be baptized so I did as I was prompted.
While I was in the "tank," I was able to share my testimony.


John K said...

Hi D,
Actually, had I stayed in Edson, I was planning to be baptized by immersion as well. I do not discount our original baptism, but I realize that I could not fully serve as a member of a Baptist church without following their teaching and policy on baptism. Incidentally, Billy Graham also was in the same position. He was baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian church, I believe, but was later baptized as an adult by immersion so that he could serve in the Southern Baptist Convention. He says himself that he does not reject his original baptism as invalid.

Warren said...

A few years ago, John Piper wanted to accept into full membership those who had been baptized as infants; but it became too controversial a subject with his elders and he eventually abandoned the idea because of the potential for division.

John K said...

Hi Warren,
I remember that. I was attending Edson Baptist at the time. As I recall, Piper was strongly opposed by Wayne Grudem, among others. Grudem was at one time apparently sympathetic to the idea of membership in Baptist churches for paedobatists, but later hardened his stance against it. Oddly enough, Grudem earned his M. Div at Westminster Theological Seminary, a school that would have been solidly in the infant baptism camp.

A response by John Piper to Grudem's position is Here...

JimSmiling333 said...

Several thoughts:
One. Joining baptized humanity is important. Baptism is a universally recognized act of confession of faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Two. Biblical commandments to be baptized are best understood as those of prophets under the law of Moses to those under that law. Baptism of gentiles seems to be instructed rather than commanded and to be part of the unity of the Body of Christ.
Three. Biblical examples seem to include only baptism of consenting adults through immersion.
Four. Children of Christian believers become holy or set apart in a limited sense through the faith of their parents.

Warren said...

Jim, I don't agree with this statement: "Baptism is a universally recognized act of confession of faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

I don't know the real statistics, but, from a universal perspective, it wouldn't surprise me if a majority of those within Christianity are baptized as infants. I don't think that paedo baptism within the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church, Lutheran Church, etc., is considered a "confession of faith".

I would agree that baptism is a widely recognized act of confession of faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

JimSmiling333 said...

Warren, Our differences seem to be minor. My first statement concerned the general outward appearance to the world. The spiritual reality of what is signified is determined by the presence of an inward spiritual witness in the believer.