Monday, June 2, 2008

Baptism into Christ: The Bible Does Not Support Baptist Identity Baptism

Why are we baptized? How important is the local church to baptism? These issues are roiling the blogosphere. The purpose of this series of posts is to deal inductively with the scriptural evidence. In the first post, I set the issues. In the second post, I dealt with 8 passages in Acts which mention baptism. Now, the attention turns to the epistles.

For matters of doctrine or practice in the Christian church, the epistles are crucial. The events of the gospels took place prior to Pentecost and the establishment of the church. There are teachings that deal with church issues in the gospels, but the teachings predate the church. Acts is a book of history. It tells us what happened during the period the church was being established. But it is the epistles that tell us why God did what he did. The epistles explain Acts.

When I study historical books, I look for patterns in the way God works. Our God, in his infinite creativity, seldom repeats his methods. But he does operate according to certain patterns that flow from his character. In acts, there are patterns of activity from which we can learn. But in the epistles, we see the purposes of God clearly spelled out.

The episodes in which baptism is mentioned in Acts demonstrate a pattern. Clearly, baptism was performed on only believers in Acts. It was, from all evidence, performed by immersion. It appears to me that baptism was performed almost immediately after the salvation experience. When someone put their faith in Christ, the next thing they did was go and look for a pond or river for a baptism.

What I find curious, and crucial to current discussions, is what is missing. There is not a single instance in Acts of a local church being prominently featured in a baptism. The proponents of Baptist Identity say that baptism is strictly a local church matter and only baptisms done under the authority of a local church are valid. But I have found NOT ONE verse of scripture which supports this view. It seems to be founded on tradition and a sense of Baptist supremacy, but not from scripture. At least not scriptures in Acts.

But, the Baptist Identity case is not lost. If the epistles tie the practice of baptism to the local church in a clear way, that would counter-balance the absence of evidence in Acts. So, we will examine the evidence in the epistles. I have identified 6 passages in the New Testament epistles which have significant teachings on baptism. We will examine each one briefly, then draw conclusions. This is not meant to be a complete exegesis of each of these passages. I am only interested in what they say about baptism.

Passage 1: Romans 6:1-4

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

What is baptism meant to do? It is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. We die with Christ to sin, are buried in the waters of baptism and then are raised up to walk a new life of obedience. Baptism pictures this.

It seems to me that Romans 6:4 settles the question of mode of baptism. Immersion is the mode of baptism that pictures the death and resurrection of Christ. No other form of baptism can symbolize death and resurrection like going down into the water then rising up from it.

But the most significant phrase to our discussion is “baptized into Christ Jesus.” This type of wording appears in several texts. Baptism is our initiation into Christ, not into the church. Baptism is a spiritual exercise, not an institutional one.

Passage 2: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Baptism is not the point of this passage, is used as an illustration of the unity of the body of Christ. But I would argue that what Paul says about baptism is powerful evidence. Corinth was a divided church, split into at least 4 groups, each following a particular personality: Paul, Apollos, Peter and Jesus. Paul exposed the silliness of human divisions and of splinter groups with divided loyalties.

Christ is not divided, Paul says. And Paul did not die for our sins. Neither are we baptized in the name of Paul. Paul then goes on to explain that he did only baptized Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanus.

There are two points I would make from this passage. First, Paul makes it clear that baptism should not be the source of human division. We are not baptized into Paul, or into the Baptist church. We are baptized into Christ. The Baptist Identity groups claim that baptism is into a local church body, and refuse to recognize the validity of baptisms done by other groups with doctrinal differences. Is that not a violation of the spirit of what Paul is saying here? Would Paul not argue, “You are not baptized into the Baptist church or the Assembly of God, but into Christ?”

Second, Paul says he is glad that he did not baptize many of their number. The Baptist Identity adherents emphasize the baptizer. To them, who does the baptism is as important as how the baptism is done. If the person (or church) performing the baptism is not doctrinally correct (i.e. Baptist) then the baptism is not valid. Yet, Paul seems to dismiss the importance of the performer of the baptism. The performance matters. Baptism is important – immersion of a believer matters. But this passage seems to say that the performance matters much more than the performer.

And, again, in this passage, the central issue is Christ. Not a church, but a Savior. We are not baptized into human organizations, but into Christ.

Passage 3: 1 Corinthians 12:12

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

The baptism mentioned in this passage is clearly Spirit-baptism. The only point I would make here is the wording Paul uses. “We were all baptized into one body.” If Spirit-baptism is into one body, shouldn’t we see water baptism, which symbolizes that spiritual work, as being into one body as well.

The weight of scriptures seems to lean towards baptism being “into Christ” and into the universal and united body of Christ, but not into a single, local body of believers.

Passage 4: Galatians 3:27

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Not much needs to be said here. We are baptized “into Christ.” It is about our relationship with him and not with a particular group of people.

Passage 5: Ephesians 4:5

One Lord, one faith, one baptism

We have one Lord who redeemed us. We come to know him by the one faith. And we profess that faith publicly by one baptism. All Christians are united in faith in our Lord. Baptism brings us into that One Body, the unified, universal body of Christ.

Passage 6: 1 Peter 3:21

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

This is a tough passage, with a lot of peripheral issues that will be argued till Jesus returns. The part that references baptism seems to be a little more clear than the rest of the passage.

This passage opens with a clear reference to the death of Christ, “the just for the unjust,” and then gives one of the more argued teachings of the New Testament. He refers to Jesus going in spirit to preach to the “spirits in prison” because of their disobedience in the days prior to Noah’s flood. This passage requires far more time and effort than is germane to this discussion. But the passage goes on to talk about the eight people brought safely through the waters of the flood. That is the key to the baptism teaching.

Baptism, it says, corresponds to the salvation of Noah's family. They were delivered through the waters of God’s judgment. Our baptism signifies that we have passed through God’s judgment and have found life through Christ.

The important thing here about baptism is that, once again, there is no mention of the church. Baptism carries universal concerns and is not tied to a local church. Baptism, in the New Testament, is always a "big picture" issue.

In my next post, I will deal with the conclusions I have drawn from this brief excursion through the scriptures. I wish to provide an opportunity for discussion and refinement of my arguments before I go on to my conclusions.

But here is my working thesis. There is not a single verse in the New Testament that ties baptism to a local church. I have found no biblical evidence to support the institutionalization of baptism that is being promoted by some within our convention. We are baptized into Christ and into the universal body of Christ.

What say you?


David Rogers said...

This is a home run!

Sola Scriptura

Luke said...

You haven't lost me yet. I'm waiting to see your final conclusion, and I am quite sure that I think I know where you are headed. I appreciate the leg work in putting the Scriptures here in one place to be looked at. I have not commented much up to this point because I am still thinking through all of this. Your posts on this have been very helpful.

Dave Miller said...

Good to hear from you, Luke. Some of us wondered if you had gotten lost hiking in the woods, or something.

Glad to hear from you again.

Wayne Smith said...



Excellent summation on being Baptized into Jesus Christ AND Him alone.

Wayne Smith

Wayne Smith said...

Dave and David,

I don’t think the Baptist Identity people agree with what these Baptist Theologians had to say.

Title: The Believers Study Bible

Corinthians 12:13 At conversion, the believer is born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-6). He is also baptized by the Holy Spirit, which unites him to the body of Christ, the church, and to Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Rom 6:3-5). Thus, by this one baptism (Eph 4:5), he is in Christ indeed (Gal 3:26, 27). The Lord
Jesus Christ was described by John the Baptist as the baptizer (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33), in the sense that He poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit (the Promise of the Father) after He had been crucified, buried, and raised to glory. Christ Jesus is the ultimate source, for He sent the Spirit as an ascension gift at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2). Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is the agent who is baptizing; the Lord’s body is the element into which all believers are immersed.
Spirit baptism is a miracle of God at the New Birth. We are then added to the body of Christ. Baptism by the Spirit must be distinguished from the filling with the Spirit: the baptism is never commanded; the filling is (Eph 5:18). After Pentecost (cf. also Acts 8:14-17) the baptism is once and for all at conversion, while the filling needs to be repeated (Acts 2:4; 4:31). The baptism is positional; the filling is experiential. The baptism does not bestow power, but the filling does (Acts 4:31). Confusion arises because on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) the baptism of the Spirit (Christ’s ascension gift) and the filling with the Spirit happened almost simultaneously.

Wayne Smith

Rick Thompson said...

As you have shown, one cannot argue from scripture that the local physical church is the sole possessor (or authority) of baptism any more than it is the sole possessor of evangelism, teaching and discipleship. For me and many other Baptists it is as plain as day that the sacred text teaches we are baptized into Christ- that is to say we are baptized into the universal invisible Church. Baptism is an ordinance of THE Church.

The ONLY way to argue the alternative position is from history- and in the case of Baptists- that history starts at the High Church movement of the early to mid 19th century. That is why David's request that someone show him the scriptures will never be answered with scripture- but usually only insults, insinuations and put-downs.

If my choice in my doctrinal stand is the (relatively recent) history of the Baptist church on the one hand, or the plain teaching of the sacred text on the other- I'm going with the scripture every time. After all, I was raised to believe that as Baptists we were first and foremost people of the book.

Great post Dave.