Monday, March 5, 2012
Yesterday Tim Challies posted an article titled, At What Age Should We Baptize, where he outlined four (4) different views. The issue was, "should we baptize children or shouldn't we?" Only one of the four views suggested that we should baptize children who profess faith in Christ; the others suggest that there should be a period of waiting. In practice that means there is a specific age we should wait until (i.e. 12) or until a person is mature (i.e. they have their license, can vote in membership meetings, etc.) until we baptize them. Anyone who says that the bible teaches a period of waiting will have a hard time proving it from God's word. It's not there. Some respond by saying, "well the bible doesn't teach that people should get baptized right away!" I would respond by saying 1) that is an argument from silence and 2) That's not true. It's in the bible.
We need to be careful about our questions. Not all questions are good questions. And I think the question, "Should we baptize children?" is an example of a bad question. It's a bad question because it asks something very specific that the bible doesn't have a specific answer for. And when the bible doesn't give the specific answer that we are seeking we begin to argue from silence. A better question would be, "Should every person who repents and believes be baptized right away?" I think the bible comes a lot closer to answering this question and I think the answer is a resounding YES! I can think of five reasons (there are probably more):
1) It's Commanded and Essential to Evangelism
"'Turn back!' replied Peter. 'Be baptized - every single one of you - in the name of Jesus the Messiah, so that your sins can be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the holy spirit. The promise is for you and for your children, and for everyone who is far away, as many as the Lord our God will call.'" (Acts 2:38-39)
Peter preaches the gospel. He tells the story of Jesus and says there is a proper response to that story. Repent (turn back), believe, and be baptized. This is what one must do in order to participate in the gospel. A person cannot believe and not repent. A person cannot repent and not be baptized. A person cannot be baptized and not believe. These are all essential responses to the gospel and essential ingredients to true biblical evangelism. Scot McKnight says, "There is no such thing as gospeling that does not include the summons to respond in faith, baptism and repentance." It is our duty as Christians to follow King Jesus by dying and rising with him. It's our duty as preachers of the gospel to command that people participate in the death of Jesus. If we do not get baptized as Christians we are being disobedient to our King. If we do not command those who have repented and believed to be baptized we are being disobedient. To not command this is tantamount to telling a person they can believe but repent later. It's also interesting to note that Peter emphasizes that this promise is for everyone, namely, for you and for your children.
2) It's Practiced
"As they were going along the road, they came to some water. 'Look!' said the eunuch. 'Here is some water! What's to stop me being baptized?' So he gave order for the chariot to stop, and both of them went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch together, and he baptized him." (Acts 8:35-38)
Perhaps you might be thinking that the eunuch isn't a child and that he was a mature person (he was after all driving a chariot). But the real issue behind the "should we baptize children" question is issue of having assurance that a little one has actually experienced the new birth. And isn't it interesting that Philip does not seem to be asking those questions at all. There is no waiting time to see whether or not the eunuch displays true fruit. In fact he even asks, "What's to stop me being baptized?" Philip does not say, "Well actually I would prefer to see some fruit first." So what's the difference? If Philip isn't concerned about waiting to test the faith of the eunuch why should we make a broad rule that excludes an entire segment of Christians from baptism? I don't think Philip would and I don't think we should either. Moreover, as were about to see, perhaps people aren't bearing fruit because we're withholding baptism.
3) It Is Necessary for Participating in the New Covenant
"In him, indeed, you were circumcised with a special, new type of circumcision. It isn't something that human hands can do. It is the king's version of circumcision, and it happens when you put off the 'body of flesh': when you're buried with him in baptism, and indeed also raised with him, through faith in the power of the God who raised him from the dead." (Colossians 2:11-12)
This one is more controversial. Paul is speaking to the Christians in Colossae and is warning them not to be taken captive by false teaching. Christ is sufficient. In him they have experienced circumcision but it is not like circumcision under the old covenant. It is an "effective" circumcision.It is here that Paul makes a connection between the old covenant sign of circumcision and the new covenant sign of baptism. To be circumcised was what one had to do in order to become a member of the old covenant but it had no real effect on the person; but now, the Messiah has come and God is building his worldwide family, there is a new sign for a new covenant, namely, baptism (i.e. dying and rising with Christ), that actually transforms a person. The new birth and baptism are intertwined. Many people are concerned about separating them. But Paul speaks as if they are intimately joined together (what God has joined together...). It is when we were baptized that we died with Christ. And in order to be raised we need to die. If we aren't baptized then we don't die. I'm not quite sure how far to take this (the thief on the cross was obviously a true Christian and was not baptized); but Paul seems to assume baptism and speaks as if it were the moment we participated in the new birth. In other words, we don't want to mess around with baptism and start withholding it from people. It should be done in coordination with repentance and faith. It is the entry point of the new covenant.
4) It's Necessary for Unity
"You see, every one of you who has been baptized into the Messiah has put on the Messiah. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no "male and female"; you are all one in the Messiah, Jesus." (Galatians 3:27-28)
"You sit over there and we'll sit over here". This is one of the problems that Paul is trying to break down in his letter to the Galatians. The Jews were treating the Gentiles as second class citizens in the Kingdom of God because they hadn't undergone physical circumcision. But Paul argues that they are living in the wrong time zone. Circumcision was indeed important but it always pointed to a greater reality. The point of God's covenant with Israel was to make a single united worldwide family who had the ability to love God and others from their hearts. Now that the Messiah has come it is now the time for this worldwide family to be built. And the sign that you are apart of this new covenant family isn't physical circumcision but faith and...baptism! Baptism isn't a work that one must do in order to earn favor with God but it is God's way of making people die and rise with the Messiah (it's right there in the text). And that's what counts. It doesn't matter what family you were born into, what sex you are or how old you are. What matters is that you have been buried and brought back to life. This is what unites us as Christians. Faith and baptism. We shouldn't point to anything else. This is another reason why people shouldn't wait to be baptized. Unity in the new covenant requires faith and baptism in the Messiah.
5) It is Necessary for Accountability and Fighting Sin
"What are we to say, then? Shall we continue in the state of sin, so that grace may increase? Certainly not! We died to sin; how can we still live in it? Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into the Messiah, Jesus, were baptized into his death? That means that we were buried with him, through baptism, into death, so that, just as the Messiah was raised from the dead through the father's glory, we too might behave with a new quality of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection." (Romans 6:1-5).
This passage is about justification, new life and (lo and behold) baptism. Anyone who says that this isn't about 'physical' baptism but 'spiritual' baptism needs to read all the others passages where Paul speaks of this reality. Time after time he links baptism to the moment we died and rose with Christ. Paul wants the Christians in Rome to know that it is inappropriate for them to continue in sin because of who they are in the Messiah. We need a good reminder every now and again because it's easy to forget who we are. And the moment he points them to is the moment of their baptism. You want to know why it isn't appropriate for you to behave in certain ways? It's because you died and rose with Christ; and those who die and rise walk in a new way. We have been given the power to put sin to death. As Paul says, "we have been set free (lit. justified) from sin." If someone you know is falling into sin and turning their back on God one way to point them in the right direction is to remind them of their baptism. If you are struggling with sin one way to do battle against it is to remind yourself of your baptism and remind yourself that you have the power to walk in newness of life.
Perhaps all this talk about baptism and new birth makes you uncomfortable. But you need to ask yourself something. Why is it that the new testament authors link repentance, faith and baptism so closely together? They do no separate them so why should we? And why should it makes us uncomfortable if it didn't make them feel that way? If we are encouraging people to repent and believe (no matter what age) we should also be encouraging them to be baptized. Anything less is disobedience and a hindrance to Christian growth. There are three appropriate responses to the gospel: repentance, faith and baptism. You can't have two without the other. Everyone who repents and believes needs to be baptized...right away.
(*I have argued this as a baptist. I believe it is only appropriate for people to be baptized who have responded appropriately to the gospel in the two other ways.)