TRCC Distinctive: Baptism

TRCC Distinctive: Baptism

Colossians 2:8-15

1 Peter 3:21

Romans 6:3-4; Romans 9:8

Galatians 3:26-27

 

Regarding this message this morning, I must place a large front-end footnote. My study and reading of pastors, seminary professors and dead theologians on this issue has been extensive. Much of the thought can’t be footnoted because I can’t place much of it in a book or article or lecture I was attending in seminary (Dr. Estep was huge, The Anabaptist Story.)

 

I’m riding the Systematic Theology of Grudem, leaning heavy on the sermons of Piper, juiced on the articles of Packer, nibbling on the works of Keller, Admiring Estep, loving and hating Edwards, admiring the missionary work of Judson and Carey and feasting on my favorite Calvinist Baptist, Spurgeon.

 

There is nothing new here and nothing original from Jolly. (Except one footnote of something I wrote and thought I’d just footnote myself for kicks). I’m riding the coat tails of great men who have gone on before.

 

Having said that, I don’t disagree lightly with some of the men I’ve mentioned. I consider these men a hall of fame of the faith. I take issue with some of their beliefs based on Sola Scriptura and what I believe is a failure to fully complete the reformation in their own hearts. I don’t say that lightly. I almost say it with tears.

 

The reason is that I more in common with men I disagree with than I do men in my own tribe (denomination). I’m barely tolerated in my own tribe. I’m never invited to preach there because I’m a reformed theologian, however, my brothers with whom I hotly disagree over the issue of baptism readily invite me to speak. So, I don’t disagree lightly with my brothers in arms.

 

Historically, the reformers, because of this very issue hated Baptists. Luther believed the Baptists were rodents.

 

Men who had taken believers baptism as a second baptism for the sake of their conscience in the reading and interpretation of Scripture were bound hand and feet and drowned in the Danube river jokingly as their “third baptism”. I am a Baptist on purpose.

 

The early Baptists were condemned for refusing to baptize their infants into the covenant community in fear of what would be produced socially over time.

 

So, I approach this with a firm belief that Scripture is enough to define baptism and a sober reality that the men I disagree with are greater, more intelligent and would bury me in a public debate.

 

So, the first thing to be said is that baptism gets its meaning and its importance from the death of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, in our place and for our sins, and from his conquest over death in the resurrection that guarantees our new and everlasting life.

 

Baptism has meaning and importance only because the death and resurrection of Jesus are infinitely important for our rescue from the wrath of God and our everlasting joy in his glorious presence.[1]

 

Baptism is not just religious ritual.

 

Baptism is not just church tradition.

 

Baptism is screaming about Jesus Christ and his work of salvation in dying for our sins and rising for our justification.

 

Talking about baptism means talking about how Jesus taught us to express our trust in him and his great salvation.

 

It’s also important to remember that as a church we do not separate on the issue of baptism. We are a glorious reality that only exists as a result of the glorious work of the Gospel. We are a unity that truly looks like diversity and I believe all of us see and know that.

 

We would be willing to divide over salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

 

We would be willing to divide over the full deity and humanity of Jesus.

 

We are NOT willing to divide over other issues like the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.

 

Let me give you the concluding points on the front end and then I’ll try to defend them:

 

Baptism

1. …was uncompromisingly commanded by the Lord Jesus.

2. …was universally administered to Christians entering the early church.

3. …was uniquely connected to conversion as an unrepeatable expression of saving faith. [2]

4. If you can hold to your baptism with a clear conscience and you can clearly articulate your belief in it’s validity, then we lay no further demand on you. But if your conscience is not clear and you can’t defend your baptism, we would urge you to be baptized as a believer and forever clear your conscience so you can move forward.

 

 

What We Believe About Baptism

 

1. Baptism: Ordinance of the Lord Jesus

 

Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord. What I mean by this is that the Lord Jesus commanded it. The Lord ordained it in a way that would make it an ongoing practice of the church.

 

We find this most explicitly in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

 

“Make disciples” is the main verb: “… make disciples of all nations.”

 

The defining participles are “having gone”, “baptizing them” and “teaching” them. So the church is commanded to do this for all disciples.

 

Making disciples of all nations includes baptizing them.

 

And the time frame is defined by the promise of Jesus’ help in verse 20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The promise of help is for as long as this age lasts. So the command he promises to help us with is as long as this age lasts.
So baptism is a command, and ordinance, of the Lord Jesus to be performed in making disciples until he returns at the end of the age.

 

2. Baptism: Christians are United with Christ

 

Baptism “expresses union with Christ in His death and resurrection.” The clearest teaching on this is Romans 6:3-4.

 

“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.”

(Romans 6:3-4 ESV)

 

In the wider context of Romans, it’s a mistake to say that water baptism is the means of our being united to Christ.

 

In Romans, faith in Jesus Christ is the way in which we are united to Christ and justified.

 

But Christians show this faith with the act of baptism. Faith unites to Christ; baptism symbolizes the union.

 

Just as a wedding ring does not a marriage make but rather symbolizes the covenant made, so baptism does not make salvation, union with Christ and Justification, but symbolizes it in a physical act.[3]

 

Likewise Paul is saying, “With this baptism you are united to Christ.” And the point we are focusing on here is that we are united to him in his death and burial and resurrection.

 

So the imagery of baptism is death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus was buried and raised to new life.

 

By faith, we are united with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.

 

Baptism dramatizes[4] what happened spiritually, in your soul, when Jesus saved you: Your old self of unbelief and rebellion and idolatry died, and a new you of faith and submission and treasuring Christ came into being.

That’s what you confess to all of creation when you are baptized.

 

3. Baptism: Immersion in Water

 

Baptism, as union with Christ and death and resurrection is done by immersion.

 

The clearest evidence for this are the words of Romans 6:3-4 which describe the act of baptism as burial and rising from the dead.

 

“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.”

(Romans 6:3-4 ESV)

 

This is most naturally understood to mean that you are buried under water and then come out of the water to signify rising from the grave.

 

The word baptism in Greek means dip or immerse. Most scholars agree that this is the way the early church practiced baptism.

 

Only much later does the practice of sprinkling or pouring emerge, as far as we can tell from the evidence.[5]

 

A few other indicators of baptism by immersion:

In Acts 8:37-38, the Ethiopian eunuch comes to faith while studying Isaiah with Philip in his chariot and says, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip agrees and it says, “He commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.”

 

That they “went down into the water” makes most sense if they were going down to immerse him, not to sprinkle him.

 

Likewise it says in John 3:23, “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there.”

 

You don’t need plentiful water if you are simply sprinkling.

 

So there is really very little dispute that this was the way the early church baptized. They did it by immersing the new believer in water to signify his burial and resurrection with Jesus.

 

4. Baptism:  Done in the Name of the Trinity

Baptism means doing this sign of the New Covenant in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

That’s what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19 ESV)

 

This means that not just any immersing is baptism.

 

There is a holy appeal to God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to be present in this act and make it true and real in what it says about their work in redemption.

 

There is no salvation without the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

A. Father sends the Son and draws men. John 6:44

 

B. The Son comes, dies and rises to save. Bible

 

C. Holy Spirit baptizes, fills and seals. Ephesians, John, etc.

 

When we call on their name, we depend upon them and honor them and worship the Triune God and say that this act is because of them and by them and for them.

 

5. Baptism: Believers Only

Acts 2:41

Acts 8:12

Acts 10:44-48

Matthew 28:19-20

 

The point of these passages is that baptism is appropriately given to those who have received the gospel and trusted in Jesus for salvation.[6]

 

The New Testament authors wrote as though they clearly assumed that everyone who was baptized had also personally trusted Jesus and experienced salvation. See Galatians 3:27[7]. Paul here assumes that baptism is an outward sign of inward regeneration.

 

“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.”

(Romans 6:3-4 ESV)

 

Romans 6:3-4 is a passage, I believe, Paul could not have spoken/written regarding infants.

 

If Paul could not have argued those things for infants, then an advocate for infant baptism must say that baptism means something different for infants than what Paul says it means for all of us who have been baptized into Jesus.

 

It is here that infant Baptists begin to use vague language about infants being adopted into the covenant or into the covenant community, but the New Testament does not speak that way about baptism. On the contrary, it says that all of those who have been baptized have been buried with Christ, have been raised with him, and have put on Christ.[8]

 

This sounds like salvation, and clearly infants are not saved by infant baptism, so either there is a failure to fully embrace the reformation or an inability to embrace the Scripture’s affirmation of what baptism is.

 

One of the most important passages for baptism is Colossians 2:11-12.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12 ESV)

 

So the image of spiritual circumcision is closely connected with the image of baptism: “You were circumcised . . . having been baptized . . .” The old “body of flesh” was cut away in conversion; you died and rose again in baptism.

 

So, circumcision, being the sign of the covenant with Abraham, has it’s parallel in salvation and the work done by the Gospel in taking out a heart of stone and putting in a heart of flesh.

 

Baptism, then, is the ordinance of the Lord that shows outwardly in a dramatic fashion what has happened in the work of the New Covenant in the circumcision of the heart.

 

Infant Baptism’s Argument

 

It’s probably right to say that baptism has replaced circumcision as the mark of being part of the people of God.

 

In the Old Testament men were circumcised to signify membership in the old-covenant people of God, and in the New Testament men and women are baptized to signify membership in the new-covenant people of God.

 

That has led many Christians to assume that, since circumcision was given to the male children of the people of the old covenant, therefore baptism should be given to the male and female children of the people of the new covenant.

 

Why Infant Baptism’s Argument Will not Work

 

Look carefully at Colossians 2:12: “. . . having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith . . .” The words through faith are all important on this issue.

 

Paul says that when you come up out of the water signifying being raised with Christ this is happening through faith. Verse 12: “. . . in which [baptism] you were also raised with him through faith.

 

Baptism as a drama of death and resurrection with Christ gets it’s meaning from the faith that it expresses. In baptism you are “raised with him through faith.”[9]

 

Infants are not capable of this kind of saving faith.

 

Through Faith!

 

Paul shows the same way of thinking about baptism and faith in Galatians 3:26-27: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

 

We become sons of God through faith and no other way. Then he says, “for”—connecting this way of becoming sons of God with baptism—“for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

 

That explanation with the word for only makes sense if baptism is understood as an acting out of faith.

 

“In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

 

Or to turn it around: Since you were baptized into Christ, therefore we know that in Christ you are all sons of God through faith. Why? Because that is what baptism means: You were baptized into Christ by faith. Baptism without faith was inconceivable to Paul.[10]

 

Baptism and Circumcision

Colossians 2:11-12

 

So, is water baptism the Christian counterpart to Old Testament circumcision?

 

No it is not! Circumcision’s equivalent in the New Testament is the spiritual work of Jesus cutting away the old heart of stone and replacing it with a new heart of flesh! Baptism is then brought in (I would argue from the OT rituals of purification to which the LXX gives the Greek word baptidzo) as the expression of the New Covenant work of the Gospel on the human heart.

 

The New Testament equivalent of circumcision is not baptism, but the work of Christ in circumcising the heart, giving us a new heart to love him and follow him with. Baptism is then introduced as the new sign of this new covenant.

 

The following is a long excerpt of Piper’s sermon on this issue from Colossians 2:11-12:

“The key verses are verses 11-12. Notice the linking of the two ideas of circumcision and baptism:

. . .in Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. It’s clear there’s a link here between baptism and circumcision. But it isn’t, I think, what many infant baptizers think it is.[11]

 

Notice what sort of circumcision is spoken of in verse 11: it is precisely a circumcision “without hands.” That means Paul is talking about a spiritual counterpart of the Old Testament physical ritual. Then baptism is linked in verse 12 to that spiritual counterpart to the Old Testament circumcision. This is extremely important. Try to get it.

 

What is the New Testament counterpart or parallel to the Old Testament rite of circumcision? Answer: it is not the New Testament rite of baptism; it is the New Testament spiritual event of the circumcision of Christ cutting away “the [old sinful] body of the flesh.” then, baptism is brought in as the external expression of that spiritual reality. That is precisely what the link between verses 11 and 12 says. Christ does a circumcision without hands : that is the New Testament, spiritual fulfillment of Old Testament circumcision. Then verse 12 draws the parallel between that spiritual fulfillment and the external rite of baptism.[12]

 

Notice what verse 11 stresses about the new work of Christ in circumcising: it is a circumcision “without hands.” But water baptism is emphatically a ritual done “with hands.” If we simply say that this New Testament ordinance of baptism done with hands corresponds to the Old Testament ritual of circumcision done with hands, then we miss the most important truth: something new is happening in the creation of people of God called the church of Christ. They are being created by a “circumcision without hands” by God. They are being raised from the dead by God. And baptism is a sign of that, not a repetition of the Old Testament sign. There is a new sign of the covenant because the covenant people are being constituted in a new way : by spiritual birth, not physical birth.”[13]

 

6. Baptism: New-Covenant Membership by Spiritual Birth (Tribal Re-identification)

Ephesians 2:11-22

Romans 9 (verse 7 stating that it is not physical descendants who are of Abraham, but children of the promise, through Isaac)

John 1:19-28

 

Fine, you say, but what has this to do with baptism? You can, of course, be converted without knowing about baptism, just as you can be baptized and know nothing of conversion. For all that, however, there is a threefold connection.

 

First, baptism requires conversion. It signifies not only God’s saving work in us, through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, but also our entry thereby into the new life through “repentance to God and … faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21)—that is, through conversion. Conversion, credibly professed, qualifies adults for baptism,… (and it is to conversion that baptism commits infants.) Note, that the portion is parenthesis is not agreed with.

 

Second, baptism shapes conversion. From the symbolism of baptism we learn that becoming a Christian means accepting death with Christ (entire separation from the world), being washed through Christ (entire forgiveness for the past), and identifying with the risen life of Christ (entire consecration for the future); and that genuine conversion has to be a real response to God at all three points.

 

Third, baptism tests conversion. Conversion as a psychological recoil to religion is known outside Christianity; what identifies a conversion experience as Christian is its positive orientation to baptism’s threefold summons (identified with Jesus, cleansed from sin in ritual purification and united with Christ).[14]

 

On this point, it is interesting to note that when the Pharisees come to see John they do not ask what John is doing. They had a framework for understanding baptism (ritual cleansing for natives and proselytes as well to be included in the people of God). The LXX rightly translates the words around the ritual cleaning passages of Leviticus “baptidzo” signifying the cleansing and identifying with the LORD required to stay in or come into the camp.

 

Note, the Pharisees ask, “why are you baptizing?” Why? They do this because John is baptizing Jewish folk. They are already in. They have seen the priest. They are not proselytes. So, John’s baptizing of people already “in” was confusing.

 

John was not baptizing Jews who needed ritual cleaning according to the old covenant. John was baptizing people into the New Covenant identity of followers of Jesus. There was a whole new tribe who would be marked with Baptism.

 

“So when the shift happened in redemptive history from the old covenant to the new covenant and from circumcision to baptism, there was a shift from an ethnic focus on Israel and only males being given the sign of membership in the people, to a spiritual focus on the church of all nations with both male and female being given the sign of membership in the people, namely, baptism.

Membership in the new-covenant people of God is not by physical birth, but by spiritual birth. That new birth happens by the word of God, the gospel (1 Peter 1:23-25). Therefore, the church should be composed not of the believers and their infants, but believers only. And the sign of membership in the new covenant people is not a sign for infants but a sign for believers.”[15]

 

Baptism dramatizes the work of the Gospel and gives the people of God a chance to celebrate the Gospel. Therefore, baptism points to the Gospel as our ground of hope and fellowship.

 

 

 

 


[1] Piper

[2] Piper

[3] Jolly

[4] I like the word dramatizes because it seems the Lord uses images all throughout Scripture to display his message in a vivid way to drive home the point. This also gives a sense of holiness to the arts as a means of bringing people closer to their Creator, Father, Son and Spirit.

[5] Piper

[6] Grudem, p. 970

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

(Galatians 3:27 ESV)

[8] Grudem, p. 971, Spurgeon

[9] Piper

[10] Grudem, Piper

[11] Piper

[12] Piper

[13] Piper

[14] Italics added

[15] Piper

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