Monday, June 30, 2008

Where Southern Baptists Shine!

When you read SBC blogs, you hear relentless stream of negativism about the future of the SBC. Some cynics say we need to develop an "exit strategy." One mega-commenter relentlessly bashes the SBC and questions the intelligence of anyone who does not share her viewpoint. Statistics have shown that we are declining numerically and a cursory examination of blogs shows that we are severely divided.

But in New Orleans and Cedar Rapids, Southern Baptists shine. Our disaster relief efforts are amazing. In my hometown, Cedar Rapids, the flood wreaked devastation. Now, Southern Baptists are there helping to rebuild the city. The church I grew up in, and the other SBC church, the one I pastored for over 14 years, are housing disaster relief teams which are involved in mud-out and will be replaced by rebuilding teams.

Last week, I was in New Orleans working with "Operation Noah" an SBC-led program to rebuild that devastated city. Operation Noah is doing what the government and social agencies could not do - put people back in their homes. It is an amazing ministry.

Yes, we Southern Baptists have our problems. There are some things I don't like. But I am glad to be a part of an organization that is there when people need us.

When the Flood Comes

I spent last week in New Orleans hanging drywall - and am once again thankful that God called me to preach. We had a great time. I actually enjoy hanging drywall, but I have no idea why.

On Thursday, the contractor who is overseeing the project we worked on stopped by for an inspection. I also had a conversation with an electrical contractor. They told me some things that shocked me (actually, I guess they didn't shock me as much as they saddened me).

I remarked to the electrical contractor how shocked I was at the devatation remaining in New Orleans three years after the flood. He said that NO would never recover until people stopped stealing the money given to rebuild. FEMA gave grants to people to rebuild their homes and some spent them on new cars and big-screen TV's. Others were taken to the cleaners by scam artists posing as contractors. Having blown their money, or had it taken from them, they are now looking for volunteers to rebuild their homes. The other contractor told me that whenever an inspector comes by, you fold up a 50-dollar bill in your hand and shake hands with him. No money, no inspection. This is the way things have always been in New Orleans. Corruption. Graft. Hedonism. Wickedness. Its the "Big Easy" way.

Here's my point. I knew about the graft and corruption. It has been chronicled often. But last week, I saw the results of the New Orleans way.

You see, who you are before the flood determines how you respond when the flood comes.

New Orleans lived the "good life." Fun. Party! Let the good times roll. But when the flood came, they did not have the personal resources to respond. Even when they were given generous settlements, they could not rebuild their lives. The corruption ate away their resolve and self-control. When the flood came, their spiritual bankruptcy was exposed.

Those who know Jesus Christ and walk with Him are often surprised when their lives are blown apart, because they find a source of strength they did not know they had. The sustaining grace of Jesus Christ lifts them up and empowers them to go on.

It is one of many reasons to walk with Jesus. Someday, somewhere, somehow, the flood will find you. It happens to all of us at one point or another. If you are walking in the flesh, living for yourself, seeking the things of the world, you may not have the spiritual resources.

Walking with Christ does not necessarily protect you from the flood. But it gives you the sustaining grace you need to go through it.

(NOTE: what I wrote above is a generalization. I believe it is generally true. It is certainly NOT true of every person in New Orleans. There are good, honest, hard-working people in that city.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

New Orleans Bound

Jenni and I are in Licking, Missouri (yes, that is the actual name), a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. In the early morning, we will pick up our new youth pastor and his wife (she had a family wedding in what I guess must be suburban Licking). We will join the rest of our mission team and go to New Orleans to work on homes destroyed in Katrina.

It seems odd to be going to NO, when there is so much trouble in our own state. Maybe later in the summer we will pack our tools and head to CR.

Pray for me. I am not in a good place physically right now.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

When Bad Things Cedar Rapids

I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was a pastor there for nearly 15 years before moving to Sioux City. Last week, my hometown was devastated by a flood. Flood stage is 12 feet. The Great Flood of 1993 crested at 19 feet. This one topped out at nearly 32 feet. That is not much short of double the depth of the "Great Flood." The city is destroyed and no one knows when it will recover.

Some of my oldest friends lost their home of 30 years. Another close friend lost his business. A good friend's church will have to be torn down. The disruption is hard to imagine. I can only guess that as the filthy water settles, disease will spread with it.

Why? Why does God let things like this happen? I pulled this out of the archives of my old email ministry and offer it as an important reflection for friends in need.

In a prayer service at a previous church I served, I asked the people to share a moment when God demonstrated his love for them. One man shared an amazing story from WWII, in which he probably should have been killed, but was not. Others began to tell stories of near death experiences and other situations from which God delivered them.

As someone who once was rescued unconscious from a swimming pool, I am grateful for God’s providential care. He does demonstrate his love by protecting us. But what about the folks who do not receive the positive outcome? What about our dear friends who buried their precious daughter? They prayed for her. Did God not love them? What about our friend Bill Hyde, killed by terrorists? Did God look away for a second? Does an undesired outcome mean that God does not love me as much as those who get what they pray for?

In Acts 12, two of Jesus’ disciples were arrested for preaching the gospel. But the outcomes were very different. We all know the story of Peter’s rescue from jail. The church was praying, and God threw open the doors of Herod’s jail and brought Peter out. He went to the prayer meeting and knocked on the door. When the servant girl told the church that Peter was at the door, they thought she was crazy. When they opened the door and found that the story was real, they rejoiced. God had worked in mighty power to save Peter.

But the chapter begins with a story with a very different outcome. James, the brother of John, also got arrested. But for him their was no miraculous salvation. For him there were no open jail doors, or prayer meeting celebration. For James, there was only the sword.

Why? Why did God rescue Peter and let James die? Was Peter a more vibrant Christian? Did God love him more? Was God mad at James? Did James not have enough faith? There is no evidence that any of these things was true. God loved James and Peter so much he shed the blood of Jesus Christ for both of them.

Why? We will never know. Maybe in Heaven God will let us know. Maybe not. I suspect that even in our glorified state we will have trouble understanding God’s sovereign plan. God works by a playbook that is his alone.

But this much is clear. We cannot read the outcome of our lives and determine the love of God. God always works out his sovereign plan based on his love for us. He is working all things for the good of those who love him. His love is seen in the Cross, in his constant presence in our lives, and in his promise of heavenly glory, not in the outcomes of life’s trials. Sometimes he rescues us in miraculous ways. Sometimes he lets us taste Herod’s sword.

His love is not seen in the outcome of our circumstances, but in his constant presence with us no matter what happens. Our job is to trust him and to walk with him, whether we walk with him through the jail doors to freedom, or to face Herod’s sword.

What in God's Name are We Doing to Our Children?

(If you read this and comment, please don't think I am ignoring you. I am headed to New Orleans for a week of disaster relief. I don't know how much internet access I will have.)

(I was reading Bart Barber's current post on biblical literacy, and it put me in mind of this, my very first blog ever. So, I pulled it out of the mothballs and edited it.)

Everyone is concerned about the effect that our culture is having on children. Violence, immorality and perversion fill the airwaves. The family is breaking down, our schools are a mess; the moral foundations of our nation are crumbling. What is going to happen to our children and grandchildren as they grow up in this moral cesspool?

But I have a more serious concern today. I am bothered by the effects of a pagan society on the next generation, but I am more concerned about what the church of Jesus Christ is doing to our children. A prominent church developed a children’s ministry center. The designer had worked for Disney and built a visual wonderland to amaze and attract. In the hopes that many children would come to Christ, the church put in a baptistery; one especially designed for children. It was shaped like a fire truck and equipped with a confetti canon that would fire every time a child was baptized. I need to clarify something here.

The preceding paragraph is NOT fiction. I have talked to people who have been there. The facts are verified and undenied. What that church did may be extreme, but it is indicative of what is going on in children’s ministries across America. Children’s ministries are competing with fast-paced children’s television programs and exciting video games. So, we compete. If Disney can entertain our children, we will do it better. We will out-Hollywood Hollywood and out-rock-and-roll the music industry.

This is all done with the most noble of motives. The bright lights of our culture attract children, so we use the bright lights to attract them to Christ. If the kids watch TV, let’s give them VeggieTales. If they are going to play games, they might as well have a Christian theme. Their music might as well have vaguely Christian words. Whatever we have to do to get them into the church and keep them there, we will do.

But there may be a problem with all this. I am afraid that in our noble desire to make the church more palatable and entertaining, we are in danger of raising a generation which has no concept of what Christianity really is. My generation is narcissistic and self-indulgent. What will this generation of entertainment-jaded youth be when it is all grown up?

Jesus described the very nature of Christianity. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Paul told the Philippians, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Jesus not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” Jesus promised his disciples that in this world, they would have tribulation.

We work very hard to make the church experience fun, exciting and entertaining. We cater to children. But following Jesus is self-denial, not entertainment. We are called to serve him; not just to enjoy him. How are kids going to learn this lesson if children spend their lives being catered to and entertained? When is the last time an American child was asked to sacrifice for cause of Christ?

For several years I led a ministry at my former church called Bible Drill. It is hard work. Every week I had a dozen or so wonderful Christian fourth through sixth graders in my office whining about Bible Drill. “This isn’t fun. Can we go outside?” Every week I gave them the same response. “Nothing of real value in life is fun. The things that really matter require hard work, sacrifice and faithfulness.” The message never seemed to get through. These kids were not juvenile delinquents. These were good kids – church kids. In fact, one of them went home with me at the end of the evening. But they had an idea ingrained into their pre-adolescent minds. Church is supposed to be fun. If it isn’t fun, they shouldn’t have to do it. Where would they have gotten such an idea?

I am raising an issue for which I do not have an answer. I do not want to make church dull. Howard Hendricks said that it is a sin to bore people with the Word of God. I agree. I see no real problem with using technology to create interest. But I do think that we have to be careful not to let kids grow up in the church enjoying the show without being challenged to sacrifice for the cause. Jesus did not say, “If anyone – except the children – would come after me...” We cannot give children a watered down gospel or ignore the call of Christ to sacrificial living.

In our effort to keep kids coming to church, have we compromised the reason why they should come? Is the goal to get them into the church or to see them passionately devoted to the Savior?

Anyone remember Pinocchio? Wasn’t it the carnival that led him into bondage?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Challenging Dr. Yarnell's BI Baptism viewpoint

Part 3: Conclusions

(NOTE: The biblical basis for these conclusions is found in the last two posts)
(Another NOTE: I am headed out today for a speaking engagement in Missouri. I hope someone wanders by and comments, but if you do, I will not respond unless I can find some wireless access somewhere - and who knows about Missouri, right?)

I feel a little bit like I am standing at the plate facing a Rogers Clemens fastball with a wiffle ball bat. I am about to engage the ideas of Dr. Malcolm Yarnell and others in regard to baptism. I am academically unqualified to challenge any of them. And it is not my intent to cast aspersions on the character of anyone here. Dr. Yarnell himself has been adept at disagreeing respectfully. He engaged in a lengthy debate with David Rogers and both demonstrated that disagreement is not disrespect.

I am challenging Dr. Yarnell because he seems to be providing the theological foundation for the Baptist Identity movement. I will be using quotes from a lengthy blog he put on Peter Lumpkins site a couple of months ago, which summarized his view on baptism. Again, while I will be questioning the biblical basis for his viewpoint on this issue, I will not be questioning his love for Christ or the scriptures.

Before that, let me share a few points that I think are clear from the biblical evidence. My past three posts have reviewed every place in the scripture in which Christian baptism is mentioned. I mostly ignored references to John’s baptism, since it seems to me to be a different thing than Christian baptism.

1) There is not a single scripture that gives evidence of baptism being performed under the supervision of a local church. People mention the Ethiopian Eunuch, but the pattern goes beyond that. I did not find a single piece of evidence to support institutional oversight of baptism as a requirement for baptism. That is not to say that local churches were not involved. There is just no evidence of institutional oversight of baptism.

2) I did not find any evidence of doctrinal evaluation of either the baptized or the baptizer. It seems that when someone came to faith in Christ, one of the first things they did was go find a pond or river to perform the baptism. It does not seem that they did a training class or a doctrinal evaluation. When you trusted Christ, you went and publicly testified to that by being baptized.

I wonder if that is where ideas of baptismal regeneration might have begun. People got baptized so quickly that people began to confuse conversion and immersion. It would be sort of like people who talk about “walking the aisle” today. We know that walking an aisle doesn’t save, but we use the phrase as a synonym for salvation because they often happen close together. Who knows?

3) Baptism seems to be presented in scripture as a “big picture” thing. Baptism is referred to as “into Christ” repeatedly, but never into a particular local church. Baptism is about identifying with the death and resurrection of Christ and about walking a new life of obedience. But there is no place in which someone is baptized to join a local church.

I do not object to baptism as a requirement for membership. In fact, I support it on practical grounds. But I reject the notion that this is fundamental to the biblical view of baptism.

4) I see very little emphasis in scripture on who does the baptism. Paul even goes to great lengths in 1 Corinthians to downplay his involvement in baptisms. My suspicion is that in the early church, any baptized believer could baptize another believer.

Dr. Yarnell’s Position

In his post on SBC Tomorrow, Dr. Yarnell made 7 statements on what he liked about Baptist baptism. The implication is that all 7 are essential for a biblical baptism. They are copied below

The first reason that I am a traditional Baptist is because Baptists begin the Christian life in the only way that Jesus Christ gave to His followers--by hearing His Word, believing it, confessing it, and obeying it by receiving baptism.

Second, Baptists do not baptize babies, because doing so alters the command of Christ and the orderly practice of His apostles, who always placed conversion prior to baptism.

Third, Baptists do not baptize only in the name of Jesus, because doing so ignores the command of Christ, which was clear that baptism should be in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, Baptists do not baptize apart from the local church, because baptism involves local church membership.

Fifth, Baptists do not baptize into an illusory invisible church, because they understand that a church requires a covenant and that can only be done where two or more people (and people have visible bodies) have gathered.

Sixth, Baptists do not sprinkle or pour, because they know that only immersion is faithful to the New Testament witness regarding the cross and the empty tomb of the gospel.

Finally, Baptists do not baptize those who lack the assurance of their eternal salvation, because the doctrine that one may lose one’s salvation indicates a lack of submission to Christ’s own doctrine.

My Response

I agree wholeheartedly with his first, second, third and sixth points. I disagree with the fourth, fifth and seventh. I do not have a problem with him believing or practicing these. But I do not think they have the biblical authority of the other four points, and I do not want them to be seen as normative for biblical baptism. I do not want to see those points encoded in IMB policies or in SBC practice. I think they go beyond the biblical evidence and I oppose them being enforced on me or on missionaries.

Dr. Yarnell said, “Fourth, Baptists do not baptize apart from the local church, because baptism involves local church membership.”

I would ask someone to show me the scriptural support for this, without appealing to Baptist tradition or history. Where does the Bible support this? I have not found it anywhere.

I have performed baptisms for 26 years and the vast majority have been under the auspices of the churches I have pastored. But I have performed baptisms on people thqat could not or did not want to be members of our church. Normally, when we baptized, the person automatically becomes a member of the church. But I have had people who wanted to be biblically baptized but not be members of my church. I baptized them. I believe the Bible supports what I did.

The missionary who baptized his child in a pool on the foreign field without the approval or authority of any church – he was acting in obedience to Christ, not contrary to it. We are baptized into Christ, not into a local church.

If you want to hold that doctrine, fine. Show me the verses!

Dr. Yarnell then made an extraordinary statement, “Fifth, Baptists do not baptize into an illusory invisible church, because they understand that a church requires a covenant and that can only be done where two or more people (and people have visible bodies) have gathered.”

He is right about one thing. We do not baptize into an illusory invisible church, but into Christ. Time and again, the scriptures I referenced in the last two posts identify baptism as into Christ. There is not one mention of baptism into a church, illusory or local. The only one that comes close is 1 Corinthians 12:12, which says that we have ALL been baptized into ONE body. Sounds a little bit like a universal church to me. Most would say that the baptism in view there is not water baptism anyway, but the baptism of the Spirit, which water baptism pictures.

But the part that I find extraordinary is his statement that a valid baptism can only take place “where two or more people” have gathered. Do the baptizer and the baptized count in this number? If they do, the statement becomes empty of meaning. All baptisms must by definition have two people present. We have a word for solo baptism – swimming!

I suspect, though, that he refers to a group of people from the local church who witness the baptism. Ethiopian Eunuch? No such witnesses. In fact, there is no point in Acts in which a baptism is delayed to gather a group of witnesses or to seek the approval of the church.

We have the authority of Christ to baptize and do not need the oversight of a local church. I prefer it that way. I practice it that way. But the Bible does not prescribe it that way.

Again, where is the biblical support for this authoritative statement.

Finally, he says, “Baptists do not baptize those who lack the assurance of their eternal salvation, because the doctrine that one may lose one’s salvation indicates a lack of submission to Christ’s own doctrine.”

I have only one requirement for a baptism. That person must clearly and forthrightly express their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I know my practice here is different from many others in my own denomination, but I do not believe I have the right to put any other stricture on baptism but that which the Bible does. If you profess faith in Christ and give clear testimony of your salvation, I baptize you.

I do not make a doctrinal test for baptism. Whatever Dr. Yarnell, Baptist history, or denominational practice says, I see only one test for baptism. Clearly professed faith in Christ. That’s it.

When someone comes to my church, I don’t care if they understood eternal security before they got baptized. I don’t care if they were Calvinist or Arminian when they got baptized. I only care if they were baptized by immersion after conversion as a public testimony of faith in Christ (not for salvation). I don’t care if it was done in a church, or in a pond, or by an ordained minister. Just three things: when, how and why? After I baptize them, it becomes my job to instruct them on sound doctrine.

To add a doctrinal stricture on baptism is clearly beyond the teaching of scripture. If you want to do things that way in your church, be my guest. Do as you please. But please do not tell me that I have to do what the Bible does NOT tell me I have to do. And please to not tell missionaries they cannot serve because even though they have done EVERYTHING the Bible tells them to do, they have not done the things you would like them to do even though the Bible does not command them.

Dr. Yarnell added this statement at the end. “These seven biblical doctrines concerning baptism speak much about Baptist identity. If we compromise these revealed teachings of Christ, we will begin to lose our Baptist identity because we will have compromised the Lordship of Christ. I am a Baptist because I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. And because I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, I must submit to His will. We may never compromise one aspect of Christ’s will, even in the name of supposed Christian unity.

I agree with much of this. I believe in the Lordship of Christ and must submit to His will. But I am not required to submit to Malcolm Yarnell’s will, or his interpretations of scripture. He calls these “revealed teachings of Christ.” Fine, but show me where the Bible reveals these. I did not find them in scripture.

If “Baptist Identity” involves in forcing conformity on doctrines the Bible does not teach, I want nothing to do with it. I will submit to Christ and His Word, but will not be bound by Baptist tradition, heritage or history that is not firmly rooted in scripture.

I have more to say, and may take this up again later.


As I read scripture, there are several things that are decisive in valid, biblical baptism. First, it matters when you are baptized. It must be after your conversion. Second, it matters how you are baptized. It must be by immersion to picture identification with the death and resurrection of Christ. Third, it must be seen as a picture of faith, not as a saving event itself. These are the bedrock of biblical baptism.

The other issues that have been raised are not mandated in scripture. There is no evidence of institutional oversight in baptism. Baptism can (and usually should) be under the authority of a local body, but that is not biblically mandated. There are situations in which baptism not affiliated with a local church can be completely authorized biblically. I see very little evidence that the baptizer is of much biblical significance at all. And I see no doctrinal tests that are germane to baptism. The only requirement is faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Everything else is discipleship.

Monday, June 02, 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?