Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Do Baptists Pay Enough Attention to Baptism?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Do Baptists Pay Enough Attention to Baptism?

This question deserves some attention after a phone conversation I had with a fellow who was "put out" with the Baptist methodology, at least from his experience at a large SBC church in Nashville, TN. According to my partner in conversation, he was perplexed by the seemingly lack of real interest in the meaning, the Scriptural meaning, behind the act of Baptism. He described in detail how he watched the church use baptism only as a way to "count another head" in the ongoing attempt to baptize more people this year than last. For him, the local SBC church had completely lost the meaning of baptism by replacing the Scriptural importance of the act with a superficial means of counting church membership.

Is he correct?

I believe he, in part, is correct. It is quite a claim to pronounce Baptists as not being concerned about the meaning of Baptism. The very name alone of "Baptist" implies that the process is one of importance and one of identity to those who claim to be Baptist. History can certainly testify that a deep rooted concern and understanding of the Scriptural command to be baptized has followed the SBC from its beginnings. The very method of the baptism, that of "dunking", and the theological implications of being baptized have been fervently defended and upheld throughout the years. For Baptists, the water is not an agent of salvation, that is to say, being placed under water is not what brings salvation to the lost. Faith alone in Christ reconciles the sinner to the Father. Nevertheless, we are commanded to be baptized, and to baptize others.

Where I believe the gentlemen to whom I was speaking is correct is in our shallow comprehension of what was once a critical issue to those before us. In the churches where I have served, there has been very little education not only on what it means to be a Baptist, but also on what the baptism process is all about. This all goes back to my previous post on Church Doctrine. Even in an act in which the very name "Baptist" is derived, our church members are ignorant of the real meaning behind it. And it is not their fault.

A healthy balance is the key. I applaud the SBC for their determination to preach Christ crucified and faith alone that saves. In a sense, we are correct to not place too heavy an emphasis on the baptism process in our evangelism to avoid the misunderstanding that salvation is found in its waters. But the flip side is an under appreciation for how important the baptizing of converts was to the early church and is for us today. The education and spiritual maturing of new believers is essential for a growing, thriving, God-centered church.

The Baptist Faith and Message, the statement of faith for the SBC, says this about baptism: "Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."


Anonymous Floyd said...

I would add that Baptists no longer appreciate their identity as Baptists. It is now a word that seems to bring shame rather than pride. Thank you for the article.

January 03, 2007 12:02 AM  
Blogger Tim Kuehn said...

What do you think of this passage, where it says that Baptism saves?

1 Pe 3:21-22: 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

January 03, 2007 2:15 AM  
Anonymous Steven G. said...

As a former Baptist (both BMA and SBC) and now Lutheran, I have to say that one of things that left me wanting esp. in the SBC church I attended was the relative unimportance of doctrine. It seemed to me (and I know that I am not alone in this) that "how we lived" was all that mattered. I think that is relected in the Baptist understanding of baptism, and its emphasis on baptism being an act of obeidance. At least for me in both the BMA and the SBC churches I attended, obeidance to our Lord's command was the only reason to baptized which is to be considered since Baptists do not understand baptism to be a Sacrament.

The doctrinal ignorance also is rampant in the LCMS so I can empathize with you.

January 03, 2007 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Steven G. said...

This is the prior post with corrections. I apologize for double posting and not previewing my post before I posted it.

As a former Baptist (both BMA and SBC) and now Lutheran, I have to say that one of things that left me wanting esp. in the SBC church I attended was the relative unimportance of doctrine. It seemed to me (and I know that I am not alone in this) that "how we lived" was all that mattered. I think that is reflected in the Baptist understanding of baptism, and its emphasis on being an act of obeidance. At least for me in both the BMA and the SBC churches I attended, obeidance to our Lord's command was the only reason to baptized which is to be expected since Baptists do not understand baptism to be a Sacrament.

The doctrinal ignorance also is rampant in the LCMS so I can empathize with you.

January 03, 2007 10:45 PM  
Blogger Kelly Klages said...

It's good to know that SBC statement of faith about baptism being a pre-requisite to the Lord's Supper. I don't think, in all my years of attending an SB church, the pastor had ever made that clear before an observance of the Lord's Supper. He usually made it clear that the Supper didn't really do us any good at all; he also made it clear that anyone who considered themselves a Christ-follower should feel welcome to participate. I wonder if they'd have had a problem with visiting Mormons or Hindus partaking with us in the name of the unity of people who considered themselves "Christ-followers." Not exactly a good picture of the one church partaking of one loaf.

I visited my parents' SB church awhile back with my husband, who, according to this SBC statement you posted, is not legitimately, really, and truly "baptized" according to the Baptist mindset. Yet they persistently held out their little tray of crackers to him as he kept shaking his head no. (Then the same thing happened to me, despite the fact that they would consider my baptism to have been legit.) It appears to be a case of the non-Baptist being more respectful of, and desiring to uphold, the Baptists' own positions and statements than the Baptists themselves. You're right-- let's make sure what is believed is CLEARLY expressed in all our churches!

January 04, 2007 1:56 AM  
Blogger The Beast said...

Tim - I just don't have the time right now to give a detailed enough response to your question, I will try to come back to the differing views of baptism at a later post. Suffice it to say that pulling verses from here and there without the entirety of the Scriptures teaching is deadly.

Stephen - You have done well to say that the SBC's position on baptism is "to be expected." Since Baptists do not view baptism as a sacrament, that is to say, necessary for salvation, then of course you will find yourself in disagreement with their view of this doctrine. As I have said in a previous post, this is why denominations are still important. Thanks so much for reading The Beast's Lair. Please comment anytime.

Kelly - Yes, baptism by immersion is required before one can participate in the Lord's Supper. The point of my post is not that historically Baptists have misplaced the importance of Baptism. Far from it. It is a requirement for church membership, a requirement for the Lord's Supper and even believers who wish to unite with a Baptist church who have been "sprinkled" or not baptized at all are required to be immersed. Apart from baptism being necessary for salvation, Baptists have historically seen it as crucial. My point was to raise the question of whether or not our SBC churches today are continuing that legacy by properly teaching, preaching and practicing what has been a foundationally important docrine for the convention.

January 04, 2007 2:20 PM  
Blogger Mike Ruffin said...

No doubt having a sound doctrine of baptism is important. I wonder, though, if the Baptist emphasis on the "symbolic" nature of baptism has lessened the power of the experience for too many of us. While it is a symbol, it is not "just" a symbol. A symbol is often more powerful than something that we take "literally." In the case of baptism, what is being "symbolized" is the new life in Christ, our death, burial, and resurrection with him, and our entry into the Christian life. There is great power in that. Reducing the great act of baptism to a rite of membership in a local church is problematic, I believe, unless becoming a member of the local church comes on the heels of having accepted Christ as Savior.

January 04, 2007 8:24 PM  
Blogger Kelly Klages said...

Beast: Got your initial point; just thought it was odd that a visiting non-Baptist would be more likely to uphold Baptist policy than the Baptists would be to explain and enforce their own policy. Proof of what you're saying-- these things need to be taught and conveyed clearly for both the sake of visitors and for the catechesis of Baptists themselves.

Mike makes this good point: Growing up, all I heard about Baptism/Lord's Supper is what they *weren't*. They weren't supposed to do us any real good; they were "just symbols"; they were a nice trip down memory lane, something we did because Jesus said so and we needed to check it of on our list of things to be obedient on. When most passages on baptism were stumbled upon, teachers would just get red in the face, embarrassed by them, and hastily say that "in context" the writer actually means the opposite of what the words looked like they were saying. The notion that baptism was "not necessary, yet somehow crucial" was also a bit baffling in this light. It was like all the Jesus had been sucked right out of these things. Baptist or no, there must be alternate ways for a Baptist to approach this issue with their own rather than to giving it a royal brush-off.

I've had thoughtful Baptist SS teachers express concern about this, as well. Perhaps one way the Baptists could deal with the problem (if they're going to stick to their theology) is to start using the biblical language again, and not looking so embarrassed by it. Any Christian, regardless of baptism theology, should not be afraid to say, "Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away"; or "Repent and be be baptized for the forgiveness of sins"; or "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." If these kinds of terms can't be used, or are consistently ignored in favor of statements that *don't* appear in the Bible (i.e. "baptism is a mere outward symbol of an inward change"), Baptists themselves are just going to be frustrated and even suspicious by this seeming avoidance and embarrassment of the topic.

January 04, 2007 9:29 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...


I agree with your last paragraph whole heartily.

Don't be too upset, however, with those SS teachers who depend on context for their interpretation, even if they are hastily covering up their lack of knowledge. Context is absolutely king for proper biblical interpretation on any issue.

Have a blessed weekend, I will be out of town for the next couple of days. Thanks for the comments.

January 04, 2007 10:01 PM  
Blogger Kelly Klages said...

Thanks for the good bloggin'.

Yeah, with the "context" thing, I figured out eventually that no Christian group is against the notion of keeping things in biblical context. Sometimes from teachers of various church bodies, I'd get the impression that they thought they were the only ones who'd heard of the concept, which is kind of aggravating after awhile. But of course, absolutely it's important. But freakish, too, when people seem frightened of Bible passages they're trying to contextualize.

January 05, 2007 1:10 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Having grown up in the Southern Baptist church, I don't recall hearing that baptism was a prerequisite or requirement before partaking in the Lord's Supper. I don't have an actual recall of it, but I feel fairly confident I took the Lord's Supper as a kid before I was baptized. But that's neither here nor there.

I do disagree somewhat with your definition of a sacrament as "necessary for salvation" - to the Protestant church, the "sacraments" are baptism and The Lord's Supper/Communion. However, going by the definition, these are outward symbols of an inner grace - they are rituals in which we participate to convey a decision, renew a promise, or profess our faith and respect. One needn't have one to participate in the other (you don't have to be baptized to take Communion) and neither are actually "required" to be saved - but the follower of Christ should want to participate in the rituals and should seek the means to do so.

I think it's an important distinction from actually being necessary for salvation.

So, in other heavy news, how bout them Vols? :)

January 05, 2007 1:57 AM  
Blogger The Beast said...


Baptists, and most protestant churches for the most part, have moved away from calling the Lord's Supper and Baptism "Sacraments" because the term does imply acts necessary for salvation for the Roman Catholic church and others. Therefore, we have adopted the word "ordinances." When I mentioned baptism is no longer a Sacrament above in my comments, I was using that term in reference to that kind of saving act. You are of course correct that the Lord's Supper and Baptism are the two "ordinances" or "sacraments" of the Baptist church. And the fact you never heard baptism was a prerequiste for the Lord's Supper is the point of this post. Thanks for the comments! I don't follow college sports, so I am in the dark on the vols. :)

January 05, 2007 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Steven G, said...

Let me clarify my above point. I think the reason that doctrine has a whole is regulated to a "second place position" in most Baptist circles is because works are given prominence over belief in the typical Baptist church. This emphasis of works over belief is not a fluke in my opinion but is a direct result of "decision theology". What is important is that I do something or did something to procure my salvation. This comes to the fore in baptism. Baptism is seen as something I do. A command, I obey. Instead of something that is done to me. As Scripture puts it, "a washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5). When coupled with decision theology that is rampant in Baptist churches, this has disastrous effects especially on the relative importance of doctrine in the life of the typical Baptist church goer.

January 07, 2007 1:28 AM  
Anonymous Floyd said...

Stephen, as a Baptist in middle TN your post is more than confusing. You write that it is important I "do something" to procure my salvtion? That kind of thinking is very anti-baptist. We preach a faith based message, not a works based. Baptism is an act of obedience, just like every word from Christ as he instructs his church.

January 07, 2007 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Paul, in Bethel Park said...

As Christ said on the cross..."It is finished".

He died for our sins and there is nothing I can do as a mere human to attain forgiveness for my sins.

It is by His grace that I am saved.

Besides, how could I possibly know if I had done "enough"?

January 07, 2007 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Steven G. said...

From the Baptist Faith and Message:

"Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour."

Notice that both nouns are "verbal nouns" and both "acceptance" and "commitment" are active verbs. I accept. I commit.

Baptists typically view faith as a work that we do. Grace is an infused grace that enables us to have faith. Again from the Baptist Faith and Message:

"Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God."

January 07, 2007 9:51 PM  
Blogger Kelly Klages said...

Without getting into the whole controversy of what baptism is or isn't, suffice it to say that Baptists view it as a human work, and those who do view it as important for salvation do NOT view it as a human work, but rather God's own gracious work straight from the cross, and a free gift. But now may not the time or place to go into all that.

I still appreciate Mike Ruffin's point above, which is actually not totally out-of-synch with what Steve is suggesting, though their theologies are different. Regardless of who you are, if you talk "down" about baptism as being "just" a symbol (even if you do believe it to be symbolic)-- and use only descriptions such as Barry's which refer to an "outward sign of an inward change" and it being about us and our commitments, promises, decisions, etc-- then it will probably follow that the whole concept of baptism will seem downgraded. My suggestion is this, for Baptist and non-Baptist alike: Use the biblical language that talks about baptism, don't be embarrassed by it. Your fellow Baptists will thank you.

January 08, 2007 2:49 AM  
Anonymous Steven G. said...

Ignore my last comment. The quotations were a bit forced as examples of my point.

January 08, 2007 9:44 AM  

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