Saturday, October 29, 2011
What Prevents Me From Being Baptized?
This post, is, needless to say, a long time coming. For lots of reasons. First, let me tell you how gracious the God of the Universe is in Jesus Christ. May I? He is unbelievable. While I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me. He died!
I have always been drawn to the passage in Acts 8 about the Ethiopian eunuch who was ignorantly reading the prophet Isaiah, and Philip came along by the leading of the Holy Spirit, and explained to him about Jesus, and about the gospel, and the eunuch believed. He then came across water, and asked the question, "What prevents me from being baptized?" It was, and is, a good question. I read the Bible ignorantly for 21 years. In college, in the context of a fraternity house, I was explained the gospel and about the Person of Jesus Christ. I believed, and have since that time always read the story in Acts 8 with hesitation but deep conviction. I have tried to answer the eunuch's question for me since the time I first believed the gospel of Jesus Christ and was saved. Yet, ultimately, I have been unable.
I grew up in the Episcopal Church, was baptized as an infant, and confirmed as a teenager, per the traditional process of many Christians over the years for as long as the church has existed. So one seemingly good answer for me to the eunuch's question would be the personal and theological one surrounding infant baptism. I have already been baptized. What, if anything, would being baptized again possibly accomplish? Other than perhaps, confusion and disrespect not only to my parents, who made the decision for me, under the authority of God and a church, to count me as part of the New Covenant family through the sign of baptism, but also to those outside my family, or even outside the church, who know I have already been baptized and even been a Christian outspokenly for a number of years. What prevents me from being baptized? Well, the fact that I already have been, thanks to my loving parents, and the grace of God, who saved me, outside any merit or action of my own.
Then there is the theological predicament, and the precedent of much of church history. The issue of infant baptism is passionately defended and practiced to this day, and those that uphold its Biblical importance are not naive or ignorant. If I myself defended my own infant baptism as sufficient for my obedience even after my adult salvation, I would certainly be in good company. Even now, I have quite a lot of trouble thinking that R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, Sinclair Ferguson, Ligon Duncan, among others, could misinterpret Scripture in this way, not to mention those who have come and gone earlier in church history that were worthy heralds of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What prevents me from being baptized? A pretty legitimate, frequently practiced, and widely held theological argument that because I already have been, as I should have been, doing so again is unnecessary.
Still, the question has not been adequately answered. I know that even to defend infant baptism, and look to my own as sufficient, does not clear up the issue of salvation, and identification with Christ and His church. The argument in support of infant baptism does not even claim that the act itself, or the physical water, is the means to saving you, reconciling you to God, accomplishing your justification, or covering you in the sacrificial blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. It has never been practiced for that reason. Neither then, is baptism that is delayed until a conscious decision for Christ is made, and repentance is shown, practiced or believed for this reason. So why is baptism so important, and why is it mentioned so much in the New Testament? Is this an either / or issue? For those who have been baptized as infants, and continue to do the same for their children, why can't that be sufficient for them? And for those who believe that baptism is meant only for those who consciously accept Christ in faith accompanied by repentance, why can't that be sufficient for them? To each his own. Right? Either way, God is accomplishing salvation in people outside the act itself. That is what is the most important. So I'm good to go.
Unless, one way more clearly demonstrates authentic faith, not just for the individual, but also for the church. In other words, if one way more clearly identifies you with the Savior, and more clearly identifies you as part of His body, and the other way, perhaps, confuses or blurs not only your ultimate association with Christ's body of believers, but also confuses your association (or union) with Him, then surely the former way should be preferred.
John MacArthur explains that at the end of the day, a professing Christian really has only a few possible answers to the Ethiopian eunuch's question. None of them are good. One is ignorance - either having not been taught or wrongly taught. Another is pride - not willing to be obedient to what is clearly a Biblical mandate. A third is indifference - not considering obedience a priority. Fourth is deviance - unwillingness to obey. And finally, a professing Christian may resist baptism because they are not truly converted and therefore have no desire to publicly demonstrate the significance of baptism on behalf of the honor of Christ.
God has brought me to a place where I believe He greatly desires to be glorified through what He has done and is doing in my life. Specifically, now, in the context of a local church body of believers in Indianapolis - College Park. It is at this church where I will be getting married in March. Married! What an answered prayer and what a great joy! It is at this church where I am completing, with my future wife, the process of membership, which includes submission to the authority of the leadership, who are under the authority of Scripture, and identification with the congregation of believers here, among whom I am anxious to selflessly serve based on the Spirit's leading. And it is at this church where I am to be baptized.
And I do so humbled, and excited, with no good reason or answer to the Ethiopian eunuch's question, but with one very profound answer to another question: What drives me to be baptized? And the answer is this: a deep desire to publicly confess and visibly demonstrate, in front of my local church, the reality that I have been bought by the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross on my behalf. And I have died to sin. Died! It has no dominion over me, even as its presence remains in this life. And I have been raised to new life in Christ. I'm alive! United in Christ, in His life, in His death, and in His resurrection, only by His grace, and all for His glory. This is not an abstract truth that is only objectively true for all believers. It is real, and it is also subjectively true for me. That God has provided a way to publicly demonstrate this supernatural and glorious reality is beyond gracious. It is wonderful. And I do it willingly.