Tag Archives: Baptism

Contributing to the conversion process

baptismWhile doing research for the book A History of Churches of Christ in Cuba, I ran across an article written in the 1950s that had addresses for the church in Cuba. I sent the list to Tony Fernández, my co-author and Herald of Truth representative in Cuba, to see if it might prove useful.

Tony noticed one of the addresses was for a church in Agramonte, a town where there was no longer a Church of Christ. Tony traveled to Agramonte and went to that address. The property owner was suspicious at first, thinking that Tony was wanting to lay claim to the house. When he realized that Tony was merely seeking former church members, the owner directed Tony to several of them.

If you know Tony Fernández at all, you’ll not be surprised to learn that there was soon a growing, active congregation in Agramonte.

When we were in Matanzas several weeks ago, a man was baptized. His wife had been baptized in Agramonte 60 years before. It was a wonderful continuation to the story.

In Church Inside Out, I talk about all the different ways you can contribute to someone’s coming to Christ, noting that conversion is a process, not an event. Last month I saw that even library research can play a small part in reaching someone who needs God.

Six Things We Need To Remember About Baptism

waterFollowing up on yesterday’s post about what I don’t believe about baptism, here are some things that I think we need to keep in mind as a church:

We need to remember that baptism…

  • is really important. That should go without saying, given the number of times baptism is discussed in the New Testament. Still, I’m part of a group that is very reactionary. We’re given to pendulum swings, black-and-white discussions, extreme responses to errors of the past. Because of that, since some in our group made a legalistic overemphasis of baptism in the past, many in later generations are almost embarrassed to talk about baptism. When we do, we tend to downplay its importance.
  • isn’t the most important. We mustn’t fall back into the mindset that says the only thing that matters is whether or not people have been dunked. (I’m intentionally putting that in vulgar terms) I’ve been in campaign situations with preachers who only wanted another notch in their belt; they had little interest in what the person believed nor what they would do going forward. They just wanted to record another baptism. Baptism is part of the disciple making process, according to Matthew 28, but the goal is to make disciples, not baptize.
  • needs to be seen as more than a social event. We’ve gotten into a funny habit in many churches, where baptisms are scheduled almost like parties. “Let’s see, we’ll be on vacation the next couple of weeks. Then we have VBS at church. Let’s have the baptism a month from now when everyone can be here.” It’s great to have family and friends present when someone is baptized. I love to see baptisms done in the presence of the whole church. But we must not lose the focus. This person is dying with Christ, leaving behind their old life, and beginning a new life. They are also becoming a part of God’s people, but that’s not the only aspect. There was a sense of urgency about baptism in the New Testament; we need to recover some of that.
  • isn’t about the one doing the baptizing. I touched on this yesterday, but it needs to be said again. I’ve heard young people plan their baptism for a certain event when a famous preacher will be present, just so they can say they were baptized by that man. I’ve been in foreign countries where people from the States were asked to do the baptizing to honor them and give more “importance” to the baptisms. I want the person who is baptized to know they were baptized by the Holy Spirit; I don’t want them focused on the person whose hands helped them under the water.
  • is an appeal from a sinner to God. I say that because we sometimes feel that others need to validate or approve someone’s baptism. I’ll teach someone what the Bible says about baptism. If they feel they’ve done what the Bible says, that’s good enough for me. As I tell people, my saying they are okay or not okay won’t make one bit of difference in the end. God has the final say.
  • …is a beginning, not an end. It’s a new birth. The beginning of a new life in Christ. It’s not the goal; it’s merely an important step on our path to the goal.

Again, not an exhaustive list. What would you change, omit, or add if you were making a similar list?

Six things I don’t believe about baptism

waterIn the series I’ve done on baptism, I’ve talked about some of the things I believe about baptism. Let me share some of the things I don’t believe about baptism.


  • baptism is merely a formality. I don’t know that anybody truly believes that, but I’ll go ahead and say that baptism isn’t just a way of joining the church, it’s not a mere symbol of something that was done in the past, nor any of the other “just” or “merely” statements that you want to make about it. God is at work in baptism, in a powerful way that goes beyond all of our understanding.
  • baptism is a work. That is, it’s not a human work, in the sense that the word is used in the New Testament. God’s Spirit is at work. It is a physical act, but physical acts can have a spiritual reality.
  • baptism requires perfect understanding. Many have argued, based on Acts 2:38, that the person must know that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins or it will lose it’s effectiveness. Acts 3 says that repentance is also for the forgiveness of sins, yet nobody argues that you have to understand that when you repent or there will be no forgiveness. Fact is, it’s pure human arrogance to claim that we understand every facet of what baptism is and what baptism means. We certainly can’t expect that of a new convert.
  • baptism requires perfect mechanics. Said bluntly, the fact that Susy’s toe didn’t go under the water doesn’t keep her baptism from being an immersion nor from being an actual baptism. If the one doing the baptizing doesn’t say the proper words, that doesn’t keep God from acting at that moment.
  • baptism’s validity depends on the one doing the baptizing. It doesn’t matter who helps us into the water. That’s Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 1. What matters is that we are baptized by the Spirit; the human agent is irrelevant. If my salvation depends on the condition of the one who baptized me, then I also need to know about who baptized them, who baptized that person, and so on. How far back do I have to go?
  • baptism must be performed by a member of a certain Christian group. That goes with the previous statement, but I’ll say it anyway. I don’t have to be baptized by a member of the church of Christ. I don’t have to have studied with a member of the church of Christ. I don’t have to have been to a church of Christ building. (Such ideas aren’t limited to my tribe. A survey by Lifeway Research found that only 13% of Baptist pastors said they would accept a “church of Christ” baptism as valid. (Edit made with updated link to survey – 8:40 a.m.; note that report actually says, “If the prospective new member had been immersed after conversion in a church that believes baptism is required for salvation, 13 percent of Southern Baptist pastors said they would not require baptism.”)

That’s not an exhaustive list. But it’s a start. What would you add to the list?

Baptism and the thief on the cross

waterIt’s interesting how often the story of the thief on the cross (from Luke 23) comes up in discussions on baptism. Basically the argument is that baptism can’t be part of how God saves us because the thief on the cross was saved without being baptized.

Here’s the story from Luke:

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”” (Luke 23:39–43)

For many, this is absolute proof that all anyone need do to receive salvation is ask Jesus for it. (Am I right in thinking that this is as close as we have to finding the Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible? Or is there another passage I’m forgetting?)

Others have pushed back with different arguments. One is dispensationalism, saying that the thief lived under the Mosaic dispensation, while we live in the Christian dispensation. Rules change from dispensation to dispensation. (A variation is to place all writings before the book of Acts as “Old Testament,” being nailed to the cross along with Jesus)

Others have noted the peculiar circumstance of the thief. Basically the thought is that if you are being crucified alongside Jesus, then you too can ask for and receive instantaneous salvation. (Just to calm my Church-of-Christ-bashing friends, I actually read that argument in a non-CofC book)

For me, it comes down to what we said the other day. The Bible wasn’t written to tell God what he can and cannot do. God is still free to save anyone however and wherever he wants. It’s like the parable in Matthew 20:1-15 about the workers who worked differing hours but received the same pay. It’s not our place to complain if God decides to be generous and merciful. It shouldn’t surprise us; our God is like that.

For me to affirm that God has chosen to use baptism as the vehicle for new birth into the Kingdom doesn’t mean that God can’t bring people into the Kingdom in other ways. He can. But I have a promise that I can cling to when I’m baptized, the promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Denying others the possibility of receiving that promise in other ways wouldn’t make the promise any more secure for me.

I believe that the Bible teaches that those coming to Christ are to be baptized (faith-based immersion). I won’t teach people any other path. Will God accept someone who comes a different way? That’s up to him. That’s why he’s God, and I’m not.

Washing and renewal in Titus 3

waterOK, so I’ve goofed again. First I skipped the baptism of Jesus when talking about what the gospels say about baptism. Now I’ve forgotten one of my favorite passages on baptism: Titus 3. Let’s read what Paul says in this passage:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3–7)

I like that. Beautiful imagery, with hints of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus about being born of water and Spirit.

Some would limit the washing here to the work of the Holy Spirit, but after we’ve studied what the New Testament says about baptism, we can see that there’s really no need to do so. The Spirit is at work when we are baptized in water. We are immersed in water, yet the cleansing and regeneration come not from the water but from the Spirit. Born again of water and Spirit, both together.

The pouring out of the Spirit took place at Pentecost. Those who receive that Spirit are physically immersed in water while being spiritually immersed in God’s renewing Spirit. Justified by God’s grace, all who have been baptized into Christ are heirs, just as Paul said in Galatians 3. We have the hope of eternal life, not because we’ve done outstanding works, but because God did THE work through Jesus Christ our Savior.

This passage meshes perfectly with other New Testament teachings about the believer, baptism, and new birth.