I will be returning to my “Bad News” series in the near future. For now though, this is on my heart, and I think it needs to be said. Please note, I am NOT educated in theology, church history, or doctrine. I am a Christian though, and believe that God’s word is clear and understandable. I am willing to be taught, and to have my opinions refuted, but for now I strongly hold to what I write here below.
Last time we left off while discussing the analogy between baptism and circumcision, particularly as found in Colossians 2:11-12. I mentioned that baptism should follow the new birth of the believer. I want to continue with that here for a moment.
I accept the argument made by Dr. Mueller and Rev. Leo Richter (the author of the small newspaper clipping) that baptism corresponds to circumcision. After all Paul in Colossians makes that very argument. What I disagree with is their application of that correspondence.
Rev. Richter argues that “Jewish male babies became a part of God’s covenant people at the age of 8 days.” Does this mean then that Jewish female babies never became a part of God’s covenant people? I think not. Rather, I think that both Jewish male and female babies became a part of God’s covenant people at birth.
God certainly counted women among his covenant people. Consider the daughters of Zelophehad. Zelophehad had no sons, and so the Lord arranged that his daughters should inherit land in Canaan when the Israelites took over the land. They were, after all offspring of Abraham and Israel, and their father was entitled to an inheritance in the land throughout his generations. (Numbers 27:1-11). Daughters were not required to be circumcised, and yet they too were a part of God’s covenant people.
It was not circumcision that gave Jewish babies entry into God’s covenant people, circumcision was merely the sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:11). Rather their birth, as offspring of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, gave them entry into his covenant people. Failing to have a male child circumcised as God gave the command to Abraham would cause that child to be cut off from the covenant people. (Genesis 17:14) You can’t cut something off of something else, unless it was there in the first place.
So too, with those who are born again into God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus… they are born into his kingdom and then they are baptized as a sign of the new covenant. At what point does a believer enter into the kingdom of God? When they believe and are born again. The birth of the flesh counts for nothing here, you must be born again. (John 3:3). After that new birth comes baptism.
Remember from what Peter said, it is not the washing away of dirt from the body in water baptism that saves us. It is God who saves us by grace received through faith. And though all Christians are commanded to be baptized, baptism is not a prerequisite for salvation. We know this because we know that the thief on the cross was saved, and he had no opportunity to be baptized before he died. (Luke 23:39-43)
If baptism is commanded for all believers then it’s certainly important enough to give it careful consideration, both as to the method and its timing. None of my argument here has discussed the method of baptism, whether immersion or sprinkling (although I believe that immersion more fitly corresponds to the imagery of being buried and raised up from burial), but I hope I have shown that the timing of baptism ought to be after a profession of faith by the believer.
In any case, since it is demonstrably not an absolute requirement for salvation, we cannot allow disputes about traditions regarding it to separate us from one another. Any person who believes in his heart that Jesus was raised from the dead and who confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:9-10) Whether they were baptized as a child or after coming to believe in Christ isn’t what determines their salvation. On the other hand whoever does not believe in Jesus is condemned, (John 3:18) baptized or not, for people can always make a false show of faith. But God judges the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
Is the day of the Sabbath important? Or can we take our rest on the Lord’s day? Is a particular feast day or fast important? Should we participate in Lent or not? Can we eat meat? Or should we not? Every one of these are secondary issues. We are not to condemn our brothers for observing them or for not observing them. (Colossians 2:16)
I believe that when it comes to baptism we should look on it the same way. What matters is that all believers are commanded to be baptized. Yes, I believe scripturally that applies to believers only, and not to children too young to believe and understand. My church requires “believer’s baptism” for membership, but we accept all believers as visitors without condemnation.
I don’t expect this argument to change the minds of Lutherans, Presbyterians, or Methodists. Each of those denominations practice infant baptism. And yet each of them also (except for the apostate sub-denominations within them) teach that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone, according to the word of God alone, and to his glory alone. That makes them Christian in my book, regardless of differences in secondary matters.
Considering this, I feel it’s a true shame that Dr. Mueller went so far as to say that anyone who didn’t agree with infant baptism was a heretic. He made many arguments in favor of infant baptism but I don’t honestly believe he proved his case and I think that scripture supports believer’s baptism much more strongly than infant baptism. Even so I can accept him as a brother in Christ, as I can with other Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists.
We really should be more careful about throwing around charges of heresy.
What about Episcopalians?
I can also accept Episcopalians as brothers in Christ. The list given in the post is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather illustrative. The essential thing is the gospel. Not the names we call ourselves, nor the forms of our church governments. Episcopalians, Anglicans, and Methodists have a great deal in common, being branches from the same root.
Sorry, man: Episcopalians are Anglicans. It’s just what we’re called in the US instead of England and Canada and Australia and New Zealand, etc because of the American Revolution.
I don’t disagree.