We often approach Scripture trying to “prove” something (often some relatively minor thing). For example, we “study” Romans 6:3-4 in order to prove that baptism is by immersion in water. We may be able to fashion such an argument and then prove it with Paul’s discussion in Romans 6; however, approaching Scripture in this manner deprives us in two fundamental ways:

  • First, it is most likely that we will never arrive at a final answer to our question because the biblical writer is not specifically addressing our question in the first place; and
  • More important (in my mind at least), in our obsession with the minutia we completely miss the penetrating, life-altering theological implications of what the biblical writer (Holy Spirit) is teaching in the larger passage of Scripture.

I must candidly confess that when I think about, teach about, or preach about Christian baptism I am doing exactly what the Bible does not do (and exactly what I try to avoid in my general approach to Scripture): quickly isolating individual places in the New Testament where baptism is mentioned, lopping them off from their larger context, and then extracting meaning from each one in order to “prove that we are right on this baptism thing.”

Nowhere do we find anything even closely resembling “Paul’s 13-Week Study on Baptism.” In order to understand Paul’s view of baptism, we must see baptism in its broader framework. In each of the sixteen places (Beasley-Murray, 127-209) Paul mentions baptism he does so within a broader, redemptive-historical framework. The purpose is to focus on the big picture rather than give us the externals of baptism.

But, if we back away and look at the big picture we see that

  • God has broken into our history and accomplished human redemption through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • This feat of God finds human expression in the act of Christian Baptism.
  • In redemption and in baptism God gives His People a new identity, a new ethic, and a new worldview.
  • My baptism marks the beginning of my participation in God’s redemptive act. Baptism serves as my initiation into God’s redemption in Christ.
  • As a baptized believer, my life is now a daily living out of God’s redemptive act.
  • Remembering what God did to me at baptism helps me fulfill that purpose.

As I said in my last post, this view of baptism as the initiation into Christ is BY FAR the majority view. And, it is the ancient view, going all the way back to Paul and continuing right up to today. This is the view we gain when we compare all the New Testament passages on the topic, the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament, the early church fathers, the early Creeds, and even most of the reformers.

One thing I need to correct about my previous post: in it I intimated that John Calvin would agree that water baptism has nothing to do with salvation. That is incorrect. Both Luther and Calvin opposed Zwingli’s innovations on Christian baptism (as well as many of his other innovations).

My sense is that the battle cry, Sola Fide (faith alone) was taken to an unhealthy extreme by some second and third generation reformers. Faith alone does not exclude human participation—it never has and it never will.

Many scholars within evangelicalism are beginning to see this overreaction and are saying some very healthy things about Christian baptism as part of the conversion process. For examples see Moo’s commentary on Romans and Schreiner’s commentary on Romans.

The sad reality is that while these scholars are moving toward affirming Christian baptism as an essential part of the conversion process, many preachers within our fellowship are jettisoning baptism. Funny how that works.