Be Baptized

There are a lot of Baptists and evangelicals in my town. Because of that you often find yourself at various Church-related activities or events listening to the standard evangelical appeal to respond to the gospel.

Specifically, if you want to "accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior" you need to say a prayer "accepting Jesus into your heart."

I always find this language jarring. Especially from conservative and evangelical Christians who value the bible so highly.

Because where, ever, in the whole of the bible does anyone, ever, ask someone to say a prayer "accepting Jesus into your heart"?

It's just nowhere to be found the bible. So why do bible-thumping people keep saying it?

Biblically, the proper response to the gospel is baptism. Over and over in the book of Acts that's what people do in responding to the gospel.

It's there right at the beginning on the day of Pentecost:
Acts 2.37-38
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
It's there in Acts 8, the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch:
Acts 8.34-38
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
How about in the next chapter, the conversion of Saul/Paul?
Acts 9.17-18
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.
Let's keep it rolling. What about the conversion of Cornelius and the first Gentile converts?
Acts 10.44-48
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
A final example, the conversion of Lydia:
Acts 16.14-15
One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.
Like I said, biblically-speaking the proper response to the gospel is baptism. Baptism is what you are supposed to do when you want to "accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior." Never once does Peter, James, John, Paul or anyone else in the New Testament ask people to bow their heads to say a prayer accepting Jesus into their hearts. 

Biblically, things could not be more clear. If you want people to respond to the gospel you say, "Repent. Believe the Good News. Confess Jesus as Lord. And be baptized."

To be very clear, lest I be misunderstood, I'm working here with an evangelical frame regarding the necessity of being "born again," which is the framework of my faith tradition. I'm not trying to adjudicate here between infant baptism or believer's baptism. Nor am I saying that if you aren't baptized that you haven't accepted Jesus as Lord, which I take to be the decisive issue. What I am talking about is how weird and unbiblical--in both word and ritual--is "the Sinner's prayer."

The proclamation of the gospel is an apocalyptic event. The gospel isn't a sales pitch. The gospel is news. In Jesus something happened. The gospel is a revelation. A revelation--an apocalypse--that a new reality has broken upon us in a way that breaks us, a new reality--that the  Kingdom of God has been inaugurated in the person of Jesus--that interrupts and disrupts everything that we thought we knew about ourselves, our world and the cosmos.

And in the face of that apocalypse we adjust ourselves to this new reality, renouncing former allegiances to declare Jesus as King. Everything has changed. Baptism is the ritual of this adjustment.

Baptism is the ritual that signifies the apocalyptic rupture in our lives.

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21 thoughts on “Be Baptized”

  1. When I began to break out of legalism I felt I had to, in order to be non-judgmental of other Christians, diminish the importance of Baptism. But that was just another effect of legalism. I am thankful that I have been able to grasp once again the significance of being Baptized into Jesus Christ, our "Acknowledgement" and "Yes" to being God's child, the child we see in Jesus, while resting in the grace that Christ is greater than all our understanding, that while we grow in grace and knowledge, Love always trumps all.

    Infant Baptism is as beautiful. Many spiritual people I have known through the years who were baptized as infants, have a deep understanding of what Baptism was for them, as many Jewish individuals have of circumcision. And as far as some rejecting sprinkling as Baptism, it is as much Baptism as a pinch of bread and a sip of wine is the Lord's Supper.

    Just a couple of my thoughts.

  2. I think infant baptism is beautiful as well. There's a lot of rich theology behind both paedobaptism and credobaptism. The only thing I'd say is, either way, let's invest or reinvest in our baptismal theology and ditch the Sinner's prayer stuff.

    To quote some Scripture for the Sinner's prayer folks:

    Matthew 28.18-19
    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

  3. What I'm saying is, whether as infant or adult, when Christians talk about their Christian identity, their identity "in Christ," they should always be going back to talk about their baptism.

    Baptism tells us who we are.

  4. What is Peter talking about when he says "...for the forgiveness of your sins," in Acts. 2:38? Was Peter an evangelical? Just wondering.

  5. I'd agree with Phil. You're a Christian who has never been baptized. I tried to note that in the post:

    "Nor am I saying that if you aren't baptized that you haven't accepted
    Jesus as Lord, which I take to be the decisive issue."

  6. I've been teaching on this for a while. The "Sinners Prayer" is so deeply imbedded in our evangelical theology that when I began to push back that it isn't even in the Bible that some began asking "Am I really saved then?", as that had been their first experience in coming to faith (and "this is how you get to go to heaven when you die). My answer to them was that "You are way more saved than you think you are." As if there is something we must do to "get" our salvation. And then Baptism being the "initiation rite of passage" that having believed that Jesus was Lord we were identifying with his people (church).

  7. We've had the same sorts of problems in my faith tradition but coming at it from the other direction, a group that has practiced "baptism for the remission of sins" and then used that ritual as a soteriological boundary marker.

    Regardless, you raise an important point. If evangelicals want to revitalize their practice of the second sacrament of Protestantism (the other being the Lord's Supper), they'll have to deal, in a pastorally sensitive way, with their legacy of having marginalized baptism.

    I think the thing to say is that Jesus saves you, not the ritual. But the ritual of baptism is a sacrament that is available to you as a conduit of grace for those who confess Jesus as Lord, whenever that happened.

    Baptism is a ritual that, should you experience it, will allow you to read texts like Romans 6 and say with great joy, "Yes, I remember that moment in my own life."

  8. Adding a thought.

    If an evangelical church wanted to invest in the sacrament and theology of baptism "going forward" as it were I think a beautiful and historical way this might be done is to offer a baptism service to the church on Easter Sunday. Lots of people could be baptized Easter morning with with a big church party to follow. And this could be done annually.

  9. at Bel Air Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Los Angeles, where I worship, we observe infant baptism. However, every year in September, our church celebrates an all church beach baptism. Anyone who desires to do so may experience emersion baptism at a Santa Monica beach. Since my faith tradition is C of C and I want my children to remember and experience their baptism, we wait and let them get baptized at the beach when they chose to. It's a powerful experience.

  10. I've always seen the desire to minimize baptism and replace it with the decidedly unbiblical “accepting Jesus into one's heart” as reactionary to the (presumed) Roman Catholic belief that baptism saves.

    It might be helpful to revisit the mystery of baptism. An old pastor of ours, when baptizing, would say "We aren't saying that everything is happening but we also aren't saying that nothing is happening.” He would say the same about communion. If we explore the possibility that there's more to baptism (and communion) than just a sign, even if that more is mystery, then I could see it gain importance in evangelical circles. The problem is that evangelicals, as a whole, don’t care much for mystery and the fear of looking anything like a Roman Catholic runs very deep.

  11. I have always wondered what a baptism meant 2000 years ago, and how it can be re-imagined in our day to convey the same thing. As far as words spoken, dunking, sprinkling, hot tubs, there seems a wide variety of practices and I too would be very curious to know what parts of it are just cultural tradition and what God desires us to convey or understand through the practice. For example, when being baptized in Jesus's day what social contracts were accepted by participating, or was it viewed more as an understanding between you and God.

  12. Thanks Richard! Over the years I've had people from other faith traditions that have historically minimized baptism, to ask me to baptize them. When I asked why, they love the imagery. "I see it as me burying my old life and raising to walk a new life." Which is exactly what Romans 6 says. I've seen evidence for the past 25 years that baptism is being viewed much more positively. Where I grew up it was not uncommon to hear religious folk speak sarcastically of baptism as "water salvation." And "the only things born of water are tadpoles and Campbell-ites." People like to associate the cleansing (washing away) imagery to the ritual. The sacrament remains (along with the Table) one of the most moving and meaningful parts of the Christian religion.

  13. One more comment because this subject is also one of my pet peeves.

    I have heard people speak of “faith alone” and “you have to receive Jesus” in the same sentence. To my thinking this is where the whole idea should fall apart in evangelical circles. Is not praying a prayer and receiving Jesus a kind of a saving work? Any “have to's” should raise the red flag of a works gospel. Too technical? Maybe, but for a group that is so concerned about a works gospel it’s ironic that the way in is through a kind of work.

    On the other hand Baptism, especially as a response to the command "be baptized", has absolutely no works issues attached.

  14. This is one of Paul's accounts of his initiation into Christ...

    And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ Acts 22:16 NKJV.

    They are the words of Ananias. The 'wash away' word is only used once elsewhere in the New Testament...

    And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor 6:11 NKJV.

    ... verse which almost certainly points to water baptism.

    It is seldom that evangelicals seem to address these words but it is vital to do so. They show the attitude of the one being baptised, in this case Paul.
    1. He is sin-conscious
    2. He is Saviour-conscious

    How valid is water baptism if either of these elements is missing?

  15. Actually the sinner's prayer, at least from what I've gathered, is biblical. Yes Romans 10:9 is one of the main supporting verses. We are called to confess with our mouth's that Jesus is Lord. This is also done in a more public manner in baptism, but it doesn't seem to meet the "diligently seek Him" clause in Hebrews 11:6. Furthermore, within the new believer we typically see many sins of ignorance. We see many things that are inconsistent with the proper Christian life. The act of baptism is not only a confession, but a promise to do everything in your own power and any power God grants you to avoid all sin. We may not be held accountable for sins we do not know we have committed, though with the sinners prayer we see a short period of time for most to reflect on their lives so that they do not do as a sinful person would by receiving communion (bringing judgement on themselves).

    Now I do concede that it may have been intended for baptism to be the confession. I also agree that it is important. However, I find no reason in Scripture to say that the sinners prayer is not biblical. God Bless

  16. Depends on the meaning of 'for' - whether it means 'unto' or 'because of'. As I studied it years ago, it seemed more likely to be 'unto'.

  17. If even Jesus, being without sin, found it necessary to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness (after which the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and He began His ministry)*, how could we expect to serve Him and expect to please God without likewise submitting to baptism? As Jesus said later, "no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him." **

    (As a baby, my then Methodist mother had me sprinkled to dedicate me to the Lord with the expectation that I would later believe and be baptized. Halfway between those two events, around age six, I raised my hand that I would live for Christ. All three of these events are very meaningful to me, though I wish I'd been permitted to be immersed at a younger age, when I first asked to be).

    *Matthew 3:13-17 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

    **John 13:16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
    Matthew 10:24 "The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.
    Luke 6:40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
    John15:20 Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

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