Saturday, 9 March 2013

Questions About Baptism (Part 2 of 4)

     Since Paul said, ‘For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel . . .’ 
(1 Corinthians 1:17), how can baptism be such an important part of the salvation process?  
     To understand why Paul said what he said in this verse, it is necessary to read the context. He was addressing the problem of division among the Corinthian disciples (vv. 10-17), who, incidentally, had already been baptized (cf. 12:13; Acts 18:8). They had been dividing into factious groups (i.e. claiming to be followers of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ), but in so doing many were exalting fallible men above their one and only spiritual Head -- Christ. Paul was trying to redirect their misguided focus, especially away from himself. Christ had died for them and they had been baptized in the name of Christ, not of Paul (v. 13). Although a few people in Corinth had been immersed by Paul’s own hands (vv. 14-16), he was glad he had not personally baptized more if it was going to result in such problems. Since Paul was such a prominent figure in the early church, he apparently tried to refrain from personally baptizing people “lest anyone should say that [he] had baptized in [his] own name” (v. 15). That was not his mission; rather he was entrusted with pointing souls to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel (v. 17), and his co-workers no doubt did the actual baptizing when people responded to the gospel he preached. By considering the entire ministry of Paul and his writings, rather than isolating a single verse out of its context, it is obvious that Paul believed in baptism, preached baptism, administered baptism, and certainly never intended to undermine the importance of baptism (cf. Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12). See also Pauline Amnesia
     Since the Bible says we’re saved by faith and not by works (e.g. Romans 3:27-31; Ephesians 2:8-9), how can baptism be necessary for salvation? 
     Among other things, this query shows a limited understanding of biblical faith and biblical works. It is true that certain kinds of works play no part in our salvation, e.g. works of human merit (Ephesians 2:9; Mattew 23:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5) or ingenuity (Acts 7:41), works of the Law of Moses (Romans 3:27; Galatians 2:16), works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) or of the devil (1 John 3:8). But not a single verse in the Bible places baptism in any of these categories. The Bible also speaks of works which do play a fundamental role in our salvation, namely works of God [including belief in Jesus] (John 6:28-29), works of [divine] righteousness (Acts 10:35) [as opposed to self-righteousness Titus 3:5], and works of humble obedience (Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 5:8-9). Since baptism is a command of God (Acts 10:33, 48) and not something humans have invented to save themselves, to exclude it from saving faith would be no different than trying to exclude repentance, which is also required of God (Acts 2:38; 17:30). Because the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1; etc.), there are at least two things a conscientious Bible student must take into account: (1) the fatal error of carelessly discarding the many scripture references which also emphasize obedience (Matthew 7:21; John 8:51; 14:15, 21-24; 15:10-14; Romans 6:17-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Hebrews 5:8-9; et al.), including baptism (Mark 16:15-16; Galatians 3:26-27; et al.); and (2) the fact that biblical faith is clearly a working, active, obedient faith (cf. Romans 1:5; 16:26; Galatians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; James 2:14-26). The only time the words “faith only” appear together in the Bible is in James 2:24, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” To exclude every kind of works from the salvation process is to exclude belief in Jesus (John 6:28-29), and to accept that the Lord does require us to do certain things (Matthew 7:21; James 1:21-22; 1 John 2:17) is to accept baptism. Baptism is not a work of human merit but a humble submission to the will of God.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Thief on the CrossQuestions About Baptism (Part 1)Part 3Part 4

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