Archive for August 11th, 2009

The main problem underlying the modern confusion on baptism thus is not paucity of Biblical material, but rather an a priori commitment to certain theological presuppositions. It is so extremely difficult—some would say impossible—to be objective when we try to interpret the Bible. We tend to read it, especially its references to baptism, with preconceived ideas of what it ‘must really be saying’ or what it ‘surely cannot mean.’ (Jack Cottrell, Baptism, 7)

I think there is a good chance at this point in time that most of you know I am no longer serving in the paid ministry. I have been on severance pay for four weeks now, and I have two more to go before I have to figure out how to pay bills again. (Although I’m currently working on it in a variety of ways.)

It is an uncomfortable position that I am in right now. I haven’t been on the other side of the pulpit since 1993 (I include my student preaching days in college). I am having to relearn what it means to be a congregant in that sense. It’s weird, to say the least. Now I sing along instead of leading, bow my head when told, and turn the pages in my Bible at the preacher’s speed instead of setting the pace. Strange, it is, but I am working on it. (I have blogged my first two experiences here and here.)

The purpose of this post is to invite you to help me with a question that has been on my mind since I was asked to resign from the church I served for nearly 10 years. It is a hot-button question we have discussed in one thread or another here, but it is one that I am searching Scripture on right now. I’d like to have a serious, adult conversation about this subject and I promise to read every single comment that is posted in response to it. I am asking you because we all come from different backgrounds and I’m sure to get many different responses to my query.

My question involves baptism. I know this is a contentious issue and one that has divided the church forever. I would prefer that it didn’t divide us and I would prefer that your comments stick to the issue and not devolve into an angst ridden dispute about one another’s salvation.

I have been a member of the Church of Christ/Christian Church (not a cappella) since I was 13 or so (I have been attending since I was 8 or so). Prior to the age of 8, I was a Methodist. I was christened as an infant in the Methodist church. When we moved from one town to the next, we began attending the First Church of Christ and when I was 13 I was immersed (the mode of baptism practiced by the Churches of Christ). You might say I have all my bases covered having been sprinkled and immersed.

Please make no mistake about my own convictions here. I do believe that baptism is very important, bordering on some sense of necessary to conversion if not salvation. I have heard it said, “For some, baptism is the last step in conversion [most Churches of Christ] and for others it is the first step of obedience”. I will also say that I am not a covenant theologian. But I will also say this: I’m in a pickle right now.

I have been to three different denominations in the past three weeks. At all three congregations baptism has been mentioned at some point during the worship.

At the first, a semi-Pentecostal congregation, baptism was mentioned like this: “In two weeks we are having our annual church picnic. This year it will be at such and such a lake. We are happy to be at a lake this year because we can have a BBQ’s, play corn-hole, and so we can get back to baptisms.” Baptism is another part of a picnic.

Last week, we attended an Anglican church. The worship was fantastic and at the end, the pastor said something like, “Next week we will be having some time for baptisms. If you want to be baptized, just let me know and we’ll include you in the schedule.”

This past Sunday, we worshiped again at a Church of Christ. At the end of the sermon, the preacher flowed very naturally into his invitation which included baptism by immersion. It was evident from his invitation and the large tank of water behind him that baptism is a significant part of the liturgy at the church.

So, we have seen three different congregations, three different preachers, three different denominations and three different approaches to baptism. It is quite confusing because those I worshiped with have no doubts about their own peculiar approach to baptism and what it means or doesn’t mean for their pilgrimage in Christ—nor, for that matter, do I (or I wouldn’t have chosen to worship with them to begin with). All three believe it is important in some way. All three practice different modes (immersion, sprinkling, pouring) of baptizing. All three have different mediums (lakes, tanks, fonts) for containing water.

Here’s the trouble I’m having currently. Since I am no longer employed by the Church of Christ as their preacher, I don’t really want to go back. The other churches around my hometown are far too close (one gave birth to my former church, my former church gave birth to a third) to my former employer for me to feel comfortable or they are too far to travel for us to feel like we could be involved in any significant way. Furthermore, we really like the local Anglican Church (second one we visited) and we want to make it our home. The theology isn’t that much different, I am very close with the pastor, and it is close to our home so we can be involved in the ministry. And, if I might say so, the people of that church love Jesus Christ. They really love Jesus.

The problem is, however, that the mode of baptism practiced is different (sprinkling) than what I have traditionally practiced, the reason (s) for doing so is significantly different from what I believe (at least this congregation is more covenant driven in their theology), and, for good measure, it is different from what I have been taught, believed, and preached about baptism in my own ministry. I don’t know how much of a spike this will be for my conscience if we decide to worship with them and make them our church family—which we very much want to do.

So here’s my question to you: What do you think? I’m not selling my church membership. All I am asking is for other thoughts on the subject of baptism.

Can I worship with a congregation and support them financially and otherwise if they don’t happen to believe the way I do? I am sure we would be accepted as members the way we are (we wouldn’t have to undergo another baptism or anything). I am sure that these folks love Jesus Christ and serve him only. We love the congregation and they have already demonstrated to us that they love us (through their pastor’s undeniable and unconditional friendship and love shown to me).

I have been a member of the Church of Christ/Christian Church since I was 13 and I am 39 now. I took a degree from one of their colleges. I have preached in their churches for that last 17 years or so and received payment in one form or another. My dad is an elder in the church. I love the church and there are many good people in the church. But after my most recent experience in the church of Christ, I don’t want to go back. The worship at the Anglican church is alive, full of life, full of the Spirit, full of Christ, Christ-centered; offers weekly communion; prayer is prominently featured, Bible teaching is the norm, and everything that I value and teach my sons and wife about Christ is the creed of this church. We already love the saints that gather to share their weekly pilgrimage with one another.

I’m tired of the legalism. I’m tired of the desert-dry worship that defines the churches of Christ in my part of the world. Frankly, I’m tired of baptism being the last step in conversion and thus being the last step in Christ at all—you know, “I’m baptized so all I have to do is show up and do my duty on Sundays and all will be well.” Theologically, it may be the last step in conversion; practically, it has to be the first step of obedience. It has to be both. I believe I’d rather worship with a congregation full of sprinkled, covenant theologians than a room full of fully-immersed, hard as rock, Sunday morning doing their duty people. I’ve seen too many people buried with Christ in baptism and never raised to walk in newness of life.

My wife and I want to be around people who are living their faith, practicing their baptism, walking with Christ. We believe we have found those people.

But we are stuck at this point of baptism. As my wife and I pray over this matter, I’m asking for your input and advice. What do you think? What is your opinion? Can this difference be overcome? Does it matter if they sprinkle?

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