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Vol.  10  No. 4 April 2008  Page 13
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Robert JohnsonBaptism and Tradition

By Robert Johnson

    When Peter confessed to Jesus He was the Son of God, our Lord made this interesting statement to Peter and the rest of the apostles. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The phrases “shall have been bound” and “shall have been loosed” are more accurate translations of the Greek text. The apostles didn’t have the authority to decide doctrine, but they did have the authority to declare doctrine, what God had bound and loosed. When we read God’s commands in Scripture, it isn’t human interpretation or tradition, but God’s will for us.

    This principle is important for us to understand, as there are those today who would have us believe the clear commands of Scripture are merely human tradition. Baptism is one doctrine being interpreted this way. “You don’t have to be immersed to be saved; it’s just tradition.” It is tradition, in the sense it’s been handed down to us, but Scripture makes clear it is divine tradition, not of human origin. Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16)? Further, what about His words in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Of course, Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, states it plainly in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

    If we accept Scripture as the Word of God, the only logical conclusion one can reach is that baptism (immersion) is essential for the forgiveness of sin. If, for the sake of appealing to modern culture, we can wave our hands and use the magical word “tradition” to eliminate the necessity of baptism, we can also discard anything else to which others might object. However, that is faulty reasoning and won’t stand a genuine inspection of Scripture. Just saying something doesn’t make it so.

    Jesus makes it clear it isn’t those who offer lip service to Him that please Him, but those who obey His will (Matthew 7:21). The teaching of Scripture on baptism is so clear, one well-known denominational commentator wrote, “From this and other references to baptism in Paul’s writings, it is certain that he did not regard baptism as an ‘optional extra’ in the Christian life, and that he would not have contemplated the phenomenon of an ‘unbaptized believer.’ We may agree or disagree with Paul, but we must do him the justice of letting him hold and teach his own beliefs, and not distort his beliefs into conformity with what we should prefer him to have said” (F.F. Bruce on Romans 6). As Paul was inspired, I will agree with what I find in the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Can you safely choose anything else?

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