|Vol. 16 No. 11 November 2014||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Outwardly and disassociated with its true biblical significance, baptism is merely a dip in water or a bath, which at best could only effect a washing of the body. The apostle Peter acknowledged that to the uninformed onlooker the act of baptism may appear to effect the cleansing of the flesh. However, the apostle affirmed that biblical baptism rather results in the cleansing of one’s conscience because it saves the soul from sins. “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21 KJV).
Obviously, every reasoning soul needs to be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), whereby his or her sins are washed away (Acts 22:16). Yet, baptism is not for everyone! As just implied, of course, Bible baptism is not needed by souls who because they are too young or due to mental incapacity cannot choose for themselves to be baptized. Babies are born without sin (Ezekiel 18:20), and God imputes sin to them in later years (Ezekiel 28:15) after they become responsible for their own actions. For instance, babies and such like cannot respond to the biblical commands to believe, repent, confess Jesus Christ as Lord and voluntarily be baptized.
Baptism is useless as well for persons who have not obeyed the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17) respecting the commands that precede baptism: hearkening to the Gospel message without admixture of human dogmas (Romans 10:17; Galatians 1:6-9); believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, Messiah or Savior (John 8:24); repenting or turning from one’s sins (Luke 13:3) and confessing Jesus to be the Christ (Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:9-10). Without God’s Word (the New Testament for us who live today), faith or belief, repentance and confessing Christ, baptism amounts to no more than taking a common bath. Baptism, then, isn’t for everyone.
There is another element of humanity for whom Bible baptism is not the solution just yet. Church rolls (often not church houses) have been heaped with the names of people who have been coaxed into baptismal pools, and yet they do not exhibit that they have been converted to Jesus Christ. In their zeal to evangelize, brethren often opt for quantity or numbers instead of seeking conversions – and it shows. Shame on us!
Many in the churches of Christ have diminished the significance of reliance on the Bible alone, Christian faith, repentance and even confessing Jesus Christ. At the same time, they exalt the activity of baptism as though it were the single action that by itself will result in salvation of the soul. Going through the motions of baptism does not negate one’s reliance on manmade creeds in addition to the Bible. Baptism is not suitable for a practicing polygamist. In addition, baptism does not magically transform an adulterous marriage into something pleasing to God. Jesus Christ is more than a good man or a prophet. Scripture will not allow our Lord to be merely added to the myriad of idol gods of Hinduism, and a person cannot be a Buddhist and a Christian at the same time. These are some of the results of pursuing quantity and numbers over quality or conversion. Statistics marshalling the number of baptisms may be impressive to many and the basis by which brethren raise funds or determine the return on the investment of the Lord’s money, but baptism is not for everyone.
A different model for evangelism appears in the New Testament from what Christians today often deploy in their evangelistic efforts. First century brethren were seeking conversions – not just baptisms. Rather than merely an emotional response, candidates for baptism in the first century were commanded to respond to the Gospel call (Acts 10:48) based upon their commitment. Rather than evangelists coaxing prospects for conversion into baptismal pools, candidates for baptism requested to be baptized! “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’” (Acts 8:36 NKJV).
Rather than emphasizing baptism – which is essential to redemption, the apostle Paul underscored teaching and preaching of the Gospel. “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (1 Corinthians 1:17). After people have been thoroughly taught God’s Word, then penitent souls respond to it of their own volition. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…’ …Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:37-38, 41).
Bible baptism may appear to be an occasion of public bathing, but instead it cleanses the conscience and soul from sin. God certainly desires everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), and so every reasoning soul needs to be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). However, preceding baptism, one must hear God’s Word (Romans 10:17), believe Jesus is the Christ (John 8:24), repent of sins (Luke 13:3) and confess or acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord (Matthew 8:32; Acts 8:37). Rather than permitting themselves to be coaxed into being baptized, prospective converts ought to be proactive based on their biblical convictions. True Christian faith (1) will annul one’s loyalty to human creeds, (2) will acknowledge Jesus Christ alone as the “only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15), (3) will through repentance put away polygamy and adulterous marriages and every other sin of which one is aware in his or her life, (4) will disallow debasement of Jesus Christ to the level of idols, and (5) prevent one from supposing that he or she can be a biblical Christian while at the same time being a Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, Baptist, Mason, etc.
In genuine Christianity, quality trumps quantity. Conviction or commitment trumps emotional response. True converts to Christianity do not have to be entertained into, coaxed into or hoodwinked into the baptistery and into the church of our Lord. Instead, thoroughly teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to prospective converts is more likely to result in true conversion. Baptism isn’t for everyone, but it is an essential part of obedience by which, then, Jesus Christ saves us. “And having been perfected, He [Jesus Christ] became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9).
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
The wise man proclaimed, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). This is God’s ancient divine testimony to the dual treatment of man’s sickness, a merry heart and medicine. God has made the human mind in such a special way that what we think has a powerful influence on how we feel! Bodily health is often affected, either positively or negatively, by the “heart” (mind). “The tune in one’s heart helps to determine the tone of one’s health” (Brownlow 13). The Bible records much about joy, the positive effects of it and how to obtain it.
Consider the facts. “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13). “All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15). God is the continual source of real, lasting joy. That joy lifts, builds and causes the very countenance of man to be healthy (Psalm 43:5). Our “merry heart” is only really merry by means of Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:4)! Why are so many in the world so downtrodden and downcast? Few really know Christ!
Consider secondly the formula. Even those who profess to know Christ are far too often sad and despondent. The old adage, “garbage in, garbage out,” certainly applies in the arena of a “merry heart.” Our thoughts affect our feelings. Paul gave a divine formula for lasting joy and good feelings when he penned, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). Upon what do you center the majority of your thoughts? Maybe if you are feeling poorly, it may be that you are thinking poorly.
The story is told of a farmer who had passed from this world, leaving behind his widow and five little children. One world had ended for them, but the mother opened another with the view that they had God above, the soil beneath and each other at their side. As the years passed, it was quite evident that this family was going to be fine. Those five children grew up to be faithful Christians, beneficial members of society, and overall healthy and happy individuals. When asked how she accomplished such a daunting task, she attributed ultimately the success to God along with three special ingredients: love, cheerfulness and hard work. She affirmed that love displaced any bitterness and resentment that arose. Cheerfulness was the attitude with which each day was faced. She said that singing and smiles helped to accomplish some of the most difficult tasks. She also attributed hard work as a benefactor to her task. “She put inspiration into her children and took perspiration out of them” (Brownlow 20).
Sometimes we fall into the “pit of despair” and allow our hearts to become miserable instead of merry. Sure doom and depression are ahead, if we allow this to occur. Maybe we each could benefit from self-examination (2 Corinthians 13:5). What does your heart reveal? Think about it.
Brownlow, Leroy. Better Than Medicine. Fort Worth: Brownlow, 1967.