Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Why be baptized? A response to Rev. Erin Bird of Riverwood Church

Why be baptized? A different answer.

By Rev. Jon M. Ellingworth – St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Waverly

Pastor Erin Bird of Riverwood Church in Waverly wrote about baptism in the July 11, 2019 Waverly Democrat.

In answer to his question, “Why be baptized,” Pastor Bird rightly states, “God expects it.” Indeed, while true, that is an understatement, for our Lord not only expects that His people be baptized, He commands it (see Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38)! 

Pastor Bird also rightly stresses that “our salvation is ONLY the work of God,” referencing Ephesians 2:8-9. While that is the clear teaching of Holy Scripture, Pastor Bird incorrectly understands baptism as OUR work when it is truly the LORD’s work. Even if we were to grant that the acts of pouring water or submersing under water and of being baptized are our work, the spiritual work occurring in baptism is “ONLY the work of God” as the Scriptures make clear (see Ephesians 5:25-26; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 Corinthians 6:11; and numerous others).”

Truly, this is where Pastor Bird’s thinking, and Baptist baptismal doctrine in general, are simply incorrect: Baptism is NOT OUR WORK. Indeed, a close reading of the well-known baptismal text John 3:1-12 [13-21], from whence the phrase “born again” is taken, proves this clearly. In this text Jesus uses the analogies of birth and the wind to teach how the Holy Spirit performs the work of creating faith when and where it pleases Him, wholly apart from the work, will, reason, understanding, and even faith (!) of the individual. In telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again,” or “born from above,” Jesus intended for Nicodemus to consider what it means to be born in the first place. Did you choose to be born? Did you understand what it meant to be born? Did you choose your sex, race, nationality, mother, father, sisters, brothers, or anything at all concerning your birth? The answer is, of course, “No.” Being born is not a choice or a decision that you make, but in fact, you are completely passive in birth. Being born is something that happens to you. And, that is precisely Jesus’ point in saying “You must be born again.” Jesus continues the analogy, next shifting to the wind: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (John 3:8).” You cannot choose to make the wind blow upon you anymore than you can choose to make it stop, but the wind blows freely wholly apart from your personal choice, will, or understanding. Again, this is precisely Jesus’ point concerning the work of the Holy Spirit and being “born again” in Holy Baptism. Baptism is NOT OUR WORK, but it is “ONLY the work of God.”

Not only does Pastor Bird consider Holy Baptism to be our work, but he believes that Jesus’ baptism was merely an example for us. Why be baptized? Pastor Bird’s answer to his own question seems to be, because “Jesus did it.” “Jesus didn’t need to be ‘saved’ since He was the sinless Son of God,” says Bird. That’s true! However, Jesus wanted to be baptized, and He submitted to be baptized even though He was sinless, even though John tried to prevent Him. Jesus wanted to be baptized, and He was baptized, because it was “proper” and “fitting” “to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:14).” It was at Jesus’ baptism that heaven was opened and the Father spoke, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove and remained with Him. The Scriptural testimony concerning the baptism of Jesus hardly makes it sound like an arbitrary or unnecessary thing that Jesus simply did as an example for us to follow. In fact, the testimony of the Apostles in the rest of the New Testament ascribes astounding gifts of God to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism: Baptism bestows the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16); Baptism rescues from death and the devil by uniting us with Jesus in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-12; Galatians 3:27-29; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 12:13); Baptism gives eternal salvation (1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5-7). Thus, we do not get baptized merely because “Jesus did it,” but because God actually does something to us and gives to us the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Holy Baptism in and for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ.

Pastor Bird says that “you don’t ‘need’ to be baptized in order to be saved,” presumably because we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Well, that is true, though it sets up a false dichotomy, and a dangerous one at that. Would one who professes faith in Christ refuse to be baptized, since the Lord commands it and has attached His blessings to it? I would surely pray not! Truly, to refuse baptism would seem to be active and intentional disobedience and proof that faith is not living. The Evangelist Mark links faith and baptism inexplicably together in salvation saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).” Further, Pastor Bird makes the audacious statement, “Getting baptized doesn’t make you any spiritually cleaner,” in direct contradiction to the clear teaching of Holy Scripture! (1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5-7; Ephesians 5:25-26).

Truly, when we consider the sad reality that Christ’s body the Church is divided into countless denominations, sects, and factions, nothing can be clearer than the variance in teachings on such fundamental doctrines as Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Justification – all of which come down to a misreading of God’s Word in Holy Scripture. Baptist denominations typically boast about their literal adherence to the Word of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and yet they almost universally interpret and explain away the clear words of Scripture when they run contrary to human reason and wisdom. For example, Pastor Bird says that “you don’t ‘need’ baptism in order to be saved” and “baptism doesn’t make you any spiritually cleaner,” whereas Mark states, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16),” and Peter states, “Baptism […] now saves you (1 Peter 3:21) and “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 (Acts 2:38).”

It all comes down to God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures. What does the Lord say in His Word? Will you believe it and confess it, even if it runs contrary to your reason and wisdom, which are corrupted due to sin and the weakness of the flesh? Jesus said over the bread at the Last Supper, “This is My body,” and over the wine, “This is my blood.” Are these eight words unclear? No, they are so clear a little child could state what they say and mean. It is only human reason that scoffs thinking, “That is not possible! It has to mean something else.” Faith – true faith – answers, “No. Our Lord means what He says, despite my inability to understand how.” Likewise, the Scriptures say, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” and “Baptism now saves you.” Are these words unclear? No, again, they are so clear that a little child could state what they say and mean. It is only human reason that scoffs thinking, “That doesn’t make any sense! Surely one must be able to rationally understand and confess their faith in order to be saved! It can’t be that easy!” Faith answers, “No. Baptism is the work and gift of ONLY God. I am but the passive recipient of His gracious action.”

There are so many denominational choices out there today. Waverly alone has no fewer than twelve Christian congregations. What is a Christian to do? Well, perhaps ask yourself, what does this denomination or congregation teach concerning baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and other core doctrines? Do they teach what the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures actually say? Let us follow the example of the Bereans: “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11).”

The text of Rev. Bird's article follows below:

Why be baptized?
By Rev. Erin Bird – Riverwood Church, Waverly
July 11, 2019

I want to talk this week about the topic of Baptism. If you follow Jesus, but haven’t been baptized yet, here are four reasons why I think you should get “dunked”:
1. God expects it.
If you read Romans 6:1-4, you see that Paul (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) assumes that if you follow Jesus, you’ve been baptized. He sees baptism as full identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
While there are some church denominations that say you aren’t “saved” or truly forgiven of your sins until you are baptized, I personally believe that according to Ephesians 2:8-9 our salvation is ONLY the work of God.
Baptism simply reveals outwardly the inward work God has already done and is doing in us through the gospel.
But while baptism isn’t like a magic ceremony that guarantees you heaven, it is a deeply reverent sacrament that gives evidence our life is found in Christ.
So I believe God wants us to “go public” with our relationship with Him through Jesus by being baptized.
2. Jesus did it.
The four gospel accounts of the life of Jesus highlight different stories and teachings, giving us a well-rounded view of Jesus’ life and theology. But there are only a handful of stories that all four gospel accounts share.
The most well-known is the death & resurrection of Jesus (no surprise there). But another one is His baptism!
Jesus did not need “saved” since He was the sinless Son of God.
Yet he was baptized by his cousin John to launch the public aspect of his ministry. It is after this point that Jesus recruited disciples and began to travel around the Palestinian region proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
If we are to “live like Jesus lived,” then we should also go public via baptism as well.
3. You need it.
No, you don’t “need” baptism in order to be “saved” or to prove anything to God. Getting baptized doesn’t make you any spiritually cleaner, nor does it gain you super-saint status.
But baptism does help you put a “stake” down in your spiritual journey. We are all on a spiritual journey, and as we walk this path through life, occasionally we need some markers, some “stakes”, that we put down on our path to remind us where we’ve been, where we are going, and who we belong to. Baptism is a moment when you say to yourself and others, “I follow Jesus, and will follow Him no matter what the future holds.”
Just as a married couple going through tough times need to remember their vows, we need moments where we remember that we knew the truth and knew what we believed, so we can look back at those moments when the doubts and struggle come crashing in.
Your baptism can serve as an anchor in your spiritual journey, so that no matter how the winds blow, you know your life is tied to Jesus and His gospel.
4. We need it.
Baptism is an incredibly beautiful moment in your spiritual journey. But it isn’t JUST for you.
By being baptized during our Worship Gathering, you are helping your church family worship God through your story and your decision to publicly declare your faith in Jesus.
Also, by being publicly baptized, you are letting your friends and family who are not part of your Riverwood family (nor possibly part of God’s family) know about your faith in Jesus.
Your baptism might be exactly what God uses to help someone else find Jesus and begin to follow Him. So it’s not just you and the Riverwood family that needs your act of worship by being dunked, but your spiritually disconnected friends as well.

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