Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Dweam Within a Dweam Chapter 4: Baptism, what is it good for?

Please read the Introduction and chapters 1, 2, and 3 first.


Baptism, what is it good for?

Johnny: “KNOCK! KNOCK!”

Marty: “WHO’S THERE?”

Johnny: “JOHNNY!”

Marty: “JOHNNY WHO?”


Marty: “Come in. What is it we’re discussing today?”

Johnny: “Today, we were going to discuss what baptism does. Don’t try to pretend you don’t remember. You’ll be crying for mercy when I expose the heresy of baptismal regeneration for what it really is!”

Marty: “What is it?”

Johnny: “HERESY!”

Marty: “Why do you believe it is heresy?”

Johnny: “It’s a denial of justification by faith alone! Our good works cannot save us!”

Marty: “You would be right if baptism were a good work that we perform. But the Bible doesn’t say that baptism is a good work we perform. Martin Luther, more than anyone else, popularized the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But he also believed in baptismal regeneration. Why do you believe baptism is a work we do?”

Johnny: “Jesus commanded the Apostles to baptize. It’s something we are told to do. So it’s a good work that we perform.”

Marty: “What about the preaching of the Gospel? Do you believe we are saved through the preaching of the Gospel?”

Johnny: “Yes, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”

Marty: “But didn’t he command the Apostles to preach the Gospel too? Isn’t that just as much of a work as baptism?”

Johnny: “Baptism is just water. Just sprinkling some water on someone can’t save them!”

Marty: “You’re right that sprinkling water on someone cannot save them. However, baptism is not just plain water. It is water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. God speaks His Words of Gospel in baptism through a human instrument just as He speaks His Words of Gospel through the preaching of the Gospel. In both cases there’s a human instrument involved. In both cases God’s Word is present. Why would adding water to God’s Word somehow make God’s Word incapable of doing what it says?”

Johnny: “We are saved by faith alone!”

Marty: “Absolutely. But God delivers that faith to us through His Word in baptism.”

Johnny: “Nuh-uh.”

Marty: “Yuh-huh.”

Johnny: “Nuh-uh.”

Marty: “Yuh-huh.”

Johnny: “Nuh-huh.”

Marty: “Yuh-huh.”

Johnny: “Nuh-huh.”

Marty: “Yuh-huh.”

Johnny: “Yuh-huh.”

Marty: “Nice try.”

Johnny: “Look man, John the Baptist said that HE baptized with water but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit are two completely different things.”

Marty: “What John was doing wasn’t Christian baptism. It was a preparatory baptism to get people ready for the coming of Jesus. In Acts 19 there were some disciples of John who had received John’s baptism but had not received the gift of the Holy Spirit. When they received Trinitarian baptism, then they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through means. John’s point was not that Jesus didn’t baptize with water but that John only baptized with water. In John 4 it says that Jesus baptized more people than John did. Jesus Himself did not physically carry out the baptisms but His disciples did and the same is true today. But because they are baptizing by the authority of Jesus, ultimately Jesus is the one doing the baptizing. Jesus just uses human instruments to carry out the baptisms. But it’s not until Matthew 28 that we find the institution of Christian baptism. In Matthew 28, Jesus says to disciple the nations by baptizing them into the name of the Triune God. This is the way disciples are to be made.”

Johnny: “What about Simon the Sorcerer? Bet you didn’t think about Simon did you? You got served.”

Marty: “The text says that Simon believed. You can’t believe without the Holy Spirit can you?”

Johnny: “It wasn’t true saving faith. It shows in the text that Simon was just trying use the special Holy Spirit power to make a buck.”

Marty: “Acts 8:13 says that he really believed. It doesn’t say it was a false belief or anything like that and Simon was baptized. But later on Simon gets attracted to the power he sees in the more miraculous gifts and tries to buy them. When people become Christians they usually continue to struggle with whatever sins they committed prior to becoming Christians and Simon fell into great sin.”

Johnny: “If baptism actually regenerates as you heretics claim, then why would Paul say he wasn’t sent to baptize but to preach the Gospel? Hmmm?”

Marty: “Paul is dealing with a particular problem in the Corinthian church. People were becoming followers of certain charismatic leaders and seemed to think that there was some great importance attached to who they were baptized by. Paul was sent to these Corinthians who had already been baptized in order to preach the Gospel to them. Paul doesn’t say that baptism isn’t important. He says he’s glad that in the Corinthian church there aren’t very many people who can claim to be part of some schismatic group that follows Paul. The Christian is about faith in Christ-crucified, not faith in a charismatic leader.”

Johnny: “Romans 6 says that by being immersed we have a symbol of our spiritual transformation.”

Marty: “We’ll talk about mode tomorrow. But it doesn’t say any of that in Romans 6. Romans 6 says that through baptism we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection. It doesn’t say it’s just a symbol or picture.”

Johnny: “It’s obviously talking about spiritual baptism and the water baptism is just a picture of what happens in that spiritual baptism. Otherwise we would be saved by works.”

Marty: “No, that would only be true if baptism is a work that we perform. Baptism is something we receive, not a good work we perform. In our last conversation you seemed pretty doubtful about infants having faith. But now you’re telling me that baptism is a work that we perform. So if infants are performing the good work of baptism, doesn’t that mean they must have faith?”

Johnny: “No. That’s ridiculous. Someone is just bringing them to church to have them sprinkled.”

Marty: “I don’t agree with you, but if you believe that the baby isn’t doing anything doesn’t that mean that it’s not a work? Otherwise you would have to conclude that the baby getting baptized is proof that the baby has faith, wouldn’t you?”

Johnny: “No. That’s just crazy. The baby just shouldn’t have been baptized in the first place. People should be baptized after they become disciples just like Jesus says in Matthew 28.”

Marty: “But Jesus doesn’t say to be baptized after you become a disciple. Jesus tells the Apostles to make disciples by baptizing them. But let’s get back to the discussion over what baptism does. The Scriptures don’t say that baptism is a symbol. The Scriptures say that baptism is for the forgiveness or remission of sins. The Scriptures say that baptism now saves us.”

Johnny: “No! That passage in 1 Peter 3 is very clear. It’s not water baptism that saves you but the inner spiritual baptism that saves you. Water baptism is just the pledge of a good conscience. We receive water baptism because we have already received spiritual baptism and a good conscience.”

Marty: “The Greek actually says that it is an appeal to God for a good conscience. The Greek word didn’t take on the meaning of “pledge” until much, much later. God has promised to give us a good conscience.”

Johnny: “But the passage clearly says that water baptism doesn’t save anyone, it’s the inner spiritual baptism that saves.”

Marty: “The passage is saying that baptism saves because it is more than just an outer washing with water. It’s not separating the water baptism from the spiritual baptism.”

Johnny: “That just can’t be true. Lots of people who are baptized as babies end up going to hell. Just look at someone like Steven Hawking. He was baptized as a baby. Does he go to heaven just because he was baptized?”

Marty: “The Scriptures speak of people falling away from the faith. If our faith is not nurtured it will die and some people for reasons we don’t always understand end up rejecting the faith.”

Johnny: “But John says in 1 John 2:19 that if someone departs from the faith it means that they never really believed to begin with.”

Marty: “John is talking about specific people who were teaching false doctrine. He’s saying they never believed the truth about Christ to begin with. They left because the church would not put up with their false teaching. It doesn’t say that everyone who falls away from the faith never had true faith.”

Johnny: “But Jesus says in John 10 that nobody can snatch His sheep out of His hand.”

Marty: “This is most certainly true. But people jump out of the hand from time to time. It’s kind of like if you were to fall into the ocean and drown to death and someone pulls you up into a ship. They pump the water out of you and miraculously bring you back to life and feed you and give you everything you need. It’s not like you have to work to keep yourself alive. However, you could decide you have no need for this silly ship or tell yourself that the ocean is much better or tell yourself you’re going to swim the rest of the way and jump out of the boat. If you jump out it’s not like you were never saved to begin with and there’s nothing defective with the boat that makes you jump out. You don’t jump out because the boat isn’t strong enough. We do read in the Bible about predestination and election and we know that all whom God elected will certainly be saved. But the Bible doesn’t tell us that only the elect will ever have true faith or be regenerated.”

Johnny: “But that doesn’t make sense. Why would God regenerate someone and then allow them to fall away? Is the Holy Spirit too weak to keep a grip on them?”

Marty: “It’s not a matter of the Holy Spirit’s weakness. I’m not saying it all makes sense. God says His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We shouldn’t expect it to all make sense. The main way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself is in Christ-crucified. There’s nothing sensible about God dying for sinners. In the Psalms, David prays that God would not remove His Holy Spirit from him.”

Johnny: “That was just a reference to his anointing as king and that was under the old covenant before the Holy Spirit became a seal of our salvation.”

Marty: “It was in the Psalms, so it wasn’t just some private prayer of David. It was part of the songbook of the Israelites and later on the Christian church. If it only applied to David it wouldn’t be incorporated into the Psalms. In the New Testament Epistles we find real warnings that say that those who continue in sin will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. This would all seem unnecessary if those who have “real” faith have no real danger of perishing.”

Johnny: “So you’re saying that Jesus saves us but now it’s up to us to stay saved?”

Marty: “Not at all. Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. We don’t do anything to accomplish our own salvation. Salvation is all of God and damnation is all of us. But if we cling to a sin and deny that it is a sin, we are refusing forgiveness. If we no longer believe we need saving or deny we are sinners then we will be damned. We would be actively working against the grace of God and the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures speak of people resisting the Holy Spirit and resisting God’s grace. It’s a scandal to the Calvinist who believes that God would not allow Himself to be resisted but it’s what the Scriptures say. God comes to us in weakness. He comes to us in the weakness of the preaching of the Gospel. We see God’s power most clearly in Christ-crucified but in Christ-crucified we also see God in His humility. It’s pretty remarkable when you look at church history. Up until the middle ages there really isn’t anyone teaching a limited atonement or the perseverance of the saints. There isn’t really anyone who denies baptismal regeneration or that infants should be baptized either.”

Johnny: “I read a book by Michael Horton called Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. In that book he provides a bunch of different quotes from the church fathers showing that they did teach the perseverance of the saints and the limited atonement.”

Marty: “You’ll notice that Horton doesn’t provide any references for those quotes. A lot of them aren’t from the church fathers themselves. He takes portions of quotes from different works by the same author, inserts commentary from other sources, and then passes it off as a quote of the church father. You should check out this blog post:

Johnny: “I’ll take a look when I get a chance. I have a lot to think about.”

Marty: “Okay. Tomorrow let's talk about the proper mode of baptism.”


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