Context or pretext: A spiritual drought

The other day, I was sitting in the Jerry Falwell Library. As I joyfully finished a paper for a class, I overheard an interesting conversation at the table next to mine. Two students asked each other if they were baptized. 

The guy closest to me said, “No, I haven’t. I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually, but it just isn’t as important.”

The girl opposite him answered, “I was baptized when I was three months old.”

Throughout the rest of the conversation, neither one of them challenged the thinking of the other. Both, having completely different experiences, chose to avoid entering a deeper conversation about how they ended up on basically opposite sides of the map regarding the concept of baptism. One was completely complacent in his lack thereof, while the other was utterly satisfied with not even remembering hers. 

In his podcast, “Ask Pastor John,” John Piper said, “Baptism was a sacred expression of faith, a faith that unites you to Christ and his people — a particular people, in a particular church, where you could be nurtured and held accountable as the New Testament teaches.”

The majority of Christians understand baptism. However, a sad reality I’ve witnessed is a trend of younger Christians misunderstanding the importance or value of baptism. Not only does Jesus command it within the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), but Peter also explicitly commands it in Acts 2:38, saying, “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.”

The first form of baptism showed a superficial repentance and desire for a coming Messiah. In Acts 19:4, Paul clarifies, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was coming after him, that is, Jesus.”

Looking forward to an eternal cleansing of sins, people received this baptism with hope and faith that God would fulfill his promises. When Jesus Christ died and was resurrected, he shifted baptism to mean something completely different than repentance — a baptism of proclaimed faith by the Holy Spirit.

Peter intertwines the ideas of repentance or faith with baptism. Peter believed that naturally, after salvation, one would desire to proclaim that new life found in Christ publicly. Then one may ask, “Doesn’t this mean baptism is a requirement for salvation?”

To that, I answer no. Baptism is not a requirement for salvation, but it is undoubtedly a requirement for obedience, and a true child of God will obey. My reasoning lies in passages that outline the requirements of salvation, like Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

Piper mentioned an idea of unity with the people of Christ. Piper believes baptism should typically be done within the local church context. The fruit of baptism within a local church naturally incorporates discipleship, accountability and eventual growth. 

Nowhere in Scripture does it tell believers that baptism must occur within the local church. However, Piper’s reasoning stems from the overall context of the New Testament. Throughout the New Testament, the apostles wrote to churches and, at times, individual believers who were planting churches. The goal of every single letter was to focus on building local churches within cities around the Middle East (then a part of the Roman Empire). And that also was not simply for the sake of churches within the Middle East but “for the sake of his (Jesus’) name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5). 

The apostles expected community with fellow believers after baptism. The exception would be in Acts 8, when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. After the eunuch’s baptism, the Holy Spirit carried Philip into another area and left the eunuch to rejoice for the rest of his trip.  If you’re with a group of believing friends when you get saved, don’t hesitate — get baptized. But take advantage of placing yourself under the authority of a local church through baptism. You get the baptism, discipleship, accountability, growth and community all in one: it’s like a free combo meal.

Acts 2 allows yet another set of reasoning to the apostles’ expectations. As the early church began after Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles preached the gospel, and 3,000 people were saved and baptized. Not only did they get baptized right after salvation, but the rest of Acts 2 describes the community of those same believers. 

My theory of why younger believers don’t value baptism directly links to the apostles’ original desires. Young Christians hesitate to get involved in a local church, placing baptism in the “unimportant” category of their spiritual walk. Ignoring the very thing Christ chose them for, believers, whether out of fear or pain, refuse or fake involvement within a church.

Young Christian, hear my cry: desire the local church. Value baptism as a command of Christ. The natural community he will provide lasts a lifetime and will challenge and encourage your spiritual growth. Be obedient to his command and enjoy the spiritual path he placed you on with fellow believers.

Duvall is the opinion editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter

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