Wineskins Archive

December 7, 2013

Immersion (June 2012)

Filed under: — @ 1:50 pm and

By Roger Stewart

And Peter said to them, “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 (English Standard Version)

“So, It doesn’t matter where I go to church, then? Is that what you are saying, Roger?” some might ask.

To which I would respond, that’s not what I said at all. I did say that I have brothers and sisters in Christ all around the globe attending very different churches and worshiping in a wide variety of ways. We are a body of people who hold widely differing views about a lot of things, but as followers of Jesus we are members of the same family.

Within the family, there are commonly held core beliefs, and at the same time fairly significant differences of opinion. First and foremost among the commonly held agreements is a belief in Jesus Christ as the “only begotten Son of God.” Admittedly there are differences within that that truth, but the truth itself remains.

There is at the core of discipleship, a belief in the need for immersion in the life-changing teachings of Jesus and the upward call of his mission. There is commitment to the idea of our fellowship in his death, burial and resurrection. And there is also a hopeful, patient waiting for his return.

While most Christians generally agree on this component of immersion, it is interesting that we do NOT all agree on what constitutes the entire action of immersion called for in scripture. Some of us – I, for one – believe there is a requirement for immersion in water (water baptism) as a physical and symbolic part of our whole-man, mental, physical and spiritual commitment to Jesus. The physical component of immersion, taken with the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects, result in the cleansing of our consciences of sin (1 Peter 3:21).

Others believe that the immersion called for in scripture is metaphorical and any call for physical immersion is a misapplication of what the scriptures actually call for. They believe that scriptural immersion is mental and spiritual only. While I do not agree with that, I will say that God is the judge. God will save whom he will save, and all I can do is act on what I believe to be his will, and love those with differing opinions on the matter. And yes, they are family!

I can and do worship with those whose beliefs on baptism differ from my own. I believe God will accept their gift of worship as quickly – if not MORE quickly – than my own and that He is a kind, merciful and forgiving God. He will forgive their flaws as quickly if not more quickly than He will forgive my own.

Salvation comes to us through God’s overlooking our sins. We may say that our sins are “hidden,” “washed away,” or “covered” by Jesus’ blood, but the simple truth is that God overlooks them. There is no reason to think that because I have been “dunked,” God will or will not overlook my failure to take care of my sick brothers and sisters any more than he will or will not overlook their failure to be “dunked” simply because they have done a good job of taking care of one another.

To make my personal view of baptism as clear as I can, let’s do a short review of basic chemistry. Having had only one year of High School chemistry, I use the formula for water in my illustration because it is one of the few chemical formulas with which I am familiar. Water is a molecule made up of one atom of oxygen and 2 atoms of hydrogen. While the molecule contains twice as many hydrogen atoms as it does oxygen, it must have the one oxygen atom or it will not be water. Too many oxygen atoms and you have something else entirely. If for example, we combine 2 hydrogen atoms and 2 oxygen atoms, we have hydrogen peroxide – a bleaching agent or rocket fuel component. Without the 2 atoms of hydrogen, we are left with oxygen; without the oxygen we are left with hydrogen. It is only when the 2 are bonded together in the proper ratio that we have water. Which is less important? The hydrogen? The oxygen? Of course any one can understand that they are both equally important even though there is twice as much of one as there is the other.

I am convinced baptism can be understood in exactly the same way. There is a physical component as well as mental, emotional and spiritual components. And we are compelled to remind those who lean more heavily on the physical component, that there are also mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. Immersion of each is necessary to the complete action of rebirth. Some of us shake our heads at those who leave out the physical part of the rebirth. But when we look carefully at the practice, we see that it is also startlingly surprising how so many allow the water component to draw so much attention away from the other. Far too many have allowed water baptism to become the be-all and end-all in our Christian walk.

Even among those who call for the necessity of water baptism, there are at least two areas where there are differences of opinion: (1) what one must know at baptism, and (2) exactly where salvation occurs in relation to water baptism. One school of thought is that water baptism is invalid unless we are aware of exactly WHAT we are doing, WHY we are doing it and WHAT actually happens to us during the course of our immersion. Another school of thought teaches that submitting to water baptism “just because God wants us to” is sufficient reason and is therefore acceptable to God.

As to where salvation occurs relating to water baptism, one group claims we submit to water baptism because we have been saved. Another group claims salvation occurs in the water – we go into the water in order to be saved. We go into the water a sinner and come up out of it a new creature.

Both debates are symptomatic of an overly-legalistic approach to scripture and militate against God’s grace. They also place a far too great a weight of importance on one component of our immersion to the neglect of another.

I am convinced God calls us to both components – to spiritual and the physical immersion — and I don’t want to be caught dead without either of them. At the same time, I’m going to let God decide how to individually handle every one of the billions of people He and He alone will judge when the universe is rolled up like a scroll. It is far too big a job for any human.

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