BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS:
KINGDOMS IN CONFLICT: BAPTISM AND OUR ULTIMATE CITIZENSHIP
Our Restoration Heritage arose out of the conflict over biblical teaching versus the received view of Augustinian and Calvinistic theology.
There is a renewed critique of the biblical teaching on baptism in a pluralism of areas of our brotherhood. One of the most serious confrontations is ordered by the enormous influence of the pragmatism of too many mega churches. It is a wide spread phenomena for younger preachers to regularly attend seminars offering the correct procedures for the growth of the Church, most of whom do not believe that baptism is required for salvation in Christ. The “faith only” explosion encourages many to remove the baptismal requirement for membership in the body of Christ. The classical Baptist theology is accepted because ”fewer “ churches that maintain that baptism is essential for salvation, because the explosion of the larger churches are set forth as proof of God’s honoring their procedures by empowering growth. This is pure pragmatism, espoused by the “pop culture of our postmodern world of 2003. For an excellent biblical response to many Church Growth proposals, see Christian A. Schwartz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches (church Smart Resources, St. Charles, IL 2000).Mr. Schwartz was immersed into Christ by David DeVilder, a graduate of Lincoln Christian Seminary, while he was a missionary in Germany.
In our new millennium context, our heritage is faced with at least four enormous challenges: (1) Resurgent Calvinism (in our heritage); (2) Resurgent Open Membership (Faith only saves); and (3) The Doctrine of Perfectionism (unbiblical; see esp. Romans 7, perhaps the most significant passage in the New Testament on this issue. The theological structure of Romans 5-8 is concerned with justification in relationship to sanctification). The Augustinian influence on the Reformation raised the question of the relationship to Justification to Sanctification. In Roman Catholic theology, i.e., sacerdotalism, one could be completely justified without being completely sanctified. This challenge was unsolved until the Wesleyan revival. From this point on the Pentecostal, Holiness, Perfectionism, Imitation Holiness Sinlessness have proliferated (see especially B.B. Warfield’s classical two volumes on Perfectionism and H.R. LaRondelle’s Perfectionism (Berrian Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 4th printing, 1984); and (4) “Openness Theology.” (Cf. Douglas Wilson, ed., Bound Only Once (Canon Press)
Throughout our heritage there have been times during which we have affirmed both too much and too little regarding Christian baptism. For over 150 years we have participated in a running debate with the religious world over three important theological issues: (1) The Action of baptism, i.e., whether or not it means sprinkling, pouring, immersion, or anyone of the three actions; (2) The Subject of baptism, i.e., whether or not infants and/or adults are the subjects of the biblical invitation to “repent and be baptized, everyone of you” (Acts 2.38); and (3) The Results of Christian baptism, i.e., whether or not it is one of the steps in God’s appointed process for our attaining the ‘forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 2.38) or is it merely a public sign of what has already taken place by our faith in Jesus Christ.
A comparison of Paul’s teaching in Colossians 2.11ff. and Romans 6.1ff. Will clearly set forth the content of his preaching and teaching, which we here affirm. We must remember two factors--(1) that the passages are not accounts of Paul’s efforts to persuade non-believers to be baptized into the body of Christ, and (2) that Paul’s preaching and teaching Christ is inseparably related to His Body, the Church. The Scriptures claim that one cannot be a Christian without being a member of Christ’s Church. In these two great scriptures, Paul describes the efficacy of the integration of faith and baptism. “In baptism the baptized is raised through faith.” And this entails--
. . . (1) The unity of the believer with Christ in His suffering of death on the cross. ‘You were circumcised . . .by the stripping off the body of flesh in Christ’s circumcision” is brutally candid. All that circumcision stands for, and more, has been fulfilled in the baptized believer through his union with Christ in His passion. The primary significance of baptism is its relating the believer to the once-for-all reconciliation that took place on Golgotha. (2) The unity of the believer with Christ in His rising from death, which signifies not alone a union with Christ in His rising at the first Easter but participation as an experienced factor in the life of the Christian now. We saw that this conviction underlies the ethical application of Romans 6.4,11: ‘We were buried with Him through baptism. . .that we might walk in newness of life. . . . Reckon yourselves then as dead indeed to sin but living to God in Christ Jesus’, for this presumes present experience of the resurrection life in Christ; but the lack of clarity on this point left sufficient room for doubt for some to deny it in Romans 6. In the present passage there is no possibility of misunderstanding; the resurrection is a power in the life of the Christian now. (G.P. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1962), p. 155).
Paul preaches that our unity in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord provides Christian believers with an Ultimate Citizenship, which in the eyes of the Roman Empire was a treasonable affirmation. To be baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19.5; I Corinthians 6.11; Acts 8.16) was/is a repudiation of Caesar as lord and Roman citizenship as of ultimate value.
In the first century, public religious assembly required an imperial certificate, and in order to gain that certificate meant an affirmation of the subjection to the Empire; the required confession was, “Caesar is Lord” (cf. Matthew 16.16ff.). Idolatrous Rome conquered the world and claimed that its emperors were gods (cf. John 4.5; I John 5.5; Revelation 11.15; Acts 17.31). Even this brief background is adequate to show what baptism meant in the early Church and in the Roman Empire. Baptism into Christ was a public, voluntary act of membership (citizenship) in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Baptism was and is the public declaration of a higher loyalty and a higher obedience. The local congregation of The Church was a visible outpost of God’s Cosmic Lordship. Kingdom citizenship was contingent on radical obedience to the Word and Will of God, expressed in the Word incarnate and inscripturated. Baptism was a privilege highly prized. Most people were subjects (slaves) and not citizens. Paul’s defense was grounded in this privileged status. In Acts 22.28, “I was freeborn; with a great sum I obtained this freedom.”
Baptism was also a loyalty not lightly affirmed. Paul affirms that “our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” A call to baptism is a call to regeneration and citizenship in God’s Kingdom. Peter declares on the day of Pentecost, “Repent, and be immersed, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin.” (Acts 2.38) No one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12.3). Kingdom citizenship requires loyalty and loyalty requires allegiance. Allegiance entails faithfulness; faithfulness engendered holiness. Let everyone that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Timothy 2.19)
All believers are members of Christ and citizens of the Kingdom of God by baptism and participants in the body of Christ, His Church “those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” and are thus “more than conquerors.” (Romans 8.37)
In the Graeco-Roman world, men wore the garb of their rank, i.e., their clothing was a visible badge indicating who they were and what their status was. Paul is in all probability referring to Sumptuary laws (cf. dressing above social rank) in Galatians 3.27 as he asserts, “For as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This clearly refers to marks of rank and citizenship (cf. Matthew 22.1-14, the parable of the wedding feast). Christian baptism is the act of membership in our Lord’s royal court. Our baptism is not for the state’s sake, but “for conscience sake” (Romans 13.5) -- “a good conscience toward God” (I Peter 3.21).
Dr. James Strauss, Professor Emeritus
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656