It was probably 10 years ago that I got a call from another pastor in town (since moved away) inviting me to lunch. He and I had never really connected, so I gladly accepted. As we sat down at Culvers one early afternoon, he didn’t take too long to get to his point. He had come to visit Edgewood recently and had liked what I had to say…mostly.
“I appreciate how you tell people how to go to heaven,” he began. “But…I think you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Yeah, that’s what he said). You’re not telling them the full truth.”
Fascinating. What did he mean? Well, I soon found out. He was upset that I wasn’t telling people that they needed to be baptized in order to be saved. In his tradition, he had come to appreciate grace (Amen!), hence he was glad I was explaining the gospel, but he had also come to believe in the necessity of baptism for salvation. Since I didn’t share his conviction, I guess you can call me wolf pastor.
This particular aspect of theology, called baptismal regeneration, is only held by some who name the name of Christ, but it has always struck me as downright weird. (How’s that for a theological argument?) Later this pastor’s church would take out an ad in a local newspaper for a “community baptism”. How strange. In fairness, they promised instruction in advance, but it was almost as if they felt they could get people dunked and ensure their place in heaven. And how misleading…I wonder how many lost people in the community saw that ad, realized what the church was trying to do, and thought, “I guess I’m good…I’ve been baptized.” Yikes…extremely confusing.
The Apostle Paul, however, was not confused about the subject. His seemingly offhand thoughts on baptism in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 are almost comical…
…were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 (ESV)
It’s not a full orbed theological argument on the subject of baptism, but it’s darn close. First, Paul can’t remember whether he baptized anyone, so it’s clearly not an issue that is in the forefront of his mind. But more than that, he says quite succinctly that he was not sent to baptize. And finally, as if all that weren’t enough, if baptism were required for salvation, Paul would never have said “I thank God that I baptized none of you except…”
That said, baptism is important. It is a command of the Lord (Matthew 28:19, 20), and it gloriously envisions the gospel, not only in picturing the washing away of sins, but also in immersion, as the believer is buried with Him in baptism, and raised with Him in newness of life (Romans 6:4). So if you haven’t been baptized since believing in Jesus, you should be. It’s an obedience issue…but it is not a matter of salvation, and those who say it is are confusing the gospel of grace. And that’s a really, really bad thing to do.
Makes you wonder who the real wolf is…
For Wednesday, May 5th: 1 Corinthians 2