Archives For baptism

In the EFCA we are primarily noted as affirming believer baptism by immersion in doctrine and practice. (We have, however, chosen not to divide over the doctrine of baptism, so even though we are mostly believer baptism by immersion (credo-baptism), we also allow the baptism of infants (paedo-baptism).)

For most who are raised in a local EFC church, they are not baptized until they are somewhat older. For many of these young people, they profess faith in Christ quite some time before they are baptized. There are some valid reasons to wait to be baptized. And yet, there is something not quite right about it either. If one has truly been born again, baptism follows a profession of faith, sometimes immediately (Acts 16:30-33).

If one professes faith in Christ and is truly born again, should one be baptized before one participates in the Lord’s Supper? Or upon profession of faith, should one then participate in the Lord’s Supper while delaying baptism? Is there an order to the ordinances?

From my sense, fostered from both observation of local church practices and conversation with others, most do not think about an order to the ordinances at all. Although they affirm they are reserved for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, they don’t think of an order at all.

Here is how this is addressed in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 169:

As we come in faith to be baptized or to share in the Lord’s Supper, God the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to attest to the gospel of which they speak—the one confirms the new believer in the inaugural act of faith and the other nourishes the believer in the ongoing Christian life. (For this reason, historically it has been the near universal practice in churches of all denominations to require baptism [in some form] before participation in the Lord’s Supper. In the EFCA this is a matter that is left to the local church.) Both serve to separate the believer from the world and to give a visible designation of those who belong to the body of Christ.

As we consider the order of celebrating the ordinances, it is important, as noted in Evangelical Convictions, to remember what each of the two ordinances signify. Baptism is a one-time experience that marks the new life a believer has experienced by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Lord’s Supper is an ongoing experience that reflects the spiritual strengthening a believer receives for the journey when participated in/by faith. The former marks the beginning of one’s spiritual life; the latter marks the ongoing journey in one’s spiritual life.

Because of what the ordinances signify, I believe there is an order to their observance. In my parental practice, even though my children professed faith in Christ, I did not allow them to participate in the Lord’s Supper until they were baptized. This is also reflected in my pastoral counsel.

Although the Bible does not give an absolute on the order in which the ordinances are to be observed, it seems that there is a strong theological inference based on their meaning and significance. This is why something has been stated in Evangelical Convictions. It is important enough to address explicitly. However, recognizing this strong theological inference and our congregational polity, we also acknowledge that the practice of the ordinances “is a matter left to the local church.”

A few important questions for you to ponder:

  • How do you understand the order of the ordinances?
  • What is your pastoral counsel to parents and why?
  • What is your pastoral practice and why?
  • What does an open invitation to the Lord’s Supper with no connection to baptism whatsoever signify? Or asked from the other side, what might discouraging a true believer who has not been baptized from participating in the Lord’s Supper signify?

Have you ever wondered why baptism and the Lord’s Supper are considered ordinances of the church? Jesus gave many commands, so why is it that these two commands have divine warrant to be obeyed/practiced by the church universally and perpetually?

What makes these commands given by Christ for the church’s practice is found in their unique purpose. Their practice is rooted most clearly in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stated simply, the ordinances visibly and tangibly express the gospel.

This truth is articulated in Evangelical Convictions (p. 167) in the following manner: 

Why have these ordinances been given to the church? What purpose do they serve? Most significantly, baptism and the Lord’s Supper visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Certainly, the mere application of water or the eating of bread and the drinking of the cup do not have inherent meaning. For that reason, these acts must always be set within a context that includes the proclamation of the Word of God. When the gospel is preached in conjunction with these ordinances, they become, in the words of Augustine, “visible words.” These observable acts speak to us of the wonderful truths of the gospel—Christ’s sacrificial death, our union with him, the new life that is ours and his glorious coming by which God’s saving purpose will be brought to completion.

Yet the ordinances are not only seen, they are also experienced physically—we “eat and drink” and we are “washed,” hence, the term “tangibly” in our Statement. In our participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the preached gospel is personalized, and we are individually engaged in a tangible response. These are God-given means by which we respond to the gospel personally as it is set before us in these visible and tangible ways.

In Western countries in which Christianity has had a great influence, not only past but in the present, becoming a Christian and being baptized does not cost much and it does not, for some, mean much.

Often in countries that are Islamic or Hindu, those that are opposed to Christianity, baptism is the point at which a person is considered dead, no longer a part of the biological family. Interestingly, baptism in those instances carries a triple meaning: death with Christ, death to self and death to the previous way of life, and in their case their family.

This is true for all experiencing baptism, but in these countries these deaths carry with it real consequences and it may possibly lead to a fourth death, physical death. Although we in the West do not face this fourth implication of death at present, it is foolish for us not to consider these consequences since ultimately our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers (Eph. 6:10-18) , who want to steal, kill, and destroy (Jn. 10:10).

As we learn and grow in our understanding of global Christianity, it is important we stand with and learn from our brothers and sisters in various parts of the world. It is also important that we stand with those who are being persecuted for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is illuminating and convicting to read the report of our brothers and sisters in South Asia. When they prepare new believers for baptism, they do so with Seven Questions for New Converts in an Asian Country (Cf. “South Asian Nation Struggles to Shape Itself,” Mission Network News (1-17-12).

Asian Access (or A2), a Christian missions agency in South Asia, listed a series of questions that church planters must ask new believers who are considering baptism. (Due to safety concerns, Asian Access does not mention the country’s name.) The country is predominantly Hindu, but over the past few decades Christianity has grown in popularity—especially among poor and tribal peoples. These are the seven questions asked to help determine a new convert’s readiness to follow Christ:

  1. Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
  2. Are you willing to lose your job?
  3. Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?
  4. Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?
  5. Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?
  6. Are you willing to go to prison?
  7. Are you willing to die for Jesus?

If the new convert answers yes to all of these questions, then A2 leaders invite that person to sign on the bottom of the paper that of their own free will they have decided to follow Jesus. But here’s the risk: if a new convert signs the paper and is caught by the government, he or she will spend three years behind bars. The one who did the evangelizing faces six years in prison.

If you were being baptized, would you sign? If you were the pastor, would you perform the baptism? Would you consider it a joy and privilege to do so?

Dear Lord, please protect and bless our brothers and sisters in these countries, for the sake of the name of Christ. Amen.

When should a child or young person be baptized? How do you go about discerning the readiness/preparedness of that young person?

Ted L. Christman addresses this pertinent and important doctrinal and pastoral issue in Forbid Them Not: Rethinking the Baptism and Church Membership of Children and Young People

Christman serves as the founding pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, Owensboro, KY. In this booklet, he makes a case to fellow Baptists to rethink how they view the conversion, baptism and means of grace provided by God in the lives of children and young people. One of his major concerns is that Baptists postpone baptism too long, preventing young people from obedience to the Great Commission and the corporate means of grace provided by God. This certainly raises good questions, and though I don’t necessarily agree with all he has written, I do appreciate his attempt at acknowledging critical questions and answering them biblically and pastorally.

As I looked through the booklet, I was struck by the series of questions he recommends asking of children and young people. I include the paragraph preceding and following the list of questions (pp. 20-22; though he included them in a paragraph form, I will bullet them for the sake of clarity. If I used these, I would rearrange them a bit.).

A loving and faithful shepherd will ask the young professor many critical and penetrating questions. While he tries not to be unduly technical or profoundly deep, he cannot avoid being theological. He is seeking to discern if this young soul understands the heart of the Gospel. He is also looking for a transformation of life. Questions such as the following should be asked of the young professing Christian – in a way that is pastoral and not overbearing, overwhelming or intimidating.

  • What is a Christian?  How does one become a Christian?
  • What is the Gospel?
  • Why do you need Christ?
  • What did He do for sinners? Why did He have to do that?  Who required Him to do that?
  • Could God have just forgiven us? If not, why not?
  • What is there in God the Father that required Him to punish His Son?
  • What was Christ doing on the cross?
  • Who was He making a payment to?  What if He didn’t make that payment?  Who are the only two persons who can pay for our sins? If we pay for them, how long will it take?
  • When do you believe you first trusted in Christ?
  • What specific sins do you need Him to pay for?
  • Which sins in your life have made you most aware of your need for Christ’s atonement?
  • How do you feel about your sins?  After you realize you have sinned, when do you ask God’s forgiveness for that sin?  Do you try to do that immediately or do you usually wait until the end of the day?  What do you say to Him?
  • What people has God used the most to show you your need for Christ?
  • Are there any sermons or Sunday school lessons that God especially used to convict you of sin?
  • What verses of Scripture give you the most hope and comfort?  Why do they give you comfort?
  • Do you believe that your life is changing?  In what ways is your life changing?
  • Has your attitude and behavior changed toward your brothers or sisters?  In what ways?
  • How has your relationship changed with your parents? Are you more obedient to mom and dad than you used to be? In what ways?
  • How do you feel about going to church?
  • Do you ever get anything out of the sermons? Do you ever feel that God is talking to you during the sermons? Could you give an example? Do you ever find yourself praying during a sermon because of what you have just heard? Could you give an example?
  • When you see your father and mother observing the Lord’s Supper, do you desire to be doing it with them? Why do you desire to participate in this ordinance?
  • Do you ever pray during the day?  What do you say to God?
  • Do you read your Bible?  What do you get out of your Bible reading?
  • What sins do you presently struggle with the most?
  • Do your friends know that you are a Christian?
  • Do you want to be baptized? Why do you want to be baptized? If Dad and Mom and your pastors feel that it’s too soon for you to be baptized, how will you feel about it?

Obviously, a youthful convert will possess only a limited understanding of many of these subjects. Nevertheless, there must be some true knowledge of why he or she needs Christ, what He has done for sinners and how the benefits of the atonement are appropriated.  Such knowledge, though limited, is theological. There must also be some observable evidence of conversion in the young person’s life.  Hence, the need for careful inquiry with parents, Sunday School teachers and others who know the candidate well. Usually, such interviews with the young person are not limited to just one. Ideally, there should be several over an extended period of time. This will give the elders a broader context for their careful evaluation.

Ecclesiology and Baptism

Greg Strand – July 23, 2014 13 Comments

The EFCA is comprised largely of those who would call themselves baptists with a small “b.” Proponents of this position affirm and practice believer baptism by immersion (credo), but they also recognize infant baptism (paedo) as a valid baptism (though not understood in any salvific sense). Those who have been baptized as an infant and are truly born again can be granted membership into the local church. We in the EFCA have determined that we will not divide over our differences regarding the time and mode of baptism.

In living out this doctrine in life and ministry together, we don’t consider these differences adiaphora, i.e. matters of indifference, or respond as if they don’t matter. We don’t claim that the Scriptures are so unclear that we equivocate on the true meaning of baptism. Rather, we affirm the truth of Scripture, and we base our doctrinal views of baptism on the Scripture. But we don’t believe this difference in interpretation ought to preclude our unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ that manifests in full partnership and fellowship in the local church.

Here is how we have explained this in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (p. 170, n. 40):

We recognize that the interpretations of Scripture on the relevant points regarding the two positions on baptism differ with one another and are in some ways incompatible. We allow different interpretations, not because we think Scripture is intrinsically ambiguous on the matter, nor because we think Scripture provides so little information that it is unwise to hold any opinion, but because some of us think the credobaptist position is in line with Scripture and that the paedobaptist position is mistaken, and some think the paedobaptist position is in line with Scripture and that the exclusively credobaptist position is mistaken. In other words, both sides hold that Scripture speaks to the matter, but each side holds a view that excludes the other. However, we do not believe that our differing views on this matter (among others) should prevent our unity in the gospel in full local church fellowship. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that the Statement of Faith “allows” both views.

But is our latitude with regard to the time and mode of baptism actually a reflection of a diminished view of baptism itself? In the recent Christianity Today, Roger Olson writes of the essential place baptism is to have in the local church in both belief and practice: “Water Works: Why Baptism Is Essential.” Based on the clear teaching of Scripture, baptism is not optional for the Christian.

In the course of the article, as an example of a deficiency in the church, Olson refers to the EFCA. He writes: the EFCA “provides latitude on whether baptism should be required for church membership. Based on the denomination’s autonomy, it’s a local church matter.” This, he contends, “stands in stark contrast with the NT and all of Christian history. For the apostles and faithful Christians after them, baptism was a necessary rite of passage for joining the church.”

On the one hand, we would expect such a statement since he is a Baptist with a capital “B.” But on the other hand, he is not making this statement only from the Baptist perspective, but from the New Testament’s teaching about baptism and from the practice of almost all churches through all of church history.

Have we so emphasized salvation (soteriology) that we have diminished the doctrine and practice of the church (ecclesiology)? Was this a response against the state church that elevated membership (ecclesiology) at the expense of salvation (soteriology)? Did our response result in an error in the other direction? Is this an important reminder/corrective to our response?

How do we respond? In Evangelical Convictions (p.172, n. 52) we state,

Both baptism and church membership are important for every believer, and in normal circumstances baptism as the biblically prescribed act of Christian initiation (in whatever form regarding time or mode) ought to precede church membership.

Yes, we affirm local church autonomy. But if what we say about baptism and church membership is true, what should be the practice in our churches?