Summary: Baptism, which should be a uniting part of faith, seems to have divided us instead. This is a first step of faith and an entry point into Christ where discipleship begins.
We are living in confused times, are we not? Our government doesn’t seem to know what a marriage is, or that an unborn baby is a real person. Where do we go to decide such things? We have a wide array of institutions and individuals claiming to be churches or Christians, but believing and practicing opposing things. Where do we go to decide what is true and what is not?
There is only one source of information that we have to help us define a Christian or a church. That source is the Bible. But someone may say, “Yes, but don’t all churches use the Bible? And don’t all Christians follow Christ? Why then are there so many different kinds of Christians and different kinds of churches?” Those are good questions, and let me be the first to admit that I don’t know all the answers. I do know that Jesus said, “Not everyone that says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” I know that Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them” when he warned us about false teachers. I know that the apostle Paul, speaking to the elders of Ephesus said, “28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.”
I know that by the time John wrote Revelation when Jesus had him send letters to the seven churches of Asia that many churches had fallen into sin and were warned by the Lord Himself to repent or He would remove their lampstand.
I know that throughout the history of the church there have been heresies that have threatened to tear the church apart. The weak and wayward are easy prey for those who do this. The Bible itself warns us about these things over and over. We are called to test the spirits to see if they are from God. 1 John 4:1. We are urged to test ourselves to see if we are in the faith. 2 Cor. 13:5. We are called to contend earnestly for the faith. Jude 3. These commands to test ourselves and others and to defend the faith are not given lightly.
Titus says that elders must hold firmly to the word as it was taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound teaching and refute those who contradict it. Titus 1:9. Paul told Titus that there were many going around teaching things that were destructive to the church and that they must be silenced.
The point is: When we don’t measure our own faith by scripture and define the church by scripture, we can easily be blown about by every wind of teaching and by the false doctrines of men. Eph. 4:14. We need to follow Jesus Christ according to His word and His ways, defining things as faithfully as possible by the scriptures.
When I lived in New Hampshire I met a man named Bruce Gordon who was a Reformed Presbyterian minister. We began studying together about what the Bible says concerning what it means to be a Christian. Over the months that passed we became very close friends. We built a great love and respect for one another. At one point we were having coffee in deep discussion about baptism and Bruce said, “Greg, either you are going to convert me, or I’m going to convert you, we can’t keep this up.” Bruce and I never came to agree on what the scriptures say about being baptized and he moved away and we lost contact not long after that conversation. He would always give me a book and I would always just point to scriptures. He loved that, and agreed that the Bible is God’s word and sufficient. He even began offering communion each Sunday as he came to understand that was a biblical model.
One of the books he gave me was this one by John MacArthur. Let me share with you a couple of sections. P. 21, first paragraph and p. 37, first paragraph. The book goes on to define what it means to follow Jesus Christ using many scriptures, but when he discusses baptism he dismisses it as having nothing to do with salvation. Why? I’m not sure, but my humble opinion is that his theology stands in the way of accepting it. The scriptures certainly do not.
Let me say up front that I believe the Bible teaches that baptism is NOT a religious ritual that has NOTHING to do with salvation or becoming a Christian. In fact, I believe that the Bible teaches just the opposite. Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is for believers in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who repent or turn from darkness to follow Jesus Christ, and who are baptized for the remission of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… this is biblical, not optional.