The Baptism Battle
Last night, I received a knock at the door from two young women who wanted to discuss a new bible study class with me. I won’t go into detail about the denomination these ladies represented, but their main mantra, it seems, is that everyone should focus solely on the word of God.
No “watering down” of God’s intentions. No playing around with words when someone is in the wrong. They think that when it comes to sin, you should call a spade a spade right away. Lots of churches refuse to do this, the leader of the two said, because they want to keep people who drive the big BMWs walking in the door and shelling out their offerings.
A somewhat offensive view of churches, I thought, especially since it seems to take the position that any church that doesn’t do things their way has to be wrong. That’s pretty big talk.
She gave an interesting example that she kept going back to Christ’s teachings about water baptism. A lot of churches, she said, don’t over-emphasize the importance of water baptism. They instead suggest, she says, that as long as you accept Christ’s salvation with all your heart, being baptized is the less important component of the process.
She stopped to ask if I had been baptized. I had. Twenty-five years ago, to be exact. She then asked if I had accepted Christ as my savior. I had. As part of the same process. She then suggested that anyone who hasn’t been baptized can’t really be going to heaven.
I raised a counter-example of my own to that one. I recalled a sermon I’d heard many years ago, in which the pastor asked whether or not someone could live an entire life outside of God’s will, then, on their deathbed, realize how wrong they were and accept Christ and still get to heaven. The responses from the congregation were mixed. The pastor answered his own question: “Yes he can. The catch is, none of us know when that deathbed is coming, or if we’ll even have time at the end to contemplate such a decision.”
I stopped short of that answer, giving just the opening example:
“Let’s say there’s a man who refuses to accept God at every turn. He lives his whole life without God in his life. On his deathbed, he has a dramatic realization that he has been wrong, and genuinely, sincerely accepts Christ as his Savior just before he dies. If it was truly a genuine, sincere acceptance, is he not going to go to heaven?”
Their answer, which, oddly enough, took a bit of time to get to, is that God would have allowed him the opportunity to be baptized so that his sins would be washed away. Apparently, this would be extra time suddenly tacked on to the man’s normal, predestined lifetime, so that the matter of water baptism could be accomplished. At least, that’s the only meaning I can get from what she was saying: if you’re on your deathbed, the implication is that your time is almost up. For God to suddenly “allow the opportunity” for a baptism, it would seem, would be him giving you a little extra time on the clock to accomplish this last mission. Otherwise, there would have to be a certain point during one’s lifetime, when it literally is too late to accept Christ, and that seems to go against the story of a God who gave his only Son so that everyone would have the same chance for salvation.
They asked me what I thought. I wasted no time hemming and hawing around the issue: I believe that God would know what was in the man’s heart, and would bring him into heaven based on that, even if he wasn’t baptized. While I think that God’s word is God’s word, though often subject to radically different interpretations, God Himself is the only one who is actually allowed to interpret that word and always be right. Even if the Bible says this man should or must be baptized before his place in heaven is guaranteed, God and God alone has the power to make the final decision, no matter what we may say, in a judgmental way, about whether this man has “done enough.”
The woman explained that there would have to be a water baptism. Then she actually said, “How else would his sins be washed away?”
The “washing away” of one’s sins is symbolic. You can look inside a baptismal pool after someone has been baptized and you won’t find a lot of “sins” floating around in the water. Baptism is supposed to be a public declaration of one’s faith, not a quick wash job.
How else can one’s sins be washed away? By the grace of God. Through whom, the bible also says, all things are possible.
This is not to say, of course, that being baptized isn’t important and should be ignored. I do believe that believers should be baptized and that baptism is a valid part of the process. I do not believe, however, that we Christians should be so obsessed about this one detail that we miss the bigger point of God’s salvation and should place ourselves in a position to speak to what God would do with “extenuating circumstances” when that’s something that only God can know for sure.
I don’t think I’ll be attending this group’s bible study. Not because I have a fancy BMW and a lot of money to place in the offering plate, but because I want to focus on the real point of living the life God wants us to live, rather than getting lost in details that I don’t think are the “deal-breakers” some are so determined to make them out to be.
The God I worship is a God who loves us all, no matter how far we stray from Him and wants a personal relationship with every single one of us. The God I worship loves us all for who He made us to be. I don’t worship a God who spends all of His time trying to trap us on technicalities.