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SOUND DOCTRINE (12) Some Questions


The following came in as a comment on #10 in this series: SOUND DOCTRINE: Where Is Its Focus?

I have a question…I’m in an email discussion with some of my friends from back in my days at Lipscomb. We are discussing baptism…the four of us involved in the discussion were all quite conservative, though myself and another of the participants have been re-thinking many of our more traditional beliefs.

My two questions both have to do with things you touched on in this series…though not the main premise.

1) According to our traditional teaching, wouldn’t Jesus have necessarily gone to Hell upon his death if he had not been baptized? If not, couldn’t one argue that his baptism was a symbol of his faith/salvation? (probably more in line with what a Baptist would believe)

2) Here is a thought I’ve held for awhile on baptism and the Lord’s Supper (assuming these are commands). Much in the OT is law-based and symbolic…basically proofs of obedience. After Christ, our new measuring stick is our heart. Being said, we have these two hugely important issues of baptism and the LS…but they are both highly symbolic and (from what I can tell) don’t offer anything towards the summary of God’s commands (love one another). So everything in the NT is based in faith, grace, love…but then we have two symbolic things thrown in.

I’ve never been able to reconcile that (the symbolic stuff). Being said, thank God that we get to take the LS. I move to tears reading your meditations. Please don’t read these questions as negative…i’m just a struggling Christian that has recently come back to the church after a long period of cynicism. These are just the random questions I’ve come up with in my head that I’ve not been able to answer.

I know, these are monstrous questions. Even a link or two in the right direction would be great. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to being an active contributor to your blog, JON

I answered with some comments on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper here. Now, I’d like to add more and relate my answer more directly to the questions JON asks.

1) According to our traditional teaching, wouldn’t Jesus have necessarily gone to Hell upon his death if he had not been baptized? If not, couldn’t one argue that his baptism was a symbol of his faith/salvation? (probably more in line with what a Baptist would believe)

I’m not sure how you arrive at the conclusion assumed in this question. In His baptism, Jesus took His stand with sinners. He continued to stand with sinners until He was crucified – at least in part – because He ate with tax collectors and sinners. At His baptism He declared, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15, NKJV). What did He mean by that?

The answer I heard growing up is that since all God’s commands are righteousness (Psalm 119:172), Jesus simply had to be baptized because it was God’s command. That was a neat answer – but somehow, I do not believe it is satisfactory, because “all righteousness” would include my righteousness as well as His. For me to become righteous, Jesus had to go to the Cross. When you think of it this way, His baptism became a declaration of readiness to go all of the way to the Cross.

This provides interesting background to a rather mysterious statement about baptism by Peter:

This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 3:21, NIV
Wm. Barclay has an interesting comment on this in his Daily Bible Study Series volume, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2nd edition, 1960), pp. 289-290.
The word which Peter uses for pledge is eperotema; in Greek this was a technical business and legal word; in Latin the word for the same process is stipulatio. In every business contract there was a definite question and answer which made the contract legal and binding. The question was: “Do you accept the terms of this contract, and bind yourself to observe them? And the answer, before witnesses was: “Yes.” Without that question and answer the contract was not valid. The technical word for that question and answer clause is eperotema in Greek, stipulatio in Latin. Peter is, in effect, saying that in baptism God said to the man coming direct from heathenism: “Do you accept the terms of my service? Do you accept its privileges and promises, and do you undertake its responsibilities and its demands?” And in the act of being baptized the man answered: “Yes.” We use the word sacrament. The word sacrament is derived from the Latin word sacramentum, which means a soldier’s oath of loyalty on entering the army. Here we have basically the same picture…. When we enter upon Church membership, God asks us: “Do you accept the conditions of my service, with all privileges and all its responsibilities, with all its promises and all it demands?” and we answer; “yes.” It would be well if all Church members were clearly to understand what they are doing when they take upon themselves membership of the Church.
So Peter says baptism is our pledge to God to walk with Him all of the way. In His baptism, by saying that it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus was saying essentially the same thing. He was entering into His mission, which led to the Cross. As we begin our walk with Jesus, He tells us we must take up our cross and follow Him. At His baptism, Jesus was, figuratively, taking up His Cross though He did not physically bear the Cross until He was on the road to Golgotha.
His baptism was more than a symbol; it was a declaration of His willingness to submit Himself to the will of the Father, even though it led to His death. This is a declaration of love that goes far beyond mere obedience to a command of God. I believe the same is true of our baptism as well. It goes far beyond a quid pro quo where if we do this, then God has obligated Himself to do that. Baptism is not a bargain we make with God; it is our self-subjection of ourselves to Him and to His will in everything. In this, it is more sacrament (as Barclay describes above) than symbol.
Yet, it is not a sacrament in the sense the word is sometimes used, that the act of baptism, by the very act itself, is what saves us. That is clear from the fact that Peter says baptism “saves us…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
JON’s second question is already partly answered by what is said above. That question is:
2) Here is a thought I’ve held for awhile on baptism and the Lord’s Supper (assuming these are commands). Much in the OT is law-based and symbolic…basically proofs of obedience. After Christ, our new measuring stick is our heart. Being said, we have these two hugely important issues of baptism and the LS…but they are both highly symbolic and (from what I can tell) don’t offer anything towards the summary of God’s commands (love one another). So everything in the NT is based in faith, grace, love…but then we have two symbolic things thrown in.
Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are more than symbolic. Baptism is love’s pledge to God that we will submit ourselves to Him. F. Lagard Smith has a book called Baptism: The Believer’s Wedding Ceremony. Baptism unites us in the one body, the church, which is espoused to Christ.
One of the key purposes of the Lord’s Supper is that in it we remember Jesus. When He first gave it to His disciples He said, “Do this in rememberance of Me” (Luke 22:19). He does not say we are to remember His broken and bleeding body, but we are to remember Him. This is more than the Cross. It is who He is, what He taught, how He acted, how He died, that He was raised, that today He is at the right hand of the Father, and that He has given us of His Spirit as a pledge He will come again to complete our redemption as He claims His bride. All of this is involved in the Lord’s Supper.
Is it merely symbolic action when the bride-to-be remembers with loving longing her groom to be? This is an act of love and faith. There is confidence He will return for us. There is love as we renew our commitment to Him and long for the time when the Supper will become the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, instead of a time of looking forward to that coming day.
In the meantime, too many of us treat both baptism and the Lord’s Supper as if these are mere arbitrary commands with little or no connection to love, the greatest commandment on which all else hangs.
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One Response

  1. Bravo!! Thanks Jerry! These are great answers…really spoke to me. It occurs to me that maybe “symbolic” wasn’t the best word choice for my question. What I mean is, baptism and LS in their execution seem to fit more with things like incense, sacrifices, and circumcision. When executed, they don’t do much that would be summed up with “love each other” like most everything else that I can think of that we do/don’t do. These two things don’t really help our neighbor, and they don’t directly edify. That is the part that I’ve pondered.

    Being said, your suggesting that I/we need to get beyond the level of “do this because it is commanded” is dead-on. I can rightfully tell you that that is NOT the reason I got baptized. I got baptized because I didn’t want to go to Hell!! Then again, when you get baptized at 9yrs old like I did, I wonder if one is even capable of attaching a deeper meaning to it. I had a good friend that grew up in the church, yet just got baptized a couple years ago at 32yrs old. It meant sooo much to him, as he was older and was capable of fully understanding the sacrifice as well as the gift he’d been given. He got baptized because he loved Jesus–not because he feared Hell.

    Lastly, I really appreciate your meditations. You and Jay have both expressed recently the things you mediate on during the LS, and it has been a real blessing to me. Frankly, I’ve always been more of the blood, agony, and gore kind of guy! And quite honestly, it has always felt a bit strange…not that I want to forget that, rather, I want to focus in more on Jesus’ life and the goodness that was in him, and the goodness that is likewise in me.

    Thank God for guys like you and Jay.

    I really appreciate you taking the time to address my concerns, Jerry.

    Jon

    Thank you for reading and asking! I do not see either baptism or the Lord’s Supper in terms of incense. I do see them in terms of loving God and what He does for us in Jesus. Both involve our covenant relationship, so in that they are somewhat like circumcision. Circumcision, which is a rite involving blood, brought a Hebrew male into the covenant. If he were not circumcised, he was cut off from the covenant. Baptism is more like this than the Lord’s Supper, which is more like the daily sacrifices as Jay noted in his post today. – Jerry

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