Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE BAPTIST PASTOR’S DILEMMA CONCERNING FAITH”

Matthew 28.19-20

 Faith is not as simple a matter as contemporary pastors and theologians make it out to be. Not that it is all that complex, just that the subject cannot be treated as simplistically as most folks do. For example: The average independent Baptist preacher today has so much followed the lead of the late Jack Hyles that he rarely preaches the Gospel in his own auditorium on Sunday mornings. Listen to what Jack Hyles wrote in his book, Enemies Of Soul Winning: “Something wonderful has happened in our generation. The New Testament church in the Book of Acts was a soul-winning church. Through the years, we transferred the soul winning to evangelism, and for these many centuries, there has been an emphasis on the evangelistic church. In the evangelistic church, the pastor stands behind the pulpit and preaches the Gospel to unsaved people whom the folks have brought to church. In our generation, we have seen the better churches turn from evangelistic churches. It enables the man of God to preach to the Christian people on the Lord’s Day.”[1]

No more Gospel preaching in church on Sunday morning! This may look like a good development at first glance, until you realize that what has happened removes the God-ordained responsibility to watch over the souls of men from God-called pastors to comparatively poorly trained and inexperienced folks who have not been called and are not equipped by God to function in a pastoral capacity. You have heard that whom God calls He enables. However, it is also true that whom God does not call to a task He does not enable to perform that task. Even in churches where sinners are invited after the preaching to come to Christ during an invitation it is almost a universal given that the responding sinners will be dealt with by someone other than the pastor, and that the experiences sinners have with so-called “altar workers” will take place without any pastoral oversight of the actual conversations that take place between the sinners and the people who are expected to be able to guide them to Jesus Christ.

So, what is the net effect of these developments in our “better churches”? Whether “soul winning” out on the streets and in the neighborhoods on Saturdays, or “preaching the Gospel” in the church auditorium on Sunday mornings, issues of faith and salvation and the eternal destinies of lost souls across the country are typically in the hands of men and women who have virtually no knowledge and precious little skill in matters of faith. Bold assertions and strong accusations, I know. But how many of you here in the auditorium today, who have attended churches other than this one, have ever heard a pastor preach or teach about genuine faith that did not save, as in the case of Abraham? Not one of you. In addition, in my 29 years in the Gospel ministry, I have never heard of the subject discussed among Baptist preachers apart from the times I, myself, have raised the issue. However, will Baptist preachers discuss some leadership book written by an Arminian? Gladly.

Something is terribly wrong with this picture, beloved. This is not a subject that is new. We are not dealing with anything in the Bible that has not always been there. However, in addressing these issues of faith we are dealing with a doctrine that has been ignored for a great many years, to the detriment of our efforts to bring the lost to Christ. To review: Abraham is the prototype of living by faith in the Bible. Only the ignorant would take issue with that statement. But Abraham’s faith, while not so simple a matter as most people assume it to be, is neither a matter so complex that it cannot be understood by everyone in its basics.

There was a time in Abraham’s life when he had faith without being saved. The very idea surprises many, but from age 75 to age 85, from the time he was called out of Ur of the Chaldees and journeyed to the land God had promised him, we see from Hebrews 11.8 that the man had faith, genuine faith, faith that I have called “seeking faith,” but faith that did not justify him in the sight of God. In other words, it was not faith that saves. Then there was the time in Abraham’s life when he had “saving faith.” The Bible says, “he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” From that moment, Abraham had a new standing with God that will endure forever. From that moment, he was justified in the sight of God. And the apostle Paul referenced it twice, in Romans chapter 4, and in Galatians 3.6, as the event in Abraham’s life that marked his salvation.

Therefore, it is possible to have faith, real faith, which is nevertheless not “saving faith.” Abraham had faith for ten years, but was not saved. That fact being established, what pastor in his right mind would delegate the awesome responsibility God has entrusted him with to someone not called to the Gospel ministry who was less capable than he at discerning between the “seeking faith” of one who is yet lost, and the “saving faith” of one now born again? Beyond that, we saw that Abraham had “steadfast faith,” which proved his relationship with God over the course of the rest of his life. On one occasion, of course, Abraham exhibited the profoundest reliance upon God, when he was called upon to sacrifice Isaac, demonstrating what I have called “sacrificial faith.”

The Bible says, in several different places, that “the just shall live by faith.” Abraham is the perfect illustration of that principle that God’s Word points us to. Therefore, it is very important that we allow Scripture to speak on the subject of Abraham’s faith. However, how many in today’s churches have ever been shown anything more than a very simplistic view of faith? Not many, I am afraid. Which raises to our attention two pivotal issues that arise from our consideration of Abraham’s faith. The first pivotal issue has to do with how you are to know whether you have “saving faith” or not. Since Jesus said that most are not saved, and since you may think you are saved, it is entirely possible that if you have faith you have only “seeking faith” and not “saving faith,” and that you are yet in your sins. That ought to be your vital concern. My vital concern has to do with how I, as a pastor, am to deal with these issues of faith.

The text for my sermon is Matthew 28.19-20. Please turn to that passage. When you have found those verses, please stand for the reading of God’s Word:

19     Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20     Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

I am sure you recognize our text to be the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a Baptist pastor, my conviction is that the Lord Jesus Christ did not by this commission authorize individual Christians to do anything. Rather, by this commission my Lord Jesus Christ authorized His church, now multiplied over the whole earth into countless churches, to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, to baptize those converts, and then to train those converts to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded. Calvary Road Baptist Church is one of those empowered congregations, one of those authorized churches, charged with the responsibility to preach the Gospel to every creature, and to baptize those who become believers in Jesus Christ. I am the pastor of this church, responsible to provide spiritual oversight and direction by means of preaching and teaching.

Allow me to state my dilemma, and every other Baptist pastor’s dilemma, and to then propose a remedy that honors God, obeys Scripture, protects this church, and benefits both saints and sinners.

First, THERE IS THE REQUIREMENT OF BAPTIZING ONLY BELIEVERS

Did I mention that I was a Baptist pastor? A Baptist pastor is not a pastor who happens to pastor a Baptist church. A Baptist pastor is a Baptist who happens to pastor. I am a Baptist and I happen to pastor. The church that I pastor is and will always be a Baptist church. I do not hold certain characteristic convictions because I am a Baptist. I am a Baptist because I hold certain characteristic convictions. Let me state one of the more obvious convictions that has resulted in me being a Baptist: The Bible teaches that the only qualified candidates for baptism, which is immersion, are genuinely converted people. That is why we Baptists call it “believer’s baptism.”

Two things about believer’s baptism:

First, the Bible teaches it. Only believers are baptized, according to the Bible. Baptism has no meaning for the person who is not genuinely converted through faith in Christ. And though there are instances in the Bible wherein unsaved people have gotten immersed through the mistake or oversight of the gospel minister, people such as Judas Iscariot (who was presumably baptized by John the Baptist), and Simon the sorcerer (who was presumably baptized by Philip), there was in those instances no genuine baptism because there was in those instances no believer to be baptized. Scriptural authority for such convictions? There are many, of which I will give you a few. John the Baptist was conscientious to baptize only those he thought were converted, Mark 1.4-5: “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” The Lord Jesus Christ showed that the appropriate sequence of events was salvation, first, followed by baptism, in Mark 16.15-16: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Philip, though it was likely his mistake to immerse the unsaved Simon the sorcerer, in Acts chapter 8, made no mistake when it came to the Ethiopian eunuch. We are given the barest essentials of his dealings with the man, but it is clear from verses 36-38 that Philip baptized him only after the Ethiopian had gotten saved:

36     And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

37     And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

38     And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

The apostle Peter explains that baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God,” in First Peter 3.21. Thus, baptism is the proper response to salvation. It has taken since the first three centuries of the Christian era, fully 1700 years, but there is now no real contesting the purely Baptist notion, the purely Scriptural revelation, that baptism is by immersion and is suitable only for believers.

Now let me establish that believer’s baptism was a Baptist distinctive, even back in the days when other groups of Christians were still sprinkling babies: I read from “‘The First London Baptist Confession of Faith,’ 1646 Edition, Article XXXIX: Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed upon persons professing faith, or that are made disciples; who upon profession of faith, ought to be baptized, and after to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Matt. 28:18, 19; John 4:1; Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 2:37, 38, 8:36, 37, etc.”[2] Next, I read from “‘The 1677/89 London Baptist Confession of Faith’: CHAP. XXIX., Of Baptism. 1. Baptism is an Ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party Baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death, (c) and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of (d) remission of sins; and of his (e) giving up unto God through Jesus Christ to live and walk in newness of Life. 2. Those who do actually professe (f) repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience, to our Lord Jesus, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.

c Rom. 6.3,4,5. Col. 2.12. Gal. 3.27.

d Mar. 1.4. Act. 26.16.

e Rom, 6.2,4.

f Mar. 16.16. Act. 8.36,37.”[3]

Third, I read from “‘The Philadelphia Confession of Faith,’ (The Second London Confession of Faith was published in 1689 and copied by the Philadelphia Association in 1742, adding Chapters 23 and 31): Chapter 30, Of Baptism, 1. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2;12; Gal. 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:4) 2. Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36, 37, 2:41, 8:12, 18:8)”[4] Fourth, I read from “‘The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833’: 14. Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, We believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer (72), into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost (73); to show forth, in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, with its effect in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life (74); that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a Church relation; and to the Lord’s Supper (75), in which the members of the Church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ (76); preceded always by solemn self-examination (77).

72. Acts 8:36-39; Matt. 3:5-6; John 3:22-23; 4:1-2; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:12; 16:32-34; 18:8

73. Matt. 28:19; Acts 10:47-48; Gal. 3:27-28

74. Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:20-21; Acts 22:16

75. Acts 2:41-42; Matt. 28:19-20; Acts and Epistles

76. 1 Cor. 11:26; Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20

77. 1 Cor. 11:28; 5:1, 8; 10:3-32; 11:17-32; John 6:26-71”[5]

Fifth, I read from J. M. Carroll’s famous pamphlet, The Trail of Blood, in which he traces Baptist distinctives down through history. Under the heading, “MARKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH” he writes:

1.   Its Head and Founder--CHRIST. He is the law-giver; the Church is only the executive. (Matt. 16:18; Col. 1:18)

2.   Its only rule of faith and practice--THE BIBLE. (II Tim. 3:15-17)

3.   Its name--“CHURCH,” “CHURCHES.” (Matt. 16:18; Rev. 22:16)

4.   Its polity--CONGREGATIONAL--all members equal. (Matt. 20:24-28; Matt. 23:5-12)

5.   Its members--only saved people. (Eph. 2:21; I Peter 2:5)

6.   Its ordinances--BELIEVERS’ BAPTISM, FOLLOWED BY THE LORD’S SUPPER. (Matt. 28:19-20)

Sixth, from B. H. Carroll’s An Interpretation of the English Bible, I read, “Here are things that are essential to a valid baptism: (1) A man must be a disciple, a penitent believer in Jesus Christ.”[6] Seventh, from The Meaning And Use Of Baptizein, written by the 19th century Baptist scholar T. J. Conant, first published in 1864 by The American Bible Union, we read:

In the Christian rite, being performed with a conscious reference to the burial and resurrection of Christ, the act associates with itself, in the mind of the believer (emphasis added), the religious ideas and obligations symbolized by it in virtue of this reference.[7]

 

Eighth, from the legendary Baptist missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson wrote, in his book Christian Baptism, “Christ commands those who believe, to be baptized.”[8] Ninth, from a book titled The Testimony of Baptism, by Erroll Hulse, a Baptist:

Believer’s baptism is no misnomer. It is the believer alone who can testify to faith. When a person has been converted, had his eyes opened, been turned from darkness to light, from Satan to God, from self-service to Christ’s service, he declares his new position by baptism. That is his testimony. It is not something he has made up himself. It is an ordinance which originated in God and is provided from heaven. Everything which comes direct from God is perfect. He knew full well that baptism perfectly portrays what the believer needs to say in his testimony.[9]

Tenth, from the book titled The Baptism Of Disciples Alone, by Fred Malone, formerly a Presbyterian and now a Baptist, it is stated, “We maintain that the only proper subjects of Christian baptism are believers.”[10] Eleventh, in the 19th century classic on the subject, Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects, Alexander Carson, a Baptist who had formerly been a Presbyterian, devoted 69 pages to prove beyond all doubt what he sums up in these words: “According to this commission [the Great Commission], then, none are warranted to be baptized but disciples or believers.”[11] Twelfth, a Baptist history, titled The Baptist, by the English Baptist, Jack Hoad, wonderfully sums up what Baptists have historically believed regarding baptism:

In baptism, the baptist emphasis is not on the mode of baptism as has so often been stated, but on the spiritual status of the person being baptised. It is evident from the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 that the proper subject of baptism is one who has had the gospel preached to him and the Holy Spirit has made him spiritually alive to his state as a sinner and to the good news God proclaims of the forgiveness of sins and he has accordingly responded, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. A disciple is one who has been taught, has learned from the teaching and commits himself to follow in its way. He is therefore evidently a regenerate man who by grace is aware of sins and has turned from them, believing in Jesus Christ for salvation as proclaimed in the gospel. He has been ‘born from above’ and is indeed a newly made disciple. In no sense can this ‘required-status-for-baptism’ be attained by an unregenerate person, infant or adult, whether sponsors or the church make promises on his behalf or not.[12]

 

Therefore, you see, the Bible teaches that only believers are to be baptized. History shows that Baptists have always held that only believers should be baptized. Why, then, do so many who claim to be Baptists take no precautions against baptizing unbelievers? Methinks that despite their loud boastings that they are, they really are not Baptists in the historical and Scriptural sense.

Next, THERE IS THE DANGER OF BAPTIZING UNBELIEVERS

I contend that powerful reasons ought to persuade us of the danger of baptizing unbelievers. Though, in fact, an unsaved person is no qualified candidate, meaning real baptism cannot occur, the fact that unsaved people are immersed in what is thought to be baptism poses an undeniable danger, in at least four ways:

First, supposedly baptizing the unconverted is dangerous for the unconverted. One of the worst blind spots for contemporary pastors has to do with their responsibility toward the unconverted and their willingness to harm them to advance their own ministries in the short run. To this end, pastors commonly ignore the great danger that is posed by unknowingly immersing as if it were baptism those who are unsaved. Wrong though it is, unsaved people can delude themselves into believing that they are Christians when they are not truly saved. Jeremiah 17.9 is very clear on this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” As well, James 1.22 speaks to the matter of self-deception. So, what happens when a person thinks he is saved, but is not, and yet a pastor is quite willing to unwittingly baptize him after taking the lost man’s word on faith that he is born again? My friends, from my own observations as a longtime pastor, I can tell you that lost people will draw false conclusions about themselves based upon the opinions others have about them. In addition, once an unsaved man has been immersed and taken into the membership of a church by a naive pastor, it is very difficult to persuade that fellow that he is still dead in trespasses and sins, and that he stands in need of Jesus Christ.

As well, supposedly baptizing the unconverted is dangerous for others who are unconverted. In Second Corinthians 10.12, Paul shows his concern about those who “comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” None are more prone to do this than unsaved people. Some lost guy looks at the life of an unsaved fellow who he thinks is a Christian who has just been supposedly baptized and he thinks, “I’m not so bad. My life is no worse than that guy’s. Why do I need to get saved?” In addition to the lost thinking they do not need to be saved when the unconverted people they think are Christians end up supposedly baptized, they also draw false conclusions about salvation itself. Taking their clues from what they see rather than the Bible, they wrongly conclude that salvation is not deliverance from bondage to sin, is not the entrance into a life of personal holiness and service, is not a life of joy unspeakable and full of glory, is not a life of faith and spiritual conquest. Oh, how wrong they are. Taking their clues from unsaved people who have been brought into the church, they wrongly conclude that powerless and ineffective Christianity is the norm, that most Christians are perpetually carnal and only a few really serious believers are truly spiritual, and that real conviction leading to real conversion is not really necessary. Thus, they are thereby encouraged to remain in their lost condition.

Third, baptizing the unconverted is dangerous for a church. Let me quickly list three results of a church admitting unsaved people into the membership by supposedly baptizing unqualified candidates: First, it will bring judgment on the congregation. A careful study of First Corinthians chapter 5, particularly verses 12 and 13, show that God will judge sin. If sin is committed within the congregation and the members do not judge sin in our midst, then God will judge the whole congregation. That is why churches need to practice church discipline, so that the unsaved members who have inadvertently slipped in will be put outside the church, where God will judge them as individuals. But since most churches are very lax when it comes to discipline and self-policing sin in their ranks, bringing an unsaved man into the membership is virtually guaranteed to bring God’s judgment upon the congregation when that lost man acts like lost men act. Perhaps this is what lies back of many church splits, with lost people leaving all at once and creating an upheaval and sowing discord in the process. Second, it dilutes the strength of a church. Churches in the United States are so worldly and compromised, and the problem is so widespread, that the damaging effect of having lost members is so common and ordinary that it is not easily seen. However, in China or Vietnam, where there is great persecution and Christian’s lives depend upon each other, where spies attempt to infiltrate congregations and betray Christians, the dilution of a church’s spiritual strength and vitality can be more easily discerned. However, whether there or here, the strength of a church is greatly determined by the percentage of its members who are genuinely converted. Third, baptizing the lost is dangerous to the church because the church is the temple of God. Is it not wrong to fill a temple with religious pagans and infidels, instead of with real worshipers and disciples? Yet that is what is done when a pastor immerses someone who is lost. Not only is the Spirit of God greatly grieved by such practices, but also the church’s testimony in the community is compromised by members who live like everyone else, who talk like everyone else, and who look like everyone else. God wants us to be a peculiar people, and when a church is not distinct from the lost world around them, what reason is there for its continued existence?

Finally, baptizing the unconverted is dangerous for the cause of Christ. In John 3.11, Jesus said, “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.” This is true of everyone. So, what do you think happens when an unsaved guy thinks he is a Christian, gets supposedly baptized and becomes a church member, and gets involved in his church’s outreach? Do you think there is the slightest possibility that he will reproduce after his own kind and the result will be yet more unsaved church members like him? Of course, that will happen. Like begets like. We know from First Corinthians 15.1-2, that bogus faith is a problem: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.” Believing in vain was a problem in Paul’s day, so you know it is a greater problem in our day. There is a counterfeit faith that does not save sinners. Why do pastors not carefully look for such bogus faith among professors? Where do you think the drift toward liberalism comes from in churches? Where do you think unsaved theologians who deny the Bible and who question the character of, and even the existence of, God come from? They were brought into church membership as kids or teens or young adults just like everyone else. My friends, they always come from within the ranks. They are the people who have come in while still being lost, who are recruited at youth camp to go to Bible college or seminary for training, and then they get some crackpot idea and float it around for others in the churches or seminaries that are just as lost as they are to latch onto. Thus, unbelief takes root and spreads. My friends, it is just plain dangerous to baptize lost people. It is dangerous to that lost person to immerse him. It is dangerous to other lost people to immerse him. It is dangerous to a church to immerse lost folks. Moreover, it is dangerous to the cause of Christ as a whole to immerse lost folks. Sadly, however, you are unlikely to see pastors express any proper concern about immersing the lost. And once a lost man, or woman, or kid, is immersed he has a free lifetime pass to join any Baptist church he wants, because once he has been member of one Baptist church he will likely be accepted into any other Baptist church he desires to join.

Third, THE NECESSITY OF VERIFYING A BELIEVER’S SALVATION

If baptism is for believers only, and if Baptists genuinely hold to that conviction, then Baptists of all people should insist that a believer’s salvation be somehow verified before the pastor baptizes him. If immersing the lost is dangerous to those immersed, dangerous to others who are lost, dangerous to the church receiving such unsaved members, and dangerous to the cause of Christ as a whole, who could possibly argue against the necessity of somehow verifying a believer’s salvation? Yet the necessity of verifying a believer’s salvation must be established, because despite the plain logic of it no one actually does it. Thankfully, the benefit of somehow verifying a baptismal candidate’s spiritual condition can be seen in Scripture and attested to by common sense:

Consider Judas Iscariot, who we presume to have been baptized by John the Baptist, thinking the man to be a true believer. Obviously, the Lord Jesus Christ knew he was lost the whole time he was a part of the apostolic band that He had gathered. While God’s purposes in allowing Judas to perpetrate his fraud are not to be questioned, what purpose is to be accomplished in any pastor’s ministry by not doing his very best to make sure he does not inadvertently bring into his church a Judas Iscariot?

Consider Simon the sorcerer. Again, we presume that he made a profession of faith and was baptized by Philip, Acts chapter 8. A series of events convinced the apostle Peter that this Simon was not converted. Therefore he said to him, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”[13] Mistakes can be made. The unsaved can slip in unawares, even convincing themselves that they are saved. Philip had not discerned the sorcerer’s true spiritual condition when he baptized him, but Peter did. Do you not think this episode with Simon caused Philip to exercise more caution when baptizing in the future? I do.

Do you think greater caution might have resulted in discerning that the fornicator in First Corinthians chapter 5 was not genuinely saved? Perhaps. What tragedy and harm to the church’s testimony in Corinth might have been averted had the pastor exercised a bit more caution when evaluating his spiritual condition.

How about the Romans? Romans 16.17-18: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” How much heartache and strife might a pastor spare his congregation by acting more boldly on his fears and suspicions about some who desire to be baptized.

No pastor or congregation should presume that baptizing some nice looking youngster is a harmless venture, since we do not know how that youngster will turn out in the years ahead. What if the unsaved boy a careless pastor immerses develops over time into a “Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them,” Third John 9?

What if the young lady whose testimony is not carefully considered is immersed, and then she develops over time into a Jezebel pastor’s wife, “which calleth herself a prophetess,” and who teaches and seduces people to commit spiritual fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols, Revelation 2.20? Do you know how many pastors, in my hearing, have let slip over the past few years that the directions they are taking their ministries in are the result of being influenced by their wives? And I am talking about moving in the wrong direction!

Go ahead. Baptize that influential member of the community into your church with no credible testimony of salvation. Then you can be the pastor responsible for complicity in wrongly allowing Bill Clinton to use you to regain a measure of respectability as the member of a Baptist church in Little Rock, that he used as a stepping stone to the governorship of Arkansas, and then on to the presidency of this country, to our everlasting shame and regret.

Allow me to define the dilemma Baptist pastors face today: On one hand, there is the obvious and overwhelming Scriptural mandate to baptize believers only. No Baptist would question the importance of this mandate . . . in theory. On the other hand, however, is the hidebound tradition of recent years that calls for immersing people as swiftly as technologically possible. Pastors all over the country have so refined their technique that they are able to conclude a sermon, give an invitation, and change into their waders to perform the baptisms of those who have responded to the invitation in a matter of a few minutes . . . all to demonstrate their success and to avoid at all costs anything approaching a lull in the service.

For such a streamlined operation to function, however, the Baptist pastor must forgo his responsibility as the watchman over his flock. He must surrender whatever opportunity he might have taken to assure himself that his baptismal candidates are reasonably likely to be real converts. In short, Baptists these days feel that the compulsion to baptize immediately outweighs the importance of making sure that the baptismal candidate is reasonably likely to be converted.

What should a Christian do when he is faced with a conflict of principles? What should a pastor and a church do when they recognize the requirement that only those they are persuaded are believers be baptized, yet they are also compelled by their belief that believers should be baptized straightway? The Bible teaches both principles. Baptists have long professed to adhere to both principles. How is this dilemma to be resolved?

Finally, A MODEST PROPOSAL TO EMULATE BAPTIST PASTORS OF THE PAST

We know that evaluating a person’s faith to ascertain whether he is saved or lost is difficult. Yet as Baptists who insist that baptism is for believers only, our position demands that some means of verifying a person’s spiritual condition be available. Otherwise, baptizing unbelievers would be justified, something no Baptist could ever countenance. Consider what we know about faith, particularly Abraham’s faith. We know a number of things: First, we know that it is possible to have real faith and yet not be saved, as with Abraham. This means that the presence of faith is no assurance that a person is saved. Thus, how dare any Baptist preacher immerse someone solely because the individual has faith. Abraham had faith for ten years before he was saved. Therefore, faith is not sufficient in itself to qualify a person for baptism. The candidate must be a believer, someone who has been born again. Second, we know that salvation is by grace through faith, apart from works, as Paul explains in Romans chapter 4. This means that no Scriptural argument showing that a new convert will immediately demonstrate works to prove that he is saved can be insisted upon. It took thirty years for Abraham’s “saving faith” to manifest itself in a visible way. Therefore, you cannot expect to see immediate evidence that a person is saved. In time, real faith does show itself with works, as James argues in James chapter 2, and as Paul insists in Ephesians 2.10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” However, can we wait that long before baptizing someone? We Baptists typically hesitate to wait that long. Certainly, we know from Hebrews 11.9-10, that Abraham’s lifetime, when seen in its entirety, was a life of faith, which is typical of all real Christians. The just do live by faith. However, again, we do not have that kind of time. We Baptists hate to wait to baptize, understandably so. The last thing we know about faith is that you cannot see its immediate effects. If a person is saved through faith in Christ his faith will eventually be seen in the way he lives. However, the immediate effect of “saving faith,” which is justification in the sight of God, what we call being saved, cannot be immediately seen by either you or me.

So, what are we Baptists to do? My suggestion is that we do what Baptists of old did; what Benjamin Keach did, and what Andrew Fuller did, and what William Carey did, and what Adoniram Judson did, and what Charles Spurgeon did. By the way, it is also what John the Baptist did, and what Philip did, and what the others did in the beginning. What did they do? They baptized folks when they were persuaded that those folks were genuinely converted. Their approach was much different from most Baptist pastors today. Most pastors today assume that someone who prays a prayer is saved. Most pastors today assume that someone who says he is a Christian really is. Most pastors today pretend that they have no responsibility to verify the spiritual condition of a baptismal candidate, which has the effect of presuming every baptism candidate is saved.

I propose that Baptist pastors gently lead their congregations to understand the danger of immersing lost people.

I propose that Baptist pastors take the time to gently deal with baptismal candidates so that they might form an educated decision regarding the candidate’s true spiritual condition.

I propose that we learn from the great Baptists of the past, and from the pioneering missionaries who deal with unreached people groups today.

Those great Baptists of days gone by, and our modern day pioneer missionaries who open up fields to the Gospel, have dealt with the dilemma we are discussing. Do you want to know what they decided to do? When the principles clash, such as the imperative to baptize only believers and the need to baptize as soon as one’s spiritual condition is known, the key is to do no harm.

Physicians used to practice medicine according to the rule, “First, do no harm.” Baptist preachers should operate by the same credo. Do no harm. Does it appreciably harm a new Christian to delay his baptism until the pastor is satisfied that he is really born again? No. However, great harm is done when a lost person is immersed because the pastor time was not taken to discern his true spiritual condition to his own satisfaction.

At our church, I want to baptize converts as quickly as I can. But my primary concern is to avoid doing harm by baptizing someone who is lost; harm to that person, harm to others who are lost, harm to this church by taking in an unsaved member, and harm to the cause of Christ by having yet another lost person walking around who pretends to be born again.

We have enough of those kinds of “Christians.” We don’t need any more of them.



[1] Jack Hyles, Enemies of Soul Winning, (Hammond, Indiana: Hyles-Anderson Publishers), pages 140-141.

[2] http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/1646lbc.htm 7/6/04

[3] http://www.ccel.org/creeds/bcf/bcfc29.htm#chapter29 7/6/04

[4] http://www.baptiststart.com/philadelphia.htm#30 7/6/04

[6] B. H. Carroll, An Interpretation Of The English Bible, Volume 4, (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2001), Part II, page 439.

[7] T. J. Conant, The Meaning And Use Of Baptizein, (London: The Wakeman Trust, 2002), page 121.

[8] Adoniram Judson, Christian Baptism, (Laurel, Mississippi: Audubon Press, 2000), page 36.

[9] Erroll Hulse, The Testimony of Baptism, (Haywards Heath Sussex, England: Carey Publications, 1982), page 16.

[10] Fred Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone, (Cape Coral, Florida: Founders Press, 2003), page 208.

[11] Alexander Carson, Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications), page 169.

[12] Jack Hoad, The Baptist, (London: Grace Publications, 1986), page 239.

[13] Acts 8.21-23



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