Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is Baptism Necessary/required?

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the necessity of Baptism

Q:  Is Baptism required in order for a person to be saved?  What does the Bible say about people who die without being baptized?  What is required for a Baptism to be valid?

Even though Baptism is a key element of Christian practice and an important point in Biblical theology, there still remains some degree of diversity among the various Christian denominations regarding their beliefs about and the practices surrounding Baptism.
For example, the majority of Christians worldwide believe that Baptism is for all Christians, even infants, while a minority insist that only those old enough to desire and request Baptism should be baptized. Some would set some particular age, while others would judge based on the person's development or understanding, and may insist that Baptisms performed prior to their specified milestones must be repeated at an age when the individual can verbally articulate their faith. An even smaller minority would insist that only baptisms performed in their church or other churches within their specific fellowship are valid, and would insist any person baptized elsewhere be rebaptized.

Even though there are often a variety of ceremonies associated with Baptism, such as blessing and naming rituals in churches which baptize infants, or personal testimonies given before Baptism in churches which Baptize only older individuals, or gifts like a white garment or a burning candle given in recognition of the event and its meaning, such things are not a requirement of a valid baptism.  So, for example, when baptizing an infant in an emergency situation, I may include nothing more than applying water to the child with the words, "I Baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  At other times, only the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer might be added, and some of the previously mentioned ceremonies delayed until the Baptism is publicly recognized in the Sunday Service, but as long as these two elements are present--water and God’s Word, particularly the Triune name--the Baptism is valid, and we can say with confidence that it has done what God has promised.
There is also some diversity regarding the method of baptizing. Some insist on full immersion of the individual in water, while others allow other methods, such as sprinkling or pouring the water on the individual. Again, even though a minority insist on a particular method of applying the water, most agree, with support from the Greek text of the New Testament there is no Scriptural command regarding the method of applying the water.

Baptism is almost universally understood to be the means of entry into the Christian congregation and the boundary between those inside and outside of the Church.  In recognition of this, traditional church architecture often places the baptistery at the entrance to the church building so that one passes it every time they enter the worship space.  However, Pastors and Biblical Scholars would rarely describe Baptism as “required” as something we must do in order to be saved.  Instead, they might choose terms such as “necessary” without being “absolutely necessary.”

What this means is that in the regular order of things, a Christian is always to be baptized. For the child of Christian parents, this may happen soon after birth, while for others who come to Christianity as adults, their Baptism may follow their instruction in the Faith, but if an adult convert were to die after they had heard the message of Jesus and trusted in Him but before it was possible to receive Baptism, nearly no person would question that the person was forgiven and saved. However if an adult convert would claim trust in Jesus yet refuse Baptism for a prolonged time, the question would eventually have to be asked whether they were, in fact, a Christian.

One reason for this is because for a person to claim to trust Jesus, but then refuse to receive the Sacrament He commanded would be extremely inconsistent. More importantly, though, since Baptism is not primarily something the person does as an act of devotion to God, nor is it merely something the priest/pastor does for the person.  Instead, Baptism is something God Himself does for the recipient, by the hands of the pastor or priest, and if the person refused to receive the Sacrament through which God has promised to deliver His blessings, then it would necessarily raise questions about their profession of faith.

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