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I now invite you to turn in your bibles to the second chapter of the book of Acts and follow alone as I read verses 38 and 39.
38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him."
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks Be to God.
Can You Baptize?
Lets take a hypothetical situation. Suppose your are visiting a friend in the hospital, and you realize that she is about to die right now. It is the end. Your friend manages to say, “I believe in Jesus, but I was never baptized. I don’t want to meet Jesus without being baptized, so will you baptize me?”
You look for a chaplain or pastor, but you know how those guys are, they are never around when you need them. It’s just you. The question is: Can you take water out of the sink and baptize that dying friend in such a way that it will be acceptable to God? Can you baptize or do you need an ordained minister of the gospel?
Of course you can. In a case of necessity, any believer can baptize a person who is sincerely seeking baptism., and that baptism is effective. Ordinarily though, baptism is done in the church by an ordained minister.
Can You Be Saved Without Baptism?
But that leads to another question. Suppose that in spite of your best efforts, your friend in the hospital dies before you administer baptism. Can she be saved without it? Or, to ask the question another way, Is she doomed to go to hell because she was not baptized. Back in the medieval ages, the church would have answered, Yes. In that time, the church literally believed that baptism saves you. Thus, any unbaptized person was doomed to hell.. That was why they rushed to baptize newborn babies. In that time, infant mortality rates were appalling—about 50%. They knew that there was a good chance the baby would die. So, they rushed babies down to the church and got them sprinkled; thereby ensuring that the child would go to heaven.
That was the medieval view. The Reformation in the 1500’s led us to reinterpret the doctrine of baptism. Today the large majority of Christians say that Baptism is symbolic. To put it bluntly, the water does not save you.
In the gospel of Luke, chapter 23, we have the incident of the good thief. Jesus was crucified between two criminals. One of them derided him and mocked him, but the other rebuked the mocker, and said to Jesus “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” It does not appear likely that this thief on the cross was dunked or even sprinkled while he was on that cross, but we have the word of the Lord that he is in heaven with Jesus, and that is good enough for me.
That answers the question about your friend in the hospital who died without baptism. If she believed in Jesus, as she said she did, then the word of the Lord for her is: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Can you be saved without being baptized? Of course you can. Because baptism does not save you, it is a symbol of salvation.
Mode of Baptism?
Nor does the mode of baptism save you. There are basically three modes of baptism: dunking, pouring, and sprinkling. Ordinarily, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians sprinkle. By the way, that is about 90% of all Christians. Baptists and some others dunk. But we accept all modes of baptism as equally valid. Why is that? Because it is symbolic anyway. Getting dunked does not save you; Getting sprinkled does not save you; Getting poured upon does not save you. The mode of baptism does not save you, because baptism is only a symbol of salvation.
Infant AND Adult Baptism
Some people get all wrought up about infant baptism versus adult Baptism. I have often argued with our Baptist brethren about this. They say that we should baptize only those old enough to understand the gospel and make their profession of belief in the gospel. But we see in many Baptist churches that they baptize children less than ten years old. I doubt that a ten-year-old child understands much of the gospel. I do not really see much difference between infant baptism and child baptism.
Actually, if we interpret the sacrament correctly, there is no difference between infant baptism and adult baptism. In both cases, we are witnesses to God’s mercy and love poured out upon that child or that adult
The church says of a baby, when that child comes of age, the child must confirm their baptism by making their profession of faith and joining the church. The church also says that an adult who is baptized should make their profession of faith and join the church. So the end is the same. For babies and adults, baptism is the gateway into the church, into the gathered community of believers. As the Westminster Confession of faith puts it: Baptism is “for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church.”
The Scripture I read today is part of the preaching of Peter in Acts 2 in which he offers baptism to both adults and their children. They must have done a lot of baptisms that day in Jerusalem, because we read in v41 that 3,000 people joined the church. That was a ton of folks. But note that baptism was their gate into the church.
Go to any church and talk to the minister about joining the church. One of the first questions the minister will ask you is: Have you been baptized? You do not get into a Christian church without being baptized in some way or the other.
Let’s take this a bit further. Whenever a person joins the church, they take certain vows. These vows revolve around living a Christian life. So we say to both the baby and to the adult, you confirm your baptism by living, by your life with others in Christ. Baptism is a symbol of the covenant of grace in and through Jesus Christ. We confirm that we are members of this covenant by the way we live. There is an old saying, Life is in the living. The church says, Christianity is in the living.
The Body of Christ
Again the Westminster Confession of faith says that Baptism is a symbol of our “ingrafting into Christ.” Some verses closely associated with this phrase are Gal.3:26-27, which read “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
We are children of God. We are not kept at a distance as slaves or employees we draw near to God as his family. We have become as part of this family by our faith in Jesus. By our baptism we have professed our faith and devoted ourselves to Christ. Baptism thus serves as a kind of a flag or symbol for our faith.
Many of us have our favorite sports teams, and we do not hesitate to wear our team colors. Whether it is the garnet and gold of Erskine College, or the garnet and gold of Winthrop University if that is our team we wear those colors. And there may be other teams in the state whose colors you favor. You wear those colors to show your loyalty.
Paul says that baptism is like that. Baptism shows which team we are on. Baptism says that we are for Christ. We have put on his uniform and declared ourselves his disciples. We are members of Christ. Being baptized into Christ, we are baptized into his death, that as he died and rose again, so, we die unto sin, and walk in newness of life.
To be in Christ is to be in the Body of Christ. Let us think about our own bodies for a moment. Each of our bodies is composed of about a trillion cells. These cells are so small that they can only be seen with a microscope and in comparison with your whole body they are almost nothing. Yet each cell may contribute something to the functioning of the body.
This is an analogy of our lives in Christ. Compared to Jesus, and compared to the whole body of believers, our lives may seem totally insignificant. But we still have our function. That is why the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:12 urges Christians to contribute to the “building up of the body of Christ.” We may seem like microscopic cells in that body, but we still have our important roles to play.
Notice also that in my body I do not differentiate between my cells and me. For example, if I brush a finger against a hot stove and burn the edge of my finger, I do not say, “Some cells in my finger are experiencing pain.” I say, “Ouch, that hurts me.”
Even so, when a believer suffers, Christ does not say, “That cell in my body is suffering.” Christ himself is suffering. And we as part of that body are suffering. Our baptism has put us all in the same body. That Chinese Christian who is in jail for Jesus, that African Christian in the Sudan who is being killed by Muslims , they are in the same body of Christ as you and I their suffering is yours and mine and Christ’s.
In the Darfur region of the Sudan, there has been widespread rape, slaughter, and expulsions. The violence began in February 2003 when government- backed Arab Moslem militias launched a systematic campaign to wipe out members of three African ethnic communities who are mostly Christians.
Our news media has been strangely silent on this story. I suppose that is because it is happening in Africa and the Christians who are being killed are Black. If it was the other way around, if Christians were killing Muslims, I promise you our news media would be in full roar about that awful situation. According to the United Nations, more than 400,000 people have died, and 2 million have fled their homes. A secular organization like the UN calls what is happening to Christians in the Sudan the “world's worst humanitarian crisis,” and what are Christians doing about it. Almost nothing.
I wonder what are we going to say when we get to heaven and Jesus says to us, What did you do when that Sudanese woman was raped, had her home burned, her possessions stolen, and was forced to walk with her children hundreds of miles to a refugee camp, and all this simply because she believed in Jesus. She was in the body of Christ just like you and me. Her suffering was my suffering and your suffering? What are you going to say when Jesus says why didn’t you do something?
Now I suspect that the reason we do not do as much as we should to help other Christians is because we do not understand the body of Christ. It is a doctrine that is not much preached, because it actually requires something from us. It is far easier to talk about my salvation, to give my testimony about what Christ has done for me, that to think about how being engrafted into the body of Christ not only connects me to Christ, but to others. And connects me to such a degree that their joy is my joy and their sorrow my sorrow.
That’s what Christian community is like. That’s the community that our baptism opens up to us. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 8/22/05