Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Water, Water, Everywhere

I just finished reading Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. If you think that reading this book makes me a wild-eyed fanatic, fear not. I was a fanatic before reading the book. I hold to most everything in the book already.

One section that really caught my attention was on baptism. The authors stated the following.

      In the first century, water baptism was the outward confession of a person's faith. But more than that, it was the way someone came to the Lord. For this reason, the confession of baptism is vitally linked to the exercise of saving faith. So much so that the New Testament writers often use baptism in place of the word faith and link it to being "saved." This is because baptism was the early Christian's confession of faith.
      In our day, the "sinner's prayer" has replaced the role of water baptism as the initial confession of faith. Unbelievers are told, "Say this prayer after me, accept Jesus as your personal Savior, and you will be saved." But nowhere in all the New Testament do we find any person being led to the Lord by a sinner's prayer. And there is not the faintest whisper in the Bible about a "personal" Savior.
      Instead, unbelievers in the first century were led to Jesus Christ by being taken to the waters of baptism. Put another way, water baptism was the sinner's prayer in century one! Baptism accompanied the acceptance of the gospel....Baptism marked a complete break with the past and a full entrance into Christ and His church. Baptism was simultaneously an act of faith as well as an expression of faith. (pp. 188-9)
I have read arguments against the sinner's prayer in the past, so that did not catch me off-guard. (And I now largely agree with the detractors.) Neither did the proximity of baptism to belief. What really got me excited was the concept of baptism being the confession of faith.

I have opposed endlessly people holding to baptismal regeneration. The above view appears to dispel the conflict over the issue. If baptism is "simultaneously an act...[and] expression of faith," the divide between the opposing forces is left in so much rubble. There is no longer a question of logical sequential order of events or proper intended grammatical construction. The arguments I learn and built up concerning Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, and 1 Peter 3:21 are left languishing for lack of support, because they were built on the wrong premise.

Back to the drawing board.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I think the conflict with baptismal regeneration is very much in force. Firstly, they mess up because they don't understand what you just posted here - that when scripture talks of baptism "saving," it doesn't mean the act of baptism.

Those who believe baptism brings salvation are the reason we have baptism of babies, thinking that automatically makes them Christians.

Also, the Church of Christ is adamant that unless you've been baptized you are hell-bound. I ran into this because I had been a Christian for 15 years before I was given a Christian baptism. I never thought about it much because I had been baptized in the Mormon church; but as I matured in the faith I thought about that problem and asked to be baptized. A CoC member stated that if I had died during that 15-year period I would have gone to hell. I have discussed the scenario with many CoC members since and they all say the same thing. When I question about someone in a combat zone coming to Christ and getting killed before baptism, they say the person goes to hell.

Thanks for the excellent reminder of what the early Church meant.

Steve Bricker said...

I agree with you. Perhaps my statement would have been better stated as "The above view should help to dispel the conflict over the issue, though some will stubbornly oppose it anyway."

Jilliefl1 said...

Barna/Viola's "Pagan Christianity" wasn't a stand-alone book. The sequel is called "Reimagining Church", it's the constructive part of the discussion. He also has a new book that's the practical follow-up to both books. It's called "Finding Organic Church." Viola's article "Why I Love the Church" explains the motivation behind all three books.