The Baptist: a conversation
Me: “That’s very interesting. I also believe that Scripture shouldn’t be added to, and I would say also that it shouldn’t be subtracted from either. That’s why I believe that baptism does also now save us, not the removal of the filth from the flesh but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Christ. Just as He says in His Word.”
I didn’t give him the reference. I took him at face value when he stated that he didn’t add to God’s Word, the basic premise of that statement was that he knew God’s Word. And before this point in our conversation he had claimed that he reads the entire Bible every year.
But he missed it the reference. He didn’t know the passage.
B: “You can’t add to God’s Word like that.”
Me: “Like what?”
B: “The Bible doesn’t say that Baptism saves.”
Me: “Isn’t 1 Peter 3: 21 in the King James Version? Those are the word’s I quoted.”
Here he started to look a bit unsettled.
Me: “Even more, I believe that everyone who is baptized into Christ were baptized into His death. Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into His death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life.”
Another, uncertain, puzzled look. Like, maybe he wasn’t sure if I were quoting Scripture or just stating things in my own words.
B: “But baptism doesn’t do anything. You can’t add those ideas into the Scripture.”
Me: “Let me see if I understand what you are saying. You read the Bible every year. Right?”
B: “Yes. And I believe what it says.”
Me: “So when Peter and Paul said the words I just quoted about what God does through Baptism, then you believe it? I mean, when Peter says that baptism saves, and Paul says that baptism unites us with Christ in His death and resurrection, you believe what those words say plainly right there without adding to them or subtracting from them?”
B: “But baptism doesn’t save. You can’t add that to God’s Word.”
Me: “But all those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ. That’s what His apostle says in Galatians 3:27. In context Paul is explaining that the Galatians cannot be saved by the outward observance of the Law, that God makes no distinctions between Jew and Gentile. Rather God bestows faith in Christ on both Jew and Gentile through the gift of Baptism.”
B: “But God’s Word never says that children can be baptized.”
OK, this was a change of direction. A distraction. I think he wanted to reestablish himself and feel more in control of the line of argument he was trying to make.
B: “That’s why we have a dedication for the children instead of baptizing them.”
Me: “So, which passage in Scripture tells you that you should dedicate children?”
B: “Well, children aren’t really able to have faith until they’re a bit older.”
Me: “So you shouldn’t strive to become like one of these little ones who believe in Christ? That’s what Christ specifically tells us to be like in Matthew when the disciples asked about who would be the greatest in heaven. How do you explain Timothy who Paul writes, believe from his infancy, the Greek there is specific about the age. Or about John’s reaction in the womb of his mother?”
B: “Well we don’t deny that God can do special things in certain cases. We just don’t add to the Scriptures.”
Me: “I believe that baptism is a gracious water of life and washing of regeneration as St. Paul says in Titus 3 ‘But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ Notice that He says that He saved us through baptism, that washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. No where does he forbid the baptism of infants. Rather the baptism of infants is already shown in the households baptized in the book of Acts.”
B: “I know that Lutherans will claim that Cornelius’ household means children also, but it doesn’t mention children. We don’t add to Scripture.”
Me: “That’s interesting, because the word ‘Household’ means everyone that the head of house is responsible for: his wife, children — even infants, his slaves, and employees who are under his care. How is it adding to the Scripture to read the words as they are written and understood from context? It seems more like an unwillingness to trust what God actually says. How do you think people are saved?”
I tried to say this as nicely and politely as possible. I didn’t want his frustration to turn into anger. I wanted him to think about what God’s Word actually says about Baptism and about faith.
B: “Well, after serious and sincere reflection a person needs to give his heart to God. It needs to be genuine repentance.”
I thank God for the words of Bo Giertz in his novel The Hammer of God for this next bit:
Me: “What would God want with such a vile and defiled thing as our hearts? We’d have to be more pure than St. Paul who admitted that no clean thing dwelt in his heart. Doesn’t Christ’s Apostle John say that we are not saved by the will of man, and that we didn’t choose Christ, but He chose us? If faith is not possible for a child because it is an act of the will (if I understand you correctly-please correct me if I misunderstand) then all those who die in their sleep are doomed to eternal damnation, all the mentally incapable are likewise doomed. It would serve no purpose to preach to them if the source of conversion is their own will. But faith, in Scripture, is not an act of the human will, it is the gift of God. Surely you remember Ephesians chapter 2?”
B: “Well, yes, faith is a gift, but you need to really be genuinely repentant. And you need to use your reason because faith doesn’t go against reason.”
Me: “Two things: First, how can you ever be sure you’ve repented enough? Second, aren’t you familiar with 1 Corinthians chapter 2 where Paul plainly teaches that our reason is so corrupt that it cannot even see sin without the enlightening power of God through His Word? There he says ‘These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’
I continued: “It seems like you are saying, and please forgive me if I am misunderstanding–it seems like you think a person can make his own choice to be saved even though God describes our utter inability to do anything like that with words like ‘You were dead in your trespasses and sins’. And from this death and inability he made us alive. He tells us specifically that this is His gift to us, the gift of faith is His to give. And He tells us how He gives it through Baptism when He writes, ‘Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.’”
B was very frustrated, but not angry. The topic changed to travel, the snow storm. I wished him and his family safe travels.
You see, it was his brother’s funeral. In the sermon I did spend a short amount of time on how God had called his brother to faith through baptism, and we need to trust God’s promise. It’s one of those great ironies of Church history that those going by the name Baptist have no faith in Christ’s written Word about His baptism and what He says He does by this Means of Grace. Our conversation was actually much longer and had more detail. But I can only recall the main flow of it and some of the main points.
Funerals are a great opportunity for evangelism. I pray for the dead man’s brother. I pray that he can some day actually believe that He is forgiven only for Christ’s sake and that he is clothed in Christ’s righteousness through the power of God’s Word in Baptism.
For someone so concerned about not adding to God’s Word, he didn’t seem to really know it very well. And he seemed to have no hesitation in ignoring those parts of God’s Word that disagreed with his own theory about how he can make himself righteous by “really repenting.”