Are there different ways to become a Christian?
Do children raised in a Christian family have an advantage? What's the role of baptism in the process? We're going to hear the answers to those questions today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is concluding a message titled The Baptism Debate. Baptism remains a controversial subject. That tragically, and unnecessarily so, Christians are often divided over the issue. I decided what I would do is I would quote to you from people that I admire living or dead, so that we would allow, if you like, a good evangelical proponent of the view to speak concerning the view in order that we would not be setting up in any way a straw man and then being able to tear it down. It's relatively easy to do that in argument and in debate. Many of you are familiar with that.
And it's a very unhelpful way to go, because it creates all kinds of impressions, most of which are absolutely wrong. I should just mention something that crosses my mind as well. One of the things that I always say to my Presbyterian friends is, okay, given that that is true of infant baptism, and that baptism as a sign brings these children of a Christian home within the framework and orb of the church, I always say to them, how does that differ from my kids? Does it mean that since many of our children are running around here this morning, the thousand-plus of them that are all over the building in the hours of this day, that somehow or another are in some tenuous position?
Now, Donnie McLeod answers this question somewhere. He says, We have to note that it is not the sign, whether circumcision or baptism, that makes us covenant children or that puts us in a special relationship with God. We had that special relationship before we received the sign.
How? Because of who our parents are, they argue, that it is an immense providence to be born into a Christian home. That makes sense, doesn't it?
You're off to a head start, potentially, at least. There is somebody reading the Bible to you, there is someone saying your prayers with you at night, there is someone bringing you into the framework of the church. That is not granted to you, he says, in the sign of baptism. That is already there before there would be any sign stamped on the child.
Indeed, he says, the sign was put on us only because of the special relationship. We have to say, therefore, that the children of our Baptist friends are as much covenant children as our own children. The fact that they're not being baptized does not mean that they are not covenant children. It means only that the sign of the covenant is not put on them. It was because the children of Abram were within the covenant that the sign was put on them. They did not become covenant children because of the sign itself. The sign is the attestation of their special bond with the children of God. And the believing parent wants the sign of the covenant not only upon himself or herself but upon his family. And he does so not because that sign is going to put them in a different relationship with God but because, being his children, they're already in a special relationship to God. Not only so, this physical link with the people of God immediately carries with it great privileges, and baptism is a sign of these. The children of believers are linked organically to the Word, which dwells among the people of God and linked to the care and prayers of the people of God.
But since he is prepared to say in the middle of that that the children are in no position of difference, whether marked by this sign or unmarked by this sign, then I say to him, So where did you come up with this sign? In Acts chapter 15, when you have this great debate over the issue of circumcising the Gentiles in the Council of Jerusalem, it has always struck me as interesting in relationship to this subject that when they come to the matter and they say, Listen, the Gentiles having professed faith in Jesus Christ are not getting circumcised, and they need to get circumcised. Paul argues, Listen, this is a matter of grace. It's not a matter of works.
You don't need to do this. But if the early church had made the link that my Presbyterian friends say exists—namely, that circumcision was now superseded by baptism—don't you think that Paul would have stood up in the Council of Jerusalem and said, Guys, why are you having a big hassle over circumcision? Circumcision was replaced with baptism. It's obvious. End of story. He didn't.
Why not? Well, there's an argument from silence, so I've got to be careful. Jesus circumcised and baptized. Jesus' followers circumcised and baptized. The first century of the church, at least, circumcised and baptized, continuing to do both, pointing to the fact that this clear line between one and the other that finally is formulated in the developing centuries of the church was not immediately apparent to the minds of those who were the apostolic foundations. Now, some of you, I know, are just completely out to lunch at this point, and I'm sorry I asked you to be patient. You've been as patient as you can, and you're about to go crazy. Well, let me just finish it off with a little bit of Roman Catholicism.
I've not spent a lot of time on this, and purposefully not. Let me simply quote to you from the catechism. What is baptism? Baptism is the sacrament by which we are reborn to God, cleansed from original sin and personal sins, and made a member of the church. How difficult is that to understand?
Not difficult at all. Roman Catholicism, like all Christians throughout the centuries, have understood that it is necessary to be born again. Roman Catholics believe that you have to be born again. They don't ever go to them and say, you know, you don't believe in being born again. Yes, you believe in being born again. But for Roman Catholics, the transformation that is signified in the new birth is tied in their theology directly to the sacrament of baptism. So they agree, I must be born again. But they will answer it by saying, of course I'm born again. I was baptized, was I not? And the catechism told me, it is the sacrament by which I am reborn to God. I have been cleansed of my sin and my personal sins, and I've been made a member of the church.
So what else is there? So they sit and listen to the kind of preaching that happens here at Parkside, and they say to themselves, well, this is very interesting, but it's not for me. To whoever he is speaking or to whoever they are speaking, they must somehow or another not have got the package that I got. And so he's saying to them that they need to be born again.
And they need to be born again in their way, and I need to be born again in my way. And of course, this is a perfect context in which for this kind of confusion to flourish. Because postmodernism argues this all the time.
There is no right way for anything. History itself is a social construction. There is no verifiable data to which we can turn and say, this says this, or this means that. Because what does that mean? What does is mean?
What does was mean? What is sex? What is not sex? What is a count? What is not a count? What is a ballot?
What is an election? What in the world is anything? And the children are growing up in this, and they're saying, you know, I don't make any sense of this at all. And the one person you must be aware of is somebody who would stand up in the middle of it all and say, let me tell you what it is. Say, get rid of him.
Run him out of town. Because if we know anything, we know that everybody knows nothing. Then if anybody knows something, they are immediately suspect. So the person says, thank you for sharing that with me. I've been born again in my own way, and you go ahead and get born again in your own way. And after all, let's all get together, because God loves everyone, and it's Christmastime, and let's go home. That's fine whether or not for the fact that we're dealing with the eternal destiny of men and women. And if in baptism the matter of salvation is secured, then let me say to you today—those of you who have come out of Roman Catholicism—return directly.
If it is not, then let me say to you, accept none of the nonsense about not evangelizing Roman Catholics. For if their trust and confidence for eternity is in this rather than in this, what hope do they have? And that's why they're paralyzed, so many of them. That's why my heart goes out to them.
That's why I want to talk with them. You got baptized? Yes. What about mortal sins? Have you committed any mortal sins?
Yes. What happens when you commit a mortal sin? I fall out of a state of grace. Are you out of a state of grace? I don't know. Well, don't you think that's an important discussion?
Yes. Well, how do you get back in a state of grace? Well, says the devout Roman Catholic as a result of the sacraments. Which do you have in mind? First of all, penance.
How do you do that? Well, you come, and you have an act of perfect contrition. To which I say, have you ever had an act of perfect anything in your life? No. Well, are you planning on coming up with perfect contrition? Well, I don't know.
Which sounds shaky to me. What else have you got on the burner? Well, there's the Eucharist. So I was baptized, and my original sin and my personal sins were dealt with. I committed mortal sins. I fell out of grace. I had to go back to the dispenser of grace, namely the church that holds in its containers my life and my destiny.
Despite the fact that if I read the Bible for fifty seconds, I realize that he has made a mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus. But I go there so that it can dispense to me penance, so that it can dispense to me the Eucharist, so that by means of the sacrifice and the reenactment of it of the death of Christ, I may then get back on track again. That's why when you read their catechism, it says, how when should they take the Mass? The answer is, every single day is desirable, and twice a day in the high holy times to import a Judaistic notion into the Roman Catholic framework. But in other words, in the big, hot, and heavy periods and festivals twice a day. It's logical!
It's logical! Because you had the Mass on Monday morning before you went to work. You're driving to work, and you called somebody something really profane out of your car window.
What are you doing with that? Well, maybe you go back for the twelve o'clock Mass. Or maybe you pull over into the side of the street and try for a perfect contrition. And I don't mean to make light of this. But don't let anybody tell you that, hey, baptism is baptism, and whatever it means, it means, and don't worry unduly about it, because after all, it's really not a concern. The Presbyterian view then speaks of its signifying, the Roman Catholic view speaks of it conveying grace, and the Anglican view bounces somewhere around in between.
I've left the Lutherans alone for the time being. Now let me, in just a phrase or two, give you four words that summarize what we have taught here concerning baptism. That as in the Lord's Supper, it is a sign which is secondary, it's outward, and it's visible. It points to the reality of conversion, which is primary and inward and invisible. Jesus gives to his apostles the command to go out and preach the gospel, to make disciples, and to baptize them. And when you come to Acts chapter 2, Peter is immediately out on the streets of Jerusalem and doing that very thing. And as a result of telling them about who Jesus is, we're told that the people were cut to their heart, and they said, What shall we do?
Peter's response was, Well, you need to do two things. One, in terms of your own heart response, you need to believe, and in terms of your public profession, you need to be baptized. And it is that your response of heart in repentance and in faith will then be symbolized and identified in the fact of your baptism.
And here's the first of four words, and I'm just going to give you the words. Number one, baptism is a confession of faith in Christ. It is a confession of faith in Christ. When Levi and Miriam, Mr. and Mrs. Abrams got baptized in Jerusalem that day, their friends and neighbors said, What in the world happened to Levi and Miriam?
In fact, they're not alone. There are thousands of them there being baptized, possibly in those pools for cleansing that lead up, I think, to the east side of the Temple Mount. If you've been in Jerusalem, you will have seen it. One of the things that I always said, I always wondered, How do you baptize three thousand people? And then when I stood there, soon I stood there earlier this year, and we looked at all these pools of cleansing which were there in relationship to the Old Testament sacrificial system, scattered all the way in the entry to the Temple Mount, I said to myself, Well, I can see how all these people are getting baptized simultaneously.
Because these pools are dotted all over the place. And the people are drawing close, and they say, What is it that they're saying? What is it that they're testifying to?
Well, they're not saying a great deal, but they're saying this. Jesus is Lord! And the Roman soldiers are ticked, because their normal greeting was, Caesar is Lord! And the Jews were ticked, because they believed in monotheism and that there was no possibility that this Galilean carpenter was Adonai, was Lord Messiah, Jehovah Christ! And it cost these believers to stand up and say, In my baptism I confess my faith in Jesus Christ. It is, secondly, a communion with Christ. A communion with Christ.
In that, in Romans 6, we are identified with him in his death and in his resurrection. In baptizing, as we do in a pool here, we're not actually arguing for a certain amount of water being necessarily involved—at least I'm not. I know that Baptists with a big B are very concerned about how deep the tub is and everything else. That, to me, is a very, very secondary issue.
The issue is not about the amount of water involved for me. The issue is about whether faith precedes baptism or whether baptism precedes faith. And intellectually, I came to the conclusion that faith precedes baptism, rather than the other way around, even though all of the logic of my background in Scottish Presbyterianism pushed me in that direction. And by all accounts, I really should be a Presbyterian minister somewhere in Scotland. My father was discharged from the Second World War to train at Glasgow University as a Presbyterian minister. My roots in the north of Scotland are riddled with all of this.
How did I end up in this predicament? Well, I'd like to argue as a result of thinking. Thinking! And recognizing that when we put somebody down into the pool, there's a symbolism even in the pool itself.
That's why I'd rather do that. Buried with him in baptism, raised with him to newness of life. I love the story that came out of Yorkshire of the proud, arrogant businessman that everybody knew. He was master of his own destiny and champion of his own decisions, and he had it made in the shade in his house and his cars, and everything testified to it. And somebody led him to faith in Christ, and they prepared him for baptism. And they said, you know, we have baptismal robes, and you come and you change at six o'clock, and you put these on and everything else. He said, forget the robes. He said, I'm wearing a three-piece suit. Oh, no, the minister said, don't use a three-piece suit. He said, you'll destroy it in the water.
He says, that's exactly what I want to do in the water. Because my three-piece suit is as much a symbol of my arrogance and my pride and my endeavor and everything that I am. So baptize me in my three-piece suit.
And they did. Buried and raised a new man as a result of the water? No, as a result of the transforming grace of Christ to which the water pointed. Incidentally, that is the same argument that is used by our Presbyterian friends if you listen carefully. Not as a result of the baptism, but to which this points as a sign. You could argue that Presbyterians have water at the beginning and then a dry baptism in the confirmation, and that people in our situation have a dry baptism in the dedication and then a wet baptism in the baptism. Confession, communion, consecration, and consummation. I've covered consecration.
Three-piece suit says it all, doesn't it? And we're looking forward to the day when it will all be consummated in the same way as when we take communion. We look forward to the day when we will no longer drink it in this way, but we will be gathered to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Let me ask you one question and we're through. This is the $64,000 question. Where do you fit into all of this? Where do you fit into all of this? Are you trusting, have you been trusting, in an outward, visible sign without any experience of an inward spiritual change? Do you understand that if you take the Bible, and you must take your Bible and read it, that salvation is portrayed by the ordinances, it is not performed in the ordinances? That only Jesus can save, it is not the water of baptism nor the cup of communion that saves.
And one of the reasons, I think, for the ineffectiveness and weakness of the church in our day is on account of the confusion that surrounds these issues. Some of you are out of a military background. I heard somebody in a call-in show just yesterday say, and I was twenty years in the military. And if he said it once, he must have said it half a dozen times in the space of three and a half minutes.
I never met the man, I've never seen his face, but I learned a great deal about him. And one thing in particular, he was in the military for twenty years. And I bet he loved his uniform. And I bet he wore it on every available opportunity, so that people would know that he was in the military.
And justifiably so. If I was in it, I'd wear my uniform too. Who would enlist in the Marines? Go through the basic training, go through all of that agony, and then when finally it becomes the passing out parade, you say to the guy at the end of the line—pardon me, I know you should have a proper name—but you say to the gentleman, the great commander in chief, I'm not going to take the uniform. I don't want the uniform. I want to be a Marine, no uniform. I love being a Marine. Thanks for getting me in.
It's been a great time. No uniform. Do you know how many people are sitting listening to me right now and that is exactly what you're saying to the commander in chief, Jesus Christ? Yeah, what I want is Christianity light. I want to believe in Jesus, but no uniform for me. No, no. I would like the thief on the cross version, where you die and go immediately to heaven with no baptism at all.
Well, this may be a little harder to achieve. So there's two questions. One, have I come to trust in Christ rather than rely on sacraments? And having come to trust in Christ, am I prepared to indicate my devotion to Christ by confessing him and my consecration to Christ, and the prospect one day of it all being consummated when I see him?
Thanks for your patience. You must be like the people in Berea in relationship to all of this. Acts 17, it says the Bereans were more noble than the folks in Thessalonica, because after Paul preached, they went back and they studied the Old Testament Scriptures to see if these things were so. Oh, that is exactly the mandate that I give to you. You go read your Bibles and see if these things are so.
And on the strength of that, go forward accordingly. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg talking about baptism.
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Request your copy of the book Corporate Worship today when you sign up to become a Truth Partner or when you give a one-time donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. Now here's Alistair to close with prayer. Father, thank you for the privilege of the worship in both song and in study. I pray that you will bring clarity to all confusion, that you will bring a sense of dependence upon the Lord Jesus for faith and for grace and for salvation, that we would trust in no external ceremony or sign, that we would thank you for the signs you have given to your people throughout all the ages, that we would thank you for the ordinances of the church, and that we would understand, and in understanding that we would obey. May grace and mercy and peace from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one today and forevermore. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. Tomorrow we'll learn how to worship and witness even when our circumstances are challenging and it seems like no one's paying attention. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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