The Unimmersed and Others

“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).

In the New Testament faith, confession, repentance, and baptism, are the response of the heart to the message of Christ. Faith, confession, repentance, and baptism, this is the conversion experience of new birth and of new creation–being united with Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6; Colossians 2:12), being forgiven of sins and washing away of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), putting on Christ, being clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27), receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39), and receiving salvation through faith in Christ and through the resurrection of Christ (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21).

In my previous post I stressed baptism, immersion in water, not of infants, but of believers. The New Testament presents baptism as a natural and essential part of the whole response of faith, confession, and repentance. I shared the following quote from Robert H. Stein, professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“A person could not be converted to Christianity in the New Testament apart from baptism….No one came to the conversion experience with questions as to whether baptism was necessary for becoming a Christian because the apostolic preaching stated that they must be baptized. Thus the rejection of baptism was a rejection of the divine program for conversion! To reject baptism was to reject the gospel message preached by Peter, Paul, and the other apostles who spoke of the need of baptism….For the New Testament church the statement ‘Unless you are baptized, you cannot be saved’ was simply another way of saying, ‘Unless you believe, you cannot be saved.’”1

Things have certainly changed over the centuries. In the first century, during the time of the apostles, there was no question concerning baptism. There were questions like that of the Ethiopian eunuch. “Here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” There was the question Ananias asked Saul of Tarsus. “What are you waiting for, arise and be baptized and wash away your sins?”

Today there are differing understandings and misunderstandings of the New Testament teaching on baptism–mode (sprinkling, pouring, immersion), subjects (infants, believers), importance (denominational membership, sign of salvation and conversion which previously occurred, an optional act of symbolism, or an essential part of the conversion experience). Stein contrasts the time of the apostles with the confusion of today. “The person who was led to Christ by Paul or Peter in the first century did not have any such confusion…To refuse baptism in the first century was to refuse consciously and willingly what God said should and needed to be done. Such rebellion was damnable. Today a person may refuse baptism out of confusion, ignorance, or uncertainty…Decisions concerning baptism today are often made not on the basis of obedience or disobedience but on the basis of misinformation or confusion.”2

As a result, there are many people who are committed to Christ in faith who have not been baptized as I understand the New Testament to teach and as I was myself baptized. It wasn’t long after I was baptized in Christ questions arose within my heart. What does this mean for all those unimmersed, unbaptized, people of faith? Later I realized within churches of Christ a debated question is the status of those who have been immersed, baptized, but not in churches of Christ. What is their status?

As to the latter question concerning the status of those immersed, baptized, but not in churches of Christ, my understanding is simply this. Anyone who in faith, in confession of Christ, and in repentance is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ is a Christian. Location of the baptistery or lake or whatever body of water is used, or who administers the baptism, is not important. What is important is the faith of the person being baptized. Can a person learn the true meaning of baptism in environments where baptism is taught as an option but not necessary, or infant baptism is practiced? In my previous post, as I repeated above, I noted that the New Testament ties to baptism being united with Christ in his death and resurrection, being forgiven of sins, putting on Christ, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, receiving salvation through faith in Christ, through the resurrection of Christ. Can a person learn this biblical connection of baptism with coming into Christ in an environment where it is taught that baptism is simply a sign of all of this which occurred in a person’s conversion weeks, months, or even a year or more previously without baptism? Within such environments individuals, through their study of Scripture, through the Spirit’s message, can come to at least the simplest of understandings concerning baptism, immersion, in the name of Christ as something to be desired, a necessary part of their response of faith, confession, and repentance. This was my experience. When such individuals request and are baptized, they are baptized into Christ.

The New Testament teaching of baptism caused me to question within my heart, “What does this mean for all those unimmersed, unbaptized, people of faith?” What about the people who taught me as I was growing up, who lived before me the faith they taught, who were used by God to shape my faith in Jesus Christ, my faith in God? What about people like C. S. Lewis and others whose commentaries and books teach us so very much concerning Scripture, Christ, faith, and life? People of faith in Christ whose lives are shaped by and dedicated to Christ. People whose not being baptized as taught in the New Testament is not due to correct understanding and out and out rejection. Rather in the confusion of our times they sincerely and honestly have a different understanding. They have humbly obeyed the will of God as they understand it.

“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-26).

Notice Apollos “knew only the baptism of John.” There is much discussion as to what this meant as to the knowledge Apollos had of Jesus. Luke’s description is important for us to note. Apollos was “fervent in spirit.” He was passionate about what he was teaching. Luke tells us Apollos “taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” Note Luke doesn’t mark Apollos as a false teacher or false prophet. He describes Apollos as “competent in the Scriptures,” “instructed int he way of the Lord,” teaching “accurately the things concerning Jesus.” Luke so describes Apollos even “though he knew only the baptism of John.” Luke doesn’t leave him there. Priscilla and Aquila “took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” The implication certainly is, at the least, they taught him more accurately concerning baptism, teaching baptism into the name of Jesus Christ.

There are people today like Apollos. They are competent in Scripture, instructed in the way of Christ. Their knowledge and teaching are accurate in things concerning Jesus, concerning the Christian life and discipleship. But they know only infant baptism or no baptism at all or a baptism that is optional, or a baptism separated from the conversion experience and salvation. What I learn from Luke’s treatment of Apollos is that we are not to mark such people as false teachers or false prophets. Certainly it is foolish and perhaps arrogant to conclude they do not love God and Christ like we do.

Also, importantly, we are not to deliberately alter the truth taught in Scripture because of our concerns and our fears for people of faith who are confused, who have a different understanding, and are not baptized as the New Testament teaches. We are not “to shape our message so as to keep them ignorant or to shape our message to excuse those who know but won’t humbly submit to God in the matter.”3 Recognizing and accepting their faith, their knowledge, and their commitment to Christ as fellow believers in Christ, we are to teach them more accurately the way of God. This is the first part of my answer to the question of the unimmersed.

The second part of my answer is this. God alone knows our hearts. “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:1-2). God knows those whose hearts are set on seeking him, on knowing Christ, whose hearts are yielded in trusting submission to God, as opposed to stubborn refusal of God’s will. God knows their hearts. God knows them as we never will. God will be gracious and merciful in his justice.

Jim McGuiggan writes in his little book, A Baptism Worth Talking About, “It is not required of us to have all the answers to all the difficult questions or dilemmas. We don’t have to be able to work out all the ramifications of a truth, but we are called to bring our hearts and practice into line with the truth we know….Ignorance of others has nothing to do with our case. For us the question is how we respond to the truth we know. Also our response to the ignorance of others is not to keep the truth from them.”4

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24). David prays a boldly humble prayer with a heart of trusting submission to God. This is to be the prayer of us all. This is the attitude we are all to have toward God. A prayer, an attitude, hungering to know the will of God, to know what we do not now know, to know where we fall short. Such a prayer is lifted up to God with the attitude of desire to gladly submit our hearts and our lives to God, whether baptism or moral failings or whatever God is calling us to do and to be in Jesus Christ.

_______________

1Robert H. Stein. “Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament” (The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1998), 15.

2Ibid.

3Jim McGuiggan. A Baptism Worth Talking About (Nashville: 21st Century Christian, 2010), 56.

4Ibid., 51-52.

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3 Responses to The Unimmersed and Others

  1. Bart says:

    When I posed this question as a young teen, I was answered with a sentiment akin to the one you expressed here: God knows the heart and condition of the unimmersed believer–their misunderstanding doesn’t affect what we’re supposed to preach about it. This thought appeased me for a long while but the question continues to re-invent itself in my mind. Why do the incorrectly immersed bare fruits of the Spirit? How is it that honest, intelligent and studious Christians come to differing conclusions conerning baptism? I’m not sure the question will ever be completely answered in my mind but I am sure of the teaching of Scripture. Thanks for a wonderful post.

  2. I have always wondered this same thing. The question presents itself every year at my family reunion when my “uncle” Don preaches Sunday morning on the last day of the reunion. He is much like Apollos as Luke describes him. Yet without fail he leaves out the part baptism has in salvation, simply stating that all one needs to do to be saved is believe. Everytime I feel obliged to explain the way of God to him more accurately, though something always holds me back from pointing out his omission. I ask myself if it is indeed as important as I think it is, even though I know that it is. I ask myself who I am to point out his omission and what if simply believing to be saved is all he genuinly thinks one needs to do in order to be saved. What if it is all he knows. But then again how could one possibly be competent in the scriptures and not know about baptism. I know that I am by no means competent in the scriptures (though not for a lack of opportunity to be) and yet I know about baptism and it’s importance as a mode of salvation. Isn’t it more important to focus on the spirit of the law rather than the letter? Perhaps I should bring the matter to his attention and leave it to God to do the rest?

    • David says:

      Devon,
      Our competence in the Bible, or anything for that matter, is rarely, if ever, 100% in accuracy. There is always more to learn. All each of us can do is continue to study, to be open to the truth, and act on that which we understand and believe at the present. If you approach your uncle do so as a fellow believer wanting to learn. Share your understanding of what Scripture teaches. Ask for and listen to his reasoning respectfully. Do not argue. Present your case. Listen to his. Ask questions with a sincere desire to learn. Be prepared to go back yourself and study his view and rethink yours. You will be strengthened in your conviction as you face the challenge and present the reasoning once again to yourself. Trust you are well.
      God’s blessings,
      David

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