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Friday, March 25, 2011

Is Baptism All That Important?

She just showed up in a church I pastored. We hadn't reached out to her. She was just there one Sunday morning. She looked like she might be from Pakistan or India. She wore western clothes but I wondered if this was her normal way of dressing.  Under her arm was a fairly new Bible. It was obvious that she knew nothing about church but she was very interested.

When I met her she told me of a strange experience she had on her birthday. She said she was mysteriously urged to buy and read a Bible. She bought the Bible and had been reading it ever since. After a while she felt she should attend church. Our church was simply close to where she lived.

The churches I pastor have always offered an invitation at the end of our worship services. We invite people to give their hearts to Christ, join the church or share a prayer request. During one of these worship services this lady walks forward and struggles with the decision to give her life to Christ. She shares how she wants to do so but can't because of her family's religion. They would not understand. I prayed with her and told her that this was a decision she must make. I can't make it for her. I can't assure her that her family wouldn't treat her badly. I could only tell her that Jesus had died for her and that this decision would be the most important one she would ever make.

A few weeks later she came forward again. She was in tears. She told me that her Lord had died for her and she could not deny Him her heart. She prayed to receive Christ. She then told me that she could not however be baptized because that would keep her from attending her daughter's wedding. I told her that this decision is one between her and the Lord. I can neither save people nor give them conviction.

It was a few months before she came forward again in a worship service. Again, she was in tears. She told me that she had been under conviction to be baptized. She somehow understood what Jesus was saying when he told people that they must hate their father, mother, children and their own lives if they wished to be His disciples. A few weeks later, I baptized her.

And, no, she was not allowed to attend her daughter's wedding.

Is baptism that important? Should this lady simply have continued as a believer without being baptized? Does the Bible make provision for that?

There is no evidence in the New Testament of someone who gave his life to Christ and then refused baptism if he had an opportunity to be baptized. This was the first act of faith after they believed. They knew that it would mark them as Christians. They knew that it put their lives in peril. Yet, they felt it was that important to be baptized.

Many people who call themselves Christian treat their faith in Christ as if it is fire insurance. They make a public statement of knowing Christ but have no other evidence in their lives. They treat baptism as a right of passage rather than an act of faith. They see it as something they will do when they get around to it. I often stand beside graves making statements of those who said they had faith but who were never baptized nor who attended church. These people may have had fire insurance but they have no salvation assurance.

Jesus said that those who love Him will obey Him. He told His followers to make disciples and baptize them. Doesn't it make as much sense that these new disciples must be baptized in order to be disciples?

I don't believe for a moment that baptism saves the individual. I just believe that those who know Christ will be baptized. It is so important that refusing to be baptized either indicates your lack of faith or your rebellion. I am not sure of the difference between these two.

I talked with a man yesterday that I baptized in the Jordan River. He told me that he didn't expect it to be that important to him but it was. He told me that it had made a significant difference in his life. His denomination believes that you are baptized and then profess faith. (They see baptism as a sign of the covenant with God. The previous sign was circumcision. This was done without the consent of the one being circumcised. It is done apart for his faith too. I understand this belief in baptism but I personally don't subscribe to it. However, I have found many of the people in this denomination strong Christians.) He had never been baptized as a result of his faith. I told him that I had a similar experience when I was baptized. It was more important than I imagined.

So, baptism is a very important step in your faith. In fact, I can't see how you can believe and refuse to be baptized.

You may be struggling with this the decision of whether or not to be baptized. This is a decision between you and the Lord. Have you asked Him about it?

Acts 8:36 (NIV)
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"

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