Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Conversion and Baptism

In the NT period a Christian unattached to a church was unknown, since a person's very response to the gospel in baptism would have brought him or her into the fellowship of a local company of Christ's people.  Our difficulties today in applying this teaching arise from separating baptism and conversion so that a considerable number of years frequently lie between the two... We are also hampered by 'church' having become a formal institutionalized structure rather than the living communion of men and women in Christ, which it was at first.
Bruce Milne; Know the Truth, p287

I struggle to comprehend the 'gap' between conversion and baptism which many practice these days. I was 9 when I got baptised, because one morning I came to realise the saving factor of God's grace. I was blown away by His love, His sacrifice and the fact I needed to make Him Lord of my life.  My reaction to that was to go and tell my mother I wanted to be baptised.  When she asked why, I was able to tell her the reasons I just mentioned.  For me baptism was a natural, instant response to the faith I found in Jesus (even in the child-like understanding I had when I was 9).  I'd heard the stories about Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the households Peter had evangelised too, and had seen their initial response to the Gospel was the joyful act of baptism, so I found my actions felt completely normal.

Does that mean it's a cultural thing that people wait a few years now before they get baptised?  Is it because we aren't sharing the Gospel properly? or explaining what baptism is properly?  As I said, it's a concept I struggle to understand, or see how to do different.

Maybe also this idea of the institutionalised church hampers it (culturally) as well.  Because baptism then allows for membership do we want people to 'prove' their faith over a bit of time before we talk about baptism, so that we 'protect' the membership of the church?

So many questions, and I don't really have any answers.


Joe Khan said...

Part of the difficulty lies in the reality that in the NT period people actually viewed baptism AS their confession of faith. It was their first profession of faith and therefore inseparable from their salvation. Hence we have verses like 1 Peter 3:21 which speak of baptism saving us...

I don't think it is fair to blame an "institutionalisation" of the church for the conversion baptism gap... I think the need for a membership that professes Christ as Lord and Saviour is important. Perhaps greater understanding lies in how baptism is viewed by the society around the church and the church itself. In first century baptism for a Jew was akin to denying your Jewishness and embracing Christ. In the Gentile world it was a slap in the face to the Roman gods and blasphemy against Caesar. Baptism would therefore bring scorn from your family, friends and even the government... and could even put a target on your back for persecution. To be baptised for any reason other than conversion would have been almost unheard of.

Baptism today is viewed by society as a harmless tradition and viewed by the church as an easy thing thing that all good Christians should do. It is easy for young people to choose to get baptised to fit in with the church crowd or to impress the pastor's daughter... because there is no cost to their baptism.

I am all for quickly moving people from conversion to baptism but I think in a culture where there is no cost to baptism it is important that we have some way of making sure they understand the cost of following Christ that is attached to their baptism... Baptism is not a cool thing to do, it is a serious thing and marks a costly decision to follow Christ!

Deano said...

Hmm yes, we talked about that when we did Francis Chan's Crazy Love studies last year - the idea of the cost of Baptism today for people in the Middle East and some African and Asian nations gives us an idea of the cost of Baptism (with conversion) which we don't totally comprehend here.

How can we teach or display something of the cost of baptism in our culture then?

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