Prior to becoming a full-time preacher for a local church, I was in sales for over 12 years. It was a pressure-packed job; the company rewarded us well but expected outstanding performance. Why? Because in the business world one single event justifies their existence. At Apple, it is not when a revolutionary product is designed or manufactured or advertised. The critical transaction is when that product is sold.
In the kingdom of Christ, one can argue that there are many points that could be described as a “critical transaction” — and that’s true. But for an individual, there is one moment in time in which an event must occur, or nothing else matters. That decisive moment is when he or she is immersed in water for forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Peter says, in I Peter 3:21, “baptism now saves you.”
That seems clearly stated and easy to understand, right? Yet, most of the evangelical religious world doesn’t agree that adult baptism is the “critical transaction.” They will tell you that one is saved at the moment of belief or “faith,” even though the Bible teaches that many believe but do not act on their belief. For example, James says, “you believe that God is one? You do well; even the demons believe, and tremble” (2:19).
That text — and several others — are inconvenient truths for those who embrace a faith- or grace-only doctrine. These teachers nullify several passages of scripture that teach about the importance of baptism because they do not fit neatly into their particular doctrinal framework. Their presuppositions preclude embracing anything that seems to rock their doctrinal boat.
Reading the Bible from a predetermined “stance” gets people in trouble all the time. Those who are married to the man-made system of Calvinism, for example, attempt to explain away the clear teaching of Jesus and his apostles and their arguments are absurd. I know these teachers aren’t fond of the book of James, but they had better listen to his warning in 3:1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
Jesus told his apostles, in the great commission recorded in Matthew 28:19, to “make disciples, baptizing them in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” A “disciple” is one who follows Jesus, but is not necessarily saved (see John 6:66, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him”). It is necessary to follow Jesus before one is saved by being baptized. You don’t make a disciple by baptizing him; Jesus commands that disciples be baptized.
Yet, William Barclay throws cold water on “baptizing them” with an off-handed remark that “it may well be that the instruction to baptize is something which is a development of the actual words of Jesus” (Matthew, Vol. 2, p 378). “Development” is a coy way of saying, “someone added that, Jesus didn’t actually say it.” But he offers no evidence of that.
Then there is this, from Wayne Grudem, a theology professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: “While we recognize that Jesus commanded baptism (Matthew 28:19) as did the apostles (Acts 2:38), we should not say baptism is necessary for salvation…” (Bible Doctrine, p. 384). At the end of that discussion (p. 385), he concludes: “Baptism, then, is not necessary for salvation. But it is necessary if we are to be obedient to Christ, for he commanded baptism for all who believe in him.” Whaaaatttt???
Is it just me, or does it make sense that one should be very careful about choosing to partner up with a theology that would make you say that you can disobey a clear command of Jesus and still be saved?
Fact: Jesus commanded baptism. Fact: the apostles commanded baptism. Grudem admits it but says it’s OK to disobey those commands. I’ll go with what Jesus commanded instead of what Grudem presupposes. After all, is it not a fair question to ask, “what other commands can we disobey and still be saved?”