A Guide to Christian Theology - Lesson 48


From this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the practice of baptism, including key questions and debates surrounding it. You will learn about the significance of belief preceding baptism, the confessional nature of belief, and the connection between baptism, repentance, and faith. Additionally, you will explore the diverse perspectives on who can perform baptisms and the various locations and methods for baptism. This lesson equips you with insights into the rationale behind believer baptism and provides practical wisdom for making informed decisions about the practice of baptism within your faith community.

Gerry Breshears
A Guide to Christian Theology
Lesson 48
Watching Now

I. Introduction

A. Who Gets Baptized?

1. Believers or babies of believing families?

2. Scriptural support for believers-only view

3. Alternative view - household baptism

B. Is Belief Confessional or Covenantal?

1. Credo baptism - personal confession

2. Paedobaptism - baptism as parallel to circumcision

C. Why Practice Believer Baptism?

1. Scriptural basis - Matthew 28 and repentance/belief leading to baptism

2. Symbolism of baptism and spirit baptism

3. Baptism expressing and confirming repentance and faith

II. By Whom?

A. Different views on who can perform baptism

1. Priests or ordained pastors

2. Recognized leaders or ordained pastors

3. Anyone with spiritual influence

B. Anecdote about a controversial teaching experience

C. Respecting and restoring relationships

III. Where?

A. Locations for baptism

1. Church building with a sanctified tank

2. Home Bible study or public spot for witness

B. Considerations for baptisms involving minors

IV. How?

A. The symbolism of immersion in baptism

1. Immersion as a symbol of death and resurrection

2. Historical use of immersion in early church and Eastern Orthodox Church

B. Flexibility in cases where immersion is not possible

V. When?

A. Timing of baptism in relation to conversion

1. Immediate baptism upon credible profession of faith

2. Baptismal questions to assess readiness

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Understand the core topics of systematic theology, from what we know about God to the future state of humankind. Special emphasis is given to such topics as Christ, salvation, the church, and the future.

A Guide to Christian Theology
Dr. Gerry Breshears
Lesson Transcript

I've got a whole series of questions here on your student guide. And just to unpack some of this in realistic terminology. So the first is, who gets baptized? What is the question? Is it believers, people who have personal repentance and conversion? Or is it babies of believing families? And again, that has to do with your meaning of baptism. I'm very much on the side of believers only. I think that scripture is like Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized." In Acts chapter 16... Oh yeah, we got to look at it. I can't talk about it without it open. Acts chapter 16. You get this very fun picture of Paul and Silas in prison. And here they are in prison, verse 25, Paul and Silas are praying, singing hymns, other prisoners are listening. Suddenly this violent earthquake comes, doors pop open, the jailer wakes up. He says, "Oh my God, I'm going to kill myself." "Don't harm yourself. We're all here." "Sirs, what must I do be saved?" 31, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you be saved, you and your household."

So then they go to his house. And in the house you see the people are filled with joy because they believe in his whole household. So the same people are baptized, are also filled with joy and believing. So what about infants in the household? Well, they're not filled with joy and believing, and they're not baptized, my view. But the other view would say household means every member of the house, including infants. Genesis chapter 17, every male in the household is circumcised. And they'd say, well, infants in that house would've been baptized as members of the family. And I think it's the same ones who are filled with joy and coming to believe who are the ones who are baptized. So I'd say that it's believers only.

Is belief, confessional or covenantal? And I've got this laid out, credo baptism is the idea that personal confession alone gives a right to baptism. I don't think the faith confession of parents merits baptism for a baby, which would be paedobaptism and that baptism of the parallel of circumcision. So I'd say very strongly, baptism is confessional, not merely covenantal. Why practice believer baptism? For me, and again, I'm going to do this quickly, it is a command for believers. Matthew 28, "Make disciples baptizing them," that's the first step, "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

And I've got a list of references here where repentance of belief or lead to baptism. And in my view, baptism symbolizes spirit baptism. So I'll just look at some passages here. Acts 10:47. This is Cornelius. Peter is preaching to them back in verse 44, "While Peter is still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came up upon all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles for they were speaking tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 'Surely no one can stand in the way of they're being baptized with water because they received the Holy Spirit just as we have.'" So in my understanding, water baptism and spirit baptism in a sense of indwelling and incorporation come together.

Households believe before they're baptized. I just looked at that a minute ago. And then as I understand it, baptism expresses and confirms repentance and faith. So baptism is to Christian life as wedding is to married life. So that fills in the blanks of what I've been saying. Now, how to get yourself in trouble. By whom? And this is a place where there's a real differentiation. Who can baptize and get away with it? Priests? See in the Anglican church, and I'm thinking about the evangelical Anglican churches here in the United States, only the ordained priest can do baptism.

In many churches, only ordained pastors can do baptism. So you think, why be ordained? Because that allows you to marry, bury and baptize. In other churches, any recognized leader but you don't have to be... Or ordained pastor can officially baptize. Some people point to the Ethiopian eunuch on the road back to Ethiopia and Philip comes over and helps him understand Isaiah chapter 53, oh, I get it. There's water. Can I be baptized? So Philip baptizes him. That idea is one of the most significant spiritual influence. And a final level down, anyone I want to have a part in my life. And I know churches have all of these views.

So, where do you come out? Here's why I say you can get in trouble with this. I was teaching in Odessa, Ukraine, Odessa Theological Seminary. Fine school there in South Ukraine. And I was making a point like this, who can baptize? And I'm saying biblically, according to the Bible, who baptizes? And the answer is, I've got these spiritual experts sitting around here, biblically who can baptize? And the answer is, it doesn't say. It doesn't say. What? Look at the passages. It never says who can actually baptize. And I saw I was making a strong point, there is no biblical statement, but I said, "In your church, you have every right to make the decision who can baptize in your church. But what you can't say is as the Bible teaches."

Did that get me in trouble? Yeah, because in the Ukrainian Baptist organization, only ordained pastors can do it. And the fact that I said very publicly that there's no such thing in the Bible. Although I didn't say Ukrainian Baptist organization, but I did say local churches, can define it any way they want. I was brought up on charges of heresy before the president of the seminary. Seriously, the last day I was there, I found out through my friend that, "Gary, did you know that you've been charged with heresy?" I said, "Really? What for this time?" I was a little lighthearted. I realized he was dead serious. "Oh, I have?" And he told me what it was. And some of the students had gone to the president of the seminary and had charged me with being, heretic wasn't quite the word they used, but I was teaching false doctrine. And I was being tried in the last day of the class in my time there at Odessa Seminary that week, that was of two weeks.

Wow, okay. This is my first time to be officially tried for heresy. I'd say it lightly now, but it was really serious then. And I went in total humility, sat down in front of the class. The president wasn't there, but the dean was, and he was the trial officer. And two of the students were the accusing people. And the rest of the class was hearing what was going on. And I had no idea what the procedure were. I just knew I was potentially in real trouble. So the guy that did it, very strongly opinionated guy, Igor. And he just made the point very clear that I was teaching contrary to the Baptist teachings. And I received it, I didn't really say anything. But the dean, who was the presiding judge if you will, went to the rest of the class and said, "What do you guys think?"

And I kind of laughed because the rest of the class said, "We like Gary." I mean to summarize things a little bit, and they were talking about the teaching and such. And so it was two against about 15 in the class saying, we think Gary's right that the Bible doesn't say but we have a right to define it ourselves, but we can't see it as the Bible does. That meant that these two guys in the back of the room who had lost publicly and they're shamed, in our ashamed society. I didn't have anything to do with it because I didn't say anything the whole time. And I was dismissed before the judgment was made.

What do you do in something like this? So I got up to walk out of the classroom. As I went out, I saw Igor sitting in the back and we'd had a very cordial relationship, I'd been there several times before. And I walked out, and that's one of the times the Holy Spirit said, "Offer him your hand." That's pretty risky, but okay, here you go, Holy Spirit. So I held up my hand to him, prayerfully, and he reached and took my hand and we shook hands. Yes, I said because that meant that was a bid for the fact that I'm respecting him and he accepting that.

Then I came back to teach eschatology. That was three or four months later. I don't remember when it was time-wise. So I came in, Igor was in the class, we've had this very public thing. He has lost respect. I've given respect back to the best I can. I greeted him as I did the other students. As I began to teach, I was watching him because I knew he was going to make some sort of bid. I didn't know what it would be. So I'm drawing some graphs up on the board of pre tri and post tri and all that kind of stuff. And I see him, he doesn't speak English and I don't speak Russian. But he said something, I realized, he wanted to say, "Igor, what is it?" And he said through the translator, "Could I correct something on your chart?"

I said, "Of course, please, please come help out." He came up, made one very minor change on the chart. Didn't really change anything. I commended, "Oh, thank you for that correction. How could I have made that mistake? Thank you so much." See, I gave him huge respect to restore him. And we were great friends. When we finished up that time, we prayed together, exchanged hugs. And see, that's what to do in that kind of a thing. But these have real, real significance. So who can baptize in our church? The person of great spiritual influence. So one time we had a high school girl who's a evangelist. She'd led two of her friends to Christ. And so it came time to baptize. This came to the elders, we need your wisdom. We said, "Of course, a high school can do it. She led him to Christ. She's discipling. Why not?"

So when we did it, because that was the first time we'd done something like that, we just explained to the congregation what was going on, what her role was and why she'd be doing the baptism. And we had one of the pastors in the tank with her, but he's just standing off to the side. He's the one that actually did the explanation of what was going on. And so she baptized the first girl, it was great. She got excited and the second girl she dropped and the whole place just burst out in laughter. That [inaudible] really bad thing and got her back up again. But it was a time of celebration for the role this high schooler was having with their high school girls. She was having spiritual influence. She was the right one to baptize.

So whoever it is that's who we have to do it. Often it's a father, sometimes it's a mother. So that's where we come out. But you need to discern this and make it really clear. Where? Where do you do baptism? Well, in many cases it's in a church building with a sanctified tank. That's the only place you could do baptism. Now, I'm somewhat sarcastic about the sanctified tank. Where the church or a significant part of it meets. Can your home Bible study and you baptize in a swimming pool in somebody's backyard? Or should it be a bigger group? Or in a public spot where witness be given to Jesus?

I think any of these could be true, but I like to have a large group. In our particular policy we don't allow baptism to happen at a student high school retreat unless the parents have agreed to it. We don't think it's good to baptize somebody under 18 without the parents having a right to be a part of that process. So somebody over 18, if they want to be baptized in a home Bible study and swimming pool, that's fine by our policy. Most of our baptism happen in our sanctified tank. When my two grandchildren were baptized just recently in the Spokane River, Emily and Judah were baptized. It's 55 degrees in that water. It'll be memorable to them. When Emily came out of the water, she jumped out of the water, it was cold. So the place.

How? When I look at Romans chapter 6, "What should I say then? Shall we go on in sin so that grace may increase?" No way. We have died to sin longer. Now here's what he goes on. "Do you not know that you're baptized into Christ Jesus. We're baptized into his death. Therefore, buried with him through baptism to death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, to the glory of the Father we may live to new life. If we've been united with him in a death like this, we're sure to be united with him in a resurrection like this." I think the only thing that gives that picture is immersion. Nobody debates that it was done by immersion in the early church. The Eastern Orthodox Church to this day baptizes babies baptizes them by full immersion. And I've seen it happen. They do it carefully, but you often end up with a shocked baby.

But that's what they fully immerse the baby. So I think immersion is the only way that does that. But others say, well, the other Spirit's reality is the Holy Spirit is poured out therefore in the pouring or sprinkling of clean water that's done. I think immersion is the best symbol. We're not legalistic about it. We had a guy in a powered wheelchair. We could have lifted him up into the tank, we didn't. We got him good and wet. But I mean, that's the exception of the norm. When? As you can imagine, I'm making a part of the time of conversion. So I wanted to time immediate upon credible profession of faith. So in my understanding, I've often been the... When you do baptisms, we have somebody designated and we invite people. If you haven't been baptized and today's the day we'd love to have you do it, go talk to Gary. He's right over there, or whoever it is. And I've been that person on several occasions. And what I want to hear from anybody is let's say Billy, can Billy express his faith in his words without mommy present?

Can Billy express his faith in his words without mommy present? And there are four questions we ask. Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus to you? Are you renouncing all the spiritual authority in your life? And do you commit to following Jesus all the days of your life? Those are four baptismal questions. Who is Jesus? They do understand who that is. Who is Jesus to you? Savior and Lord or whatever. You renounce all spiritual authorities and are you committing the follow him wherever He leads all the days of your life? That's our baptismal questions. And I don't care how old somebody is, they can answer those questions. So if somebody was six years old and could really say their faith in their words and answer those questions, I mean that'd be unusual, but it could be. I know some six year olds who can do that. So that's our questions and we do it as a part of that conversion. So that's our wisdom on baptism.


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