Just a couple weeks ago, I watched the recording of a sister church’s service that left me both perplexed and disappointed. The pastor spoke that morning on the doctrine of Christian baptism, focusing on the necessity of the ordinance as a step of obedience. As he continued, however, he far overstepped the bounds of biblical theology by stating that baptism was a sign of rededication and commitment to the Lord, and that even those who had already underwent believer’s baptism should wade into the pool and be immersed again to demonstrate their devotion.
At that point, the pastor himself went into the baptismal pool where he was baptized (again) by one of his staff members. But that was not the end of the service. With the pastor’s re-baptism, another staff member proceeded to the platform and began to recount emotional baptismal stories through which he invited everyone present to respond in obedience by running to the front and jumping into the waters (I am not exaggerating in the least). He told everyone that the church would even provide a change of clothes in which to be baptized, and that nothing should hold them back from participating in this “sign” of devotion. It was nothing less than unbiblical manipulation of Scriptural truth and of people’s emotions.
That day, I watched in horror as the precious doctrine of believer’s baptism was divorced from the gospel — divorced from any call to repent and believe in Christ, any divorced from any examination of the soul. Sadly, dozens and dozens and dozens of people went forward in response. Many of them were likely believers who were misled into being baptized again by the errant teachings of their leaders, and many of them were likely also unbelievers who were further deceived into believing that participation in an outward “sign” of devotion would give them right standing before God. I wonder if this sister Baptist church will report all those baptized that day as new converts in their annual report?
Dear family, I do not share this story with you to degrade our brethren or to exalt ourselves. But for the grace of God, I know I would be far more errant and manipulative. I share this with you all to warn us of dangers that constantly exist in ministry — one general, and one specific. First, in general terms, we need to beware of the idol of pragmatism. Pragmatist are driven by results — the end justifies the means — if it works, do it. They may be completely orthodox in their biblical beliefs, but those beliefs do not serve to define and direct their ministry efforts. They are merely ornaments from a bygone era that receive lip service but no substantive reverence. The end goal is to gather as many people as possible, and to have the church as full and as big as possible, even if the gospel itself must be softened or abandoned to reach that goal. The result is not the making of disciples, but the manufacturing of a “show” that merely entertains the masses as they travel the road to hell.
The second danger, in more specific terms, is the loss of our identity as biblical Christians. More to the point, when the gospel is divorced from the practice of the ordinances, they cease to be biblical ordinances. On that day in that service, the baptismal pool served as little more than a religious dunking booth. I dare say that not one person was truly baptized as a sign of identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection that comes as a result of confessing Jesus as Lord. Thus, the biblical ethic of believer’s baptism was sacrificed on the idolotrous altar of religious pragmatism.
My dear church family, we must continue to be vigilant in guarding the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints. We are called to do ministry by engaging this world with the truths of the gospel, but even as we seek the most effective way to accomplish our commission, we must never fail to proclaim Christ and to stand upon the instruction and model of Scriptural truth. As regards the story recounted above, we must also protect our practice of the ordinances. Christ gave us Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as living pictures of grace to be practiced regularly in the local church, to deepen our worship of Him and to celebrate and remember His redemptive work. We cheapen them when we fail to practice them biblically; and worse, we can mislead people, speeding them towards a Christless eternity, if we ever fail to couple them with the biblical gospel. Thus, let us love Christ, and let us practice His truth rightly, all for the glory of His name among the nations. I love you all!