Spontaneous baptisms and a nasty case of the heebie jeebies

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Over the last week, there’s been a lot of discussion about the practice of spontaneous baptism, spurred on by controversy surrounding Elevation Church’s how-to guide for “doing your part in God’s miracle.” Russell Moore’s weighed in, The Gospel Coalition released a roundtable discussion between Matt Chandler, Mark Dever and Darrin Patrick about 18 months ago, and undoubtedly many more voices are bound to say something.

None of us, of course, should be surprised that Furtick and Elevation would meticulously plan out such things—after all, anyone who has read Furtick’s books or heard him speak anywhere would be painfully aware of his Revivalist, um, “exuberance.” The first time I heard him speak was at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit a few years back where he demoed the power of Spirit Keys to set the mood during a worship gathering (and I hated Spirit Keys ever since).

Obviously there’s a lot more to be concerned about with Furtick than the spontaneous baptism issue (I’ll spare you my laundry list)—but the spontaneous baptism issue is an important one. While we see a few instances of spontaneous baptism in Scripture, which should lead us to be cautious of completely ruling it out as a practice in all circumstances, it’s still something we need to be careful of.

A bit of backstory: I was baptized in a more-or-less spontaneous situation. I’d been a Christian for about three months at that point and knew it was something I should do, but didn’t know when. One weekend in August 2005, the church we attended was performing baptisms (the majority of which were planned in advance). Emily and I watched each person and as we did, I felt compelled to get baptized. So Emily and I both talked to the youth pastor, asked if we could, the pastor got back into his wet pants, we shared what God had been doing in our lives—how He brought us to faith, how the gospel changed us—and then we were baptized.

The church I was baptized in was careful—their wasn’t a pressure for us to get baptized right away. There wasn’t an overly emotional appeal at the end, although they did invite people to come forward if they felt the Holy Spirit compel them to do so (which is fairly typical for most evangelical churches these days from what I can tell).

As you can imagine, the whole conversation is very personal to me. But here’s where I land, for what it’s worth: we should be very, very cautious to baptize anyone too quickly. I’d rather wait and (as best as any of us are able) be sure that someone is truly saved, is bearing fruit (even if it’s a tiny amount) and understands the significance of the sacrament.

What Furtick’s approach (and the revivalist mindset in general) reveals is a deficient understanding of this essential sacrament. But Furtick isn’t alone in this. We laughingly call baptism getting a bath, or getting dunked… When we’re being serious, we tend to stick to the now standard “outward declaration of an inward transformation” definition.

And while this elevator speech version is certainly true, we need to more fully express what that “inward transformation” entails. J. I. Packer’s definition of baptism is exceptionally helpful in this regard:

Christian baptism, which has the form of a ceremonial washing (like John’s pre-Christian baptism), is a sign from God that signifies inward cleansing and remission of sins (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:25–27), Spirit-wrought regeneration and new life (Titus 3:5), and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit as God’s seal testifying and guaranteeing that one will be kept safe in Christ forever (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:13–14). Baptism carries these meanings because first and fundamentally it signifies union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3–7; Col. 2:11–12); and this union with Christ is the source of every element in our salvation (1 John 5:11–12). Receiving the sign in faith assures the persons baptized that God’s gift of new life in Christ is freely given to them. At the same time, it commits them to live henceforth in a new way as committed disciples of Jesus. Baptism signifies a watershed point in a human life because it signifies a new-creational ingrafting into Christ’s risen life. 1

While a convert doesn’t necessarily have to understand all the implications of this reality, if they understand none of it—if they’re compelled only by an emotional experience, if there is no credible evidence of Spirit-borne fruit, if there’s no evidence they understand the gospel at all—then we are absolutely right to have a nasty case of the heebie jeebies. Baptism signifies our union with Christ, the forgiveness of our sins and is a commitment to living as one of His disciples. When people just take a bath, they’re missing the point. And when we encourage them to do so, so are we.

photo credit: Mars Hill Church via photopin cc

Links I like

links i like

A very important lesson in grammar

Who Can Baptize?

Kevin DeYoung:

Christians are used to debating the question “Who can be baptized?” But much less ink (digital or otherwise) has been spilled debating the question “Who can baptize?” Should baptism–and the Lord’s Supper for that matter–be administered only by ordained pastors (and possibly elders), or can any church member in good standing preside over the sacraments?

Get The Work of Christ in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Work of Christ by R.C. Sproul (hardcover) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Ultimate Issues teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steven Lawson (ePub + MOBI)
  • Welcome to a Reformed Church by Daniel Hyde (paperback)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

How to preach with biblical fullness

Ray Ortlund:

My brother pastor, to preach with biblical fullness, rising above ourselves and our biases, let’s just preach through the Bible, passage by passage, letting each passage make its unique contribution, confident that over time the fullness of it all will serve people well with a massive vision of the Triune God.  But let us never force a passage to say what we think it ought to say and, in effect, correct God.

Kill Your Jesus Talisman

Jared C. Wilson:

I can win any slam dunk contest through him who gives me strength. If I will ask God for the ability to do so “in Jesus’ name,” of course.

When I was a kid I had a poster of Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” — with a photo of a guy dunking a basketball. You can bet I thought long and hard about how Jesus was gonna help me dunk on some fools.

Seven Characteristics of the Antichrist

David Murray:

Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m only following the Scriptural precedent of describing the characteristics to look out for rather than the Antichrist’s name and address.

But stay with me because you need to know what to look out for and, who knows, maybe someone will read the seven characteristics and think, “Hey I know that guy!” And remember, although THE Antichrist may not yet have arisen, John warns us that there are many antichrists already in the world. So what are we looking for?

Around the Interweb

Should We Baptize Small Children?

Trevin Wax:

Because Scripture does not shackle us to a certain age or make clear prescriptions in this area, we must exercise restraint in making dogmatic assertions regarding the “proper age” for baptism. It’s wisdom we are after, not uniformity. Faithful pastors may disagree.

To be clear, I do not consider childhood baptisms invalid. I myself was baptized when I was eight.

But I do believe that we should be very careful in how we handle the precious little ones that the Lord has entrusted to our care – neither discouraging them from believing in Christ nor giving them false assurance of their decision by speedily baptizing them.

Read the whole thing here.

Also Worth Reading

Humility: The Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person

Answered Prayer: Said Musa Released from Prison!

Wisdom from Saints of Old: The Reality of Hell

Ministry: Does Preaching Make Disciples?

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Sermon Audio: Delighting in Devotion

(Audio)Book Review: Jesus in the Present Tense by Warren W. Wiersbe

(Audio)Book Review: Justified by Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul

My Memory Moleskine: Jesus Plus Anything Equal Nothing

Bid Them To Count the Cost