Sermon Review: Baptism

I’m still pretty certain I killed WordPress on my computer.  I’m unable to link anything in the text, so I had to copy and past the URL to all links.  I’m very sorry, and I’m hoping this is resolved soon. 

Hey ! Check it out!  The links are now fixed!  For some reason it seems to be my internet connection.  Wordpress works fine at this coffee shop I’m at!

Jesus Gave Us Baptism

Currently, Pastor Mark is preaching a sermon series titled, “Jesus Loves His Church.”  Recognizing the importance of baptism in the life of the Church, Mark Driscoll dedicated one sermon entirely to baptism.  One important aspect of this sermon was his critique of paedobaptism, the practice of baptizing infants.  Mars Hill Church does not baptize infants.  They practice credobaptism, in which a person must make a profession of faith prior to baptism.

Says Mark Driscoll:

Now, let me deal first with paedobaptism, and let me say this: there are Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians who disagree with us. They’re wrong. Okay? And in all humility, we love them and we want to fellowship with them, and we know that we’ll rise from death and be with them in the presence of Jesus forever.

And we don’t want to be mean-spirited or antagonistic, but we do want to be biblical, and they can use logic, or history, or reason, or tradition to get there, but there’s not a clear path to infant baptism just from the Bible. It’s just not there. And so, what I would say is, hear me on this, go back and do your own studies, but there is no evidence of any infant ever being baptized in the whole Bible.

First of all, Mark Driscoll should be commended in his admittance that logic, history, reason, and tradition all favor the practice of baptizing infants.  I, on the other hand, will admit to Pastor Mark that there is no clear path to infant baptism in the Bible if he means a clear verse in which an infant was baptized (There are a couple of verses in The Acts of the Apostles in which an infant may have been baptized, but it isn’t clear).  That being said, there is also no clear verse that says infants are to be denied baptism.  Certainly there are many instances in the Bible where adults are baptized, but the Bible never touches on the question of what to do with children of believing parents.

Thus, scripture alone does not answer the question of whether or not to baptize infants.  For whatever reason, God did not make that clear in the Bible.  If, however, we turn to logic, history, reason, and tradition to help us interpret the Bible we do see some clarity on the subject.  Clearly, infant baptism was acceptable in the early Church, and many Christians baptize their precious newborns today for good reason.  The root of Pastor Mark’s split with historical Christianity is that he doesn’t believe that anything happens to a person when they are baptized.  Baptism, for pastor Mark, is simply a way of expressing something outwardly that happened inwardly.  Baptism is an outward expression of somebody being regenerated through faith in Jesus.  He uses a wedding ring as an example:

I’ll give you an example. This is a ring I wear as a wedding ring. This is a sign that points to— What does it point to? My relationship with Grace. This sign makes no sense if I don’t have a wife. But, I wear this as a sign pointing to a relationship. So, baptism is a sign pointing to a relationship. It’s showing Jesus loves me, I love him, we have a saving relationship. And so, the sign doesn’t make any sense without the relationship.

What Pastor Mark says here is most certainly true.  It also certainly does not go far enough to express the wonders of what happens to a soul when they are baptized.  When a person is baptized – whether they are an infant, a child, or an adult – their life is infused to the life of Jesus.  Baptism is seen as the moment where is united to Christ.  This doctrine is called, “Baptismal Regeneration,” and pretty much everyone believed it until relatively recent times.  Many fathers of the Church explicitly mention it.  The Catholic Church – and Orthodox Churches – still teach the doctrine of baptismal regeneration because we received this teaching from the successors of the apostles themselves.  In fact, when we recite the Creed every single Sunday we state our belief in this doctrine.  We say, “I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”  God truly uses baptism to save us as St. Peter made clear 2000 years ago:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1Peter 3:18-22)

Because Pastor Mark misunderstands baptism, he misunderstands the Catholic Church’s teaching on baptism.  Does the Catholic Church believe that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation?  The Catholic Church says that it is, under ordinary circumstances.   This is because baptism is the sacrament whereby a person is united to Jesus.  But the Catholic Church does not believe in Sacramentalism, which is a belief that God is bound to the sacraments.  According to the constant witness of the Church throughout history, God is faithful to working through his sacraments, but He is also free to work outside of the sacraments and is certainly able save people in extraordinary circumstances like, for example, St. Dismas (the name of the thief crucified next to Jesus).  For this reason, a person who desires baptism but is unable to be baptized can certainly be saved.

Pastor Mark is incorrect in his assertion that Catholics believe you must be baptized to be saved in all circumstances, but it doesn’t end there.  He also erroneously informed his congregants that Catholics believe that baptism guarantees one’s salvation.  Relating an experience at a Catholic funeral, he says,

“So, they bring the body in, open casket. The widow’s sitting right in front of it, and I’m up there with the priest, and the priest says, “Mark’s gonna say a few words, but first, I know it’s a sad day, but the good news is even though he didn’t walk with the Lord, he was baptized as an infant so we know that he’s gone to heaven.

I’d love to go back and time and hear what the priest actually said.  My guess is that Mark may have misunderstood him.  But perhaps the priest truly did say this.  It is certainly possible, and if so, we can forgive Pastor Mark for picking up the idea.  But, contrary to this priest’s assertion, baptism – at any point in one’s life – is not a guarantee of salvation.  In Catholic theology a person can “lose their salvation” by committing a mortal sin.   The sacrament of reconciliation then becomes the normal way a person repents and reintegrates their life into the life of Jesus.

Mark Driscoll has, unfortunately, misrepresented the Catholic Church’s teaching of baptism and has accused her of teaching unbiblical doctrines on the grounds that it doesn’t conform to his own personal interpretation of scripture.  Jesus saves!  Jesus also gave the Church the great gift of baptism which he now uses to save Christians by applying the grace of his death and resurrection to their life.  Pastor Mark encouraged his congregation to go home and do their own research on these question.  Hopefully members who belong to his congregation will stumble upon this post and clear up any confusion pertaining to the truth of what Baptism has always meant for Christians.