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.


14 comments on “Sermon Review: Baptism

  1. Jonathan says:

    Another good site for infant baptism is the following:

    We are conceived in sin and all need to be cleansed, from birth. We also see biblical precedent for healing and forgiveness based on the faith of others.

    Circumcision was the (necessary) sign of the old covenant (Genesis 17:14: “If a male is uncircumcised, that is, if the flesh of his foreskin has not been cut away, such a one will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”). Baptism is the new circumcision, necessary for entry into the new covenant, cleansing us of the iniquity of our birth.

    Circumcision was done with babies. What logic is there to dictate that a loving God would now require children to wander in the effects of original sin for so many years before making a decision with an immature mind? Parents safeguard and raise their children, and what better gift can parents give than to allow their children to be cleansed of original sin? That seems like a much better and more loving way to raise a child. Parents don’t let their children decide every aspect of their lives by themselves; why is baptism, which is so important, different? The idea that it’s different must necessarily be linked with the idea that it is just a sign of something else and really isn’t that important; otherwise we’d all be flocking to baptise our children.

    Colossians 2:11-14 especially makes baptism sound like more than just a symbol or sign of something. Through baptism we are buried with Christ and rise with Him to new life, forgiven of our transgressions. The part about “baptism now saves you” is further illuminated by Mark 16:16: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (keeping in mind what you said about God not being bound by the sacraments). This is what “being born of water and spirit” (John 3:6) means, and we literally see this at the baptism of Jesus (though He obviously didn’t need to be cleansed of sin). Baptism looks to be quite a bit more than a symbol.

    I have to agree with this sentiment:

    “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’m surprised that a person would be able to say, “I admit that it may be possible to see clearly that history shows that infant baptism was always a teaching of the Church from the beginning (before the Bible, which is an important point for one looking solely to the Bible), but my personal belief is that infant baptism is a false teaching” and not think, “How do I know that I’m right and 1500+ years of consistent teaching are wrong? What gives me the right to think that I’m the only divinely-inspired authority in the world and there has been none other since the apostles?”

    I think the problems mainly stem from two things:

    1. When one abandons the established authority, the only authority left is “me”, and so “I” can’t be wrong about anything, because otherwise the entire Christian world, which rests solely on “my” shoulders crumbles to pieces and ceases to exist
    2. When one abandons the teachings passed down by the established authority, there is only one thing left: the Bible; nothing outside of it can be true, because that in itself would prove that there is an actual authority outside the Bible and the Bible-only Christian in question (it’s good to wonder where the Bible came from originally as well…)

    Why is it so hard to believe that God made it really, really easy for us by giving us a central, very visible authority guided constantly by His Holy Spirit to the fullness of the truth if we already believe that God loves us and wants us all to come to Him?

    I suppose that there is a third reason that trumps the first two:

    3. While Catholics can often take this authority and consistent teaching throughout history for granted, non-Catholics are often raised to think in such a way that this concept is completely ruled out and thus develop a filter that excludes such a worldview by default (Catholics improperly catechised can often fall into this trap as well)

  2. Jonathan says:

    Oh, and in case this might help with your WordPress problems…

    It’s possible that the problem is related to data that your computer is storing related to WordPress, especially if there was an update to WordPress and your computer has old data.

    What you can try is clearing all cookies and temporary internet files after closing the browser (after logging out of WordPress) and then loading WordPress again.

    If that doesn’t work, you can always see if a firewall is interfering, though that doesn’t seem as likely. It’s also possible that data is corrupt on WordPress’s end…

  3. Moonshadow says:

    I’m aware that when Catholics formally join other Christian communities, they are baptized again. However, I have not heard of formerly Catholic spouses exchanging wedding vows again. What makes a Catholic wedding ceremony acceptable before other Christians when a baptism is not? I imagine ministerial ordination would also be redone.

    • Anastasios says:

      Well, Protestants don’t consider marriage a sacrament; they view it as only a secular legal contract or union. As a result, they believe it’s the government that has the authority to marry people, not the church. (This could be one reason why formerly Protestant countries are far more likely to have legalized gay marriage, since the institution was already “secularized” by the reformation).

      Orthodox do consider marriage a sacrament, and many (not all) Orthodox churches recognize Catholic baptism as at least partially valid (so they will not rebaptize Catholics but will chrismate them).

  4. gary says:

    His comments reflect a major misconception that evangelicals have of orthodox Christians. Lutherans do not believe that baptism is necessary (mandatory) for salvation. Not even the Roman Catholic Church believes this. All the saints of the Old Testament, the thief on the cross, and thousand of martyrs down through the centuries have been saved without Baptism. Baptism is not the “how” of salvation!

    Lutherans believe that baptism is one of several “when”s of salvation, it is not the “how” of salvation. The “how” of salvation is and always has been the power of God’s Word/God’s declaration of righteousness.

    A sinner can be saved by the power of God’s Word when he hears the Word preached in a church, preached on TV or radio, reading a Gideon’s Bible in a hotel room, or reading a Gospel tract that contains the Word. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, through the power of his Word alone, received in faith alone. In each of these situations, the sinner is saved the instant he or she believes. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation to occur.

    However, the Bible in multiple passages, also states that God uses his Word to save at the time of Baptism.

    It is the work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, that works salvation in the sinner’s spiritually dead soul, according to the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, and the third chapter of Romans. Your “decision for Christ” does not save you, neither does your decision to be baptized.

    God saves those whom he has elected, at the time and place of his choosing. Sometimes God saves them while hearing a sermon in church, sometimes at home reading the Word, and sometimes by the power of his Word spoken during Baptism.

    God does 100% of the saving. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. There is no passage in the New Testament that asks sinners to make a decision for Christ. The Bible states that God quickens sinners, gives them faith, and they believe and repent.

    The sinner does not decide to be saved. God decides to save the sinner!

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • zeeehjee says:

      Thanks for the comment Gary. I put it this way: God isn’t BOUND to the sacrament of baptism to save us, but he has PROMISED to save us through baptism.

      • gary says:

        Just to let you know, we orthodox (conservative) Lutherans (LCMS and others) have MUCH more in common with Roman Catholics that we do with most Protestants, ESPECIALLY the evangelicals, who deny Baptismal Regeneration and the Real Presence in the Holy Sacrament.

        It is unfortunate that we orthodox Christians (RCC, EOC, conservative Lutherans, conservative Anglicans) cannot find a way to resolve our remaining differences and be restored to one, united Faith. We are so close. While liberal Protestants march down the road to humanist/secular irrelevance, and the evangelicals turn their faith and worship into a feel-good rock concert, we Christians that uphold the 2,000 year old liturgy and the belief that God DOES save in infant baptism, will be the only ones left as recognizable Christianity.

      • zeeehjee says:

        Gary –

        What are your thoughts on the ordinariate that Pope Benedict established for Anglicans, in order to restore communion between Catholics and Anglicans? Basically, he offered a means for them to be considered Catholic, and be allowed to practice the Anglican tradition. Clearly, this took some serious concessions from Anglicans who chose to enter Catholicism through the ordinariate. (They had to accept Catholic ecclesiology, being the biggest)

  5. gary says:

    It is actually rumored that the Vatican is considering a Lutheran ordinariate…specifically for conservative/orthodox Lutherans who still hold to the liturgy and the two thousand year old Church positions on sexuality and the role of women. This would then exclude liberal Lutherans, such as the ELCA.

    I predict that within the next 100 years, orthodox Lutherans such as we in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod will re-associate with Rome, but in what context I am not sure. I think we would be willing to recognize the Pope as the leader of the Church, but stating that he is the Vicar of Christ would probably be too much of a stretch for us. As long as we are allowed to keep our beliefs, most importantly that justification occurs by faith alone (in Holy Baptism) without the assistance of works, I think it is certainly possible to see orthodox Lutherans back in communion with the Church of Rome. In principle, Catholics and Lutherans reached agreement on the Doctrine of Justification in the 1990’s.

    Be aware that there are plenty of orthodox Lutherans that would rather be lit on fire than re-associate with Rome, but I believe that they are a minority, but a vocal minority.

    • zeeehjee says:

      Very interesting comment, Gary. I would love to see a Lutheran Ordinariate myself. Are you familiar with what Pope Benedict said regarding Sola Fide? It was something to the effect of, “A Catholic can believe Sola Fide, so long as it is not opposed to charity.”

      • gary says:

        Could you explain what the Pope meant by that statement?

        We Lutherans believe that salvation is by faith alone, but that faith without works is dead: In other words, if you don’t produce good works, you demonstrate you do not have true faith, you are therefore not saved, you will therefore go to hell unless you repent and truly believe AND do good works as a result of true faith.

        In my humble opinion, Lutherans and Catholics, bottom line, are saying the same thing.

        no good works—>no true faith—>no salvation

  6. Adam Borsay says:

    I know this is an older post…not sure if you read comments from here anymore….

    Disclaimer; I am an evangelical pastor of a non-denominational church.

    My issue with paedobaptism in how it is “practically” practiced in American Catholicism. My wife comes from a Catholic family, though I have never known any of them to attend mass post confirmation(age 13ish…?). But they proudly identify as Catholic. All my nephews and nieces were baptized as infants. This is the only time I have ever known of their parents to step foot inside their local church. They truly believe that this is “good enough” and they are just making sure they have their ducks in a row. They don’t teach their kids the bible, they don’t go to church, they do not do any of the things that one would identify as “christian activity”.

    What blows my mind is that the priests happily go along with this. Whether nor not they personally hold to the view that this is not acceptable, they willingly go along with the “charade” of assisting these people in maintaining their catholic bonafides.

    While I have known some wonderful and faithful catholics who I would not hesitate to call brothers and sisters, the overwhelming majority of catholics are culturally catholic at best. I regularly listen to Catholic Answers Live(820am in Columbus, Ohio) and think those guys are great….but sadly have rarely met many “common” catholics who take their faith even half as seriously. The local catholic church in my town was able to boast membership around 10k, yet barely cracked 600 total during weekend masses.

    Perhaps it isn’t fair to criticize the theological argument for paedobaptism(though I don’t agree), but I find that most of the most vociferous critics are generally pointing out the irregularities in what the Catholic Church claims to teach and what the vast majority of the catholics that most of us know actually do.

    While bad practices and poor teaching by the priests and bishops does not make catholic theology “wrong”, it is confusing for protestants to see such a wide divide between belief and practice in the lives of the catholics we know. If the Catholic church got serious in cleaning house and addressing these issues it would go a long way in cutting off the critics ammunition. But as long as “practicing” Catholics continue to do things like; support abortion, show up to mass once a year, never go to church but show up for baby baptisms, etc, and they do this with impunity since no one ever seems to say, “this is not acceptable” it makes the whole thing look ridiculous.

    The protestant church does have its fair share of problems, and a lack of formal “bucks stops here” authority can be a big one. But until the Catholic church cleans house most faithful evaneglicals who might be sympathetic to “coming home” never will.

    • zeeehjee says:

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with much of it. I actually am a Catholic Priest (when I started this site I was not yet ordained) so I can tell you that most priests are not happy about the fact that we have “failed” so many people. It is a huge disappointment for the vast majority of us. There are many things that have led us to where we are right now and thankfully they are being cleaned up.

      I agree with your point about “Cultural Catholics.” However, I think the verdict is still out on evangelicals. It seems to me like there are a lot of cultural evangelicals right now. People in my high school class who were brought up evangelical by their often former Catholic parents aren’t exactly model believers either. In fact it seems to me like there are increasingly large numbers of disillusioned evangelicals who are fed up with the celebrity pastor mega Church culture and moving on from religion all together. They still believe in Jesus and they like to try to do what the Bible says, but they aren’t interested in organized Church. In many ways they are exactly like former Catholics.

      Plus there is a trend in evangelicalism you don’t see too much in Catholicism which is Church shopping. In my town there are quite a few evangelical Churches and most of the evangelicals in town sort of hop from place to place. They go to a place for six months to a year, then they get bored and try out another Church. As I understand it, this is a pretty common experience for most evangelicals (evangelical Churches like many Catholic parishes have their “insiders” who stay stable, but most of the others come and go).

      My point is that its easy to point to shortcomings in Catholicism because they are very apparent, but modern evangelicalism in America is too young to have its own problems diagnosed. I think you will find its much harder to pass on faith from generation to generation than it might appear. Modern evangelicalism is still new, hip, and sexy. It won’t always be.

      I bet you and I could have quite a fun discussion in person. Too bad I don’t live in Ohio!

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