Pastors and preachers get a lot of hate mail. At least that’s my impression. It’s not uncommon for “brothers and sisters in Christ” to take issue with something said in a sermon and then rip the poor preacher a new one in a vitriolic missive, which may or may not be anonymous. It’s an occupational hazard, I’m sorry to say. However, I too have wanted to address things that were said, but haven’t felt like I had the proper relationship with the person to go to them. On one hand, the pastor/preacher has said something publicly which I feel needs to be addressed. On the other hand, I don’t want to attack anyone. So, I’ve decided to post my e-mail on this blog. Why? First, because whenever we say things in public, then we should expect to have them addressed publicly. Second, what I want to say doesn’t get treated like hate mail and filtered into the Spam folder right away. So, here’s my letter to a pastor I heard recently teaching about baptism.
At the risk of coming across as a Critic rather than a fellow Christian, I feel the need to address a contradiction I heard in your sermon recently on baptism. I’m pretty sure that most folks didn’t catch it and I expect you didn’t catch it either.
You wanted to make the point that baptism doesn’t save the believer in Jesus. You stated that “baptism is a work”. Later in your sermon, you said that believers must “submit to baptism”. I believe that the second comment reveals a contradiction in your understanding of baptism. I will explain why.
First, I think we agree that a “work” is something that some one does. The idea that you wanted to communicate is that the believer can’t be saved by anything the believer does. Nothing the believer does can result in God choosing to save the believer. However, I suggest to you that baptism is not something that the believer does. As you said, the believer “submits to baptism”. The work is done to her. S/He does not do it. Someone else does it to her. So in your sermon, you directly stated that “baptism is a work” yet you implied that it isn’t. Why is this important and not just quibbling about words?
The Evangelical way of reasoning about the role of baptism in salvation goes like this:
- We are saved by grace through faith, not by works.
- Baptism is a work.
- Therefore, baptism does not save us.
This reasoning doesn’t hold up once you realize that baptism is not a work; at least, not a work that a believer does.I believe that this confusion about baptism being a work makes it difficult to understand that part in Peter which states that “baptism now saves you”. How can he say such a thing when Paul says that we are not saved by works? Paul doesn’t trump Peter does he? Peter doesn’t supersede Paul does he? Of course not. We both know that these two apostles are not contradicting each other. So how can we make sense of this? I think we have to start by letting go of the idea that baptism is a work. Then, we can think again more clearly about the role of baptism in the salvation of sinners. Perhaps we can also think more clearly about the relationship between “work” and salvation as well. After all, what sense does James make if we are “saved by faith apart from works”? What sense does Jesus make when he welcomes people into the”joy of your Master” based upon the good works they did for the hungry, naked and imprisoned? It’s all Scripture, so it’s all got to be true together at the same time.
I hope that you’ll give this some thought and see how baptism is not a work and that perhaps it has a different sort of role in salvation than the one that you spoke about recently.