This series of blog postings is intended to draw attention to teachings and practices in the church in Namibia that undermine the progress of the gospel in Namibia. In this exercise I am not attempting to draw out splinters from my brother’s eye, whilst having a log in my own. My desire is to let the Scriptures judge us, and in this process I too need to be self -critical rather than judgmental.
This is the second blog posting in my series, “Saving Christians from…”.
Last week my blog was entitled, “Saving Christians from Joyce Meyer”. Joyce Meyer is a well known American prosperity teacher, with a world- wide influence. Having studied the “Word of faith movement” or what is commonly known also as “prosperity teaching “ for at least 25 years, I with many others have come to the conclusion that this movement seriously undermines the gospel and therefore the historical Christian faith here in Namibia and in the world. This is not to say that Joyce Meyer has not helped people – but she is not a gospel woman. She is a ‘pop psychologist’ dressing her message in Christian language. In this she is not unlike the media guru, Oprah Winfrey.
This week I want look at the subject of ‘false baptisms’. I know that this term sounds a little clumsy. Here is what I mean. Baptism is frequently administered in our country as a ‘saving ordinance’. Namibian Christians from all kinds of denominations believe that ‘baptism’ is the pathway to heaven. They would not put it like that, but they act like that. I have had people approach me over many years with requests for baptism, which I believe were based more on superstition than biblical warrant.
Let me begin with ourselves – the Baptists, and include here also the Charismatics and Pentecostals, since they generally follow the practice of what has been often termed here as “adult baptism” (Afrikaans – “groot doop”). There was a time in the early nineties when American Baptist missionaries in Namibia determined their church growth statistics by ‘baptisms’. I understand the logic behind this - after all, every believer should also be baptized, but the problem is that in many ways baptism then became synonymous with conversion.
The biblical view is that while baptism is strongly linked to conversion, it follows conversion. Baptism is the sign and symbol that we have been converted, but in and of itself it has no saving power. Christ alone saves, and Christ commands that those who have been saved should be baptized thereafter !
In certain areas of our country, Baptist churches, as a result of this false emphasis, practice the adult equivalent of the Roman Catholic baptism whereby a baptized child becomes a Christian. This is called ‘baptismal regeneration’. Certain denominations not strongly represented in Namibia (e.g. the Church of Christ) believe and practice baptismal regeneration. We should not only strongly disagree with such a practice, we should call it a heresy! The point is that this emphasis on baptism substitutes the biblical emphasis for genuine repentance and conversion before baptism is administered.
Another variation of this practice in Baptist circles is where baptism is preceded by a shallow, superficial, mechanistic confession (often based on the four spiritual laws) , followed by a quick baptism which leaves the subject as unconverted as the chair they are sitting on! I believe that many Baptists in America have suffered from this syndrome, the result which has produced huge nominalism in the church. So much then for the Baptists!
What about the Paedo Baptists? They are those who practice infant baptism as opposed to ‘believer’s baptism (which may include the baptism of believing children). The major denominations in Namibia in this category are Lutheran, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and the Dutch Reformed grouping of churches.
In my opinion these denominations find themselves in an equally difficult dilemma. The very nature of infant baptism opens a huge door for compromising the gospel. No matter how seriously the best of our paedo- Baptist brethren take the faith of the parents who dedicate their little ones sincerely to the Lord, in the sure and certain knowledge that they will be granted eternal life, and this upon the covenantal faithfulness of God (all true!) - in practice this is not how it actually works out. I know, for I myself have been the product of this system, and God saved me through the evangelistic gospel preaching of a paedo – Baptist pastor of the Church of England in South Africa (CESA), whereupon I was baptized 2 years later in a Baptist Church.
My Lutheran and Dutch Reformed colleagues often complain of huge nominalism in their churches. Their sheep are not acting like sheep. This has an enormous impact upon the vitality and spiritual strength of their churches. In my opinion, their practice of infant baptism significantly contributes to this problem, for the covenantal view associated with their baptisms is regarded as more important than the biblical imperative to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ !
What is the problem here? It is once again a false view of baptism and it is killing the church by degrees, because the churches are being populated by goats and not by sheep! If my analysis is correct, this means that a great majority of Namibian Christianity is afflicted by a false view on the efficacy of baptism.
“Sovereign Lord, graciously save our nation from false views of baptism“. Amen.