Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

SAVING CHRISTIANS FROM A FALSE VIEW OF BAPTISM


"Go therefore  and make disciples  of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching  them to observe all that I have commanded you.” 
(Matthew  28:19,20)

“Brothers , what shall we do ? And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts  2:38)

“Do you not know  that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus have been baptised into His death? We were buried therefore with Him  by His baptism into death, in order that , just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” 
(Romans  6:3-4)

Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be to the person baptized a sign of fellowship with Christ in his death and resurrection, of being grafted into him, of remission of sins, and of giving up oneself to God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.”  
(1689 Baptist Confession of Faith)

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.  

I believe in  the holy ordinance  of baptism with all my heart - but if  the  Bible  and our Confession of Faith is  clear  on this matter (and they are), then  my prayer is this : 
Sovereign Lord, graciously save our nation from false views of baptism“.   Amen.

2 comments:

Dave said...

Good post. I have a query that comes from my current context - v international, with people from 70 nations in our congregation. Recently a group of Iranians came to me requesting baptism. I tested them and they professed repentance and faith in Christ. All had come to faith in Iran. But, they had been prepared for baptism - 3 months of classes in a Pentecostal church, but then denied baptism on grounds that they had not had a 'vision' of Jesus. Seems this is a requirement for converts from Islam in certain circles. My question: Do we need to delay the baptism of converts from Islam or Hinduism and place further tests upon them to ensure they have left their former faith completely? I find no support for this unequal treatment in Scripture.

Joachim Rieck said...

Hi Dave,I really appreciate what you are saying. I think that this may be one of these typically legalistic requirements that one often finds among churches from persecuted countries. I believe that this requirement is a false imposition upon these people and has nothing to do with gospel requirements. Contact Pastor Errol Hulse (Editor Reformation Today, Leeds , UK) for more information on
Iranian believers. Their church has had a lot to do with these. Greetings in Christ , Joachim