Doctrine matters. Have you witnessed a baptism in recent days in the company of your gathered church only to ask yourself inwardly why the pastor makes such an emphasis about the baptism being performed in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Does it really matter? Is it appropriate to merely baptize in the name of Jesus?
Testimony of Being Saved by God
The biblical formula of baptism is the Trinitarian formula of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is something clearly communicated to all witnesses as the new believer is immersed beneath the water in the name of the Trinity. The salvation of every sinner is completed by all three persons of the Trinity. Therefore, it is most appropriate that the sinner is to give praise to the triune God in the water as a profession of faith in the one true and living God. When Jesus instructs his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—it’s worth pointing out that the noun (ὄνομα) translated “name” is singular in Matthew 28:19. Therefore, the three distinct co-equal and co-eternal persons of the Trinity are not three different deities, but three distinct persons who make up the one true God who saves sinners.
B. B. Warfield once said the following, “This is the distinguishing characteristic of Christians; and that is as much as to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is, according to our Lord’s own apprehension of it, the distinctive mark of the religion which He founded.”  It’s vitally important to teach new believers that when they enter the water they will be baptized in the name of the Father who chose them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:2), the Son who died for them on the cross (John 10:11, 15), and the Spirit of God who convicted them of sin and brought them to a place of repentance and submission to God through the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:2). New Christians should not be confused by the Trinitarian formula while they’re standing in the water during their baptism.
Jesus Commanded the Trinitarian Formula
When it comes to faith and practice, it’s critical to build your doctrinal positions and formulate your positions of how to live out your faith based on Jesus’ clear teachings. If Jesus commands something, there is no need to pray about it or consider it. The commands of Jesus should never be lowered down to the level of a consideration. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Just before the ascension of Jesus following his death, burial, and resurrection—Jesus made a statement that we have memorized and used as our marching orders as the church of Christ. He said:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
While we do have Scriptural evidence of new believers being baptized in the name of Jesus in the New Testament, it seems clear that the reason for that particular statement was centered on the fact that Jesus was largely rejected as the Messiah of God and the early disciples were elevating Jesus to a position of prominence. In short, they were embracing Jesus as the Christ.
However, when we see Jesus’ words at the end of his public ministry, we notice that he commands the Trinitarian formula as opposed to the “Jesus only” formula. Furthermore, all throughout history, the “Jesus only” formula has been used by heretical groups such as the Oneness Pentecostals who have aberrant and deficient doctrinal positions that are clearly beyond the boundaries of orthodoxy. The church of Jesus must follow Jesus’ commands regarding baptism.
The Trinitarian Formula was the Pattern of the Early Church
The early church believed and embraced the doctrine of the Trinity and pointed to this reality in how they baptized new converts. Just as Jesus commanded, the early church put the Trinitarian formula into practice. According to the Didache, we find the following words pertaining to baptism:
“But concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having first recited all these precepts, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water,” (Didache 7:1).
The Didache was an early church treatise that explained the teachings of Jesus by the apostles. The first line describes the document as “The teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles (or Nations) by the twelve apostles.” It should likewise be noted that as Jesus commanded and the early church practiced the Trinitarian formula of baptism, apparently they were teaching some doctrine prior to baptizing people as followers of Christ. Don’t you think it would be strange to have everything focused on Jesus and then be baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Doctrine matters.
James White has written the following:
We see, then, why baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit is so important: because this is baptism in the name of our God, the triune God we worship and serve and adore, the triune God who has saved us. The father—source of all, eternally gracious. The Son—Redeemer who left the glory of heaven to save His sheep. Spirit—indwelling Comforter who makes the truths of the Christian faith alive in our hearts. What other name would we wish to bear than the triune name of Father, Son, and Spirit? 
B. B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981) II: 143.
James White, The Forgotten Trinity, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers), 184.
Today I’m beginning a short series that will be posted each Thursday titled, Do Not Worship the Reformers. The aim of the series is to point out why we love and respect these men, but at the same time, we should not hold them up to an unhealthy level of adoration and appreciation. The Reformers accomplished many things for the glory of God, but like you and I, they all had feet of clay.
We Should Applaud Luther’s Doctrine of Justification
Martin Luther was born November 10th, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. He would be baptized the following day. His family connections provided opportunity for education and to excel in life, but Luther’s life would take a different turn. One that he didn’t expect and one that his family opposed. He would enter the monastery in keeping with a promise he made out of fear to God in a violent thunderstorm. Little did he know that providence was guiding his footsteps. Those footsteps would eventually be led to the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517 in protest that would eventually be heard around the world.
Martin Luther has been hailed by some as a hero of church history. When we examine the history of the church, we see the enormous contribution of Luther as a man who brought the church back to the Bible and upheld justification by faith alone.
The material principle of the historic Protestant Reformation was justification by faith alone. Is the forgiveness of sins obtained by the work of Jesus alone, or is it obtained by the work of Jesus and the cooperation of sinners through external works, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches? That issue stood at the center of the debate in Luther’s day, and it remains central in our present day as well.
In thesis 52, Luther writes:
It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
Luther was outraged by the offer of salvation by the purchase of indulgences. Eventually Luther’s protest would grow in intensity after his conversion. True biblical salvation had been lost in the day of the sixteenth century like a precious diamond in the muck of a pig’s pen. God chose to raise up men who would recover the biblical teaching of salvation and bring God’s people back to the Bible. One such man was an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. Commenting on the importance of justification by faith alone, Luther wrote:
The article of justification and of grace is the most delightful, and it alone makes a person a theologian and makes of a theologian a judge of the earth and of all affairs. Few there are, however, who have thought it through well and who teach it aright. 
We Should Question Luther’s Doctrine of Baptism
While Luther was a faithful opponent of the false doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church on matters of salvation, he seems to contradict himself at times on the subject of sola fide (faith alone). In discussing religious works in relation to the sacraments, Luther writes:
Therefore it cannot be true that there resides in the sacraments a power capable of giving justification, or that they are the “signs” of efficacious grace. All such things are said to the detriment of faith, and in ignorance of the divine promises. . . . In this way, the Romanists have put precepts in place of the sacraments, and works in place of faith. Now, if a sacrament were to give me grace just because I receive that sacrament, then surely I should obtain the grace, not by faith, but by my works. I should not gain the promise in the sacrament, but only the sign instituted and commanded by God. 
On a similar note, Luther writes the following about baptism:
A man can be saved without the sacrament, but not without the word; this is true of those who desire baptism but die before they can receive it. 
However, as we continue to read the works of Luther, we find statements that not only seem self-contradictory, but also seem to fall into tension with the faith alone formula of biblical salvation. The German Catechism was published in 1529. Concerning the effects of baptism, Luther appeals to Mark 16:16 and says:
This is the simplest way to put it: the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is that it saves. For no one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, ‘to be saved.’ To be saved, as everyone knows, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death and the devil, to enter into Christ’s kingdom, and to live with him forever. 
When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in 1517, he wasn’t yet a true Christian. It would be over the next few years that he would come to embrace Christ by faith alone.
Moving beyond Wittenberg in 1517 and Worms in 1521, Luther wrote, preached, and taught much about the doctrine of salvation. In many points, we applaud his preaching and writing, but in some areas, we find ourselves confused about Luther’s beliefs.
The tension we find in Luther’s theology reminds us that he had feet of clay. Luther was an imperfect man with imperfect theology who lived in the looming shadows of the Roman Catholic Church in the days of the sixteenth century. In short, Luther should be appreciated and applauded, but not worshipped.
What exactly did Luther mean when he said that baptism saves? Did he have in mind something different than the Roman Catholics? I believe he did have something else in mind. However, he seems to move beyond the idea of baptism being a “means of grace” whereby God bestows blessings on His people. He seems to press toward something different. While Luther was not a heretic who nullified sola fide by baptismal regeneration, it seems that he did walk too close to the line on the subject of baptism.
Whatever he truly believed about baptism, we may never fully understand. However, we do know that Luther did champion the idea of infant baptism. Once again, he was saying something different than what the Roman Catholic Church said infant baptism accomplished, but he was still not clear enough. Although Luther should be respected on many levels theologically, the mode and efficacy of baptism in Luther’s system must be called into question.
Luther proved his humanity through his doctrine of baptism. It’s here that we see strange tensions in Luther’s beliefs rising to the surface. Martin Luther came out of Rome, but at times, it seems that not all of Rome came out of Luther.
While we should applaud Luther’s position on Scripture and his willingness to protest the false doctrine of salvation taught by the Roman Catholic Church—he should not be worshipped. He should be appreciated. He should be recognized and respected, but he should not be adored and worshipped. Martin Luther, like us all, had feet of clay. Martin Luther was a sinner who God saved and used for His glory—not a superhero Christian who lived above sin. We should be grateful for the man, but he must not be worshiped.
WA, 25:375, quoted in What Luther Says, 704.
Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 300–301.
Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (trans. Robert C. Schultz; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 349.
The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 459.
This week, Passion 2017 was held in Atlanta. The Passion Conferences are aimed at the 18-25 age bracket and have impacted many people over the years. The present day Passion Conferences are connected to the One Day event held in Memphis, Tennessee in 2000 where I was confronted with my sin in a sermon by John Piper. Over the years, the conference has stood against sex trafficking and sought to encourage young adults to find their ultimate passion and joy in Christ.
Although some really good things have come out of the Passion movement, there have been some questionable things emerge through the years as well. This year, another strange thing happened at Passion that’s causing people to ask important questions. No matter how passionate we are, if our passions are unbridled and not submissive to the Holy Spirit, it will lead to sin. Passion without knowledge is deadly.
On Monday evening, a special guest appeared on the stage at Passion 2017. Previously unannounced, Carrie Underwood, the extremely popular country music star emerged onto the platform and performed her song titled, “Something in the Water.” She was invited by the Passion staff to sing a song that’s full of false doctrine to thousands of young impressionable college students. What’s even more sad is the fact that the entire Georgia Dome erupted with applause. They loved it. Were they applauding the performance? Were they applauding the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (a false gospel)? What exactly were they applauding?
College Students Still Need Parents
If you have a college student, remember that it wasn’t so long ago that you were assisting your child in the basic functions of life such as putting on their shoes and brushing their teeth. Just because your son has graduated from high school, that doesn’t mean it’s wise to let him navigate life all on his own. He still needs you. He is still under your care. You still have a responsibility to disciple him in truth and lead him in the right direction theologically and biblically. He still needs you to lead him to a sound church and to help him formulate sound biblical doctrine.
If your son or daughter was at Passion 2017 this week, it would be good to have an honest conversation about the music and the preaching. Your college student needs to know that Carrie Underwood is not a good example to follow. Regarding practical living, you don’t want your daughter to imitate her dress attire. Regarding theology, Carrie Underwood has openly supported the agenda of homosexual marriage. When asked about her position, she said:
“I’m in favor of acceptance…And I am a Christian person, and I do love the Lord, and I feel no matter who you are, what you believe, how you live your life, it’s not my place to judge.”
To hold the applause is not to be a killjoy as a parent. It’s necessary at times. Not everything is worthy of applause. This decision by Passion is one that must be addressed by parents in order to help college students avoid disastrous mistakes in practical living and theological formation.
College Students Need Faithful Pastors
We must not fool ourselves into believing that the entire Georgia Dome was full of college students and their pastors had absolutely no idea that event was taking place. The college students, in many ways, were organized and assisted by pastors in order to get to the event. Not everything that happens at a conference would be advocated by every speaker at the conference or embraced in a worship service. I get that. I understand that conferences have their place, but they must not be left unchecked.
College students are forming their doctrine of God, their doctrine of salvation, and their doctrine of ecclesiology (the church) at a rapid pace while moving through their college years. It’s essential for faithful pastors to shepherd them with care. College students need to hear pastors teach and preach with a certain discerning eye to the culture and a faithful tongue that speaks truth. The truth is, Carrie Underwood sang heresy to thousands of college students and the students let everyone know that it was acceptable. College students need to know why it’s really not acceptable. The lyrics to Carrie Underwood’s song, “Something in the Water” point to an age-old heresy—baptismal regeneration. A repetitive line in the song states:
There must’ve been something in the water
Oh, there must’ve been something in the water
Many pastors may have supported their students in going to the Passion 2017 event, and all of this was a complete surprise. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see college students have a greater passion for God, but there is a need to make sure that passion is rooted and grounded in the pages of Scripture. College students need to be taught the book of Galatians and learn that any additive to the pure unadulterated gospel is a damnable heresy (Gal. 1:8-9). That’s exactly what Paul taught and it’s what we must teach and preach in our present day.
Passion for God is needed in our day, but passion without biblical truth will lead to disaster. That’s exactly what Paul once said about Israel as he wrote Romans 10:1-4. College students need diligent and faithful pastors to stand for truth and hold the applause at times, and this is one of those critical moments. When a country music star sings to the tune of baptismal regeneration at a Christian conference, it’s proof that the Reformation isn’t over.
During the summer months, many churches take their youth to the beach to get away for a week and focus on intense discipleship and evangelism. These trips can serve as growth opportunities for the young people within the church as well as evangelistic opportunities for those youth who haven’t been born again.
Each year, as I scan through social media, it never fails – I typically see at least one beach baptism scene where a group of teenagers are gathered around while a few of the teenagers are baptized in the ocean. It’s usually not a group of teenagers from a church near the beach. It’s a baptism of one of the youth from the church who professed faith in Christ and was immediately baptized in the ocean before traveling back home.
As we consider baptism and its purpose, I want to provide several reasons why you should not baptize a new believer until the church is gathered. It doesn’t matter if it’s a young person on the summer retreat or a senior citizen who professes faith in Christ while visiting Israel. Before being baptized in the ocean or the Jordan River, you should consider waiting until you arrive back home and gather together with your church.
Baptism Isn’t Private – It’s a Public Event
Baptism serves as a public act of obedience and a profession of faith in Christ. In the first century, as people would gather around a river or watering hole for baptism, when other people walking down the road would pass by and witness this act, they perhaps would ask, “What’s going on here?” Someone from the crowd would respond, “This man has become a follower of Jesus and he is being immersed under water as a sign. His old life is dead and as he’s raised up from the water it serves as a symbol that he has a new life in Jesus – the Messiah.”
Throughout my formative years, I can recall people being presented before the church as new converts. This wasn’t done in the baptistry, it was done at the end of a church service. At some later time, the person would be baptized. As I read the New Testament, the pattern of a public profession of faith seems to happen at the time of baptism.
Therefore, to baptize someone at the beach in a small group of teenagers is to miss the point of the public testimony of conversion. The overwhelming majority of people in that geographic area are complete strangers. Beach baptisms for believers who live hours away from the beach fail to serve as a public profession of faith. The most pure profession of faith is not at the end of a church service or an announcement on Facebook, but it happens as the new convert follows the Lord in the waters of baptism. John Piper once stated the following in his sermon titled, “I Baptize You With Water” from Matthew 3:
The message Peter gave in Acts 2 ended with the words, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Our renewed conviction is that we need to regularly offer baptism as the decisive public way for people to respond publicly to the gospel.
Baptism and the Church
The act of baptism is one of the ordinances of the church. Would you be confused to find out that a group of seniors from the church observed the Lord’s Supper in a cabin in the mountains while they were on a church trip together? That should concern us, because the church isn’t gathered and the Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the church. Who fenced the table? Were other people from our church invited to observe the Lord’s Supper too? We immediately consider the implications, and we should.
The same thing is true regarding small private baptism services on the beach or at the lake. Just because a teenager professed faith in Christ doesn’t require him to be baptized immediately. It’s trendy because it’s the beach. Often kids from places like Kansas don’t see the beach very often, so the temptation is to perform the baptism in the ocean just so the child will be able to say he was baptized in the ocean. That’s not a sufficient reason to perform an immediate baptism. The church and baptism go together and to separate them is to miss the mark.
The church is responsible to disciple people in the faith. Before baptizing people, we must be sure their faith is genuine. Often, this requires intentional discipleship opportunities and oversight from the elders of the church. The church should desire to evangelize people through baptism services, and holding private baptisms at the beach or at the lake will not allow for that opportunity upon returning home. Since baptism doesn’t take away sin, the need for immediate baptism is simply not required. It’s important for family, friends, and others in the church to see new converts obey Christ through baptism.
After a person is baptized, it is the duty of the church to journey together through life. It’s the mandated responsibility of the church to hold one another accountable in the faith. Baptism is a marker and serves as a public testimony for the church to see the new believer and take responsibility in the act of discipleship. That’s missing when baptisms are held in private.
If you’re planning to take a church trip this year to the beach with a group from the church, if someone professes faith in Christ, rejoice with them, however, don’t allow them to be baptized in the ocean. Explain why it’s important for them to be baptized in the context of the gathered church. If done properly, there will be little regrets for waiting until you return and celebrate together with the entire church. As the new convert comes from the waters of baptism, the church is reminded of Christ who died for their sin and was raised again on the third day. The church will continue to celebrate this central truth until Christ returns.
As a pastor, I’m often asked a very important question by members of the church I pastor and by friends in the ministry – “When should my child be baptized?” As I begin, I want to be clear that I will be writing from a distinctively Baptist position, first because I’m Baptist and also because it’s the right position as I like to tell my Presbyterian friends.
What Is Baptism?
Baptism is an act of obedience to Jesus Christ whereby a follower of Christ is immersed under water to symbolize the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the new life in Christ (Romans 6:1-11). Baptism is the most pure profession of faith that a follower of Jesus can make publicly. Baptism is an ordinance of the church, and as a result, should be performed under the authority of the church. It should likewise be noted that nowhere in Scripture do we see that the act of baptism saves sinners or removes sin. Salvation involves several aspects such as regeneration and justification which both precede the public statement of baptism. It should be further stated that baptism is for believers – just as the Lord’s Supper is reserved only for followers of Christ. That’s why I hold to a firm position of believer’s baptism rather than baptizing infants as my Presbyterian friends do.
Words of Caution
Baptism matters to God. To approach it lightly is to overlook the significance of baptism. By now, we’ve all seen the YouTube video of the boy entering the baptistry with a cannonball splash. It should be our desire to avoid such circumstances. It’s not that we can’t “laugh” in church, but that we want to approach baptism with a more serious tone.
Baptism is not a yearly competition for churches to race each other through the calendar year. We would frown upon publishing the fastest churches to eat the Lord’s Supper during a communion service each month. We would consider that a perversion of the sacredness of the Lord’s table. Likewise, we should frown upon competing with other churches based on baptism numbers in a given time period. Baptism isn’t a race, it’s an ordinance of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Just because little Jimmy attended the last night of summer VBS (Vacation Bible School) and raised his hand when the teacher asked if anyone wanted to “ask Jesus into their heart” doesn’t mean he should be baptized. Likewise, just because Jenny attended summer youth camp at the beach and prayed a prayer after an emotional evangelistic meeting doesn’t mean she should be baptized in the ocean with her youth group. The why, how, when, and where of baptism all matter. Likewise, age matters too.
I’ve also heard troubling stories of spontaneous baptisms where people are invited to be baptized on the spot after viewing others follow the Lord in believer’s baptism. Once again, we must approach baptism with a sense of humility as we consider what it means for the individual and likewise what it communicates to others. As a pastor, I see the magnitude of responsibility regarding proper instruction through the baptism process. To error here could cause unnecessary stress and a false sense of security for unbelievers who are baptized without being properly examined and discipled. How many of us have been baptized more than once as a result of a false conversion and subsequent baptism at an early age?
What Age is Appropriate?
Some well respected pastors such as Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church require believing children to wait until they can articulate their faith through words and actions that are not bound by parental authority. According to their official statement adopted in 2004 by their elders, they write:
We believe that the normal age of baptism should be when the credibility of one’s conversion becomes naturally evident to the church community. This would normally be when the child has matured, and is beginning to live more self-consciously as an individual, making their own choices, having left the God-given, intended child-like dependence on their parents for the God-given, intended mature wisdom which marks one who has felt the tug of the world, the flesh and the devil, but has decided, despite these allurements, to follow Christ. While it is difficult to set a certain number of years which are required for baptism, it is appropriate to consider the candidate’s maturity. The kind of maturity that we feel it is wise to expect is the maturity which would allow that son or daughter to deal directly with the church as a whole, and not, fundamentally, to be under their parents’ authority. As they assume adult responsibilities (sometime in late high school with driving, employment, non-Christian friends, voting, legality of marriage), then part of this, we would think, would be to declare publicly their allegiance to Christ by baptism.
Many other Baptists feel that the language of the New Testament insinuates that baptism should be closely linked in time to the conversion of the sinner. While they would oppose the baptism of infants, they are willing to baptize believing children because of the Scripture such as, Acts 2:38 – “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.‘”
Grace Community Church, under the leadership of John MacArthur and their elders are willing to baptize believing children. According to their church distinctives, they provide the following explanation:
Here at Grace Community Church, our general practice is to wait until a professing child has reached the age of twelve. Because baptism is seen as something clear and final, our primary concern is that when a younger child is baptized he tends to look to that experience as proof that he was saved.
The choice to baptize or withhold baptism from believing children both carry good motives and logic. When making decisions as a church it’s important to base decisions upon the Scriptures. Once again, in the case of those who withhold baptism they do so on the basis that age is rarely mentioned and that the converts are coming from a non-Christian background and can adequately demonstrate outward signs of conversion that may not be as clear in our Christian contexts. While it seems that children are following Christ too, the lack of information provides enough reason for some churches to make a decision to baptize adults only.
The decision to baptize believing children under the care of their parents and the oversight of elders likewise has merit based on texts that have conversion and baptism closely connected (to name a few verses: Acts 2:38; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:48). The decision to baptize children rests upon the elders and the church as a whole, but the decision should be carefully made and each baptism should be taken seriously.
My personal position falls closer in line with Grace Community Church than Capitol Hill Baptist Church. While I respect Mark Dever and their church greatly, I differ with them on this issue. Age my vary, but I’m cautious to baptize children too young. I do think that the evidence of the New Testament provides grounds for believing children to be baptized, but the burden of oversight must be taken with a spirit of maturity and serious examination must be carried out prior to entering the baptistry. Each believing child must cognitively grasp the truths of the gospel and the definition of baptism while demonstrating faith in Christ.
The ability to articulate this without pressure from parents or a peer group is essential, and sometimes this can be difficult to discern. That is one of the burdens for elders to bear in their oversight of the church. Just because a child doesn’t want to burn in hell or has “asked Jesus into their heart” doesn’t mean they are a legitimate candidate for baptism. We must bar the gate to the baptistry and only allow people with a credible conversion to partake in this sacred act of obedience.
Baptism matters! Each individual baptism should be taken with a spirit of mature oversight by the elders. After the work of examination and education is complete – the gathered church celebrates as each individual is baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ. As they go through the physical act of baptism, they are communicating some really important truths to the gathered assembly and likewise, the church is communicating some very important truths to them. The work of Christ on the cross is enough. Jesus is their Savior. Their sins have been atoned for by Christ’s work on the cross. Christ was buried and rose again on the third day – and as each individual rises from the water – they do so with the understanding that Christ is their hope and one day they will experience a different resurrection just as Jesus was bodily raised from the dead.
No matter where you land on this issue, we should all agree that it’s an important issue worthy of consideration and we should likewise approach the ordinance with a spirit of maturity and a heart of joy! J.C. Ryle accurately describes the sacredness of baptism in his commentary on Matthew 3:
[We should] regard the sacrament of baptism with reverence. An ordinance of which the Lord Jesus Himself partook, is not to be lightly esteemed. An ordinance to which the great Head of the Church submitted, ought to be ever honorable in the eyes of professing Christians.
My grandmother (aka – Gammy) and stepmom (aka – Mystie) run a talent agency in Atlanta (Houghton Talent), and I remember discussing the reality show explosion with them a few years ago over a meal. They pulled back the curtain for me and explained that even though the show is a “reality” show, it will have a heavily scripted side to it that you never see. In other words, what they were telling me was that in reality, it wasn’t reality at all. So, as I watch several different reality shows, I do pick up on the scripted parts of the show from time to time.
Last year my wife and I were introduced to a show by the name Duck Dynasty. We both had been hearing a buzz about the show (complete with quotes from a bearded guy named Si), but in my non-conformist ways, I refused to watch it or pay much attention to it. So, one day my wife and I actually decided to give it a shot. We were immediately hooked. Since I love the outdoors (hunting and fishing) – the show was right up our alley. Furthermore, we appreciated the way each show ended with a prayer. From the very beginning, the show was a hit in our home. My wife and I get a bowl of ice cream on Wednesday nights after we put the kids to bed and watch the latest Duck Dynasty episode.
For those who don’t know about this show, it’s a reality show based on the family and business of the Robertson family. Phil Robertson invented a successful duck call years ago, and now his sons run the company. They work together, hunt together, and the show is a combination of business, recreation, and family. This season has been a bit of a disappointment to us. We both feel that the show has way too much scripted parts in it when compared to last season. But, that has not prevented us from watching – and laughing! From Si’s crazy vocabulary to Mountain Man’s slow speech – we find ourselves laughing at the simple and clean humor produced in the show.
A few weeks ago, I was sent a link to one of Phil Robertson’s sermons on Youtube. The link was a short clip of him preaching. I was excited at first and watched it a few different times. After a few days, I was sent another clip to Willie (the son of Phil and CEO of the company) speaking about the gospel. I paid more attention to this clip and watched it several more times. As I listened to the words more intently, I could hear a doctrine being taught that violates the gospel of Jesus Christ.
First Things First:
I appreciate Duck Dynasty for obvious reasons stated above, especially their commitment to clean humor in a day where that is about as rare as spotting a white deer in the woods (aka – Piebald Deer). The show emphasizes a close family which is another rare thing in our disconnected family units today. I also appreciate the fact that they demonstrate the spirit of America – a hard working (well – when you overlook Si and a few others in the mix), inventive, motivated, driven, business minded group of men who have found a way to be successful through something they enjoy in life. Furthermore, my wife and I will continue to watch (and laugh frequently) Duck Dynasty.
Down to Business:
These two clips show Phil and Willie describing salvation and how a person is saved. While I would like to discuss in more detail the way the church is to baptize new believers and the fact that baptism, like the Lord’s Supper, is an ordinance of the church rather than a private matter, I will save that for another day. The point I want to emphasize is much more important. It deals with how a person is saved by Jesus Christ.
The danger of the Duck Dynasty gospel is that it comes from their background and influence of the Church of Christ movement. The Church of Christ doctrine is centered heavily upon “baptismal regeneration” – the teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation. For instance, the following statement on “How to Receive Salvation” is taken from a local Church of Christ website:
The Bible teaches that a person receives God’s grace by putting faith in Christ, repenting of sin, publically confessing Christ, and being immersed or baptized into Christ (Luke 24:45-47; Acts 2:36-41; Romans 1:16-17; Romans 6:1-7; Romans 10:9-10; Galatians 3:26-27).
If you examine the paragraph closely, you’ll see that they have linked baptism with salvation. This is the foundational belief system of the Church of Christ. I examined the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ (where the Robertson family attends church) to see a statement of their doctrinal beliefs, but they didn’t have one posted. However, both Phil and Willie use the language of “baptizing someone into Christ” in their videos. In fact, some Church of Christ congregations insist that a person’s baptism is not valid unless it’s performed through a Church of Christ assembly.
Baptismal regeneration is the belief that a person does not receive the Holy Spirit and the transaction of justification is not fully made until the act of baptism is completed. This is why the people who believe this doctrine baptize a person immediately after they repent, because faith alone in Jesus Christ is not enough for their salvation. According to The Christian Chronicle, Phil has been known to baptize people in the middle of the night after leading them to Christ. A close examination of the words of Phil and Willie seem to indicate that they embrace the doctrine of baptismal regeneration – a doctrine that clearly violates the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Salvation is not based on any work that we do, and the Scriptures are clear on that fact. Ephesians 2:8-9 reveal that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, not baptism. In fact, Ephesians 2:8-9 describes the reality that if our salvation was based on works that we performed, we would likely boast about it. Therefore, in genuine salvation, we are unable to boast about anything because Jesus paid it all, God did the drawing work of conviction, and we were led to a state of humble repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
The misinterpretation of verses that have baptism included in the scene of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ have led to the building of a false gospel. The great transaction and exchange does not include us offering our baptism to God for mercy. It involves God saving us through Jesus’ blood alone. The exchange is whereby God placed on Jesus our sins on the cross and He provides us with the righteousness of His Son by faith alone.
Why did the early disciples baptize almost immediately? In the book of Acts, we see people being baptized where no church existed. This was the case with the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8). In other places in Acts, you see a very small number of believers in each city who are likely present when the new believer is baptized. Much of what we see in the book of Acts is the building and organizing of the church rather than a set structure of how things operate. By the time you get to the Epistles, things have started to become settled, in place, and organized by the Holy Spirit. However, it is clear, baptism is commanded as an ordinance of the church rather than a means of redemption. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are both commanded, but neither of them are able to save a person. Jesus’ blood is sufficient.
What’s the difference? The two ordinances are commanded in the Scriptures, but they are not linked to a person’s salvation. They are evidences of a person’s salvation and they are means of communion with God and fellow believers, but they are not in any way part of the salvation equation. If salvation included baptism, Jesus would have rejected the thief on the cross who hung next to Him due to the inability to be baptized. If one believes in baptismal regeneration and insists that a special case was given to the thief, we have an inconsistent God. The fact is – sinners are not saved in multiple different ways. There is one way (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) – and our God is immutable.
In conclusion, I want to say that I like the Robertson family and their show Duck Dynasty. I appreciate their commitment and desire to produce a clean and humorous show for the family. I do, however, disagree with their gospel. I don’t enjoy calling out guys that I like, but I must speak up when someone alters the gospel that I preach. The apostle Paul said, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). When I see professing Christians posting videos of Phil and Willie preaching on Facebook and linking to them on Twitter and approving their gospel, it becomes necessary to distinguish between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Duck Dynasty gospel. It’s not enough to talk about God and Jesus. We must be clear as to what we mean when we talk about faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Is the work of Christ on the cross enough, or must our faith be in Jesus plus the work of baptism? What exactly is the Duck Dynasty gospel?
A man who knows that he is saved by believing in Christ does not, when he is baptized, lift his baptism into a saving ordinance. In fact, he is the very best protester against that mistake, because he holds that he has no right to be baptized until he is saved. — C.H. Spurgeon (Baptismal Regeneration, sermon 10.326)
For more on the subject of baptismal regeneration – click here.