January 26, 2009

Conversion And Water Baptism

Yesterday at my Church seven were baptized. One child, five teenage girls and an adult lady.
I joined in with everyone in clapping of my hands as an expression of praise but it has left me contemplating what conversion means in our church.

All were ask the question, "have you put your trust in Christ as your savior?" All answered in the affirmative. "I baptize you, my sister, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Buried with Christ in His death raised to newness of life" was the pronouncement as they were immersed in water. Naturally they were lifted out of the water!

To differing degrees the minister commented on each candidate as to their conversion testimony. A couple of teenagers were particularly noted by the minister as vibrant in their witness to Christ.

Were their conversions the result of decisional regeneration? I am sure the pastor and his staff would be in an uproar if I asked that question of them. I do rejoice in these baptisms.

Nevertheless it brings me to the general question as to what we believe conversion is. The term has undergone changes in definition in our modern American society. When I was a boy a terribly ruthless child would be sent to a reform school where it was hoped he would be reformed in his behavior. An adult criminal was sent to a State Penitentiary where it was hoped he would through struggle of isolation reach a penitent state and come out reformed.

The rest of us were whipped vigorously by parent and teacher in hopes we would reform our ways. In all instances a change in behavior was evidence of reform and were rewarded with status in society. All this is history in our society and memories of days gone by.

We are encouraged to love and accept people as they are without judgment. They can't change and so society changes and adapts to their norm. Above all we must be a united and loving people. Hasn't this infiltrated the Church? Christ is a loving nonjudgmental being and we must follow him in a united nonjudgmental behavior before all.

So basically the problem for society is people like me who just can't give in to this. Eventually people like me will be sent off to institutions where it is hoped I will reform and be productive for society!

Oh my! I have digressed!

What is conversion anyway? Theologically there are three erroneous types of conversions represented by baptism that come to my mind. I have not gotten this from a textbook. It is a product of my own thinking. They are ceremonial, decisional and regenerative baptisms. All three involving actual water. I would hope that the nature of this would incite discussion and my views would not be seen as exclusive. I welcome debate.

First there is a ceremonial baptism, particularly infant baptism, that looks forward to a change in behavior and provides a historical landmark to look back to. There is no actual change in the candidate. The responsibility falls on the observers and baptizer to guide the candidate to a conversion. In my mind there is some validity to this as seen in the Acts accounts of households being baptized; adults, children and perhaps even servants. Still it lacks in some fashion.

Secondly there is decisional baptism that result from a previous decision followed by a water baptism. The responsibility falls on the candidate to actualize the conversion. Only he can validify the certainty of the decision. In my mind there are lots of problems associated with this baptism. Predictably there is a vast falling away of candidates from this.

Regenerative baptism is the greatest error and hopefully least practiced. It assumes at the time of baptism the candidate undergoes a conversion and is saved at baptism. It is expected that some evidence of conversion is displayed at the time. An emotional display of rejoicing by the candidate is expected and particularly with some Pentecostals the evidence of speaking in tongues is the single evidence of salvation. These are "Jesus' name" baptisms in which the doctrine of the trinity is denied. It is not only erroneous but dangerous in that it encourages phony evidence in order to meet the demands of the observers and baptizer. In a sense you get a one shot for salvation and you had better come up shouting and speaking in tongues. Incredible coercion creates nervous ship-wrecked believers, spiritually.

I hesitate to mention a fourth error because it is a conversion that does not need actual water.
It is "faith" baptism. It is often call "word of faith" and it seems to place little importance on water baptism at all. A personal positive confession of scripture made without verified evidence is all that is needed. It is ceremonial and intellectual and the results come later. You "name it and claim it" and it is yours by "faith." Many Charismatics and "health wealth and prosperity" preachers hold to this belief. Also many of the decisional baptism people practice this as well. It has a strong emphasis of "faith."

I hope that this encourages you to think and perhaps debate. What do I believe? I believe in Holy Spirit baptism, I Cor. 12:13, in which an actual heart conversion takes place, not ceremonial nor intellectual assent. It is like a birth all over again! It does not come from the believer's faith but the will of the Father. It is followed by a water baptism with the baptizer pronouncing confidently "thy sins are forgiven! Thou shalt receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and follow Christ!" It is a supernatural work resulting not in perfection but progressive sanctification looking forward to glorification. The rejoicing is not by the candidate but the emotionally excited baptizer and observers. They embrace him in a teaching community. The candidate is established in faith in an affirming community!


Anonymous said...

Of the 7 baptisms found in the Bible, that of the Spirit places the believer into the Church. It is one of the real baptisms [the other being the cross]. the remaining 5 are symbolic for the purpose of identification and obedience.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz

WatchingHISstory said...

Bro Paul

Couldn't you conclude then that if it is symbolic it is not necessary?


becca said...

thanks for visiting. I knew my terminology would go unnoticed by some, and jump out to others :)