Conversion and Baptism

June 18, 2006

At my church, we usually have the sermon and then the invitation. Almost every Sunday, my pastor will say "maybe you say, 'I've already been saved, but I haven't taken the next step and followed the Lord in believer's baptism.'" Occasionally someone will come up to be baptized.

Isn't this strange?

As I read the New Testament, I see that baptism is almost synonymous with conversion. Paul writes that we are baptized into Christ. Luke records in Acts that after the eunuch made a profession of faith, he said, "What prevents me from being baptized?" and he was baptized at the nearest pool of water.

I can't really explain this wait between profession of faith and baptism. One of my friends once told me something like, "I'm not ready yet." How can you not be ready when the eunuch said, "What prevents me?"

One day I'd like to do a more detailed study of baptism in Second Temple Judaism and see exactly how it corresponded to enterting a group. I'm always wary of saying that baptism is necessary for salvation, but I think it should be almost immediate after profession of faith, as soon as possible.

Thoughts, comments, literature suggestions on baptism, snide remarks?

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5 Responses to “Conversion and Baptism”

  1. brandalf85 Says:

    o.o You’re not saying you have to be baptized to be saved right? Catholics believe that. I asked Jesus to be my savior when i was 5 but i wasn’t baptized till maybe I was 7. It’s more symbolic than anything but I still think it should be done. I don’t believe that if you do one without the other that somehow you’re not saved. N00Berto!

  2. Q Says:

    Baptism as we are familiar with it was an innovation of John the Baptist, whence it entered Christianity.

    There’s a good, if brief, discussion in William LaSor, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament, in the chapter, “John the Baptist and Qumran”.

    In general, Jews had ritual washings which were repeated at frequent intervals. This is in contrast to John’s baptism, which was a one-time event, presumably initiatory in significance.

    (More precisely, John’s water baptism was a preparation for the Coming One’s Spirit-and-fire baptism. In effect, it constituted an initiation into the community of the saved. But John himself doesn’t seem to have formed his followers into a separate community or church (although John did have disciples). James Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, has a good discussion of the preparatory significance of John’s baptism.)

    Moreover, ritual washings were usually self-administered. Here, too, John’s baptism was distinctive.

    LaSor says the most likely precursor to John’s baptism was proselyte baptism, “which seems to have developed in the Jewish synagogues of the Diaspora, and which was designed to wash away the defilement of the Gentile who sought to become a Jewish convert.” But John took a radical step by requiring Jews to be baptized, implying that they were in a state of impurity akin to that of a Gentile.

    Some scholars think the Essenes practised baptism. Like other Jews, the Essenes practised various ritual washings. But LaSor writes, “There is nothing in any existing text, either from Qumran or from the Essene sources, to indicate that there was an initiatory bath.”

    And, again, washings at Qumran were purificatory rather than initiatory. LaSor writes, “The Qumran texts, as a matter of fact, make it clear that the waters of purification were restricted to members in good standing, and were denied to those seeking admission to the Sect”, citing 1QS 5:13.

    The position you take in your post is quite correct. John’s baptism, and baptism in Acts, was an initiatory rite. At Qumran, you waited two years before you were granted admission to the purificatory baths. But for John and the early Church, baptism was administered immediately upon a profession of faith: it marked one’s initiation into the community of the saved.

    Finally, in response to the comment above mine: I would not go so far as to say that baptism saves people (though one can make a case for it — note Acts 2:38 and 1Pe. 3:21). The New Testament constantly connects forgiveness, salvation, etc. to faith / belief. Insofar as baptism marks one’s initiation into the community of the saved, it can be associated with one’s salvation (as in the texts mentioned). But baptism is not a magical rite: it effects one’s initiation into the community of the saved only if faith is present. (Hence infant baptism is a dubious practice.)

  3. Kyle Says:

    I would back everything Q-dawg said, in terms of historical work. I would add the suggestion of Crossan (and maybe Sanders, I can’t remember) that there seems to be an additional aspect of John’s baptism, the identification with the “faithful remnant” – the particular kind of initiation. Crossan argues that it’s baptism in the Jordan (Israel coming into Canaan to recieve the land) that puts John’s rite in the context of exile and return – the reconstitution of Israel from that faithful remnant.

    In regard to the other thing, baptism in the NT seems to very commonly be wrapped up in Christian initiation, even if it seems to be “by faith.” It’s problematic that we so often assume faith and God’s saving work is necessarily separate from the physical mediation by which this is accomplished. As a good sacramentalist, I’d remind us to look at Paul’s language in Romans of being baptized “into Christ” – language that seems to take for granted that conversion and the rite belong hand in hand.

    I’d also like to object (ever so politely!) that the word “magic” implies a caricature of sacramental theology. What is really believed is that God mediates his own transforming presence by the agency of the Spirit through the instruments of the community gathering around the baptismal font. We ask God to do what he has promised, and that’s to bring about his salvation through the hands of his Church. “Magic” is a manipulation of spiritual forces through natural means, and the Christian god is never to be manipulated or presumed upon.

  4. Rob Says:

    That’s for the insightful and illuminating responses, guys.

  5. Q Says:

    Kyle:
    Just to clarify, I didn’t intend my remark about magic as a potshot at sacramentalists. As you indicate, it was more of a comment on a misunderstanding of sacramentalism. Thanks for responding so politely.

    Your comment causes me to reflect on the communal focus of the sacramentalist position. And this is, of course, essential to the defence of infant baptism. The infant may not believe, but the community is directing its faith toward God on the infant’s behalf.

    I remain sceptical about the practice, simply because there’s no New Testament precedent for it. But I find the communal focus attractive, as opposed to the isolation of the individual before God which is intrinsic to most Protestant churches.

    There is no question that first century Jews and Christians were communal in orientation, and I fear the Protestant Church has strayed too far from that understanding of the faith.

  6. Kyle Says:

    Q, I didn’t think you were taking a potshot, but thanks for that just the same. :0) And those are good points as well. I read a very good treatment of this last term, John Colwell’s Promise and Presence: An Exploration of Sacramental Theology. It’s worth noting that he’s a Baptist tutor at Spurgeon’s College in London.

    He’s a sacramentalist who’s not comfortable with infant baptism, and he’s how I discovered that there are some baptist sacramentalists(!), at least in the UK…


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