Saturday, June 30, 2007

Alien Immersion?

Recently I was asked about my view on alien immersion. I must admit that I did not have the foggiest idea. Having to quickly interact with several Southern Baptist pastors about the policy, I discovered that the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention submitted guidelines concerning anyone who desired to become a candidate. Click here to see the official position. Under the section church, the IMB has set forth the following stipulation:

2. The Church

a. Baptism is a church ordinance. Baptism must take place in a church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer.

b. A candidate who has not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his/her Southern Baptist church as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches.

Before commenting on this policy, I would like to make a few general comments about baptism. First, along with the Lord’s Supper, baptism is the second ordinance given to the church by our Lord. The commandment to His followers during His ascension set forth the precedence of making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The early church realized the significance of the Lord’s command and instituted baptism as the framework to identify those who placed their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, baptism is an outward expression of a spiritual reality. The true nature of baptism does not operate ex opere operato, but is only administered to those who have already expressed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only believers are to participate in baptism because it is a symbol of spiritual union which occurred between Christ and the believer. Subsequent to salvation, baptism is only a picture of what has already occurred in the life of the believer. Accordingly, infants and unbleievers are not to be baptized because only believers who recognize the work of salvation in their lives are eligible for baptism (see the following verses— Acts 2:41; 8:12; 10:44-48; 16:14-15). In Acts 16:14-15, the Lord revealed His message to Lydia then she was baptized. Third, the mode of baptism through immersion is a striking picture of our identification with Christ. In Romans 6:3-7, Paul writes,

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with {Him} in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be {in the likeness} of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

The mode of baptism illustrates the believer’s death of his old self with Christ. Through faith and repentance, the believer’s baptism becomes a symbolical burial with Christ where one chooses to identify with Christ through death. The believer is united to Christ through His death. However, this is only the beginning. As the believer is raised up in the baptism, this becomes a symbol of the believer’s commencement into a new life with Christ. Not only does the believer united with Christ in His death, but the believer is empowered to live a life of holiness and obedience through the Spirit. Because of the work of the Godhead, believer’s baptism is a manifestation of a spiritual journey from death to self to newness of life. And this newness of life is accompanied by the guarantee of the Holy Spirit who witnesses to our spirit that Christ will one day return to gather all of His followers in order that we will live in unity and harmony with the Godhead.

Outlining the magnitude of baptism in the life of the believer, the church can understand the value and meaning of its symbolic teaching to the body of Christ. The previous statements about baptism are central to Scripture, then I believe that alien immersion is only peripheral. According to the IMB’s position, only candidates who have been baptized in a Southern Baptist church that holds to the doctrine of eternal security are considered eligible for the mission board. The difficulty raised in this policy is the lack of connection to the Word of God. According to the Scriptures, believers who have knowingly placed their faith in Jesus Christ are instructed to participate in baptism through immersion. The Scriptures do not elucidate the location or particular body of believers that the baptism is performed. Unfortunately, this teaching closely resembles Landmarkism which holds to a restricted view of baptism.

I have a few problems with alien immersion. First, when groups place such a restriction upon a particular ordinance in order to be a member of their church, a spirit of pride and arrogance can easily seep into the group. Second, baptism is not necessary for salvation; it only demonstrates what has already occurred in the life of the believer. To maintain that baptism outside of a particular group is invalid because it is considered alien immersion seems to emphasize the administrator rather than the significance of the ordinance. The purpose of baptism is to demonstrate the work of Christ and the newness of life. Third, alien immersion seems to delimit the work of God. His sovereign plan involved the death of His Son, and any one who receives the Lord Jesus Christ will inherit eternal life. Though the message remains the same, God has allowed the body of Christ to grow through creatively and diversity.

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