Characterizing the Significance of Baptism
It is a tremendous benefit for many that we today live in societies which allow a variety of religious views to exist alongside one another. That has not always been the case. Unfortunately, in the pages of history there are some Christians who even gave their lives for their views on baptism. What significance should a Christian attach to baptism? What is the correct balance which gives proper value to the matter but at the same time does not allow this aspect of the faith to exert undue influence in such a way that one's walk with Christ is adversely affected?
The following is adapted from material which appeared in the Christian Reformed Agenda to Synod 2000 (pages 27 and 28):
Some view a person’s stand on the issue of baptism as a reflection of fundamental and confessional principles of Scripture. Others suggest that the issue may be viewed as adiaphora, like eating meat versus eating only vegetables (see Rom. 14). Is baptism CONFESSIONAL (adjective, definition #2) in the sense that the main articles of the Apostles' Creed are confessional? Does it merit classification along with essential doctrines of salvation or the nature of God? Does it undermine the teachings about Jesus, his birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and present reign? Does it detract from the Bible's teaching about the Holy Spirit and the way of salvation? In a case of serious doctrinal error we know what needs to be done. If this baptism issue were an essential confessional issue, our salvation would depend on it. That is not the case. Is baptism A MORAL ISSUE, like committing adultery, killing, stealing, or any other violation of God's covenant code? If it were such a moral issue, it would test whether our faith is real or fake. Does the issue then belong to the ADIAPHORA, the disputable matters? We judge that such a designation is not really satisfactory either. Then what kind of issue is it?
Perhaps a more helpful approach can be made from the WISDOM literature of the Bible. The Bible's wisdom literature is intended to help God's people to model their conduct, individually and communally, after the principles that reflect God's will for living beneficial and productive lives. . . . the church was given wisdom principles to guide her in the regulation of worship and in the appointment of office bearers (I Tim. 2:3; I Cor. 11:2-16). Wisdom principles help people pull together insights and truths from a number of spheres: the nature of the created order, observable societal principles and circumstances, and, in particular, the nature of humankind as illuminated by God's special revelation. Wisdom teachings provide boundaries and goals for human life in the presence of God. Couldn’t the issue of baptism be approached from a similar perspective? How can the church act wisely today? Characterizing the issue as a wisdom issue seems more accurate than categorizing it as a doctrinal, moral, or disputable matter, as summarized above. Characterizing an issue as a wisdom matter in no way lessens the authority of any passage of Scripture from which the teaching is drawn. But attempting to characterize an issue properly is of genuine help in discerning the area and the extent of our differences on the issue. It also helps us to know how to respond appropriately when we reach differing conclusions.
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