October 28, 2020
Dr Ritch Boerckel and Pastor Josh Beakley
Josh: Thanks for those who are here with us in person and then online. We are going to discuss a little bit about the topic that Pastor Ritch preached on, on Sunday as we continue our series on discipleship. We’re talking about belonging to Christ and showing you belong through baptism. We have an opportunity to ask questions. We have a cell phone number that you can text into. You just text questions to that number, it’ll go to our crew in the back, and then they’ll forward it over to us and we’ll talk a little bit about baptism. This week, more than any other week, we actually got a bunch of preemptive questions. So get your questions in quick because we already have several and we’ll try to make our way through them. That’s a sweet thing. People are engaging and asking, so I’m excited about that on this topic of baptism.
But before we dive into that, we did mention last time and I think we can reference at least a portion of the passage you preached on Sunday, but last time, I said we’d come to one of the questions that came last week, which is what’s the clearest or simplest, most basic way to explain the gospel? Do you have any advice on the simplest most basic way to explain the gospel? I know there are a lot of different ways we could answer that. I think there is a danger to try to create too much of a formula, as if there is protection in the formula, because God reiterates that good news message all throughout Scripture in a variety of ways. But actually, when I opened here earlier this evening, I started with 1 Corinthians 15 because there is a phrase in there that I think is really helpful, that can be at least one of the launch pads. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says I’m reminding you of the gospel, and he calls it of first importance. And here’s the phrase that he used: Christ died for our sins. I think that phrase is one in Scripture that is very powerful, and that can lead us into a lot of other essential aspects of the gospel. But it’s a really simple phrase that I think Paul gives and there’s a variety of places we could turn.
I remember a question that was issued to a bunch of theologians of this nature. Can you just give the simplest gospel? And everybody gave a different answer. But it all boiled back to the same basic good news about what God has accomplished through Jesus. So do you have any passages or even something that you use to help you remember the core parts of sharing the gospel?
Ritch: Sure. That’s a great question. In the New Testament, the gospels and Acts, we don’t see one way to celebrate the gospel, yet we do see one message. So we’re kind of asking the question: what is the basics of the message? But even then, when these stories are recorded, there’s so much of the story that we’re not told. We’re assuming that there was more to sort of the preaching and teaching and conversation than what we even have because there’s not one story that’s necessarily intended to give the fullness. That’s why it’s important to have the whole Bible.
So if you think about Genesis 1, just walk through with the key matters about individual personal salvation. It starts off with the God who created us. He created us in His image, to know Him. I think in times past, maybe our culture would be able to assume that a person understands that, but I don’t think we should assume it any longer because the worldviews are so diverse. So I would begin with talking about God. There is one God and He created everything. Everything that was created was created by Him and for Him. He created us in His image, to know Him. So the second big idea that is part of the gospel is that we created a big problem when we decided that we knew better how to live life than God did. So that’s Genesis 3 that indicates that the basic problem that all of us face is our own sin. It’s sin that has infected the whole human race, but it’s sin that certainly affected my heart, and God holds me accountable. He says, “The day you sin, you’ll die.” All of us sin, and all of us then are resigned to die; which is both physical, but it’s also spiritual, forever disconnected from God. So describing who God is and who He created us to be and then describing, here’s the big problem. Then there is the point that you just mentioned, describing God’s solution. God loves us still, even though He didn’t have to love us. He could have just condemned us and walked away. But He loves us and He sent His own Son, Jesus, to be our Savior. God the Son took on human flesh. That’s the Christmas story. He did that in order to die upon the cross as a sacrifice for sin and He rose the third day. That’s the Easter story. So when you think of the solution, it’s Christmas and Easter, really that you have to think about and explain. Then the next matter is what response allows me to benefit from what God’s Son did? Well that response is simple. It is repentance and faith. We have to believe in Jesus. We have to trust in Him. Then the last part of the story is what happens when I am reconciled to God. I’m given a new life and now all of my life is about God and moving toward heaven. It’s moving toward its ultimate destination. Heaven is my home.
So if you think of those big pieces from really, Genesis to Revelation, and there is a lot more detail in between, but those are the big pieces that all of the Bible point toward. God Himself, sovereign Creator, created us in His image to know Him. There is my problem, my sin. God loves me and sent His Son, Jesus to take on human flesh so He could die in the flesh as a sacrifice for my sin. I need to trust Him. I need to believe in Him and turn away from my own willfulness and my own pride and my own way. Then God gives me this great salvation to enjoy and to live out the rest of this life and really, into eternity. I don’t know how to really boil it down to more basics than those five pieces.
Josh: Well it’s really the story of reality. God has spoken and this is the message that He’s given. We see it in the Scriptures and often, you think of it as our God, our guilt, and then the Christ and the choice, in terms of, what are you going to do with what God has done? There is so much. All of following Jesus unfolds from that simple heartbeat, which is the message.
Ritch: Yes, every other story really connects to that big story. When you read your newspaper, I think it’s helpful for Christians as they read their newspaper, to say, how does this story I’m reading fit into the story that God has told?
Josh: Well, I’m sure we could talk about the gospel all night. We’ll hit implications as we think about this idea of baptism. But you preached on this story from Acts 8 and early followers of Jesus. The gospel, this good news about what Jesus has done is spreading and God even sends Philip to go and to communicate this good news to someone who is somewhat familiar, but needs some help understanding the message, an Ethiopian eunuch. Acts chapter 8. Maybe I’ll just touch on a portion of this passage for the sake of time, tonight.
So Philip is sent by the Spirit to go and talk with this eunuch who happens to be reading a portion of Isaiah, the Old Testament, that is prophesying about the coming of Jesus. So the portion of Scripture that he is reading comes from Isaiah. Is it Isaiah chapter 53? Is that where he’s reading from?
Ritch: That’s exactly where he’s reading from.
Josh: So he’s reading that. Philip says, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” He says, “How can I unless someone guides me?” He invites him in and here’s what the passage says. “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” So the eunuch says, “Who is the prophet talking about? Is he talking about himself or someone else?” So Philip opens his mouth and beginning with this scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus. There’s that question: what did he say? Well, it was something related to what you just explained. And the response as they’re going along the road, they come to some water and the eunuch says, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” So the chariot stops. They get out, they go. Philip baptizes him and then he is carried away and the eunuch is rejoicing and goes on. Philip continues to preach the gospel throughout the villages and towns until he comes to Samaria. That’s the essence of the story.
Ritch: That’s so good!
Josh: So we think about this idea of baptism. It’s one of the next steps. The first step is believing in Jesus and the very next step to follow is baptism, showing that you belong to Jesus. That’s sort of the language we’ve been using; believing in Christ and then belonging to Him through many means, but this is one—baptism. We had some questions that came in on this topic of baptism. One of the first comes with what you shared in your message. You told the story about someone that you met who heard the good news and kind of read, I think it was John chapter 3, and then felt, “I believe in Jesus.” Amazing! Then he went out and actually baptized himself by jumping into a body of water. So here’s the first question. Is that normal? Is that appropriate? Is that possible to baptize yourself outside of the context of the local church?
Ritch: I should have made this clearer on Sunday, but Dietmar was uninformed about baptism. He was enthusiastic and I appreciated his zeal. He had heard something because he grew up, I believe, in a Catholic church and he had heard of baptism. He also sensed remarkably, that baptism was for a person who had believed and somehow, that it represented new life. So there are some things he learned, but again, baptism is given to the whole of the body of Christ to celebrate conversions and the entrance of people into the body of Christ.
So Acts 2 talks about how many believed and were baptized and the Lord added to their number that day as many as who were baptized. So it should be connected in some way to the church. Here we have Philip, who in Acts 6 was identified as one of the early servants. I would call him a deacon of the church. Now he’s being used of God both as an evangelist and as a baptizer. So wherever we see people being baptized in the New Testament, there is a person who is receiving the baptism and a person who is doing the baptism. Ultimately, it is Jesus Christ that does the baptism, but there is a human instrument that is involved. That’s for the purpose, I believe, of the church being unified through baptism. So it’s not just about me and my own personal relationship with God. It is that, but it’s more than that. It’s also about me and my relationship with God’s people who are called out together. All of us then are being baptized as part of our identification with Jesus and then our communion or our relationship with one another.
Josh: Right! So believing in the message, but belonging to Him through His people, His Body. Baptism is very closely aligned with this is something that you actually do. You go and you’re making disciples, baptizing them and identifying them with Christ, united in His death and His resurrection. So the idea of self-baptism doesn’t really seem to be Scriptural. There is also an element of Acts where there seems to be some aspects of description and some aspects of prescription, where Acts is maybe describing some of what’s happening, but it was unique in some ways to the early church. It’s more describing than prescribing some of what we see later on in more of the epistles. So there is some uniqueness about this particular story with the eunuch.
Ritch: Yes. And you bring up Matthew 28 which is key because it’s Jesus’ word to the disciples before the coming of the Holy Spirit at the end of Matthew. It is the mission of the church, which is go and make disciples. Then there is two parts of that; baptizing them. So it’s not disciples making themselves by baptizing themselves. But there is a discipler who is already part of the church who is making disciples by baptizing people who have come to faith and then by teaching them to observe everything that the Lord commanded. Peter, in his first sermon said, repent and be baptized. It’s passive. It’s always passive for the recipient. In other words, it’s something that the person is submitting to and is being done to them, not something they are doing. So in Matthew, when He’s talking to disciplers, He says baptizing. That’s active. In Acts 2, when Peter calls the congregation to faith in Christ, he says to repent and be baptized. He doesn’t say, repent and baptize because they’re the ones that are receiving it from him, the representative of the church, so that they would be then as Acts 2 says at the end, they would be added to their number, the number of the church.
Josh: So here’s a question. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul says there are guys getting baptized and kind of really identifying with the person who baptized them. That’s a key part. “This person baptized me. This other person baptized me.” Paul gets into that discussion and he says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” So in one sense, we have Matthew 28. Jesus sent us making disciples and baptizing them. Then in the other sense, Paul says, “Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” What’s Paul getting at there?
Ritch: Well, first, in that passage, I would observe, again, there are people who God calls to baptize, to do the baptizing, and there are people whom God calls to be baptized. So Paul is a church planter. He’s an apostle going into Corinth. When he goes into Corinth, he says, “I thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you except for Crispus and Gaius.” And he says, “Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul?” In other words, did any of you who were non-believers when I came but became believers, were you baptized? Again, passive recipients of the baptism. So again, I just make the point that whenever we see baptism, the church is connected to it. It’s an introduction of that person into a church family. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about us maintaining this precious unity of the church. He says one Lord, one faith, one baptism, indicating that baptism is part of the life of the church itself.
But here, what’s fascinating about this passage to me is in Romans 1:16, he says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is the power of God to salvation to anyone who believes.” So if we believe the gospel, God grants power to bring salvation to that person’s life. Yet here, he says in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “Christ, the Messiah, didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the good news.” In this, he’s not denigrating the importance of baptism. He’s just separating it from the penultimate importance of the gospel. So he is saying that baptism isn’t part of the gospel itself, in terms of the message that he was proclaimed to preach. It comes on the heels, but again, I make that point because many would say baptism is part of the gospel. They would say that in order to be received by God, forgiven and accepted into God’s family, you have to believe and be baptized. Baptism is an essential part of that response. And Paul says, here I think he’s saying very clearly, no. You believe the gospel, you’re saved. “I was not called to baptize, but I was called to preach the gospel.” So he is separating those two apart from each other, even as baptism is central to discipleship. I think the way I put it in the message is baptism is not essential for salvation; baptism is essential for discipleship. So once we have salvation, this is an essential step. It’s not an option.
Josh: It’s kind of like, it seems like, getting the cart before the horse or putting the right train engine driving, that the gospel is ahead. Baptism inevitably follows a biblical response to the message of the gospel. But the gospel is preeminent and it’s the message that drives the thing forward. There are so many questions that are starting to roll in here about this idea of baptism and its importance and even the urgency. I’ll try to merge a couple of questions here. So, someone is asking, how important is the immediacy when it comes to baptism, thinking about also this concern about people just coming in and getting baptized without believing in the gospel message? “I want to be immediate just like this eunuch. I’m ready to respond.” Also, we’re not here just to be dunking people in water. So how do you merge those together? How important is the immediacy of baptism with the sincerity of the actual salvation?
Ritch: That’s a great question because it gets into really a process that we don’t have a clear line of sight to. There are some tensions that are right in our practice. First, it’s pretty clear in Scripture that soon after believing, people are being baptized. So it’s not an absolute command like a legal document where you have seven days before this expires, that kind of thing. But you do see a practice of clear immediacy. But you also see like with Philip for instance, in the story in front of us, you have Philip being called by God to talk to an Ethiopian, who we find out, and I presume that Philip may have a sense of this and the way God works, he is never going to see this Ethiopian again. When the Ethiopian goes to Ethiopia, a church needs to be planted. In other words, there is no church. So there is no church along the way. Yet, Philip has a long conversation with him. We’re not sure how long, but he says at the beginning with this very passage, he went through the Scriptures proclaiming Jesus to this man.
Josh: He said enough that he understood baptism and its importance. I mean, clearly he talked enough.
Ritch: Right! So he definitely had enough confidence to be the baptizer for this person. And I think the other thing that we have to deal with now that the New Testament didn’t have to deal with is what many call cultural Christianity. So if you decide to become a follower of Jesus Christ, that’s a pretty significant step because this is brand new. There wasn’t sort of a culture that pushed you toward that, other than the gospel. That doesn’t mean there weren’t false conversions. It was just that people didn’t have all these wrong ideas about what it means to believe in Jesus that exist today, because there are so many churches that teach wrong ideas. So I think, my personal opinion, is that it’s right for churches to help people have a clarity about their testimony, however long that takes. And sometimes it’s short, like here, whether it’s hours. Sometimes it can take much longer. But a person should, again, when we studied through 1 John, know that they know that they believe in Jesus Christ. They shouldn’t be baptized and say, “I think I might believe.” But they should say, “I believe,” and be able to give that testimony. Then when a discipler asks some questions about what does it mean to believe in Christ? Who is Jesus? What has He done? What are you believing? What does it mean to repent and believe? They would have gospel answers. It’s not that they are Seminary trained or anything. I’ve talked to five year olds who have tremendously clear gospel answers for all those questions, because this is something that the Spirit of God reveals. As it says of Lydia in Acts 16, it says the Lord opened her heart. When the Lord opens a heart and opens eyes to see the gospel, to see Christ, then the testimony becomes really clear. But I think it’s irresponsible of the person baptizing to not have some kind of clear testimony from the person. And sometimes that takes longer than a conversation. I guess that’s my point of how long. It’s not, “I signed the card. You’re doing something wrong by waiting a week or two.” Yet, I would absolutely agree that it shouldn’t be an extended period of time.
Josh: Yes, so you’re talking about in terms of following Jesus, they understand why Jesus matters. They’ve taken that first step of believing in Him and they want to show they belong to Him. And the person or the institution, the church, that is doing the baptizing, has the responsibility to assess the credibility of the gospel message that they are believing in and whether or not they do have a true testimony of having taken that first step. The credibility of the good news, Jesus’ name of His Body is at stake in that moment.
Ritch: With that, I would point out it’s not that that person is sitting in judgment. The person is just bringing Jesus into the conversation so that what Jesus said very clearly would be in judgment, to help the person. Does that make sense? So again, it’s not sort of a censorious spirit where you’re saying, “It’s going to be really hard to get past me.” That can happen in churches. It does happen in many churches, and that would be wrong. We welcome and baptize all who Jesus welcomes and calls to be baptized, which is just simple believers. But we do want to bring to the conversation what Jesus has said about Himself, about His salvation, about faith, about the cross. And when a person agrees with Jesus, then it’s right for the baptizer to not withhold it.
Josh: Right! They belong. So there are kind of two sides here. So on the one side, you’re talking about the importance of a testimony and credibility that “I have taken that first step of believe.” So what do you do, this is hard, but maybe a simple understanding? There are some churches that would baptize infants who we would say, they don’t have a testimony. They don’t understand the gospel message. They haven’t taken the first step of believing. Maybe, I don’t know if you can give a quick summary of why would people baptize infants? And obviously there is more discussion to be had.
Ritch: Yes, this is a huge discussion and would require a little bit longer to help people with more fullness. We teach a Systematic Theology class and we use Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. He has a great chapter in there about baptism, period, walking through Scriptures. First, I would say there are some really, really good and godly people who believe in and practice infant baptism. So, we don’t want to make this an issue of, these are the bad guys and these are the good guys. There are real godly people throughout church history and in the present who believe in infant baptism. Now, I believe they’re wrong and in my discussions with them I’m not shy about sharing that.
But infant baptism, first, flows out of a theological argument, not out of a textual argument. Does that make sense? So it flows out of a belief about, this might be deep water here, but it flows out of a belief about how much and what kind of continuity there is between Israel and the Old Testament and the church and the New Testament. So if you believe certain things about how those two are connected, then there is a theological argument flowing from the continuity of circumcision to New Testament baptism, that since circumcision was applied to children, then baptism should. So that’s how a person arrives at that sort of a theological argument.
But I do make that point because of friends who are covenantal in that way and believe in infant baptism. Most of them would say it’s really important, vital. Some would say it’s absolutely necessary for parents to baptize their babies. So they would make that very strong statement. It’s vital, or some would even say it’s necessary to baptize babies. But think for a moment with me that there is not one single New Testament text that says that. Not one! So you can go no place in the New Testament where it says, parents baptize your babies. You can go to a lot of places in the Old Testament and it says, parents, circumcise your sons. That’s a heavy thing. So the heavy burden of proof is on those who hold to infant baptism and say that this is for every parent throughout time and that it is really, really, really important. There is not one text you can take me to that declares that. It’s a theological argument and understanding out of view of the Old Testament. I think that’s a really, really big deal.
There are four places, if I’m remembering correctly, three in Acts and one in 1 Corinthians, the one we mentioned, that mentions households. In two of those, it’s really clear that the people he is talking to received the teaching of the Word and believed in the teaching of the Word prior to being baptized. So at least in two places of those four instances, it eliminates very clearly the idea that there were infants. And again, it’s just an argument that there must be infants in those households, so therefore, this is our text. Now I’ll say again, it’s pretty weak for the kind of central importance that those who would hold to infant baptism have.
The commands that are given us about baptism are very clear. Like Matthew 28. Here is where the command of baptism is given. You make disciples. What do you do to make disciples? You baptize them and you teach them. So again, the idea is that disciples are people who can be baptized and be taught. A disciple is not someone who can be baptized but not taught. Does that make sense? So the command itself, and then the command that Peter gives is repent and be baptized. Then the Lord, well, let’s go right to the text of Acts 2 because I like the way it shapes it. I don’t want to misquote, certainly, which can happen. Acts 2:41. “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day about three thousand in all.” So again, we have those kinds of descriptions frequently, where it says those who believed what Peter said were baptized. So it says nothing about those who could not believe or did not believe. You have no sense that unbelievers, people who don’t believe, are ever baptized. So there’s a lot more to be said about it, but I think I’m trying to gain my point and every time we see baptism commanded or exemplified, it’s always this process. It’s a symbol not of what God would do in the future, but what God has already done. We are people who have died with Christ and been buried with Him and are raised to newness of life. Romans 6 would be another good passage for that.
Josh: There are chapters and books written on it. You’ve had hours and hours of discussions about this kind of thing relating to people. There is great sensitivity to where people are at because it does have implications. We hold this with humility but sincerity, that we believe that the Bible teaches that true baptism would be believer’s baptism.
Ritch: I would say, too, most here at Bethany would say, “I already agree. How could somebody not?” And I would say in our conversations, let’s always be gentle, humble. I believe in persuasiveness of the Word. It’s not likely that someone who has been raised in this particular mindset and way of thinking about this issue is going to change through one conversation. I have seen people change their understanding. Many people change their understanding of baptism, but it’s usually through a long process. And if we turn that person off by kind of a fiery spirit like “how could you possibly believe that? That’s the stupidest thing in the world,” well, we’ve just lost our ability to help. That kind of spirit is never helpful on any doctrine. So I would say, we as believers should always be comfortable even in disagreeing with an open Bible in front of us and saying let’s look at more texts and let’s consider every text as precious and important.
Josh: Right! While still maintaining the priority that Paul would say of the gospel message and be very careful not to have a misunderstanding of baptism, confusing the gospel itself because the stakes are pretty high.
There are more questions that are coming in here than we can get to. Here’s maybe one. I’ll try to blend some questions. So let’s say maybe I was baptized as an infant. My parents baptized me and now I’m hearing this and I’m thinking I might actually need to take this step. I think Jesus is calling me to this step. Or maybe I believe and I haven’t really thought about it, but this is a big deal. Now you’re talking to me about getting submerged in water in front of a group of people and even having a hard discussion about spiritual things and maybe even then trying to share my testimony. That’s pretty intimidating. What would you say to the person who is afraid and who is thinking, I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t think I can do that. I’m afraid of taking this step.
Ritch: That’s really good. There are a lot of reasons why baptism is fearful, both what you just mentioned or even a person who hasn’t had infant baptism or another kind of baptism. They can be afraid of just being in front of people and sharing a testimony.
Josh: Is that something that you’ve heard before?
Ritch: Many, many, many times. Maybe I’ll encourage you and share. First of all, I’ll talk about the person regarding infant baptism and then I’ll talk about just generally. More commonly it’s folks who have just delayed baptism. They already believe what Scripture said about their need and the command. Yet, they just put it off because it’s kind of scary to get up in front of people and be baptized and share testimony. So first on infant baptism, we use the term “baptism” for a lot of things, but those things are not the same. So that’s why I think I would change the terminology to help us better communicate to ourselves and others. So if you’re in alignment with what I believe the Scripture says, which is baptism in the name of Jesus, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, baptism into Jesus is an expression of a person who has already placed their faith in Jesus, who has already been made new. The body of sin has already been done away with and now they’re walking in newness of life. This ceremony, this right, is an external expression of that inward reality that has already happened. So if you agree with that, then what happened at infancy is not baptism. We use the same term to call it, but it’s not baptism. I would say, let’s use a list of different terms. Let’s use maybe infant sprinkling. “So when I was an infant, I was sprinkled, and now I want to be baptized because I believe what happened there was not baptism.” So you’ve not ever been baptized and now you’re being re-baptized. You were sprinkled as an infant, but you need to be re-baptized in order to obey the command that Jesus has to follow Him. Now it’s a command. Then it’s a question of, how do I have the courage to obey Christ with something hard? That gets into this next category of, how can we think about this? Let’s just say the obstacle is, I’m afraid to get up in front of people. That obstacle is frequent. It’s many. In some ways, it’s almost universal in some measure. To some, it’s huge.
The cutting room floor of the message that I gave on Sunday had three encouragements that I didn’t ever get to, for someone who is afraid. So first is to consider Jesus is worth it. However hard it is, whatever obedience He calls us to have, we just know Jesus is worth it. If Jesus calls me to die for Him, to die a terrible, painful death for Him like He called most of the disciples, He’s worth it. So the more we can focus on that, the less power that fear has. So Jesus is worth it. Secondly is, Jesus is with me, so He’s going to strengthen me. God never gives us a command that He doesn’t also give subsequent grace or power to us when we obey Him. So if He calls us to die a painful death, well we don’t have to fear whether or not we’ll have the strength. And martyrs throughout history have wondered that. They sit in a jail cell. They know the next morning they’re going to be burned at the stake. “Am I going to be able to hold onto my testimony?” I think again, Jesus is with you. He is going to supply the strength that you need to obey Him. Then finally, Jesus will grant you great joy in it. No true believer after baptism regrets, “Oh man! That was hard. I wish I wouldn’t have done it.” There is such an overwhelming joy in this gift of God, in receiving this gift of God, because baptism is a gift. It’s not a work of us. It’s a gift to be received, not a work to perform. There is such overwhelming joy.
Maybe to tell you one little story to encourage everyone, I mentioned a little bit of this story. I didn’t tell the details on Sunday. But there was a woman in her 70’s in our church. This was about 20 years ago. She came to me after one message that we talked about baptism. She said, “I need to be baptized.” I said well tell me your testimony. Her testimony was, “I came to Christ when I was about twelve years old.” Really? Well, have you heard this message before? “Yes, I’ve heard it all my life and I’ve thought about it, but I was just too afraid.” Well, why were you afraid? She said, “Well, when I was 13 or 14, I was in a boat and it capsized in the middle of,” I don’t know if it was a huge lake, but it was some place where you couldn’t see the shore. She said, “It capsized and I drowned.” She experienced everything that a person experiences when they die by drowning. So she said, “I was awakened with somebody pumping on my chest and me coughing up water.” So she drowned to the point of again, complete blacking out. And she said, “From that point on, I have never put my head under the water. I’ve been just absolutely traumatized and terrified of water.” She said, “When I get in the shower, I don’t let the water run on my face. It would just freak me out to put water on my face.”
So what are you going to say at this point? As a pastor, you want to be sort of sympathetic, but at the same time, I believe these things. It’s traumatic! It’s probably traumatic beyond my understanding of what trauma could be, but Jesus is worth it. Jesus will strengthen you. And when you complete this, you will have great joy. And you know, all those things took place. She first decided “Jesus is worth it. I’m terrified, but Jesus is worth it.” Then that day, it was amazing because there was such calm. I don’t say there is going to be calm every time a person…That’s not necessarily how Jesus strengthens. But for her, there was tremendous calm and tremendous readiness. What a great testimony! Then afterwards, there was tremendous joy. She talked to me about that day often, throughout the many years following that she was part of our church. So it was kind of a cool way that God works, but I believe that’s what God does.
Josh: There are examples of encouragements for courage for both those who believe and who are much older and get baptized and those who are much younger and get baptized. There is a lot of encouragement we take as a church from that. I asked you if you’ve seen this and I’m trying to draw it out because I know how much you’ve seen that. We’ve talked about that before. So this touches on maybe one other question. We’ll see if we can get to this one.
You mentioned earlier about a child being able to explain the gospel. What advice would you give to parents? I know we’ve wrestled with this together and I’ve wrestled with other families. What advice would you give and any discussion on parents talking with their children and then saying, how much do I look for the credibility of a testimony, their ability to explain the gospel, the fruit of “I am following Jesus,” before they would, and this gets back to that immediacy question, before they would say, I think my child is ready for baptism?
Ritch: Boy! What a great question, too. It kind of leads back to the first question about the gospel and sharing the gospel. One of the things that I didn’t say then as I shared the big picture of what the gospel is, is whenever we communicate the gospel, we don’t want to just talk about the Scriptures, but we want to share the Scriptures. That’s what Philip did. He opened up the Scriptures. He talked about specific texts. It’s God’s power that is at work to bring salvation. It’s God’s power that’s at work to bring a sanctified response, and for parents to trust that.
We had three boys and I was concerned deeply all their lives for their salvation. You’d see aspects of that and there was great joy. Then you’d see, okay, here’s some struggles, here’s some difficulties. Then you’d see confirmation. So you’re constantly looking. You’re concerned. A Christian parent must rest on God’s sovereign working and trust that, without trying to create it. So that’s first for salvation and then it’s for acts of worship. The first act of worship is baptism and then the Lord’s Supper. You’re looking for evidence like a church leader would do, of that being real and of readiness of the person to obey, not because they’re coerced. So this series, and I think I mentioned it on Sunday. I wouldn’t want anyone to be baptized because they think that maybe I or the church would belittle them or condemn them or think less of them. That’s never the gospel source of obedience. It’s flowing from a realization that God brings that “the salvation that God has given me is a great gift and now He wants to give me this gift of baptism to publicly identify myself with Jesus and with Jesus’ people. And I’m going to follow Him because I want to. God has changed my wanter. He makes me want to obey Him.” So with a child, you’re looking for that. Not to say, “This is going to really please mom and dad. Or, that was kind of cool. Those kids got some attention up there. Or, boy I wonder what it’s like to get in the water.” There are all these things that flow through the heart of a child that could be motivations. So you’re looking for real salvation. You’re looking for real understanding where they can explain the gospel. I believe that everyone who has been born again can explain the gospel. And you’re looking for a real heart’s desire to be baptized.
I’ve had children as young as five. Now again, I don’t recommend it. I don’t encourage parents to try and push for that at all. But there have been a couple children that say, “This is my heart’s desire,” and they have been able to explain God’s work of salvation in their life. And it’s sort of like this question the Ethiopian asked. What prevents me? I as their pastor couldn’t say, here’s what prevents you. You’re too young. Because they have, I believe, a genuine testimony of faith and a genuine worship-motivated desire to follow the Lord in baptism.
Josh: The immediacy there is the immediate willingness, the desire. But it seems like an honest question by the eunuch. Is there something that prevents me? Can we do this? And it seems like there is a legitimate responsibility on the one with that gospel message and often a position to say, I do want to be faithful, here. So, there is an immediate willingness, but also a humility underneath the Scriptures and then to try to apply it faithfully. That’s part of what it just means to be a church. So we’re following Jesus together, believing in Him, belonging to Him through baptism. We’re going to talk about belonging to the church body meaningfully through identifying as a member of the body. And then we’re going to talk about communion, like you said, the Lord’s Supper. So that’s what is ahead. There were more questions that came in. I think more discussion on baptism might be in order at some point. But I’m thankful for what you shared already. I think I might just close in prayer. And for those who are here, we can pray. If you want, you can just come forward and we’ll spend some time praying.
Father, thank you for this time. I know that there are probably questions that remain unanswered for many. I know I have some here before me from those who are here or online and all throughout our church family and even the community. We have questions about what it means to believe in Christ and what it means to belong to Christ, what this message is really about and who this people really is. We ask that as a church, we’d be faithful to the gospel message, we’d be faithful as a gospel people, and that you would help us to know what discipleship looks like together in this world and all the changes and challenges that we face. Teach us what it means to be faithful as a flock, trying to follow the Chief Shepherd, the Good Shepherd. It’s in His Name we pray, Amen.