Post by Pastor Tim – How should a better understanding of Proclaiming the Gospel affect how we practice baptism in the local church? I pondered this as I responded to a question about the appropriate waiting period between someone giving their life to Christ and getting baptized.
In the book of Acts, each new believer seems to be baptized almost immediately. This applies to the crowd of people that Jesus preached to in Acts 2 and to the household of Cornelius in Acts 10. Philip and the Ethiopian may be the best example of this as Philip baptized the Ethiopian as soon as they saw water (Acts 8:36-38).
In each of these cases though, the people being baptized were intimately aware of the Old Testament Scriptures and the God of the Bible. For example, the large crowd in Acts 2 were “God-fearing Jews from every nation.” In Acts 8, the Ethiopian Eunuch was going to Jerusalem to worship and was reading the Scriptures, indicating that he was a God-fearing Gentile. This means that he had some background in the Jewish faith and was not only familiar with the Old Testament but also with God. And the same is true (maybe even more so) of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10.
It is important to note that this is not the case with many new converts to Christianity today. There are many people whose first introduction to Christianity is a short, emotional message followed by a coached prayer that goes something like . . . “I give my heart to you Jesus. Please forgive my sins, restore my marriage, and help me get out of debt. Amen.” Assuming that there was an actual moment of regeneration as a result of that prayer, it would be helpful and appropriate to make sure the new believer actually understood what they were being baptized into before they were baptized. Let alone, they may not even understand what baptism is!
Shortly after the time of the New Testament, the early Christians began to experience the same thing. J. I. Packer says,
As the Gospel spread to primarily gentile and pagan peoples, the church came to regard conversion to Christ as so revolutionary that it requires a significant time of instruction and drilling in other spiritual activities prior to the conferring of baptism upon new believers.
So, how do we do a proper proclamation of the gospel with baptism?
- Proclaim the full gospel according to the Scriptures, and not only our “evangelical catch-phrases” of what it means to be a Christian.
- Don’t push for an immediate conversion. Salvation is God’s work, not yours! But do be faithful to consistently proclaim the gospel, not just in one “spiritual intervention” session.
- When someone does indicate that they receive the Gospel, don’t be afraid to see if they really do receive the gospel of the Bible. One North Korean believer spoke about their faith saying that they pray regularly to God and that they also feel that God talks to them. We might give this a “rousing approval” until we found out that the “God” they were speaking of was Kim Il Sung. And even if someone specifically mentions their belief in Christ, it is entirely possible that the Christ they believe in is different than the Christ of the Bible.
- Consider formalizing this test of “belief in the gospel.” “Formalizing” may seem like a dirty word, but it matters not only that you believe, but it matters what you believe in. This formalization may be something as simple as a new believer memorizing and understanding the Nicene Creed (which is a good statement of faith that’s widely accepted among Christian churches) before they are baptized.
It’s important to know that there isn’t necessarily a “waiting period” that needs to be employed before someone is baptized, but rather an assurance that the person being baptized knows into what they are being baptized.