Pastoral Letter June/July 2018

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…”
        — Acts 2:38

Dear Friends,

It should not seem strange to you that a Baptist pastor might talk about baptism from time to time!Frankly, it concerns me that many who profess to be Christians, are not baptised. But our problems run deeper than just that.

What does it say to us that in the earliest days of the church, the Apostle Peter answers the distressed and convicted crowds who ask ‘what shall we do’ with ‘repent and be baptised’? I suggest three things to you:

i) Genuine Christian conversion is a total change of life, not an intellectual assent.

We live in a rapidly-changing society, but we still have remnants of the ‘way things used to be’ among us. That doesn’t mean that they are good things, necessarily. One such thing is the tradition of ‘chapel culture’ which I have mentioned before. In a nutshell, it is the downplaying of the New Testament’s model of a local church, with officers and members, in favour of a ‘preaching station’ which we attend as and when we wish to, without commitment of time, or regular giving, or any real sense of belonging.

This fits well with the ‘intellectual assent’ model of Christianity that many in our society still hold to. I believe it accounts a great deal for the fact that  so many professing Christians these days have unconverted children. Now, salvation belongs to the LORD, it is in His hands, but may I suggest that if we live as though our faith is just a personal mental assent, or decision, and that others including our own children may simply take it or leave it, we should not be surprised if they don’t take the claims of Christ very seriously?

What does it say to your children when you prioritise some activity they want to engage in over the worship of God with the gathered church? It says that your faith is just an optional extra, to be disregarded at a whim. Are we getting off topic? Not really! If you claim to be a Christian, where is the total change of life that conversion should bring? Where are the radical new priorities and commitment that Christ has called us to? We need to repent—daily!

ii) Baptism follows conversion

The second point, perhaps (you might think) back on topic, is that Baptism, scripturally understood, follows conversion to Christ. For me, this is of far greater importance than the mode of Baptism (immersion, sprinkling, pouring) which we can discuss another time. If you were baptised, or christened, as an infant, how do you think that tallies with the New Testament example? Did you repent and believe as a baby? Of course not. Such a radical change should be marked by a radical action. Merely nodding to a past rite or ceremony declares nothing to the watching world, and rather confirms to them that this Christianity thing is all just a matter of tradition and culture, after all.  Baptism is a sign that marks us out as being joined to the church, and to Christ, who is its head.

iii) Baptism is essential

Don’t misunderstand me. We are saved by grace, and not works. Someone who is converted and dies before they can be baptised is not lost! But how can something so frequently commanded, and so closely joined to the command to repent and believe; something included in the Great Commission to be done to all new disciples—how can this not be considered essential? You may as well leave off the Lord’s Supper if you disregard the necessity of Believer’s Baptism! Please, think these things through, and let’s talk!

Yours by grace alone,

      Jonathan

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