One Lord, One Faith, One What?

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the Ephesian church to encourage them to remain united, he told them to base their unity on the things they had in common: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). These three things distinguish Christians from everyone else in the world. Though doctrinal differences abound, Christians throughout the centuries have been fairly consistent on the first two. All true Christians believe in one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:6). We share the common confession of belief in a Trinitarian God (“one Spirit” – Ephesians 4:4; “one Lord” – Ephesians 4:5; “one God and Father” – Ephesians 4:6).

When it comes to baptism, though, Christians have been infamous for their disunity. Men who love Jesus and worship the true God have fought — and sometimes even killed — one another over disputes about baptism. What does baptism mean? Who should be baptized? What is the proper method of baptizing?

Whatever happened to unity?

On one hand, I can understand the level of emotion involved with baptism. After all, if someone gives allegiance to another Lord besides Christ, or does not share our belief in the Trinitarian God, we believe that person to be accursed (Galatians 1:8-9): bound for Hell apart from God’s saving grace. If “one baptism” similarly means that there is only one acceptable practice of baptism, then the difference between, say, sprinkling and immersion would parallel the difference between those who trust Christ as Savior and those who do not. Get it wrong, and there will be eternal consequences.

This has never been my understanding, however. I believe that the “one baptism” in Ephesians 4 refers to the baptism described in 1 Corinthians 12:13, which is the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration that brings a person into the body of Christ. Because of this understanding, I am able to fellowship with believers from other denominations and traditions. I count as brothers and sisters all those who trust in Christ for their salvation by God’s grace, regardless of when and how the sign of water baptism may have been applied to them.

Still, water baptism is immensely important. It is one of the two ordinances (along with the Lord’s Supper) handed down to the Church by Christ himself. Baptizing the nations is part of the Great Commission. In fact, I belong to a denomination whose very name indicates that what we believe about baptism is a defining characteristic.

I have been tremendously blessed by the teachings of Christians who hold a variety of different positions on baptism. I have benefited from the preaching and writing of Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, and many others, and know that there are great and true believers from each of those traditions.

All this has led me into a bit of a conundrum. The one thing my credobaptist (believer’s baptism) and paedobaptist (infant baptism) friends and mentors seem to share with regard to baptism is a firm conviction that theirs is the correct position. This is something I lack.

The problem isn’t that I am troubled by doubt about my credobaptist position; rather, it’s that I have never devoted myself to the study of the subject, or subjected my belief to the type of challenge that produces genuine conviction. Unlike topics such as soteriology and eschatology (areas of theology in which I have firmly established convictions that are fully my own), I’ve never gone “back to the drawing board” to investigate Scripture’s claims about baptism apart from my own tradition. I’ve never seriously explored various historical positions held by the Church, judging these positions by their own merits and weaknesses.

No, I’m pretty much a Baptist because I’ve always been a Baptist. I’ve never had a reason to doubt the teaching on baptism that I’ve heard from pulpits all my life, so I’ve never given much thought to the alternatives. But for some reason — maybe the fact that I now have children of my own and have had to consider the timing of their baptism as I pray for their conversion — I have felt the need for some time now to engage in a serious study of baptism.

Besides the Bible, I am beginning my search with three books. The first is Baptism: Three Views. This book is in a debate format, featuring Bruce Ware (believer’s baptism), Sinclair Ferguson (infant baptism), and Anthony Lane (dual practice). I’ve read books by all three, and have heard Ware and Ferguson preach in person; I look forward to benefiting from their interaction. I’ve also purchased Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace by Paul Jewett, and To a Thousand Generations by Douglas Wilson. The first is described as one of the most devastating critiques of infant baptism ever written (John Piper attributes much of his credobaptist conviction to this book), while the second is written by a Presbyterian pastor whose arguments on other matters I have always found quite compelling. After reading these books (and likely others) I hope to better understand the different views, and at the very least be able to critique them fairly rather than simply tearing down straw men, which seems to account for much of the credo- vs. paedo- debate.

Don’t get me wrong; I love being a Baptist, and in particular believe that the merits of my church specifically and the Southern Baptist Convention generally are many. This search is not provoked by any sort of crisis of faith, and certainly not out of any desire to depart from the tradition in which I was raised (and am now employed). Honestly, my desire is that I would end up more committed to the position I have always held, while also being better able to promote unity among believers with different views.

In my next few posts, I’ll lay out some specific questions that I hope will be answered through my study of baptism, including some inconsistencies I have observed in my own denomination’s practice of baptism. What about you? Do you have any baptism questions you would like me to address, or books you think ought to be part of my study?

5 comments on “One Lord, One Faith, One What?

  1. Emily Williams says:

    I totally agree with your reading of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” as being Spirit Baptism. In looking at the concept of baptism and how it is used in the Bible I feel that there are often times when we (Baptist Christians/Christians as a whole) interpret “baptism” verses to mean water baptism when in fact they are referring to Spirit baptism.

    In your study of baptism I would like to introduce another view, which you didn’t mention in the three you are planning on studying. It’s the belief that believers baptism is not an ordinance of the church. This is one of the main differing beliefs of Grace Theology, which is where I was first introduced to it. Grace Theology is based on a dispensational belief system, not all of which I adhere to. I also don’t agree with all their arguments for rejecting believer’s baptism as an ordinance of the church, but I do agree with their conclusion as a whole that Christ has not called us to be baptized by water, whether as an adult believer or an infant. I also don’t think water baptism as an act of obedience to him, nor do I think we ought to “follow in Christ’s example” as so many Christians claim to be a reason for getting baptized. Do I think baptism is wrong? No. In fact I hold it to be quite meaningful to those who use it as an outward sign of the Spirit Baptism that has already taken place within their hearts to make their decision to follow Christ known publically. To follow our Spirit Baptism with water baptism is to me though just a personal decision. It’s like walking at graduation, or bringing your baby to a baby dedication service. You graduate whether or not you attend graduation, and you can raise your child in the faith regardless of whether or not you have “dedicated them” in a formal service in front of family and friends. The ceremony could be quite significant to you, and bring you closer to the faith you profess, but I do not believe you are not being disobedient if you don’t participate. I also want to make it know that I do not hold this view because I don’t want to be baptized. I have been baptized. I hold to this view because when I look at scripture and the context in which I read about baptism, both water and spiritual, I don’t see that the traditional baptist view holds any water (had to put that in there, sorry) 🙂 As a very happy member of a Southern Baptist Church I bring this up only to give you another avenue for thinking in regards to beliefs on baptism, and what the Bible has to say about it.

    • John Gardner says:

      Thanks for the comment! I have encountered the view you describe though I don’t know that I’ve heard it called “Grace Theology”. I’ve already written two more baptism posts that will be posted to the blog over the next couple days, and in one of them I did address the fact that there are some Christians who do not believe water baptism should be required. For the purposes of my study, I probably won’t be looking in that direction too much, but I will definitely keep my eyes (and mind) open if it comes up in my research.

      I agree that baptism is not “required”, in the sense that nothing we do or fail to do can add to or take away from what Christ accomplished on the cross. I think of it similarly to the Law. My obedience to the Law is not required for salvation (because I cannot keep the Law), but the Law should be normative to the Christian life. The Law sets the standard for the life I should live, and as I grow in sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit, my life will be conformed to God’s Will and I will obey the Law. Not perfectly, but certainly better than before.

      Similarly, I believe water baptism should be the normal practice for the believer. Not that it’s essential for salvation, but because, like obedience to the Law, it is something our Lord has told us to do. If a Christian doesn’t get baptized in water, it won’t condemn him to Hell, but I think that a refusal to be baptized (particularly in a church/denomination that places such a high value on the practice) can be indicative of a lack of submission. As for baptism being an act of following Christ’s example… that’s something else that I’ve already addressed in an upcoming post.

  2. Emily Williams says:

    Thanks for your response. You wrote “I think that a refusal to be baptized (particularly in a church/denomination that places such a high value on the practice) can be indicative of a lack of submission.” I agree, and this is actually why I chose to get baptized. I wanted to be unified with the church I was attending (a Baptist church) and felt that while I could not agree with their position on Baptism (they believe that you are acting in disobedience to God if you are not baptized) that I wanted to submit to the leadership that I had freely chosen to associate myself with, as well as be an example to those in the congregation since I was assisting in worship through the music ministry. I was very open when talking with the Pastor that I could not agree with their theology on the issue, but focused on my desire to unite with them as a fellow Christian despite my differing opinion. The Pastor was very gracious to me and accepted my inability to agree with something I didn’t think Biblical, and could see my heart was in the right place, so he baptized me and accepted me as a member of the church.

    I think there is a big difference between WHO we are in a lack of submission to. I agree that refusal to be baptized can be indicative of a lack of submission, but only to the earthly church authorities and only then secondarily to the Lord. If (as was previously the case) I was attending a church that held the same view of baptism that I do I do not believe a refusal to be baptized would indicate a lack of submission, either to the local church or to God. This is where the idea of baptism, unrelated to denomination or church belief becomes very important. Because if, as many believe, you are in disobedience to God by not being baptized then you would be in disobedience regardless of what your local church believed. I obviously don’t think this is the case, but you may.

    In regard to “Grace Theology” I don’t mean to insinuate that that is the official term. It’s just how I was first introduced to this certain belief on baptism.

  3. […] I start my study on baptism, I wanted to post a roundup of different positions on baptism, along with some of my preliminary […]

  4. gary says:

    Your comments reflect a major misconception that evangelicals and the Reformed have of orthodox Christians. Lutherans do not believe that baptism is necessary (mandatory) for salvation. Not even the Roman Catholic Church believes this. All the saints of the Old Testament, the thief on the cross, and thousand of martyrs down through the centuries have been saved without Baptism. Baptism is not the “how” of salvation!

    Lutherans believe that baptism is one of several possible “when”s of salvation, it is not the “how” of salvation. The “how” of salvation is and always has been the power of God’s Word/God’s declaration of righteousness.

    A sinner can be saved by the power of God’s Word when he hears the Word preached in a church, preached on TV or radio, reading a Gideon’s Bible in a hotel room, or reading a Gospel tract that contains the Word. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, through the power of his Word alone, received in faith alone. In each of these situations, the sinner is saved the instant he or she believes. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation to occur.

    However, the Bible in multiple passages, also states that God uses his Word to save at the time of Baptism.

    It is the work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, that works salvation in the sinner’s spiritually dead soul, according to the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, and the third chapter of Romans. Your “decision for Christ” does not save you, neither does your decision to be baptized.

    God saves those whom he has elected, at the time and place of his choosing. Sometimes God saves them while hearing a sermon in church, sometimes at home reading the Word, and sometimes by the power of his Word spoken during Baptism.

    God does 100% of the saving. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. There is no passage in the New Testament that asks sinners to make a decision for Christ. The Bible states that God quickens sinners, gives them faith, and they believe and repent.

    The sinner does not decide to be saved. God decides to save the sinner!

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

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