Thursday, October 11, 2007

“Is My Baptism Still Valid If the Minister Messed Up the Words?”

Vinnie’s fellowship group was visited and a discussion arose about baptism. According to the visitors, if you were not baptized “in the name of Jesus only,” then your baptism was not only invalid, but you aren’t yet saved. He wonders, “Where is this coming from?”

The visitors need a life. With billions of people not yet knowing Jesus as their Savior, some just spend their time going about other churches, casting doubt into the hearts of young believers. Scripture refers to such people as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”


“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them."

Matthew 7:15,16

We know them by their fruit. While billions have no church within reach, and hundreds of peoples do not yet have even one book of the Bible translated into their language, and while so many are still without Jesus in our neighborhoods, these religious wolves, consider it their calling to “correct” what others are doing for Jesus,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”
Luke 10:2,3

The wolves are here, ready to pounce on those whose lives you touch with God’s word. Beware! (See the parable of the sower in Luke 8:1-15) Vinnie’s faith is fine because he knows God’s word. It’s because he helps others come to know Jesus that these wolves come around. Wolves show up with “new revelations,” telling young believers new requirements to “really” be saved.

Here is a quick look at this particular “Jesus Only” thing. It doesn’t really deserve a separate category, but simply to be included in the many ugly dances with wolves. Jimmy Swaggart wrote a very gracious and interesting article explaining “Jesus Only”ism on believersweb.org. To read it, you can click here.

Basically, back around 1914 some people left the Pentecostal church, claiming to have received new revelation concerning baptism. Apparently, Christians since Christ’s ascension have been doing it all wrong. (Aren’t wolves special?) The church baptizes as Jesus commissioned us to do:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19,20

This 1914 schism of church folk decided that there was no Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) but that the Godhead was only Jesus. They got this new revelation from reading something Peter announced in Acts 2:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2:38

Known as "Oneness Pentecostalism," (if I'm understanding this correctly) it is believed that Peter must have received a revelation that this was now how to baptize. But what at first just seems to be nitpicking, is really a denial of the Orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity; saying that Jesus was God entirely, and that there was no longer a Father or a Holy Spirit by name. They say God is “Jesus only.”

Though the Bible doesn’t tell us how to baptize people, church writings which date as early as 153 AD, do show that believers have since the start, baptized according to Matthew 28:19,20. In Acts 2, Peter was preaching Christ to people who had just witnessed a powerful move of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He wasn’t giving instruction on baptism. If Peter had some new revelation on how to baptize, he sure didn’t expound on it in his other writings!

Wolves aren’t big picture people. They come only with isolated verses and extra-biblical teaching. They come to devour, wherever God is bringing people to Himself.

In 1982 I took some friends to a Billy Graham Crusade in Boston. Volunteering there, I'd found the BGEA staffs’ love and concern for people to know Jesus and to have their lives transformed by His Spirit and His word, wonderful! They worked beautifully, linking new believers up with local churches. A dear friend of mine went forward (with thousands of others) to express her faith in Christ, and I saw at a distance, an old classmate from high school going forward as well. I was thrilled! God was moving hearts in Boston that summer. Elated we left the stadium!

Then about 20 yards just outside the gates, a rather tense person “God blessed” me, and slapped a pamphlet in my hand. It was a pamphlet denouncing Billy Graham as a false teacher, because he wasn’t using the King James translation of the Bible. You know, the same English translation that Paul and Timothy used? Honestly!

I was stunned! Didn’t this person experience what just happened? Did they miss all those people coming to Christ, the worship music, and the prayer? You could see on their face, no peace, no love, no joy; nothing that anyone would want. What they had was a lot of zeal and a huge pile of denunciation tracts. And they were going right for those who had just received God’s word!

Driving home, I slid the pamphlet into my pocket, glad that my friend hadn’t received one. I saw it as God’s protection upon her. She probably would have just rolled her eyes at the pamphlet’s illogic, but I think God wanted her joy to just continue.

Where people come to Jesus, wolves close in. Unable to minister themselves, their message lacking any “good news,” wolves prey on new believers who others have led to Christ. They’re trained to sniff out believers who have newfound freedom in Christ.

Overseas, some so-called “missionaries” came into our fellowship, never mentioning their particular disagreements with our beliefs. Nice to our faces, they befriended those we'd helped to find Christ. Then they started pulling some new believers aside, and began privately teaching them their “deeper truths.”

Soon, we weren’t even seeing our local brothers and sisters. When we did, they were distant. They criticized us for eating meat and for worshiping on Fridays and Sundays, insisting that the Sabbath was only Saturday. They no longer considered us Christians at all! And then true to cult form, even when shown scripture concerning the freedom we have in Christ (see Romans 14:1-6), they held to their “deeper truths,” quoting extra-biblical writers. The wolves had got them; their joy devoured!

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
Romans 14:1-6

Jesus commissioned the church to go out and make disciples of all nations. Wolves ignore that commission, and go after disciples already made, trying to exchange their Christ-given freedom for religious bondage. Those wolves tricked us, and led our friends into a religious wall, that has taken some years to bounce back from.

I got to sit in on a baptism class once, where the Pastor was asked by a rather young believer, with a shaky voice: “Last night a friend told me that if someone sins after baptism, that they can’t be forgiven for that sin, and so we had better make sure we’re done sinning before we get baptized. Is that true?” And the pastor, having heard this wolf drivel before, and with a completely sincere face, looked at the young man and said, “If I thought that were true, I’d just hold you all under until the bubbles stopped.”

Thank God for this wise and funny pastor! But see the pattern there? You have a new believer. He wants to obey God and be baptized. So in come the wolves.

Vinnie understands that what happens during baptism happens between God and the person being baptized. He knows our thoughts. He sees our faith. And God baptizes us into Himself, and into the church. God baptizes! The minister gets you wet, and hopefully praises God over you while declaring to onlookers what is happening. But if he didn’t say things just the way everyone likes, don’t let the wolves rob you of the joy of your baptism. God was right there with you. And He still is.

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