Thursday, May 17

Was this man biblically baptized?

For many the recent IMB guideline-policies for new missionaries are no more than a topic of interesting debate on blogs. For us, they are real issues which impact people's lives.

The Board of Trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB) recently approved two guidelines for new missionary candidates.

Part of the baptism clause states...
a. Baptism is a church ordinance.

Baptism must take place under the authority of a local church that practices believer’s baptism alone, embraces the doctrine of the security of a believer’s salvation and does not view baptism as sacramental, regenerative or essential to salvation.

b. A candidate who has not been baptized under the authority of a local church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his or her Southern Baptist church.
Many missionaries, including myself, are interested in knowing whether or not these guidelines apply towards our missionary work overseas? It is one thing they are guidelines for new missionary candidates, but quite another if expected to be enforced overseas in a totally different context.

While the baptism and "private prayer language" guidelines are still fresh on many S. Baptists minds these days, I'd like to share a recent incident related to the application of the baptism guideline...

Early Sunday morning in late April of this year, a group of new believers we relate to made their way to a river outside the city for baptisms. (See "Salitre Baptisms" video below.)

Right as we were ready to begin, the bus driver interrupts the proceedings and asks aloud "¿puedo yo bautizarme también?--can I too be baptized?" Everyone gathered around and begin to ask him about his salvation experience. The man convinced us all he had truly given his heart to Jesus and wanted to be obedient to what Christ had commanded. He stated he had long wanted to be baptized but could find no one to do so. Without further debate or delay he was instructed to the go to the back of the line and await his turn along with the others. (Part of this dialogue can be briefly observed at 0:58-1:08 in the video below.) When his turn came, he was immersed in the muddy river waters along with everyone else that day. All of us rejoiced and praised God as he came up out of the waters with a smile on his face!

The only problem to this whole story is that, according to the above baptism guideline, this man was not baptized correctly...or at least not correctly according to the IMB guidelines.

He was baptized into Christ Jesus--into the Body of Christ, but not into a local church or by the authority of a local church.

This is the fourth occasion at a baptism where I have personally witnessed people coming forward asking to be baptized in this fashion. In each of the cases the people who had professed faith in Christ were baptized right there on the spur of the moment. Is this not what Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8?

Our own daughter was also baptized in this same fashion. She was not baptized into any local church, but rather on her profession of faith in Christ. Sadly, if God should ever lead our daughter to become a missionary with the IMB, she would have to request to be rebaptized in a Southern Baptist church, or else join another missions organization.

I guess the real question in all this is the title of today's post: WAS THIS MAN BIBLICALLY BAPTIZED? If he was, why are we setting up standards and guidelines that go beyond what Scripture teaches about believers baptism?

20 comments:

Bart Barber said...

OK, Guy, I'm not sure I follow…help me out:

Why is this "group of new believers" not a church?

GuyMuse said...

Bart,

They are indeed a church. But the man driving the bus who asked for baptism at the water's edge was not asking to be baptized to become part of their church. He has no connection with the church who baptized him. This would seem to go against the IMB guideline that says "baptism must take place under the authority of a local church." What authority does the baptizing church have on the man they baptized? In this case, none. He was not baptized into any local church. He was baptized simply upon his profession of faith in Christ Jesus.

Would you be able to agree with us and say this man was indeed biblically baptized? If so, that is my point. I think he was too, but am not sure the IMB guidelines see it the same way we do. If you can help affirm that we were within Biblical guidelines, I for one, would rest easier with the wording of the IMB guideline in question.

Debbie said...

And this is just one of the problems these guidelines are going to cause. Under the old policy there would have been no question.

My personal opinion is that now the guidelines are not retroactive. For now. I'm not sure that will be the case in the future and don't see how it can't eventually be guidelines for the field. Good question Guy.

Strider said...

Of course you know I think he was Biblically baptized. The next issue for this man is his discipleship. Yes, he should be part of a church, but for me that is a separate issue from him being obedient in baptism. I heard a good story recently about a muslim women who traveled to Israel. She had heard many stories from believing friends. There is no church in her whole region. Once in the Holy Land she took some tours when she went into the place that is claimed as Jesus' tomb she was deeply moved. She picked up a prayer candle and went to the back of the tomb. A tour guide yelled at her but she didn't care. She gave her life to Jesus right there. The next stop on the tour was the Jordan river where tradition says Jesus was baptized. There was some christian tour groups baptizing there. In front of her whole Muslim tour group she went down into the water herself and baptized herself! The tour guide was livid. But she insisted that she was now a follower of Jesus and that she had to follow him in Baptism. What do you do with that story? Personally, I praise God.

S.A.M. said...

Guy, My favorite story is the one about Philip and the Ethiopian. I like the story of the bus driver, as well as Strider's story of the muslim woman. You can't keep the Holy Spirit from moving. God's plan and purpose is always the right way, no matter what anyone else thinks or tries to put rules on. Thanks for sharing!
SAM

Tim Patterson said...

Guy,

"WAS THIS MAN BIBLICALLY BAPTIZED?"

YES! No doubt about that. People are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit... not the name of a church. Baptism is an initial act of worship that identifies one as a Christ follower. It is the first step of obedience and the beginning point of a new believer's discipleship.

"Why are we setting up standards and guidelines that go beyond what Scripture teaches about believers baptism?" Because, like the Pharisees, we "bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders"... with extra-biblical requirements to control people. We are following the traditions of men when we should obey the commands of Christ.

GuyMuse said...

Debbie,

My own feelings are we cannot control these matters. We can come up with all the guidelines and policies we want, but God will still work outside our boxes.

Strider,

As with all your stories, I loved this one too! I certainly agree with you that we don't want to just get people to make professions and then immerse them, only to forget about them. Our calling is to make disciples of them, followers of Christ. I believe strongly that disciples need to be part of a fellowship with other believers.

SAM,

As I stated in my post, this case (and our daughter's baptism) are similar to that related in Acts with Philip and the eunuch. If we discard the validity of the bus drivers baptism, we may as well say the eunuch was not properly baptized either.

Tim,

Thanks for giving me a clear answer on our initial question. What is still not clear to me is whether or not the IMB guidelines are meant to also apply to overseas work, or just to the appointment of new M's. I wish we could hear a clear word about this from our leaders.

Anonymous said...

Guy, Yes!! He was baptized Biblically. Well Done! When a new believer is baptized they are baptized into the "Family of God" ("Christ's Church") not man's church. Like it says in John 3:8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
We must always be ready for God's surprised visits and we must always be ready to gather the fruit that God has already prepared! Great job guy!
BigBroSteve

Debbie said...

Guy: Good point and reminder. :)

GuyMuse said...

BigBroSteve and Debbie,

Thanks to both of you for your observations and for taking a moment to share them with me and those who read my blog. Steve, do you blog? If so leave us your URL to give you a visit. Debbie, keep up the great blog you have going!

Bart Barber said...

I believe that he was biblically baptized. I believe that he is now a member of that local church. And here's the implication of that: If he is unable to attend that local body, they are the body with obligation to him—to find another local church into which he can transfer.

There are no orphans in the family of God.

Bart Barber said...

I should also add, this clearly is not in violation of the IMB guidelines. His baptism took place under the authority of a local church.

Tim Patterson said...

Bart,

As Guy explained earlier, this bus driver has no relationship with this particular church other than they helped him to identify with Christ publicly. He is not part of that church, nor under their authority.

I agree that someone from the church should follow up with him in discipleship but I don't think they should receive him in their church or find an existing church for him. The biblical pattern would be to start a new church with him in his oikos.

Also, technically the bus driver is in violation of IMB policy since he was not baptized under the authority of a local church and cannot find a Southern Baptist Church there to correct the situation. However, that does not matter since he is not an IMB missionary candidate. The guidelines apply to IMB missionaries and not to indigenous believers in other cultures.

GuyMuse said...

Bart,

Thanks for stopping by again. I also agree he was biblically baptized. I am just not sure the IMB guidelines see things in the same light. I am encouraged by your affirmation that things were done Biblically, but am still waiting for clarification from our leadership on this guideline.

Since the man is unable to attend the church that baptized him, I would also hope they would be proactive to help him find a local body where he can be discipled and nurtured spiritually.

I am curious, though, what if all those being baptized that day were believers from an "outreach group" a church-in-formation? In other words, a church planter is baptizing the first group of converts and there is no local church behind the baptizing-just a church planter? This is very common in our midst in that we are breaking new ground with new church starts. Who gives the church planter the authority to baptize if there is no existing local church?

GuyMuse said...

Tim,

I guess we were responding at exactly the same moment and your comment beat mine in the queue! Like I say to Bart, I hope you are right in saying the guidelines apply to IMB missionary candidates and not to indigenous believers. I also agree with your observation that a new church needs to be planted with the oikos of the baptized bus driver. I will make a point of talking to them this next week about doing this very thing. Thanks for the heads up!

Bart Barber said...

Guy,

I encourage you to check with the IMB. I think I understand them correctly. We'll see.

If I'm right, does that ease your mind at all?

Strider said...

Bart, our 'minds' are not eased as long as we believe the Bible is being manipulated to serve our own denominational ends. If the IMB BoT had said, "Hey, we are concerned that folks of other denominations are trying to utilize our resources and we want to protect them for our own constituency then we could all argue about the best way to do this. But instead they have said this Baptism policy is divinely inspired by the Word. This has long reaching implications for the very work that the IMB is supposed to do. Our own work last year saw four people come to Christ and they were baptized. They live 220 Kilometers from the nearest 'local' church. In the example I gave in a previous comment the person lives 500 kilometers from any organized 'local' church. I believe that these people are a part of the great and very real Church. I believe that they are scripturally baptized- as Guy believes for the man in his post. But if I am hearing the BoT correctly they believe that unless a person is tied to a local organization that they define as church then the baptism is not valid. This theology would end all work in unreached areas. It is not tenable Biblically or practically. No orphans? My team met a man in a small village here in Gondor that had not seen another believer in almost two years. I know a faithful believer who lives high in our mountains who is the only believer in his village. I met a man on vacation once on a small island who was the only believer on the island. I pray for each of these regularly and with a couple of them I try to stay in contact and encouarag them. But the 'local' church in many places in this world looks very different than most westerners imagine.

GuyMuse said...

Bart and Strider,

Thanks to both of you for your participation in this dialogue. I guess the best position to take until further clarification is received, is to keep doing what we have always done and trust the HS is in control of each of these situations.

I too have stories like Striders (as do most M's I know). In the earlier days of the work in Ecuador these kinds of only Christians in a community was quite common. A couple of years ago, we had one of those "walk up" strangers asking to be baptized. We did so, and she returned to her home in a neighboring town and there won her family and a new church was eventually planted. I guess all of this to say, the HS knows what He is doing in each of his dealings with people He has called unto himself.

Burkhalter Ministry said...

I say just keep up the Kingdom work! While the scholars/theologians debate baptism etc., you are out there doing the work of the Kingdom. I too am dealing with the same issue as a guy I have been discipling is about to be baptized, but he is not associated with a "local church." Do I deny him baptism? I would be disobedient to God if I denied him baptism.

GuyMuse said...

Travis,

Glad to hear we're not the only ones struggling with some of these kinds of real life issues! :)

Yes, you are absolutely right. We are too easily distracted from simply being about doing the work of the kingdom. If we aren't careful, we can be paralyzed by fear and end up doing nothing, thinking we are going to upset somebody. The only one we need to be concerned about is upsetting God by not obeying what He has said to do. I think go, make disciples, baptize, and teach is pretty clear! How badly can one mess up these simple instructions?