The following is an e-mail conversation I had a couple of months ago with a friend I spiritually respect a great deal. I considered posting my thoughts on this subject at that time, but I just wasn’t sure if I should. Well, now I’ve decided to share it with everyone else–perhaps to spark some more opinions on the topic. Here is my initial e-mail…
I thought about putting this on my blog, but I thought I might get a lot of ridicule if I did. So I thought I would get your opinion on it. Anyway, last week a few of us went to ******** to visit ********** and go to his church for a gospel meeting. He goes to a small, conservative church, so naturally the guest speaker was very conservative. He was talking about the judgment and told several stories about cases of “time running out.”
One story bothered me in particular. A man who became very ill was in the hospital and–yada yada yada–finally turns his heart to God and decides to be baptized as soon as he is released from the hospital. When he’s released, he was taken to a church member’s house where they arranged to have him baptized in their swimming pool. As the minister was on his way to the house, the man to be baptized dies. The preacher then talks about how unfortunate it is that the man ran out of time, basically implying that he
went to hell. Do you think God is really that legalistic?
Read Romans 2 (I like the NLT’s take best). Then notice verse 25 through the end of the chapter. Now, I know it’s talking about circumcision, but why couldn’t also relate to baptism? Please don’t misinterpret me. I think baptism is an integral part of our salvation; however, what if for some reason someone was not baptized, but his/her heart was changed by the Holy Spirit (such as the example above)? I don’t know the answer. Only God knows that, but it’s something to think about. What do you think? Just curious.
And my friend’s response…
First of all, I have heard preachers give that story and I hate it. I don’t think it is very representative of the God “who is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentence (2 Peter 3:9).”
I have often thought about the Romans 2 passage in relation to baptism. I know many that will argue with you about comparing the two, but I personally think it fits well with our practice of baptism. When I think about this topic and about the story that preacher told I think about Abraham. Abraham was called to take his son Isaac to the top of a mountain and sacrifice him. Abraham obeyed, and took his son up there. He prepared a place for the sacrifice to take place, laid his son on top of the altar he prepared, lifted the knive in the air, and…… Did he sacrifice him? Well, not according to Genesis. An angel of the Lord stopped him. But read Hebrews 11:17. The Hebrew writer says that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice, and according to the Greek that word “offered” is a completed sense, meaning in his eyes the sacrifice was done.
Now, it may be a stretch to bring baptism into the picture but in both of these instances (the preachers story and Abraham) we are dealing with faith. I believe that is where Romans 2 is going. A circumcision means nothing apart from faith. A gentile living to the best of his ability in faith is much more a child of God than a jew who was circumcised but lacked any sort of faithful living.
I am hesitant to give a teaching that may give someone the idea that baptism isn’t important, because I think it is very important. Therefore I would probably not use this teaching for non-christians. This type of teaching would be more useful for judgemental Christians who think that their baptism is what will get them to heaven. Am I making any sense?