People of the Spirit, worshiping Jesus in all places, at all times

So there may be some confusion as to why I started with the Lord’s Supper. In the “order” of sacraments, baptism should be first in our experience of the Kingdom of God. It’s why I “held back” from Communion until I could be baptized. But when we’re dealing with a Pentecostal approach to the sacraments, we also have to recognize that to shake the assumptions that have often invaded from our evangelical friends (that it’s “just symbolic”), it helps if we first recognize Jesus’ presence in the Lord’s Supper before we tackle Baptism. In the interest of full disclosure here, I’m going to argue something that few Pentecostals will–at first–accept as valid, but if we are consistent in our baptismal theology, it’s where we end up. This post will approach Baptism primarily through the question of whether the children of believers should be baptized. If they should, and if Baptism is true for them, it is most certainly true for those who are baptized in their teens into adulthood.

Along with the Eucharist, Baptism was “ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel.”[1] Baptism is part of the universal heritage of the Church and has been a feature of many disputes and divisions (from the ancient Donatist controversy to present debates between credo-baptists and paedo- or oiko-baptists). While the question of whether the infant children of Christians should be baptized has had some discussion through the centuries, it has in many respects become the dominant question for churches to answer. As a sacrament of the Gospel, we can, with good confidence, baptize the children of Christians. This confidence doesn’t come from our historic credibility, but from the power, purposes and promises of the God who sends His Good News into the world.

Historic Anglican conviction about baptism is summarized in Article XXVII:

Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.

In other words, Baptism is the work of God. Baptism proclaims the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf, and when we are baptized, that Gospel work is claimed for us personally. The power of Baptism is not in the one baptizing[2] or in the act of going in and out of the water (or the water passing over your head), but in the grace of the Holy Spirit conferring special grace on the one baptized. As Calvin writes, God “leads us to the actual object, and effectually performs what he figures.”[3] Not all who have received Baptism have proven faithful in the Church.[4] But this, again, points us to the reality that baptism is about God’s power, not our own. One Pentecostal theologian suggests: “The necessity for baptizing infants is grounded not in human will or doing but solely in the will and word of God.”[5]

But God’s power is always directed toward his divine purposes. To understand the purposes of baptism as outlined in Scripture, let us consider selections of apostolic teaching on baptism from the New Testament. In Romans 6:4, Paul instructs us that in baptism, we are buried with Christ so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we may live a new life, dead to sin.[6]  In Galatians 3:26-28, Paul likens baptism to being clothed with Christ, and thus removing all external markers and allegiance to any other human community. In Ephesians 4:5, Paul informs us that there is one baptism that we all receive and that we all share in. In 1 Peter 3:18-22, Peter reinforces the covenant nature of this baptism and its figuring of the reception of the Holy Spirit in all the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. From these and a number of other texts in the New Testament, we can discern that baptism is principally given by God to display and proclaim the work of the Gospel in a person’s life: enacting a change in our identity, status before God, community membership and role in the world. God’s purposes are redemptive, and transform everything about our experience. They are grounded in his promises.

Whole volumes could be written that help us understand the role of sacraments in the promises of God. Since we are concerned principally with the infant children of Christians, we can focus our attention on the promise expressed in Acts 2:38-39:

And Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

In response to the Jews’ question about how salvation/healing/restoration can occur for them after killing Jesus, Peter gives two commands and one promise. The commands (“Repent and be baptized”) are clearly recognizable as the pattern for the change we can see in a person’s life as they are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. The very nature of this Kingdom is for those who have the forgiveness of their sins through the name of Jesus the Messiah. The promise addressed to all in this Kingdom is that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. So, in Peter’s presentation, the promise is the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, who brings life to our dead spirits, and draws us to Christ, sealing us to Him forever. In Acts 2:39, the promise of the Spirit is given for those who are repentant and their children. It’s a promise that is guaranteed not on the worthiness or accountability of the recipient, but on the work of Jesus through the Cross.  The baptism of the infant children of Christians is not magic or mere ritualism, but a prophetic claim on the Gospel’s promises in Jesus Christ. As Tan says:

In some way, we have to ask ourselves whether our rejection of infant baptism clearly reveals our loss of confidence in the truth of the gospel or in the mission of the church. Therefore the church must look first to itself in these matters. No good is accomplished by complaining about lack of sincerity or poor discipling on the part of parents. The word of God clearly declares that God graciously acts in the present to reclaim the lost, and the latter certainly includes infants.[7]

If Baptism is an act of confidence in the power of God as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have no reason to withhold baptism from the children of Christians. If Baptism is given by God to lead us into His redemptive purposes to save us, renew us, remake us, and restore us as His people through Jesus’ once-for-all work on our behalf, we have no reason to withhold Baptism from the children of Christians. If Baptism is the Church’s acknowledgement and firm conviction in the promises of God, guaranteed to us by Jesus’ blood and applied to us by the Holy Spirit, we have no reason to withhold Baptism from the children of Christians. For the integrity of our Gospel proclamation as the beautiful, gracious work unencumbered and undeserved by human actions, we should joyfully baptize the children of Christians. As we proclaim this grace that is so free of our own works in Baptism, we can expect that God will draw more to see Jesus’ Cross and ask, “What should we do?” When they do, we, together with the apostles and the Church throughout the ages, can tell them to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit.

[1] Article XXV.

[2] Calvin (4.15.16) and Article XXVI.

[3] Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.15.14:

[4] See Simon the magician, Acts 8:14-42.

[5] Tan, Simon. (2003.) “Reassessing Believer’s Baptism in Pentecostal Theology and Practice.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 6:2(219-234), p. 233.

[6] Col. 2:12 also teaches this.


Comments on: "Jesus is There: Pentecostals and the Sacraments: Part 3" (4)

  1. […] Part 3 may have made some waves. I’m okay with that. We were once a whole movement of wave-makers and earth-shakers, and what happened since is the subject of books and articles by church historians and theologians who have a far better grasp around the issues than I do. But if we’re to be a Pentecostalism for the Church, we have to take our practice of Baptism that seriously– we have to remember it’s about Jesus, not us. […]

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