Baptizing in the Triune Name (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART I – THE GREAT COMMISSION

Lesson Two: Baptizing in the Triune Name

 

“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,’” (Matthew 28:18-19b; NASB).

Why baptism? For many Christians today, baptism has no place in any discussion of evangelism. That is because many Christians do not believe evangelism and discipleship to be intrinsically linked. In fact, to consider their practice, many Christians today do not even consider discipleship and baptism to be intrinsically linked. Yet, when Christ commissioned His church to make disciples, baptism was the first step He listed in which these new disciples were to take part.

The whole of the Great Commission is a corporate effort. The church goes, the church baptizes, and the church teaches. It also has an individual aspect, though. After the church goes and makes a new disciple, that disciple submits to baptism and submits to the teaching of the church.

For the new disciple, then, there are two aspects to discipleship: the one-time submission to baptism and the ongoing submission to teaching. Both of these two aspects of discipleship require a common denominator: the local church. The local church is essential for the carrying out of the Great Commission. There is no sense in which baptism and teaching in the New Testament was expected to occur outside of the authority of local congregations.

The very nature and structure of the New Testament testifies to this fact. All but three of the epistles and Revelation (itself an epistle to the seven churches) were written either to local churches or to be circulated among local churches. The other three epistles were written to church leaders for the benefit of local churches. The other five books of the New Testament are the Gospels and Acts, in which must instruction is given for a godly ordering of local churches.

“The New Testament is a church book, a book for Christians in the context of a local church. The New Testament knows nothing of a churchless Christianity. There can be no ‘teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you’ or no continuing ‘in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, and breaking of bread and prayers’ unless a Christian is a member of a visible body of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 28:20 & Acts 2:41,42 & 47),” (Earl Blackburn, Denominations or Associations? pg. 28).

Our subjects this week (baptism) and next week (teaching) only make sense within the context of the local church. The commands will necessarily be fulfilled by a Christian if he or she is truly disciple of Christ, and these commands are only fulfilled within the auspices of the local church. This fact makes membership within the local church absolutely necessary for the Christian. “Far from being only one of many options for the Christian, the church is the primary means through which God accomplishes His plan in the world,” (Mack and Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, pg. 21).

Baptism is an absolutely necessary part of Christian discipleship, because church membership is an absolutely necessary part of Christian discipleship. If we are to be discipled by Christ, it will occur within the body of Christ. The first step in Christian discipleship, and the first step in church membership are the same: baptism.

“[Baptism] is what the Bible presents as the first step for the Christian, and the assumption in the New Testament is that all Christians have been baptized,” (Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, pg. 160).

Baptism, as a public admission of a person into the church, accomplishes two things. The first thing it accomplishes is to recognize the disciple’s willing submission to the authority of the church in his or her life. This is a countercultural concept, especially in America. We don’t like to think of any human being as having authority over us. However, the Bible is very clear that we are to subject ourselves to one another in Christ (Eph. 5:21). When I submit myself to a local church through baptism, I am declaring my desire to be submitted to that local congregation for admonition, teaching, exhortation, rebuke, edification, and training in righteousness.

This willing submission assumes a second desired end. It assumes that a church desires to corporately come alongside the new disciple and provide him or her with godly admonition, teaching, exhortation, rebuke, edification, and training in righteousness. For those who have left everything to follow Christ, it means even more. It means that the church will provide him or her with “a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms,” (Mark 10:30; NASB). This submission, then, is necessarily reciprocal, and baptism is the rite through which we enter this relationship of mutual submission.

“[Baptism] ratifies our union with those who are saved by Christ (1 Cor. 12:13-26). It is therefore often called the rite of initiation into the Christian Church,” (J. Aspinwall Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pg. 138).

Christian disciples today are rightly skeptical of joining themselves to churches, because many if not most churches are either ill-equipped or unwilling to join themselves to new disciples. This is one of the great tragedies of our day. Churches have forgotten, if they ever knew, how to be churches to those who come through their doors.

“Biblical membership means taking responsibility. It comes from our mutual obligations as spelled out in all of Scripture’s one another passages—love one another, serve one another, encourage one another. All of these commands should be encapsulated in the covenant of a healthy church,” (Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? pp. 95-96).

One reason we don’t often think about what we owe to one another and, specifically, what we owe to new disciples among us, is because we have forgotten the solemnity of baptism. We have forgotten the fact, or perhaps were never taught the fact, that baptism is the sealing of a covenant bond between Christ’s disciples. Baptism is a solemn vow between new members and churches, a commitment to mutual submission and a reciprocal consideration of one another’s welfare.

Baptism is not merely an individual decision. It is not merely the decision of a believer to join himself or herself to a church. Rather, it is the mutual decision of the church and the believer to enter into vital union with one another. The church is not the church without her members, and Christians are not living as true Christians apart from the church. As such, baptism is just as much a submission of the church to the member as it is a submission of the member to the church (Mack and Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, 48).

The mode and formula of baptism. In Baptist churches, we teach that new members who enter into the covenant community through faith are the only rightful recipients of the sacrament of baptism. According to An Orthodox Catechism, “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, and faith in and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ” are the “proper subjects of this ordinance,” (Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Q.69). This is well known among Baptist churches. What though, are the proper mode and formula for baptism?

Before discussing mode we must note that the mode, though important, is of far less importance than the order and formula of baptism. Many of the first generation Particular Baptists, though baptized as believers, were nonetheless baptized by pouring or sprinkling, not immersion. When considering the authenticity of a baptism, I am far less concerned about the mode than I am about the order and formula. Nonetheless, Baptists have historically recognized immersion as the true mode of baptism.

This was the preferred mode of the early church. Pouring or sprinkling were only used in instances were immersion was not an option. The early church clearly understood, as we see in the Didache, that immersion was the proper mode employed by Christ and the apostles.

“The procedure for baptizing is as follows. After rehearsing all the preliminaries, immerse in running water ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’. If no running water is available, immerse in ordinary water. This should be cold if possible; otherwise warm. If neither is practicable, then sprinkle water three times on the head ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’” (The Didache, 7).

Finally, as new disciples are added to our number through baptism, they are to be baptized in a Trinitarian formula. This practice, as we see in the above quote, was clearly the practice of the church from the earliest times. It is also a practice that the church has continued to this day.

Why do we baptize in the Triune name, though? We baptize in the name of our Triune God to signify baptism in His authority. Remember that we go forth in Christ’s authority to make disciples. Christ further commands that we baptize in the authority of the Triune God any who enter into discipleship with Him. Baptism being the entrance point into the church, and baptism being divinely commanded of all who enter into the discipleship of Christ in the authority of the Triune name, all who would come to Christ as Lord must also submit themselves to the local church through baptism.

As such, it is proper to follow in the apostles’ footsteps in our discussion of baptism. Just as they preached baptism as a part of their evangelistic message (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 22:16), so ought the church today. If we are not baptizing we are not making disciples, and if we are not making disciples we are not being faithful to our King. Let us, then, reconsider the importance of baptism for the work of evangelism.

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