(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.] An article from which the chapter is drawn can be read here. With this chapter, I also would recommend highly Thomas Schreiner’s and Shawn Wright’s Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ [Broadman and Holman, 2007.])
Calvin and some of his heirs have treated signs of the covenant as if no significant changes happened with the coming of Christ. But God is forming his people today differently from when he strove with an ethnic people called Israel. The visible people of God are no longer formed through natural birth but through new birth and its expression through faith in Christ… (134).
Why have I dwelt on this? Because my sense is that many pastors, in order not to be contentious on the issue, neglect it almost entirely and do not call people to “repent and be baptized.” What I am doing here is trying to model a responsible and reasonable defense of one view of baptism in the context of amicable and respectful relationships with those who hold other views. I think we need to teach our people the meaning of baptism and obey the Lord’s command to baptize converts (Matt. 28:19), without elevating the doctrine to a primary one that would unduly cut us off from shared worship and ministry with others who share more important things with us (135).
Watching the baptism of a new convert should be an exciting event for fellow believers! Every baptism event of believers serves to remind the members of the baptized community of the great joy we had at our initial salvation. We ought to recall what it was like first to be forgiven of sin, awakened to the things of God, and released to a new life of joy. Knowing the potential of each baptism service to be a great reminder of the working of the Gospel in our personal lives, I encourage believers in any one assembly to attend the baptism events of all new believers joining their membership—even when such events are not held conveniently on Sunday morning or Sunday evening. Practically, all of us would benefit from this reminder, and each of the new converts should gain a sense that their conversion is a big deal by our mass attendance.
I enjoy explaining to my church how the Gospel is portrayed visibly, dramatically (so Michael Horton), and simply in Believer(s’) Baptism:
- Going down into the water portrays Jesus’ coming down from the Cross, after dying in our place and then being buried, and coming out of the water portrays his resurrection from the dead.
- Going down into the water portrays our death in his death (through our Mysterious Union), and our coming up portrays begin raised to new life through him.
- Going down into the water portrays our own death, and coming up from the water portrays what will happen to us after death because we have put our hope in the Resurrected One.
These truths, dramatically played out over and over again, display the Gospel for us. They remind us that the ordinances, the ordinary means of grace, and our worship times together all are centered on the Gospel. These truths, understood and embraced, work with all other forms of grace in order to form Christ in us.
Being centered, then, on the Gospel, the form of baptism is not a matter over which Gospel-believing Baptists and Presbyterians should break fellowship with one another. Both credobaptists and paedobaptists are being obedient to the command of Christ in the Great Commission. Both are trying to honor the Gospel. Covenant Baptism is offered in the hope of the Gospel for the child being baptized.
I appreciate my Presbyterian brethren’s strong trust in the Sovereign Lord. We graciously have to agree to disagree on the form of baptism (and significance thereof). On this, Piper has given us wise council.