Friday, October 16, 2009

Predestination and Baptism

Is that a loaded title? Since I have reached conclusions on both of these doctrines that are not held by the majority of people who believe in Jesus Christ, and since the combination of my two conclusions is exponentially more rare, I've long wanted to lay out my views on them both individually and how they relate to one another.

You may have reached this second paragraph already eager to find out my views so that you can either affirm what I've said or tear it apart. I ask you to repent. I feel I have the right to say that, because (1) that's no way to approach the Bible and (2) I have been willing to change my views in coming to these conclusions, not interested in simply defending what I had been taught, or what made me comfortable, or what helped me sleep at night. I have stayed committed to the most natural reading of passages. Sure, you could somehow work your theology into any verse, but is that the most natural reading? Is that really what you would say if you came at it objectively and your only desire was to accurately understand the Word?

I have seen both in myself and in others and incredible propensity to simply defend what we've always been taught and believed. I feel I have been successful in managing and deterring that propensity. But we all have it. We may even be confronted with passages that clearly defy what we believe, but we manage to avoid facing up to Scripture by thinking of something else the "other team" believes, which we're more confident is not Scriptural, lumping all of the "other team's" beliefs together, and calling them wrong. For example, James R. White said that in his church, they wait a long time to baptize somebody, to first see that they are truly saved. This pattern is nothing like the New Testament pattern illustrated in Acts and explained in the epistles. But does that mean that James R. White is wrong about everything regarding baptism? Does it mean that he's not right about other things that I may still be wrong about? Another bizarre tendency I have observed among those being confronted with a Bible truth they don't like is to appeal to "context" while actually ignoring it, pulling out some random other verse with two of the same words in it. My point is this: Hear what I am saying (and nothing more than what I am saying) and examine it in the light of Scripture. If I affirm a more "calvinistic" view of predestination, don't assume that I believe everything Calvinists typically believe or (even worse) that I think all their popular arguments are solid and logical. This is not about choosing some theologian's pre-developed platform of opinions on all doctrines, but about inductively accepting what the Bible says and being patient to conclude how it all works together.


There's no "if": indeed I actually have come to calvinistic conclusions about salvation. What that means is simply this: predestination is the basis for saving faith, not vice versa. People really do anything they can to avoid the doctrine of election. Three things in particular keep them this way, which I have decided to call "The Freewill Triangle of Confusion".

1. The assumption that moral decisions have no moral significance at all without utter and complete "free will".

2. The logical error that passages like John 3:16, which describe the blessings for those who believe, also must mean that all people are able to believe.

3. Emotional comfort.

My concise answers:

1. God does not choose between good and evil. He always does good and cannot do evil. Does this mean that God is not worthy of praise for the good things that He does? Does this mean that God is not truly good? He is truly good, from the inside out. His actions reflect this and He is worthy of praise. Is free will a reality? Yes. Anyone can choose their favorite color sneakers, what to do with their weekend, etc. But the Bible calls us (before we are in Christ) dead in our sins and trespasses, slaves of Satan, and unable to obey God. If this is your idea of truly "free will", then more power to you. After being born again, though, we are empowered (but not forced) to obey God.

2. There is a big difference between saying those who believe will have eternal life, and saying anybody can believe. It may seem like a natural assumption to you to equate the two, but let's stick with what the Bible says.

3. I'm sure you realize emotional comfort is no way to pick our doctrines. But as you read on, I want to encourage you by reminding you that for the apostles, and the earliest Christians, being chosen by God was reason for joy, not for being freaked out. See 1st Thessalonians 1:2-5.

Those are my responses to what I see as the three biggest reasons predestination goes continually ignored by those who are initially taught otherwise. Now let me raise a question:

When God's choice and saving faith are mentioned in the same verse, which seems to be the basis of which?

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thess 1:4-5)

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2nd Timothy 2:24-26)

For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44)

And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:65)

According to Paul in the 1st Thessalonians passage, successful preaching of the Gospel is proof that God has chosen those people who were preached to. Their words did not fall flat, but rather they came in power and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction. Could you work Arminianism into this verse? You could try. But you'll end up with quite a cut-and-paste job, saying God knew they would believe, and therefore chose them for eternal life, and the proof that they've been "chosen" for eternal life based on the faith they decided to have is their faith. Is that what this text says? Paul emphasizes God's choice. He never says anything about their "choice".

In the 2nd Timothy passage, the opponents of the hypothetical "Lord's servant" must be treated with a certain kind of patience and gentleness, because God might grant them (the opponent) repentance leading to the truth! In other words, God's servant needs to be kind-hearted so as not to get in the way of what God MIGHT decide to do- lead that person to Himself. Paul could have said, the opponent might decide to repent. He had the grasp of the Greek language necessary to express himself this way. But again, that's not what he said. Once again the natural reading emphasizes God's selective work.

Many are called, but few are chosen. It's not that all people aren't invited to believe. It's that they won't, unless they are what? Willing? Able? Ready? Chosen.


If you are from a restoration movement (Christian churches/Churches of Christ) background like I am, then you probably agree with me on baptism. I do not believe baptism is a work of Christian obedience, but rather an appeal to God for a good conscience (1st Pet 3:21), at which point a person's sins are forgiven and they receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The Acts narrative is filled with people being baptized right away. Others sometimes call baptism "an outward sign of an inward change", or a "public display" of our faith. The Bible never calls it these things. The Bible doesn't say baptism reminds us of being buried and raised with Christ, the Bible says we are buried and raised with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:1-4).

So what is it that keeps many believing that the Bible cannot possibly mean what it says about baptism?

1. Passages like John 3:16 which describe believing, and inheriting eternal life, but nothing about baptism. Is this good logic? Some passages mention being saved only by grace. Some mention being saved by believing. Some mention being saved by being baptized. Are they in contradiction? Are these three different ways to be saved? John 3:16 is not a detailed description of how to be saved, it's a summary of which person will receive eternal life: the one who believes in Jesus.

2. Passages which say that we are not saved by works. From there, works are sweepingly defined as anything a person does (shouldn't it include believing too, then? In which case the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith contradicts itself?) Baptism of course is something done (though mainly done to you rather than by you) and so it is concluded that baptism cannot possibly be the moment when God saves a person and thus essential-because we aren't saved by works. So let me ask you this- Is this definition of "works" based on the Bible? Or is it more like Gnostic dualism? In my opinion this is more of a theological hang-up than a Bible teaching. We (especially reformed people) might be prone to say that nothing physical can affect your spiritual salvation. Of course, Christ's physical death affects our spiritual salvation, so that does not work either. I would encourage you to research what the earlist Church believed about baptism and how they practiced it. And no, Charles Spurgeon and John Calvin are not the early church.

My friend Scott Solimine has laid out an argument that baptism is not a "work" so as to be disqualified as the act of "accepting Christ" or, more biblically, making "an appeal to God for a good conscience" (1 Pet 3:21) at

3. A distinction between "spiritual baptism" and "water baptism" I'm trying not to get lazy here, but my response here will simply be to say that Christian baptism is the time a person receives the Holy Spirit. Being baptized by the Holy Spirit is defined differently by different people (some say it's getting saved, some say it's the miraculous gifts, some even consider it a kind of judgment ["the Holy Spirit and fire"]) and that's not my concern. My concern is only to reveal Christian baptism (which is not John's baptism) as the time a person receives the Holy Spirit. After this, I will transfer over to how I believe predestination and baptism fit together.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19)

Being "in the name of" is a Greek idiom meaning "the possession of". Baptizing them in the possession of God suggests that baptism is when God takes official ownership of that person. Yet, Jesus told His followers to go and do it. Could they "spiritually baptize" somebody? No, but they could water baptize them, and apparently it's a transfer into God's possession.

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. (Acts 2:38)

Read that slowly. Peter said what? So then how is it people today are instructed to pray a prayer? How is it people are told to wait upon the Lord who will hopefully save them? Where are either of those in the Bible? Peter's command: Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John’s baptism." And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.

Please take notice that when Paul meets disciples who haven't yet received the Holy Spirit, his first question is "Into what then were you baptized?" They had John's baptism, but not new covenant baptism, which is again apparently the occasion for receiving the Holy Spirit.

Baptism and Predestination

So how do I believe these two work together? Surely I've surprised Restoration Movement believers with my take on election and reformed believers by calling baptism essential. I've come to an odd combo, haven't I? In one sentence:

God draws His elect to Himself, who should be instructed to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), at which point their sins will be forgiven and they will receive the Holy Spirit. This means that when He first calls them, they aren't saved yet. It seems that those whom God opens their heart to believe are called to call upon His name through the act of baptism. I'll illustrate this and close my blog with Ananias' appeal to Saul of Tarsus, who by this time surely believed in Jesus:

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)


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