How important is baptism?

The following is a three part conversation that I’m having with my friend Carl. It began as an e-mail exchange when someone named Mike posed a question to Carl. Carl cc’d to me his response, and I gave him a little push back. Carl and I are good friends and we agree with each other on about 95% of things. You can check out his website here:

A little context first. We’ve been having an ongoing discussion about people following Jesus without the trappings of converting to the religion called Christianity.

Mike’s Question:


I have a question. I was recently doing a study in Matthew 28:16-20, and was struck with Jesus’ words to be baptized, and how baptism is an identification with the “Name” (Identity Marker) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It really appears to be an initial act of obedience to Jesus, and a clear identity marker of transference from the kingdom of man, to God’s new kingdom with Jesus as the Lord/King.

How does that work with anyone claiming that they are “Following Jesus?” Especially if it doesn’t include being baptized and identifying with Him as their Lord and not something/someone else?

What are your thoughts on this. I’d love to know. It would help me think through this issue in a deeper way!

God bless!

Carl’s response:


Wow, good one. Don’t feel bad about asking this to the whole forum – nothing’s off limit.

My answer would be this….

I’m assuming we agree that baptism is not salvific. So then it’s somewhere in between a good idea of identifying publically with Jesus….and….a command.

My guess is you’re asking several questions here – only one of which is about being baptized. I think people ought to be baptized. It’s good at a lot of levels. And we have and do baptize Muslims – under the water, in the name of Father, Son and Spirit.

But what would you say about this? I think there are several commands in the scriptures (probably many, not just “several”) – that appear more frequently then “be baptized.” So while this is important – because Jesus said it and Paul affirms it – is it any more important then insisting that our new Muslim friends who are wanting to follow Jesus not gossip? Or to stay mentally, spiritually and physically pure?

What identifies someone as a follower of Jesus, is their fruit. The fruit of their lives. How they love. Serve? Or they sheep or goats? Do they “believe.” Do they love God and love their neighbor? All as important or maybe even more important than be baptized in water – mentioned once by Jesus, twice by Luke in Acts, and twice by Peter (if I remember rightly).

So while I think it’s important, I don’t think it’s as vital as several other things that are very clear in scripture. So let’s not ignore it, but we don’t want to harp on it (not that you are).

Identifying Jesus as Lord (master – is the better translation of the greek word Kirios), is a bigger one. And I’d just say that most of my friends would be on a continuum on this one. from “not at all” to “yes.” And again, to be sure we’re comparing apples to apples, while most evangelicals would give lip service to this because they know it’s the right answer (that Jesus is Lord) they would neither know what that really means or actually do much about it. I’d guess you’d agree with that. So….it doesn’t excuse anything on their lack of believing or doing it, but just puts it in perspective.

What do you think? Does that help at all?

I like how you’re thinking bro!


Aaron’s response to Carl:


A little gentle push back here. Baptism is a notoriously confusing issue. Jesus commanded it, Paul affirms it, and yet Paul boasts that he only baptized a few of the Corinthian believers (I Corinthians 1:14) and he also said, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (Vs. 17) At the same time, I think Mike has a valid point. You seem to be saying that baptism is on the level of character issues that believers are supposed to deal with, as if baptism is on par with the fruits of the spirit, like love, joy, peace, ect…. I also don’t think it’s very helpful counting the number of times the word “baptism” is used as opposed to other commands. “Love your enemies” is only mentioned a couple of times in the gospels, yet you and I make a pretty big deal out of that one. If we look at the context of when baptism is mentioned in the New Testament, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion that baptism is the “identity marker” of membership in the Body of Christ as Mike describes. Both in Acts and in Corinthians (For by One Spirit we were all baptized into one Body–1 Cor. 12:13) baptism seems to be the initiation into the life of the church, kingdom membership if you will.

So to me the two extreme positions are a:) baptism as one of several commands that believers may or may not get around to and b:) baptism saves. The truth has to be somewhere in between these two positions. I agree with you that it’s the fruit that identifies true disciples and that ultimately it’s not up to us to determine who’s “in” and who’s “out” in the final judgment (or even right now). If we want to be even more confused, the quid pro quo salvation scripture Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved”–mentions nothing about baptism.

I sincerely wish sometimes that the New Testament wasn’t so confusing!


Now that you’ve read our two positions, what say you?

Posted on September 29, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What did the early Church have to say about baptism?

  2. Why is it that when statements are made in the bible, that man believes he can reason that it's not a statement but a dressing not unlike frosting on a cake. If more than one comand is given in the bible concerning a specific issue, does one command negate the other. No, so therefore all commands are just. that. I see the scriptures on baptism as a command my Christ. It is a demarkation. Just because there are other commands in the bible about following Christ does not nullify any command given. I think it is sometimes reasoned that based on the premise of disagreement between Paul and Peter that it is OK to disagree on principle commands given by Christ. I see this as foolishness. God wants us to obey all commands, not just commandments. While we are not saved by our own actions is a clear principle, what is also clear is that God not only wants us to obey him, but he Commands it. So why would anyone want to argue the "Baptism" issue and risk eternity. We know it is not enough to just "Believe in Christ – as the demons even believe that, But if we Love God, we will obey him. This type of command is different than the character issues we will continue to be conflicted by in our walk. We must watch our life and doctrine closely.

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