Monday, June 25, 2007

What must I do to be saved?

Let us say that a fellow with no religious training is one day moved by God to consider his salvation. Not knowing exactly where to turn to gain information on this subject, he dusts off the old family bible that he inherited and begins to read the New Testament for the very first time in his life.

Beginning with the gospels, he encounters the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He discovers that this Jesus is also very concerned with man’s salvation and speaks of it often and with compassion. Finding his heart strangely warmed by Christ’s words, he pays particular attention to them and begins to take notes.

He reads of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3, and His words in verse 5, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. Having skipped ahead previously and learned of the Holy Spirit whom Christ promised to send to His Church, our man feels he understands that part of it, but what about this water business; what could that mean? Reading down the chapter to the point immediately after Jesus’ dialog with Nicodemus, he comes to verse 22 and sees, “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea, and there he tarried with them, and baptized”.

“Oh, baptism; that’s what the water means!” our fellow exclaims. Reading further into the New Testament, this idea is confirmed by Jesus in Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” and is again emphasized in His final instructions to His disciples in Matthew 28, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. Working his way into the Acts of the Apostles, our friend reads of Peter’s great sermon on Pentecost in which he powerfully demonstrated to the Jews that this Jesus, whom they had delivered up to crucifixion, is indeed both Lord and Christ, the long-promised Messiah. Cut to the quick, they asked Peter, “What shall we do?” Our guy identifies with this question. “Yes, what shall I do?” he asks aloud. He then reads Peter’s response, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”.

Well there you have it; water and the Spirit. Believe in Jesus and in all that He taught and be baptized for the remission of your sins. Things are beginning to gel for our man. Next he discovers the concordance in the back of his bible, and looks up the word baptism in its several forms. He reads Peter’s description of baptism as the antitype of Noah’s Ark, by which humanity was saved from the flood, and encounters Peter direct and plain words “even baptism doth now save us”. He reads of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch and how, after hearing the message of Christ, the eunuch requested immediate baptism for his salvation.

“Clearly baptism is intimately linked to the salvation process in the teaching of both Jesus and His apostles,” our fellow concludes. But still he wonders how this is so. He then comes upon Paul’s teaching in Romans 6 which describes baptism as the literal joining of the believer to Jesus Christ in both His death and resurrection. “So this is why baptism is essential,” he exclaims. “It is one thing to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but I must actually be joined to Him through baptism!” This thought, while mysterious to him, actually moves him very deeply and like the eunuch, he is now very eager to find someone who will baptize him into Christ.

He hops in his car and drives to the first church he finds. The sign out front says, “Praise Christian Center” and the caption under that reads, “A bible-believing community”. This sounds good, he thinks, and he goes inside. He finds a middle-aged fellow wearing a polo shirt and Dockers who introduces himself as “Pastor Bob” and asks how he might be of service. Our man replies, “I’d like to be baptized, sir”. Pastor Bob eyes the fellow suspiciously and asks, “Why do you want to be baptized?” Our guy replies, “Because I want to be saved, sir” and goes on to tell his story of how through reading his bible he has come to faith in Christ and wants to be joined to Him through baptism.

At this, Pastor Bob looks down at his desktop, shaking his head sadly. “I see you’ve been listening to the Catholics,” he concludes. “Son, you don’t need to be baptized to be saved, and baptism doesn’t do anything. If you have already acknowledged your sins before God and have accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you are already saved”. “But what about all those verses that connect baptism to salvation?” our friend asks. “The bible doesn’t say that,” Bob insists, “OK, maybe it seems to say that if you haven’t been taught how to look at the bible properly, but baptism is just an outward showing of an inward doing and portrays the salvation that has already taken place in your soul”. Our guy considers this for a moment before asking, “Where does it say that in the bible?” Pastor Bob is now beginning to shift in his seat a bit and replies, “It doesn’t specifically say that anywhere in the bible, but that’s what it means. You need to start coming to our bible studies on Wednesday nights to let us teach you how you should understand your bible”.

“I don’t get it,” our guy innocently protests. “Are you saying that the bible has a hidden meaning and that I can’t just read it for what it says?” “You need to be taught how to read your bible, son,” Bob replies a bit testily, “Otherwise you’re going to wind up like those poor Catholics who believe in baptismal regeneration or in the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Table. That’s why I lead bible studies; so I can teach my people what the bible really means in what it says”. A bit nervously our friend asks, “But what did Jesus mean when He said, ‘He who believes and is baptized shall be saved’?” Bob rolls his eyes and answers, “He who believes and ties his shoes will be saved. He who believes and eats french fries will be saved. Don’t you get it? It’s the believing part that saves you, not baptism”.

“Then why did Jesus say it that way?” our guy asks. At this, Pastor Bob stands up and says, “I have to be at the golf course in fifteen minutes; why don’t you just come back on Wednesday night and we can work on setting you straight then. Have a nice day, OK?”

Back in his car and driving home, our friend wonders if he should stop reading his bible for now. “I was just convinced that I needed to be baptized,” he laments. “How was I supposed to know that all that stuff is just symbolic and doesn’t really mean what it says?” He then remembers a lady at work who had mentioned that her daughter had recently been baptized in the Catholic Church. “What a mistake,” he thinks to himself. “I had better go and straighten her out about what the bible really means as soon as possible. I wouldn’t want her thinking that she or her daughter are really saved!

16 Comments:

At 6/25/2007 2:40 PM , Blogger Philippa said...

You know what's so sad about that story? I was raised Roman Catholic and bought that line given me by a Protestant hook, line & sinker.

But God just let me wander, always keeping an eye on me. I wandered right into the Orthodox Church.

Glory to Him!

 
At 6/25/2007 6:28 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr. Bless.

What a clear statement on the subject of baptism. I recall when I laid aside all my pre-conceived notions about what baptism was and opened myself to what the scriptures and the Church have always taught. I was blown away at the clarity in the scriptures and came to the conclusion that baptism is indeed instrumental in our salvation and not simply indicative of our salvation. It was a watershed moment in my life, and one reason why I am no longer a Mennonite pastor.

It strikes me as ironic that generally Protestants reject a sacramental approach to life on the one hand and yet fully believe that God came to us (in our Lord Jesus) clothed in matter on the other. For what is a sacrament other than God comes to us through the mediation of matter, that to which we humans best relate?

Thanks for this clear story illustrating the importance of baptism.

Peace,

Leon

 
At 6/25/2007 11:10 PM , Blogger Biby Cletus said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6/26/2007 2:22 AM , Blogger Kungfupower said...

Wisdom.

I remember attending a Bible study in the Protestant church which I was forced to attend as a youngster, and the pastor applied the same contorted logic to the plainly-stated words of Paul in Romans 6:3-5.

A person can't draw these kinds of ridiculous conclusions without first having a pre-conceived (and wrong) notion of what baptism is, and then finding ways in which random Bible verses seem to support that hypothesis. Too much of Protestant theology consists of reading things into scripture rather than letting the scriptures speak for themselves.

 
At 6/26/2007 6:48 AM , Anonymous Kyralessa said...

A nice story, Father...but what if that fellow had stopped at the Podunkville Church of Christ instead?

 
At 6/26/2007 8:58 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Podunkville? Nah, I think our friend may have lived in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota...

 
At 6/26/2007 12:42 PM , Blogger Munkee said...

I'm sure in part this notion that Baptism is unnecessary, and simply a capricious command of Christ we must follow as a good "testimony", stems from a rebellion against the authority of the Church or a church . The Church does the baptisms, I want to do church my way, the Church is wrong about xyz (in my opinion), baptism must not be important. Also involved in the denigration of baptism and sacraments generally, is western minimalism. What is the bare minimum that I have to do to be saved?? God doesn't really love me, He just has to fulfill His duty to save me, I don't really love God, I just don't want to burn my ass in hell. It is all very convoluted, mixed up, and muddied, isn't it?

 
At 6/27/2007 5:31 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Why in the world did I ever use to sing that hymn "Faith of our Fathers"? Which Fathers were they talking about?

 
At 6/27/2007 12:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually Bruce, that particular hymn was written by a Roman Catholic and spoke about those who died in the Counter Reformation. The following excerpted is from the web site: http://www.webedelic.com/church/faithoft.htm
“The "faith of our fathers" referred to in this hymn, however, is the faith of the martyred leaders of the Roman Catholic Church during the sixteenth century. From about 1833 to 1850 the Oxford Movement tenaciously directed religious England, during which time many of the Anglican Church's leaders either joined the Roman Church or developed a rejuvenated high church party known as Anglo-Catholics.
Early in his ministerial training Faber came under the influence of this Oxford Movement. After serving just three years as an Anglican minister, he left the Church and joined the Roman Catholic fold. He became known as Father Wilfrid. Faber began to make it his life's mission to write hymns that promoted the history and teachings of the Catholic Church. In all Frederick Faber wrote 150 such hymns before his early death at the age of forty-nine.
"Faith of Our Fathers" was written by Faber to remind Catholic congregations of their many leaders who were martyred during the reign of Henry VIII in the early days of the establishment of the Anglican Church in Great Britain.”
Below is a verse that is generally omitted in the Protestant versions of this song.
Faith of our fathers! Mary's prayers Shall win our country back to thee; And through the truth that comes from God, England shall then indeed be free. Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We would be true to Thee till death.

Peace,

Leon

 
At 6/28/2007 4:17 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Thank you for that explanation Leon! I sure wish these things could have been explained to me while I was singing them. But I guess it wouldn't have fit into our theology very well .Especially
that last verse!

Bruce

 
At 6/28/2007 11:17 AM , Blogger Munkee said...

Bruce,

Be glad that someone at some point overlooked the real meaning of the song. So many things like that have helped me on the journey into Orthodox faith, things that gave me "A ha!" moments along the way.

 
At 6/29/2007 11:05 PM , Blogger Kungfupower said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 7/06/2007 8:04 PM , Anonymous Eric John said...

Respectfully, I think the answer to Kyralessa's question is that, if he had gone to Podunkville's Church of Christ he would have learned that immersion baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, buried with Christ in baptism, and raised to walk in newness of life was indeed a necessary step in obedience to our Lord's command and for remission of sins (I won't get into the niceties of the variations on baptismal theology in these congregations beyond that),

and then he would have been likely taught that the words "this is my body" and "this is my blood of the new covenant" didn't really mean what they said. He would have possibly learned that wine int he NT wasn't wine but grape juice - or something near. And nary a word would be said about what early Christians actually believed about the nature of the Eucharist. Or that all of the oldest continuous Christian communities - Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox appear to have always believed this about the Eucharist.

. . . at least, that would have been my experience of what would happen to our intrepid adventurer in the Restoration Movement Churches of Christ and Christian Churches. :)

 
At 7/23/2007 1:56 PM , Blogger John said...

My story is the same as Eric John's. (I was once an elder at Podunkville.)

 
At 10/25/2007 5:28 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me where do you get this information from a "Catholic Priest" Why don't you go and find you own beliefs and research and find that in Ezek 36:24-27 It talks about not a literal water but a cleaning of your soul through the Holy Spirit. Also check out these verses before you go making these conclusions that you have to be baptized to be saved. (Num 19:17-19, Ps 51:9-10, Is. 32:15,44:3-5,55:1-3, Jer. 2:13, Joel 2:28-29) Then tell that to people that are being led into the wrong direction)

 
At 10/26/2007 7:46 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Anonymous,

Not only have you apparently forgotten your name, but you have also forgotten that rather significant portion of your bible called “The New Testament” in which it is clearly stated that the new birth is “of water AND the Spirit” (John 3:5). The OT verses you have cherry-picked to “disprove” the necessity of water baptism in fact only demonstrate and emphasize that this holy sacrament would involve both the cleansing of water AND the operation of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. It is not one or the other, but both together. If you had a little more knowledge and respect for the beliefs of your Christian forefathers you would understand this, rather than foolishly trying to “find your own beliefs”.

 

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