More on Baptism, from Oak Hill
The human mind explaining Baptism is like a harmonica interpreting Beethoven: the music is too majestic for the instrument. No scholar or saint can fully appreciate what this means in heaven. Any words on baptism, including these, must be seen as human efforts to understand a holy event. Our danger is to swing to one of two extremes: we make baptism either too important or too commonplace. Either we deify it or we trivialize it. One can see baptism as either the essence of the gospel or as irrelevant to the gospel. Both sides are equally perilous. One person says, "I am saved because I was baptized." The other says, "I'm saved so I don't need to be baptized." The challenge is to let the pendulum stop somewhere between the two viewpoints. This is done by placing the issue where it shoud be -- at the foot of the cross.Later the statement notes that there are no examples of unbaptized believers in the New Testament, except for...
The thief on the cross, however, is a crucial exception. His conversion drives dogmatists crazy. It is no accident that the first one to accept the invitation of the crucified Christ has no creed, confirmation, christening, or catechism. How disturbing to theologians to ascend the mountain of doctrine only to be greeted by an uneducated thief who cast his lot with Christ. Here is a man who never went to church, never gave an offering, never was baptized, and said only one prayer. But that prayer was enough. He has a crucial role in the gospel drama. The thief reminds us that though our dogma may be airtight and our doctrine dead center, in the end it is Jesus who saves. [emphasis mine]Another interesting section is in answer to the question "How much do I need to know to be baptized?" This is interesting to me because the churches I've belonged to generally follow the pattern of a) someone walks down the aisle, or otherwise makes known a decision for Christ, b) the person meets with an eldor/deacon/minister and they talk -- I don't know for certain about what because I haven't been a part of that, at least not since I was seven when the preacher came to my house to talk to me , c) the person is baptized...with what time lag I'm not sure, but probably no more than a few weeks. I was surprised to visit Richland Hills Church of Christ in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and see someone come down the aisle and be baptized in the same service! I didn't know quite what to think of it because I see both sides: we don't want to be dunking people who have no idea what they're actually doing, as that cheapens baptism and may create an assurance of salvation in one who has not been saved, but if someone has been saved and is excited and eager to follow Christ's command to be baptized, who am I to say "no, you cannot, I must first deem you truly worthy"?
Oak Hill's answer is grounded in an analysis of each of the NT's baptism narratives. Who was baptized and what did they understand/know prior to baptism? Oak Hill's conclusion is
The message and the response are consistent. The message is Jesus and the response is voluntary--a simple faith in Christ and an immediate response of faith to be baptized.Interesting food for thought!
The concluding statement is "For all we may not understand about baptism, we can be sure of one thing: it is a holy moment." I'm not sure if I really thought about my baptism as a holy moment before. I think this emphasis on the holiness of baptism comes from the influence of the teaching of baptism as part of a process of salvation (though Oak Hill apparently doesn't teach that view at all). I appreciate the contribution that teaching has given me in a better appreciation of baptism. I have been known to tear up (frequently!) while witnessing a baptism, but more as a result of joy over someone's brand new commitment to Christ. I'm pretty sure I'll still feel that joy, but I think I'll also feel more of a sense of holiness about the event as well now.