by Al Maxey

Issue #326 ------- November 16, 2007
The more perfect the understanding
between men, the less need for words.

Ralph Waldo Emerson {1803-1882}

Pre-Plunge Pronouncements
What Words must be Uttered Prior
to Baptism for the Act to be Valid?

About a week ago I received the following email from a subscriber to my weekly Reflections: "A fellow church member was rebaptized this past Sunday because he said he felt his first baptism 'wasn't right.' The reason: he had been baptized 'in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.' So, on Sunday he was rebaptized in the name of Christ only. Personally, I think this is ridiculous, but I wanted your opinion. What do the Scriptures actually teach on this? Thanks for your help."

First, I must say that I am somewhat surprised that this person who sought to be rebaptized believed that his first baptism "wasn't right" because he was immersed in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. After all, has he never heard of the words of Jesus Himself in His Great Commission? "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" [Matt. 28:19]. I am thus a bit puzzled, in light of these inspired words from the Lord Himself, at the nature of his objection to this aspect of his first baptism. I can only guess that he may be somewhat confused by later statements in the writings of Luke the physician and the apostle Paul, such as -- "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" [Gal. 3:27]. Since no mention is made of the Father and the Holy Spirit, but only of Christ, some have thereby concluded (falsely, in my view) that an amendment had occurred to the "baptismal formula" between the time of Christ's commission and this statement by Paul (a period of almost twenty years). There's absolutely no biblical evidence of any such revision, of course, but since when has lack of evidence ever stopped legalists from elevating human assumptions to divine decree?!

This is nothing new, by the way. There has long been debate over what should, and should not, be included in the "pastoral pronouncement" prior to one's baptism. In the minds of many, these words have taken on the nature of some "magical formula" that must be spoken precisely before the "sacrament" can be declared valid. I have actually heard of cases where a baptism was immediately repeated because it was discovered there was some "irregularity" in the reciting of the formula just prior to immersion. For example, I was informed that in one congregation the elders told the young preacher that he had forgotten to include the phrase "for the remission of sins," and they made him go back and do the whole thing over. Whether they realize it or not, such persons are placing far more efficacy in the words spoken by the one performing the baptism than in the obedience of faith of the one actually being immersed. If a believer's eternal life is placed in jeopardy because some preacher fumbled his words in the baptistery, then maybe we should be stationing "observers" at the four corners of the baptistery to make absolutely certain that all the "rules of the ritual" are performed precisely according to the pattern. Not only the "pastoral pronouncement" must be carefully reviewed, but also these observers must ensure that no toe, finger or elbow pops out of the water during the baptism. And yes, baptisms have been repeated for this "infraction" as well. By the way, as many of you undoubtedly know, there are indeed congregations that actually have such observers posted at the baptistery during each baptism. Such is the lunacy of legalistic patternism.

The reality is, as any rational disciple of Christ who has done even a cursory examination of the Scriptures can testify, there is absolutely NO specific pre-immersion formulaic pronouncement that must be audibly uttered by the one performing the baptism. Such statements are not wrong -- indeed, they can be quite beneficial -- but they are clearly not required for the baptism itself to be regarded as valid in the sight of God. What one does find in association with many of the NT examples of baptisms is some degree of questioning of and dialogue with the baptismal candidates prior to the actual immersion in order to determine the true motivation and depth of understanding of their hearts with regard to this visible demonstration of faith. Obviously, if one has no perception of the purpose of baptism, nor belief in Jesus Christ, or any desire to turn from a life of sin, that person is merely getting wet rather than making a life-commitment to the Lord. I'm convinced we have an obligation to make some effort to determine where a person is spiritually before we ever "head for the water" with them. For us to do otherwise is to do them a disservice. For example, when the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip, "What prevents me from being baptized?" [Acts 8:36], he was told, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." To this he responded, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" [vs. 37]. Is this a verbal formula that must be repeated at every baptism until the end of time? Of course not. However, this understanding must be present in the heart of every person seeking to be immersed, and there is nothing amiss with the person performing the baptism seeking to determine at some point prior to the baptism if that perception is indeed present. If it isn't, then additional teaching is required. This deficit should NOT be discovered for the first time as the two stand in the waters of the baptistery!!

Steve Cordle, the minister for the Church of Christ in Lamar, Colorado, in an article that appeared in the November, 2007 issue of Gospel Advocate, declared, "What is said by a baptizer prior to immersing a candidate will vary slightly from person to person. No verbatim statement is required by the Bible to be said before a person is immersed" ["Fifteen Frequently Asked Questions About Baptismal Ceremonies," page 27]. He is absolutely correct. The New Covenant Scriptures require no statement whatsoever, however most of us have witnessed enough baptisms to have a fairly good idea of the traditional statement that precedes the act of immersion. Although ministers will often vary what they say somewhat, it usually resembles the following: "Upon your confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I now baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of your sins." Most all of us are so familiar with this formula that we can almost lip-sync it with the preacher, thus when our ears detect something new or different, we instantly have a sense of unease. "He got it wrong! He didn't say it right! He changed it! He left something out!" Should the baptism be done over? Is the person just immersed really saved?! These questions, and more, flood over us just as the water in the baptistery washes over the penitent believer. This is what happens when Tradition becomes more familiar to us than Truth.

Some people see the comment by Jesus in His "Great Commission" as being indicative of some kind of legal baptismal formula. If the one performing the baptism doesn't actually say "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit," then somehow the baptism wasn't truly valid. That was not the intent of our Lord's comment, however. Jesus was not establishing a ritualistic, verbal formula for all men for all time. Rather, the statement was indicative of an intimate union, via this demonstration of faith, which was a personal testimony to the reality of such a union, with the Godhead (Father, Son and Spirit). "Those who become disciples are to be baptized eis ('into') the name of the Trinity. The preposition 'into' strongly suggests a coming-into-relationship-with or a coming-under-the-Lordship-of" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 597]. The fact, therefore, that all three are mentioned is simply a reference to a deep covenant relationship in which the penitent believer comes into intimate union with all three ... and additionally into a relationship with all others who are in union with the Godhead. "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" [1 Cor. 12:13]. Relationship. In other passages, Jesus is depicted as the Head of this universal One Body. Thus, those who seek union with this One Body must do so by seeking union with Him. In this sense, then, we are baptized into Christ (the Head), thus becoming united together as members of His spiritual body (the church). This, of course, in no way minimizes or negates the statement of Jesus in His commission about the Father and the Spirit, but merely focuses our attention upon a different aspect of this intimate relationship between man and deity. There is no conflict, and in neither instance is there any reference to a legalistic formula.

There are a number of passages in the NT writings where baptism is declared to be in the name of Jesus, rather than the Trinity, and this has obviously confused several people, as they think a later formula has replaced the earlier formula. The problem, of course, is perceiving these statements as formulaic. Acts 8:16 and 19:5, for example, speak of those disciples who had "been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." In Acts 10:48, after the Spirit had fallen upon Cornelius and his household, Peter "ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." As disciples of Jesus Christ we are in relationship with the Son -- "you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" [1 Cor. 1:9] -- a fact evidenced by our baptism into His name. We are joined with Christ in an intimate union. Paul makes this very point in Romans 6:3-5, where he parallels baptism into Christ and union with Christ. He makes this point again quite dramatically in Galatians 3:27, where he states that those who are baptized into Christ are clothed (wrapped around) with Christ. That is intimacy of relationship. However, in a very real sense, united with Him (Jesus), we are also united with Them (Father and Spirit). Remember -- when Jesus said to baptize disciples "into the name" [Matt. 28:19], He used the singular, which nevertheless included all three. Thus, when being baptized into "the name" of Jesus Christ, there is no reason to believe the other two are not still in view, even though unnamed, since Jesus makes it clear they are all one. The only reason Jesus alone is mentioned in these particular texts is that He is the avenue through which we all must come into relationship with the Father and receive the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Yet, in our baptism a true union is enjoined with all three (by way of illustration of this principle, compare 1 Cor. 1:9 with 1 John 1:3).

Thus, I personally find nothing within the Scriptures that suggests anyone's baptism is rendered void or invalid due to the words spoken prior to immersion by the one performing that act. In fact, whether or not words are even spoken is irrelevant. It is the understanding and intent of the heart of the person being baptized that determines the validity of this act of obedient faith. I have heard it said (tongue in cheek) that even if a mute monkey performed the baptism, it would be just as valid if the heart of the penitent believer was truly right with the Lord as he submitted to this act. In other words, the person performing the baptism, and whatever he/she may or may not say just before, makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. We demonstrate our own faith by being immersed: visible evidence of a saving union we enjoy with the Father through the Son, and of the personal indwelling and empowering of His Holy Spirit. Whether the one performing the baptism utters the phrase "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" or just "Jesus Christ," the reality is the same: we are united with Them through union with Him. How sad that so many fail to perceive and appreciate this marvelous relationship that is theirs because they are overly concerned and troubled, due to a legalistic background and upbringing, with the preciseness of some ritual, the details of which are neither specified nor prescribed in Scripture. The more spiritually perceptive we become, the less likely we are to obsess over such tedious tenets of traditionalism.

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Readers' Reflections

Special Offer --- A very devoted Reflections reader from the beautiful state of California, a brother-in-Christ and "senior saint" by the name of Marion Owens, has written an extremely powerful essay in which he reflects upon his own journey of discovery in life, a journey that has led him out of legalistic bondage and into the glorious freedom of God's grace. He reviews the process of questioning that led him to this state of liberty, and I think you will find it most encouraging. Many of you share that same journey, and a good many more of you are just now starting out on that pilgrimage into the land of the free. This will not only challenge you, but motivate you. It is a 14 page document in MS Word format titled Church of Christ Doctrines: Facts and Assumptions. Bro. Owens, who is 75, has authorized me to share this essay with any of you who write me requesting it. He has also authorized me to reveal not only his identity, but also to include his email address (which appears on the document, as well as above). He is more than willing to discuss this document with any of you who choose to write him. I appreciate this brother immensely, and highly recommend this marvelous essay. --- Al Maxey

From a PhD in Cambridge, England:
A Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge

Dear Al Maxey, I just wanted to write and tell you how very much I enjoyed your post on hemorrhoids -- Reflections #135. I wonder if I could ask you for some more information. I have been trying to track when the "posterior regions" first get mentioned. I've found the "quinque anos aureos" in the Latin Vulgate, but you also mention that they appear in the Arabic and Syriac versions. Do you know the dates of these texts? I know this is a bizarre question, but for my work I am interested in votive models made of parts of the body. The models of the "golden anal regions" (as opposed to "golden emerods") would be an example of this, and I'd really like to know the date when these first appear in the texts. I hope you can help! Thanks very much, and thanks also for the interesting web site you have!!

From a New Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Maxey, I have studied your book -- Down, But Not Out -- at great length, and have learned a great deal of knowledge from studying it, and also from reading your Reflections from your web site. I would like to be added to your mailing list at your convenience. I think very highly of your teachings, and especially those in your book. I can't even begin to tell you just how much your book has helped me to grow closer to Jesus. Thank you so much, Bro. Maxey, for helping me to understand the Scriptures, and may God bless you and Shelly and your wonderful ministry.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, I've just read your reply to Brian Yeager's legalism. What amused me is that he believes you must have book, chapter and verse mentioning a fellowship hall or kitchen, and then assumes that he has book, chapter and verse for a "worship service." Strange. If Brian will just turn in the Bible to the book, chapter and verse that has the expression "worship service," right next to it he will find both "fellowship hall" and "kitchen."

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Bro. Al, Thank you for another illuminating Reflections. You have done another excellent job of explanation. It is often perplexing how some people can get such a twisted understanding. I hate to say that I think they have evil intentions (I certainly hope they don't), but on the other hand when God promises to reveal His will to those who truly seek, it causes one to wonder about these people.

From a Reader in Florida:

Al, my friend and brother in Christ. When I queried you concerning authority a few weeks ago, I had no idea of the wonderful way you would eventually analyze this passage (Colossians 3:17). I have been teaching Romans and have been wanting to get the sheep here to really study, and the result from a few has been, "Give me book, chapter and verse." You have once again allowed my heart to open up even more as I serve our Savior and help my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Having an "attitude of gratitude" is our daily walk in Christ. I hope and pray I can help others see the need for this type of attitude. Thanks again, Al.

From a Ministry Leader in California:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for this article covering the "attitude of gratitude" that all disciples of Christ should have. Something that you might find interesting is that gratitude is one of the first concepts that's taught to alcoholics and addicts in recovery. There is a very good reason for this: gratitude is the most other-centered emotion that we can feel, and, as such, it brings tremendous healing. At times in our ministry we must teach people to be grateful. The world teaches people to think only of themselves. We, on the other hand, have found that it is impossible to be grateful and selfish at the same time. Whenever people we counsel in recovery get depressed or despondent, we direct them to write down 100 things for which they are grateful. In all of my years of counseling I have never had anybody who did this exercise continue in their depression. Once again, it is impossible to be depressed and grateful all at the same time. Thank you for your continued efforts in this Reflections ministry.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, There is something known as "The Hallelujah Principle" which states that gratitude and depression cannot occupy the heart at the same time. One will always be in ascendancy. True, we all probably have experienced both at different times in our lives, but nevertheless gratitude is the antidote for depression.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Your last Reflections, the article on Colossians 3:17, was great. Keep up the good work! By the way, I was honored to perform the wedding ceremony for my youngest this summer. While surfing the web looking at various wedding blessings, sermons, etc., I came across the blessing in Col. 3:12-17 as a suggestion. It really blew me away with the implications for a husband and wife starting a new marriage. My daughter and her husband are blessed with musical talents beyond my own measure, so this was the passage that I used to "end" their ceremony. The people assembled were blown away also -- this "proof text" clearly is not about any worship service, but about our life attitude in serving our Savior and our family. By the way, we also danced at the wedding. Very badly (at least by me), but it was a celebration beyond compare. It was a picture of the wedding feast yet to come!!

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you for sharing that video -- I am brought to tears by it every time I watch it. I shared it with my congregation on a Sunday morning. We are an a cappella congregation of the Church of Christ that is genuinely exemplary of God's grace in a way that I have never before seen in my 30 years within the Church of Christ. We are a cappella by tradition and preference, and yet we fully embrace those with different traditions and preferences. We frequently use such videos to foster contemplation, and these videos often include instrumental accompaniment. After showing this video Sunday morning, we allowed a short period of silence. The only sound heard was that of sniffing, as the whole congregation was moved to tears, just the same as I was. In fact, I have received nothing but positive comments after showing this video. One of our "recovering legalist" members approached me and confessed to feeling uncomfortable at first with the dramatic part of it, and possibly even the instrumental part of it (I don't remember if he included that or not), but he kept an open mind, and by the end of the video he was as taken by the emotive power of the presentation as anyone in the congregation.

That video has convinced me that I had become desensitized to the gospel message. I had heard the gospel presented in the same old propositional way using the same old verses for so long, and had myself repeated that version of the gospel so many times, that it no longer impacted me as it should. Oh sure, I intellectually understood that it was a powerful message, but, practically speaking, I was simply no longer moved by it emotionally. This video changed all that, and it has made me realize that I had grown desensitized to the gospel message. It did so by presenting the gospel in a way that my mind was simply not prepared for. It was not a propositional, rational appeal to the Scriptures, but was rather an artistic expression. I am convinced that the church MUST begin to embrace the arts as a valid and powerful medium for conveying gospel truth. In our post-modern culture, the arts often communicate more effectively than propositional, rationalistic sermons ever will. This video is valuable proof of this.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, Do you have any idea why the Contending for the Faith Internet discussion group suddenly went into hiding?! They seemed to be so proud that others could read their posts and see how "sound" and "loving" they were. Then suddenly they had a purging of their members, and now only those who are members can read their posts. Frankly, they did the world a big favor! I really wonder if perhaps they were threatened with a lawsuit. I sincerely hope they were. I was also glad when your stalker, Daniel Coe, suddenly up and fled your town. These are a sick bunch of people, and their "churches" are dying off. Thankfully, people are finally discovering grace and mercy. It sure beats what they have to offer to bits!!

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