TRANSCRIPT: Are spontaneous baptisms good for the Church?

February 25, 2014

Hello, I am Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and you are listening to Questions & Ethics. This is the program where we take an issue that you are struggling with and look at it through the lens of the kingdom of Christ.

Our question today is one that I am being asked a lot right now because of some press reports about a megachurch where, apparently, there is a time of spontaneous baptisms. And at least some media reports are saying that this church is planting people in the congregation to walk forward during the invitation to be baptized in order to present the illusion of momentum in that invitation so that that will kind of break the ice and free people up to be able to come for baptism who are needing to be baptized.

I don’t know whether or not in this church’s case that is really what is happening. I have seen media reports misrepresent people and misrepresent churches and misrepresent me sometimes. So, I am not suggesting that that is the case for this particular church, because I don’t know. And that is one of the reasons why I am not naming the church. But I think it is a valid question to say would that be the right thing to do? I have seen churches where they have had people do this at the invitation time, not as it relates to baptism, but just in terms of walking down the aisle to sort of give people that sense that they are not alone if they walk forward.

So, theoretically, would it be right if you were to have spontaneous baptisms—to have people come forward and be baptized in order to help loosen other people up to do it? And the answer to that is no. And here is why.

Baptism is not just some sort of church program. Baptism in scripture is a word that Jesus is speaking, the congregation as the body of Christ is speaking on behalf of Jesus, “All authority has been given to me,” all authority on heaven and in earth. Jesus says I give that authority to you. You take the gospel to the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In the act of baptism, the church can only speak where Jesus is speaking, and Jesus is speaking only to those who have come to know Christ.

Of course, I am a Baptist. Some of you are of other faith traditions. You will disagree with me on that, and we can talk about that later. But I think, biblically, that is who is qualified to be baptized. Jesus is speaking to that person saying you are united with me in death, burial, and resurrection. You have a pledge and a promise coming from me that at death you are going to be lifted up out of the grave in resurrection. That means you have died to your sin. You are a new creation in Christ. And that word that is being spoken in baptism is being announced from the local congregation to the outside world. This is somebody who is being marked out as one of the people of God and someone who now is under the authority and accountability of the church, the body of Christ.

That is a serious, serious act. It is not something that we can use as some sort of pretend drama in order to get something done within our congregations. It is frankly deceptive to have people who are pretending to be repentant sinners. I cannot imagine that taking place on the day of Pentecost when the Apostle Peter is standing up and preaching, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins!” and to say that we have James and John and Nathaniel out here in order to kind of prime the pump of the crowds gathering around. The only way you could ever come to that conclusion is by so instrumentalizing and pragmatizing baptism that it no longer has any kind of connection with the radical break and departure from the old life that we see in the New Testament—an act that frankly, as a Baptist, I am particularly indignant about because so many of our forefathers were harassed and even killed!

I was just looking this morning at a set of paintings out of the revolutionary era of a Baptist being held face down in the water, being dunked by people who are doing that in order to ridicule him for the fact that he believes in a free church believer’s baptism. So many people have died, have given their lives, been whipped, been exiled for baptism, and then just to use that in some sort of manipulative, emotionally deceptive sort of manner, I think, is a travesty. Again, I don’t know if that is happening in that one particular church, but it wouldn’t surprise me, with the way that so often we turn people into statistics, if it weren’t happening in some churches. And yes, I think that would be unethical. I think that would be wrong. And I think that would be a shameful thing to do.

What’s your question? Thanks for listening to us here on Questions & Ethics. And if you’ve got something that you are thinking about and you are wondering as you are reading your Bible or as you are talking to a family member or a neighbor; or maybe you are witnessing to an unbeliever in your community, and you are saying I just don’t know how to answer this question; or I am trying to deal with this issue in my family or in my workplace or my church, and I’m just not sure what’s right, well, shoot me an email at [email protected] or send me a message via Twitter with the hashtag #askrdm, and we will talk about it here on Questions & Ethics. Until next time, seek the kingdom and walk the line. This is Russell Moore.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24