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 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 Year. … Read More