Baptism into What?
NCW 19, May 1995
Q. I do not understand why there is a need to be baptised into your church when I have already been baptised into Christ?
Being baptised into Christ is to be baptised into the covenant of Christ. Baptism corresponds to the ordinance of circumcision in the Old Covenant. Circumcision represented entrance into the covenant community of Israel, a theocratic society. Full baptism represents exactly the same -- entrance into the covenant community of Israel in Christ.
Christian churches today, with a couple of exceptions, are not covenant communities -- they are not theocracies. Baptism for them (at least in Protestantism) is into the "universal church of Christ" of all believers.
Baptism into Christ is only a part of baptism and as such represents only a part of the covenant -- the inward part. The completion of baptism is entry into a covenant community bound by the same covenants, rules, doctrines, practices, etc..
If I were baptised by a Pentecostal minister would that mean that I was bound by the teachings and practices of the Lutherans who, for example, "baptise" babies? If there is one universal church on the earth does baptism make me a member of all of them? No, it doesn't. If I am baptised a Catholic and go along to a Baptist Church and claim to be a member of that church, they would say that I would need to be baptised by immersion, follow the baptist doctrines and, more than likely, sign a register.
Well, I have never come across any such thing as a "register" in the Bible anywhere. Since when did Christians join the brotherhood by signing their name in a book? Admission into the Kingdom -- inwardly and outwardly -- has always been by baptism and confirmation.
We, as New Covenant Christians, believe in the "holy catholic (universal) church" but we do not believe it is anything more than an inward intent in this life. To receive Christ as my Saviour and the baptism of the Holy Spirit makes me a part of a worldwide "community" of believers in Christ but does not make me a member of any church. Baptism is admission into the Kingdom -- the covenant of Christ -- because it is an outward ordinance.
New Covenant Christians share fundamental beliefs about the works of Christ with millions of other Christians but we are not of the same covenant. Christendom is a potpourri of thousands of different doctrines and practices.
I guess the question that we should really be asking is this: what marked the believer's entry into the community of the saints -- the Church -- in the New Testament? Was it a handshake? Signing a register? Fasting for a month (one church I know requires that)? If you search the scriptures you will find that it is always baptism and confirmation.
So what would our position be towards someone coming from the baptists or pentecostals who baptise candidates into Christ by immersion? Would we accept that baptism? Clearly only those evangelical churches baptising by immersion would recognise such people as proper Christians, so for them to claim that they belong to all churches is untenable. For us as New Covenant Christians we would recognise those baptisms for what they actually are -- a requirement of evangelical baptist and pentecostal churches.
Though we have much in common with evangelical baptists and pentecostals there is much that is different with us. Being baptised into Christ in one of those churches would carry all the doctrinal and practical expectations of those churches which are not the same as New Covenant Christian expectations. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons baptise by immersion too but their expectations are again different since theirs is a baptism into what they suppose to be a "one and only true church". Baptism means, for them, baptism into an exclusive body to the extent that all others are regarded as "false".
New Covenant Christians are not exclusivist but we are different. We are a family, and every family has different characteristics. Even baptists and pentecostals, who claim to recognise each other's baptisms, are really very different indeed, especially in spirit. Transferring membership from one to the other is not like moving from one baptist congregation into another -- it requires a totally different spiritual re-orientation.
When the ancient Israelites were circumcised there was no doubt who they belonged to. It was a permanent mark in their flesh. They belonged to God, to a tribe, and to a nation. Baptism in the wider sense indeed identifies us as belonging to God (if we have been sincere) but not, it would seem with many Protestant groups, with an outwardly recognizable "tribe" of Christians. Tribal differentiation was important in ancient Israel to ensure land-rights. Ecclesiastical differentiation may perhaps be seen in a similar way -- our "spiritual tribes" are important so that the truths we have received may be preserved and not lost until such a time as tribal boundaries will no longer be required.
So what are these boundaries? For us, outwardly, there are two broad groups or "tribes" is you like: (1) The gentile Christians and their many denominational "nations", and (2) the Hebrew Christians who are divided into two parts: (a) Messianic Jews (Judah); and (b) Messianic Israelites (the Northern Tribes). The latter two will eventually be united as one.
The gentile Christians have almost entirely repudiated their Hebrew roots and adopted gentile culture as the medium of their Christianity. This can only be a temporary situation (see Wild and Natural Olive Trees). In the end, all gentile Christian groups must be grafted into Israel so that they can enter the millennial nation with its government and culture.
For us as New Covenant Christians, therefore, other Christian baptisms are permissive only because of the absence of any true Israelite baptism.
This page was created on 2 May 1998
Last updated on 2 May 1998
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