Lord of the Voting Booth
I have never believed in the doctrine of baptismal regeneration – the doctrine that teaches that water baptism is necessary for salvation. I must say, in sorrow, that adding baptism to faith in Christ is a return to works. Yes, I most certainly do believe that as Christians we should have water baptism. But the Scripture makes it adequately plain that the reception of the Holy Spirit comes into our lives when we cast ourselves completely on the finished work of Christ as He died on the cross for us. It is at that point that water baptism should occur as the outward sign of the inward reality. As Romans 8 says, if we do not have the Spirit of Christ, we do not belong to Him.
Having said this, I must also emphasize the great importance of water baptism. The New Testament speaks positively of water baptism, and so must we. After all, as Christians we are to obey the commands of Christ, and His very first command is “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, so closely united in the early church were the spiritual reality and the external seal that in Ephesians 4:5 Paul could speak of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (not “two baptisms,” since “un-baptized believer” was an oxymoron in the primitive church).
To me, this baptism means associating oneself with a Bible-believing fellowship of Christians who profess Jesus as their only Lord and Savior. In early Christianity, in fact, baptizing was an act of “pledging allegiance to Jesus,” if you will, proclaiming Him as “Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3). This wasn’t a glib symbol, like the neon sign saying “Jesus Is Lord” I recently read about. In his book Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis puts it this way:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
This is a salutary reminder. All too often in evangelical circles there is a strong tendency toward a Gnostic understanding of Jesus. We are ready enough to proclaim His lordship in terms of our soteriology and possibly even our ecclesiology, but in the social and political realms our lives are hardly affected by His authority. Not so in the early church. To proclaim Jesus as Lord had tremendous political implications, for it meant a clean break with Emperor worship and everything associated with it. Thus, I would say that there can be no question of blind allegiance to any political leader or political party for that matter, as if allegiance to Christ permitted a divided focus.
Of course, I need not tell my readers that the matter is complicated by the fact that many evangelicals espouse big tent politics and its corresponding compromises with evil. The decisions you make are, of course, between you and the Lord. However, I am quite sure that as we Christians return to life within the structure of Scripture, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus can cause us to follow Him more radically. At the very least let us not claim that Jesus is Lord unless He is our Lord in the voting booth just as much as He is in the choir loft.
August 30, 2004
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. His latest book is Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.