Today, there are many views and positions about baptism - what it means, how it is to be done, when it is to be done, etc. Many of the views and practices are based, not on direct statements from Scripture, but on conclusions reached from already-held theological perspectives and interpolations coming from elsewhere. Some may be influenced by traditions and customs from the past, or even by personal preference or convictions. Seeing that we are surrounded by a wide variety of perspectives, how should we respond to those who do things in a different way?
First of all, some customs and practices are not necessarily wrong. There are many details about which Scripture is silent. And on such issues, we should be gracious, not argumentative, toward those who would do things differently.
Second, the Holy Spirit can baptize (Spirit-baptism) even people who don't understand the Bible's perspective on water-baptism. Salvation depends on God changing the heart and giving life to what was previously dead, not on a technique of water-baptism. So even if you must disagree as to the significance and technique of baptism, your disagreement on this one issue is not, by itself, proof that you are part of Christ's body and that they aren't.
Finally, your obligation toward them doesn't change, just because they baptize differently (or wrongly). Your obligation is to love them. You are not to compromise truth, nor say that doctrine doesn't matter, but you must love them - the same way Jesus loves you when you are wrong about something. And the way he loved you in the past, even when you were his enemy.
You may, after studying this concept, find yourself in a position in which your views do not match those of your church. What are you to do? Not compromise your beliefs, nor lie about them. Not use the truth as a weapon to attack and destroy others. You need to keep both truth and love, with integrity. Some may find themselves in a situation in which they can, with a clear conscience, work side-by-side with others who have differing views (especially when the disagreement involves something Scripture is silent about). Others may find themselves in a situation in which this issue (and perhaps many other issues) result in irreconcilable differences and conflict. Make sure that any conflicts that may exist are not caused by sinful reactions on your part. Even if you have to leave a group (worst-case scenario), you still need to do so in a manner that exhibits love, and if necessary, forgiveness. Your conduct must be guided by 1 Corinthians 13, even in the worst of circumstances.
Before you attempt to change the way a group practices baptism, there are some things you must do: 1) Make sure that the desired changes involve issues that are serious enough to warrant a change. 2) Make sure you are qualified to make such an attempt. God gives different people different gifts, different abilities and different opportunities. 3) Do nothing until you have taken sufficient time to think seriously about what 1 Corinthians 13 has to say to you.
You should be aware that making such changes will not necessarily be an easy task. Though it may seem like a simple change in "technique," it is not so simple. People's views on issues become so interrelated that a sudden change in one area may leave them feeling threatened in many other areas. (Don't forget that groups sometimes split over the most insignificant issues. And baptism is not an insignificant issue!)
It may require lots of time to bring about a "peaceful" return to the ways practiced in the Bible. Don't expect immediate results. After all, it took hundreds of years for things to get the way they are today! And besides, God may want to teach you some things (including patience!) before he begins to teach them anything about baptism.
Baptism is important. But, being a symbol, it is not as important as the reality it is intended to represent. Merely changing the symbol won't solve deeper-rooted problems that may also exist. One possible way to indirectly deal with the issue of baptism would be to focus on helping the group develop a clear and concise understanding of the realities - not only about salvation (the Holy Spirit baptism), but about other biblical issues, as well. Then it may be easier (and more spontaneous) for the group to develop a better understanding of the symbols that represent those realities.
Finally, as already stated, your first and most enduring obligation toward them is summed-up by the word "love." Their views about baptism may be wrong, but don't let their wrongs be an excuse for you to sin against them! Without love, your words will be nothing more than irritating noise (1 Corinthians 13:1).
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Dennis Hinks © 1999