Kinnaird Sermon on Baptism

Elder John O. Kinnaird

Sermon on Baptism (Transcript)

Bethany Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Oxford, Pennsylvania

09-01-96

 

The Scripture reading this evening is found in the book of Mark, in the last chapter of that book - Mark 16 - a short passage, reading verses 14 through 18. Mark 16, starting at verse 14:

 

Later Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who has seen him after he had risen. He said to them, ĎGo into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.í [NIV]

 

The passage of Scripture before us this evening has been and continues to be a focal point for a great deal of discussion and debate within the community of those who consider themselves to be Christians - that is to say, those who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus the Christ. While I only wish to address my thoughts to a limited portion of the debate, allow me to state what are some of the many problems.

 

First, the passage is often quoted in defense of believerís baptism; this doctrine says that only believers may be baptized and that therefore, infants, covenant children may not be baptized. Baptists, those who believe this, often quote verse 16 where it says, ďWhoever believes and is baptized shall be saved,Ē as necessarily implying that only believers may be baptized. The second problem arising out of the same verse, verse 16, is the idea that baptism saves an individual, ďHe that believeth and is baptized will be saved.Ē Three, a number of problems arise from the two following verses, verses 17 and 18. Note as I re-read those verses the signs that will accompany those who believe.

 

These signs will accompany those who believe, In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

 

Now, many practitioners of the art of expounding the word of God do not think, on the other hand, that itís worth the preacher's time and effort to explore these issues. They say that this passage, and Iím talking about todayís lesson along with its greater context starting at verse 9 and going through the end of the chapter - verse 20, they say itís not even part of Scripture. Some of the more careful would dismiss it with the remark that it may not be found in the originals. If you are carrying a modern translation of the Scriptures this evening that includes footnotes, such as the NIV Study Bible, you may find a footnote saying something along this line. "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." But for two reasons it would not be wise to dismiss the passage so easily.

 

First, itís not a proven fact that these words do not appear in the original autographs. At the same time that we say they may not be part of the original, honesty compels us to also state the converse, namely, they may be part of the original. After all, they have been part of the received text for nearly two thousand years. The second consideration - that is the second reason to not dismiss the passage too lightly - is that other passages of Scripture, the divine origin of which are not challenged by believing scholars, teach similar doctrines, record similar concepts, as does this passage. Therefore, we ought to prayerfully and with faith, carefully study this passage in order that we might properly understand it, and that we properly understand the overall teaching of Scripture, Scripture taken as a whole, on these subjects. Scripture can be found to be clear and understandable, if we carefully compare Scripture with Scripture.

 

Now, from here on this evening, I plan to restrict my remarks to two questions - the question of believerís baptism and of salvation by baptism. And I will not give each of those equal weight in my - that is equal time in my discussion. To do this, we must first determine if this passage, taken by itself, would seem to teach or allow for these doctrines. Read again, with me, verses 15 and 16.

 

He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'

 

These words were spoken by Jesus to the eleven remaining apostles, Judas being dead and not yet replaced. They are part of the words which we know as the Great Commission. A more complete record can be found at Matthew 28 - please turn there. That of course would be at the very end of the book of Matthew. In Matthew 28:16-20:

 

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

 

You will note that in both versions, that is Mark and Matthew, the apostles, men who were Jewish to the core, and who are living in Jerusalem, the city of the living God, are told to go to the nations, and there to preach the gospel. This is a whole new concept for Godís people. Previously Gentiles were welcomed to become Jews, but the Jews were not commissioned to go out to them. Rather, when a Gentile was converted he was expected to come into the Jewish community. Here we are now with a whole new message and a whole new approach. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ being taken to a new location- out into the world of the nations, the world of the Gentiles.

 

It therefore follows, that there was no generation of previously converted Christians out there who had already baptized their children. There were no unbelieving, but already baptized covenant children out there where the apostles were headed; therefore, there was no need to address the question of infant baptism nor what to do with a person who had been baptized in infancy became a believing adult. Therefore, the passage before us is silent on the issue of infant baptism. One must turn elsewhere in Scripture to seek an answer. Now, I hope to make this the subject of a future sermon. It's a subject that's far too big to handle tonight as well as the other material that Iím handling. Suffice it to say at this point that this passage does not teach believerís baptism, because it was just simply not an occasion where that question would come up.

 

On the other question, "Does baptism save a person?" we will also first look here, and then after we see if this passage speaks to the question, we will turn elsewhere in the Scripture for more insight. This passage, Mark 16:16 says, "Whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved." And then it continues by adding these words, "but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Now the addition to the passage does not say, "Whoever does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned"; nor does it say, "Whoever believes but refuses to be baptized will be saved or will be condemned"; nor does it allow for another possibility by saying "Whoever does not believe but goes ahead and has himself baptized anyway will be saved."

 

You see, the apostles were commissioned to go out and preach the good news of Jesus Christ. Namely, that He died for sin and that He will send the Holy Ghost into the lives of those who are united to Him through baptism, to deliver them from the power of sin, and that those who are thus united with Him are now justified and will be justified on the Great Day of Judgment. Given that statement of the content of the gospel, the very substance of the good news about Jesus Christ, it follows that there are only two options. Either one believes and is baptized or one does not believe and therefore does not become baptized. It would make no sense whatsoever for a believer to not be baptized, nor would it make any sense for an unbeliever to present himself for baptism, if he properly understood the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

So we see that Mark 16:14-18 teaches that belief and baptism always go together, in the sense that adults who hear the gospel, properly presented, and who believe the gospel, will always seek to be baptized in order to be united to Christ, and when they believe and are baptized they will be saved.

 

Please turn with me to two other passages of Scripture. First, look at Numbers chapter 21. Numbers chapter 21, verses 4 to 9.

 

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

 

Allow me to ask you one question. Do you think for a moment that any one of those Israelites would have been healed if he had said, ďOh yes, I believe what God said through Moses about the brass serpent, but I donít think Iím gonna look anyway?Ē Or do you think a person would have been healed had he said, ďOh, this is nonsense,Ē and then just happened to look? Of course not. That would be an absolutely foolish way to think. If one believed what Moses said about looking at the bronze serpent and being healed, they would look at the bronze serpent. If one didnít believe it, they wouldnít look.

 

Another passage confirms this idea. Still in the Old Testament, turn to II Kings 5. Follow along please as I read the first 14 verses.

 

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. "By all means, go," the king of Aram replied. "I will send a letter to the king of Israel." So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: "With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy." As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, "Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!" When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: "Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed." But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" So he turned and went off in a rage. Naaman's servants went to him and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, `Wash and be cleansed'!" So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

 

Now, can you possibly sit there and think, Well, if Naaman had washed in Jordan without believing he would have been healed? Or equally ridiculous can you possibly think, Well, if Naaman had only believed, it would not have been necessary for him to wash in the Jordan? No! No! No! The message of the Bible is believe and be baptized into Christ and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We cannot shortcut the way to God.

 

In summary at this point I need to say, if youíre sitting there thinking, Iím a believer. Iíve given my life to Christ, but I donít need to be baptized, then I must say to you, youíre wrong. Your understanding of the gospel is terribly distorted.

 

Now thereís another closely related error afloat in the modern church. One which perhaps you might also be holding, but one which will get you into even greater trouble. It goes like this. You think, I believe in Jesus. Iíve been baptized. Therefore, Iíve been saved. Now, I can live the way I wish to live, for I have fulfilled the requirements of God and of Scripture for salvation. If you think that way I can only say - Oh, you foolish person, who has deceived you so? Did you not hear me when I said you must believe and be baptized into Christ and then you WILL receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Spirit will deliver you from the power of sin?

 

Listen to what the Scriptures say. Iím going to read four passages as if they were one.

 

ďThis is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.Ē - Jeremiah 21:33

 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. - Ezekiel 36:26, 27

 

....you will be my people, and I will be your God. - Ezekiel 36:28b

 

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin ó because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master. - Romans 6:1-14a [Transcribers note: the end of verse 14 ďbecause you are not under law, but under graceĒ was omitted in the reading.]

 

The gainsayers of this position often pose hypothetical questions in an effort to ridicule and destroy the teaching of the Word of God. Typically, we encounter the desert-island, or the war-times battle, or the car accident version of these hypothetical questions.

 

The desert-island version goes something like this. A missionary puts a piece of Scripture in a corked bottle and throws it in the ocean. Wind and waves transport it to a desert island where a shipwrecked sailor finds it, reads it, and is converted, but there is no preacher on the island, and by and by the sailor dies unbaptized, and therefore according to your position goes to hell. I think our Westminster Confession answers this foolishness in these words:

 

Although it be a great sin to condemn or neglect this ordinance [that is the ordinance of baptism], yet grace and salvation are not so [absolutely] inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated. - Westminster Confession of Faith, 28:5

 

In other words, when the circumstances of Godís providence prevent the actual water baptism of a Christian, that will not prevent his salvation. Neither can the salvation of an unbeliever be arranged by another, as if there were magic in the words, or in the water, or if some other power resided in the one who administers the ordinance.

 

Now in summary, here is what we have learned about this passage so far. First, it does not teach believerís baptism. Secondly, it does not teach baptismal regeneration or the idea that one is saved by baptism. Thirdly, it goes against the teaching that one is saved by faith alone, without baptism. Fourth, we have discovered that faith in Jesus Christ requires baptism as an expression of that faith. We have touched on an expression of an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have not proven all this from Scripture, but we have said that the good news of Jesus Christ is two-fold - Jesus has died for sin, and Jesus will send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are united to Him in baptism to deliver them from the power of sin in this life. We have not proven that covenant children should be baptized, only that this passage in Mark does not prohibit it. As I mentioned, due to the constraint of time, proving the propriety of infant baptism from Scripture will have to await a future sermon.

 

In conclusion, I want to read a few words from the second chapter of the book of Acts. The second chapter of Acts begins by relating how, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the eleven disciples gathered in Jerusalem. Peter then gets up on his feet and explains to the crowd, that what the crowd has just witnessed is nothing less than the promised coming of the Holy Spirit as the culmination of the life-long redemptive work of Jesus of Nazareth, a man whom they in the crowd know. He recited the whole gospel story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus followed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then follow these words from Acts 2:36-39, which I now read to you. You may follow if you have your Bibles opened to Acts 2:36-39.

 

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call.