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INSTANT BAPTISM EXAMINED
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached on Saturday Evening, July 31, 2004
"What doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest" (Acts 8:36-37).
I am going to read an extended paragraph from a modern commentary on the Bible. Then I will answer it point by point.
Philip did not say: "Before I can baptize you, I need proof that your faith is genuine." No, Philip didn't say these things. Rather, as soon as Philip had finished explaining the Gospel and the eunuch had believed, Philip baptized him. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a person must wait a long time and receive extensive teaching before he can be baptized. Nowhere is it written that a person must first prove that his faith is genuine before being baptized. These ideas do not come from the New Testament. If any person, after hearing the Gospel, believes in Jesus Christ, and asks for baptism, he should be baptized at the first suitable occasion and not be made to wait. Only God knows whether a person has truly believed from his heart or not. We men cannot know for sure. Therefore even though we cannot be absolutely sure of a person's faith, we must not refuse him if he asks for baptism; otherwise we will be disobeying the New Testament. Yes, it is possible that a few will be baptized who do not have true faith; but it is God's business to judge them, not ours (The Applied New Testament Commentary, Kingsway Publications, 1997, pp. 484-485).
I am not surprised that the people who wrote that statement are also very fuzzy on "The Way of Salvation," and "Revival." They espouse "decisionism" in salvation, and Christian "rededication" as a prerequisite to revival. In other words, they espouse the modern errors first popularized by C. G. Finney, and brought into the Baptist churches by Jacob Knapp. These errors have ruined evangelism, and have stopped God from sending national revival for 144 years!
Since the errors given in that statement are so serious, I feel we should take plenty of time to answer them tonight. These are the errors that have filled our churches with unconverted people by the millions, and have stopped God from sending national revival to the churches since 1859. I will go over these errors line by line, and answer them from the Bible.
1. The modern commentary says, "Philip did not say: 'Before I can baptize you, I need proof that your faith is genuine'…as soon as Philip had finished explaining the Gospel and the eunuch had believed, Philip baptized him."
Answer: That statement is false. Philip did not baptize the man "as soon as he had finished explaining the Gospel." Oh, no! Philip questioned the man first. Read verse 37,
"And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37).
When interpreting the Book of Acts we must always remember that we are not given every single word that was spoken. For instance, look at verse 35. We are told,
"Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture [Isaiah 53], and preached unto him Jesus" (Acts 8:35).
We are not told all that he said about Isaiah 53. We are not even told exactly how he led the man to Christ. So, the Book of Acts presents a sketch, not a word-for-word description of everything that happened. This much is sure, Philip did question the eunuch before he baptized him. We are given the basic question in verse 37.
So, the modern commentary is wrong when it says that Philip baptized the eunuch "as soon" as he had explained the Gospel. Verse 37 shows that statement is false.
2. The modern commentary says, "Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a person must wait a long time and receive extensive teaching before he can be baptized. Nowhere is it written that a person must first prove his faith is genuine before being baptized."
Answer: This is "decisionist" talk, used to justify sloppy evangelism and lack of care for human souls. The commentary uses a typical "straw man" argument, a trick of false logic. In the "straw man" argument, the opponent's view is distorted so it can be attacked more easily (cf. Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, Wadsworth Publishing, 1997, pp. 129-130).
Notice how the old Baptist view is distorted by this modern commentary: "Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a person must wait a long time and receive extensive teaching." It is a gross distortion to imply that this is what we who follow the old Baptist way believe. We do not believe people have to "wait a long time and receive extensive teaching." No, we don't believe that! But we do believe "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). And I don't care if I have to wait 20 years, I'm not going to baptize you until you are born again! Deliberately baptizing lost people is a sin! That's why Philip questioned this man in verse 37!
3. The modern commentary says, "Nowhere is it written that a person must first prove his faith is genuine before being baptized."
Answer: As I said, this is answered in Acts 8:37. Also, that statement contains another "straw man" fallacy of logic. It twists the opponent's view to make it easier to attack. We do not say that a person must "first prove his faith is genuine." We simply say that a person must be able to give a testimony. What's wrong with that? I have heard beautiful testimonies from people that have only come to church a time or two before conversion. My own wife got saved the very first time she heard the gospel. But should we baptize people who can't give a simple testimony? No, we should not! We have filled the churches with lost people by the despicable practice of baptizing the lost, brought into Baptist churches by Jacob Knapp, a disciple of Finney. Jesus said,
"Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God"
A person should be able to "confess" Christ before he is baptized, as the Eunuch did before Philip (Acts 8:37). Furthermore, the Bible says that the leaders of the church "watch for your souls [keep watch over your souls] as they that must give account" (Hebrews 13:17). Therefore, pastors and deacons should hear your testimony. You should be able to confess Christ to them, and to the church, before you are baptized. A person who has no testimony should not be baptized.
4. The modern commentary says, "If any person, after hearing the Gospel, believes in Jesus Christ, and asks for baptism, he should be baptized at the first suitable occasion and not made to wait."
Answer: In my forty-five years of ministry I have never had anyone "ask for baptism." Some may have had that happen, but I never have. Furthermore, the commentary says, "If any person…believes in Jesus Christ, and asks for baptism" he should be baptized right away. But how does the pastor know that he has believed in Jesus if he doesn't ask a few simple questions, such as this: "What has Jesus Christ done for you?" It is wrong to baptize anyone who can't answer a few simple questions like that.
At this point I should say that it is wrong to base a practice on something that is taught solely in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts is a history of what happened in the churches. It is not a manual of doctrine. If you take the Book of Acts as a manual of doctrine you will cast "lots" to select church officers (Acts 1:26), send "handkerchiefs or aprons" to heal the sick (Acts 19:12), and practice a form of communism in the local church (Acts 2:44). All three of those things were done in the early church - but they are not binding on us today, because they are not taught in the epistles, only given in the history of what happened in the early days of Christianity, in the Book of Acts. They are not given as binding rules on the churches today. So, also, the way they baptized in the Book of Acts is not binding on us today.
The true motive for following Jacob Knapp, Finney's Baptist disciple, in "instant baptism," is similar to that of a used car salesman, who wants you to buy the car "on the spot," before you can go home and think about it, and have "buyer's remorse." But baptizing everyone "on the spot" when they "come forward" has been disastrous since Jacob Knapp introduced this procedure in the nineteenth century. Millions of people have been baptized without knowing Christ. My own mother was baptized by a Finney/Knapp Baptist preacher as a nine-year-old girl, without anyone asking her a few simple questions to see if Jesus Christ had done anything for her. She remained lost for another seventy years. Thank God she finally got saved at the age of eighty! I gave her "believer's baptism" seventy years after she had a false baptism, because no one took a few minutes to see if she had trusted Jesus. A few simple questions would have revealed that she was unfit for baptism as a girl, questions like, "What has Jesus Christ done for you?" or "If you died tonight and stood before God, and God said to you, 'Why should I let you into my Heaven?' what would you say?" People who can't answer simple questions like that are not saved people. You cannot give "believer's baptism" to unbelievers without ruining the churches.
5. The modern commentary says, "Only God knows whether a person has truly believed from the heart or not. We men cannot know for sure. Therefore, even though we cannot be absolutely sure of a person's faith, we must not refuse him who asks for baptism; otherwise we will be disobedient to the New Testament."
Answer: That sounds good, but it is actually quite wrong. If "we men" cannot know if a person is a believer, how is it that we are commanded,
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers"
(II Corinthians 6:14)?
How can we tell who is an unbeliever if "only God knows"? That is a serious question, one that I have never heard an advocate of "instant baptism" answer adequately.
When a young couple are thinking of marriage, does not the pastor seek to find out if they are saved? Or does he perform a marriage between a girl in his church and some boy he doesn't know with no questions asked? And if he questions the boy before he performs the marriage, shouldn't he also question the candidate for baptism and church membership? I think the answer is obvious.
What if I put the word "marriage" in place of the word "baptism" in the quotation from the modern commentary? It would then say, "Only God knows whether a person has truly believed or not - therefore we must not refuse him who asks for marriage." That kind of advice would be ruinous to the young people in our churches. And I say that it has been ruinous to church membership, since Jacob Knapp introduced "instant baptism" to our Baptist churches in the nineteenth century.
Dr. Thomas K. Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida, says,
In the 1830s Jacob Knapp introduced the practice of instant baptism and membership to Baptist churches in the…United States. Prior to this it was common for professed converts to be examined by church officers or a church committee before they would be admitted to baptism and membership (Thomas K. Ascol, Ph.D., The Founders Journal website, Issue 22, 1995).
I think it is high time for us to go back to the old paths!
C. H. Spurgeon is undoubtedly the most famous Baptist pastor who has ever lived. Here is the way he added members to his congregation. You will notice that his method of adding members was unaffected by Jacob Knapp.
Candidates for church membership have an interview with one of the elders, some of whom attend the Tabernacle for that purpose every Wednesday evening. A record is made…of the result of that interview in what is called the Inquirer's Book. If satisfied with the candidate he gives a card, which qualifies for direct intercourse with Mr. Spurgeon, who devotes a fixed portion of that time to his office. If Mr. Spurgeon thinks favorably of that individual, the name is announced at a church meeting, and visitors are appointed to make the most careful inquiries into the whole circumstances connected with the application [for baptism and membership]. If this investigation is satisfactory, the candidate appears at a church meeting where he is examined by the pastor, after which he retires, and the visitor gives his report upon the case. It is then proposed to the church for his adoption, and if approved, the pastor gives the right hand of fellowship. As soon after this as convenient, the candidate is baptized… ("Metropolitan Tabernacle Statistics," The Sword and the Trowel, Volume One: Years 1865, 1866, 1867, Pilgrim Publications, 1975, Year 1865, page 19).
Spurgeon's way was what Baptists did in the past. Either Spurgeon was wrong or modern "instant baptism" churches are wrong. I close this message without further comment.
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