“And he said to them: You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9 NIV)
Unfortunately, when it comes to the doctrine of baptism, ignorance is not the only thing plaguing today’s Southern Baptists. Indifference is also rearing its ugly head. For instance, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican nominee, John McCain, claimed to be a member of North Phoenix Baptist Church, a surprising claim coming from a man who once condemned Christian fundamentalists as “agents of intolerance” and called for their ouster from the Republican Party.
To be honest, I was not all that surprised by a modern-day politician courting and claiming affiliation with those he once condemned; after all, modern-day politicians are creatures of political expediency. What did surprise me, however, was McCain’s “unbaptized” claim of church membership in a Southern Baptist church.
According to Pastor Dan Yeary, McCain, who was christened an Episcopalian, is not a member of North Phoenix Baptist Church. The reason McCain’s name does not appear on the church roll is because of his refusal to submit to believer’s baptism, a requirement for membership at North Phoenix.
When asked about his unwillingness to be baptized, McCain shrugged off the question with the simple retort, “I [don’t] find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs.” Is the importance of baptism open to private interpretation and to be determined on an individual basis by the varying felt-needs of each individual? I think not! Instead, I believe its importance is to be determined by what God says, not by how we feel?
In his Systematic Theology, first published in 1994, Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, urged Christians “to come to a common admission that baptism is not a major doctrine of the faith.” He then proceeded to call upon us to be “willing to live with each other’s views on this matter” and to refuse to “allow differences over baptism to be a cause for division within the body of Christ.” In other words, Professor Grudem wants to know what all of the hoopla is about, since in his eyes baptism is no big deal?
Is baptism a big deal or not? While it may not be as big a deal as some make it out to be, especially those who teach that it is a determining factor in our eternal destiny, it is nonetheless of no little spiritual significance. Contrary to the thinking of men like Wayne Grudem and John McCain, baptism is not open to private interpretation nor unworthy of our defense. It is something worth fighting for!
“Baptism is…critical, important, must be understood and must be practiced. It is not a minor matter and thus it commands our attention today, I think, justifiably. It is a major matter.” (John MacArthur)