there is no question that preaching on matthew 28:18-20 is an awesome privilege. it is one of the most treasured texts of the new testament and the defining call to the mission of the church directly from heart of the master. yup. awesome privilege.
…Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you… Matthew 28:19
the command to his twelve apostles to make disciples of all nations is a profound one. i can almost hear jesus say to them, “now go and do it!” the same is true for all of us.
in my study, though, i found something that really bugged me. i studied through a bunch of commentaries, sermons, and study helps…and in my pursuit of an accurate interpretation of this passage, came across a pastor who gave this insight on his blog:
The command in this verse is to make disciples or to disciple all nations. We accomplish that by (1) baptizing them and (2) teaching them. Let me offer an explanation about the instruction to baptize. Baptism is in no way necessary for or a pre-requisite to salvation. However, in Scripture baptism is assumed for the believer. As a result, baptism is many times connected to salvation as a direct and immediate result of that salvation. Baptism was the sign of their conversion. So when this passage instructs us to make disciples by the sign of baptizing them, we can understand that to mean that we are to make disciples (1) by seeing them converted to Christ and (2) by teaching them.
as a point of reference, the passage says absolutely nothing about people being converted to christ. the words of jesus are to simply make disciples by baptizing and teaching. remember…this is my point of reference.
i’m going to admit it right here. i grew up in a theological environment that was often accused of placing too much emphasis on the act of water baptism. there are people in my heritage who have been called water regenerationists (meaning that they believed the water, itself, had the power to save).
i have listened to preachers infer that as long as somebody had been immersed in water, they were good to go for the rest of eternity. i’ve even met a few people who believe that if a person were to die on their way to the baptistery, it would be, er, too little – too late.
even though i don’t buy any of that kind of extreme doctrine…and don’t see any evidence of that kind of teaching in the bible, i will admit to being a guy that sees baptism as significantly more than a theological afterthought. i also prefer to let scripture speak for itself.
there are many groups of jesus’ disciples out there (both now, and throughout history) that want to make sure… aggressively sure…that people know that baptism is not important in the salvation process at all, and that it is nothing more than a non-essential, purely symbolic ritual that can be done…or not done…if a person ever feels a need to do it.
they teach that baptism is nothing more than an optional personal decision that bears no eternal consequence…on a par with bible reading, church attendance, or doing sock puppets in children’s church.
frankly, even though i don’t hold to that interpretation, i can still serve side-by-side in kingdom work and fellowship with those that do hold it. what i do struggle with is people who take the clear and simple words of jesus and disregard or minimize them to support their own position.
the preacher quoted is one of those people.
in his zeal to make sure his readers know that baptism is not necessary for salvation, this is the kind of over-statement that is made. “let me help you understand what jesus is really trying to say…”, as if he needs our assistance to become more understandable.
what jesus is really saying is “make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them”. don’t put words in jesus’ mouth. leave his words alone. they can stand by themselves.
he’s the messiah, for crying out loud.