Before Jesus ascended into heaven after His resurrection, He gave this command to His disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them for the remission of sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
It could not be clearer. Baptism is a command of the Lord given to His Church, and it has to do with identification with Him and participation in His death, burial, and resurrection. “Do you not know that as many of you have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death? And, if you have been buried with Him through baptism into death, then, as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, you too shall walk in newness of life.” Baptism is also associated with receiving the Holy Spirit, with participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity.
In all the debates about baptism, whether or not it is a Sacrament, what a Sacrament is, how it is related to salvation, how necessary it is, and so forth, it appears that obedience to the Commandment has been largely lost.
“Baptism is not necessary to salvation” is not a suitable reason – or excuse – for failing to be baptized promptly, and those who, while aware of the command to be baptized, put off baptism because “it is not necessary to salvation” commit a grave sin. Likewise, those who would do baptisms only rarely, who encourage putting off baptism because “it is not necessary to salvation” commit a grave sin. It is a command of the Lord Jesus to be baptized, and baptism at least represents our surrender to Him, that we are crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised with Him. Understanding this, Christians should be eager to fulfill this command of their Lord, and should encourage others to so. “Obeying my Savior’s command is not necessary to my salvation; therefore, I will either completely neglect it or I will put it off, but I certainly will not obey at once, and I most certainly will not suffer inconveniences or worse to speedily obey,” is a horrible witness to Jesus and a horrible insult to Him.
The “Great Traditions” are, here, as guilty as anyone else. Holding baptism to be the new birth itself, the necessary, or at least, primary conduit of the grace that makes the soul alive to God and united with Christ, they yet deny it to those who seek it for long periods of time. One or more years almost always pass before one desiring to enter the Church is given its Sacraments. This is scandal and callous disregard both of the commands of Jesus and of the souls of men for whom He died. Those who earnestly seek union with God should never be denied any help. Those who earnestly desire to obey the commandments of the Lord Jesus should never be forbidden from doing so.
I do not know why very few are eager to obey this command to be baptized. I do not know why so many care more about what one thinks about this or that doctrine than about whether one desires to obey the Lord Jesus. I do not know why people seem to think it more important to be in agreement about what exactly baptism does or does not do, than in obedience to Jesus! To be sure, do not baptize people simply because they asked to be immersed (or poured, or sprinkled, either, for that matter)! Those who request baptism should request baptism – that is, baptism into the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, very God of very God and Son of the Father, become flesh for us men and for our salvation.
There are some who will say, “But, if we baptize people readily, then many will be baptized who are not committed to Jesus,” – others will amend this to, “who are not really saved.”
Do you really think that disobedience will result in the salvation of souls? Do you really think that neglecting to obey Jesus will make you – or someone else – more committed to Him? Instead of justifying disobedience with such excuses, obey what you do know; look, yourself, for where you do not live in commitment to Jesus, ask God for the grace to live fully for Him, and, by His grace, correct it! Being lazy, slow, or cautious about obedience to Jesus can only result in more laziness, more slowness, and more caution, and less obedience to Jesus – never will it result in more, though the grace of God turn even this poison to good! Rather, look through your life, and look for how to apply the truths of Salvation to your own life, that you may live consistent to the Risen Lord and to your baptism, and thus that you may lead others to the same (and expect persecution from all quarters – yes, most from your own people! – for this, but never fear it)!
Or, how will you ever obey Him, if you wait until you have whatever you think is an adequate commitment before beginning to obey Him? How will you ever know more, if you want for what you – or others – have decided is enough knowledge, before you obey the knowledge that you do have?
The Lord desires to shower His blessing on us, whether we are worthy or not. He desires for us to come to Him, no matter how unworthy we may be. He desires to give His grace and life to the most unworthy. It is only by coming to Him, by receiving His grace and life, that any of us can be made worthy. No unworthiness is an excuse to disobey His commandment or refuse His grace.
Let us obey our gracious King, and let us not put stumbling blocks in the ways of our brothers and sisters.