More Preaching on Baptism?
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What do you think? Do we need more sermons on baptism? Ask that question and you will receive a variety of answers. In fact, you will no doubt get conflicting answers —depending upon with whom you are talking. Some have expressed the opinion that “all we hear” are sermons on baptism.
First, one need not apologize for teaching any New Testament doctrine. In fact, we are not given the choice as to whether or not we should preach on baptism. As a part of God’s revealed will, and an essential component of His salvation plan, we must preach it (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2; Mt. 28:19). To pervert the gospel of Christ, by adding to it, or taking something away from it, is to labor under the divine curse of eternal punishment (cf. Gal. 1:6-9).
Second, the accusation simply is not true. As a part of the teaching orientation of the church, we try to have a balance of “milk” and “meat.” These terms are biblical illustrations, used in Hebrews 5:12-14, for a distinction in the different kinds of teaching that are appropriate for specific spiritual needs. There is a need for “milk” (i.e., the fundamental aspects of the gospel).
However, for those “who by reason of time” ought to be teachers, there is the expectation that they will partake of “solid food.” Therefore, the inspired writer of Hebrews challenges the spiritually immature to make the kind of progress whereby they would be able to digest teaching that would take them beyond the fundamentals to more advanced Christian principles.
Statements like “all we hear are sermons on baptism” probably can be explained in several ways.
- Some attend a handful of services and assume, from such a small sample, what “all” the teaching periods of our worship services must be like.
- To hear any sermon on baptism is too much for some. Such individuals, sadly, have absorbed the denominational view that baptism is a non-essential.
Unfortunately, that mentality has affected even some leaders in the Lord’s church. C. Leonard Allen, in his book The Cruciform Church, criticized T. W. Brents’ book, The Gospel Plan of Salvation, for the number of pages that were devoted to the subject of baptism, in contrast to the number of pages which concentrated on the cross of Christ.
What a false dichotomy! Whose idea was it to array the doctrine of baptism against the teaching about the cross? Further, what arrogance it is to presume to know how many pages ought to be assigned to a certain topic, and how many are too much. Yes, I recognize the point Allen was trying to make. He alleged that we do not focus upon the cross enough. But the question is this: In order to focus on the cross more, is it essential to focus on baptism less?
A few years ago, I sat in a class designed for young married people as I was traveling through central Alabama. The teacher rehearsed Allen’s criticism of Brents’ book. He also echoed the common criticism relative to the “pioneer preachers’” sermons, “What must I do to be saved?”. One of my written questions to him was this: “How do you know what has been preached on the subjects of the cross, and grace, for the last 200 years— throughout the brotherhood?”
We are living, as Dr. Brents was (he was a physician), in a religious world that largely denies the essentiality of baptism for the remission of sins (see Acts 2:38). While there must be deep appreciation for the cross, how can one benefit from Christ’s redemptive work if he denies God’s plan pertaining to how to receive it? It is ridiculous to portray respected gospel preachers of the past— e.g., N. B. Hardeman, Gus Nichols, and others — as men who neglected the cross, and who were spiritually unbalanced in their preaching. The truth of the matter is, we do not need less of any Bible topic. We need as much biblically balanced preaching and teaching as we can get —milk and meat!
At the same time, there are a few obtuse souls who proclaim that “we need more sermons on baptism” because they perceive that all other preaching is “in the clouds.” Some allege that the reason the church is not growing is that we are not preaching on baptism enough. And so, most any preaching and teaching that attempts to do what the Hebrew writer commanded (in terms of advancing beyond the fundamentals) is battered and belittled. A number of false assumptions are incorporated into this unbalanced mind-set.
- Some would erroneously conclude that “growth” can be measured only in the numbers of converts. One should not minimize the need to teach the lost, and sermons on the plan of salvation, for one minute —as my comments above reflect. However, the pulpit has an obligation to assist in maturing Christian brethren beyond the first principles of the gospel.
The reality is, it is more difficult to prepare “meat” during some of those “front-row/last-minute” preparations, than it is milk! If one cannot see the need for solid spiritual food, there will be little time or effort expended to study and teach it. Where that mentality prevails, a lack of spiritual development results.This is the greatest proof that a steady diet of milk for growing Christians is spiritual starvation.
- Another false assumption is this: if one preaches deeper spiritual truths, he must be neglecting evangelism and outreach. The allegation is raised, for example, that if one teaches on the book of Revelation, or on Christian evidences, he obviously is neglecting the teaching of the lost. Did Jesus indicate that teachers are to focus only upon one aspect of the great commission? Did the Lord suggest that evangelizing the lost, and teaching the saved, are in competition?
There may be a number of reasons why the church is not growing in numbers, and no doubt there are additional reasons why the church is not maturing in strength. We must teach both the lost and the saved; each aspect of the great commission must be obeyed.
As teachers, we must appreciate the diverse makeup of our assemblies, and we must understand the distinct teaching obligations we have to unbelievers, new converts, and mature Christians alike. We are not perfect, and we have room for growth. Yet, we are aware of the need for balanced preaching, and we must try to meet the variety of spiritual needs that are present in our church assemblies.