Among the most common obstacles a Christian may encounter when sharing the gospel is objection to or misunderstanding about the role and purpose of baptism. Some teach baptism for the dead, others teach baptism by the Holy Spirit while others teach that faith and/or grace alone saves us with nothing being required by us. The purpose of this article to briefly discuss some questions we may ask when we’re met with this obstacle so we can effectively be about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49) and follow the example of the first century church: “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42).
As will be seen in the discussion, teaching Jesus is to teach baptism (Acts 8:35-36). Questions must be asked if we are going to effectively teach the gospel to the world (Luke 2:46). After these questions we will look at some tips which may help in these discussions as well.
What is your religious background? It is imperative to not make assumptions about what one believes. Thus, we must listen rather than argue (Prov.18:2). Phillip did this when he first encountered the eunuch. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35, emp. mine). In this section it can be ascertained that this man, like many among us today, was confused about the Scriptures. He needed teaching about the interpretation of Isaiah 53 (vs 30-33). It was at that point that he began to be taught and understood the need to be baptized (vs. 35-38).
Do you understand what you are reading? While this is the exact question Phillip asked it is still a pertinent one. When the Jews began to return to Jerusalem post-captivity, helping others gain a proper understanding of God’s word was needed. “Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:7-8, emp. mine). As disciples of Jesus we must remember it is our responsibility to make sure the hearer understands what we’re teaching.
What is your understanding of baptism? An important component of listening is seeing what one may believe regarding an issue as previously stated. When this question is posed you’ll likely get an array of answers, including but not limited to the notions that baptism plays no role in obtaining salvation, it’s a “sign” to show you’re already saved, etc. Again, with God’s Word as our guide we may direct one to show that it is a burial (Rom. 6:4), an inward circumcision (Col. 2:11-12), and the means by which one is cleansed (1 Pet. 3:21).
Why were you baptized? It must be understood that not all religious groups deny baptism. Thus it is not uncommon to encounter someone who will state they have been baptized previously. However, it may be that they did so believing they were saved prior to their baptism, they may affirm they were baptized by the Holy Spirit after a time of prayer, or a host of other unscriptural reasons may be given. At this juncture the one teaching must gently and humbly direct them to the scriptures (2 Tim. 2:24-26) and show there are no examples of anyone being saved prior to baptism. Saul was told by the Lord to receive further instruction (Acts 9:6), nor was he saved after three days of earnest prayer (9:9); rather, he was saved after he was taught about baptism and obeyed, which led to his conversion (9:18; 22:16).
Why do you tarry? This is another question taken from Scripture (Acts 22:16). Assuming the one with whom you’re studying is still hesitant, this question will need to be asked for various reasons. Some have difficulty accepting a loved one such as a beloved grandparent dying in a lost state. Like the five brothers of the rich man, we also have God’s Word (Luke 16:28-31). When one raises this objection we should lead them to consider what their loved one might say if they could communicate with them. Others may fear the severance of familial relations with those still living as the Lord foretold the disciples would happen (Matt. 10:36). It would be good to emphasize that family is not defined by DNA or genetics. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50) Inform them they will have support (Gal. 6:2). Sadly, others may prefer the temporary, sensual pleasures of the flesh (1 Pet. 4:3). Lastly, there are also those who haven’t counted the cost (Lk. 14:25-33).
Asking questions is a great way to teach. However, some other things should be taken into consideration.
Diversity of backgrounds. Just as our culture is diverse, the culture of the first century was also diverse. This should be considered when teaching the gospel. In the first century, one preached to Jews and Gentiles. When preaching to the Jews, appealing to the Old Testament writings would be common (Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35; 17:1-2). When addressing Gentile audiences, we see an appeal to their intellect and established beliefs (Acts 14:12-17; 17:22-32). While the Scriptures are our standard, it needs to be understood that an agnostic or atheist isn’t likely to be persuaded by the Bible itself. Rather, they must first be convinced of its truth. This by no means advocates for compromise or watering down the message, but rather to show that we need to be adaptable (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Maintain a proper attitude. Affirming the necessity of immersion for forgiveness of sins is sometimes a contentious subject. Like Naaman when he was instructed to dip in the Jordan River, some may become “wroth” (2 Kings 5:11). When someone is antagonistic it can be easy for us to succumb to anger. Yet we must remember what Solomon told us: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). We must teach in love (Eph. 4:15) and contend for the faith rather than be contentious (Jude 3). Is it more important to us to win an argument than win a soul?
Remember not everyone will submit immediately. When studying the Scriptures with others, there will be those like the prison warden in Philippi who will respond immediately (Acts 16:30-33). We should be thankful for such reactions. There will be others like those in Athens who will want to hear more (Acts 17:32). Discouragement will come with lukewarm replies. When this happens, remember it takes time (1 Cor. 3:6).
Don’t become discouraged. It’s easy to be susceptible to discouragement when someone with whom you’ve spent time and energy studying ultimately rejects the message you share with them. It must be remembered that our Lord was rejected (Is. 53:3). Out of all the people on earth in Noah’s time, it was only eight who were delivered (1 Pet. 3:20). On these occasions we must recall we are only responsible for ensuring the seed is planted (Matt. 13:3). God grows it (1 Cor. 3:6-7).
This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions. It rather serves to lay a foundation and direct us to the Word for guidance as we go about the Father’s business. It is my prayer and hope this will be of benefit to you as we proclaim the gospel message to this lost and dying world.
Adam preaches for the Midwest Church of Christ in Ferguson, MO.