Rebranded by Grace
“And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?"”
Acts 8:36 ESV
What if we baptized people based solely on their understanding and acceptance of the gospel? Our current practice can lead people to think that there is more to salvation than faith in Christ. Some would argue that it would not be fair or honest to baptize someone who does not have a clear understanding of all 28 fundamental beliefs. If some of those beliefs were in contradiction with the gospel then it is true such a step would be misleading. But if all of our teachings are in line with the essence of the gospel we should be able to baptize based on conversion (by grace through faith in Christ alone) rather than additional informational transfer.
Instead of lengthy studies before baptism, would it not make more sense to focus on communicating the heart of the gospel, baptize based on conversion, then embark upon a discipleship journey where they would gain insights into what abundant living looks like as well as their calling in the light of the great controversy? Biblically we can only baptize people into Christ, and while we acknowledge this in theory, it should be a more distinctly separate step then we now make it.
Why do we often require people to dress modestly, have the final victory over their habitual sins, and reform their diet before baptizing them? Such a practice inflicts nearly irreparable damage to a person’s concept of salvation. The scripture is full of beautiful descriptions of the abundant life God promises to give us, but the promise is something God has made to us not something we can make to him.
As people accept Christ by faith they undergo some immediate changes, but transformation is a continual process. Rather than placing multiple carts in front of the horse, we must trust the knowledge of salvation to implant faith born of love in people’s hearts. May God help us discard every practice which impedes the communication of the gospel!
If people understood joining our church was not necessary for salvation then such freedom would allow them to investigate our beliefs more honestly and ultimately embrace them more fully. The foundational tenants of our church are thoroughly biblical and our call to lift up Jesus at such a time as this is indeed prophetic, why not let people discover this for themselves led by the spirit after conversion.
Allowing for the separation of baptism and church membership in certain situations is revolutionary because it forces us to face the reality that the body of Christ extends beyond the walls of our denomination. It causes the barriers of our perceived superiority to come down. Out of the rubble of the walls we once found comfort in we would be able to build bridges to extend the beauty of the God scripture reveals to a much broader audience. When people realize that we recognize and validate their connection with heaven as much as our own, our ability to further lift up our common savior will greatly increase.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."”
Acts 4:12 ESV
If we understood that we baptized people into Christ and him alone it changes everything. If people are coming to us seeking baptism then clearly they perceive value in the message we are sharing, but must they take the name of our church in order to be part of God’s remnant people? Let us remember that God’s remnant is defined by love for Christ not an understanding of the 28 fundamental beliefs of our church. God’s last day people have the testimony of Jesus and God’s law of love written on their hearts. The remnant is not defined by knowing which day is the Sabbath but rather by whether or not their hearts beat with the love of God.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I believe the Sabbath matters, if it didn’t God would not have set it aside at creation and chosen it as a constant reminder of his covenant faithfulness. Prophecy reveals that a day is coming when religious freedom will be taken away and that man made religion will be enforced. What we must understand is that God is not safeguarding his elect simply by telling them which day is the right day to worship on. The only safeguard for Seventh-day Adventist’s and every other people upon the earth is to relinquish self and trust completely to a righteousness outside themselves. If we do not allow our glory to be laid in the dust now no amount of biblical insight will carry us through the end.
Some reside in our flanks blessed by what they are hearing but hesitant to take on a denominational identity. Is the tie which binds us our identity as Adventists or identity as believers in Christ? Truth be told, for most within our churches it is the former, but this can change.
What would happen to people’s association with the name Seventh-day Adventist if they learned our fellowship had the same conditions as the gospel, faith in Christ alone. If everything we teach truly upholds the gospel then we should be able to take such a step and lose nothing in the process.
Already we theoretically open the doors of our churches to all. Taking a step which more clearly acknowledges the Christian fellowship outside our denominational identity simply removes unnecessary barriers to the beautiful truths we share. The more clearly we articulate that it is the beauty of the gospel alone that we are trying to communicate the broader the audience we will reach.
Too many Adventists are still confused about the essence of salvation and as a result are unconsciously failing to present Christ alone as their hope of glory. God in his wisdom is keeping as many souls as possible outside of many of our churches in order to shield them from the contradiction of accurate doctrine mixed with failed experience. Churches aren’t dying off because people are hardened to the gospel and just aren’t willing to listen. Christianity is languishing because it has become hardened to the gospel.
When people feel free to associate with us without compulsion they will do so more heartily than ever before. Our denominational name was God-given and has beautiful potential but we must disassociate with it every shred of legalism possible if we desire God to set us up as a light on a hill. We must take the insights given to us and allow them to reflect God’s goodness rather than our superiority.
Often our former evangelistic efforts have filled our ranks with unconverted judgmental people who only intellectually acknowledged the truths we share. But if we free the gospel to reconstruct our approach from the ground up we will have churches filled with people worshiping in spirit and in truth. What we have to share will never be embraced by God’s true children until we get out of the way. Until the truths we have been given are about God’s glory alone we will fail to lift up the savior and see people drawn to him.
>What am I actually saying?
-I’m not suggesting that we lower the bar, faith in Christ is the highest possible bar.
-I’m not suggesting that any of our fundamental beliefs are unbiblical, but simply that they need to be shared in their proper context and at the appropriate time.
-We must still uphold before people the perfect righteous standard of the law
-We do not just dunk people because they responded to an alter call, we take time to personally communicate the gospel. Acceptance of the gospel will always reveal fruit meet for repentance. We point them to Jesus and invite them onto a journey of allowing Him to be their Lord. We don’t ask them to measure up but rather we ask them to accept by faith God’s standard and his promise to transform them from the inside out. I am simply suggesting that we relinquish control of the process and divest ourselves of the role of jr Holy Spirits. We then can walk with people through their struggles and instead of shaming them into submission we can point them to Jesus power and love at every turn.
-We can not shy away from study and discipleship but must raise the bar and commit ourselves to the long term necessity of this.
-We must acknowledge the process of discipleship and create a space for this to work within. At the end of a year we could challenge individuals to commit themselves to a body where they can serve and contribute with the accountability and support of fellow believers.
-We can remove confusion and coercion from the choice to join our denomination and still teach the biblical value of entering into the fellowship of a church family. People need time to search out for themselves where they believe they will most meaningfully connect with their Lord.
-Membership involves another level of accountability which reflects the deepening understanding of the body of Christ and God’s unique call upon the SDA Church to help overcome the Babylonian confusion about God with the truth of his unconditional love as communicated through precious last day revelations of the father.