Recently, I have been hearing more and more comments by Christians in regards to the need for “sufficient evidence” to be displayed by a professing believer prior to them receiving the sacrament of baptism. One devout elder I was in discussion with even said that, if he could, he would keep people from being baptized until they were 30 years old to allow for enough time to see if the person’s confession was accompanied by “sufficient evidence.” Or consider Tim Challies’ somewhat recent blog post on baptism, where he states, “Churches need to dig beneath the request and the enthusiasm to carefully seek out evidence of saving faith.** Where there is no evidence, there must be no baptism. Where there is insufficient evidence, the church must be willing to delay baptism.” (emphasis mine)1
Mind you, all of this evidence searching I have been hearing about has been coming exclusively from those within the Reformed tradition that so greatly holds to Sola Fide, Sola Gratia and Solus Christus. (Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone) Furthermore, before continuing, it should be pointed out that I do not see what follows as a paedobaptist (infant baptizers) versus credobaptist (adult baptizers only) issue. Both positions, rightfully understood, will still baptize new professors of the faith and therefore this is relevant to those of either perspective. So now I ask, where is the Biblical support for this idea of evidence prior to baptism? Challies offers no direct Biblical references to support this idea (to be fair it is a short blog post), yet, he does offer an asterisk which discusses contextualization that specifies that we must consider each situation and what the individual’s profession might cost or benefit them. We are to use that cost factor as part of our examination of the individual’s evidence. If their profession is costly then go ahead and give them the pour (or dip, that’s a post for another day) but if the profession is in a friendly Christian environment we must wait an unspecified amount of time to see if this believer will be willing to share in the sufferings of Christ and so prove the earnestness of their prior confession. (This was my elder friend’s argument as well) By this logic, one must essentially prove themselves prior to baptism.
How long must this individual wait before receiving baptism? How much testing must he or she undergo? Shall they wait 30 years? Perhaps until they lay on their death bed after a life of fruitful living? I am convinced that this concept of evidence searching is a grave mistake that will cause assurance confusion at best and Gospel confusion at worst. All examples of baptism in the Bible point to the confession of faith and immediate baptism of a believer. Right at the start of Acts we see this. Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost and men are pierced to the heart, “What shall we do?,” they ask. Peter responds, “Repent, and each of you be baptized…” (Acts 2:37-38) Maybe Peter had some kind of delay in mind that would provide enough time for evidence? This would be quite an exegetical oversight as “those who had received his word were baptized and that day were added about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41, all emphasis here and following are mine) Notice what prompted the baptizing? Evidence? No. It was the receiving of the word. Faithfully proclaimed Gospel preaching followed by a reception and confession of that preached word is sufficient evidence for baptizing the confessor.
This is not just a one case example, but the universal presentation of baptizing given throughout the New Testament. Let’s just look at Acts. The people of Samaria “believed Phillip preaching the good news… and they were baptized.” (Acts 8:12) Be sure not to forget that Simon “himself believed” and continued with Phillip “after being baptized.” (Acts 8:13) Directly after Philip preaches Jesus from Scripture, the eunuch asks, “what prevents me from being baptized?” Does Phillip say he needs to display a certain amount of evidence? Did Philip perhaps ensure that Queen Candace would test the eunuch’s confession with some kind of affliction upon his return and therefore ensure his confession was indeed costly? By no means! He orders the chariot to stop right there and baptized him on the spot! (Acts 8:35-38) Continuing on, immediately after the scales fall from Paul’s eyes he gets up and is baptized. (Acts 9:18-19) Literally as Peter is still preaching, the Holy Spirit bears witness to the belief of the Cornelius household and Peter makes a point to ask who could possibly refuse the baptism of water to these Gentiles and they are immediately baptized. (Acts 10:44-48; I will grant that having this specific kind of outpouring of the Spirit is a type of evidence, yet the pattern still follows: message preached, message believed, baptism given) Lydia believes and after her and her household are baptized she then asks if she has been judged to be faithful. (Acts 16:14-15) Without even leaving the chapter, the jailer and his household have the word of the Lord spoken to them and were baptized that very hour. (Acts 16:31-34) The Corinthians were believing and being baptized. (Acts18:8; as a related side note consider that these same Corinthians certainly were not all providing mounds of evidence prior to this as Paul’s letters clearly show exhortations given, post baptism, to live in accordance with their justification, cf. I Cor. 6:11) Notice that those in Ephesus were re-examined, not due to their own lack of evidence, but for the teaching and baptism they had received and upon hearing the full message they were then baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:1-5)
The pattern is crystal clear with no exceptions. The word is preached, and if received, baptism is to be given immediately. Anyone who wishes to argue for a contextual reading that provides for a position requiring evidence before baptism would do well to consider that with the bountiful and descriptive examples of this practice the burden of proof certainly rests heavily upon themselves.
We are saved through the means of believing and confessing, not examining and performing. (Romans 10:9) Let us not confuse new believers in our Lord Jesus that they must bear a certain amount of fruit prior to entering into the body of Christ. Let us not confuse ourselves into thinking this is a tenable position to hold to those who confess Sola Fide. Let us remember the order of discipleship our Lord gave at the Great Commission, we first baptize believers in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and then teach them to observe all that He has commanded. (Matthew 28:18-20) Let us, whether credo or paedo, trust that our Lord shall separate the wheat from the tares and not be so eager to rip out the tares ourselves, before they even receive water, and thus destroy wheat in the process. (Matthew 13:24-30)
We must enogucarge men and women to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. (II Corinthians 13:5) We must be diligent to use proper church discipline to remove the wicked from among ourselves. (I Corinthians 5:13) We must see evidence of faith to be justified before men, (James 2:14-26) but only after being brought into the visible body of Christ for it is not our work nor the producing of evidence that saves! (Ephesians 2:8-9) Christian leaders, I plead with you, do not be let your zeal for a fruitful flock be a cause for stumbling, doubt, and error! Let us remember that Christians mature (Hebrews 6:1, I Peter 2:1-3), which necessitates, or if nothing else allows for, a time of immaturity and growth. Let us do our part to proclaim the message of the Gospel with scrupulous clarity and uncompromising precision while being faithful to remember that “love believes all things” and that includes a new profession of faith. (I Corinthians 13:7) Do not doubt the profession of those who hear the word rightly delivered. Do not keep your sheep from assurance by denying them the joy and comfort of reflecting on their baptism and the glorious profession of faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone that so sweetly and powerfully accompanied it. Trust that true disciples of Christ will be bear fruit and so prove themselves (John 16:8), but please, I beg you, follow the Biblical model and let the wheat grow.
1. For the record I am and remain a big fan of Tim Challies. His blog is certainly worth following, I just take issue with him here and on a few other issues, but overall find myself agreeing with him far more than disagreeing.