I'll go ahead and spell it out now: B-A-P-T-I-S-M.
There is such a sameness to churches of all denominations today. They all have the greeters and the welcome table. It isn't hard to find a table full of donuts & pastries. Praise bands across the nation rock out the David Crowder worship tunes week after week. And the sermons are full of reminders to love God and do good to your fellow man. Who can argue with the new formula for success? Today's "lead pastors" have the playbook for growing modern, non-offensive churches committed to memory.
But something very unique was found in the preaching of the first-centuy church which is strikingly absent today. The apostles and those who came after them preached the cross of Christ. They preached the fact that man has sinned, deserves hell, but God in His love and grace provided a way of salvation.
Stop right there a moment, and you can almost hear the objections start to rise! They'd say, "That's what I preach." And probably that's what is still preached in many Evangelical churches. But the preaching of the early church, as well as the early decades of the Restoration Movement included how to enter that saved relationship with God; how to have sins forgiven; how to put on Jesus Christ; and how to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The preachers of the book of Acts preached that these great blessings were received when you were baptized into Christ! And this preaching about baptism for the forgiveness of sins is the key to the puzzle that is missing from most sermons today.
Why tell people they're lost if you're not willing to tell them HOW to be saved? Why tease them with the promise of heaven if the terms of pardon, i.e the plan of salvation is not going to be shared with them? It is cruel to keep the folks in the dark while dangling eternal life in front of them and not tell them how to find it.
The reason the "B" word is avoided is simple: It is offensive. People don't like it. There's no small amount of controversy regarding the mode or purpose of it. We could get along easier with visitors if we don't mention it and stick to the non-controversial stuff. It's better to talk to people privately about it than preach it publicly in a sermon on Sunday. Do any of these excuses sound vaguely familiar?
To run through all of the usages of baptism in Matthew, Mark, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, etc. seems so redundant. Obviously, these verses aren't obscure, or unknown to the Lead Pastors who choose to skirt them. They do so purposefully. They do it to seem more appealing to today's 'seekers.' The stumbling block of the cross has now been replaced by the stumbling block of baptism! How I wish they'd return to the preaching of Peter & Paul who had the strength of character and love of God's Word to dare to preach the whole truth of God. It is still foolishness to some, but to those who are being saved it remains the power of God. And here's my take on it: Preaching about baptism is so distinctive that it may actually attract people to Christ! It may take away the sameness of the run of the mill denominations and the 'cookie cutter' approach to how to 'do' church, and offer an attractive, biblically distinctive truth to our congregations.
Acts 19 is such a key passage. Paul wanted to know if these believers in Ephesus had the Holy Spirit. They didn't know about Him. Upon further examination Paul discovered they had not been baptized into Christ! They were still in need of teaching about baptism which results in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. No way would Paul let them remain in the dark about one of the greatest blessings that Christians can enjoy! But we are leaving too many church attenders & members without the knowledge and assurance that they have obeyed the Gospel of Christ. Be it a gathering of 10, 100, or 1000 we must present the whole Word of God to them. Some may scoff. Some may reject it. Some may choose to attend a church that they find more palatable. Wrong, but palatable! But some will find eternal life! Remember that people also rejected the call of Christ, the preaching of Peter, and the Gospel presented by Paul. But not everyone rejected it. Those who heard it and accepted it found the promised blessings offered by Christ.
A passion to save the lost rings hollow without the presentation of the soul-saving plan of salvation. The "B" word may be controversial to some, but that makes it no less important or essential to salvation. I'm disappointed when I listen to preachers that choose to pass on the plan of salvation. It reminds me in my own teaching that I have the God-given responsibility and privilege to point people to the truth of God's plan.
Let's stop being afraid of the "B" word, and let's renew our commitment to sharing the fulness of God's Word and God's plan of salvation.
"C'mon, Murphy! Let's go outside"