************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 21, 2012
Nicene Creed 15
"We Affirm One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins"
I've been keeping the following email for this sermon. I won't say who it is from or whom it is about.
"It is with overflowing gratitude to the grace of God, working wonderfully in [our son], that we announce his desire and intention to receive the sacrament of Baptism on Sunday evening, July 29, at the Cedar Lake Ministries campground. Subsequently he will be welcomed into full membership in the Bethel church at the morning service August 5. May our covenant God continue to surround him with the joy and realization he is a valued child of God, heir to all the riches of His grace promised in this life and the eternal life to come."
I am excited about this announcement. And, I am saddened and even upset about this announcement.
I am excited the person in question is joining the church. I am also saddened. But not by his immersion in the waters of Cedar Lake – for the method of baptism makes no difference to me or anyone who is Reformed.
I am saddened that the same parents who presented him for infant baptism are the ones who now praise his rebaptism. Do these parents even realize what they are saying? Does this dad realize this viewpoint makes him ineligible to hold office in the Christian Reformed Church, the United Reformed Churches, and many other Reformed and Presbyterian Churches? Does this dad realize this viewpoint can even be grounds for eventual discipline if he does not recant his words of approval?
I am saddened, also, for the person in question that he "feels" the need to be rebaptized. I am saddened that he doesn't think his baptism as a child is good enough. I am saddened that he has adopted, without question or problem, the Baptist way of looking at things.
Parents, you need to warn your children about what happens if they date and marry someone who is not Reformed and end up leaving the Reformed Church. There is a very good chance that they will face pressure to be rebaptized. There is a very good chance they will be told their baptism as an infant is not good enough. There is a very good chance they will be urged to undergo "believer's baptism" in order to join whatever church they are attending.
Anthony & Jenise, you presented your baby, Jason Blake, for baptism this morning. As parents, you need to tell your child the meaning of baptism. As parents, you need to tell your child that only one baptism is needed. As parents, you need to remind your child, again and again, that he doesn't need to be dunked, sunked, or immersed as an adult to complete what was done today.
We continue our study of the Nicene Creed this morning. With the church of all ages, what do we say, what do we confess to the world? "We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." That is our confession as Christians. Not just as Reformed Christians. That is the confession of most Christians throughout the world and throughout the ages. Living in America, we might think we are the only church that practices infant baptism. Living in America, we might think most churches practice "believer's baptism." But that is simply not the case.
I We Affirm
A "We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." I don't know if you noticed it, or not, but in this article the Nicene Creed changes gears on us. Up to this point, everything comes under the heading of "We believe." We believe God the Father is the almighty Maker of heaven and earth. We believe that for us and our salvation Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, that He suffered and died and rose from the grave, that He will come again as Judge. We believe that the Spirit is fully God and is the Lord and Giver of life. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. All of this – and more – we believe.
But, notice, now "We affirm." Is there a difference? And, if so, is this difference important?
"We believe ..." "We affirm ..." The fathers of Nicea did not throw words around like the makers of crossword puzzles. This is not a case of someone digging out their thesaurus so there is variety of expression and language. This is not a game of Scrabble that they were playing. The men at Nicea chose their words carefully and thoughtfully.
B "We believe ..." Everything we confess to "believe" is absolutely essential to our faith. We cannot call ourselves Christian if we fail to believe anything that Nicea mentions as an article of belief. In fact, we cannot even have the expectation of salvation if we fail to believe what Nicea confesses as an article of belief.
"We affirm one baptism ..." This change in verbage tells us "one baptism" is important – otherwise it would not be included in the Creed – but it is not absolutely important. This change in verbage alerts us to the fact that you can think wrongly about baptism but your salvation is not at stake. This change in verbage tells us to be patient and loving and kind with those who mistakenly deny one baptism. To use a phrase that I have come to dislike, the doctrine of one baptism "is not a salvation issue."
II One Baptism
A "We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." What exactly does it mean to affirm "one baptism"? The phrase "one baptism" says something to Pentecostals, something to Baptists, and something to those who are Reformed and Presbyterian.
"We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Let's first look at what this line of the Creed says to Pentecostals. You may know that Pentecostals claim there is water baptism and there is also baptism by the Spirit. In other words, they believe in two baptisms. The Bible does not know one baptism by water and then another baptism by the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Bible does not know the well-known and often-said Pentecostal expression, "baptism in the Spirit" or "baptism with the Spirit"; this expression is not to be found anywhere in the Bible. Those who are Pentecostal declare every believer must follow the pattern of faith, water baptism, and then baptism with the Holy Spirit.
The Pentecostal viewpoint stems from a misunderstanding of John the Baptist. John said,
(Mt 3:11) I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Poor John. He was a great prophet; in fact, he was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets (Lk 7:28). Yet, he was only an Old Testament prophet.
(Lk 7:28) I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.Why is John so little in the kingdom of God? Because John's baptism is only a baptism with water. Because the Spirit has not been poured out upon John.
Compare John the Baptist to Jesus. At His baptism by John, Jesus was anointed with the Spirit and the Spirit was fully poured out upon Him – the first person to be so anointed. And, because of the death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus all believers are also anointed and filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given to all in the new covenant. No exception. Telling us what? Telling us the Holy Spirit is not a separate blessing. Telling us the Holy Spirit is not a different blessing. Telling us the baptism of the Spirit is not something that happens after you have come to faith and been baptized with water.
"We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." In other words, the Creed says the Pentecostals are wrong in claiming there are two baptisms.
Let me sound a note of caution by reminding you that "We affirm" one baptism. We need to be patient and loving and kind with those who disagree with us. Our view on one baptism is important but it is not absolutely important.
B "We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." This line of the Creed also says something to those Baptists who insist on rebaptism for those who were baptized as children.
Again, let me sound a note of caution by reminding you that "We affirm" one baptism. Again, we need to be patient and loving and kind with those who disagree with us. Again, our view on one baptism is important but it is not absolutely important. Having said that, however, the seriousness of rebaptism should not be minimized. We are not dealing with a minor point of doctrine or a theological nicety. Rather, we are confronted with a rejection of a basic Reformed teaching which is deeply rooted in our understanding of the unity of the Old and New Testaments. Since the Reformation, Reformed churches have affirmed the practice of the early church by baptizing infants.
All of this is challenged by those who have themselves rebaptized. Those who are rebaptized reject the validity of their infant baptism. Those who are rebaptized declare that the baptism of infants is not an action of God in the midst of His people.
As you know, we believe that baptism takes the place of circumcision. So, it should not surprise us that what happens at baptism is very similar to what happens at circumcision.
By it we are received into God's churchOur Bible reading from Romans 6 reminds us that in baptism we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection.
and set apart from all other people and alien religions,
that we may be dedicated entirely to him,
bearing his mark and sign.
It also witnesses to us
that he will be our God forever,
since he is our gracious Father.
(Belgic Confession Article 34)
How many times are we to be received into God's church? How many times are we to be united with Christ in His death and resurrection? This is a one time act just like Christ's death and resurrection were a one time act, never to be repeated. Can you imagine getting married and the next year exchanging your vows and signing the marriage license again? Of course not! One baptism, and only one baptism, is all that we need.
"We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." In other words, the Creed says those who believe in rebaptism are wrong.
C This line of the Creed also says something to those who are Reformed and Presbyterian. We need to be reminded there is one baptism. Whether baptism is celebrated before throngs at Easter or in a lonely hospital room, whether with the running water of a river or with the sprinkled water of a baptismal font, baptism is one. Despite all our differences about the manner and timing, baptism is one.
Baptism is one. Which means we accept the baptism of other churches and traditions. Just so long as baptism has been done in the name of the triune God by an ordained representative of the church we accept what has been done.
III For the Forgiveness of Sins
A "We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Let's end by looking at the connection between baptism and the forgiveness of sins.
This line of the Creed does not tell us we are forgiven and saved because we are baptized. This line of the Creed does not say that it is the water of baptism that saves us. In the same way, of course, it is not the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper that saves us. And likewise, in the Old Testament, it was not the cutting of circumcision that brought salvation. We do not give saving credit to outward acts. We do not believe we are saved by ceremonies – whether it is baptism, Lord's Supper, or circumcision.
Baptism, in and of itself, is a powerful message on how sin is forgiven. Baptism reminds us and shows us that we are saved by being joined with the death and resurrection of Christ. There is no other way. Only through Christ are men's sins forgiven.
B "We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." We are saved by Christ – and, we are saved as part of the church. Let me repeat something I said last Sunday night about the one holy catholic and apostolic church. In the New Testament, saved people do not say "I am going to heaven"; rather, they say "I am among the people God is saving." And, this does not happen apart from baptism. Saved people, forgiven people, receive the one baptism and by this are joined to the one holy catholic and apostolic church.
Or, let me put it this way: baptized people are forgiven people. How can we say this? Because they are baptized into the church, which is the community God is saving. Or, to put it one other way: One of the marks of forgiveness is church membership which does not happen apart from baptism. Of course, if this actually is the case, says Paul, then we must count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:10).
C "We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Baptism also says something about the human condition. Many today have virtually abandoned the notion of personal sin that is the result of personal choice. Instead, it is a sickness, a pathology, from outside of us due to genes or environment. We are simply people who have somehow gotten sick. What we need is to get free of unhealthy influences.
Or, we sin not because we are selfish and self-seeking but because we have not nurtured our own best potential, because we have neglected our own dreams and allowed others to make excessive demands on our time and energy. We must therefore "forgive ourselves" in order to become healthy and whole again.
Or, we have been sinned against. Often and massively. Our traumas are many. So the bulk of our life must be spent in recovery and twelve-step programs. A big part of this involves identifying the key people to blame for our past.
"We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Compared with these false and heretical viewpoints, how clean and crisp is the message of the Gospel. The good news of the Gospel begins with the recognition that I am a sinner who needs to repent; I am a sinner who needs to be washed by the blood of Christ and renewed by the Spirit of Christ. I am a sinner who needs, by baptism, to join the people God is saving.
"We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." I know I keep saying this, but please remember this is what we "affirm." We need to be patient and loving and kind with those who disagree with us. Our view on one baptism is important but it is not absolutely important.
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