Journal Mk 16 (all references are from the ESV; changes in punctuation are mine)
Scripture: “And (Jesus) said to (the Disciples), “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”” Mark 16:15-16
Observation: Can Scripture have controversial statements? The subject of Faith into Salvation and something else (like being baptized) is.
How is this subject integrated into the larger understanding of the Gospel?
Analysis: A few years ago, I was asked to address this in a study paper for a pastor. There was an attendant to the local church who was concerned that “preaching the Gospel” without emphasizing being baptized was in error; that is, this fellow’s position is “Believing” without “being Baptized” was preaching in vain and leading people in vain.
So, the basic issue is “what is sound, essential doctrine”: Grace plus a “work” (baptism) leading to salvation or, Grace plus nothing (no work) is doctrinally correct? Distilling the question down to a precise point, “Is Baptism necessary as in essential, obligatory, or even mandatory for a person to be saved” (as the term is understood)? Another way to ask is, “Is baptism optional?”
Backing up further, another question is “Is there room for multiple understandings of Scripture in the larger Doctrine of the Church?” Applied to the “Faith plus Baptism” question, are the folks who adhere to the “Faith plus Baptism” right and everyone else wrong; or vice versa?
The potential conflict is easy to see. This could apply to understandings/convictions of OSAS (once saved, always saved), Charismata, what is known as the “5-fold ministry”, the so-called doctrine of a “Rapture of believers”, dispensationalism, and more—what one fellow believes (sincerely or not) may be different from another and may cause division.
Pastors and Elders (or other church leadership titles/descriptions) have the most difficult time with this area because they are supposed to be authorities and speaking with authority. Pray for these guys.
Someone like me, I get to “study to show myself approved—rightly handling the word of truth.” (1 Tim 2:15). How long does it take to “rightly handle?” As long as it takes—staying in the Scriptures and reading other stuff until my eyeballs pop out of my skull. Study is not limited to the Bible alone; that is why God gave us “godly men” and instruments of Grace like books.
Conviction of a doctrine is not the same as “stubbornness.” Take the physical Earth as an example: I can believe the world is flat because “flat” is all my senses can take in. But, 60,000 miles high, I can see something very different. It can be the same with certain things of the Spirit.
To address the initial subject: Faith plus Baptism is in conflict with “Sola Fide”: Faith (in the Atonement) alone. Eph 1 and 2 are pretty clear that “Faith in the Grace of Christ’s work on the Cross” plus nothing else equals Salvation. But then there is Perseverance to the End (part of the acronym TULIP) that can be a clarifying piece of data to consider.
It is a difficult thing to be comprehensive and simple. I am of the opinion/conviction that folks should want to be baptized as a sign of being set apart from this world; that a “born again” experience has happened. But as an ordinance like circumcision was to the children of Abraham? No. That happened in my heart; baptism is my declaration to the world of that.
Baptism isn’t a stamp of approval in OSAS. It is a declaration of Christ as my Savior.
BTW: this is as close as I have gotten to the original assignment other than preaching in my head. Maybe there are another few thousand words plus a bunch of reading to finish…
Prayer: So many things to address, Lord. Something as simple as baptism can get twisted and applied in error. Even my position I need to hold in firm looseness—just in case You provide additional light later.
As it is, I am glad there are other fish to fry in and for the Kingdom.