In two separate conversations in the last few days, I have been challenged in my spirit regarding the dangers of what I call "the slippery slope of compromise." Believe me; I know sometimes compromise can be a healthy thing when you are talking about the color of carpet or paint and items that have no eternal significance. However, in making decisions that do have eternal significance compromise can be a dangerous thing.
The first discussion is one I've had numerous times in my ministry related to believer's baptism and whether or not a person must be baptized by immersion in order to become a church member. In the New Testament, we have numerous clear examples that baptism was always by immersion. It was how the Lord Jesus himself was baptized and the early church faithfully followed that example. The very word means to immerse, to plunge under or to submerge. The ordinance of believer's baptism is a fundamental act of obedience for a person who desires to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. It is one of two ordinances or commands the Lord Jesus gave to His church to observe, the other being the Lord's Supper. It is in the most simple of terms a pledge of allegiance to Christ. In the class I teach on baptism, I tell folks it is like putting on the uniform of a Christian. In the first century, it was how the early New Testament Church knew someone's commitment to Christ was the real deal because for someone to be baptized by immersion, they were declaring to everyone they would be loyal to Christ and not Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. The Romans believed their emperor was a god and called for their subjects to worship him as god. You could be killed for not worshipping Caesar and many Christians died martyrs deaths in the Roman Coliseum for their loyalty to Christ.
For the early church, people could say with their lips they were devoted to Christ all day long but until they were willing to publically identify with Christ in baptism, undergoing the public spectacle of being fully immersed, they were not considered true believers. Why such a stringent standard? Because baptism meant you were willing to put your life on the line for Jesus Christ and die for Him. It meant that in the first century, it means that now in many parts of the world even though here in the United States we're not under a death threat if we're baptized.
Another important point is that God teaches His people with symbols and pictures. In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system demonstrated to God's people the high cost of sin as an innocent animal was killed and blood shed as a temporary covering for sin. Believer's baptism is a beautiful picture of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. When a person is baptized they are picturing outwardly what Christ has done for them inwardly and that their old sinful nature has died is buried and as they come up out of the water, they picture the new life in Christ. Both baptism and the Lord's Supper visually illustrate for us the high cost of sin.
Okay, that's all good theological Bible teaching. Let's get to the real world application of it. Let's be honest. Baptism by immersion is a pain to pull off. At Calvary, it begins on Friday with a volunteer coming to the church to turn on the faucet to the baptistery and letting it run for a several hours to get it half full. They have to come back to the church to shut it off. On Sunday, another volunteer comes to the church early and turns it on again this time with warm water so it is at a comfortable temperature and filled to the appropriate level before the baptism takes place. A couple of men or women volunteers assist men or women candidates as needed getting robes on. The men help the preacher get his waders, robe and microphone on, we baptize and it's all over in a matter of minutes. Here come the candidates out of the baptistery soaking wet from head to toe, a robe slinging water all over the place and the preacher hustling out of his robe and waders to get back to worship in time to pray. Water everywhere, towels galore mopping up the mess. Then still another volunteer takes all the wet robes and towels home and washes them, dries them, folds the towels and hangs the robes with another trip to the church to put it back in place for the next month. Honestly, I'm tired just describing it.
In the church we started in New Hampshire, we used a portable baptistery that routinely sprung leaks under the strain of the water pressure and boy it made for a royal mess. Finding a spot in the freezing waters of the Ammonusec River behind the church wasn't much of an option either. The one time I did a baptism there in September, I thought I was going to drown when I slipped and my waders began to fill. I was sure they'd find my body in Lisbon 15 miles downriver! If I didn’t drown, I was certain I would freeze to death! With every baptism I have conducted, there is great joy in seeing new believers obeying the Lord in complete humility and submission to Christ. The beauty and powerful testimony of that ordinance and the impact of it on those who courageously obey is hard to describe with mere words. I am certain the Lord Jesus smiles brightly as Father, Son and Holy Spirit watch their children faithfully obeying God's command.
This leads me to a recent conversation I had with a man who is currently in a mainline denomination church who has had it with the liberalism that has swept over the church he's been in his whole adult life. He's endured under a female pastor, a compromise he said he will never stand for again. The proverbial last straw for him is that she is determined ordain practicing homosexuals and their "music minister" is a homosexual with a live in partner. He wanted to know if there would be a place for him to serve the Lord at Calvary because he has fought against these outrageous activities in the church he loves all he can. There is no hope they will change and so he must find another place to worship and serve the Lord. I haven't answered his question completely as I'll need to talk with him further about his beliefs.
Both these conversations start in different places but they end in the same place. You see compromise in seemingly little areas as to the proper method and mode of baptism leads the church away from fundamental obedience to the Lord's explicit command in Matt. 28:19-20: "Go and make disciples...baptizing (immersing) them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you." On a practical level, from a human point of view, I understand how churches and whole denominations have said baptism by immersion is just too inconvenient. “Just sprinkle a little water on them and call it a day. Just to be safe, make the sign of the cross on their forehead so God will bless it. So begins the slippery slope of compromise because if Jesus really didn't mean immerse them, then there is probably other stuff He said that He really didn't mean either. He didn't really mean His requirement that Pastors be men who lead their homes well spiritually.” There is no end to where this slippery slope of compromise leads because it becomes very easy to pick and choose the commands we want to obey. Jesus didn't stutter when He said "immerse them and teach them to obey all things I commanded..."
Obedience is not easy, but God honors His children who are determined to obey Him no matter what and who refuse to compromise. It is not easy for this pastor to say to an individual I love that I will only baptize by immersion and you cannot be a member of Calvary until you obey the Lord's command, regardless of the reasons why they can't be immersed. For me to compromise on that issue places Calvary on the precipice of that slippery slope. As your Pastor, I'm committed to keep us far away from that slippery slope of compromise and I intend to do exactly what Jude commanded in Jude vs. 3: "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." Being faithful to obey the clear basic commands of the Lord Jesus Christ in how we practice believers baptism will help us be faithful to obey the more complex ones that have derailed many a church and denomination. Satan is the architect of all this temptation to compromise our obedience to the Lord's commands. Like Jesus, I intend to stand on the authority of God's Word and obey it fully. In so doing, we keep Satan from getting a foothold at Calvary and we'll glorify Christ in our faithful, loyal obedience. I don't know about you but I'm determined to obey Christ, from my little corner of the world to yours...