John Piper is a Baptist, so obviously this Lutheran is not inclined to agree with him about Baptism. But I have one earnest question about Baptist doctrine that any evangelical could take a stab at: Where does the Bible teach that Baptism is a symbol -- and our symbol at that? Where does the Bible tell us that Baptism is something we do to confess our faith in Christ?
At Bethlehem Baptist Church, which is John Piper’s church, this doctrine is presented in the Elder Affirmation of Faith: “We believe that baptism is an ordinance of the Lord by which those who have repented and come to faith express their union with Christ in His death and resurrection…” (To find this place in the document, click the link and find paragraph 12.3.)
At around the 8:30 mark in the first video below John Piper says, “Baptism expresses union with Christ in His death and resurrection. We get this from Romans 6 verses 3 and 4.”
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
After reading it word-for-word Piper looks up and says, “The wider context of Romans (that’s Romans 6, the wider context of Romans) would say that it would be a mistake if you concluded from this that water baptism is the instrument or the means by which we are united to Christ. In Romans FAITH is the means by which we are united to Christ and justified. ‘Therefore having been justified BY FAITH…’” Moving over to the first 56 seconds of the second video, he goes on for a while about the efficacy of faith, which Lutherans don’t deny, and then he says, “So I don’t want to construe these verses [Rom. 6:3-4] in a way that would contradict the main message of the book… We show this faith, we signify it, we symbolize it in the act of Baptism.”
Does Romans 6:3-4 say that Baptism is a means “by which those who have repented and come to faith express their union with Christ in His death and resurrection”?
No. John Piper admits that it says something else when he says, “[I]t would be A MISTAKE” to conclude “that water baptism is the instrument or means by which we are united to Christ.”
Now... Doesn’t that go without saying? What person in his right mind would think that a ritual bath can be the thing that unites us to Christ? Well… a person who had just read Romans 6:3-4 might come to that conclusion, because that is what the text actually says according to its plain, literal meaning. And John Piper knows what the text says. He knows that it does not support the doctrine he is trying to teach, so now he has to convince his Christian flock to believe that it means something other than what it says.
When you go back and add verses 1 and 2 to 3 and 4, the plain meaning of the text becomes even more clear and emphatic. The Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Did you catch that? “…WE WHO DIED TO SIN…” It did happen. We are dead to sin. We died when “WE WERE BURIED” -- past tense, passive voice -- with Christ into death. We didn’t do this thing. It wasn’t our work. It was something done to us. When? Where? How? The Scripture says, “BY BAPTISM.”
John Piper says it would be “a mistake” to accept and believe the literal meaning of the words in the text. It would be wrong to confess what Scripture says: “Baptism does those things.” We must instead say, “Baptism does those things symbolically.”
His reason? Piper says that without this modification the text of Romans 6 “would contradict” the biblical doctrine of salvation through faith alone. “It can't be true!”
Does the Bible teach salvation by faith alone? Yes, it most certainly does. Is there a conflict or contradiction between salvation through faith alone and the literal meaning of the text in Romans 6? I would say, “No,” but it is not my turn to argue. The burden of proof belongs to the one making the assertion, and the presumption of the reader must necessarily be to assume that the contradiction does not exist. When the Holy Spirit inspires language that clearly and plainly points to the efficacy of Baptism -- to that which Baptism does, what it accomplishes in salvation, we must presume the absence of conflict and contradiction between this and other clear teachings of Scripture. We must presume that the Holy Spirit did not make the mistake of giving us a contradiction.
Does John Piper rise to the occasion? Does he meet the challenge and present any kind of evidence in support of his asserted contradiction? No. He distracts the audience by comparing Baptism to a wedding ring; and it’s not a bad analogy, but it does not come from Scripture. It comes from John Piper’s imagination. To make it work he denies that the wedding ring has any kind of active or efficacious role in marrying a man and woman -- even though the ceremony says, “With this ring I thee wed.” Again, ordinary grammar would lead you to believe that the ring is participating in some active and meaningful way in the work of marrying the bride and groom. John Piper simply asserts that it doesn’t, admitting that this is just his own opinion. And all of this is completely off-topic. None of it has anything to do with the unsubstantiated claim that there is a contradiction between baptismal regeneration in Romans 6 and the biblical doctrine of faith alone. Without the contradiction this John Piper's Baptist doctrine finds nothing in Romans 6 to stand on.
When John Piper said, “We get this from Romans 6 verses 3 and 4,” it raised some hope that I might finally hear a biblical argument for the evangelical doctrine that says Baptism is something we do to symbolize and confess our faith in Christ. Instead John Piper set Romans 6 at odds with the rest of the book, so that he could add the word “symbolically” into a text where it does not appear. What we got was an anti-biblical argument. If someone so imminently qualified as John Piper cannot teach this article of his faith from the Bible, I am more convinced than ever before that there is no support in Scripture for this teaching. Those who are teaching it need to repent, and believe the Word of God.