Faking It

A story has emerged (pardon the pun) of the possibility that a Evangelical mega-church may be staging baptisms to induce others to baptism.  I think Charles Finney might be proud but it sounds kind of rotten in my view.

You can read the story here:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2014/02/concerning-all-those-fake-baptisms-at-elevation-church/

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47 thoughts on “Faking It

  1. I agree. But I will say that this probably would have outraged me more when I was younger than it does now.

  2. If true, it is rotten.

    Charles Finney was a man of God if there ever was one. I doubt he ever faked baptisms.

    Baby baptism is religion. It mocks true baptism.

  3. I’m under the impression that Evangelicals are pretty loose with the whole baptism thing – as in – they get re-baptized for various milestones – like entering in covenant with a new congregation, visiting the Jordan River – coming back from serious sin etc. Correct me if I’m wrong. (obviously they view it as highly symbolic anyway).

    This looks like something different – a coordinated effort to bear false witness, but if my observations are accurate, it seems to be a lot less scandalous than, say, if a Mormon ward did it.

  4. Of course, whoever is directing this effort must A. think baptism is more important than genuine faith or B. is trying to build numbers for the sake of it.

  5. I’m under the impression that Evangelicals are pretty loose with the whole baptism thing – as in – they get re-baptized for various milestones – like entering in covenant with a new congregation, visiting the Jordan River – coming back from serious sin etc. Correct me if I’m wrong. (obviously they view it as highly symbolic anyway).

    No, that’s 19th century Mormonism.

    Baptism is a one time event in all of Christianity, Evangelicalism included. One exception would be if you enter a congregation that does not consider your previous baptism valid. This is almost always because you grew up in a congregation that practiced paedobaptism but you are now in a congregation that practices credobaptism. You are not re-baptized in their eyes, you are baptized for the first time, because in their eyes child baptism doesn’t count.

    The only other exception would be for Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses becoming Christians. Again, the idea is not a re-baptism, it is a first time Christian baptism. Catholics, Orthodox, UMC, and probably a few others will require a baptism. Some will not.

    But even there it is not cut and dried. For example in the UMC (my denomination), baptism and church membership are unrelated. You can be a church member and participate in the life of the church sans baptism. However, you should still be baptized to receive the grace that comes from baptism.

  6. Those are good specifics David. To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that people feel its *necessary* to be baptized as a believer more than once – but that its not strictly forbidden/discouraged. One example I know of: a young person “gets saved” with a lot of conviction, has some bad experiences with their congregation/pastor, loses the fire, becomes a non-believer, later finds their way back to faith through another congregation and decides to be baptized again. This seems to be doable in Evangelical circles if the individual feels its right, not in Mormonism.

    Also, What is the grace that comes from baptism.?

  7. I concur that many Evangelicals get rebaptized for any number of reasons (including those listed by CJ). They probably shouldn’t, but they do. It’s generally treated as a no-harm-no-foul thing. The actions of this church are a different matter.

    Cal, I mentioned Finney because I believe it was he who made a science out of an emotional appeal in his sermons. This seems to follow the same pattern that the “Holy Spirit” can be manipulated and used to prompt people toward action.

  8. This seems to follow the same pattern that the “Holy Spirit” can be manipulated and used to prompt people toward action.

    Is there a difference between this activity and the use of emotionally charged music, videos, or oratory to spur people toward baptism? Isn’t it all a bit show business?

  9. Christian J,

    There a number of thoughts about baptism in evangelicalism, paedobaptism, credobaptism, re-baptizers, single baptizers etc. In each case there is usually a theological commitment attached to the chosen practice and understanding of what takes place in the sacrament of Baptism.

    This is why I wondered what Elevation Church thinks is happening when they baptise. If baptism is a commitment ceremony, a public display of a promise to Christ this practice of emotional appeal may not be off the mark.

    I disagree with the idea that baptism is a commitment ceremony. I think the idea of getting ourselves baptised misses the corporate significance of baptism but, I think you can tell a lot about people by how they use baptism against people that disagree with them.

    Being convinced that paedobaptism is the correct way to treat the children of believers by administering the means of grace does not mean baptism is a blugen to use in denouncing everybody who disagrees.

  10. This is why I wondered what Elevation Church thinks is happening when they baptise.

    Didn’t the article say they are Southern Baptists? The Baptist Faith and Message says:

    “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”

  11. Right; so while I would see the operation of the sacraments as vital in the life of the corporate body it also does not suprise be greatly for a SBC congregation to be , as Christian J said, pretty loose with the whole baptism thing.

    So before I would go pronouncing this practice a mockery I need to remember that there is a pretty good chance that this congregation doesn’t think of the sacraments as a means of grace. In fact the entire concept of means of grace is probably foreign to them.

  12. Practical and policy decisions. Confirmation of children often occurs in sacrament meeting in some congregations. The decision is basically dictated by tradition but deviation from those sorts of practices is left up to the bishop. A Mormon Bishop could probably hold baptisms during sacrament meeting if he felt inclined and the members went along with it.

  13. Infant Baptism mocks Baptism?

    That’s rich.

    Since God is the One who Baptizes…do you think He gives a rip how old the person is…or what the person KNOWS?

    Baptism is God’s adoption of us. His promises made to us…the ungodly in need of a Savior.

    I find it so odd that ski many Christians can say that God is alive and living in their heart…but yet they deny that the Living God can be present in a bowl of water accompanied by His Word of promise.

    It’s very odd, indeed.

  14. Is there a difference between this activity and the use of emotionally charged music, videos, or oratory to spur people toward baptism? Isn’t it all a bit show business?

    I think this raises the issue in general. What kind of tensions need to be held when attempting to effectively communicate? We don’t want our “acts of the Holy Spirit” to be completely explainable as manufactured effort. Elevation Church appears to be completely calloused to that discussion.

  15. We don’t want our “acts of the Holy Spirit” to be completely explainable as manufactured effort.

    The heart of the matter.

  16. The church’s Spontaneous Baptism Resource Kit sounds like an oxymoron if there ever was one.

    Tim said:

    We don’t want our “acts of the Holy Spirit” to be completely explainable as manufactured effort. Elevation Church appears to be completely calloused to that discussion.

    I’m reminded of the numerous altar calls I sat through as a youth. Even then I thought they were emotionally manipulative.

    I’m not talking about the comparatively benign altar calls they had at Billy Graham’s crusades, even though appeals to emotions were made. I’m talking about events where the guest preacher would spend an hour or more urging people to come forward for either a commitment or recommitment to Christ, telling stories of those who likely went to hell because they didn’t heed an altar call and ended up in a car crash, inducing guilt in various ways, telling how God was telling him that there are X number of people that must come forward that night before the meeting can end, shooting down “excuses” one by one, and so on ad nauseam.

    Reading the sermon transcript included on the page linked to above, I see some of the same strategies I heard so long ago. In some ways it’s more extreme — he even tells people not to pray about baptism first! It’s more perverse salesmanship than it is Holy Spirit.

  17. Eric, your comment brought back a lot of old memories. “No one is leaving till someone comes forward.” . . . eventually someone decides to take one for the team. . . .

  18. We don’t want our “acts of the Holy Spirit” to be completely explainable as manufactured effort. Elevation Church appears to be completely calloused to that discussion.

    Since Finney has come up on this thread, that’s a pretty apt description of what Finney’s approach was. At least that’s my understanding, I’m not a Finney scholar. But this is a short description of Finney’s approach:

    inney says the only thing preventing our conversion is our unwillingness—but he does not call this an inability. Finney’s new measures in Revivalism provided an alternative to waiting for God to convert people. The new measures were not means of grace used by sinners but techniques of Revivalism used by ministers. They involved a deliberate stirring up of emotional excitement, active participation by laity (including women), and praying for individuals by name, sitting on the “anxious bench.” He calls himself a “soul winner,” taking as his motto, “He
    that winneth souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30).

  19. The topic raises lots of questions for me:

    In the context of Protestant understanding of grace, does authenticity in the messenger or mechanism that triggers conversion matter?
    Given the stakes, “any means necessary” may seem appropriate. What, if any, theology guides what methods can be used to evangelize and convert?

    Do results alone matter?

    How do Evangelical conversion methodologies differ from those developed in the LDS missionary program?

    Would LDS methods be seen as a dubious way to spread the Evangelical Gospel?

  20. As I would understand it the neither authenticity, the messenger or the mechanism triggers true conversion, they are the physical sign of the spiritual truth and a sealing of the continental promises of God. True conversion and the benefit of God’s grace, his unmerited favor and the application of Christ himself, can only come by the transformative power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    Stealing a line from Tim I don’t believe the “Holy Spirit” can be manipulated.

  21. I think conversions and baptisms are the wrong metrics to guage effectiveness. I think the goal is authentic discipleship. Emotional appeals alone are rarely effective at producing disciples. So I don’t think the ends justify the means in this conversation.

    Evangelicals continue to use the same missional approach as the LDS church in cultural contexts where it is appropriate. It was by no means developed by the LDS church nor is it exclusive to the LDS churc

  22. We throw it out there…the gospel…in preaching, teaching, Baptism and Holy Communion…and that’s it.

    What the Spirit does with it…who ultimately hears it (the gospel) is up to Him.

    And since the wheat and tares grow together (and look alike)…we cannot know who the believers are, or who the unbelievers are (in our pews – or in other’s pews). That’s not our job, anywho.

  23. Says Jesus,

    “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19)

  24. How do you make disciples? By baptizing them.

    “Ponta ethnae” = “all nations”. It actually means all ‘people’.

    Notice no age requirement. That is how the early Christians could happily baptize “entire households”.

  25. If ‘teaching’ comes after ‘baptizing’, and “make disciples” comes before baptizing…then it makes sense that one makes a disciple by baptizing them. And then the disciple needs to be taught.

  26. theoldadam,

    Of course teaching comes after baptism. I wouldn’t think it would be controversial to say making a disciple (teaching) proceeds baptism. What do you say, “I’d like to baptise you but I am not going to teach you what it means.”

    I think you are creating a disconnect that does not exist in the text. It is difficult to imagine that the Jesus calls for baptism of all nations without without discipling (teaching) prior the actual baptism. This is the pattern found in the Bible before Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch into Christ Jesus he explained he was being baptized into Christ’s death.

    This is not an argument against infant baptism, something I agree with, but infant baptism presupposes a Christian household where the existence of a disciple again proceeds the baptism of the infant. In the 3 (maybe 4) baptisms of entire households discipling of a parent proceeded the baptism of the household.

    All I am saying is the Baptism presupposes prior discipleship either to the convert or to a parent of an infant.

  27. “In the 3 (maybe 4) baptisms of entire households discipling of a parent proceeded the baptism of the household.”

    I wasn’t aware of that fact.

    Nothing wrong with teaching about what God does in Baptism. Nothing at all. But the main thing about Baptism is that it is God’s adoption of us. he makes us His own in Baptism. We receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in Baptism.
    And then we spend a lifetime learning about all that means and it’s implications.

    Thanks, gundek.

    G’nite.

  28. Jared C, FWIW – I served in the Stephen R. Covey/ Missionary Guide era, with all its awkward “will you” questions and “building on common beliefs”. But my first mission president was a big believer in the Alvin R. Dyer school of evangelism- which emphasized a heavy reliance on the Spirit, including inviting people to be baptized after the 1st discussion (a sort of alter call) and avoiding “details”.

    The LDS missionary program is certainly structured and calculated, but its gone though a number of tests and iterations over the years – at various times borrowing from the scriptures, other denominations and of course, corporate America. The “Preach My Gospel” manual is now a pretty good balance of following the Spirit and promoting genuine dialogue and teaching, I’m glad to say.

  29. I agree that the Church has progressed in its missionary methods. I was a missionary 90-92, but I had brothers who completed missions as late as 2008. I think the methodology has progressed.

    The church has also changed its attitude toward baptisms as metrics. ‘Discipleship’ as Tim calls it, is generally seen as the primary goal. For example, my dad was a mission president in Guatemala and there was a strong push from the very top to focus on retention rather than simply baptisms. It is easy to see how the church could be baptizing a lot more people, especially in Africa, by utilizing more enticing methods.

  30. The “Preach My Gospel” manual is now a pretty good balance of following the Spirit and promoting genuine dialogue and teaching, I’m glad to say.

    I certainly think so. It just beats the pants off of the Missionary Guide/6 discussions we used in 1999-2000.

    In particular I think it’s refreshingly honest in its focus on the Great Apostasy, because that’s really the lynchpin for any restorationist Church. You have to convince me that a general apostasy happened before you can convince me that a restoration is necessary, and you have to convince me that a restoration is necessary as a threshold matter in order to even get me to consider Mormonism as a live option.

    Jumping straight to getting investigators to pray about the Book of Mormon at their first or second encounter so that they’ll get a good feeling which you can tell them is the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the objective truth and then have them infer the truth of everything else is just super dishonest.

  31. In particular I think it’s refreshingly honest in its focus on the Great Apostasy, because that’s really the lynchpin for any restorationist Church. You have to convince me that a general apostasy happened before you can convince me that a restoration is necessary, and you have to convince me that a restoration is necessary as a threshold matter in order to even get me to consider Mormonism as a live option.

    Wow, I had no idea it did that. There’s actual truth claims there. That opens up avenues for dealing with my kids (well, my sons at least) that I didn’t think were available.

  32. Wow, I had no idea it did that. There’s actual truth claims there. That opens up avenues for dealing with my kids (well, my sons at least) that I didn’t think were available.

    That’s my understanding at least; it came years out after my mission.

  33. Yep, Lesson 1 goes through Heavenly Father’s plan, dispensational revelation, Jesus’s earthly ministry, the Great Apostasy, the Restoration and the Book of Mormon.

    The end is the same: to get investigators to read and pray about the Book of Mormon, but spending real time talking about the Great Apostasy first is, in my opinion, a welcome change.

  34. Sorry for not responding Tim to your question way at the top.

    When you get older, you have enough dumb ideas of your own that you don’t get as worked up about the dumb ideas of others.

  35. Incidentally, I found people on my mission in Japan were completely indifferent to the idea of an apostasy. Didn’t care about it at all. I generally found you’d get the same results regardless of whether you included the apostasy in the lessons or not.

  36. The apostasy was never an issue on my mission. As a story, it fits in well with the stories that post-Catholic and passive Protestants tell about church history.

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