Optional Christianity?

I had a conversation with a good friend yesterday who is considering the topic of water baptism.  He said that he has looked at it and sees that there is some Biblical support for people being baptized but doesn’t think that it is a requirement for salvation.   I have often heard this when discussing baptism that it might be a nice thing for some people to do, might help some people’s faith, but is not a requirement. 

This got me thinking last night – are there any optional aspects of Christianity?  Is any part of following Christ optional?  Things that might be helpful, but not required?

Is this the case?  Let me know your thoughts.

  • Are there some optional aspects of following Jesus?
  • If so, why are they not for all?
  • If not, even when there is not a direct command on a subject, why should a Christian still do it?
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20 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by commonman on June 18, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    By identifying baptism as a requirement to salvation, aren’t you in fact making a new law?

    I think Paul told the Judaizers that wanted to require circumcision they might as well cut the whole thing off.

    And Jesus accused the Pharisees of searching the globe for proselytes, but only creating twice the child of hell that they were.

    By requiring baptism, are you suggesting that God is incapable of saving people who haven’t been baptized?

    “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6

    A baptism requirement just seems inconsistent with scripture.

    As Hosea says, the only “requirements” are mercy and knowledge of God.

    According to Paul all that is required is to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

    Be careful what you “require” and be sure that God “requires” it also.

    Reply

  2. Commonman, thanks for logging on. Should I assume that you feel all that Jesus asks of his disciples is optional? That would seem odd considering what one needs to do to be saved is to have Jesus at your Lord (Rom 10:9,10). He also asked why one would call him Lord and yet not do what he said (Luke 6:46).

    My intention was that we would discuss whether there are things Jesus teaches that in fact are merely suggestions or something that only “serious” followers would do.

    I wouldn’t want to require anything that Jesus doesn’t, but I wouldn’t want to not do anything that would draw me closer to my Lord.

    Reply

  3. Posted by erica lee on June 18, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    “Are there some optional aspects of following Jesus?”

    Is there an optional aspect of breathing… yeah, you can do it, or die. Sorry, but I think it’s the same thing. We can pretend all we want, that we are “christians” and go to our church, and fellowships, pray aloud with these great claims of love for God and his truths, longing to “glorify God, in all that we do.” But what do we do in the secret of our homes? What do we do when no one is there watching? We get baptised in front of those we love and respect, so they can stand by us and correct us when we are falling short… but who holds us accountable to the things that no one sees? Jesus THE Christ, whether we are baptised or not! The one who was beaten to death for the sins that he never committed. God sees everything that we do and we will be rewarded in the end… it is up to us whether or not we are rewarded with crowns and everlasting life with God and Jesus the Christ – or with condemnation and everlasting death. If Christ came back today would you be okay? What is the most important thing to you – something or someone that you would die for??? God wants that spot in your heart and He is waiting for it… but the devil wants it too. Who are you going to let win???
    Maybe the question isn’t do I have to get baptised, but why wouldn’t I? Yes it is an action, and no action can save us from our sins. Or can it? No we are not saved just by grace, or just by works. “show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.”
    We are told that we are not worthy if we are not willing to surrender all…mothers, fathers, sons, daughters…unless we take up the cross and follow Him, we are not worthy of Him…we are not worthy of his death, resurrection, and Kingdom to come. What does that mean to you?? Is that not to us? If it is not to everyone, then who am I to think that it is to me?? Are we not supposed to be separate, different, Christ-like? Christ did not only die voluntarily, he LIVED for God. We are told to not only live like Christ but to be HOLY like God!!!
    You do have an option.. but it is an option whether or not to follow Christ. Once you make that decision, there are no more options. What aren’t you willing to do, be, say, suffer, for God? What are you not willing to surrender to God? If you are a man, woman, or child… God has and will use all, it’s up to us how far we will allow Him to bring us.

    “If so, why are they not for all?”

    To say that we cannot do something is to contradict God… or was it just paul who had a special ability to do “ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST?” Think it’s wrong to challenge God? He will prove himself to you. We can say “that’s not for me” but there is nothing that God can’t do. I’m sure stammering Moses felt the same way when called on to speak to the leader of the greatest nation of his time. God showed himself to Moses by giving Him leprosy (careful what you ask for;)Ever think of what Joseph was thinking when he was in the bottom of a well that his brothers threw him in, or what he felt like when he went from being a favorite son to a slave… or into jail for a crime that he didn’t commit??? Or what was going through the three mens heads who got thrown into a fiery furness for refusing to bow like the rest of their ppl? All I know is that I pray God gives me the strength to be faithful until the end, and that strength is not going to be built in my living room. There will always be adversity, it is then that Gods strength is perfected.

    “even when there is not a direct command on a subject, why should a Christian still do it?”

    Was Jesus Christ commanded to die on the cross? Not in my bible, he could have, at any moment, been rescued by “a lot” of angels. Even with direct commands, we have a choice. We always have a choice, we just have to realize that they are choices with consequences… Life or Death.
    We are at war, whose side are you going to be on?? Everyday is a day that you will never get back, how many days will you regret?

    Eph 4:1-3 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    Reply

  4. Posted by John Becker on June 18, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    How about reading the Bible? Is that optional? Or Praying? Or emulating Jesus? Why is it that when anybody suggests there are things we must do as Christians it is labeled ‘legalism’?

    If Jesus was preaching today people would call Him a legalist.

    Jesus told us to baptize as part of the ‘Great Comission’ and the apostles always baptized new believers. Whether you are ‘saved’ if you are not baptized I don’t know but why take the chance?

    Reply

  5. You do have an option.. but it is an option whether or not to follow Christ.

    Amen sister, we need to get you some more soapboxes 🙂

    Becker, I wholeheartedly agree that people would call Jesus a legalist. Jesus gave many many commands. More than just what commonman said:

    As Hosea says, the only “requirements” are mercy and knowledge of God.

    According to Paul all that is required is to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

    I agree that Paul and Hosea said those things. But to imagine that they said those against Christ is ridiculous. Jesus commanded meekness, forgiveness, peacemaking, holy living, belief in his Father the only person who is God, to seek reconciliation with others, and to seek out others for reconcilation with God. He also commanded to take care of the poor and widows and helpless in Mt 25 (as Paul felt important in Acts 15, and James in his epistle).

    The only thing I could possibly come up with “optional” is fasting. But even there Jesus said “when you fast”, not if. Therefore he expects us to fast. He also said that when he leaves, his followers will mourn and fast. Early Christians fasted twice a week. All these things that people consider “optional” are practically a litmus test to find out who wants to live a Jesus-lifestyle and who just wants. (I refrained from using “Christian-lifestyle” because of the abuse of the term.)

    Reply

  6. Baptism, in my understanding, serves as an outward profession of an inward commitment. I would that it could be substituted by any means of public acknowledgment of Christ’s grace. You might argue that the eunuch of Acts 8 sought to be baptized as an act of obedience, but if you do what command was he following?

    Personally, I think it can be boiled down to publicly recognizing Jesus’ salvation through the cross–baptism being obviously symbolic of Christ’s death and resurrection. I would say that it is merely one way of professing Christ and His role in you life.

    Reply

  7. I think the issue that Jesus had with the Pharisees is often misunderstood. Their problem was not that they were righteous, but that they were hypocrites. Jesus was not against doing what is right rather he was against acting like one is dong what is right but his/her heart is wrong (i.e. just for show). The question, “is this or that optional?” to me sounds like the wrong question to ask. The right question is, “I deserve nothing, he gave me everything, what else can I do?”

    Reply

  8. Sean, I agree. Sadly however, not all share your perspective of wanting to do anything that would please, bless, or glorify God and Christ. But you bring up a good point that is related to this entire question – how does one get that perspective!?

    Reply

  9. Victor,

    Since you asked if there were any optional aspects of Christianity, and since there’s quite a bit of discussion on the issue of water baptism, I’d like to comment. Without condemning anyone or any particular assembly, it seems to me that if we’re still arguing and debating the essentials of baptism, then we haven’t yet grasped the elementary teachings of Christ (Hebrews 6:1).

    That should concern us – since to press on to maturity, we’re told we need to leave those elementary teachings, being weaned from milk to solid meats. How can we preach the Kingdom message when we can’t even agree whether or not we should water baptize? And what about the baptism in the spirit?

    A suggestion –

    In the links that follow you will find the Holy Spirit teaching the 7 basic steps to maturity and the difference between being being “born again”, and “born of water and the spirit”.

    Jesus told Nicodemus we can’t see the kingdom of God unless we are born again. (John 3:3). In John 3:6, he made a different statement. In that verse, He said, “unless one is born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God”.

    Is “seeing” the kingdom the same as “entering” the kingdom? Is being “born again” the same thing as “born of water and the spirit”?

    http://www.holyspiritguidedministry.com/How_To_Prepare_To_Be_Qualified_To_Serve_In_The_Army_Of_Jesus.pdf

    http://www.holyspiritguidedministry.com/Are_We_The_Church_Of_Jesus_Christ.pdf

    Reply

  10. People are at different maturity levels. Progression is the key for all of us to press on. I had been in the church for most of my life but it was not until much later in my life where I actually became committed to the Lord. I would admit that I wasn’t even a Christian for those years before, even though I attended a church, went to retreats, or sang in the chior…repentance and faithful, loving obedience to Jesus was missing.

    So in light of this, since we are not working from the same place that the early Christians were, we are often working to get back to what was clearly and initially presented to them by an apostle.

    The theme of this post however was to address the point of whether or not there were optional elements of Christianity. What do you think?

    Reply

  11. Because we’re all at different maturity levels, I think we’re all commanded to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. I think that if a person genuinely has a desire to know the truth, that God meets with that person and leads them to the straight gate and the narrow way.

    The commands of Jesus are not optional. I think we all agree on that. The problem is we don’t all agree on what the commands are, or what they mean. Did Jesus command us to be water baptized and baptized in the spirit as well? Two baptisms?

    I think He did. I think the keys to the kingdom are right in our hands if we obey Jesus. I also think that 99% of Christians are in God’s permissive will (His mercy) and less than 1% in His grace. I strive to be one of the 1% and I strive to enter the kingdom.

    Thanks be to God that Jesus said that with God all things are possible. Paul said that “whosever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. Does that mean they will rule and reign with Christ? Will some see the kingdom, but not enter? I think that many Christians (who called on the name of the Lord, but never obeyed Him) will enter the Kingdom because of God’s mercy, but will not be overcomers, ruling and reigning with Christ. I think the overcomers will be few in number. I think that’s why we have a 1000 year reign before the new Jerusalem – a time to teach and test those who didn’t overcome in this earthly life.

    I think I think a lot of things. 😉

    What matters is what God thinks. All praise be to Him who deserves all power, might, honor, riches, glory, blessing, and dominion. That includes His Son.

    http://www.holyspiritguidedministry.com/October_2_2002_I_gave_man_a_mind_to_think.

    http://www.holyspiritguidedministry.com/02_15_07_Man_has_lied.pdf

    Reply

  12. Without a doubt the LORD works with those whose hearts desire Him and His ways…thank God.
    We must inquire of the LORD in the Book! This is the source for the truth we are in desperate need of…sadly, people aren’t doing that. People get tricked into not reading their Bibles, and thus avoiding the very thing that provides what they need.
    (for a sermon on the importance of the Scriptures see: http://www.livingfaithri.org/sermons/061707.mp3 – right click and “save target as” or play in the snap preview)
    I think that you are pretty sure that the commands of Christ are not optional. Do you see any verses which water baptism is commanded?

    Reply

  13. Posted by SteveP on June 19, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Well Jesus commanded His disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in His name.

    Paul demonstrated His understanding of this in Acts 19:4 &5 when He compared and contrasted the baptism of John with the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. After that baptism (in water) he laid hands on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

    Every time I see the gospel preached in the book of Acts I see two baptisms when they followed the commands of the Lord. Philip disobeyed and only baptized in water. The rest of the time you can see water baptism followed by spirit baptism, except for Cornelius and his household, who received the baptism in the Spirit first, then were water baptized. Hebrews 6:1 speaks of baptism(s) plural.

    It’s a simple commandment. I think the resistance to it comes because a) many Christians think they are being put back under the law or John’s baptism, and b) they received the Baptism of the spirit by speaking in tongues, so they assume they don’t need water baptism.

    Jesus said unless we are born of water and the spirit we can’t enter the Kingdom. Are we really willing to take that risk because it’s going to come down to that if we willfully disobey His commands. We can’t just plead ignorance any more.

    Reply

  14. Posted by JohnO on June 19, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Steve,

    This isn’t a one issue thread. This is a many issue thread. I’m not going to say that I agree or disagree with what you’ve said regarding baptism/born again. Not the place.

    The point of this is that people just want to do the little they need to. I think Sean’s point was perfect – we need to be asking what more can I do. We have to be the perfect servant:

    “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done {only} that which we ought to have done.’ “ Luke 17:10

    Just because we might think that we are doing something we’re supposed to, we cannot lord it over people to come up to “our level”. We are pushed down, we are submissive to our lord. We have only done what was asked, we deserve no glory, no recognition.

    And to Victor’s question – I think that this perspective only comes about through a powerful encounter with God through the Gospel message. I think this is the essence of regeneration, making a new creature.

    Reply

  15. Posted by SteveP on June 19, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Hi John,

    I hear you loud and clear on the issue of not lording it over people. Especially if we heed the admonition to not think too highly of ourselves. What may be important to me may not be that important to you, or vice versa. What I may go through to perfect my salvation may not be what you need, and so on.

    With that said, we are to admonish and exhort one another while there is still time. There are requirements to enter the kingdom, that much we all agree on. Some believe that all it takes is repentance following an intelligient reception of the gospel. The reason I addressed water baptism was because I believe it’s a requirement to enter the kingdom. If we’re going to say we preach the gospel, and then make either water baptism or baptism in the spirit as “optional to the hearer”, will we not face the Lord’s condemnation as “fearing man”? Why are the fearful outside the gate (Rev 22:15)? Because were fearful of God? No. They feared man, and so did not declare the gospel.

    Think about this for a minute. According to Paul. the gospel was to be preached in demonstration of the spirit and with power. If we preach a gospel that has no power, are we truly preaching the gospel of the kingdom, or just another watered down version? Without baptism (in water and the spirit) there is disobedience to the commands of Christ. Where there is disobedience, there is sin. Where there is sin, there is no power.

    So more thoughts on salvation and doing the minimum –

    http://www.holyspiritguidedministry.com/May_1_2003_Warnings_and_teachings.pdf

    Reply

  16. One reason many people think that water baptism is legalism is that they don’t understand the significance of it. But Paul talks about it being the way which God intended us to partake of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. It is by his sacrifice that we can have forgiveness of sins. We share in what that made available by obeying the command to be baptized.
    Can God save someone without baptism? Sure, He can do anything He wants. But those examples that are exceptions are just that – exceptions – and not the rule. Asking whether baptism is necessary is asking the wrong question. When you really understand the point of it, why would you not want to do what Jesus commands?
    Also, there is a difference between doing works in order to make yourself righteous (which the Pharises did) and doing works to demonstrate your faith. Many theologians have thought that Paul and James contradicted each other, because one said that you’re saved by grace and not by works, while the other said that faith without works is dead. But the way the two fit is that we are not saved by any works that we think could make us righteous. Rather we are saved by faith in what God says, and we demonstrate that faith by obeying His commands.
    He often commands us to do things that on the surface don’t seem to make any sense, largely so that we will not be tricked into thinking that our works in any way brought about the results. For example, He told Gideon to have his (very small) army surround the Midians’ camp, with nothing but trumpets, pitchers, and lamps. He told Joshua to march around Jericho and blow trumpets. There are may other examples. The actions he instructed were specifically for the purpose of giving them something they could do to demonstrate their trust in Him which would not accomplish anything in and of itself. When they obeyed, God delivered them.
    Likewise, getting dunked in the water doesn’t make any sense. There is no logical reason it should make any difference for our salvation. Nobody can get saved by getting dunked. But when we do it out of obedience, it is a demonstration of our faith and trust in God, not to mention our acceptance of His gift of forgiveness of sins. This is why we need it, and why Jesus commanded it.
    I have a whole page on my site about baptism, as well as a written study that you can download from there. Check it out:
    http://www.godskingdomfirst.net/Baptism.htm

    Reply

  17. Mark your site is down. I would recommend Believer’s Baptism on the topic it is very well done. It also covers a good bit about regeneration and how that is linked to baptism. Christian baptism is more than just taking a bath, something spiritual happens, but it has nothing to do per se with water – God has chosen to designate and honor this action with spiritual change.

    Reply

  18. I’m able to go to it without any problem. Let me know if it is still not working for you.

    That book sounds good. I also liked G. R. Beasley-Murray’s books, “Baptism in the New Testament” and “Baptism Today and Tomorrow.”

    Reply

  19. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. The presumption that salvation requires baptism is too legalistic.

    Baptism is important, and for many it becomes necessary to be baptized as a public statement of their faith, but making baptism a requirement of salvation is doing exactly the thing Paul warns against in Romans 7 and exactly what Jesus warns the Pharisees of in Matthew 23, especially 23:15.

    Everything is optional until Christ is resurrected in you, at which point nothing is optional to the will of Christ.

    Reply

  20. Posted by SteveP on June 26, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Commonman,

    You don’t believe that baptism in water is a requirement of salvation because you believe this puts us back under the law of Moses. However, baptism was a commandment of the Lord, not part of the law of Moses. The baptism of John was replaced with baptism in water in the name of Jesus Christ, and baptism in the spirit followed water baptism in the book of Acts. See Acts 19:1-7.

    When you were born of woman, you received the spirit of the Father. When you confess Christ as Lord and are baptized in water, you receive the spirit of Christ. When you wait and receive the baptism in the Spirit, you receive the Holy Spirit. You need all three to be complete.

    Think of it in these terms: upon conception the Spirit of God is in us. All things that live have the Spirit of God. Upon confessing Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior and being water baptized the Spirit of Christ is within you. When you receive the Holy Ghost He is upon you with the evidence of speaking in tongues and then in you.

    To serve the kingdom of God doing the will of the Father, we must have the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost to be His temple. Also the Father gives gifts to the church (1 Corinthians 12:28) and the Son gives gifts to the church (Ephesians 4:11). 1 Corinthians 12:5-7 speaks of the Father being the same God, the Son being the same Lord and the Holy Ghost being the same Spirit.

    Regarding salvation, the scriptures testify that Christ is the author of eternal salvation to those who obey him (Hebrews 5:9). There is a difference between present salvation and eternal salvation which comes by obedience to His commands.

    We will not have eternal salvation until Christ comes the second time and we obey Him in the 1000 year reign that we will not be deceived and devoured at the end. We who have confessed Christ by Romans 10:9-19 do have present salvation at this time. If we die shortly after that confession (the thief on the cross) we will have eternal salvation (future salvation) when Christ comes. But if we have lived our lives for 5, 10, or 15 years or longer never obeying the word of God coming into maturity as stated in Hebrews 5:11-14 and Hebrews 6:1-3 then do we have any salvation?

    The word of God says no.

    Because of God’s mercy many will enter the millenial kingdom being subject to it and not ruling or reigning in it. They called upon the name of the Lord and God being merciful will give them a chance to come to maturity in the 1000 year reign (“with God all things are possible”). After 1000 years, they will be tested and only those who overcome will enter the new Jerusalem where the Father reigns with Christ.

    Better to come to maturity and overcome now in this life, ruling and reigning with Christ, than to be allowed to enter Christ’s kingdom thru mercy, being subject to it for 1000 years, and tested at the end.

    In Christ,

    Steve

    Reply

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