WHEN A GOOD THING BECOMES LAW David Pawson’s teaching on water baptism

David criticizes people who talk about “receiving Jesus”. But David ignores many passages of the NT. Consider John 1:11-13. “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (and no mention of baptism there).

David teaches that if not water-baptised one is not really ‘born again’ or ‘saved’ (https://youtu.be/wFuJa5n3hAU). He says all four things: repentance, faith, water-baptism and receiving the Spirit are necessary to have eternal life. Let’s look at the implications of his doctrine . . . .

Thus, if you have not been baptised, despite being a disciple of Jesus, you do not have eternal life. You are not sanctified, not a child of God. David doesn’t state this outright but these are the implications: you are condemned, heading for eternal separation from God. Thus if not baptised, in David’s view, you do not have eternal life. You may have experienced the Baptiser in the Holy Spirit but if not water baptised your experience of the Holy Spirit means little. You may have had a lifetime of the fruits of the Spirit but unless you are water baptised you will be rejected.

I know that many teachers insist that baptism is not merely symbolic. But if it is a ‘means of grace’ and deemed necessary for salvation, it comes close to the Roman Catholic doctrine known as ‘baptismal regeneration’. The NT is silent about whether baptism is just “symbolic”. Symbolism and metaphor abound on the lips of Jesus and are frequently used by the apostolic writers. Symbolism is important and should not be ignored. Symbols transmit truth.

It is clear that the first believers practised water-baptism and we ought to follow their example.  In fact we ought to follow their example in many practices which are ignored. We think we know better. Shame.

But to demand that believers be water-baptised to make them “saved” or to get them “into the Kingdom” is to introduce something that sends every unbaptised believer to condemnation. Can you imagine the Father saying to such ‘well sorry you missed getting baptised so there’s the door—depart from me!”?

Is that really what God our Father is like—a despot who watches to see if His children who receive His Son then fail to be baptised and then sends them to everlasting punishment? NO. It’s all about relationship with Jesus and the Father and abiding in Christ, being in Him and He in us.

Millions of Jesus’ precious, devoted saints assume that baptism is symbolic. They know they have experienced washing of regeneration, assurance of salvation, forgiveness of sins, victory over sin and have entered into eternal life in Jesus—having “received Jesus” (John 1:12) they go through life without any conviction they are lacking water-baptism.

We may persuade others to be baptised but to insist on this is deeply divisive. They have a walk with Jesus. They have a conscience. They also have the Holy Spirit. We can encourage people rather than insist. Commanding to be water baptized can put people under pressure especially if salvation depends on it! Commands bring condemnation, but encouragement strengthens and enables us to obey God and that’s Grace. People can then be open to God who can lead believers to be water baptized.

Are we going to be condemned over the adherence of a doctrine or not? If we are, then it’s doctrine that saves us and not the holy name and sacrifice of Jesus. Read John 1:11-13 again, and 1 Peter 1:3—and the whole of the New Testament. Otherwise we get only part of the picture.

I am persuaded that when we join the great throngs in the new world praising the Father and the Lamb we will meet John Wesley, Geo Whitfield, Charles Finney, General William Booth and the millions who embraced their teachings, together with witnesses, reformers, evangelists, prophets, revival leaders, and so on.

12 responses to “WHEN A GOOD THING BECOMES LAW David Pawson’s teaching on water baptism

  1. Hi Ian I find you misrepresent David Pawson’s views.

    He explains that the John 1 reference to receiving Jesus relates to a literal receiving of Jesus (by Jews: His own) during His time on earth. I see that this is the only reference to “receiving Jesus” that can be found to refute Pawson’s view, but context of that reference needs to be taken into account.

    Also regarding baptism he does not teach that a person has to be baptised to be saved. From my understanding, Pawson actually questions the idea that people become “born again” and are “saved” by fulfilling certain individual acts; like stepping over a line from unsaved to saved. He teaches that full salvation is the end result of continuing faithfulness to Jesus and not the result of a one time decision.

    Repentance, Belief, Baptism (water) and Receiving the Holy Spirit are four basic God given requirements given to enable us to maintain a faithful Christian life. We may very well struggle along without one or two of them, but as Pawson describes it, it’s like trying to drive a four cylinder car with only two cylinders firing. You might still get to a destination, but not as comfortably, and there’s more chance of “engine failure” curtailing the journey with the added stress forced upon the working cylinders.

    • Ian, maybe it would have been more accurate for me to have said that you “misunderstand” Pawson’s views rather than “misrepresent”.

      The original word choice could seem to infer an intent to mislead that I know isn’t the case.

      • Thanks Onesimus for your comments. Perhaps I have not absorbed David Pawson’s doctrine as he intended. I hope I can be forgiven. Please understand my concerns are raised because there are persons known to me who point to Pawson’s teaching as sure truth and insist, sometimes dogmatically that baptism is necessary for truly being in Christ. I think I have said enough about this. I am persuaded that there is a simplicity in the gospel of Christ which we today tend to complicate by presenting hearers with a sure-fire plan of 3 points, or 4 points or whatever (remember the ‘4 spiritual laws’?) to make sure all bases are covered. And the more we want to “simplify” the message by making more and more propositions and things for people to do, boxes to tick, the further we get from the simple message of “believe in him whom God has sent”. And that simple word of Jesus changes everything for us who do just that.

      • Thanks for your graciousness Onesimus. Your point taken re context of John 1:12. However I would be so rapt if everyone I know actually “received Jesus” like the first disciples and thus given authority (Greek ‘exousia’–not merely ‘the right’) to be children of God. For that status is not a far away destiny achieved after a long process but is intended to be the present possession of us all who follow Him and His teachings which set us truly free. And another thing–There are many who think in terms of having all those “4 cylinders” but it would appear that is no guarantee that any of those “cylinders” are actually active and so the “car” is not moving at all.

      • Hi Ian, you said:

        There are many who think in terms of having all those “4 cylinders” but it would appear that is no guarantee that any of those “cylinders” are actually active and so the “car” is not moving at all.

        And maybe the easiest of the “cylinders” to misfire is baptism. It doesn’t take much for someone to get dunked in water, without any real commitment to what’s being done.

        For a genuine LIVING faith in Jesus the heart needs to be right – and when the heart is right we’ll want to be obedient to Him in all things.

  2. Ian, I can’t see that David Pawson and you are that far apart. You seem to overstate his position in order to refute him. Why make up divisions where there are none? You admit yourself that David doesn’t state the position you argue against outright.

    He doesn’t insist on following a legalistic rigid framework but simply maps out what happens in a normal conversion/regeneration process as outlined in Acts, and that this process is not necessarily instantaneous but can span over several years as it did for him.

    DP criticises the “receiving Jesus” language as a watered down substitution of the full conversion that ‘born again” implies. Even your reference (John 1:11-13) indicates that “receive Him” is our first step, that gives us the right to become “born of God”.

    David compares baptism with washing a baby to get rid of all traces of it’s past life. A baby is born even if it is not washed, but will grow healthy faster with a clean start. He then describes the process of entering into relationship with the 3 persons of God:

    Repentance: Standing before the Father, seeing and turning away from our own sin cutting ties with our old life.
    I am sure you would not argue that repentance is not really needed to enter the Kingdom.

    Faith in Jesus Christ: DP makes the point that this is the key to the rest. I know you agree that this is essential.

    Baptism: Identifying with the Son in His death and resurrection, letting His blood count for us and wash us clean.
    I know you agree with the inner reality of what this means. It’s an act of surrender and a first step of obedience.

    Receiving the Holy Spirit: allowing it in to fill and guide us in daily life.
    I am sure you agree this IS Life in the Kingdom and not an optional extra. Holding back on this is letting Self stand in the way of God, and prevents that Life from flowing through us. This is not just an event, but an ongoing process of learning to walk.

    Baptism’s dual grave/washing symbolism is powerful, and like all external symbols is more significant when close to the actual event of the internal reality it represents. As new believers we need tangible clear markers to bring home the reality of the change God does in us. A similar symbol that seals and reinforces our awareness of commitment is marriage. De facto relationships can be strong and loving, but are easier to walk away from, and could indicate a degree of holding back. Likewise with baptism.

    David’s emphasis is on being fully alive, rather than on what defines being born again. The Life is more important than the birth, just like the marriage is more important than the wedding. The 4 steps are a cooperation of God’s activity and our activity, indicative of the relationship we are entering into. In David’s presentation I can not hear any insistence on legalism or condemnation over doctrinal fine print, but rather a voice of encouragement to join in the full process for healthy Life in the Kingdom.

    • Thank you Daniel for you many sound comments. I appreciate so much of what you have written.
      But David Pawson’s presentation states plainly that all 4 events, including water baptism as a believer, must take place for one to be said to be born again. That is all very nice and neat. But is that true to scripture? I think not. And what happens to you if you are an Anglican Spirit-led believer or a Lutheran or a Presbyterian baptised in infancy or a member of the Salvation Army who practice no form of baptism?

      Divisions? It is there already and it should not be. The vast majority of eminent leaders and scholars would strongly disagree that water baptism, though enjoined, is necessary for salvation/entry into the Kingdom, or that such is taught in the New Testament. If you support the idea of “believers’ baptism” then you have to be a repentant believer–already “in Christ” and Christ in you, before you are baptised. The people in the Acts 10 story even experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit prior to them having the privilege of water baptism!

      If it takes one a long time–years or decades– to go through the 4 events then obviously one’s assurance of salvation cannot be realised or confidently confessed until all four have been experienced. Really?

      Of course it is also true that we continue to “work out our salvation” as a process of daily repentance and faith and spiritual growth and persevere until the end as our Lord warned.

      David does make some good points and I agree with them. You mention some.

      But we have some over-zealous people running around the streets in Australia quoting him and insisting on baptism for salvation. That is my concern.

      My concern is not really about practicing baptism in water which has sound apostolic precedent. It’s about what is the basis of our salvation, our acceptance with God. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1 separates baptism from the gospel he was sent to preach, namely Jesus and Jesus crucified. This was not made plain enough in the DP video, in my opinion. And there are many other NT scriptures not dealt with by David in this video but he has cherry-picked the ones which support his doctrine.

      Also in 1 Corinthians 1, we are warned not to see ourselves as “of Paul” or ‘of Apollos’ etc – nor ‘of David Pawson’ or anyone in particular. I encourage people to get a balance by hearing what other sounds leaders and exegetes have said.

      Oh, I could say a lot more. But that will have to be enough now. Let us “Listen to Him!” The peace of the Lord Jesus be with us all.

  3. Thanks Ian. David Pawson has helped many people but I have felt that at times he borders on bring formula-driven and that is just a step away from legalism.
    Rob

    • Thanks very much Rob. David Pawson’s “formula” approach is very evident in the video I cited where he presents a very neat package which is in stark contrast to the multi-faceted approach we find in the 27 books of the New Testament. That’s why it is so important to read all the writings of the first Christians and have a balanced approach without losing the saving truths we are presented with and challenged by. It is also critical that we listen not just to one bible teacher but to hear a range of saintly Spirit led men and women of God and above all else, to do our own research and our own digging for the amazing riches to be found in this collection of books we call the NEW Testament and to listen to the Lord Jesus Himself as he speaks via the indwelling Holy Spirit who has been given to us. How blessed we are!

  4. This is very much needed Ian, to pull the pendulum back from the demands of ‘loose theology’ that is spreading around. We must be careful in our encouragement of new believers especially, not to turn into zealots who demand they follow ‘our’ way. There is only one way to follow, and it’s not mine. So true about practices ignored elsewhere in the NT that we should be following.

    • Thanks for your valuable comment Michael! And your reminder that this is not about us or our pathetic ways but it is His way. His will be done, not mine! It is time for us all to be faithful as the darkness grows daily around us and we are called to persevere to the end. We can say with Peter in the gospel story “Lord to whom shall we go–only You have the words of eternal life!”

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