Today there exists a large number of people who hold that one’s faith should be considered valid simply because they themselves say it is valid. In modern Christianity, it is quite common to hear statements such as “my faith is between God and me,” “I don’t need the church,” “I just follow Christ,” “I can be Spirit-led all by myself,” or “I can worship God on the lake or golf course the same as in church.” And it is not just individuals who say this, even church statements of faith, especially baptistic statements add further support this idea by teaching a form of the doctrine of the individual priesthood of the believer that is not thoroughly biblical.
The idea that self-identification alone can indicate true faith is embraced by so many believers and so many churches that it has become accepted dogma. The problem is that the practice of these believers and churches contradicts their belief because there are almost no churches who recognize the baptism of an individual who has baptized himself. The lack of the practice of self-baptism undermines the idea that self-identification alone is valid.
If these churches were to be consistent in their theology, should they not instruct individuals to baptize themselves? If a person’s relationship with God need only be confirmed by that person himself, why is self-baptism not taught in Scripture? And if self-identification and self-baptism are true, why go to church at all? Why become a member? Why not serve the Lord’s Table to yourself? Why not practice church discipline (excommunication) on yourself if the situation calls for it?
Baptism is the formal entrance into the kingdom and clearly, baptism is intended to be conducted by the church alone (Acts 2:41, Romans 6:4; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21). In Acts 8:36, we read the story of an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from the book of Isaiah and asked for an explanation from Philip:
Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
After Philip shared the Gospel, the eunuch turned and asked an interesting question: What prevents me from being baptized? In this case, he asked the question of Philip, a man who was authorized by the church in Jerusalem to operate in and carry out the duties of the office of an elder on behalf of that church. There was no need for Philip to be involved if the eunuch could have walked down into the water and dunked himself after expressing faith. But the eunuch asked the question because he understood that it was necessary for his faith to be recognized by someone besides himself.
Teaching that one can be a private or solo Christian is akin to teaching that you can declare yourself married without an authorized officiant or claim to be an NFL player without actually being on a roster. The idea that a valid faith could exist apart from the covenant community is ludicrous when considered in light of the practice and teaching of the New Testament. Yet it has become one of the great persistent myths of popular Christianity.
The idea of a “private faith as legitimate” began as a reaction against the abuses committed by denominationally organized churches (It is true that in many cases the abuses were real and problematic.), but this individualistic philosophy has since developed into an unbiblical pillar of faith under the influence of humanistic philosophies such as mysticism, romanticism and individualism. The end result of this type of thinking is that it produces people who think they can claim the name of Christ without subjecting their lives to the biblical scrutiny of the church and its leadership. They truly believe that their spiritual life is no one else’s business even thought nothing could be further from the truth.
Believer, you need the church and the sign of baptism is just one reason why you need the church if you wish to gain eternal life. While it is true that the church does not have the power to save, the true church is absolutely vital to your Christian life and your salvation. By rejecting or ignoring the church and the signs (including baptism), you are rejecting the very body of Christ. The church alone has been given the keys to bind and loose (Matthew 18:17-20).
It is through baptism that the church officially recognizes one’s faith as legitimate and if the church has not recognized your faith as legitimate, neither will Christ. Your private confession of Christ as Lord is a great first step, but you are not a Christian unless the church says you are. And baptizing yourself carries no more validity than crowning yourself as the king of England.