Reformed Theology and the Baptism of Love

Question

Does Reformed Theology teach the "baptism of love" doctrine?

Answer

Thanks for your question.

While Reformed theology biblically teaches that God is love (1 John 4:8) and Christians should love God with their entire being (Luke 10:27) and walk in love toward their fellow man (Matt. 22:49), they do not teach what is commonly referred to as the "baptism of love" doctrine.

The baptism of love doctrine basically stems from teachings of the Charismatic community, though not all Charismatics teach it. It essentially says Christians are to seek an experience of close intimacy with God. This experiential intimacy supposedly sweeps the believer up like a river, overcomes him and transforms him to desire to spend more time with God and supernaturally love both God and others. Thus, within these particular circles they teach three baptisms: (1) by water; (2) by the Spirit; and (3) of love.

Those who espouse this belief often rely upon the Song of Solomon for their apologetic defense of it. Teaching that the Song is a bridal paradigm of God's love for his people and his people's love for him, they claim it is biblical to seek this bridal experience so they can love God and others. However, the Bible teaches that Christians are already the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-27; cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev 19:7-9; 21:1-2) and that they already have everything they need for a godly life (2 Pet. 1:3; cf. 1 Cor. 3:21-22). As a matter a fact, the greatest gift the Christian already has is love (1 Cor. 13:13). At conversion the believer is supernaturally empowered to love both God and others (cf. Eph. 5:2; 2 John 1:6), and therefore love is a genuine mark of being a true disciple of Christ (John 13:35). Without it they are nothing (1 Cor. 13:2-3).

At salvation, the believer is baptized into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) and is commanded to be baptized by water, which is the sign and seal of the new covenant (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 10:47). But the Bible doesn't teach the believer to seek a baptism of love because love is the fruit of the Spirit which every believer already possesses (Eph. 5:22-23).

Is it wrong to feel the love of God? Certainly not! However, to seek experience(s) which are outside the teachings of Scripture is wrong. And biblical love is far more than just a feeling. In fact, even if you don't feel it — and sometimes you won't — you're still supposed to walk in love. Walking in love is a command (cf. 2 John 1:6) and, as such, at times requires biblical submission (cf. Eph. 5:21-24). As Paul says, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph. 5:25). Just think about how Jesus "felt" when he was on the cross and said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Love is more than a feeling! (Please see "Why do Christians Celebrate Easter?" below.)

Christians don't need more experiences to become what God has already made them to be. Rather, they need to learn and obey Scripture so they may continue to grow in Christ and be all they can be for the kingdom of God. And while the love of Christ surpasses knowledge (cf. Eph. 3:19), one can't properly love either God or others if they are ignorant regarding what the Bible teaches. As John teaches, "And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it" (2 John 1:6).

Christians are not to seek the so-called lightning bolts and thunder of this "baptism of love" to overwhelm them. They should instead remember Peter’s words: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Pet. 1:16). And the apostle Paul concurred saying, "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness" (1 Tim. 4:7).

Related Topics:

Why do Christians Celebrate Easter?
Noah, Baptism, and Hell - 1 Peter 3:18-22
Baptism as a Seal?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).