Virtually all Christians agree baptism is very important. Unfortunately, there is not such universal agreement on what it is or what it means.
Baptism was not new with Christianity. Many pagan groups practiced baptism, and Jews practiced a baptism for proselytes (converts to Judaism). In the cultures of Bible times, to be baptized was to identify oneself publicly with a group of people who hold a certain set of beliefs.
John the Baptist brought a new dimension to the practice of baptism as it was understood by the Jews of his time. He called all Jews (not just Gentile converts) to a baptism of repentance in preparation for the Messiah, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11-12). Holy Spirit baptism is a reference to the fulfillment of New Covenant promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit as a feature of salvation (Jeremiah 31:33, 1 Corinthians 12:13), and baptism with fire is a symbolic reference to fires of judgment.
When Jesus arrived on the scene, His followers were baptized like those who were baptized by John (John 4:1-2). The practice was apparently carried on throughout His ministry, though it receives little attention in the gospels. Among Jesus’ final words before He ascended to heaven is the “Great Commission” which contains His command to His disciples to baptize those who follow in the faith (Matthew 28:19-20).
Views on Baptism
A variety of interpretations of baptism have been practiced by Christian groups through the centuries. Here is a general summary of some of the most widely-held beliefs.
Among groups such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, baptism is one of seven sacraments necessary for salvation. To them, baptism is one of many instruments by which grace and blessing are administered from God. For those who adopt this view, baptism is a necessary step for salvation. The idea that salvation can be achieved (even in part) by a work such as baptism clearly contradicts Scripture (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Among most Reformed denominations (such as Lutherans and most Presbyterians), baptism is to the New Testament what circumcision was to the Old Testament. It is a sign of identification with the people of God who are the recipients of the covenants of God.
Among most other evangelicals (and especially, Baptists), baptism is a symbolic public proclamation of one’s personal faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. We believe this is the view best supported by Scripture. All baptisms in the New Testament involve people who have made a personal choice to believe and to follow Christ.
When to Baptize
Those who believe it is a sign of identification with the covenant people of God, and those who believe it is a first step in salvation, practice infant baptism. In a ceremony held when a child is very young, they baptize by sprinkling. Most of these groups then have a process of “confirmation” when the child reaches twelve or thirteen years of age. They regard confirmation as their public declaration of faith.
The Bible is silent about a minimum age of baptism. Some struggle to define an “age of accountability” after which a child is regarded as able to make his or her own decision about following Christ, and can therefore be baptized. There is no agreement among Christians about that age.
Others allow baptism only after a person has done a thorough study of certain basic Bible doctrines. This is sometimes known as “catechism”.
Still others baptize as soon as possible after they receive Christ – immediately, if possible. This practice is often associated with belief in “baptismal regeneration” (see next page).
Our practice is to baptize anyone who can articulate his or her own profession of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. We do not define a specific minimum age. We consider the individual testimony, and consult with parents in the case of children who desire to be baptized.
In light of many practices of baptism among Christians around the world and through the centuries, it may be helpful to define some things we don’t believe or do.
We don’t believe in baptismal regeneration. Baptism is a sign of one’s faith in Jesus Christ, just as baptism by John the Baptist was a sign of one’s repentance. We reject the concept that salvation, forgiveness of sins, regeneration, membership in the body of Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or any other thing is contingent upon baptism. The blessing of being baptized is the blessing of obeying the Lord Jesus Christ by proclaiming your faith in public.
We don’t re-baptize for local church membership. Some churches require that believers be baptized in that local church as a condition of membership in the local church, even if the prospective member has been baptized before. We find no justification in the Bible for this practice, and we gladly welcome those who have been baptized as believers in another church.
We don’t re-baptize those sprinkled as believers. When someone has been baptized after making a personal declaration of faith in Jesus Christ, we accept the profession of faith and their obedience to the Lord in baptism. Only if such a person decides to be re-baptized by immersion, believing that is the proper mode, do we re-baptize.
We don’t require catechism or confirmation classes for those who are baptized. It is very important for believers to know the fundamentals of the faith, and we teach diligently the essentials of Christianity in all facets of our ministry. All that is required for baptism, though, is confident testimony of personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
We don’t baptize infants. This practice is unknown in the Bible. It is the conviction of some Bible-believing people that baptism has replaced circumcision as a sign of belonging to the covenant people of God, but that doctrine is the product of logic beyond what the Scriptures actually teach. With respect to fellow believers who hold the view, we do not baptize infants, nor do we recognize infant baptism as meeting the biblical standard of baptism as a voluntary act of one who has chosen to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
We don’t believe baptism is a means of grace. Salvation is the free gift of God (Romans 6:23). All human acts, including baptism, are ineffective in bringing the grace of God to one’s life (Ephesians 2:8-9). Baptism is a sign of the salvation you receive, not a means by which you receive God’s grace, salvation, or the Holy Spirit.
We don’t baptize for the dead. In his great chapter on resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), the Apostle Paul presents many proofs and arguments for resurrection. One is in verse 29, where he alludes to the practice of baptizing for the dead. He does not identify what group(s) did this in his day, and he certainly does not prescribe baptism for the dead. His argument is that the very existence of the practice is evidence that belief in resurrection is widespread. We specifically repudiate baptism for the dead as false church doctrine that clearly contradicts the Bible (Hebrews 9:27).
Believer’s Baptism Bible Study
This Bible study on baptism is recommended for anyone who wants to be baptized and anyone seeking to explain baptism to a new believer in Jesus Christ. Feel free to bring any questions to the elders and pastoral staff.
In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), Jesus told us to baptize those who become His disciples. If you are considering this important step of proclaiming your faith in Christ, this Bible study should answer many of your questions.
1. Why Baptize?
The Lord’s command (Matthew 28:19)
The practice of the early church (Acts 2:41). Other examples are in Acts 8:12, 10:44-48, 16:31-33 and 18:8.
2. Who Should Be Baptized?
Three qualifications are mentioned in the New Testament:
Jesus said to baptize people who became His disciples: “…make disciples…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” A disciples in one who follows Jesus Christ.
“those who had receive his word were baptized.” The Ethiopian man confessed he believed in Jesus Christ, then Philip baptized him (Acts 8:36-38). The jailor at Philippi “…was baptized, he and all his household…having believed in God with his whole household.” (Acts 16:33-34)
Those who have received the Holy Spirit
When Peter preached to the first Gentiles who became Christians, it says: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message…Then Peter answered, ‘Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did can he?’ And he or dered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10:44-48)
Disciples, believers and those who have received the Holy Spirit are three ways to describe born-again Christians, those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and for salvation.
3. What Does Baptism Mean?
The answer is in Romans 6:3-4. Baptism is the declaration of your identification with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The symbolism of baptism shows your identification with Christ’s:
Death: going down into the water is like being “baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3), which was the atonement for sin.
Burial: under the water symbolizes dying to self, “buried with Him through baptism” (Romans 6:4), also called “crucifying the flesh and its lusts”. (Galatians 5:24)
Resurrection: coming up out of the water, reborn “in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”.
Romans 6:3-4 is not talking about water baptism, but it speaks of the spiritual realities symbolized by the physical act of water baptism. Beyond identifying with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, baptism is also your proclamation that you have put away your old sinful ways and that you desire to live a new life “so we too might walk in newness of life”.
- A proclamation of what happened to at salvation
- Unity with Jesus Christ
- Obedience to Jesus Christ
- Being placed into the atoning work of Christ
- Commitment to be free from self, not self-centered
How Do We Baptize?
Over the centuries, four modes of baptism have been used by various Christian groups: sprinkling, pouring, triple immersion (once each for Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and immersion. We practice immersion (once), based on the meaning of the biblical word and early church practice.
Studying a lexicon or concordance reveals two truths: 1) Baptize is not a translation of the Greek word, but a transliteration (transposing the letters directly into English). The original word is baptizo; 2) the meaning of baptizo is “to dip, immerse or sink”. If the word means “to dip or immerse”, why is it not translated that way?
Sprinkling was widely accepted in England in the early 17th century, though there was a segment in favor of immersion. The 1611 translators of the King James Version of the Bible faced the problem of offending one group or the other and risking the rejection of their translation if they did so. If they translated baptizo as “sprinkling”, they would be dishonest with the meaning of the word, and they would offend the immersion faction. If they translated it “immersion”, they would be opposed by most people – probably including King James himself. To solve their dilemma (so they could promote the King James Version), they decided to forego their responsibility as translators and transliterate instead. They used “baptize” and “baptism” instead of giving the meaning, so that each group could apply its own meaning. It was an ingenious solution to their immediate problem, but it has contributed to ongoing confusion about the definition of baptism.
Immersion is by far the best picture of identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the believer goes into the water, death is pictured; going under the water symbolized burial; coming up out of the water pictures resurrection. Furthermore, the examples of baptism in the New Testament imply immersion. John the Baptist baptized in the Jordan River – unnecessary if only a few drops of water are used. It says, “And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water,” indicating He was “in” the water. John 3:23 ties baptizing to a certain place because there was “much water there”. Acts 8:38 similarly implies that a body of water is necessary for baptism.
The Lord commanded us to baptize those who believe in Him. The act of baptism is a public declaration of one’s identity with Jesus Christ. It symbolizes unity with Him in death, burial and resurrection, and a commitment to walking in “newness of life”.