Thinking about Baptism?
In the years following the fifteenth century Protestant Reformation a number of
divisions erupted within the Protestant and Radical Reformation Churches. While
there were various issues of varied degree of importance including a struggle for
understanding the essential nature of the Church. It is a sad reality that one of the
most visible signs of division was seen in the practice of Baptism It is a sad for such a
division arose over an ordinance which is to serve as a symbol for essential Christian
unity (1Corinthians 12:13).
On the one hand the Anabaptists and later the Baptists practiced Believer's baptism;
while Luther Calvin and those in the Magisterial Reformation Tradition held to a
Pedo-baptist (i.e. Infant Baptism) position. It is true that, the Magisterial Reformers
shifted their theological understanding of Baptism in respect to God's covenant
dealings with humanity. Yet, in practice it mirrored the Roman tradition.
In spite of Persecution and even death the radical reformers held to their practice of
believers’ baptism. This was so because of their firm conviction in the authority of the
scripture as the rule of faith and practice for believers.
So intense have been historical arguments and division about baptism that one
Christian Denomination, the Salvation Army doesn't even practice the ordinance.
The decision regarding baptism is to be a profoundly personal one, at the heart of the
issue is the nature of Christian discipleship. Each of us brings our own spiritual and
cultural baggage with us as we live in our world. Yet for the Christian believer
scripture alone must be our guide.
The purpose of this short essay is to guide the reader into an understanding of the
Scriptural teaching on the issue of baptism. It is only a guide to aid believers as they
grapple with the issues involved.
I, for one, am keenly aware of the struggle involved in deciding about baptism.
As one raised in the Ang1ican tradition, I was as is their practice Christened as an
infant and confirmed at the age of twelve (the latter step taken largely to appease my
mother). Yet not until seventeen years of age after an absence of five years from the
Church was I to know and experience for myself the salvation that comes from a
knowledge of Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Worshipping in a Baptist Church brought me
face to face with the issue. Six months of heart searching study of the scripture led me
to believe that the heart. of the issue was obedience to Christ. The scriptures are
sufficiently clear. In January of 1977, 1 followed my Lord through the waters of
May God bless us as you search and. grapple with the issue.
We see that although the practice of Christian baptism has precedent in the Baptism of
John (Acts 19:3), in Jewish proselyte Baptism and in the Baptism of Jesus, Christian
Baptism is a unique and central fixture in the emerging early Christian Community.
- The Baptism of Jesus.
In Matthew 3:13-17 we have the record of Jesus' own baptism. John's ministry
included the practice of administering the rite of baptism of repentance and
confession; and secondly, it carried with it an expectation of the coming Messiah
(Matthew 3:3, 11; Is. 40:3)
The question then is why was Jesus baptized? He had no sin to confess. John’s
bewilderment is natural "I have need to he baptized by You, and do You come to
me?" (Matthew 3:14). Jesus answer is revealing, "Permit it at this time; for in this
way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). Jesus underwent
baptism not because He needed to repent and confess, sinless as He is, but rather, the
baptism of Jesus has both the aspects of vocation and identification. Vocationally it
identifies Him as the Messiah, yet it also serves as an identification with us as sinners.
In His baptism we see Christ for us. Jesus was fully aware of what He was doing when
He was baptized and set for us an example. The challenge to us is simply, "If Jesus
was willing to identify with us through baptism, are we willing to identify with Him
- The New Testament Practice of Baptism
Jesus speaks of His authority, in commissioning His disciples with the words "Go,
therefore and make disciples of all nations, BAPTIZING them in the name of the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:l9). He then assured them of his continual
presence with them. Baptism is, therefore, an ordinance instituted by the expressed
command of Christ Himself. As such it cannot be ignored.
As their Lord had commanded them, so the New Testament church practiced baptism
(Acts 2:30,41 also Acts 8:12,36-38; 9:18; 10:47; 16:14,15,33; 18:8; 19:5) Its
prominence in the New Testament is obvious, yet it remained nevertheless
subordinate to the gospel itself (1Cor. 1:14-17) since it is a proclamation of a reality
which is meaningless apart from faith in Jesus as Saviour.
The root meaning of the word Baptize (greek Baptidzo, âáðôéæù) is to immerse, A
second century Christian writing known as the Diciache (the teaching) tells us that
immersion was the common and preferable mode of baptism in the early Church, with
other methods used where water was scarce. Immersion was practiced until well into
the thirteenth century. This is understandable when you realize that part of the
significance of baptism is found in the participant being identified with Christ in His
death and resurrection (Romans 6:4).
It stands to reason then that since the person is so identified with Christ in His death
and resurrection that baptism was (and is) rightfully to be administered to believers
only (Acts 2:30). In baptism both God and the participant speak, The ordinance
proclaims the gospel of Christ's death and resurrection, and the believer who has been
justified by faith (Romans 5:1) proclaims before the church and the world his/her
union with Christ in His death and resurrection.
Faith in Christ is the only requirement for baptism as the Philadelphia (Baptist)
Confession written in 1720 put it: "They who do actually profess (Mark 16:16, Acts
8:36,37) repentance towards God, faith in and obedience to our Lord Jesus, are the
only proper subjects of this ordinance" (Article 20:3)
The New Testament never conceives of a non-baptized believer, but rather upon
profession of faith it was immediately administered (Acts 8:36- 38) and as such it
serves as an outward sign of an inward reality. Many of Paul's theological arguments
assume a baptized church membership (Romans 6:3, Colossians 2:12, 1 Corinthians
Perhaps the best illustration of baptism is marriage. The marriage ceremony is a public
declaration of the love of the bride and groom for one another. The love commitment
does not ideally begin at or after marriage but is something private and personal
between two people prior to marriage. The ceremony does not create the relationship
but rather proclaims it.
And so it is with us in baptism.
ACTS 8: 36-38
36. And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch
said, "Look, Water! What prevents me from being baptized?"
37. And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he
answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
38, And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water,
Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him.