WHAT IS BAPTISM?
Its purpose and practice within the life of the church
WHO SHOULD BE BAPTIZED?
As we examine the Scriptures, we find that baptism is intertwined with discipleship, conversion and belief.
1. Baptism is for disciples of Jesus. According to Jesus’ teaching, his disciples are marked out as those who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and are seeking to be taught the commands of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). Therefore, discipleship and baptism are inseparably linked. To be a disciple means you are baptized, to be baptized means you are a disciple. The introductory mark of our learning of and following after Jesus is our experience of baptism.
2. Baptism is for those who have been converted. In the Epistles, as in Acts, the focus is on baptism as an introductory act to the Christian faith, signifying what God has done on their behalf. Those who are baptized are declaring that God has done something to them. In Christ, they have died to sin, are clothed with his righteousness, and are cleansed from their sin (Romans 6:2-5). Hence, another way of saying someone was a Christian was to say that they had been baptized. In some ways, baptism is considered shorthand for their conversion (Galatians 3:27). Therefore, to be baptized means you have been born again into a spiritual family (John 3), you are a member of the New Covenant by which God assures you of the forgiveness of sin, grants you new desires and right relationship with him (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Therefore, to be baptized speaks to the conversion that God has wrought within you as he has simultaneously convicted you of your sinfulness and convinced you of Jesus’ ability to cleanse, forgive and renew.
3. Baptism is for believers. The pattern of Scripture is that baptism always occurs after one believes. (Acts 8:12-13, Acts 16:31-34, Acts 18:8). The experience of baptism does not save, for we are saved by grace alone through faith (Ephesians 2:8). However, our baptism is an act of faith in which we are believing the promise of the gospel, as it is applied to us. The repeated experience within Scripture is that a person hears the promise of the gospel, repents and believes and is then baptized. Our belief God’s promise drives our desire and right to be baptized. Therefore, those who are baptized, are also believers in the promise extended to them in Christ.
In summary, we could say this: Baptism is the visible mark or sign of our fellowship with God. At its core, it speaks to what God has done for us on our behalf and our baptism is therefore done in faith, having full confidence in the promises of God. It is his pledge to us which we receive by faith. The 1689 Confession of Faith summarizes this as follows:
Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ. To those baptized it is a sign of their fellowship with him in his death and resurrection, of their being grafted into him, of remission of sins, and of submitting themselves to God through Jesus Christ to live and walk in newness of life. — 1689 Confession of Faith, Chapter 29
HOW DOES THIS WORK ITSELF OUT IN OUR CHURCH?
Taking all of this into consideration, you could summarize this in two statements: a person who is baptized has 1) a right confession (Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, crucified and resurrected for me) and 2) a new nature (they have a growing love for what God loves and growing hatred for all that God hates). Therefore, the person being baptized ought to give some sense of validity to both statements. As a person desires to be baptized, this would be evident to those within their life and as they talk with the pastors/elders.
However, in regards to children (especially those born to Christian parents) this observation of right confession and new nature can be difficult to navigate as to when they ought to be baptized. Therefore, keeping in mind that the person being baptized is a believing, converted disciple of Jesus, parents should prayerfully discern if the following are present within the child seeking to be baptized:
- a growing desire to hear, understand and obey Scripture
- an ongoing and increasing desire to pray
- a willingness to confess and repent of sin
- asking questions about God, Scripture and the Christian faith
While the Bible draws a sharp line between the saved and the lost, this is not a line the church (elders, fathers, mothers, etc) can draw with the same accuracy. No human is the authority on if a person is saved or not, nor does any human being have the ability to discern the condition of the heart. However, pastors and parents must do all that is humanly possible to determine whether or not the applicant is a Christian, as the health and function of the church depends on it (Ephesians 4:12-16). At the same time, our endeavors to ensure those being baptized are in fact true confessors, should not become crippled by the over-bearing exhaustion to “get it right” and become miserly in who ought to be baptized. We want to be biblically faithful and gracious in all that we set our hands to.
Therefore, if you or one of your children is desiring to be baptized, read through this document, read the noted Scriptures and make a time to speak further with one of the elders about this.
Bottom line, Jesus is actively working in our homes and community to seek and save the lost - we ought to prayerfully expect to see faith-filled, Christ-exalting, new believers in our midst. Baptism is a celebration of all that God has done and promised to us, may God be faithful to do so in our midst!