BAPTISM
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

Part of the church's distinction from other organizations is that it often publicly fulfills two main functions called "ordinances": water baptism and the Lord's Supper.  (These are called "ordinances" because Christ ordained, or instructed, the church to perform them.  These ordinances symbolize and remind believers of their relationship with Christ.)

 

Water baptism is the first obedient step for all new believers.  (See Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:36, 38; 10:48; 22:16.)  And Christians receive baptism only once because water baptism represents initiation into a relationship with Christ and the local church.

 

What purpose does water baptism serve?  First, consider what baptism is not!  Water baptism has no ability to forgive sin, as some groups have wrongly taught.  Faith in Christ alone saves (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 John 1:7). 

 

If water baptism had the power to forgive sin, it would seem odd that Jesus, the Savior, never baptized anyone (John 4:1-2).  And, his death was unnecessary if water baptism possesses the capacity to take away sin or add to his sacrifice on the cross.  Furthermore, the Apostle Paul did not think water baptism had saving power (1 Corinthians 1:15‑17).  But since Christ commanded his followers to receive baptism (Matthew 28:19), it isn't something to take lightly or delay.  In fact, anyone claiming to be a Christian who has decided not to be baptized has no reason to call himself a Christian because the New Testament knows nothing of an un-baptized believer. 

 

Only those who follow Christ should undergo baptism.  Scripture never suggests that infants or any other unbelievers be baptized.  The symbolism of baptism is important:

  • Baptism publicly identifies Christians with Christ and the church (Acts 2:38).
  • Water baptism portrays Christ's death and resurrection, and symbolizes the spiritual death of the person before salvation, and represents the spiritual resurrection of the person after salvation. (See Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12.)

All of this symbolism seems pointless if the person being baptized doesn't know about it, like in the case of infants.

 

The Bible speaks of the importance of making a public commitment to Christ.  Romans 10:9-10 says, "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."

Baptism is a primary way to publicly acknowledge that you are now a follower of Christ.

 

The Bible teaches immersion--submerging under water--as the only method of baptism.  Since it symbolizes death and resurrection, it seems consistent with the imagery that the person(s) baptized be submerged, as being buried.  (See Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:9-10; Luke 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:39.)

 

If you've been sprinkled, then we believe you need to be baptized biblically--immersion.  And if you were baptized earlier in life but have recently trusted Christ and decided that you didn't truly trust Christ previously, then you need to be baptized again.  Baptism is for Christians, and if you recently trusted the Lord, your previous baptism wasn't a real baptism.  You were merely dunked under water not baptized. 

 

SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT

(Passages are listed in the order they're discussed in the above article)

 

Matthew 28:19

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...."

 

Acts 2:38, 41

"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

 

"Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."

 

Acts 8:36, 38 

"As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?'"

 

"And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him."

 

Acts 10:48

"So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days."

 

Acts 22:16

"And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name."

 

Ephesians 1:7

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace."

 

1 Peter 3:21

"...and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ...."

 

1 John 1:7

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."

 

John 4:1-2

"The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples."

 

1 Corinthians 1:15-17

"...so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power."

 

Matthew 28:19

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...."

 

Acts 2:38

"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

 

Romans 6:3-4

"Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

 

Colossians 2:12

"...having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead."

 

Romans 10:9-10

"That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."

 

Matthew 3:16

"As soon as Jesus was baptized,* he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him."

 

Mark 1:9-10

"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized* by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove."

 

Luke 3:16

"John answered them all, 'I baptize* you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.'"

 

John 3:23

"Now John also was baptizing* at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized."

 

Acts 8:39

"When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing."

 

*The word "baptism" in the original language means to immerse or submerge.

 

(Scripture verses taken from the New International Version.)

 

Also see chapter 6 in Growing Up in Christ: Biblical Teaching for New Believers

(Book)

and

A Life That Counts: Church Membership

(Article)