A Closer Look At Baptism
By Bill Gordon, Th.D.
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.1 The proper mode of Christian baptism is immersion in water. The English word baptism is actually a transliteration of the ancient Greek term baptisma.2 Paul Enns gives the following arguments in favor of immersion as the proper mode of baptism.
It is generally acknowledged that the early church immersed the people coming for baptism. A lexical study of baptizo indicates it means to "dip, immerse." Oepke indicates baptizo means "to immerse" and shows how the word has been used: "to sink a ship," "to sink (in the mud)," "to drown," and "to perish." This basic meaning accords with the emphasis of Scripture: Jesus was baptized by John "in the Jordan" and He came up "out of the water" (Mark 1:9-10; cf. Acts 8:38). On the other hand, the Greek has words for sprinkle and pour that are not used for baptism.3
The appropriate candidate for Christian baptism is a believer in the Lord Jesus. Even reformers Luther and Calvin conceded that immersion is the basic meaning of the term baptism, and that immersion was practiced by the early church.4
Baptists believe that no one should be baptized who has not already experienced spiritual rebirth through faith in Christ. While no church can judge the salvation of a candidate for baptism, it is the responsibility of each congregation to make sure that the applicant professes faith in Christ and understands the meaning of baptism. Many churches ask the person requesting baptism to give a short testimony or to answer some questions.
Baptists do not believe that candidates for baptism have to be adults. We do, however, believe that those receiving baptism should be old enough to meet the New Testament conditions of repentance from sin and faith in Christ.5
There is no evidence of infant baptism in the New Testament. The Bible indicates that faith in Christ and repentance from sin is a precondition for baptism.6 Believer's baptism also follows the pattern of the early church.7
The authority by which believers are baptized is the Triune God of the Bible. Belief in the Trinity is central to the Christian understanding of God and is accepted by all Christian groups including Baptists. In the Great Commission, Jesus instructs His disciples to baptize converts "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."8 The Trinitarian formula He uses emphasizes the importance of the three Persons of the Trinity in the salvation and spiritual life of the believer in Christ.
Baptists reject the teachings of the modern day Modalists that preach baptism in Jesus' name only.9 Modalism denies the Trinity by denying the distinctions of the three Persons in the one God. Modalism claims that God is only one Person who appears in different modes at different times.10 The three Persons of the Trinity exist simultaneously. They are distinct, co-equal, and eternal Persons in the one God. The Bible reveals that there is only one God (see Deut. 6:4). However, Scripture also informs us that God exists eternally as three distinct Persons-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.11
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus emphasizes the oneness of God by using the singular word for name. At the same time, however, Jesus also reveals the distinction of Persons in the triune God by explicitly referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
"It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus."12
Baptism is an act of obedience. Christ commanded His followers to receive baptism in Matthew 28:19-20. Since Christ ordained baptism, it should be considered a Christian ordinance.
Baptists reject that baptism is a sacrament. We deny that baptism produces any spiritual transformation in its recipient. Baptists teach that the ordinance of baptism communicates no extra spiritual grace. We explicitly deny that baptism spiritually regenerates anyone. Baptists contend that the only proper candidate for baptism is one who has already been spiritually regenerated by the grace of God through faith in Christ (see Eph. 2:8-9). Water baptism does not make one a Christian. It only brings the believer into the membership of a local church.
Baptists practice baptism not only because it was ordained by Christ, but also because it symbolically proclaims the recipient's faith in Christ Jesus. Baptism in the New Testament church symbolized identification with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.13 Baptism portrays "the believer's faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Saviour."14 It is a symbolic act that testifies that the believer has been joined with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism publicly declares the believer's allegiance to Christ Jesus.
Baptism also symbolically testifies to internal change that has already taken place in the new believer. It symbolizes the recipient's death, burial, and sin. Baptism symbolizes the new Christian's death to sin, the burial and end of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in a new life following Christ Jesus.15
"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."16
"It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead."17
Baptism is a compelling declaration of the believer's faith in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.18 Baptism graphically portrays the truth it communicates. "Baptism is a symbol, not a mere sign, for it actually pictures the believer's death and resurrection with Christ."19
"Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."20
Since baptism is a commandment of Christ to his followers, no one who refuses to submit to believer's baptism is obeying Christ. No local church should grant membership to anyone who is openly disobeying a clear command of Christ. It is the duty of each church to maintain the high standards of membership required by the Bible. 2 Thessalonians 3:14 indicates that those who disobeyed the teachings of Paul were to be disciplined by the church.21 It is inconceivable that one in open disobedience to the command of Christ concerning baptism would be allowed into a church.
1 The Baptist Faith and Message, available from http://www.sbc.net/bfm/default.asp; Internet accessed on December 9, 2003.
2 Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook Of Theology, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 363.
3 Ibid, 364.
4 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 1104. See also Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959), 57-58. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 4, chapter 16, section 13.
5 Acts 2:38; 16:30-33.
6 Acts 2:37-41.
7 Acts 8:12; 18.8.
8 Matthew 28:19, NIV.
9 Oneness Pentecostalism, available from http://namb.net/evangelism/iev/PDF/BB_PENTECOSTALS. pdf, Internet access on December 9, 2003.
10 A Closer Look At The Trinity, available from http://namb.net/evangelism/iev/PDF/CL_Trinity.p df, Internet access on December 10, 2003.
11 Matthew 28:19-20, NIV.
12 The Baptist Faith and Message, available from http://www.sbc.net/bfm/default.asp.
13 Romans 6:4-5.
14 The Baptist Faith and Message, available from http://www.sbc.net/bfm/default.asp.
15 Romans 6:1-12.
16 Romans 6:4, NIV.
17 The Baptist Faith and Message, available from http://www.sbc.net/bfm/default.asp.
18 Romans 6:5.
19 Erickson, Christian Theology, 1101.
20 The Baptist Faith and Message, available from http://www.sbc.net/bfm/default.asp.