“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘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.’”
Peter, in Acts 2:37–38 esvbible.org
Likely the best way.
Has any theology or doctrine in Christianity historically caused as much controversy, conflict, cruelty, corruption and confusion as baptism?
Sprinkle, pour or immerse?
Infants, or just confessing followers of Jesus?
Sacrament or ordinance?
Spiritually regenerating, or simply symbolic?
Only for the living, or for the dead as well?
The difficulties usually arise from non-biblical or extra-biblical sources.
The disputes divided the Reformers from the Roman Catholics, and then the Reformers from one another.
Disagreements resulted in torture, burnings at the stake, beheadings, hangings, drownings and other means of ending life, particularly in the 16th Century and beyond, against those who were described as anabaptists (meaning, re-baptizers).
All of this confusion arose, and continues today, over how to understand and apply the parting words of Jesus, known as, The Great Commission.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
Baptism is a command of Jesus.
Baptism is a component of making a disciple.
A moment for full disclosure. I am, by family and church upbringing, personal conviction, and pastoral career, a Baptist.
I am also, by conviction, a defender and teacher of the theology of the Reformation, and a lover of the five solas and the doctrines of grace.
I part company with some of my sisters and brothers in the Reformed clan solely on the matter of baptism.
Remembering the words of commission from Jesus, the response of Peter to the “What shall we do?” cry of those who heard the first sermon preached in the Church, was the same as that of his Lord and Savior: “Repent and be baptized …. “
The Greek word, transliterated (meaning brought from one language into another), as “baptism”, literally means, “to dip, or immerse.”
In every recorded event of baptism in the New Testament, it was administered to men and women who were able to repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, following their confession of faith.
In the New Testament teaching on baptism it carries the symbolism of burial and resurrection:
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
And, in another of today’s readings:
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11–12)
To be clear:
In the Bible there is no record of infant baptism.
In the Bible there is no command or inference to baptize infants.
In the Bible there is no statement or teaching that infant baptism is to replace circumcision.
In the Bible there is no statement or teaching that being baptized confers salvation.
In the Bible there is no statement or teaching commanding baptism for the dead.
Yet, all of these beliefs and practices have been part of the history and teaching of parts of the Church, and even of some cults.
So, why the command and commission from Jesus as part of making disciples?
1. Baptism is an imitation of Christ and His followers.
Although Jesus was sinless, and had no need to repent of anything, he nevertheless submitted to baptism by John the Baptist as the starting point for His preaching and ministry.
Throughout the history of the Church, from Pentecost to this minute, followers of Jesus have willingly and joyously received baptism as a public declaration of their faith.
2. Baptism is an identification with Christ and His followers.
As did our Lord, so we are to do as His followers, as a public demonstration of the authenticity of our own confession of faith and commitment to being His disciple.
Most local congregations require that those who are members have been baptized in keeping with the church’s beliefs and policies.
Baptism is a public declaration that I am one of them, and that I am one with them.
3. Baptism is an initiation into the full life of the body of Christ.
Many clubs, teams, organizations, etc, have initiation rites, something that every member has to undergo, something that all of the members have in common.
Although one does not have to be baptized to be saved, one does have to be saved to be baptized.
We may go to a gathering of church members, and look around at the different ages, financial assets, races, skin colors, genders and ethnicities, and know that we all have this in common: in addition to having been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, we have all been publicly baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
As an Ethiopian government official said to Jesus’s disciple, Philip, after hearing Philip explain the gospel, and believing:
“And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’” (Acts 8:36)
Soli Deo gloria!