Originally published November 17, 2017
For more in the Basic Training series, click here.
Baptism can be a very controversial topic, especially when Christians who passionately hold differing views get together to discuss it. So, just a few parameters and caveats before we dive in:
💧 I am convinced from Scripture that Believer’s baptism by full immersion is the biblical understanding and method of baptism, so this is the view I will be presenting. I will not be argued out of this view and I don’t publish attacking comments. (Just trying to save you some time if you’re thinking of commenting in either of those veins.)
💧 I’m not going to attempt to present an explanation of any view of baptism other than my own. I prefer to leave that to others who hold those views, are more knowledgeable about them, and can present them better than I can. Please see the “Additional Resources” section at the end of this article.
💧 With the exception of baptismal regeneration, baptism is a secondary issue in biblical Christianity. It’s an important ordinance of the church, but should not preclude fellowship and cooperation between doctrinally sound Christians whose views differ.
💧 This article is a very general overview (this article series is called “Basic Training”) of baptism. I’m not attempting to cover every nuance of the topic. For more details about what your own church teaches about baptism, I encourage you to chat with your pastor or elders.
What is baptism? Why is it so important for Christians? What does getting wet have to do with being born again? There are lots of important things to understand about baptism.
The Bible on Baptism
When we want to learn about baptism, the first and best place to go is Scripture. Below are just a few of the passages that teach about baptism. (You can – and should – find and read more by searching baptize or baptism in a good concordance.) As you search the Scriptures on baptism, be sure to read them in context and ask these questions of the text: Who should be baptized? Why should someone be baptized? What is the meaning and significance of baptism? When should someone be baptized? How should someone be baptized?
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
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,
And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.
Church Mindsets and Modes
Different churches and denominations have differing beliefs about water baptism and perform it in different ways. The two most common theological approaches to baptism are paedo baptism (infant baptism) and credo baptism (“Believer’s baptism”- being baptized after you’ve publicly confessed Christ as Savior). Baptism may be administered by sprinkling (“aspersion”), pouring (“affusion”), or immersion (dunking someone partially or completely under the water in a baptistry or other body of water).
Baptism by full immersion symbolizes Christ’s death, burial (going down into the water) and resurrection (coming up out of the water), as well as what has happened in the heart of someone who has been born again: we die to sin and are resurrected as new creatures in Christ. This is why you’ll often hear Baptist pastors say “buried with Christ in baptism” (as they immerse the person) “raised to walk in newness of life” (as they raise the person out of the water). Baptism by immersion is a visual picture of the gospel.
This is what a typical Baptist baptism (credo baptism by full immersion) looks and sounds like:
Why Get Baptized?
Much like saying the Pledge or belting out the Star Spangled Banner (although infinitely more significant and sacred) baptism is the way we publicly and unashamedly proclaim our salvation and allegiance to Christ and our intention to obediently follow Him. In the United States today, that may not seem so daring, but in New Testament times (as well as in many countries today where Christians are brutally persecuted), to be baptized was often to take a dangerous – even subversive – stand of loyalty to Christ.
Baptism is also our “initiation” into church membership – a statement that we wish to join ourselves to the church at large and to a local body of Believers. Many churches require that a person be baptized (or has previously been baptized into a church with biblical soteriology, or a church of the same denomination) before inviting that person into membership. Because baptism is a public declaration that one is a Believer, baptism is usually also a prerequisite for partaking of the Lord’s Supper (which should only be partaken of by Believers).
Every born again Believer should publicly declare her loyalty to Christ, her intention to follow Him obediently, and her identification with the local church by obeying Scripture’s command (see above) to be baptized. Baptism is neither optional nor trivial for Christians, and the New Testament knows nothing of unbaptized Believers. If you’re saved and reluctant to be baptized, examine your heart as to why this is the case, and talk to your pastor about it.
Why NOT Get Baptized?
💧 Don’t get baptized because you think it will save you, make you right with God, forgive your sins, or send you to Heaven. Baptism does not save anyone; the water doesn’t have any magic, holy, or salvific properties. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
💧 Don’t get baptized just to become a member of a particular church. Your motivation for getting baptized should be obedience and loyalty to Christ. Church membership is secondary.
💧 Don’t get baptized just because everybody else is doing it, because someone is pressuring you to, or in order to please someone. Baptism is your personal declaration of faith in Christ. It should be something you want to do to in your walk with the Lord.
💧 Don’t think you need to get re-baptized every time you sin. That’s what repentance is for. Unless you come to the realization that you weren’t saved the first time you were baptized, baptism is a “one and done” thing just like salvation is.
💧 Don’t get baptized if you aren’t saved. Baptism is for people who are already saved.
Excerpted from Basic Training: The Great Commission
“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b)
After salvation, baptism is the first step a new Christian takes on the road of discipleship. It is not optional. Baptism publicly identifies a person – to the church and to the world – as a Christian, and is a personal pledge to follow Christ obediently all the days of one’s life.
Being baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” carries several layers of meaning.
💧Again, pay careful attention to the language in this phrase. Jesus does not say “in the nameS” – plural. He says, “in the name” – singular. This is a boldly Trinitarian statement directly from two of its members: Jesus, who spoke these words to the disciples, and the Holy Spirit, who breathed them out through the pen of Matthew. This is God Himself telling us who He is. Jesus spoke these words to good Jewish boys who were born and bred on the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” There was to be no confusion for new Believers back then, Believers today, or to the onlooking world, as to who these Christians are following. They are not following three different gods. They are following the one true God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – the whole ball of wax.
💧Names meant far more in biblical times than they do to us today. We see God changing people’s names – Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, etc. – when He commissioned them for a new mission or phase of life. Being baptized “in the name of” the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit echoes that tradition of God changing people’s names. You are no longer your own, you are Christ’s. You are no longer “Sinner”, you are “Saint”. You no longer go forth in your own name, but in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as their emissary, endowed with the power and authority of God to live for Him and to proclaim the gospel to a lost and dying world.
💧Because Christians are, by definition, Trinitarians, and because baptizing a Believer is commissioning her to go forth into the world as a representative of Christ, it’s appropriate for pastors to take this verse literally when performing a baptism and verbalize its words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Who Should Perform Baptisms?
When it comes to teaching inside the church, we have clear, prescriptive passages that specifically tell us what women are not to do. With evangelism, we also have clear commands in The Great Commission, and elsewhere, that disciples of Christ are to share the gospel.
But when it comes to baptism, we don’t have a clear “this or that person should or should not perform baptisms” passage, so we need to look at the principles and precedents surrounding baptism.
The people specifically named as personally performing baptisms in the New Testament were John the Baptist (who baptized Jesus), the twelve apostles, Philip the Evangelist, Paul and/or Silas, and Paul. All of these were men, and all held pastoral or pastoral/elder-type formal leadership positions in the embryonic or infancy stages of the church. All of them were commissioned, ordained, or set apart to their positions by God, Jesus, or the church. We do not see any New Testament instances of random church members – male or female – performing baptisms, only those in positions of church leadership.
Additionally, baptism is a formal, official, consecrated ordinance of the church, not a casual, personal, relational activity between individuals, friends, or loved ones. It should no more be administered by any church member who wants to do it than the Lord’s Supper should be. Both ordinances should be administered by an ordained pastor or elder of the church. That leaves out women as well as most men. Does the responsibility of pastors to baptize mean that men who aren’t pastors shouldn’t carry out the Great Commission? Of course not. We – men and women – share the gospel with someone, and if that person gets saved, part of our responsibility is to do what we can to get him plugged in to a local church where a pastor can baptize him. We don’t have to baptize him ourselves in order to be fulfilling The Great Commission.
Baptism should be every Christian’s joyful celebration of his or her new life in Christ. Jesus was baptized. Jesus instructs His followers to be baptized. In baptism, we both follow Jesus’ example and obey His command. If you’re a born again Believer who’s never been baptized, what are you waiting for?
What is the importance of Christian baptism? at Got Questions
Baptism at Theopedia
Explaining Baptism in Children’s Language at Reformed Answers (A simple explanation of the Reformed/Presbyterian view of covenental paedo baptism.)
Understanding Baptism by John MacArthur
Biblical Case for the Lutheran Doctrine of Baptism by Chris Rosebrough
A Closer Look at Baptism by Bill Gordon (An overview of the Southern Baptist view of credo baptism by immersion.)
A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism by The United Methodist Church
Baptism at Christian Apologetics Research Ministry
Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Church Membership by Bobby Jamieson