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Christian Baptism

What is Baptism? What does it mean and what does it do? Is it necessary? How important is it? Different church denominations teach different uses and meanings but what does scripture teach us about Baptism?


What is is?

Baptism had its earliest meaning prior to Christ. The Jews would baptize new Jewish converts as a symbolic gesture of being cleansed and becoming a Jew. They saw themselves as the only holy people, God's chosen, and thus, all other people needed to be cleansed. Then came along John The Baptist who required all people, even Jews, to be baptized because everyone, even Jews, needed to repent of their uncleanliness. But, much like the gradual revelation of God's truth, even Baptism had a deeper meaning and purpose than what John The Baptist made known then.

The Jesus showed up at the shoreline for John to baptist him. This surprised and confused John. He knew Jesus was The Holy One of God and thus would not need to be cleansed. But Jesus, knowing the ultimate purpose and meaning of baptism stated "it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:11-15). God himself shows us that there is now a deeper meaning and revelation about Baptism (Acts 19:1-5). No longer is someone openly and publicly admitted into the Jewish nation, but now, through this Baptism, people are openly and publicly admitted into The Church, The Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God; which is made up of every nation.

Not just a symbolic show of a cleansing and repentance but also showing that someone is died, buried, and resurrected with Christ. We put to death our sin and are now alive with Christ, cleansed from all our sin. Baptism is our outward testimony of our inward change.

The Deepest Meaning

Jesus commands us to "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” (Matthew 28:19–20). Its interesting why Jesus would command us to baptize his followers in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. This is a deeper revelation of the meaning of Baptism that the Jews and pre-Christian faith would not have fully understood. God The Father is Holy, and we are not. We can not be in his presence, let alone, have any right to call him father. We NEED to be cleansed to be able to call him Father AND for him to call us his child. BUT we can not cleans ourselves. The Son is who cleanses us! Hey pays for our sin on the Cross and is buried. The payment for our sin is made and he raises from the dead. We are accredited his righteousness in faith. We are born again and made new, through and in him. The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life, causes us to be born again, spiritually baptizes us into Christ and adopts us as a child of God. Baptism not only outwardly shows our faith in need for cleansing, but also faith in the one who cleanses us. It is a tangible and visible display and proclamation of faith in Jesus' cleansing and the Holy Spirit's renewal, rebirth, and adoption into Christ. It is a ordained religious act that illustrates our belief in becoming dead to sin and made alive in Christ (Romans 6:4,11). By being submerged under water, we illustrate our burial with Christ and our emergence from the water illustrates our faith in being raised with Christ (Colossians 2:12).

It is important not to miss "in the name of" and then Jesus lists three different names (Matthew 28:19–20). When he said "The Father" he is speaking of God The Father, God of Heaven, God Almighty. Then he says "and of the Son". This puts the Son at the same level of importance, equal in meaning, to The Father. This is not a shock at this point, before his crucifixion he equated himself as the Son of God, then, as he is speaking this, after his resurrection, there is no question about his relation to God Almighty. But then he gives a third name, The Holy Spirit. The helper that he promised would come after him. He includes this person on the same level has himself and God the Father. These three persons is whom all Christians are to baptize in the name of. Not just God, and not just Jesus, but also The Holy Spirit. See where this is going? With out saying it, Jesus is revealing The Trinity. A revelation what would not be defined by the Church (lead by the Holy Spirit) until 300 years later. But just as we see the gradual revelation of the meaning of Baptism, we see the same gradual revelation of the highest understanding of God himself, The Triune God.

Is Baptism Required to be saved - Baptismal regeneration?

There are some denominations that teach it is required to be saved. This is a lie and scripture proves this. First of all, this teaching takes away from the work of Christ Jesus. Essentially teaching that his death on the cross was not sufficient and that mankind has to do a work to make salvation complete. God declares the he alone paid for our sins and his payment was complete (Romans 5:8; 2 Cor 5:21) and this payment was accredited to our account by faith alone (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). This is a false extrabiblical legalistic teaching.

Secondly, the thief on the cross whom Jesus said would be in paradise with him, was not baptized (Luke 23:43). There is no record of hint that he was ever baptized so to assume so would not be dishonest.

When we look at what the Apostle Paul taught, we see that Baptism is not required for salvation. First of all, he wrote Eph. 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5 and does not mention any required act of baptism. In 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 he makes a very important yet interesting statement. "I am thankful that i did not baptize... for Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel". His mission was to proclaim Christ and be used by God to lead others into salvation... If baptism was required, why then would he not want to baptize? He would then basically be saying "I am thankful you are not saved". and that is clearly NOT what he is saying. Later in his letter he outlines the life saving message of the gospel and states "and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain". Then he goes through and lays out this message that leads to salvation... and never mentions anything about baptism. Yes, Jesus did command it and we must be obedient, but when specifically talking about the gospel and salvation, baptism is never included but only later conducted.

Lastly, we see in other instances in scripture where people came to faith and were saved, before they were even baptized (Acts 2:41, 8:34-38, 10:43-47, 16:14-15). We see the order in scripture. First they hear the gospel message, they then believe and come to faith, and then, they desire to obey and get baptized.

Those who come to faith by hearing the gospel should naturally desire to be baptized. But it is not the baptism that saves them. Christ already has saved them and it is their faith that compels them to obey Christ. Therefore saving faith exists before baptism. Thus we see that Believer's Baptism, also called Credobaptism (Creed Baptism) is a biblical baptism and Baptismal Regeneration is not.

Is Baptism Required At All?

Its sad that this would even by a question. This would be the same as to ask "are we required to obey Christ?" The question itself reveals a serious heart and faith problem. Why would a "Christian" ever question whether or not they should obey the Lord? Jesus commanded it. The Apostles made it important to perform it. It IS a natural desire for ALL those who are TRULY saved to want to be baptized. Baptism magnificently illustrates a person’s unity with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Everywhere the gospel is preached and people come to faith in Christ, they are to be baptized.

How is it to be performed?

As the totality of scripture indicates, people come to saving faith; make a confession of faith and then are baptized by full submersion in water. Romans 10:9-10 we see Paul state "If you declare 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 profess your faith and are saved." Paul shows here that we are justified by faith and it is our faith that compels us to confess. Confessions without faith does not lead to salvation (Matthew 7:21-23; Mark 7:6). Thus, much like the act of Baptism; confession does not lead to salvation. But faith leads to confession. But in order to speak to anyone about Baptism, you would first have knowledge of what it is and who it came from. We see the instances of Baptism in scripture were brought about a confession of believing the gospel message.

Acts 8:37 is a verse were it seems Philip has the eunuch express a profession of faith before baptism. This verse however is debated if it was in the original and if Philip even said this. This is not in the oldest of biblical manuscripts so most bibles largely dependent on Alexandrian text-types would not include this verse or just make it a footnote. It would be wise to not use this verse as the authoritative word of God because it is not clear to be as such. But this does not mean that pre-baptism confession is not important. Why would some person want to be baptized? They would have to have some kind of knowledge as to what baptism is, why we do it, and who told us to. At some point, prior to baptism, the person would have to acknowledge these truths.

After the person has knowledge of the person and work of Jesus Christ and claims to receive these truths in faith and believes them to be absolutely true; they should desire to be baptized. There is no set time frame when it has to be done. Philip did his almost on the spot, other times they were conducted days or weeks later.

When the baptism is conducted, there is usually the Elder, or Church community leader who performs the baptism with the person. The baptism itself is a public, open, profession of person faith in the gospel message and unity with the body of Christ. They are fully submersed under water to symbolize their death to sin and died with Christ. Then they are brought up out of the water cleansed, raised with Christ, and with new life in Christ. Some churches submerge the person for a quick one, two, three count, symbolizing the 3 days with Jesus.

What about Infant Baptism?

Baptists and semi-traditional evangelicals tend to disagree with Infant Baptism. They point to how scripture shows how baptism is conducted. They may be right but they also fail to keep in mind it is a symbol and public expression of faithfulness. There is no required detailed format, except to just do it. Plus, most still have an ignorant idea that infants and babies go straight to heaven if they die anyway, which, is not taught in scripture.

Kevin DeYoung stated this about Infant Baptism: "We do not believe that there is anything magical about the water we apply to the child. The water does not wash away original sin or save the child. We do not presume that this child is regenerate (though he may be), nor do we believe that every child who gets baptized will automatically go to heaven. We baptize infants not out of superstition or tradition or because we like cute babies. We baptize infants because they are covenant children and should receive the sign of the covenant." God promised Abraham that he AND his children were to be God's (Gen. 17:7, 8) and circumcision would be the sign of the promise. Yet, it was a physical sign of a spiritual truth; a symbol. It is then important to note that the sign of this eternal promise was given to Ishmael as well as Isaac, even though only Isaac would be the line it would flourish in. Paul even addresses this (Rom. 9:6-8). It is now important to see that adults and children are baptized under the same covenant of Abraham. Paul makes clear in Galatians 3 what Peter strongly suggests in Acts 2, namely that the Abrahamic covenant has not been annulled. We can see it running through the bible all the way to the new heaven and new earth in Revelations 21.

So lets think for a second, God made a promise to Abraham, AND his children. Then we see that children (sons) also get circumcised and did not wait until they were considered any certain maturity. We can see that God's Covenant was applied to all levels of maturity. Babies, toddlers, teens, all were circumcised and they would have not been able to fully understand why- yet, that was a commandment given by God. There are many incidents in scripture where children are baptized. We see whole households being baptized, not just the ones who are deemed mature enough (Acts 16:13-15; 32-34; 1 Cor. 1:16; cf. Joshua 24:15). In fact, when these instances take place, there is zero mention or discussion about some sort of maturity awareness. Children are taught to obey their parents and not treated as some kind of small heathen that needs to be baptized when they want to (Eph. 6:1). Because, even these little kids, are part of God's Covenant.

Around 200AD Tertullian writes de baptismo (Concerning Baptism) where he states: "According to everyone’s condition and disposition, and also his age, the delaying of baptism is more profitable, especially in the case of little children. For why is it necessary—if [baptism itself] is not necessary—that the sponsors should be thrust into danger? For they may either fail of their promise by death, or they may be mistaken by a child’s proving of wicked disposition…. They that understand the weight of baptism will rather dread the receiving of it, than the delaying of it. An entire faith is secure of salvation!" (de baptismo, ch. xviii). Thus we can conclude that it was normal, but only starting to be discussed or disputed by 200AD, only 160 years after Jesus and only 4 or 5 generations after the Apostles. This is the first instance where we see an argument for the delay of baptism. Joachim Jeremias, who stated: “It is characteristic that Luke could report the matter thus. For by so doing he gives expression to the fact that ‘the solidarity of the family in baptism and not the individual decision of the single member’ was the decisive consideration” (Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries, 1960, p. 23, quoting Oscar Cullman, Baptism in the New Testament, 1950, p. 45).

Baptism falls under that very same Abraham Covenant (Romans 2, 4) of the outward symbolism of being clean and joining the kingdom of God. Remember, Paul agrees with Peter in Acts 2 that the Abrahamic Covenant is and always will be a kept promise of godly cleanliness and inclusion into the House of God. We see this in early baptism, that it was not a one man show but a entire family event. The entire family fell under the Abrahamic Covenant and thus the entire family was baptized. Infant Baptism is not about the individual understanding God's promises, but it is about the symbolic adoption and acceptance of God's Covenant to Abraham and all his spiritual descendants.

Conclusion

We can conclude that Baptism is a ordained commanded rite that people who come to saving faith will desire for themselves and for entire families to do together. Those who can hold their breath while being submerged underwater were most likely baptized by full submersion, but when whole families were baptized and included young children, it is doubtful that these little children were fully dunked underwater. Thus, we can conclude that full submersion and infant baptism both are inline with scripture. Understanding God's Covenant is fundamental and seeing the deepness of baptism reveals vast truths about God himself. Confessions of faith seemed to take place prior to baptism but in instances where the child is too young, it is the adult that is making that promise of leading that child in the very same confession of faith. We must always remember, just like circumcision, baptism is not necessary for salvation but is rich with symbolisms of God's truth and are bold public statements of the faith in these truths.





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