6 — What We Believe About Baptism

Baptism is a fundamental rite of the Christian Church.  Some call it a “sacrament”; our fellowship often calls it an “ordinance.”[1] It has always been such an important part of the Christian belief system that even the word for baptism has been transliterated into other languages rather than translated.[2] The idea of an unbaptized believer does not seem to be entertained in the New Testament.[3]

The word “baptism” means “immersion.” It does not mean to “sprinkle” or “pour” water over something.  Sometimes used as a synonym for drowning, it was even used to refer to the sinking of a ship.[4]  This is why, when we baptize, we use immersion in water.

In the New Testament, baptism is inseparably connected to becoming a disciple of Jesus,[5] to salvation,[6] to the forgiveness of sins,[7] and to the reception of the Holy Spirit.  It is in baptism that we enter the death of Christ[8] where we find reconciliation with God.[9]  It is from baptism that we enter a new life as a child of God, clothed with Christ.[10]  It is in baptism that the Spirit of God connects us with the body of Christ.[11]  Christianity requires all of these things, and so Christianity requires baptism.

Baptism and faith are inseparably connected.  In fact, it is safe to say that baptism, faith, reception of the Spirit, repentance and confession of Christ are one complex of events that all occur at conversion.  Paul refers to believers as baptized because un-baptized Christians would be an anomaly.  Repentance is a response of faith, and so is baptism, but all three go together.

Because baptism is a response of personal faith, it must be undertaken as a personal choice.  There are no clear instances of infant baptism in the New Testament and no literary references to infant baptism until the 4th century.[14] Even then, the reference is in opposition to the practice.  There is no need to baptize children.  The Kingdom of Heaven is made up of them.

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Footnotes
[1] The reason for staying away from sacramental terminology is due to what is often meant by “sacrament”: an action whereby grace is conferred. The Catholic Church teaches that baptism, administered correctly, conveys God’s grace to the recipient whether or not the recipient understands what is happening or not or even wants it or not (cf. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 355 cited by Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) p. 971.)

[2] When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century, rather than translate the Greek “baptizo” (verb) or “baptisma” (noun) by its Latin equivalent “immergere” (noun) or immerge (vb),” he created the words “baptizare” (verb) and “baptismi” (noun). The act evidently seemed so sacrosanct that even the word needed to be preserved.

[3] F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988) p. 70.

[4] cf. Examples cited from Aesop and Hippocrates in Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009) p. 48.

[5] Matthew 28:18-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[6] Mark 16:15-16 – 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

[7] Acts 2:38 – 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. See also Acts 22:16.

[8] Romans 6:1-3 – 1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.

[9] Romans 5:10 – 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

[10] Galatians 3:26-27 – 26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Note also the connection with the “new life” in Romans 6:4 mentioned in note 7.

[11] 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – 12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

[12] Consider the unity of baptism and faith in the New Testament: Both baptism and faith are connected with union with Christ (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 3:17); both are connected with sanctification and justification, the setting apart for God and the making right with God (1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 5:1-2); both connect us to the death of Christ (Galatians 2:20; 3:27) and the new life freed from the sins of the past (Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:3-4).

[13] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009) p. 362.

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