The Lord Jesus Christ gave His disciples two very simple pictures of the two great truths of their faith. These are Baptism, which portrays the death, burial and resurrection of the believer, and the Lord's Table, which portrays the death of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. These pictures are called ordinances, because they were ordained, or instituted by Jesus Christ Himself.
In obedience to the command of Jesus Christ, most Christian churches practise these ordinances in the method that they feel is correct. They are not "sacraments", which means that they are within themselves a means of getting grace from God. Our purpose here is to find out what the Bible has to say about the ordinance of Baptism, and seek to answer questions that people are asking about this important subject.
FIRSTLY- What authority do we have for Baptism?
We have the distinct example and command of the Lord Jesus Christ in the gospels.
Jesus set the example for baptism. Early in His ministry He went to the River Jordan where John, the forerunner, was baptising. There He was baptised. He went down into the water and He came up out of the water. Jesus saw baptism as part of God's plan for Him and for those whom He would save.
Jesus approved of the baptism of others. We read that 'the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptised more disciples than John', and the author adds that 'Jesus Himself baptised not, but His disciples'. John 4: 1-3. Jesus commanded baptism for all believers. 'And Jesus came and spake unto them saying, all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost'. Matt. 28:18-19. Also read Mark 16:15-16.
We have the example of the early church as seen in the Acts of the Apostles.
As we read the Acts of the Apostles we are impressed by the number of times the writer records the baptism of believers in the early church. The Jews, on the day of Pentecost, after having been convicted by the Holy Spirit, were baptised. Acts 2:37-47.
After Philip had preached Christ to the Samaritans, 'they were baptised both men and women'. Acts 8:5-25.
After his conversion the Ethiopian, seeing water, said to Philip, 'See here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptised?' According to his profession of faith in Christ, Philip went down with him into the water and baptised him. Acts 8:26-39.
Simon Magus, a former sorcerer, who for many years had deceived the people with his trickery, was brought face to face with the power of the Gospel and we are told that he believed the message and was baptised. Acts 8:13.
Saul of Tarsus, the great enemy of Jesus Christ, was converted and baptised. He became Paul the Apostle. Acts 9:1-20.
Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, after having heard the Gospel from Peter, 'was baptised in the name of the Lord'. Acts 10:1-48.
In Philippi, Paul met a woman called Lydia, who, on hearing the message of the Gospel through Paul, was baptised together with members of her household. Acts 16:11-15.
The jailer at Philippi was wonderfully saved and he, together with his household was baptised. Acts 16:22-34.
As a result of Paul's preaching in the great and sinful city of Corinth, we are told 'many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptised'. Acts 18:8.
From the above incidents in the Acts of the Apostles we see that believers on the Lord Jesus Christ were baptised upon their profession of faith in Him.
We have in the Epistles an explanation of the meaning of Baptism.
Because baptism was the accepted practice of the early church, Paul, in his letters to believers, teaches that:
When a believer is baptised he outwardly and pictorially shows his oneness with Jesus Christ and with all other believers. Read Ephesians 4:3-6.
When the believer is baptised he pictorially presents the great foundation truth of his faith; that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again. It also illustrates that in God's sight each believer is seen as having been crucified with Christ, and thus as having died to sin and self and been raised to a new life in Christ. Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:3-4.
When the believer is baptised, he pictorially presents himself as having put on Christ. 'As many of us as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ'. Gal. 3:37. By this is meant that, by the believer's submission to baptism, he shows that inwardly and spiritually he now belongs to Jesus Christ.
So, because baptism was commanded by Jesus Christ, and was practised 'y the early church and explained in the Epistles of Paul, we have the authority to practise baptism in the church today.
Who should be baptised?
The Bible teaches that only those who have heard and responded to the message that Jesus Christ bore their sins, died in their place and have received Him as Saviour, have the right to be baptised. The Bible, therefore, teaches that baptism is for believers only. There are many reasons for this. This order of belief being followed by baptism was established first by Jesus Christ. He said, 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them'. The order is clear, disciples first, then baptism. Only believing ones can be disciples and therefore be baptised.
From other Bible examples we see this order also. 'Jesus made and baptised more disciples' John 4:1. Here is the exact order again, making disciples first, baptising next. Again, 'When they believed ... they were baptised'. Acts 8:12 and 'many of the Corinthians ... believed and were baptised'. Acts 18:8.
So baptism is for believers only. Old people as well as young people can be baptised and the only condition is that they have turned from their sins and been born again through faith in Jesus Christ. Mark 16:16.
How should a person be baptised?
For centuries people have argued over the method or form of baptism. In the early church only one form of baptism was recognised, namely immersion. The following are the reasons for regarding immersion as the correct method. The word itself, baptise comes from the Greek word baptizo, which means, 'to immerse, to submerge'.
Also incidents of baptism in the New Testament such as the baptism of Jesus, we read, 'He went up straightway out of the water'. Matt. 3:16 Philip and the Eunuch, 'both went down into the water. . . and he was baptised'. Acts 8:38. John is re1corded as having baptised near Salem, 'because there was much water there'. John 3:23. Also, baptism as a symbol of burial and resurrection presupposes baptism by immersion. 'Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.' Romans 6:4-6. 'Buried with Him in baptism'. Col. 2:12. So it is only by immersion that the full meaning of baptism is expressed.
Now let us look at some misunderstandings about Baptism.
Although the teaching of the New Testament is clear on baptism some people have questions arising out of misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the truths of baptism.
Some of the questions are:
1. Does the water of Baptism cleanse me from sin and make me a child of God?
There are those who teach that sins are washed away through the water of baptism. The Bible does not teach this. As proof of this false idea many refer to the verse in John's Gospel where Jesus says to Nicodemus, 'Except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God'. Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, 'you have heard how John the Baptist has been baptising people in water and has said that another would baptise you in the Spirit. Except you have repentance, which John's baptism signified and regeneration, which is the Spirit's baptism, you cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.' Jesus is saying that only when a person repents, that is, turns from his sin and is born again by the Spirit of God, can that person enter God's Kingdom. Baptism is no more than a picture of this great act of God.
There are others who quote Peter's words after his great sermon on the day of Pentecost, when he said: 'REPENT AND BE BAPTISED ... FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS', as further proof that baptism results in the forgiveness of sins. Peter is saying the first thing to do is to make a radical and complete change of heart and life; that is repent. Then each one who repents and accepts Jesus Christ as Saviour, publicly shows his repentance and faith by being baptised and so tells everybody that his sins have been forgiven.
There are still others who use Acts 22: 16 to prove that the water does wash away sin. Paul is giving his testimony and says 'Ananias said to me get yourself baptised and get yourself washed off'. It does seem that these words are teaching salvation by means of baptism, but to do that is to go against Paul's teachings regarding baptism when he states that baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of the believer, so baptism pictures the change that had already taken place. Here baptism pictures the washing away of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that, 'the blood of Jesus Christ, God's son, cleanses us from all sin.' All the water in the rivers of the world and in the oceans cannot wash away the smallest of our sins. We are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. I Peter 1: 18-19.
2. Is Baptism the seal for believers?
Some people say at the baptismal service that, 'These people have now come to receive the seal to show that they are indeed God's children'. Others say that as the children of Israel had circumcision as the seal of being an Israelite so we today have been given baptism as the seal of believers. The Bible teaches us that all true believers have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Baptism is no seal, because the seal of the believer is the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13; 4:30.
3. Do I have to baptise my infant?
Earlier we stated that the condition for baptism is a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. An infant or young child cannot fulfil this condition. Infant Baptism expressly contradicts the command of Jesus, that those who are baptised must be His disciples. We must always remember that where there is no faith on the part of the person being baptised, there is no baptism as understood in the Scripture. BAPTISM IS FOR BELIEVERS ONLY.
4. I was baptised as an infant; is it necessary for me to be rebaptised?
In the last paragraph it was stated that the baptism of an infant was not Believers' Baptism, as taught in God's Word. When you were baptised as an infant it was not an act of yours, it rather was done for you without your knowledge. If, however, you have come to the place where you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour you should show that you belong to Him by obeying His command to be baptised.
5. How many times should a believer be immersed?
Jesus' words to His disciples were, 'Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit'. There are some people who say that because of these words, believers should be baptised three times, once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son and once in the name of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, however, is not telling His disciples to baptise His followers three times, but once, in the name of God, the Triune God. Peter tells the repentant people after his sermon on the day of Pentecost to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, and Cornelius was urged by Peter to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. This does not mean that they were immersed once and others three times. Baptism indicates the burial of the old life and, as the burial of a body is usually done once, the picture is completed as the believer is immersed once in the water at baptism.
6. Must I be baptised every time I sin?
There are those who teach that every time a believer sins he must be baptised. This teaching arises out of the false idea that the water of baptism has the power to wash away sin. For the true believer, baptism in water is needed only once, when he identifies himself with Jesus Christ. If the believer does sin, the Bible gives us the remedy when it says, 'If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness'. I John 1:9.
7. Because Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan must I also be baptised in a river?
It is true that Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan, and it certainly is a wonderful experience to be baptised as Jesus was. But the place of baptism is not important, it makes no difference whether the baptism takes place in a river, or in a dam, or in a baptistery in a church. The important point is the symbolism expressed in the water, that is, of a grave into which the old life of the believer has been buried.
Some people quote Jeremiah where he condemns Israel with the words, 'They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water'. Jeremiah 2:11. These words do not refer in any way to Christian Baptism, and certainly have nothing to do with the need to be baptised in running water. Rather God is saying that Israel has rejected Him to find satisfaction and security in things of their own making.
8. If I am baptised will I be healed of my sicknesses?
God is able to heal those who are sick, but nowhere in the Bible do we read that baptism resulted in healing. In the Gospels we read about Jesus Christ going about doing good and healing the sick. These healings were a result of the divine power of Jesus Christ and in no way was baptism ever connected with His healing ministry. Baptism is, as we have already said, a sign or picture of a spiritual experience which the believer has received. If healing of the body has for some followed the healing of the soul, it is in no way due to baptism, but rather to a gracious act of a gracious God.
9. I am not a member of a Baptist church, must I still be baptised?
Baptism is not peculiarly a Baptist belief. It is a definite Bible teaching. Believers' Baptism is for all believers in whatever denomination they may worship. Christ's command was not limited to only a part of His church, but to all His followers everywhere. It is a command which He has never withdrawn.
Baptism is the believer's public confession of personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
10. Why is it necessary to be baptised?
Baptism was part of the great commission Matthew 28:19. The disciples were given this divine order. In the Acts of the Apostles we see how these orders were obeyed. Every convert was baptised. Peter commanded them to be baptised. Acts 10:48.
It is the will of Jesus Christ that every person becoming a Christian should be baptised. They must obey Him, not grudgingly, but willingly. So, by being baptised, the believer is being obedient to the command of Jesus Christ. By being baptised, the believer shows that he belongs to Jesus Christ. Baptism has been described as, 'an outward sign of an inward act'. So the believer shows people what they cannot see, that his faith is in Jesus Christ.
How willing are you to do what Jesus wants? He said, 'If you love me you will keep my commandments'. John 14:15. 'You are my friends if you do what I command you' John 15:14.
Nothing will foster our friendship with Jesus more than willing obedience. When we discover and obey His will, this will bring an added joy to our Christian experience. Jesus said, 'If you know these things blessed are you if you do them'. John 13:17.
Why do you wait? Rise and be baptised. Acts 22:16.