What is Baptism?

The following post is written to help facilitate a discussion with baptism candidates of Lake Wylie Baptist church. It is by no means an exhaustive document on baptism.

Ordained by Jesus:

The final chapter of Matthew’s gospel records Jesus commissioning his disciples following the resurrection. Read Matthew 28:16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 28:16–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

We recognize baptism as one of two special rites, or ordinances, given from Jesus to his church. The other ordinance being the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. The first reason that we take baptism seriously is because the church received the rite of baptism from her Savior. Jesus himself was baptized by John (Matthew 3:13-17)

Meaning of Baptism:

Baptism is a means of outwardly identifying oneself with Jesus. It’s a physical proclamation that by God’s grace and your profession of faith in Christ you have been joined to Christ, washed of your sin, and empowered to live for Christ.

Read Colossians 2:8-15

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 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, 12 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. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 2:8–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Going down into the waters of baptism symbolizes that, just as Christ died, your old life has been crucified and buried with Christ. Here’s what that means. You used to live for yourself. There are two ways we used to live for ourselves:

  • Perhaps you did this by trying to gain the approval of God and others through obeying rules. This is a religious way of living for yourself. You don’t love God for God’s sake, but only for what he can give you.
  • Others of you have lived for yourself by ignoring God and others. You tried to please yourself by throwing off authority and living by your own standard. This is an irreligious way of living for yourself.

Going down into baptism symbolizes that in Christ you have died to these old ways of living and you have trusted Christ’s life and death as your only hope before God.

Coming up out of the water demonstrates that, in Christ, you have been raised to life. Whereas you were spiritually dead to God, now you have been regenerated. You’ve been born again (1 Peter 1:3). You’ve been called out of darkness into God’s light (1 Peter 2:9).

Who is a Proper Candidate for Baptism?

Baptists read the New Testament and understand baptism to be the first act of obedience for those who have received the new birth. You may have heard the term “believer’s baptism”. Here’s are two prominent baptisms in the New Testament. In both cases, baptism follows conversion.

Acts 8:36-38

Acts 16:31-33

Beyond the apparent pattern we see in Scripture, another issue is at stake. In the Old Testament God gave Abraham circumcision as a physical sign that one was a member of the covenant community (Genesis 17). If baptism is to be the New Testament sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Luke 22:20), then baptism must certainly follow conversion because only those who are converted by grace through faith in Christ are partakers in the New Covenant.

Have you professed faith in Christ? Then you are a proper candidate for baptism.

Why do Baptist Immerse People Instead of Sprinkling or Pouring Water?

The short answer to this question is that the Greek word for baptism (baptiz0) was a word that means “to immerse.”

Read Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 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; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 3:13–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

John was baptizing in a river, and Matthew tells us that Jesus “came up out of the water.”

Read Acts 8:26-40

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: 

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter 

and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, 

so he opens not his mouth. 

33  In his humiliation justice was denied him. 

Who can describe his generation? 

For his life is taken away from the earth.” 

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 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?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 8:26–40). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

If pouring was the proper mode of baptism why did they wait until they approached a body of water? The answer is that baptism is to be understood as an immersive event. While sprinkling or pouring may convey the idea of purification or washing, nothing fully pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord as being immersed and raise from the waters of baptism.

Why Require Baptism for Church Membership?

Here’s a bold question for you. Why would a church accept into full membership someone who was unwilling to obey the first command of Jesus to a new believer? Ok, I know that might make you wince, but I think it reveals an important issue. We live in a post-denominational age where church membership doesn’t feel important to many. We also live in a consumer driven society. We buy what we want and leave the rest. We pick and choose. Jesus’ command for the church to baptize believers into local churches challenges our apathy to church membership. It preaches a gospel against our consumer goals. Baptism is a small, yet significant, way we bow the knee to Jesus. We want membership in a local church and baptism to have rich meaning and deep significance.

One More Thought:

Baptism isn’t a first order doctrine like the atonement or the Trinity. We experience wonderful fellowship with brothers and sisters who disagree with us on the finer points of baptism. Christians don’t primarily unify around baptism. We unify around the gospel. While our local churches must organize around a single interpretation of baptism, we never want to be a church where baptism takes precedence over Jesus.

Once you’ve worked through these passages and feel like you understand our church’s position on baptism get back in touch with Pastor Jonathan for some follow up discussion.

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Preparing for Communion

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This coming Sunday our church will observe one of the two ordinances of the church: Communion, or The Lord’s Supper. Paul tells us about the night that our Lord instituted this ordinance for his church:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

Our church observes this ordinance 6 times a year. Some of our church members wish we did it more often. I’m sure a few wonder why we do it at all. Because we’re observing it this coming weekend it’s good for us to take a moment and consider it’s meaning in order to receive it with a glad heart on Sunday. In this post consider one aspect of the Lord’s Supper:

This cup is the new covenant in my blood.

In order to understand what Jesus means when he says that the new covenant is contained in his blood we have to go back and read another passage from the Old Testament:

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34

The previous covenant that God made with his people through Moses laid conditional blessings and curses upon the people. God had saved them by his grace in delivering them from Egypt, and if they obeyed God they would live in the land of promise, and God would give them peace from their enemies. If they disobeyed the commands of the covenant God would curse the people; driving them from the land.

Now in Jeremiah, having disobeyed and incurred the curses of the mosaic covenant the future of the people of God looked bleak. In their captivity God told of a coming day when he would make a covenant with them and would forgive their sin, he would put the law within their heart (allowing them to obey), and they would know the Lord.

Covenants like this were always ratified with a blood sacrifice. When God met with Abraham and promised to bless him he walked through a bloody stream between cloven animals. At the mosaic covenant Moses sprinkled blood on the people. The meaning is clear: blood will be shed by any party that does not keep its end of the agreement. In order to experience the benefit of the covenant blood is shed.

What’s significant about the Lord’s Supper is that Christ says the new covenant is actually contained in his blood. In order to ratify this covenant, and bring about it’s blessing Christ doesn’t sacrifice an animal. He doesn’t offer a goat or a bull. Why? Because, the blessing of the new covenant is forgiveness of sin. The only way to accomplish this blessing is to make atonement for sin, and the blood of bulls and goats can do no such thing. Only a human can pay for the sins of humanity.

The only way to ratify this covenant is to shed human blood.

Thankfully, it has been the eternal plan of the Father to tear his own Son to pieces to ratify this covenant. It has been the eternal purpose of the will of the Son to submit himself to death out of love for us. It has been the eternal plan of the Spirit of God to communicate to us the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus.

Further Reading before Sunday: Hebrew 9:11-28