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.