Saturday, February 26, 2011

This is Who We Are: What a Baptist Is and Believes - Baptism

Like most Protestant traditions, Baptist practice two ordinances (we avoid the word sacrament in an effort to avoid the connotation that these practices are salvific): Baptism & the Lord’s Supper.  These two ordinances were instituted by Christ who commanded all believers to practice them.  Regarding baptism, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 says:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.*

The confession makes clear several points.  First, baptism is by immersion.  For centuries, Christians sprinkled baptismal candidates, but Baptist have avoided this primarily on the grounds of the meaning of the word.  “To baptize” in Greek means “to immerse” or even “to drown.”  The act of sprinkling primarily came as a result of the practice of infant baptism.

Secondly, Baptist affirm believers baptism.  This is among the Baptist distinctives.  We only baptize those who have made a public profession of faith by which the local church recognizes God’s work in salvation and follow up with the public ordinance of baptism.  Many traditions within both Catholicism and many Protestants traditions baptize children.  Baptist have always rejected this position on biblical grounds.  No infant in Scripture was ever baptized nor is there any trace of the practice of infant baptism in the early Church.

Thirdly, baptism is a symbol illustrating the work of Christ in the believer.  Contrary to some traditions, baptism only gets a person wet and nothing else.  Some Christians have held throughout the centuries that baptism contributes to our salvation.  Baptist reject this on the ground that salvation is by grace through faith alone apart from any works on our behalf.  If one must be baptized to be saved, then salvation is not by faith alone.

But what does it symbolize?  As the confession reveals, baptism is about the death, burial, and resurrection of both the Redeemer and the redeemed.  It is through the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross (whereby He absorbed the full wrath of God in our place) and the resurrection (whereby we are given His righteousness) that we are saved.  Thus baptism reminds every witness of the work of Redeemer who has saved us by dying in our place and being raised from the dead. 

Likewise, baptism is a picture of the redeemed.  We have been crucified with Christ.  We have put to death our old selves only to be raised as new creatures in Christ.  Salvation, then, is more than a ticket to heaven when we die, but regenerates us into new persons.  We are not what we once were.  We are washed.  We are renewed.  We are restored.  We are made righteous.

It is for these reasons, among others, that baptism is central to the Christian faith.  It is not merely a ritual, but a testimonial symbol reminding us of the gospel.  It is through baptism that Baptist welcome new believers as members into the local church.  It is a testimony of the work of Christ in the lives of sinful men.  It is the gospel put on displayed. 

It is important for Christians to see in baptism more than merely a religious rite.  Baptism ought to be a moment of celebration and a reminder.  The work that Christ began at the moment of our conversion remains with us today.  When people look at our lives, do they see the fruit of what baptism illustrates, or must we point to a certificate hanging on our wall. If all we have is a certificate, then we do not have Christ.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul raises the question of can believers continue in sin after embracing the gospel?  His answer is no.  He grounds this conviction on two points.  First, we were once slaves of sin, but are now slaves of Christ thus we must obey our new Master.  Secondly, Paul points to baptism.  To remain in our sin is to remain dead.  But we who have been saved are not dead just as Christ is not dead.  We have been raised.  We have been changed. Let us therefore worship our risen Lord living in light of His righteousness imputed onto us as a testimony of what He accomplished at the cross and resurrection.  Baptism is all about the gospel.

*  The following Scriptural reference are given:  Matt 3:13-17; 28:19-20; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 3:23; Acts 2:41-42; 8:35-39; 16:30-33; Rom 6:3-5; Col 2:12.

Just for Fun:

This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - Introduction
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - Scripture
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - God
This is Who We Are  What a Baptist Is and Believes - God the Father
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - God the Son
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - God the Spirit
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - Man
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - Salvation
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes -  God's Purpose of Grace
This is Who We Are:  What a Baptist Is and Believes - Church  

For more:
Hardinsburg Controversy:  Some Links
Theology - Online Baptism:  The First, But Certainly Not the Last 
Theology - Cannonball!!!

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