Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What is Biblical Baptism?

The following is a transcript of a sermon on baptism I preached on October 15, 2006.
As Christ commissioned the disciples before ascending to heaven, he said:
Matthew 28:18-20 "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
One would think that given the emphasis that it has in the Great Commission, the doctrine of Baptism would be a clear and accepted doctrine throughout the Christian world.
While every Christian group in the world does practice some form of Baptism, many people’s understanding of what Baptism is, what Baptism means, and how Baptism is to be done is – well – confused.
A ministerial handbook for the Latin Church says that when you baptize:
"Then the god-father or godmother, or both, holding the infant, the priest takes the baptismal water in a little vessel or jug, and pours the same three times upon the head of the infant in the form of the cross, and at the same time he says, uttering the words once only, distinctly and attentively: ' Bobby, I baptize thee in the name of the Father,' - he pours first; , and of the Son' - he pours a second time; , and of the Holy Ghost' - he pours the third time."
The ritual in use in the Russian Church goes that:
"After he has anointed the whole body the Priest baptizes the candidate, held erect and looking to-wards the east, and says: 'The servant (handmaid) of God, Bobby, is baptized in the Name of the Father, Amen; and then immerses them. And of the Son, Amen; and then immerses them; and of the Holy Ghost, Amen; and then immerses them. Now and ever, and to ages of ages, Amen, And then immerses them again.
The Nestorians take the candidate into water reaching to the neck, and dip the head three times.
The Syrians, place the candidate upright on his feet and pour water three times over his head in the name of the Trinity.
The office of the Syrian Church or Jerusalem provides a how to manual that instructs:
"The priest ... first lets the candidate down into the baptistery. Then laying his right hand on the head of the person to be baptized, with his left hand he takes up water successively from before, behind, and from each side of the candidate, and pours it upon his head. and washes his whole body.
In the Coptic Church the cus-tom has become fixed for the priest to dip the body the first time up to the middle, the second time up to the neck, and the third time over the head.
The Armenians practice baptism in a sort of odd way. Among them, we are told, "the priest asks the child's name. And on hearing it, lets the child down into the water, saying this person, servant of God, who is come from the state of childhood to Baptism, is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' ... While saying this the priest immerses the child three times in the water, as a figure of Christ's three days' burial. Then taking the child out of the water he pours a handful of water on its head three times, say-ing, ' As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Hallelujah! As many of you as have been enlightened of the Father, the Holy Spirit is put into you. Hallelujah!"
Other groups like the Quakers and the Salvation Army believe that we should not practice baptism today. They argue that it was only to be done during the earthly ministry of Christ & has been replaced by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.
So with all the confusion surrounding baptism – who should do it, who should be baptized, and how should it be done. How can we know what baptism is and what it isn’t?
We can know what baptism is by looking to the word of God, and seeing what it says about baptism throughout the whole of God’s revelation.
As I look through the scriptures, and as I look at what it says about the doctrine of baptism, I would say that a good biblical definition of baptism is that:
Baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers through immersion, that illustrates their faith in Christ, and signals their entrance into the covenant community of the church.
Just so I know that you got that mouthful, let me say it again.
In just a moment, we are going to open our bibles and see what it has to say about our definition of Baptism. But before we do that let’s go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to lead this discussion and to bless it.
The first part of our definition we should discuss is the fact that baptism is an ordinance of the church.
It is very important that we understand that baptism is an ordinance of the church, and not a sacrament of the church.
You may say isn’t that just pinching pennies? Aren’t you just playing semantics here? Ordinance/Sacrament, Tomatoes/Tomatoes – its all the same thing isn’t it?
No it really isn’t – you see, an ordinance is something that the church does because it is ordained by Christ. A sacrament is something that a church does to administer God’s grace to people.
Some denominations believe that a person must be baptized in order to be saved. They believe that through the water, God conveys His forgiveness and salvation to the person being baptized.
This kind of belief is usually found among churches that practice a high liturgy, like the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, or the Anglican & Episcopal Church, though it is sometimes found in other churches, such as some branches of the Christian Church.
You may ask where on earth did they get those ideas? Most get it from a miss-reading of 1 Peter 3.
1 Peter 3:20-21 when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—
And if we stop right there, then we start to feel a little uncomfortable. In fact, if it were not for the fact that it is written in the Bible, we would probably say that it was heresy.
And they say see, Noah was saved through the water – now we are saved through the waters of baptism.
But then they forget about the rest of verse 21, where Peter makes it abundantly clear that it is faith in Christ alone which leads us to salvation.
21 not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
In the Noah story, the waters were a destructive force sent by God to destroy creation. Noah and his family were spared from that destructive force because of their faith in God.
And here Peter is telling us that we too can be saved from the destructive forces in our world. We too can be saved from the curse of sin and death – but not through an outward washing – not by making our bodies clean on the outside – but through an inward appeal to God for a good conscience. Through belief in God and faith in the resurrection of Christ.
Baptism is not necessary for salvation – only faith in Christ can make you righteous before God.
Which leaves another question – if baptism is not necessary for salvation, then why do we need to be baptized?
In fact that was a question that I asked once that remained unanswered for me for nearly 10 years.
I was 5 years old when I accepted Christ. I immediately became an island of faith in my community – in fact I didn’t know one single Christian outside of the people I interacted with in church. My parents were not Christians, none of my friends were Christians – no one.
All I was ever told about baptism in my church was that you didn’t need to be baptized in order to be saved.
Even when I was young, I was a very pragmatic person. So I figured that if you didn’t need to be baptized, then why be baptized.
It wasn’t until I was 15 years old that someone finally explained to me why I needed to be baptized.
I needed to be baptized because Christ ordained that every person who believed in him should be baptized.
Matthew 28:19 says:
19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
Baptism is that first step of faith for a disciple of Christ. When you are saved, you should be baptized soon after your conversion as a public sign of your submission to Christ’s guidance to your life.
This is a pattern seen throughout the new testament time and time again – people are saved, and then wanting to be obedient to Christ, are baptized by their local church.
Baptism is an ordinance of the church because it has been ordained by Christ.
We have already touched on this topic a little bit, the second aspect of our definition of baptism – that it should only be administered to believers.
This is where we get our term believer’s baptism. The idea that a person should accept Christ and repent of their sins before they submit to baptism.
As we read through the whole of the New Testament, we see this pattern repeated time and time again.
Acts 2:38-41 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
Acts 8:12 2 But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.
Acts 10:44-47 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?"
Acts 8:35-38 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" 37 And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.
In each of these passages, we see the same pattern – first, the person believed in Christ – then they were baptized
However, there are some who would say that this pattern is descriptive, not prescriptive – that yes, that is how things were done in the New Testament, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be done that way now.
Among some denominations that practice infant baptism, like Methodists or Lutherans, or Presbyterians, many do not see baptism as salvific – they do not believe that they are saved because of their baptism.
Instead, they argue that baptism is the New Testament equivalent of circumcision in the Old Testament.
They say that in the Old Testament, when Jewish parents had a child they circumcised him, not as a way of saving him or making him righteous, but as a means of identifying him as a Jewish person. As a person who was a part of God’s covenant community of Israel.
So they argue that baptism should also be administered to the children of Christian parents – not to save them – but to mark them as members of God’s covenant community of the church.
There are several problems with this view.
First while New Testament baptism is similar in many respects to the Old Testament circumcision – but there is not a one to one correlation.
Circumcision indicated a cultural identity – while baptism indicates a spiritual identity.
Circumcision looks forward to a coming savior, while baptism acknowledges the work of a risen savior.
Second, this argument is really a logical argument as opposed to a biblical argument.
Typically, the only passages of scripture that people use to support this view is place like when the Philippian jailer was saved and "he and his household were baptized." Or, when Lydia was saved and "her and her household were baptized."
People argue that these passages show that the infants of Christian parents were baptized in the early church.
But this is really an argument from silence. It assumes that these people had nuclear families – a husband, wife, 3.5 children and a dog living in a house with a white picket fence.
But the Bible doesn’t tell us about who was in their household, and the Bible also doesn’t tell us that these people themselves did not accept Christ before being baptized.
Really, using passages like this to support a doctrine as important as baptism is a bad idea, because these passages don’t tell us all that people want them to tell us.
When I was in college, Andrea and I had a mutual friend named Mary. Mary grew up Methodist, and as per their practice, she was baptized as an infant.
Later when she was in college, she got involved with the Baptist Student Union & started going to bible studies with us and things like that.
Mary was a Christian. She had confessed faith in Christ & she had accepted the grace of God, and so several of us started to encourage her to be biblically baptized.
Eventually she decided not to – she figured that since she had already been baptized as an infant she didn’t need to be baptized again – she acknowledged that it happened out of order, but that didn’t matter as long as it happened.
Now people ask, why do you ask believers like Mary to be rebaptized? Why does your church ask that people who were baptized as infants to be rebaptized before they can become members of your church?
Well we have to be careful about the terms we use in this discussion.
To rebaptize a person is a sin. Once a person accepts Christ and is biblically baptized, then they should never again be baptized.
So whenever a person comes to us from a denomination that practices infant baptism we do not rebaptize them, be baptize them according to biblical command.
You really can’t call infant baptism baptism because it does not meet the biblical criteria for a baptism because it is performed upon a person who has not yet accepted Christ.
You can call it a sprinkling, you can call it a dunking, or a bath, or whatever else you want to call it – but it is not a baptism.
So we see that baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers –
Next we see that it is to be administered to believers through immersion
We know that there are some denominations who teach that baptism can be done through sprinkling, or pouring, or even rubbing.
But millennia ago, long before baptism was ever a church doctrine. Long before it was ever debated by theologians or church leaders baptism was a verb. A Greek verb ba,ptismw, which literally means to dip or, to immerse.
In the New Testament world, if someone ba,ptismw something, then that meant that they literally fully dipped or immersed it in a liquid.
So, whenever we baptize someone in the church, that means that we should literally dip them, or fully immerse them in the water.
Also, whenever we see a person being baptized in the New Testament, we see them being fully immersed.
In the book of Mark, when we see John coming and baptizing, we are told:
Mark 1:5 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Mark 1:9-10 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;
In order to come up from the water, it only makes sense that Jesus first was fully immersed in the water.
When Phillip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, we see
Acts 8:38 8 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.
Every time we see a baptism in the New Testament, we see that it was done through immersion.
Now there are some who are not impressed with the passages I just quoted – they say that just because the Bible says that they went into the water does not necessarily mean that they were fully immersed.
One Sunday, the "Minister" was giving a sermon on baptism and in the course of his sermon he was illustrating the fact that baptism should take place by sprinkling and not by immersion. He pointed out some instances in the Bible. He said that when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, it didn't mean in - it meant close to, round about, or nearby. And again when it says in the Bible that Philip baptized the eunuch in the river, it didn't mean in - it meant close to, round about, or nearby.
After the service, a man came up to the minister and told him it was a great sermon, one of the best he had ever heard, and that it had cleared up a great many mysteries he had encountered in the Bible.
"For instance," he said, "the story about Jonah getting swallowed by the whale has always bothered me. Now I know that Jonah wasn't really in the whale, but close to, round about, or nearby, swimming in the water.
"Then there is the story about the three young Hebrew boys who were thrown into the furious furnace, but were not burned. Now I see that they were not really in the fire, just close to, round about, or nearby, just keeping warm.
"But the hardest of all the stories for me to believe has always been the story of Daniel getting thrown into the lions' den. But now I see that he wasn't really in the lions' den, but close to, round about, or nearby, like at the zoo.
"The revealing of these mysteries have been a real comfort me because I am a wicked man. Now I am gratified to know that I won't be in Hell, but close to, round about, or nearby. And next Sunday, I won't have to be in church, just close to, round about, or nearby. Thanks. You have really put my mind at ease."
When the bible says that people go into the water, it means that they actually went into it.
When the bible says ba,ptismw it means to literally submerge a person. So, we see that baptism should be done through immersion.
Baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers through immersion,
Next we see that baptism illustrates a person’s faith in Christ
In life, there are many things that illustrate or represent a reality in our lives.
A police officer, in and of himself has no more authority than you or I. The only thing that gives him additional authority is his badge, which represents the government that vests him with authority.
This dollar in and of itself has no intrinsic value. It is a piece of paper with ink on it. It finds its value in that it represents a certain amount of gold held in the U.S. treasury.
A symbol that we are all very familiar with is the wedding ring.
On January 5th, 2002 Andrea and I stood before God and vowed to love each other – for better and for worse, for richer or poorer, through taco bell cravings at 3 am and everything else that marriage brings with it.
But you know, to look at me alone or to look at Andrea alone, you would never know that we were married to someone.
And so, to give a visible representation of our vow, we gave each other rings.
This ring says sorry ladies, this guy is taken. I have given my heart to another. My life is now inseparably bound to the life of another. I am married.
Baptism is similar to this. Baptism is an outward sign to the world – a visible declaration. I am no longer my own. I am now a Christian. I now identify myself with Christ. I have been bought with a price. And I am a redeemed person through the blood of Christ.
Romans 6:3-11 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
In many ways, the baptism service is much like a public service announcement, because through baptism, several facts are announced to the world.
Commenting on this passage, John Stott writes:
"The essential point Paul is making is that being a Christian involves a personal, vital identification with Jesus Christ, and that this union with him is dramatically set forth in our baptism."
Charles Spurgeon writes that:
What connection has this baptism with faith? I think it has just this, baptism is the avowal of faith. The man believed in Christ, but his faith remained between God and his own soul. In baptism he says to the baptizer, "I believe in Jesus Christ;" he says to the Church, "I unite with you as a believer in the common truths of Christianity;" he says to the onlooker, "Whatever you may do, as for me, I will serve the Lord." It is the avowal of his faith…baptism is also to the believer a testimony of his faith; he does in baptism tell the world what he believes. He says to the world: "I am about to be buried in water. I believe that the Son of God was metaphorically baptized in suffering: I believe he was literally dead and buried." To rise again out of the water sets forth to all men that he believes in the resurrection of Christ.
This passage of Romans is in and of itself a sermon. And if I tried touch on everything that this passage teaches us about baptism – well, your lunch will be very cold – but quickly, this passage teaches us 7 truths about baptism and how it stands as a testimony that identifies us with Christ.
1. Baptism signifies that we are now identified with the Man of life, not the man of death. (5:12-21)
2. Baptism means we can no longer continue delighting in sin, because we are now dead to sin. (6:1-2)
3. Baptism most clearly identifies us with Christ in His death. (6:3)
4. Baptism further identifies us with Christ in His resurrected life. (6:4-5)
5. Baptism affirms that we are no longer enslaved to sin for that man is now dead. (6:6-7)
6. Baptism provides an eschatological confidence that the life I have in Christ is a life that will never end. (6:8-10)
7. Baptism is the basis for my daily mortification of the flesh. (6:11-14)
And so we have seen that baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers through immersion, that illustrates their faith in Christ, and
Now, that it signals their entrance into the covenant community of the church.
Earlier, we discussed how Old Testament circumcision and New Testament Baptism is not a one to one equivalent.
Circumcision was forward looking – looking to the future work of Christ
Baptism is backward looking – those who are baptized are now looking back to Christ and proclaiming that they have embraced and accepted the effects of Christ’s sacrifice – justification before God.
However, baptism is like circumcision in that it marks those who are members of the covenant community of the church.
Colossians 2:9-12 in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Baptism is that circumcision made without hands. Baptism marks you as a follower of Christ, and a member of His church.
Many people ask me why it is that it is so important that a person be baptized before they become a member of this church – or really, any other Baptist church.
Its important because Baptism serves as sort of an initiation rite.
I remember when I was initiated into the Cub Scouts.
I had earned my very first badge – the bobcat badge.
After you earned your bobcat badge, you were then initiated into the cub scouts.
What they did was that you went up in front of the pack with your parents. The pack leader gave your bobcat patch to your mother and she would pin it onto your uniform while your father picked you up and held you upside down.
And the deal was that your bobcat badge had to stay pinned to your uniform upside down until you did a good deed.
After that it could be turned over, sewn onto your uniform, making you and "official" cub scout.
And in the same way, when you are baptized by a church, then you become an official member of that church.
In the book of Acts, at Pentecost, and the preaching of John and Peter, we read that there were thousands added to the church on those days.
How were they added to the church?
Well, in Acts, we see an ongoing progression. First they were saved, then they were baptized, and were added to the church.
How were they added to the church? They were added through baptism.
They were given the spiritual mark of belief, and were accepted into the covenant community of the church.
That’s why, I believe that the best definition of a biblical baptism is that:
Baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers through immersion, that illustrates their faith in Christ, and signals their entrance into the covenant community of the church.


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