I quickly became aware of ‘numbers driven baptism’ when we moved to the Bible belt for a few years. Revivalists reported people coming to Christ and being baptized in the thousands on any given night. Please don’t hear me undermine the Holy Spirit’s power to regenerate thousands at any point He chooses, but do hear my caution in understanding the extreme emotional manipulation often used to produce these numbers. This misuse and exaggeration of baptism caused many to abandon baptism altogether. While baptism is widely misused, the differing opinions of who should be baptized and when someone should be baptized cause many people to wonder, ‘what’s the point, if no one can agree?’ While there is room for disagreement within the Christian community, the Bible speaks very clearly on this topic. As we’re convinced and convicted by Scripture, we believe baptism symbolizes Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and is an ordinance for every believer and member of a church.
Symbol of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection
Baptism is a symbol of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to be celebrated by those who partake in these gifts. Baptism is an identification of oneself with death to sin and resurrection to newness of life. Romans 6:4 says, “we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.” Those who have not truly been regenerated have no grounds to celebrate their death to sin because they are still dead in sin. Those who have truly been born again have every reason to celebrate because they have been spiritually awakened and empowered by the Spirit to walk in newness of life.
Baptism is an Ordinance
We refer to baptism as an ordinance because it is ordained (or commanded) by Christ. In the verse often called the Great Commission, Jesus says to his disciples, “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” (Matthew 28:19). Let’s dig deeper into this command to rightly understand the right motivation and application for this command.
When we encounter the word therefore in the Bible, we must stop and ask ourselves, “what is the therefore there for?” When we read the therefore in context, we see that it refers to Christ being raised from the dead. Since Christ has been raised from the dead and proved that He is the Son of God, disciples of Christ should go and tell people of all nations the gospel of Jesus Christ and upon acceptance of the truth follow through with Jesus’ command to be baptized.
Baptism is Only for Believers
There are multiple denominations who believe in pedobaptism or infant baptism. While we love our pedobaptist friends and can find much common ground with them elsewhere, this is not a small difference. It’s important to clarify why we believe that baptism is for those who have already believed the truth of the gospel and put their faith in Christ, and to back it up with Scripture. As we discussed earlier, baptism is a symbol of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in the life of the believer. In the next three categories, I hope to use Scripture to back up the credobaptism belief, or believer’s baptism; that baptism is reserved for those who have already been saved.
Make Disciples of All Nations
Making disciples implies first that the disciple has been converted and then that the new believer has been taught who and what they are to follow. Discipleship is two or more people working together to grow in Christlikeness. While discipleship is multifaceted, the discipleship process involves regular interaction, intentionality, and sound teaching to help the believer learn what it looks like to follow Jesus on a daily basis.
Once a disciple is made, the disciple is also baptized! As we seek to follow this Scriptural pattern, we want to be sure we aren’t prematurely orchestrating baptism for someone who might not be a believer, so in general, discipleship will precede baptism.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
It is significant that we are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is a Trinitarian call, and to be Christian is to recognize that God is One Being in three distinct persons. In addition, we are celebrating the distinct roles of each Person of the Godhead as we celebrate our salvation in baptism. The Father chose us in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), the Son purchased redemption through his blood (Eph. 1:7), and we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). Salvation by the Godhead is a reality in the life of a believer and can be celebrated through baptism.
Baptism is Essential for Church Membership
Baptism is a beautiful symbol to celebrate the salvation of each true believer. The celebration for the individual is great, indeed, but the celebration is also meant for the church. Liberty Baptist Church states on their website that, “baptism is a prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper” (lbcliberty.org). It is recognized here that, just like all disobedience to Christ, it is dangerous to disobey Jesus’ command to be baptized. Jonathan Leeman in his book, Church Membership, says it well: “If you want to identify yourself with Christ’s people and expect them to identify with you, you need to first identify yourself with Christ, which is the purpose of baptism. To refuse baptism would seem, well, unrepentant. As Mark Dever has put it, getting wet is the easiest command Jesus ever gave to follow. It only gets harder from there” (p. 90).
We do not claim to believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, but it is necessary for church membership. Baptism does not save a person, but we see in Scripture that baptism is the way in which we identify ourselves with Christ and his people. Galatians 3:26-27 says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Unwillingness to unite with other believers through baptism leaves the members of a church to question the sincerity and depth of the unbaptized person’s commitment to Christ.
Church membership is a beautiful thing, and at the same time, baptism is not just a command to be followed but a privilege to enjoy! We have the same Spirit, united together in faith, symbolized and celebrated by baptism, and marked by newness of life. To be baptized is not a legalistic command needed to earn God’s favor, nor a salvific command to go to heaven; it is a privileged command. If we are in Christ, we can share in this beautiful representation of the life, freedom, and renewal that we receive in Christ.
Editor's Note: This originally published at Thinking & Theology.