Friday, November 20, 2009
Important Thoughts About Baptism
Baptism has been a key component of the Christian faith since Jesus Himself walked into the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. Jesus was baptized to set an example for us and to bring glory to His Father. We know from the Scriptures that God the Father was pleased with Jesus when He was baptized.
There are many different ideas of what baptism means and when a person should experience this wonderful spiritual moment. According to the New Testament, baptism is the way that Christians publicly proclaim their faith in Christ. In the New Testament people were not baptized until they were old enough to make the decision for themselves and they were always baptized by being immersed or dipped completely under the water.
Baptism is a picture of how Christ died for us, was buried for us, and rose again for us. When we stand in the water we are saying that we are taking our stand for Christ. As we are dipped under the water it symbolizes us "dying and being buried" to our old way of life and when we come up out of the water it symbolizes how we are raised to "new life" through our faith in Christ.
Baptism does not save us from hell, instead it does show the world that we have already been saved from our sin and received new life in Christ. The New Testament makes it very clear that every person who has trusted Jesus as their Savior and made a commitment to follow Him should be baptized after making that decision. Obviously, if a person has never been baptized at all, then it makes sense that they would be baptized after they make a sincere commitment to Christ. If we realize we are in this category, we should pray about getting baptized out of obedience and devotion to Christ. It will enhance our connection to God and improve our personal spirituality.
Sometimes parents have their infant children baptized before they are old enough to understand what it was all about. While that is a very lovely ceremony to watch, we cannot find any examples in the Bible of an infant or small child being baptized. There are some examples in the Bible of children being "dedicated" to the Lord and that is definitely appropriate for parents to do for their children, but we should not confuse a baby dedication with the rite of baptism.
When people who were baptized by their well meaning parents make their own choice to become Christians, they should get re-baptized as a testimony of their own faith. It does not mean they didn't appreciate what their parents did for them, nor does it undo their previous baptism, it simply means that now they are making this decision for themselves.
Parents should rejoice when our children come to a place of committed faith in Christ. Parents should support our children in making their own faith decision, even if it means they want to get re-baptized as a symbol of their personal faith in Christ. One reason that it is important for parents to show this support is because children who were baptized at their parents request when they were infants might decide to drop out of church altogether when they are older if they feel forced by their parents to be a part of a church that really does not meet their needs. It is better to have our children be active in a Christian church of a different denomination than to be inactive in a church that the parents had them baptized in as an infant. Though this is a difficult thing for parents to work through, our child's spiritual health is at stake. If you have a teenager or young adult child or grandchild and they express interest in being baptized, please encourage them to follow through on this important spiritual experience. Even if they were baptized when they were an infant or small child, don't discourage them from making their own choice to be baptized. This is a very special moment in their lives and they deserve encouragement and support, not discouragement and judgment.
In many churches when a person is baptized, they automatically become part of that church or denomination. While there are a number of scriptures in the New Testament that do seem to link baptism and church membership, there are also many that separate these two issues. For example, the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 came to personal faith in Christ and was baptized in the middle of the desert. There was literally no church for him to join. Philip baptized him anyway, resulting in him being a baptized Christian but not a member of any particular church. He most likely became part of a church at some future date, but not at the moment of his baptism. This passage indicates that baptism and church membership are NOT automatically connected. Please understand; I am not against church membership. It is very important for people to make a commitment to a specific church so they can serve the Lord with their spiritual gifts and be accountable to the Biblical authority of that church. But the Bible does not teach that baptism and church membership should be as closely connected as many churches have made them. There are going to be people who get baptized as an expression of their faith in Christ but will not join a specific church until later. Churches must learn to accept the reality of this.
If the link between baptism and church membership has been keeping us from obeying the Lord's command to be baptized, then we must prayerfully consider the Biblical teaching on these two issues do not have to be automatically connected. We should seek baptism as soon as possible after salvation. It was clearly commanded by Jesus. Then we should prayerfully seek a church we can join that helps us grow in our faith. It may indeed be the same church that we were baptized in, but it may not be. The goal is to grow in faith, not just add our name to a church membership role.
There is something powerful about being baptized. It gives us a sense of spiritual cleansing. It makes us feel close to God. It is also a step of obedience to God, since He is the one who told us to do it once we had trusted His Son as our Savior. If we have not been baptized at all, we should do it as soon as we can. If we were baptized as an infant but it had no real meaning to us, then we should consider being re-baptized as our own expression of faith in Jesus Christ.