Friday, June 20, 2014

Baptism: What Should We Believe?

The rite of baptism has been an important step in the spiritual journey of Christians since Christ Himself was baptized in the Jordan River. The story of the baptism of Jesus is so pure and powerful. God the Spirit showed His approval through His appearance of a dove. God the Father showed His approval by supernaturally voicing it immediately after the baptism. Clearly God wants people to be baptized. It sounds so simple and easy.

But the reality for many people is less simple and often not so easy. Many are confused about baptism because various churches teach different things. Many Christians want to walk in obedience to the Lord in this matter, but often are just not clear what that means. One way to cut through the confusion is to change our question from what does "the church" teach about baptism to what does the Bible teach about baptism.

What does the Bible teach about baptism?

The New Testament teaches that people repented of their sins and believed in Christ FIRST. Then they were baptized as an expression of that saving faith. Consider Acts 2:38 "Peter replied, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." We find this teaching in numerous places and contexts.

For example, Phillip, a deacon, preached this same truth in Samaria. Acts 8:12 tells us the result of his preaching, "But when they believed Philip, as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized." Again, we notice they believed first, and then were baptized as a result of that belief. It might be important to note in this particular verse that it says that it was men and women who were baptized, not infants or little children. There are no examples of infants or young children being baptized in the New Testament. 

Another example, from that same chapter but in a different context, comes from verses 36-38. "As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized? And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart you may. And he replied, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him" (Acts 8:36-38). Once again, we see that a man believed in Christ and was then baptized. One caveat about this passage is that it refers to believing with "all of our hearts." Clearly this is not just a general belief in God, or in the church as an organization, or even in Christ as a concept or idea, but a sincere and deeply held belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Sometimes we encounter people who are already religious and active in a faith community but have not yet been baptized. Should they be baptized when they come to believe in Jesus? We find the answer to that question in Acts 18:8, "Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed the Lord, along with his whole household. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized." This scripture tells the story of Crispus, who was a leader of the synagogue. Crispus was VERY religious and already a part of a strong community of faith. Yet Crispus was baptized AFTER he believed. What ever he had done to become part of the community of faith prior to his belief in Christ could not replace his need to be baptized as an expression of his new belief.

In each of the examples above the people first placed their faith in Christ. Then as an outward expression of that inner faith, they were baptized. The need to believe before being baptized was the clear teaching and practice of the early church. This clear truth is recorded in the Bible numerous times. Regardless of the confusion we may have in the modern church, there was no such confusion in the First Century. There is an important principle to learn in regards to this issue that also impacts other biblical issues, which is, if we stay with the timeless truth of scripture, instead of human tradition, our faith will be much clearer and less confusing.

Because of all the confusion over this issue, there are many people who were baptized by their parents as infants before they were old enough to understand what it meant to be a Christian. Though parents meant well by trying to make this choice for their children, faith is deeply personal and no one should make faith choices for another person. We all know people who were baptized as infants into some church and now that church does not meet their spiritual needs. It does not mean that church has no spiritual value, it just means that church is not right for that person. Such people often find themselves in an awkward situation of being baptized into a church they are no longer interested in being part of but may feel guilty about changing churches because they do not want to hurt their parents’ feelings. Many of these people have dropped out of church altogether because they could not reconcile this issue in  their own minds and now are Christians in name only, rarely, if ever, practicing their faith in a meaningful way. Others came to a more complete understanding of who Christ is and were born again. Now they struggle with the idea of baptism, because if faith is supposed to precede baptism, what are these Christians supposed to do? As challenging as it may be, if we strip away human  traditions and stick with scripture, then people who were baptized before they made a sincere commitment to Christ should be re-baptized. This is important because the Bible teaches that people should be baptized only AFTER they come to committed faith in Christ. Though human traditions are hard to change, when our traditions go against scripture, we must always side with scripture. Re-baptism should be done out of obedience to the Scriptures and with all due respect to the parents and family who were doing what they thought best when we were infants.

What Method Should the Church Use to Baptize?

The word “baptism” comes from the Greek word “baptizo,” which literally means “to dip under.” In the New Testament when a person was baptized they were always dipped under water as a picture of being completely immersed in Christ. Baptism is also a reminder of how Christ stood on the cross for us, was put under the ground for us, and rose again out of the ground for us. Baptism by immersion under water is the best symbol of this as the person stands in the water, is lowered under the water and then raised up out of the water. This symbol should be preserved as much as possible and only changed under rare circumstances.

What is the Connection Between Baptism and Church Membership?

There are a number of scriptures in the New Testament that seem to link baptism and church membership by referring to the people who were baptized as being “added to the number” of the church. Some have interpreted the phrase “added to the number” as meaning that the people were placed on a church membership roll. This is possible, but there are other scriptures that appear to 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. History tells us that he later founded what has become the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. But that church did not exist at the moment of his baptism, therefore he could not join it. In this situation, baptism and church membership were not automatically connected. Therefore, we should be cautious about making them automatically connected in modern times. While baptism and church membership are not automatically connected, 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. Once a person has been baptized, they should prayerfully take the next step and become a member of a specific church. This would normally be the church that baptized them, but we know from the experience of the Ethiopian eunuch that it might not always be the case.


Baptism was important enough for Jesus to set an example by being baptized Himself. In the
First Century, baptism was practiced by those who came to sincere personal faith in Christ, regardless of their previous religious expression. Have we taken this important step and been baptized after we have made a personal commitment to Christ? If we have, then we should find a church to join and begin to serve the Lord with passion. If we have not, then we should prayerfully seek baptism even if it means we must be re-baptized. Once we have been re-baptized, we should join a church so we can use our gifts to serve the Lord.


  1. What the Bible really says about Baptism
    Before we can get into any understanding of what the Bible says about Baptism, first we have to understand what the Bible says Baptism is. Baptism is not an outward sign, of our acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Baptism is where we first receive the gift of grace, the washing away of Sins, and the Holy Spirit that saves us. There are tons of passages in the Bible, to back this up: Acts 2:38, John 1:33, John 3:5, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:16, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21 and John 3:5. As we can see, baptism isn’t something we do for Christ or to show others but something that Christ does for us. Baptism is our passage way into the family of God, or as St Paul says several different times we are baptized into Jesus’ death. Again, there are several scripture passages to back this up as well: Galatians 3:27, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Romans 6:3-4, and Colossians 2:11-12. Now we get to who should be baptized, that is one that is not stated for certain in scripture. You have versus like Acts 2:38 and Acts 8:35-38 that say you have to believe to be baptized. However there are other versus like Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8, and 1 Corinthians 1:16 where entire households where baptized, and households especially at that time when families had more than just a few children usually consisted of kids who have not yet reached “the age of reason” and infants. We have the story of Lydia in Acts 16, where the entire household was baptized, but nowhere does it say that anyone in the household other than Lydia opened there heart to what Paul was teaching. We also have the story of the jailer in Acts 16 where St Paul and Silas tell the jailer – “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”, so here it seems that the jailer was able to speak for the whole family. So if the Bible doesn’t have a definite teaching on who should be baptized, let’s see if we can use common since, to figure out who to baptize. We know that in the Old Testament there was also an entrance into the family of God, and that was circumcision. And circumcision was usually preformed on the fifth day. And St Paul in Colossians 2:11-12 seems to imply that Baptism replaces Circumcision in the New Covenant. We also know that Jesus said in Luke 18:15-16 that we are not supposed to hinder the kids from coming to him. If Baptism isn’t something we do, but instead something that Christ does for us, and St Paul implies that Baptism is the New Circumcision, and we have Jesus’ own words (Luke 18:16) – “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Why do we want to hinder kids in coming into a relationship with Jesus by denying them the gift of the Holy Spirit?

    1. Thanks for your comment, though I believe you are theologically mistaken. Baptism cannot be the means of our salvation because the scripture tells us that our salvation is not of works, lest any man should boast.

      Though many people have attempted to equate circumcision and baptism, they are simply not the same thing. One was a covenant with the Jews, the other is a covenant with the Church. Despite some erroneous theologies, the church cannot replace the Jews as God's chosen people.

      But I do appreciate your input, as it helps me know how other people view this important issue.

    2. Baptism isn't a work, it is a gift from God. But according to the Bible it is part of salvation. 1 Peter 3:21 - Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

      And what is "this", the flood. Water and Spirit make baptism.

      Look at Romans 4, where St Paul also writes about how salvation is not from works. Notice the example of faith being credited as righteousness. He uses the example of Abraham. But as Genesis tells us, and as St James reminds us in James 2:18-26. Faith is not saying I believe. It is living out the faith that is real faith.

      St Paul even tells us that it is required in Romans 6:4 - "Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

      Again notice that it is baptism that ALLOWS us to be raised again with Jesus.

    3. People have to remember when they are quoting St Paul, that St Paul studied under the greatest Old Testament minds of his time. He knew the Old Testament inside out and upside down.

      And St Paul never gave up his Jewish faith. He didn't hate the Law, he loved the Law, and he never quit loving the Law it was how he was. But after his experience on the way to Damascus, and having 3 years in private to think about what this all meant, he came to realize that all the Old Testament rituals where there to prefigure the true sacrament that is Jesus.

    4. Terry, it is also important to actually understand what St Paul is actually talking about when he says that we are not saved by works lest any man should boast. The works that St Paul is talking about are the works of the Law. St Paul is talking again to the Judaizers that where prevalent at that time. That said, not only did you have to believe in Jesus, but you had to follow the works of the Law to earn your way into heaven. Lets not forget that earning your way into heaven by following the 10 commandments (the way that they modified them, to make them possibly attainable in there minds atleast) is what the Pharisees and Sadducees where always trying to do. If you try and earn your way into heaven by following all the 10 commandments, then you will earn your ticket only to one place, hell. As no one can follow all the commandments without being completely empowered by the Holy Spirit. St Paul reminds us that the law was not put into place to show you what to do to get into heaven, quite the opposite, it was put into place to show us how far we have to go to live the type of life that we are called to live and are supposed to live. But, since we can never live that life, we are not saved by those works of the law. What we are saved by is living a life that shows we believe. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving money to the poor, etc. These are not the works that St Paul is talking about. And St Paul is definately not talking about Baptism, Holy Communion, etc. Again these are not things that we do to earn our way into heaven, these are sacraments that Christ himself instituted to give us the Holy Spirit to move closers to living the life that we are called to live. We can't boast about following these things, and what we did with this and that, because we all have the MUCH bigger anvil hanging over our head of all the other things that we should have done, and all the times we broke the 10 commandments that God gave to Moses that Jesus says are still around. But they are around to show us what we SHOULD strive to live up to and to be, and to show us what type of life that even Jesus calls us to live. But not to show us how to get into heaven, because we will all fall short of that.

  2. Terry and Anonymous, in my opinion, I believe you are talking about the two different Baptism spoken about in Scriptures. Terry is speaking of John's Baptism for repentance and I believe Anonymous is talking to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, which all who believe in Christ Jesus will receive once they truly believe. The first by Terry (by water), in my opinion is a natural Baptism that publicly demonstrates and announces that you are a believer and follower of Christ. The second by Anon. (Holy Spirit), is Spiritual and has nothing to do with this world of flesh but everything to do with God, the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.

    Matthew 3:11
    “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

    Mark 1:8
    I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

    Luke 3:16
    John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

    John 1:33
    I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

    1. Thanks for your input Shawn. That will be helpful to many readers.

    2. There is only one baptism. Ephesians 4:5 - "One Lord, one faith, one baptism,"

      Baptism is water and spirit. John 3:5 - “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit."

      Also see Acts 2:38 - "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

      It is threw baptism that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And while that does not guarantee salvation, it is the first step, the entrance into the Family of Christ, that does save us at first. But, we still have to continue to live out that faith till the end in order to be saved.

    3. We have to remember that John the Baptist came with a baptist of repentance only, as he didn't have the power of the Holy Spirit to give. He was getting everyone ready for the real baptism, the baptism with water AND spirit. The baptism that Jesus instituted threw the disciples. The baptism that actually saves you and is not just a symbol. Notice in Acts 19, St Paul asks if they received the Holy Spirit when baptized. Two things with this again. Baptism is not just a symbol, it is where we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, thus it is essential for salvation. Second, we get that John's Baptism was not enough, as they didn't receive the Holy Spirit when they where baptized.

      You will not find a single verse in the Bible of Jesus' Baptism being just a symbol. It is something that Jesus does for us, not something that we do for him.