Christian Baptism: Why Baptists are so Persnickety
Who should the church baptize? Why do we baptize? How should it be done? These are questions that the church has struggled with for most of its existence.
Some insist that the physical act of baptism actually regenerates the soul and somehow administers saving grace into the person's life. This is why our Catholic brethren baptize infants. Some, like the Church of Christ, believe that one must make a public confession of faith and also be baptized. If you have a heart attack and die on your way to the creek bank, that's tough. It's straight to hell for you. Some, like ourselves—a people called Baptist—insist on 'believer's baptism' or what some call 'confessor's baptism.' It is the belief that first ya get saved and then ya get baptized. Ya don't get saved, ya don't get baptized. And when you do get baptized, there is nothing efficacious about it. It is merely a symbol of what the Holy Spirit has done in you when you believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ and confessed Him as Savior.
When it comes to the way we baptize, some insist that just a sprinkle of water is all that is needed, while others will take a fancy little bowl and pour water over your head. Some insist that ya gotta be dunked all the way under. And even those who immerse have their differences! You have those who believe that immersing once in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit is all that is required, while others say, "Nope, ya dunk 'em once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Spirit."
Many will simply throw up their hands in exasperation and say, “Why does it matter?” As a people of the Book, it matters because we ought to do it as closely as we can to the way the Scriptures teach us. To that end, let me take some time to preach on four essential truths concerning biblical baptism and what the Scriptures teach about it.
- The proper candidate for baptism—who should be baptized?
- The proper reason for baptism—why do we baptize?
- The proper method of baptism—how should we baptize?
- The proper authority in baptism—who should do the baptizing?
I. THE PROPER CANDIDATE FOR BAPTISM
- the very first question we need to consider is “Whom should the church baptize?”
- what does the Bible say?
- we believe baptism should only be administered to those who have received a 'circumcision of the heart'
- Col. 2:11 "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,"
- they were told, "Oh, so you've believed in Christ? Well, that's a good start, but it's not enough. Let us tell what else you've got to do."
- false prophets had taught the Colossian Christians that they first had to become Jews before they could become Christians
- and the way you became a Jew was to be circumcised
- these folks came to be called Judaizers and they would be the bane of the Apostle Paul's ministry
- he was constantly countering their influence almost everywhere he went
- it was a ritual performed on all Hebrew male children 8 days after their birth
- it signified three things ...
- a physical mark given to God's people to show them as separate from the Gentiles
- a covenant to spiritually point them backward to the righteousness of faith imputed to Abraham
- a symbol to point them forward to the true circumcision of heart that would take place when God Himself would put His laws in the hearts and minds of His people
- v. 11 "In him you were also circumcised,... "
- it wasn't circumcision of the flesh and obedience to Jewish religious law that made them a child of God
- it was a circumcision of the heart accomplished by God Himself when He redeemed them in Christ through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit
- " ... not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,"
- this is the new birth experience!
- Christ was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, suffered, died and was buried
- He bore the punishment of sin and the wrath of God for you by becoming your sacrifice
- you are no longer an object of God's condemnation, but recipients of His justification
- “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:28–29, NIV)
A. GOD HAS CHANGED US!
- Baptists have always believed that salvation is a “God thing”
- it is not a matter of reciting the right creeds, or performing the right rituals, or participating in the right ceremonies
- salvation is a supernatural event
- it is wrought in your life by the power of God's Holy Spirit
- salvation takes place when—irresistibly called by God's Spirit—you purposely and deliberately repent of sin and commit your life to Jesus Christ to follow Him as Lord
- Baptists have been persistent through the centuries in that we will only baptize those who have had this kind of experience with God
- this means . . .
- no babies are to be baptized
- no one is to be baptized for someone else
- no one is to be baptized in some empty ceremonial rite that supposedly washes away sin
- ILLUS. Ya get saved, ya get baptized. Ya don't get saved, ya don't get baptized. It's as simple as that
II. THE PROPER REASON FOR BAPTISM
- the second question we need to ask is “Why do we baptize converts to Christ?”
- what does the Bible say?
- the only reason to ever baptize someone is because they have experienced the regenerating power of God in their lives
- we believe baptism symbolizes the believer's new identity in Christ
- “having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12, NIV)
- “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
- you're not the person you were before you were saved
- I like that!
- before you were saved, you had the essential character of the devil
- but after you were saved, you get the essential character of Jesus Christ
A. WHEN YOU'RE BORN AGAIN, YOUR ESSENTIAL CHARACTER CHANGES
- when Jesus comes into your life, God sees you in a whole new light
- before you were a believer, God saw you as spiritually lost, sinful, and unrighteous and condemned
- now, He sees you as spiritually found, forgiven, and righteous, and redeemed
- God sees you this way because you have a new identification in Christ
- “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— ” (Romans 6:5–6, NIV)
- ILLUS. The U.S. Government has a procedure it uses to give government informants and witnesses protection from retaliation for helping to put criminals behind bars through their testimonies. It's called the Witness Protection Program. The person is given a whole new identity. They are given a new name, a new address and sometimes even a new look. They must completely assume their new identity in order to remain safe. If they fall out of character, their past may catch up with them and put them or their family in danger. They must really come to believe and accept their new identity.
- He gives us a new name
- “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17, NIV)
- “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 3:20, NIV)
- “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)
III. THE PROPER METHOD OF BAPTISM
- now we ask the third question: “How should we administer the rite of baptism?”
- what does the Bible say?
- we believe only baptism by immersion can fully symbolize the believer’s new identity in Christ
- “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:3–4, NIV)
- do you see in this passage the burying and the raising?
- the baptism that really changes us is the baptism of the Holy Spirit who comes into the believer's life and performs the circumcision of the heart
- it is God taking up residence in our life
- "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14, NASB95)
A. A NEW TESTAMENT BAPTISM IS BAPTISM BY IMMERSION
- you say, “Pastor, how do you know?”
- because that's what the word baptize literally means
- the word baptize in the New Testament is not a translation of the original Greek word, but a transliteration of the word
- ILLUS. In 1604 the King of England, James 1, called various church leaders together for a conference at Hampton Court. At that conference, Dr. John Reynolds, a Puritan churchman, proposed this resolution: "That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this is to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all Churches of England in time of divine service." The resolution was applauded and approved. The king appointed a group of 54 men to the task of translating the Bible from its original languages into the English of their day. Everything was going fine until they got to the Greek word baptidzo which means to fully dip, plunge under, or totally submerge. It was the word that the Greeks used for drowning. There was just one teensy problem—the Church of England practiced baptism by sprinkling. This posed a serious dilemma. John is no long "John the Baptist," but "John the Immerser." Galatians 3:27 would no longer read, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ," but instead would say, "for all of you who were immersed into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." They solved the problem in a unique way. Instead of translating the word baptidzo as fully dip, plunge under or immerse, they simply replaced the Greek letters with the English equivalent and it came out baptize! It saved the Church of England from a lot of embarrassment and it probably saved the scholars their heads. But it has forever complicated the issue of baptism.
- we wouldn't be Baptists anymore, but would be Dippers
- we wouldn't be the Missouri Baptist Convention, but instead would be the Missouri Dippers Convention
- this is obviously a point of contention between us and almost all other denominations
- ILLUS. Our own Missouri Baptist history shows that the mode of baptism was a point of discord in the early spiritual woodland warfare between Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians 170 years ago on the Missouri frontier. The Methodists sang this song in their camp meetings: "We've searched the laws of Heaven throughout the sacred code; Of baptism by dipping we've never found a word." To which the Baptists would respond—I'm sure in a rousing tune—"Not at the river Jordan, but in the flowing stream, stood John the Baptist when he baptized Jesus. John was a Baptist preacher when he baptized the Lamb, thus Jesus was a Baptist and thus the Baptists came."
- both are important
- ILLUS. Historically, Baptists have rejected the baptisms of some other evangelical churches. Our Baptist forefathers held, for instance, that the Methodist and Presbyterian churches were true churches because they held to the true gospel – they preached faith in Christ and the new birth. Thus they were of like faith. But these churches were in disorder because they practiced infant baptism, by which they allowed unsaved persons to join the church. On the other hand, we have those congregations that we consider of like order, but not of like faith. Some sister denominations practice baptism by immersion, but they see it as quasi-sacramental ritual. The Christian Church is in this category. They believe you must be born again, but you must also be baptized. To be saved but not baptized is not really to be saved. Thus, we consider them as having like order, but not like faith. When persons apply for membership in a Baptist Church and claim that they have been baptized by immersion as professing believers by a Presbyterian or Methodist or perhaps a Christian Church minister, Baptists require them to receive baptism by immersion before admission. Some will reject this idea of "re-baptism." But our Baptist forefathers did not consider it re-baptism, but merely true, biblical, New Testament baptism. This practice does not endear Baptists to our fellow evangelicals. Our forefathers regretted this, but felt bound by Scripture.
IV. THE PROPER AUTHORITY IN BAPTISM
- now we come to the last question we need to consider: “Who should do the baptizing in a local church?”
- what does the Bible say about this?
- interestingly enough, the Bible doesn’t say much about this
- over the centuries the church has debated the question, “Who has the authority to baptize people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ?”
- some have argued that only the clergy or an officially recognized minister
- some have argued that any individual Christian has the right to baptize another believer
- Baptists have maintained one simple answer—the local church has the authority to authorize baptism, and they can authorize whomever they want—be it lay person or minister—to administer the rite
- we believe this for two reasons
- baptism in not merely a convert’s public profession of his or her faith, but also an identifying with the congregation as a community of believers
- baptism is not purely an individual act—there is a reciprocal responsibility to the convert to the congregation and the congregation to the convert
- what concerns the local church, the local church has the authority to regulate
- who can baptize? —Whomever the local church designates
Some of you are wondering, "How does this message apply to me? I've heard all this before and have believed it all my Christian life."
Let me ask you a question: "Are you still trying to be the person that your baptism claimed you to be?"
In the first-century Church baptismal candidates approached the baptistry pool wearing old cloths. These were stripped off as they entered the waters of baptism, and on surfacing they were clothed in a white robe. The old clothes represented the old life, while the new cloths characterized the new life and its accompanying change of behavior.