In our last few posts, we’ve briefly described what baptism is.
One thing I’d add to that is that baptism is what true, Gospel-believing churches do. If Christian baptism is what we’ve described it to be, it follows that it’s legitimacy is closely connected to the practice and affirmation of a truly Christian church.
In other words, if a church is an apostate assembly – no longer a church in any meaningful, biblical sense of that word – it is an act of prudence on behalf of a true, evangelical church to judge the baptisms by such a church as inauthentic, something other than biblical baptism. Again, baptism isn’t just the act of an individual going public for Jesus, but also the act of a whole church affirming that said individual is “going public” with good, biblical reason. It takes a truly Christian church to perform truly Christian baptism.
Enough of that, on to what baptism isn’t.
Testing For Imposters
Having laid the foundation for what baptism is, we can more easily handle what it isn’t. Why? Because what baptism isn’t necessarily follows from what baptism is. Yet another instance where diligent study of the ‘real’ thing prepares one to more accurately spot the ‘fake’, the near facsimile, the counterfeit. So, prepared, let’s tackle a few misunderstandings by looking carefully to the Bible, and specifically to the New Testament (as that is where baptism appears):
Baptism isn’t merely an individual’s act. In Acts 2:41, 47, it’s clear that those who believed the Gospel message were, then, baptized and added to ‘their’ number. ‘Their’, to be clear, is referring to the church in Jerusalem.
Baptism isn’t merely a church’s act. In the same verses mentioned above, the church isn’t just grabbing people off the street and baptizing them. Individuals are coming to faith in Christ and, having done so, are being baptized of their own will, we might now say, into the membership of the church.
Baptism isn’t performed in the hope that the one being baptized will eventually come to faith in Christ. The Israelites were commanded in the law of Moses to circumcise their male children as an act of covenantal obedience, but Jesus does not leave his disciples a similar imperative. Nevertheless, this is the practical understanding of “paedobaptists”, parents and churches who ‘baptize’ their infants. Baptism, rather, is the sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Acts 2:38; Rom 6:3-11; Col 2:11-12), and as such has a new scope.
One of the hallmarks of faithful biblical interpretation is that clearer passages ought to govern dimmer ones; more, that we want to take our doctrine from revelation instead of silence. The fact is, there’s no clear passage in the New Testament prescribing infant baptism for the church. Some may be read to imply it, but none state it explicitly. And further, those passages (Acts 2:39, 16:33; 1 Cor 7:15) are few and, in my opinion, more properly understood to the advantage of believer’s baptism by the broader details surrounding them. They give no warrant, certainly no prescription, for the church to ‘baptize’ infants.
Baptism isn’t whatever is performed upon an unbeliever, however old. Some, of course, are dunked in water, only later to understand that they weren’t believers at that time. In all love, that wasn’t the baptism. It was a quick bath (compare with 1 Pet 3:21. We’ll talk about what Peter means by ‘Baptism . . . now saves you’ next time!).
Following from this, baptism isn’t something accomplished more than once in a person’s life. In other words, there’s no such thing as re-baptism. There’s only biblical baptism. If you’ve been baptized as a believer by a Gospel-believing church, you’ve been baptized. You need not be baptized again as, say, penance for a season of sin. You just need to repent, and move forward walking humbly with your God. In fact, instead of seeking an additional baptism, just remember the original (Rom 6:3-11)!
Finally, baptism isn’t normatively done any other way than by immersion in water. Again, the Greek word means ‘to dunk,’ ‘to immerse,’ it’s depiction portrays the same, and every clear mention of it’s practice in the New Testament relays the necessity of ‘lots of water,’ and the submersion of the one being baptized. Rare exceptions may necessarily occur on account of things like physical disabilities.
I think that about covers it. Next time, we’ll take a look at what baptism does and doesn’t do. This brings us ever closer to the discussion of the Lord’s Supper and the relationship between entering Biblical community and sustaining Biblical community. Devoted to the most Scriptural display of Christ’s glory in and through you,