What Baptism Is, Part II

In the last post, we addressed two of the major concepts we can take away from Scripture concerning baptism. Below follows two more ideas that are crucial to our understanding and practice.

Believer’s Baptism is a Command of Jesus

In one of the most famous passages in the Bible, Matthew 28:16-20 (the Great Commission), the resurrected Jesus clearly commands His disciples to go into all the world under His authority, to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of our triune God, and to teach them to practice all that Christ had commanded them.

Well, one thing Christ just commanded them, was to baptize them, but who’s ‘them’? Them are the disciples that His disciples made as they took the Gospel into all the world. See then that when Jesus could’ve broadened the proper subjects of God’s baptism beyond new believers, actual disciples, He doesn’t. His command concerning baptism falls upon those who have come to faith in Christ. Jesus commands believer’s to be baptized. Our Lord commands believer’s baptism. This much is abundantly clear, and clarity is the best friend of the best interpretation. In other words, the argument for believer’s baptism isn’t an argument from silence, but a command from the very lips of Jesus.

Believer’s Baptism is a Joyful Means of Grace

What a celebration it should be when one goes public for Jesus by baptism! There are so many blessings set upon it. Here are a few—the baptized has the blessing of having obeyed Jesus. They have the privilege of depicting His saving grace to others. They have the joy of declaring His triumph to antagonistic principalities and powers. They have the assurance that comes from a Gospel-church affirming the reality they mean to profess: this person belongs to Jesus and to Jesus’ people.

They have the assurance that God has set them apart from the world, bound them to His Son, His New Covenant promises, His New Covenant people, and established their names in Heaven by the blood of Christ. And the baptizer, the church, gets to see and hear and proclaim and revel in all of these grandiose mercies with this particular individual. It edifies us! More could be said here but, suffice it to say, believer’s baptism, baptism signifying that one has really, actually come to faith in Christ, is a joyful means of grace all-around.

Next time, we’ll flip this around and take a look at what baptism isn’t. Until then, continuing to aim only for fully-informed minds begetting fully-rejoicing hearts as we, in spiritual unity and with holy accountability, come to remember the Lord’s death until He comes again. Devoted to the most Scriptural display of Christ’s glory in and through you,

TMC elders

What Baptism Is

In our last post, we addressed the importance, ability, and necessity of coming to convictions about baptism and the Lord’s Supper that are most faithful to the inerrant witness of God’s Word. In this post, we want to take an initial dip (pun intended) into the ordinance of baptism. What is it? The clearest understanding of baptism on the pages of holy Scripture can be brought together in four main themes, two of which we will address in this post, and two more in a future post. Let’s dive in!

Baptism is Two-Part Act: The Church and the Individual

Baptism is a church’s act of affirming the credibility of an individual’s profession of faith in Jesus (Acts 2:38, 41). In that, we also note that baptism is an individual’s act of going public about what Jesus has done in their heart and life (same texts in Acts, but also is clear or able to be inferred from more than a few others). In other words, there is a joyfully obedient will on the part of both the one baptizing (a representative of the whole church) and the baptizee (the one being baptized) that the baptizee, as best as the church can discern, been united by faith to Jesus in His death and resurrection. Simply put, that they are a believer. A church baptizes, and a Christian gets baptized.

Baptism is Outwardly Depicting a New Inner Reality

The person is “going on record” that they’re in Jesus. And it’s the church’s joy and duty of affirming and outwardly depicting that new inner reality by baptism (clearest in a text like Romans 6:1-4). To be clear, the church isn’t creating that reality. The Word and the Gospel of God by the Spirit of God is doing that (Rom 10:17, 2 Cor 4:4-6, Eph 1:3-14, 1 Thes 1:4, etc)! More specifically, baptism isn’t creating that but, again, it is outwardly depicting it. By obedience to Jesus’ command in the Great Commission that we baptize rebels turned disciples, the church is affirming and outwardly depicting that new inner reality for the individual, which God thought to be advantageous for their souls!

The very picture of baptism is meant to signify, again, not that a person might hopefully, eventually be united to Jesus, but that they have already, by their own grace-enabled consent, been united to Jesus (again, see especially Rom 6:1-4, noting the words ‘all,’ denoting universal practice, ‘into,’ denoting personal union with Christ, ‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death, etc?’).

In other words, Paul understands baptism to have been performed, without exception, on only those who have actually been united to Christ and are then beneficiaries of His death and resurrection. Note the further clarification of the past tenses in Romans 6:5 to show that this union has already occurred. Again, Acts 2:38 and 41 also reveal this to be the case (along with other supporting texts).

Along the same lines, we should also notice that everywhere in the New Testament where baptism occurs, there’s lots of water (see John 3:23). And there’s lots of water because, it seems, the best way to depict what’s happened to a person in the new birth was to immerse them in water. Indeed, the Greek word for baptism, baptizo, means ‘to immerse!’ And the picture only adds to the Greek!

Going under the water, one holds their breath, signifying union with Christ in His death for them. Then, coming up out of the water, one immediately takes a breath, signifying union with Christ in His resurrection for them. This is the normative mode of baptism in the Bible. Of course, there are some cases that might make this impossible – for instance, a deathbed conversion. Think the thief on the cross!

But back to the more immediate point. The normative mode of baptism in the New Testament (immersion) reinforces the only proper subjects of baptism (Christians) by outwardly depicting the inner reality of the baptized (new birth): that they have actually (not potentially) been united by faith to Jesus, as well as to Jesus’ visible people (manifest in a local church). This is called believer’s baptism. It’s the baptism most clearly in view on the pages of Scripture.

Coming To Convictions

I (Brian) grew up in church. I didn’t grow up in a Baptist church. In fact, with hindsight, I’m not sure I grew up in a true church at all, but I digress. The point is, I wasn’t a Baptist baby. For all my church-going, I wasn’t even a Christian until my senior year of high school. And even then, I wasn’t rooted in any particular local church until I was 24. Between then and my conversion, I more or less bounced around between churches of various types and persuasions.

So I wasn’t raised under what we’ll call ‘Baptistic’ ideals. That wasn’t my root system. I don’t believe what I now believe because I grew up with those beliefs. Again, I wasn’t a Christian until I was nearly 18, and I wasn’t identifiably ‘Baptistic’ until I was in my mid to late twenties. I’m only now 38. I begin this way to make two things clear:

We’re After the Most Biblical Convictions

One, I’ve come to believe what I believe, not so much by Baptistic enculturation as by Biblical enculturation. In what I pray is all humility and teachability (realizing that others have come to different convictions by the same route throughout church history), I want to say that I am where I am on sound doctrine because of where I’m convinced the Bible is on sound doctrine. Here’s the point: wherever we end up on any doctrine or issue in particular, my hope is that we’re there because we believe that’s what the Bible most clearly teaches.

I want us to believe and practice what is most faithful to the whole testimony of God’s Word, believing that will most profit us as God’s people. Our God has spoken. And He’s spoken what He’s spoken, in all of its Scriptural distillations, for the joy of our souls, the firmness of our faith, the conversion of the lost, and the unity most normatively and immediately realized in the context of local churches. With that in mind, our joyful task as a church is to do our best to determine, not just what is faithful enough, but what is most faithful to God’s mind on any matter. I believe in that ‘most,’ and I trust that you do also.

We’re After that ‘Most’ Concerning the Ordinances

Two, in every church I’ve ever attended, one way or another, they’ve practiced baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or communion). Have you noticed the same? That’s because these two things are ordinances that Jesus has given us to practice.

Every church, of whatever stripe, of which I’m aware, baptizes and participates in the Lord’s Supper. All realize it’s important! Indeed, it’s a means of grace like, say, fasting and praying and preaching and singing and so on. We must baptize. We must take the Lord’s Supper. More, we get to! What a joy to celebrate God’s grace!

Now here’s the thing: as God has spoken on these ordinances for the advantage of His people in the world, we’re to celebrate them as most clearly articulated in the Bible. And this is where differences arise. And I admit with Paul, we all see dimly (1 Cor 13:12). But dimly doesn’t mean we can’t see at all! Dimly doesn’t mean we throw up our hands under the words, ‘does it really matter?’ God believes it does! He’s spoken a great deal about it to be One Who, presumably, cares so little about it!

In the language of triage, are the ordinances Gospel-level importance (1 Cor 15:3-4)? No. But as means’ of grace ordained (and commanded!) by Jesus to signify the Gospel and it’s citizens, it’s not much below it. So, at any rate, ‘dimly’ doesn’t mean ‘blindly.’ Paul, who said we all see dimly, still wrote a lot about baptism and the Lord’s Supper for the church (Rom 6:1-4, 1 Cor 10:14-22, 11:17-34, etc.)! It just means that we’re to ever-hold our convictions by the corrective light of Scripture. But in the end, we’re to really, humbly believe certain things about baptism and the Lord’s Supper!

Our Path Forward

In the coming days, this post will be followed by others. The first set of posts will deal with the ordinance of baptism, what it is, what it isn’t, what it does do, what it doesn’t do, and some thoughts in terms of church practice. These will be followed by posts on the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, as throughout church history, these two ordinances have almost universally gone together. The outline for those posts will come before too long. In all of this, please feel free to interact with us on this forum or in person. It’s our joy to seek your uttermost joy in the truth as it is in Jesus.

A Prelude and Forum

Greetings Mount Church family!

As Elders, we are constantly discussing many different topics that relate to our church and how to continue along the journey of growth upon which God has us. We rejoice in what He has already done and look forward to what He will continue to do in our body. I hope you are excited about the future too!

Two of the areas we have been discussing recently are the celebration of the Lord’s supper and baptism. Both are important elements of our faith, and both need Scriptural grounding for us to most faithfully practice them and function as a healthy, unified church. From our conversations with you, we know that we are not alone in being interested in this topic. There have been several members asking us about when we will take the Lord’s supper next, and they have encouraged us to do it soon, since it was done rather infrequently in the past.

It is our heart’s desire to do just that, but we also have the responsibility to make sure the church body is clear on what Scripture says about the celebration of His table, and how it applies to us as individuals in the context of our local church. Further, the ordinance of baptism is tied to the Supper. They go together. In light of that, we will be writing about these topics, and our desire is for this to be a forum that supports asking questions and having them answered. Hopefully, this will provide the clarity and equipment we all need in a timely manner!

Aiming to serve and bless the Mount Church.


Coming Soon

TMC family,

We’re excited to begin a regular schedule of celebrating the Lord’s Supper (communion) together. We will practice the Lord’s Supper for the first time on Sunday, April 5. From that point moving forward, we will take the Lord’s Supper the first Sunday of every month. In preparation for this, as it’s all our desire to equip us all, by God’s grace, to best understand the ordinances (or sacraments) by the light of Scripture and biblical wisdom, we plan to put out a short series of posts over the next two months on baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In addition, we will be holding what we’re going to call discipleship quarterlies. Once per quarter, we’ll gather as a church on a Sunday evening to cover a wide-variety of subjects related to biblical doctrine, church history, cultural engagement, and missions. Our first scheduled discipleship quarterly is Sunday evening, March 29 (we’ll celebrate the Lord’s Supper the following Sunday). The subject for that quarterly will be doctrinal in nature and cover ‘baptism and the Lord’s Supper.’ This will have both teaching and talking elements, more like a Sunday school class than a sermon in corporate worship.

Again, the goal is to be as biblically clear as we can be on the prudence, beauty, usefulness, and details of these two practices that Jesus has ordained for our encouragement and growth in grace as a church. There is much confusion, presently and historically, in doctrine and practice, to say the least. Our hope, however, while readily confessing our fallibility as human beings, is to dig into God’s infallible Word and dig out a most faithful understanding of these things that enhances our corporate practice of them. We want fully-informed minds begetting fully-rejoicing hearts as we, in spiritual unity and with holy accountability, remember the Lord’s death until He comes again!

So beginning next week, you can be expecting a post on Slack, once weekly (or maybe more!), through the end of March. They’ll start with instruction on baptism and move into the Lord’s Supper. Would you please pray for us as we search the Scriptures to this end for the uttermost benefit of our church—we know you will, and we thank God for that confidence in you.

Devoted to the Scriptural display of Christ’s glory in and through you,
TMC elders