Is Form More Important
Should you get baptized or should you not? That’s one question.
Another question, and one that is a little more difficult to answer is if you do get baptized, which baptism is best?
Those are important questions because Baptism is a Christian basic. It’s universal. It applies to every believer but there are differences of opinion on this practice.
Some believe baptism saves or at least puts one in the right place to be saved. Others believe it has nothing to do with salvation.
Some believe infants should be baptized. Others believe they shouldn’t.
Some believe baptism can be administered by pouring or sprinkling. Others believe full bodily immersion is required.
Some believe baptism can only be administered by qualified individuals. Others believe any Christian can baptize any Christian candidate.
Some believe only their denomination’s baptism is legitimate. Others believe that’s an unnecessary restriction.
Some believe the form is all important – only immersion is allowed. Others believe the heart of the individual is more important than the form.
Like belief, the decision to be baptized is individual. Unlike belief, you can’t fake it.
Probably no Christian basic has been debated more than baptism and the debates weren’t lighthearted. History records much feuding over this issue even to the point of drawing blood.
The Bible says much more about belief (faith) than baptism but what it says is important. Here are the facts:
- John the Baptist initiated the tradition of baptism.
- The high number of baptisms was evidence of John’s effectiveness.
- Jesus was baptized by John, even though John questioned this.
- Jesus first disciples were baptized by John.
- Jesus taught his followers to continue the tradition of baptism.
- From the Day of Pentecost onward disciples new believers were baptized. The practice stuck.
- Paul taught that baptism symbolized the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
From these facts we can isolate several takeaways:
Baptism Occurred Only After Belief
Baptism was never the primary point of any message and was often mentioned only as an after thought.
Those that believed were baptized.
It was there but more in the background.
And that makes sense. Believing is the real issues. When a person genuinely believes they need saving and genuinely embraces Jesus as the Savior, salvation is done. Baptism comes after.
Therefore, baptizing someone before they believe is like washing the baby before it’s born. With modern technology it can be done but is it the sensible thing to do?
Baptism Was Personal
The decision to get baptized is personal in the sense that it is an individual choice. No one can decide for you and you can decide for no one.
That is one reason many churches don’t baptize infants.
When you think about it, that also makes good parenting sense. As parents we should never make any decision for our children that they can eventually make for themselves.
A parent’s job is to teach children how to make decisions not make decisions for them. Baptism is no different.
Baptism was never imposed on anyone or assumed for anyone. Parents shouldn’t assume it for their children.
Baptist Is About Relationship
Baptism is also personal in that it is public not private. It’s out there for all to see.
I don’t mean YouTube public. Social media proclamations aren’t required but in every age Baptisms were always witnessed by other significant people.
In that sense it is a relationship builder. Relationships happen because two or more people do things that say: I like you or I’m with you or I agree with you.
People get married because one proposes and the other accepts. No guessing involved. A wedding is a public declaration of this agreement.
Some things may be private but baptism is not one of them.
- Jesus taught that donations and prayers are at least quiet if not private.
- Belief is always invisible and can be expressed in complete privacy.
Baptism is individual but is quite visible. It is a public agreement with a particular belief – Jesus is the Savior – that identifies with a particular group – Christianity.
Baptism says I believed and I’m a Christian. It is also inter-relational in several ways.
- Other people are involved. You can’t baptize yourself.
- Other people witness baptism and many, if not all of them, have been baptized.
- It identifies with a group.
In addition to salvation, baptism is the minimum requirement for membership in a church but it doesn’t necessarily make you a member of any particular church.
It also honors God since He endorsed the tradition.
No Qualifications Are Required To Administer Baptism
Neither seminary degrees nor ordination are required to administer baptism. Any Christian can baptize any other Christian.
Philip (known as an evangelist only because he led so many people to the Lord) baptized the believers in Samaria and the Ethiopian diplomat, both of whom were avoided by the recognized Apostles.
The important issue is the heart of the person being baptized not the person administering baptism.
It is quite all right for parents to baptize their kids if the parent , child and church are all agreeable.
Baptism Involved No Magic
There are two schools of thought:
- One, Baptism saves.
- Two, Baptism doesn’t save.
The idea that baptism saves is problematic for several reasons. Determining which one saves is a good place to state.
Many people today have experienced baptism several times. Once as an infant, then later as an adult, sometimes more than once as an adult. It isn’t uncommon for the leadership of one church to find ways to discredit previous baptisms regardless the details.
Since everyone agrees that belief is essential to salvation another good question is what weight does it carry relative to baptism? Is baptism equally important to belief or is one more important than the other? Is it 50/50, 25/75, 10/90 or what?
Another good question involves timing. Since many religions baptize infants and many of these religions are the ones who believe baptism saves we must wonder:
Can baptism save a person who isn’t aware they are being baptized?
Baptism must be very powerful to save a person who isn’t aware they are being baptized and won’t understand the concept for several years to come.
Another good question involves order. Can baptism save anyone who doesn’t first of all believe? If the answer is yes, wouldn’t it make sense to set up baptistries – of the sprinkling kind – along paths that people frequently walk.
Surely if baptism effectively saves infants who aren’t aware they are being baptized then it will surely save adults. Obviously, the sprinkle will need to be a very fine mist to avoid being detected. We’re doing them a great service. They need not know.
Unfortunately, the only thing this discussion does is attribute to baptism a power that it clearly doesn’t have. That is the unstated but implied understanding. Baptist is venerated.
Belief, however, dominates in the New Testament. The word Faith in one form or another is mentioned more than 240 times in the New Testament. Baptize is only mentioned 80 and fifteen of those occurrences it refers to John the Baptist. By comparison baptism doesn’t register predominantly at all.
It is also worthy to note that Belief as a means of salvation is mentioned several times with no reference to baptism. Baptism was never mentioned without faith.
I guess it is possible that a person’s belief could coincide with their baptism but the belief is still separate to the baptism and is the single important issue. The thief on the cross wasn’t baptized nor were any Old Testament believers.
Baptism Was Always By Full Body Immersion
There are a couple of good reasons why immersion represents the correct form of baptism.
First of all, the meaning of the Greek word is immersion. In fact, Baptize is not a word. At least Not an English word.
It is a transliteration. The translators replaced the Greek letters with English alphabet equivalents and the result was Baptize. Then they proceeded to give it a meaning they preferred: sprinkle or pour. Since it is really not a word I guess you could assign any meaning you wish.
There are many long winded explanation why sprinkle applies but it is an insult to language and logic to discuss them.
Baptism is symbolic. Even though it doesn’t save, it does illustrate the basis of salvation: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
There is nothing about sprinkling or pouring that can represent burial and resurrection.
Baptism Gives Consent
We often say that believers should submit to baptism and that submission is an act of obdience. I wouldn’t say those words are entirely wrong but they make it sound demeaning.
I would like to play with that a bit if I may.
Yes, Jesus did command us to carry on the tradition of baptizing disciples, and we are obedient when we do, but does that apply directly to new believers, the candidates who we baptize?
Following Jesus is what believers should do. Leading believers is what Jesus offers to do. But nothing is forced. The command isn’t get baptized or else. Following Jesus isn’t like surrendering to an enemy.
Believers are offered the option to follow and Baptism is the way they give consent. Following is the better choice but it is choice. And it is a choice we renew everyday with deliberation.
Disciples who agree to baptism after thoughtful deliberation make better followers. That, of course, is another reason why we should not baptize anyone before they can decide for themselves.
Baptism Can Be Done Anywhere
Disciples were baptized in many different places in the New Testament, none of which were officially sanctified. As long as there was enough water, baptism could take place.
So what we take away from that is any place will do: a back yard pool, a large jacuzzi, a dam or lake, even a large puddle can become a makeshift baptistry.
There is also no restriction on time.
Go here for a discussion on the Lord’s Supper.