Last night, partly inspired by the purchase of our new portable baptistery, Dave spoke on the subject of baptism in water. Acts 8:36-40 gives one of the first accounts of the early church’s attitude to baptism and shows baptism by full immersion must have been practised, since ‘much water’ was required. Over the years, baptism has also been done by ‘sprinkling’ water symbolically, but in the New Testament, the usual practice was to baptise by full immersion, signifying the descent into the grave and the abandonment of the old way of living, to rise to new life. Christians ultimately are not simply ‘nice’ people but ‘new’ people, those who have been given new life through the resurrection of Christ.
Baptism speaks of the present new life we have but also points back to the death of the old self and speaks of the future hope we have (Rom 5:6) when the grave will not hold us. Baptism is a picture of death, burial and resurrection.
Why should we be baptised?
Baptism is a way of identifying with Jesus. It does not ‘make’ us Christians, any more than a wedding ring ‘makes’ us married, but it is an outward identification of our faith in Christ, an act of obedience since Christ commanded baptism (see Matt 28:18-20). Baptism is a symbol that we belong to Jesus; it is a symbol of the new life He gives us.
When should we be baptised?
Jesus said that we should make disciples and baptise them; this is the clear order. Infant baptism is not recommended since a baby cannot be a disciple; that choice must come later with understanding and faith (in our church, we dedicate children to God and pray for His blessing on them and their families, asking God to grant them faith to believe and we then baptise those who have made the clear decision to follow Jesus.) We don’t believe in baptismal regeneration (i.e. it is not the act of baptism which saves us, but faith in the atoning work of Jesus.) Like Cornelius in Acts 10 who believed and was then baptised, we believe this is the correct order. Acts 16:3 indicates that baptism in water can be quite soon after believing; baptism marks the new start made when people turn from sin to follow Jesus (see Acts 2:38).
Baptism is clearly the norm for those who want to obey Christ and follow Him. It is a sign of our obedience to Christ. It brings with it the blessings of obedient faith (see how the Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing after being baptised or how the Philippian jailer was blessed through his obedient response.) Baptism does not make us saved; salvation comes first and is followed by baptism, but for those who are saved, it is the next logical step of obedient faith and brings with it the blessings God promises to all who are obedient.