Having a clearer picture of what the local church is in terms of its definition, its purposes and its governance, and the Lord’s Supper as a church ordinance, we turn our attention to baptism. What does the word baptism mean? Is baptism an ordinance? And how should baptism take place? Who should be baptised? What does the Bible teach us about baptism?
The Meaning of Baptism
In keeping with its Jewish origins, “Baptism is an identification or association with a person or message or group”. The key word here is “identification”. For example, Jews who were baptised by John the Baptist not only identified with John’s message, but also committed themselves to accept the Messiah (Christ) once John the Baptist pointed out who the Messiah was (cf. John 1:36-37). Again, baptism has to do with identification.
Baptism Qualifies as an Ordinance
Baptism meets all three qualifications of an ordinance. It was commanded by the Lord Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20), it was practiced in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5) and it was expounded upon in the Epistles (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-12).
The Biblical Prescription for Baptism
Christ commanded disciples to be baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). This prescription distinguishes believer’s baptism from other baptisms that were practised in Israel in those days, such as the baptism of proselytes or John’s baptism. Sometimes much is made of references to baptism in the Book of Acts, where only Jesus’ name is mentioned, but one must understand the Jewish context in which Christian baptism originated. Again, baptism was a Jewish practice long before it became a Church practice. When the New Testament speaks of being baptised in the name of Christ, it never uses the word “only”. It mentions Christ or Jesus and not the Father or the Holy Spirit simply because that was enough to distinguish it from other forms of baptism. When the New Testament states “baptise in the name of Jesus”, it simply means that the person was baptised into believer’s baptism, not into John’s baptism, proselyte baptism or any other baptism. When a disciple of Christ is baptised today, he or she must be baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20).
Use in the New Testament
Five Greek words help define the meaning and mode of baptism: the word bapto means “to dip” and is used three times in the New Testament. Baptizo means “to baptise” (used 8 times), baptisteis means “baptiser” (4 times), baptisma means “baptism” (22 times) and baptismos means either “baptism” or “washing” (used 9 times in the New Testament).
The Mode of Baptism
Should a person be sprinkled (or poured) with water or immersed into water? This controversial topic is discussed in detail by dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum in his article which we are summarising here. The primary meaning of the word baptism is always “to immerse”. In the context of baptism, the Bible speaks about a person being baptised as going into the water and then coming up out of the water, statements clearly implying total immersion (Matthew 3:16; Acts 8:38-39). Not only is this how John the Baptist baptised, but it is also how Jesus was baptised. Every New Testament case of baptism allows for immersion. The proper mode of baptism is immersion. Any other kind of practise, such as sprinkling or pouring, is not Biblical baptism. Those who have merely been sprinkled or have had water poured on them have not yet undergone true Biblical baptism.
The Subjects for Baptism
Who should be baptised? Again, this controversial subject is discussed in detail by dr. Fruchtenbaum and you are kindly referred to it. Only after a person has exercised faith in Jesus Christ should this new believer be baptised. The clear teaching of Scripture is that only a person who has believed qualifies for baptism. For example, Acts 2:38 commands: “Repent … and be baptised”. Acts 2:41 states that only those who received the words of Peter … were then baptised. Acts 8:12 states that those who believed were then baptised. Many more examples could be mentioned (Acts 9:18; 10:44-48; 16:30-34; 18:8). One must first believe before you qualify for believer’s baptism.
It is often said that because circumcision was practiced upon infants, so baptism should be practised upon infants. This view, however, is wrong. First, in Acts 15 the controversy over the necessity of circumcision was not solved by the Jerusalem Council declaring that baptism is a replacement of circumcision. They solved it by pointing out that the Gentiles were simply not under the Law of Moses. Second, baptism is not the anti-type of circumcision. The anti-type of the circumcision of the flesh is not baptism, it is the circumcision of the heart. Third, circumcision is to be performed only on male, Jewish babies that are 8 days old in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant. If baptism was indeed the anti-type of circumcision, then only Jewish male babies should be baptised.
All this (immersion, faith, discipleship) excludes infants because they cannot yet believe. Baptism shows the faith and obedience of the one being baptised. It is what the Lord Jesus Christ commanded his disciples to do (Matthew 28:18-20). If you are a believer in Jesus Christ who has never obeyed this command, do get on with it. A believer who wants to become a disciple of Jesus Christ should be baptised. The Lord clearly commands you to do so (Matthew 28:18-20) and of course you want to obey Him.
If you would like to read more about Baptism, we suggest you read the original article and source of this post, The Ordinance of Baptism, written by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum and published by Ariel Ministries in San Antonio.
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