Should we baptize the energetic five-year-old who just bounded down the aisle to tell us they love Jesus? Should we require Sarah to get “re-baptized” even though her Christian parents had her sprinkled as a child? Should we ask Jerry to get re-baptized since he just told us about how he is finally following Jesus. He was dunked as a kid, but now his life is changing. He has stopped getting drunk; he faithfully attends church; and he has begun to final treat his wife with dignity and love. And what about Sally? She was dunked by a Roman Catholic priest. She went was fully submerged and everything. Does she need to be baptized before become a member of our church?
The answer all of these questions and the many others that play on the sands of baptism’s shore, we must turn to the Scriptures. We must look at how the Scriptures speak of baptism and then baptize accordingly.
What does the Bible have to say about baptism?
Baptism is For The Redeemed
The New Testament church only baptized those who had repented and believed in response to the Word of God. The three thousand souls added at Pentecost, the Ethiopian Eunuch, the apostle Paul, the Gentiles at Cornelius’s house, and the Philippian Jailer all heard the gospel, repented, and then entered the waters of baptized (Acts 2:37-41; Acts 8:34-36; 9:17-18; 10:47; 16:29-34).
Luke documents Peter’s words in Acts 10:47-48:
“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
Baptism never precedes faith and repentance. It is often closely tied to faith and repentance. After all, the believer who has been redeemed will undoubtedly want to publicly obey Christ and unify with the people of Christ through the waters of baptism. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4-6:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all
All who believe in Christ become part of God’s people and share a common hope that is defined by the Lordship of Christ, faith in the his resurrection, and baptism. Baptism cannot be detached from faith. All who believe and have the opportunity to get baptized will eagerly embrace the waters of baptism.
The 1 Peter Objection
But then we encounter 1 Peter 3:21-22 which states:
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Peter just said that baptism saves, but the Scriptures mentioned above teach the opposite. What is going on?
The word “corresponds,” ἀντίτυπον, refers to an impression made from stamp used to seal envelopes. It could also be translated as “representation.” Peter is saying that baptism, dunking, is a representation of how God saves us. The salvation is not based on works. Rather it is based on faith in God which grants us good conscience through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter is explicitly revealing that the physical act of baptism does not save. Salvation comes through Christ alone by faith. We cannot initiate salvation for ourselves or for anyone else through the waters of baptism.
Baptism By Immersion
How do we do it? How should be baptize people? Do we immerse them? Do we sprinkle them? Do we need running water? Do any of these things matter?
Correct and biblical baptism always consists of immersion. The baptism described in the New Testament indicate that the baptismal candidates where dunked. Both Mathew 3:16 and Mark 1:10 record that Jesus “when up from the water” following his baptism. And in Acts 8:38-39 we read the following description of the Ethiopian Eunuch’s baptism:
And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
Moreover baptism points to the salvific work of Christ in the believer’s heart. The sacrament does not signal future salvation or hope for salvation. Baptism shows what Christ has done in our hearts. Notice Romans 6:3-4:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Colossians 2:12-13, Titus 3:5, and 1 Corinthians 6:11 all confirm the Biblical maxim that baptism should be by immersion. The believer goes under the water to express death to sin and comes back out of the water to express their new life in Christ. Such powerful imagery, such gospel explanation is lost when we dip our hands in small bowl of water and sprinkle someone’s head. Such little amounts of water couldn’t wash dirt off a child’s face. The picture fails to accurately represent the powerful, awesome, and beautiful act of salvation which is tied to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Baptism In the Church
Baptism is a proclamation, a demonstration, and an identification with the gospel. Those who go into the waters of baptism declare that they have been redeemed and our now part of the people of God. The church is charged by God in Matthew 16:19-20 to both bind and loose. The church is supposed to recognize those who have been redeemed and excommunicate those who evidence no fruit of continued repentance. Since Baptism is, “The boundary of visible Christianity” the church should guard and administer the sacrament. The local church should determine who has demonstrated faith and baptize them. The local church (and not camps, college ministries, or para-church feeding programs) has been given the keys to the kingdom and should oversee the sacrament of Baptism. More specifically, the pastors and elders of the local church should do the baptism. They have been appointed by the church to teach, guide, and when needed represent the church. God honoring Baptism takes place when a believer who has heard the gospel and repented is baptized by immersion by an elder in the presence of the local church.
We could summarize all that has been said above in the below definition:
Baptism is the first sacrament of the new covenant which initiates believers into the local church through immersion which symbolizes that the believer has died to sin and been raised with Christ.
Who should be baptized? Those who believed in response to the preached gospel. Who has truly been baptized? Those who were immersed after faith. All other baptismal acts including sprinkling and being baptized in a non-gospel affirming church are not biblical baptism. Who needs to be baptized? All who have believed and who have not been immersed in the presence of a gospel believing church by a recognized leader of the church.