Baptism - A Confession of Faith
Christian baptism is an act of worship, taking the form of a ceremonial washing, in which a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ identifies himself, by faith, with the Saviors atoning death, and consecrates himself to a lifetime of faith and obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Like the Lords Supper, baptism is an ordinance, i.e. sacred tradition, given to the church by the Lord Jesus, both by his own example (Mt. 3:13-17) and his own explicit command (Mt. 28:19). The ordinance of baptism is a ceremony of initiation, marking the entrance into discipleship and identifying one as a fellow believer with his brothers and sisters in the local church. The ordinance of communion is a ceremony of remembrance, commemorating the Saviors crucifixion and resurrection by sharing the bread and wine with fellow believers.
At least four parallels can be made between these two ordinances that Christ gave to the church. (1) Both ordinances are acted sermons, proclaiming the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ visibly and dramatically. "As the preaching of the word makes the gospel audible, so the ordinances make it visible." They are, consequently, visual aids, portraying the gospel in picture form. (2) Both are outward expressions of an inward reality. Peter classified baptism in the same category with Noahs ark as "figures" of the means of salvation (1 Pet. 3:20-22). Baptism is, then, a symbolic act, by which an individual expresses his conviction that God has already performed the substantial work of grace in the soul that Paul calls "the washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5). The salvation in gospel baptism is a "now" salvation (" baptism doth also now save us "), that is, a present deliverance in which the believer receives a sense of pardon and peace from a guilty conscience, not the removal of "the filth of the flesh [i.e. indwelling sin]" (I Pet. 3:21). The Lords Supper, likewise, is figurative of the actual means of salvation. When Jesus took the elements and said "This is my body this is my blood," he meant that the bread and the wine represented, not constituted, his broken body and his shed blood. Neither baptism nor communion are themselves the means by which one is saved; rather, they point to and picture the objective work of salvation performed by Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit. (3) Both are signs of the believers union with Christ. By participating in the ordinances, the believer is reminded of his personal interest in Christs atoning work as a participant, not a spectator. The ordinances are expressions of individual assurance testifying with Paul, "I am crucified with Christ who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20; Col. 2:12). When an individual personally and physically is immersed, he is saying, by that act, "I believe that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected for me; I trust only in his merit, for time and eternity." Further, when one personally and physically takes the bread and the wine into his body, he is saying, "I believe that his body was broken and his blood was shed for me; he is my only hope for heaven and my only source of strength and nourishment now." (4) Both ordinances are "church" ordinances, in terms of the fact that the authority to administer the ordinances has been given to the church (Mt. 28:19). The Biblical observance of these two ceremonies, "as [the apostles] delivered them" (I Cor. 11:2), are marks by which a genuine church is identified and defined (2 Ths. 2:15).
A convincing case can be made from the New Testament regarding the fact that immersion is the Scriptural mode or method of baptism. Philip and the Eunuch "went down both into the water and he baptized him," then they came "up out of the water" (Acts 8:38-39). Certainly, complete immersion most accurately portrays Christs death, burial, and resurrection. Even more convincing is the case that can be made for the fact that believers, as opposed to infants and unbelievers, are the only appropriate subjects for the ordinance. To the eunuchs question "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" Philip responded, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest" (Acts 8:36-37). On the day of Pentecost, it was those who "gladly received the word" that were baptized (Acts 2:41). It was after Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the Philippian jailor and his family that they were all baptized (Acts 16:32-34). To everyone who believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, baptism is commanded (Acts 10:48), for faith without works is dead. Baptism is the act of faith, by which a believer makes a break with his past lifestyle, turns from his idols, and sets out to follow the Lord Jesus Christ for the rest of his life. It is a dramatization of repentance at a radical level, a turning point in life marked by a distinct and voluntary decision to die to self and to live completely and only for the Lord. It is the believers testimony, first to the local fellowship, and then to the watching world, of personal faith in Christ Jesus. It is a courageous act in which one risks the embarrassment and vulnerability of scorn and ridicule as the first step of a Christian discipleship that will be marked by ongoing persecution. It is a confession that the believer is not ashamed of the gospel or embarrassed by the Savior, but willing to suffer humiliation for the One who laid down his life for him. Like the entire Christian life, this first step is inconvenient and physically unpleasant, but a true believer is willing, yea, even glad to suffer hardship for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, baptism is for believers.
Baptism, however, is not
only a profession of the fact that one believes in Jesus, it is also
a confession of what one believes about Jesus. In Acts 8:12, Luke
specifically refers, not to the mere fact of their faith, but to
the content of their faith, i.e. not "that" they believed
but to "what" they believed: "But when they believed Philip
preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name
of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women."
Historically, every tradition,
whether Baptist, Protestant, or Roman Catholic, considered the ordinances
as mirrors of theology; hence, the practice of referring to ones particular
tradition as a "communion," i.e., the Methodist communion, the
Episcopal communion, the Presbyterian communion, etc. The tendency to classify
the ordinances in "experiential" (as opposed to "theological")
terms is a relatively new phenomena that gained prominence in twentieth
century ecumenism through the influence of the World Council of Churches
and the rapid growth of the charismatic movement.
Behind the question of the
validity of someones baptism is the question "How should we define
the church?" Is the church merely some vague, nebulous,
mystical group that includes everyone who professes to believe in Jesus?
In the New Testament, the idea of the church is concrete and
definite, not abstract and general. When Jesus said, "If he neglect
to hear them, tell it to the church" (Mt. 18:17), he indicates that
the church is a local group that has definition and structure,
else the command would be unintelligible.