Why baptism? When a person joins a new group or team, they often don a uniform as a symbol of their belonging. Our Christian symbol isn’t a uniform, but a special event – baptism. However, it isn’t merely a human tradition. It is a sign (a sacrament) given by God in which God does something very significant. He expresses His commitment to those who repent and turn to follow Jesus as Lord. There are some different views among Christians over the details of baptism. But most agree that baptism is commanded by God eg. Matthew 28:19, “make disciples of all nations, baptising them…”, and in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you…” When somebody repents and trusts in Jesus, then they are baptised!
The Old Testament background to baptism is that circumcision was the sign of entry into God’s old covenant family. Boys of the family received the symbol that their family was part of God’s family. It was a powerful (and permanent!) reminder where their parents’ commitment lay. Much later, John the Baptist called on the Jews to be baptised, expressing repentance (see Ezekiel 36:25f). Baptism was a huge step for a Jew because they practiced baptism when a pagan Gentile wanted to join Judaism. John also prophesied that Jesus would bring a greater baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire”. John said, Jesus would indwell with his Holy Spirit those who turned to him and baptise with his fire of judgement those who don’t (Matt 3:11f). Jesus himself was baptised, not because he needed to repent but he represented us, so he was baptised in our place, just as he would die in our place. Acts 3:14-15.
So baptism symbolises something hugely important, but the act itself has been made too important in some churches. It symbolises:
¨ our trust in his death (Romans 6:4)
¨ that our old life is over and new one in Christ begun (Col 2:12)
¨ that Christ has saved us (1 Peter 3:21)
¨ God’s Spirit coming upon us when we repent (Matthew 3:11)
Catholic and Orthodox Churches believe the act of baptism washes away your sin and saves you. They speak of new birth at baptism. This is a major error because it implies salvation by works, not Christ alone. In the Church of Christ and Baptist Churches and most Pentecostal churches only adults can be baptised and it must be by immersion. This is a minor difference in my opinion, but personally I believe that baptism should be linked to the covenant and families as it is in Anglican and Presbyterian, and some Uniting Churches. Hebrews 6:2, Ephesians 4:5 and the passages above make it clear the first century church carried on baptism, and that it didn’t just die out with Jesus return to heaven.
Next week “Baptism part 2 – Who should be baptised and how?”
Your brother in Christ, Graham Crew