Lesson on Baptism

Prepared by Rev. Deborah Thomas/2017

Question: "What is the importance of Christian baptism?"

      Answer: Christian baptism is one of two ordinances that Jesus instituted for the church. Just before His ascension, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20). These instructions specify that the church is responsible to teach Jesus’ word, make disciples, and baptize those disciples. These things are to be done everywhere (“all nations”) until “the very end of the age.” So, if for no other reason, baptism has importance because Jesus commanded it.

     Baptism was practiced before the founding of the church. The Jews of ancient times would baptize proselytes to signify the converts’ “cleansed” nature. John the Baptist used baptism to prepare the way of the Lord, requiring everyone, not just Gentiles, to be baptized because everyone needs repentance. However, John’s baptism, signifying repentance, is not the same as Christian baptism, as seen in Acts 18:24–26 and 19:1–7. Christian baptism has a deeper significance.

    Baptism is to be done in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit—this is what makes it “Christian” baptism. It is through this ordinance that a person is admitted into the fellowship of the church. When we are saved, we are “baptized” by the Spirit into the Body of Christ, which is the church. First Corinthians 12:13 says, “We were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Baptism by water is a “reenactment” of the baptism by the Spirit.

     Christian baptism is the means by which a person makes a public profession of faith and discipleship. In the waters of baptism, a person says, wordlessly, “I confess faith in Christ; Jesus has cleansed my soul from sin, and I now have a new life of sanctification.”

     Christian baptism illustrates, in dramatic style, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. At the same time, it also illustrates our death to sin and new life in Christ. As the sinner confesses the Lord Jesus, he dies to sin (Romans 6:11) and is raised to a brand-new life (Colossians 2:12). Being submerged in the water represents death to sin, and emerging from the water represents the cleansed, holy life that follows salvation. Romans 6:4 puts it this way: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

     Very simply, baptism is an outward testimony of the inward change in a believer’s life. Christian baptism is an act of obedience to the Lord after salvation; although baptism is closely associated with salvation, it is not a requirement to be saved. The Bible shows in many places that the order of events is 1) a person believes in the Lord Jesus and 2) he is baptized. This sequence is seen in Acts 2:41, “Those who accepted [Peter’s] message were baptized” (see also Acts 16:14–15).

     A new believer in Jesus Christ should desire to be baptized as soon as possible. In Acts 8 Philip speaks “the good news about Jesus” to the Ethiopian eunuch, and, “as they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?’” (verses 35–36). Right away, they stopped the chariot, and Philip baptized the man.

    Baptism illustrates a believer’s identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Everywhere the gospel is preached and people are drawn to faith in Christ, they are to be baptized.


 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is baptism necessary to be saved?

  • Is it okay to be baptized in a river or ocean?

  • Should baptism be in the name of Jesus or in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

  • Will babies who die before being baptized go to heaven?

  • Is it necessary to be baptized by full immersion?

  • Can anyone baptize a person, or does it have to be done by a pastor?

  • What does the Bible say about baptizing children?

  • Can a person be baptized more than once?

Introduction

    Baptism is a rite practiced in most Christian churches. Commonly, a minister or priest sprinkles or pours water over the head of the person to be baptized. In some churches the person is briefly immersed entirely in water.

The Bible

    Before the time of Jesus, there were Jewish forms of baptism for ceremonial purification (Leviticus 8:5-6, Leviticus 16:23-24, Exodus 30:17-21). John the Baptist practiced a baptism of repentance in anticipation of the coming of Christ (Matthew 3:11-12). Jesus was baptized by John at the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 3:13-17).

However, the rite of Christian baptism was initiated and mandated by Jesus, Himself:

    Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit(NLT, Matthew 28:19)

    And then he told them, "Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. (NLT, Mark 16:15-16)

Jesus' disciples went on to baptize many people (John 4:1-2, Acts 2:38-41, Galatians 4:26-29), and it has been universally practiced since the beginnings of the Christian Church.

    Neither Jesus nor His disciples laid down any rules about how baptism was to be done, nor did they provide much interpretation of its spiritual significance. As a result, many different beliefs and practices have developed within Christianity over the centuries.

What Is the Spiritual Meaning of Baptism?

There are three Views:

    The sacramental view holds that baptism is a means God uses to convey grace. The person baptized is set free from the power of sin and given a new spiritual life (John 3:5-7).

    The covenantal view holds that baptism is not a means of spiritual rebirth, but a sign and seal of God's covenant of salvation. Baptism depicts the freeing from sin that occurs with repentance (Acts 2:38), and serves the same covenantal purpose for Christians that circumcision does for Jews.

    The symbolical view holds that no spiritual benefit results from baptism, itself. Rather, it is a public symbol of a spiritual rebirth that has already occurred in the person being baptized.

    Should a Person Be Baptized in the Name of Jesus or in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

Both ways are mentioned in the Bible. Some churches baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Others baptize in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38,8:16,10:48, 19:5).

Who Should Be Baptized?

    Many Christian churches practice infant baptism, citing Acts 16:15 and Acts 16:33, where entire families, presumably including infants, were baptized. Some churches baptize only infants of believing parents, while others will baptize all infants. The Baptist Church and some other churches practice believer's baptism; excluding infants and restricting baptism to those who consciously repent of sin and experience spiritual rebirth. In favor of this position, they note that most baptisms recorded in the New Testament were of adults who had repented and joined the ranks of the faithful.

    The Baptist Church and some other churches hold that full-body immersion is necessary for valid baptism. They note that the original Greek word for baptize, baptizo, meant to immerse or submerge. In addition, most of the early church baptisms were apparently by immersion.

Methods

    However, a majority of churches use sprinkling or pouring of water over the head instead of immersion. They note that baptizo could also mean a simple washing, as it does in Luke 11:38. In addition, the Old Testament baptisms were performed in a variety of ways, and some of the New Testament baptisms apparently did not involve immersion (Acts 10:47-48, Acts 16:29-34). The Christian Church's expansion from the Mediterranean area into colder climates may help explain the decline of the immersion method of baptism.

What About Persons Who Die Before They Are Baptized?

    A common concern of Christians holding the sacramental view of baptism is whether infants and children who die before being baptized will be granted salvation and eternal life. The Bible does not mention this topic, so different beliefs have developed.

    The predominant belief among Christians is that God makes provision for salvation for those who, through no fault of their own, die without being baptized. It is only those who have heard and understood the Gospel, but willfully refuse to believe and be baptized, who are not eligible for salvation (Mark 16:15-16).

It used to be a common belief among Catholics that babies who died without being baptized would end up in Limbo, an intermediate state between heaven and hell. However, there is no mention of Limbo in the latest version of the Catholic Catechism (see below).

Roman Catholic

  • Every person not yet baptized and only such a person is able to be baptized.

  • Since the beginning of the Church, adult Baptism is the common practice where the proclamation of the Gospel is still new. The catechumenate (preparation for Baptism) therefore occupies an important place. This initiation into Christian faith and life should dispose the catechumen to receive the gift of God in Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.

  • Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men all called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.

  • For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism. For this reason the Church celebrates each year at the Easter Vigil the renewal of baptismal promises. Preparation for Baptism leads only to the threshold of new life. Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs forth.

  • The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament...

  • As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them" (Mk 10:14; cf. 1 Tim 2:4), allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

  • By Baptism, all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin...

  • Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte "a new creature," an adopted son of God, who has become a "partaker of the divine nature," member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Southern Baptist

    Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.

United Methodist

  • Baptism is a crucial threshold that we cross on our journey in faith. But there are many others, including the final transition from death to life eternal. Through baptism we are incorporated into the ongoing history of Christ's mission, and we are identified and made participants in God's new history in Jesus Christ and the new age that Christ is bringing.

  • Baptism is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the grace which baptism makes available is that of the atonement of Christ which makes possible our reconciliation with God. Baptism involves dying to sin, newness of life, union with Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit, and incorporation into Christ's Church...

  • In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled the prophecy of a new covenant and called forth the Church as a servant community (Jeremiah 31:31-34, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The baptism of infants and adults, both male and female, is the sign of this covenant...

  • In baptism God offers and we accept the forgiveness of our sin (Acts 2:38)...

  • Baptism is the sacramental sign of new life through and in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit...

  • There is one baptism as there is one source of salvation -- the gracious love of God. The baptizing of a person, whether as an infant or an adult, is a sign of God's saving grace...

  • Since baptism is primarily an act of God in the Church, the sacrament is to be received by an individual only once.

  • The sacraments do not convey grace either magically or irrevocably, but they are powerful channels through which God has chosen to make grace available to us. Wesley identified baptism as the initiatory sacrament by which we enter into the covenant with God and are admitted as members of Christ's Church.