Baptism is a subject that has a rich tradition within the church and which has, at times, been the source of heated division.
The importance of baptism is almost universally agreed upon within Christendom. But from that common starting point, churches have diverged on nearly every aspect of baptism. Questions which have been at the forefront of the historical debate have included:
Who can be baptized?
Is it for believers or for believers and their children?
Who can do the baptizing?
Does it have to be an ordained minister or can others from within the church or the biological family baptize?
How should the baptism be administered?
Should a person be dunked in water? Or sprinkled with water? Or should water be poured?
Is there special about the water itself?
The first church I ever attended was a Presbyterian Church and someone had taken a trip to Israel and this church had water that was from the River Jordan. The pastor always poured a little bit into the baptismal.
What is said during baptism?
I read a story earlier this year about a Catholic Priest who realized that he had said the wrong words for over 20 years. He was supposed to say “I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
What he actually said was “We baptize you.”
In the eyes of the Catholic Church, those baptisms are not considered valid.
Is there any formal preparation for the baptism?
Throughout history, some churches have had various requirements such as fasting, or confirmation classes before being baptized.
What does the baptism signify?
Is it the cause of our being born again? Does it wash away sin?
What happens spiritually when a person is baptized?
Does it save us? Does it help save us? Do we receive the Holy Spirit in baptism?
What does someone wear during a baptism?
In some churches, people wear white. In the early church, there are accounts of people being baptized naked!
Is baptism necessary for salvation?
And there are many other questions.
Just about the only thing that all churches agree on is that baptism involves water.
I want to begin with a couple of general comments on baptism.
Baptism is important.
At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Jesus commanded his disciples to:
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Baptism is important to Jesus and it should be important to his Church.
At the church I pastor, we teach and practice believer’s baptism – sometimes also called credobaptism. Credo comes from the Latin word for believe. That is the idea that in order to be baptized, a person must give a profession of faith that Jesus Christ is their Lord and savior in whom they have placed their faith.
The other major side of the baptism discussion are churches who practice infant baptism. I know many people in this church were raised in churches that practice infant baptism.
The believer’s or infant baptism discussion is an important subject. While we don’t teach infant baptism, there are churches that do who are faithfully preaching the gospel who love Jesus, who love the Word of God. There are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who agree on the importance of baptism but disagree not on if but when it should be done.
And while I affirm believer’s baptism, I can sincerely respect the arguments for infant baptism.
I read those arguments, and it’s not like I come away thinking “well how could someone believe that?” I don’t think it involves in crazy leaps studying your Bible to come down on that side.
No, they have legitimate points, but I think the Biblical reasons for believer’s baptism are simply stronger.
Church interview story
I’ll tell this quick story. A few years ago, before we had ever interviewed with this church, I interviewed at another church and the subject of baptism came up. They too believed in believer’s baptism but as people started talking, some of them were really mocking the idea of infant baptism and churches who practice it.
I didn’t appreciate that.
I do think that disagreements on that subject should be done in a Spirit of grace and respect within the church.
It wasn’t the only factor but when that church invited me to candidate to be their pastor, I turned them down.
In this post, I want to make the case for mwhy I favor believer’s baptism. Again this is an expansive debate and I can’t begin to answer every aspect of the baptism discussion in one blog post, but I think this is a helpful starting point.
The case for believer’s baptism
Why should we believer believer’s baptism?
There is not one single text in the Bible which explicitly calls for the baptism of newborns.
I’ll say that again.
There is no text in the Bible which explicitly says that babies ought to be baptized or for that matter, that anyone who cannot profess to believe in the gospel should be baptized. .
Our passage this morning comes from the Book of Acts and it’s an important passage because it takes place on Pentecost. That’s the day that the Holy Spirit was first poured out on the disciples and the new followers of Jesus.
I often talk about the ordering of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus. But then after that, you have his ascension, when he ascended into heaven. That’s in Acts chapter 1. And then you have Pentecost which is when the Spirit was poured out on the Church in our passage in Acts 2.
In Acts 2:14-36, the Apostle Peter gives his Pentecost sermon. In that sermon, Peter is talking about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and his exaltation which was prophesied in the Old Testament. Peter also talks of how the Old Testament looked to a time when God’s Spirit would be given to God’s people.
Verse 37 picks up with people’s response to Peter.
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
The people are asking how they should respond to the gospel that Peter has just preached
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Repent and be baptized.
That order is important.
It’s not be baptized and then maybe in a few years, you’ll hopefully repent.
Now the Book of Acts chronicles the activities of the early church and the pattern we see in Acts is that a response of faith precedes baptism.
Acts 8:12-13, the Apostle Philip has preached the gospel and people have believed:
12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip.
Acts 9:18, following the conversion of the man we know as the Apostle Paul:
18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized
In Acts 19:4-5, the Apostle Paul is sharing the gospel in Ephesus:
And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And there are other examples but that’s the pattern and I would argue that’s always the pattern in the Bible.
A person has faith, believes in the gospel and baptism is a response to the inward faith.
At Pentecost, Peter said to repent and be baptized.
True repentance is something that we do because of faith. Repentance is looking to our sinfulness and turning from that. That requires both faith and awareness of our sins.
What about household baptisms?
One of the common arguments for infant baptism is that in the Book of Acts, there are household baptisms. There are four such household baptisms in Acts and we hear one referenced in First Corinthians. In those passages, a person comes to faith and they are baptized and the passage mentions that their household was too.
The argument assumes that there must have also been babies in some of those homes and so that is demonstrating infant baptism.
None of those passages specifically say that there were infants or children. A person could counter argue, that those passages also don’t say that there weren’t any children or infants.
That’s true. But I think the more significant point when considering household baptisms is the fact that none of the passages point to one person coming to faith and the rest of their family also getting baptized against their will as unrepentant and unregenerate nonbelievers.
I’ll show what I mean.
In Acts 16, we learn about a Philippian jailer who asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved.
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
So does that mean if this man comes to faith, his entire household will also come to faith?
Is the text saying that if this man believes, then his whole family will believe because he believed?
Next couple of verses:
” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family (Acts 16:32-33).
A person could still look at this and argue that the whole household got baptized because the father became a Christian.
But the key is verse 34:
34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
The most plausible interpretation is that his household believed and that was the source of their rejoicing. It was not because he had a family of unrepentant people who opposed the gospel who received a no faith baptism that they’re rejoicing in a gospel that they don’t believe in.
Acts 18:8 talks of the household of a man named Crispus being baptized.
8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
Once again, the passage says that his household was baptized but it also said that his entire household had believed in the gospel.
That’s the pattern that we see in Acts. In our primary text of Acts 2:41, we see believers responding to the gospel in faith:
” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Acts 10 talks of the household of Cornelius coming to faith and as a response to that faith, they are baptized.
they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 1:16, Paul mentions having baptized the household of Stephanus.
But then later in the letter, Paul talks of the faith of the family of Stephanus when he says in 1 Corinthians 16:15:
15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—
Acts 16 talks of a woman named Lydia coming to faith and being baptized along with her household. That is the one text where there is not quite as much elaboration but given the pattern we’ve seen elsewhere, I think the best argument is that her household was baptized because her household were believers in the gospel.
I return to my premise from the beginning that there is not one single text in the Bible which definitively points to infant baptism.
Even the household baptism passages point to household being baptized after having responded to the gospel by faith.
All of the passages we’ve discussed I would argue point to a consistent pattern in the New Testament of having faith in the gospel and being baptized as a result of that faith.
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