What Does The Bible Say About Baptism? (February 18, 2018) – Greg Robbins
Restoration Movement churches, such as the Rockville Christian Church, have traditionally affirmed a high view of Christian baptism. In this doctrinal study, we will seek to answer five important questions concerning the nature and meaning of baptism:
Some select key passages:
In the Christian Church we practice the “form” of immersion for several reasons:
First, the family of Greek words employed in the New Testament (“bapto,” “Baptisma,” and “baptizo”) literally mean “dipping under,” “dunking,” “submerging,” and “immersing.” Our word “baptism” is a transliteration [sounding out of sounds] of the Greek word. “Immersion” is a more accurate translation of the Greek terms for baptism.
Third, church history tells us that baptism by immersion was the universal norm for the first several centuries of the Christian faith.
Fourth, and perhaps most important, the Apostle Paul describes baptism as a burial with Christ and a resurrection to new life in Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12. The gospel image of death and resurrection is clearly dramatized and preserved through the baptismal mode of immersion. Related, 1 Peter 3:21 compares baptism to the waters of the great flood that destroyed the ancient world but spared the lives of Noah and his family. Only baptism by immersion invites such comparisons.
In the Christian Church we practice “believer’s” baptism; that is, we maintain that a person must consciously and personally love, believe in, and commit his or her life to Jesus for baptism to have its true meaning and effect (for example: Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; Colossians 2:12). Moreover, a candidate for baptism must be mature enough to comprehend and repent of sin (Acts 2:38).
Historically speaking, the Church began to baptize infants in the third and fourth centuries because of four, related, non-biblical factors: a growing sacramental view of baptism; the developing doctrine of original sin; a high infant mortality rate; and, the establishment of Christianity as the official state religion at the end of the fourth century. Biblically speaking, however, the New Testament contains no commands to immerse or sprinkle infants. It also does not report any specific examples of small children being baptized.
Many people come to RCC as adults who were sprinkled as infants by their parents. It is important to acknowledge that parents who have their children baptized as infants are acting in faith with Godly intentions. A parent’s desire to dedicate his or her child to God is beautiful and praiseworthy; however, the Bible clearly does not teach that we are saved by someone else’s faith. Simply put, no one else can make you a Christian.
The New Testament presents baptism as a person’s individual decision to commit his or her life to God. Consequently, we believe that adults who were sprinkled as infants should be baptized by immersion to complete their commitment to Christ and to be faithful to the clear teaching of scripture.
More specifically, what does the Bible teach about the purpose of baptism?
Restoration Movement churches, such as the Rockville Christian Church, have traditionally answered this question by saying we baptize for the forgiveness of sins. This is a short-hand way of saying that baptism is the normal external/objective moment when a believer makes their formal request/appeal to God for forgiveness and new life.
There are many NT passages that inform this understanding including:
These NT passages, along with others, have historically contributed to the Christian Church’s understanding of baptism as an objective/outward appeal to God for forgiveness and new life.
Professor Jon Weatherly of Johnson University comments: “Baptism signifies the sinner asking the Lord for the blessings of salvation, and the Lord responds by granting those blessings. Baptism is more than ‘an outward sign of an inward grace,’ or ‘an act of obedience,’ though it is at least those things. Baptism is the divinely authorized act by which the repentant sinner approaches God and in which God fulfills his promises to the repentant sinner.”
The Restoration Movement’s high view of Christian baptism leads to the common question: “So is baptism necessary for salvation?” Consider several brief responses:
First, this is not a biblical question. The Bible does not ask or answer this question. The New Testament does not use the language of “necessity.” The reason the Bible does not address this question is likely because there are no unbaptized Christians in the New Testament. If you are a Christian in the New Testament, you are baptized.
Second, the only thing necessary for salvation is God. What is necessary to salvation is God’s grace made available through the cross of Jesus. You could remove baptism, repentance, or faith from conversion, and a case could be made that salvation would still be possible. If we would remove God’s grace, however, there would be no salvation.
Third, what is necessary for salvation is God. But what seems to be the normal/ordinary response to God’s grace offered in Jesus? The New Testament affirms faith (expressed as trust and confession), repentance, and baptism as the ordinary saving responses to the gospel. When we survey all the biblical material, faith, repentance, and baptism are presented as the normal way that believers request the gift of God’s salvation.
Therefore, we could say that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, but it is normative for salvation; that is, biblically speaking, it is an essential aspect of how salvation is received (along with faith and repentance). Moreover, from the perspective of the New Testament, it marks the normal occasion when a believer can have the assurance of salvation.
Over the years a criticism of Restoration Movement churches has been that we overemphasize the importance of baptism to the neglect of other parts of the gospel. It is important that we avoid extremes on this issue. Historically, Christian Churches have sought to find balance between the twin Restoration Movement values of unity and truth. At RCC, we believe this approach is wise.
A balanced view remembers that, ultimately, we are not called to win people to a view of baptism but to Jesus and his cross. A balanced approach affirms a high view of baptism, but an equally high view of faith and repentance. Like baptism, there are significant passages of scripture that associate forgiveness and new life with faith in Christ and turning to God with a penitent heart.
And different church traditions and groups gravitate to and emphasize different passages of scripture. But rather than cherry-picking and proof-texting with isolated verses of the Bible, let’s make it our goal to have a robust biblical theology, which seeks to value and incorporate everything the New Testament teaches about conversion and coming to Christ. This means we will have strong views of baptism and faith, as well as high views of repentance and holy living.
Christian baptism addresses two essential needs: a believer’s need for assurance of salvation and the church’s need to know who is a believer. We will consider each need in turn.
How do we know we are saved? Baptism answers this question and provides us with confidence in our relationship with God. Baptism is the event to which the New Testament authors appeal to give Christians assurance of their forgiven status before God. The Bible does not appeal to the actions of our parents (infant baptism), or our confirmation as a teenager, or a prayer that we prayed at a spiritual revival.
The Bible is silent about these substitutes for baptism. But we don’t need substitutes. Baptism by immersion works very well as the physical sign and seal of our being clothed in Christ.
Galatians 3:26-27 is an important passage. Seeking to unite Christians in Galatia, Paul reminds them of their conversion: “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
Baptism, like a wedding ceremony, reminds and assures us that there was a definite moment in time when we placed our trust in Jesus and asked to receive the saving benefits of the cross. Baptism provides us with confidence in our past salvation.
How do we know who is a member of the church? Baptism by immersion answers this question and provides us with a common experience and visible ritual that helps us practically recognize who has made a commitment to Christ and is, therefore, able to be a member of the church.
Baptism into Christ is the first and foundational commitment of a biblical church member. It should be an experience that unites us as Christians and that we all share in common (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5).
If you have questions about baptism, please contact the RCC office at 765-569-3563 to talk with a staff member.