A SHORT INTRODUCTION
As I have previously discussed, the Apostle's Creed originally arose out of the baptismal confession of the church in Rome, so it is appropriate that we should follow that discussion with some further reflections on the subject.
In Matthew 28:19-20 we have Jesus final instructions to his disciples and his church, Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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. (Version?)
A person's last words before they leave us are often significant. From this passage we see that Baptism should be a key component at the beginning of every Christian's walk with God. It is something that should occur at the start of the journey and is not intended to be an optional extra.
Who should be baptised?
The only requirements in the New Testament for someone to be baptised are repentance and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God. In Acts 2:38, when the people asked what they should do, we read:
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptised, 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." <!——(Version?——)
It is that simple really. If you are a committed Christian (asked Jesus to be your Lord) then you qualify to be baptised!
The only infants baptised we see being baptised in the New Testament were babes in Christ (newly born again believers). It was after a person became a disciple that they were to be baptised (Matthew 28:19) and nowhere do we find the order reversed. New birth and baptism should be linked closely together in the Christian life.
Sometimes people refer to Adult Baptism but that can be misleading. Baptism should be a response by the individual, and is not something that you can do on behalf of someone else (thus ruling out infant baptism), but there is nothing to prevent a younger person from being baptised if they have genuinely accepted Jesus as their Lord. Realistically, though, the youngest that you would normally expect someone to be baptised would be twelve or thirteen and usually a little older.
So what was the origin of infant baptism? It was in the fourth century AD that Catholic teaching first began to link baptism to salvation. This was during a period of persecution when life for believers was very uncertain and, while understandable, it is not to be found in scripture.
The question, what happens to unbaptised children who die (and also others who may be unable to make a personal response to Jesus) is a valid one. There are lots of views responding to this, which is outside the scope here, but baptism is not the answer. Ultimately we have to trust in the fairness of God and accept that there are some things that we will not be able to pin down to our own satisfaction until we meet him face to face.
The Greek word baptizo means literally to soak, plunge, drench or sink in water. John the Baptist needed plenty of water (John 3:23). This is further evidenced by the description of Jesus coming up out of the water (Mark 1:10) and Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:38-39).
Notice also the NIV margin for Matthew 3:11. Greek en = in water.
The Jews in Jesus’ time practised a form of ritual baptism for purification. This was by immersion in ‘living water’, fresh water that was being replaced. Not stagnant or dirty, important in a middle eastern culture.
Read Romans 6:3-9
Note that this passage is speaking primarily about Christian initiation. Not into a denomination but into Christ and his body the Church (c.f. Colossians 2:1-22).
Did you realise that baptism is first of all a funeral? When you became a Christian you died and in baptism you are laying to rest your old man and closing the door on your past life. In baptism you are buried with Christ and then raised in him (empowered) to walk in newness of life (v7). We are to live as if we had died. This breaking of the ties with the past is an important aspect of baptism and often overlooked.
If you are not baptised then your old man is still alive and it is like you are carrying him around on your back slowing you down. (Galatians ref?)
Think about the symbolism of immersion - how it visually brings home the truth to us. Baptism is also a public identification with Jesus (and his body the Church) in his death, burial and resurrection. We are baptised into the name of Jesus and a personal relationship with him.
There is also a picture of baptism in Israel leaving behind the slavery of Egypt and passing through the waters of the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:2). Satan gets drowned in the waters of baptism just like Pharaoh and his army (Exodus 14:28). You cannot tempt a dead man. When the Devil tries to put you under condemnation just ask him how many Egyptians got through? Some people find it hard to say exactly when they became a Christian but we can all point to the day we were baptised.
Baptism and the Holy Spirit
Baptism in water is a sacramental symbol of repentance and faith on the one hand and the gift of the Holy Spirit on the other.
You should expect to receive more of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands when you are baptised. Receiving power to live the new life that you have begun. Notice Paul's expectation, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" (Acts 19:2), and also Peter's at Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39).
Baptism marked the beginning of Jesus's own ministry (Luke 3:22). He did no miracles before he was baptised and the Spirit descended upon him. In being baptised we simply are following Jesus's own example.
In the early Church baptism would often be preceded by a form of exorcism (Hippolytus).
Is baptism right for me?
For many people baptism is a response of obedience. Jesus commanded it for all his disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). It was expected of Paul (See Acts 22:16 NIV, this was the verse that convinced me that I should be baptised).
I was also struck by Derek Prince's colourful comment that it is improper to leave dead bodies lying around unburied!
Baptism is the means of experiencing (through faith/ by grace) the deliverance that Jesus has already achieved for us on the Cross. Through it we can identify with his death, burial and resurrection.
Baptism marks the end of the old life and the beginning of the new, the death of a sinner and the birth of a saint. It is not just a new start in life but a new life to start with.
It is worth noting that the writers of the New Testament letters took the Water/ Spirit baptism of their readers for granted. Should we do any less? However, don't do it just because I say so. Ask God to show you clearly whether this is right step for you and respond accordingly.
How can I be baptised?
In the book of Acts we see that all that was needed for someone to be baptised was water. These days we tend to stress the public confessional aspects of baptism but at heart it remains essentially a personal act. A marriage ceremony is a good metaphor to compare it with. Though it is accomplished in front of witnesses it affects the bride and groom much more directly. It should also be noted that there does not have to be a delay in getting baptised. In fact, in scripture, what we usually see is someone becoming a Christian and then getting baptised straight away (swimming pool anyone?).
However, it is likely that in your local church there will be some process that needs to be followed before you can be baptised. In my church the first step would be to talk to one of the Leaders and then attend a short series of informal baptismal classes where you can explore further what is involved and find out about some of the practicalities of being baptised.
It is natural for you to be a little apprehensive, either about going completely under the water or perhaps about giving your testimony in front of a packed Church. Modest clothing is the rule, especially for ladies, not see through (some folks wear a one piece swimming costume underneath) when wet! A degree of nervousness beforehand is understandable but it is amazing how God gives us grace to help just when we need it. Ask anyone who has already been baptised! Looking back your baptism can be a very special moment in your life.