WHY BAPTISM 3-18-18
March 18th, 2018
Arguments and disputes about baptism are nothing new. The Jews had rites of ceremonial washing long before John the Baptist started his baptism of repentance. Then along comes Jesus, and yet another baptism was heralded, of which John himself said, “I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost”. (Mark 1:8) The transition was not an easy one. In Acts 18 we read about a Jew named Apollos who was very knowledgeable in the Scriptures and “taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John” (vs. 25). In chapter 19 Paul asks the disciples that Apollos had been instructing, “’Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” And Jesus himself, said that we are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
So here we are almost 2000 years later, and the arguments and disputes, instead of being reconciled, have only escalated. The Bible is clear that Christians should be baptized. It is clear that they should be baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which we refer to as the Holy Trinity. But the meaning of baptism itself, why we are called to do it, at what age we should be baptized, and by what method we should be baptized, are some of the main divisions between denominations. And yet we are all called to be part of one body, the Body of Christ. In 1 Timothy 6:4 we are reminded not to have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions”. Do I have the answer as to how to unite the beliefs on baptism so the denominations can better work together? No. Are my personal beliefs on baptism the only correct ones? It would be very arrogant of me to even suggest that. But I will share how I interpret God’s command to baptize with you, and trust that the Holy Spirit will guide your own understanding.
First of all, let me address the question of whether or not baptism is 100% essential to salvation. To answer that one, let’s hear the words of Jesus and the two criminals that were crucified with him in Luke 23: “One of the criminals who hung there heaped abuse on Him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us!’ But the other one rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same judgment? We are punished justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our actions. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” This is what some would call a deathbed conversion. Do you think the second criminal was able to get down from the cross, get baptized, and get back on the cross before dying and entering Paradise with Jesus? Not likely. And yet Jesus himself granted him salvation. However, if the criminal’s conversion had not occurred moments before his death, he more than likely would have sought to be baptized, for his repentance and faith was genuine. Therefore, I also assert that an unbaptized child who cannot yet comprehend the truths of sin and salvation through Jesus Christ, will not be condemned should he or she pass from this earth at such a young age. But please don’t misinterpret my saying that to suggest that children should not be baptized, for I am getting to that… Our third Scripture reading (1 Peter 3:20b-22) talks about Noah being saved through water, which symbolizes baptism that now saves us also. But was it the actual water that saved him? If he had not built the ark, would the water have saved him? And if he had not trusted God who told him to build the ark, would he have built it? It is faith that saves us. Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation. It is Noah’s faith that led him to be obedient to God in building the ark, which saved him and his family from the flood. Do you think that someone who knowingly rejects Jesus Christ after being told that they must repent of their sin, and ask Jesus to be their Savior and Lord, can die and tell God they should be allowed into heaven because they were baptized as an infant?
But... that is not to say that it is not in a child’s best interest to be brought to the church for baptism. As parents, we love our children, and we want them to be under God’s grace. Methodists believe infant baptism is a means of what is called “prevenient grace”, grace that is extended to us before we are even able to comprehend it. And indeed, did not Christ himself die for us before any of us came to believe? Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. And don’t forget the words of Luke 18:15-16, “People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’”. In addition, the parents who are eager to have their child baptized, will likely also be the ones that continue to raise their child in the nurturing and instruction of the Lord, so that one day their beloved son or daughter will open their heart to Jesus and commit their lives to Him for themselves. For the Bible promises that if we “start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Secondly, there is the method of baptism that some denominations are very indignant about. Immersion is viewed by some as the only legitimate means of baptism. It is very symbolic of being buried with Christ in baptism as the apostle Paul speaks about in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12. And admittedly, I was baptized by immersion in the Illinois River as an adult when I attended a Baptist church for a while, even though I had been baptized as an infant in the Lutheran church. Was one baptism more legitimate than the other? I don’t believe so. Did I really need to be baptized twice? No. In fact the Methodist church totally discourages that. But I did it in good faith, believing I was following God’s will at the time. Is pouring or sprinkling any less ‘effective’? And here is where I say it is not so much the details of the outward act that matter most, but what is in the heart. For isn’t that true of all of our actions on this earth?
So I encourage baptism, whether it be an infant or young child being brought by his or her parents, or a teenager or adult who has placed their faith in our Lord Jesus but has not yet been baptized. Jesus set the example that we should follow, to humble ourselves and offer ourselves to God in the sacrament of baptism. It is my prayer that if you have never done so, you will decide in your heart to be baptized and request it; and if you have already been baptized, that you will honor your baptismal vows, by following God’s Word and His Spirit, and remain under God’s grace all the days of your life. Amen.
God above is our Father,
We are his sons and daughters.
To his family we belong,
Marked by baptismal waters.
Whether our parents brought us,
To be baptized years ago,
Or our faith brings us now,
The sacrament to bestow.
We can trust in Jesus’ love,
He is our forever friend,
He’ll bring us home to Him above,
When our time on earth shall end.