What is Baptism?

Baptism is a ritual familiar to anyone who knows anything about Christianity. Various Christian groups have different beliefs about baptism. The major views can be broadly described as: the Catholic view which believes baptism brings the infant into the church and washes away the sin nature of the child; the Lutheran view believes that when the Word of God is joined with the water in baptism the Holy Spirit gives to the infant the gift of faith through which she is saved; the Reformed view sees baptism as setting apart the child of Christian parents into the community of faith, it is, like circumcision in the Old Testament, the visible sign that the person is a part of the people of God.

The Baptist teaching on baptism is unique in that baptism is limited only to those of an age to profess their salvation and it is always, and only, a response to having received salvation. Most baptists teach that the only proper way to be baptized is by immersion in water.

Christian baptism is unique to the church age. John the Baptist borrowed a Jewish idea of ritualistic cleansing, or washing, in water and used it as a testimony of repentance for those who were preparing for the coming Messiah. Jesus Himself was baptized by John and commanded His disciples to baptize others in His name. On the day of Pentecost the new converts to Christ followed His command and were baptized as a testimony of their conversion.

Baptism was to be a normal part of the ministry of Jesus’ disciples. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Those who received the gospel were to be baptized. This kind of baptism is found throughout the book of Acts. In Acts 2 Peter instructed those who believed in Jesus to be baptized. In Acts 8 the Samaritans who believed were baptized, “But when they believed . . . the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” The Ethiopian eunuch was told he could be baptized, “If thou believest with all thine heart.” The consistent pattern of baptism in the book of Acts is that baptism follows believing. Baptism is viewed by the New Testament as the believers confession of faith.

Don’t the passages that talk about households being baptized prove that the disciples baptized adults and infants? None of the household passages mention the ages of the members of the household. The passages do not even describe the members of the household. Those who support infant baptism teach that these households included babies. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates whether this is true or not. Nothing can be proved the age of the people being baptized from the household passages.

Acts 16 describes the baptism of the household of the Philippian jailer. After telling the jailer he would be saved if he, “Believed on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”, Paul preached the gospel to the jailers entire household. That same hour, they were all baptized. Baptism clearly followed the command to believe and the preaching of the gospel to all.

Baptism is the immersion in water of a new believer as a public testimony of his salvation. Baptism does not save. Baptism confesses of salvation received.

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