What is Baptism all about?
It’s not surprising that most people outside of the church world couldn’t answer that question. But our pews are filled with folks who aren’t totally clear on the subject either.
Baptism is a public declaration. It communicates something.
What is it saying? A few things, actually. If you’re a list person, we hope you’ll find this answer helpful.
- My belief in the death and burial of Christ as being for me. (Rom 6:3)
- My acknowledgment of my own death in Christ. (Rom 6:4a)
- My expectation of resurrection. (Rom 6:8)
- The realization of my resurrection. (Rom 6:4b)
- By immersion. (Acts 8:38-39)
- My unity with all believers. (Matt 28:19)
- My obedience. (Acts 2:41)
But there are other questions that many have – beyond simply What is Baptism.
Below are some more common questions or ideas that surround baptism that may need a little bit more engagement. Here are some answers to provide more clarity on baptism at International Church.
Is Baptism required for Salvation (per Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38)?
No, it is not. In the Gospels and the Book of Acts, nobody was baptized to be saved. All were baptized because they had been saved. Some have misread these passages that say “be saved and be baptized” as teaching that baptism is necessary for sealing the salvation deal.
However, if you study the New Testament as a whole and even the context of those passages, the conclusion is quite clear that saving faith alone is the basis upon which a person is made right with God. Believing and being baptized are two separate activities. Faith is the root of salvation while baptism is the fruit of salvation.
When should a person be baptized?
As soon as you have believed.
Acts 2:41 demonstrates that baptism should follow salvation as soon as reasonably possible. It is not uncommon for people to wait months, even years to get baptized. But they don’t gain anything by waiting. There is no spiritual maturity level that a person needs to reach prior to baptism.
God is not mad at these people for waiting, but we encourage them to obey Christ’s command and get baptized at the next opportunity.
That being said, there might also be good reasons to wait. For example, it might make sense to refrain from baptism until a young child, who has trusted in Christ, is older. We want everyone to understand what baptism is and why we celebrate it.
On the other hand, if a child can understand and articulate the declarative nature of baptism and the parents are on board – then we say go for it.
Who has the authority to baptize?
Jesus gave his commission of baptism to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20; so, the authority to baptize rests with the local church. All believers are called to make disciples and baptize people, not just the apostles and pastors. We can thus surmise that any believer is connected to a local church and has been baptized themselves can baptize others.
Nowhere does Scripture say it needs be a pastor or church leader. In fact, Paul highlights the fact that he did very little baptizing in Corinth. They mostly baptized each other.
So if you would like your parent or small group leader to baptize you instead of one of the pastors, we fully support that as long as they are members in good standing in a local church.
Is baptism required for church membership?
At International, the answer is yes, it is. Trusting Jesus Christ for salvation and being baptized as a believer are prerequisites for membership here.
How many times should a person be baptized?
We take the elements of the Lord’s Supper repeatedly to remember Christ’s broken body and shed blood; but we are baptized only once, since we are saved only once.
If a Christian slides back into sin for a period of time; he can confess his sins and return to fellowship with God and the Church. It is not necessary to be baptized again. Water baptism is a once-and-for-all public testimony about our identification in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. It is NOT a religious ceremony that washes away our sins again and again.
What about infant baptism?
This is a big one. While we respect and understand the tradition of infant baptism, we don’t practice it here at International Church.
Baptizing infants came about in the third century when infant mortality rates were shockingly high. This led to widespread fear among Christians who believed baptism was necessary for salvation. During the Middle Ages when Roman Catholic theology reigned supreme, it was widely taught that children needed to be baptized in order to wash away their original sin and become part of God’s family – the church. It became seen as a necessary precursor to faith.
There is absolutely no mention of baptizing infants in the New Testament, either commanding or condemning it. Nowhere is it taught as cleansing us of original sin and preparing us for faith. And while some see baptism as the covenant sign of the Church, like circumcision was for Jews, the book of Galatians and Colossians 2 say just the opposite. We are a people who are free from the law and the covenant sign is our circumcised hearts – not our baptized infants.
So, at International we encourage those who were baptized as infants to also be baptized as believers.
We realize that may be a difficult decision for some to make so we want to be patient and gracious while they wrestle with the biblical teaching on baptism. One thing that might help is to understand that some of the earliest Christians had to wrestle with a similar dilemma.
Before Jesus began his ministry, John baptized thousands of people outside Jerusalem. It was a baptism of repentance to prepare the way for Christ’s new covenant. John himself said that a different baptism was coming (Mt 3:1-12; Jn 1:19-4). It was a baptism of preparation. A few years later, when the church begins in Jerusalem, thousands of people are baptized. It is highly likely that some, if not many of these, may have been baptized by John as well as the disciples. But this was a baptism that followed a profession of faith in Jesus – different from the preparatory baptism John performed earlier.
Perhaps it might be beneficial to see infant baptism in a similar light. Parents did what they thought was best for the child’s relationship with God. And when children become true believers themselves, placing their faith in Christ, it is fitting to be baptized by again in response to that faith. The baptism of confession is, in a sense, a fulfillment of the hope of the infant baptism. It’s actually a fulfillment of your parents’ hopes, not a dashing of them. In this sense, some church denominations view infant baptism more like a child dedication ceremony, where parents commit themselves and their child to the Lord. That is something we celebrate at International too.
What if a person was baptized before being saved?
There are several reasons somebody may have been baptized prior to being a believer. We dealt with infant baptism in the question above. For those who, through pressure or misunderstanding, were baptized before believing in Christ they should be baptized again – this time as a believer.
But if you just see that you’ve grown in your faith over time and you want to get baptized again simply because you understand it better now than you did before… then we’d encourage you to let your first baptism stand. We all grow in our understanding and knowledge of spiritual matters over time. That’s the gift of maturity.
Can I get baptized in private?
No, not really. Baptism is a public declaration of an inward reality. It would be very difficult to make a public declaration in private.
Does baptism have to take place in a church?
Nope. In fact, we typically do our baptisms in the ocean.
It’s also possible for some people to plan special intimate baptism celebrations with family and friends. It can be done wherever there is enough water. For example, friends of ours rent out the local pool when one of their kids wants to get baptized and invite everyone they know to come join them for the special occasion, and for some fun swimming afterwards.
Do I have to say anything?
Yes. That’s it. You have to say, “Yes.”
The person baptizing you will ask if you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And you respond with Yes. If you want to say more or share a meaningful verse or life story, you are more than welcome to do that – but you don’t have to.
Is it scary to get baptized?
Being in front of people can be a paralyzing fear. More people are scared of public speaking than they are of heights, snakes, or even death. (“That means that for most Americans attending a funeral, they’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld) It is normal to be a little nervous about it. But life is about facing and overcoming our fears. Plus, it’s not really that scary. You don’t really notice the people… and they’re all there to support you anyway. It’s a special and significant moment between you and God that you share with others.
If you would like to find out more about our next baptism service, then contact the International Church Office.
I really liked the analogy of baptism to marriage in the sermon today. A wedding ring doesn’t make you married, but is a public declaration that you are married. Likewise, baptism doesn’t make you saved, but is a public declaration that you have been saved.
Thanks, Jason! Glad that illustration helped you.