Who should be baptized?

by | Posted March 2nd at 9:07pm

Who should be baptized? How should it be done? What does it mean?  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are two ceremonies that Jesus commanded his church to perform. Before studying baptism, we must recognize that there has been historically, and is today, a strong difference of viewpoint among evangelical Christians regarding this subject.

… baptism is not a “major” doctrine that should be the basis of division among genuine Christians, but it is nonetheless a matter of importance for ordinary church life, and it is appropriate that we give it full consideration. 1

The position advocated herein is “Baptistic”—namely, that baptism is appropriately administered only to those who give a believable profession of faith in Jesus Christ. The practice of baptism in the New Testament was carried out in one way: the person being baptized was immersed or put completely under the water and then brought back up again. Baptism by immersion is therefore the “mode” of baptism or the way in which baptism was carried out in the New Testament.

The fact that John and Jesus went into the river and came up out of it strongly suggests immersion, since sprinkling or pouring of water could much more readily have been done standing beside the river, particularly because multitudes of people were coming for baptism. John’s gospel tells us, further, that John the Baptist “was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there” (John 3:23). It would not take “much water” to baptize people by sprinkling, but it would take much water to baptize by immersion.

When Philip had shared the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch, “as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” ’ (Acts 8:36). Apparently neither of them thought that sprinkling or pouring a handful of water from the container of drinking water that would have been carried in the chariot was enough to constitute baptism. Rather, they waited until there was a body of water near the road. Then “he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:38–39). As in the case of Jesus, this baptism occurred when Philip and the eunuch went down into a body of water, and after the baptism they came up out of that body of water. Once again baptism by immersion is the only satisfactory explanation of this narrative.

The apostle Paul uses the symbolism of union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection seems to require baptism by immersion. Paul says: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3–4)

Similarly, Paul tells the Colossians, “You were buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). Now this truth is clearly symbolized in baptism by immersion. When the candidate for baptism goes down into the water it is a picture of going down into the grave — symbolically dying to sin — and being buried. Coming up out of the water is then a picture of being raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. Baptism thus very clearly pictures death to one’s old way of life and rising to a new kind of life in Christ. But baptism by sprinkling or pouring simply misses this symbolism.

Sometimes it is objected that the essential thing symbolized in baptism is not death and resurrection with Christ but purification and cleansing from sins. Certainly it is true that water is an evident symbol of washing and cleansing, and the waters of baptism do symbolize washing and purification from sins as well as death and resurrection with Christ. Titus 3:5 speaks of “the washing of regeneration” and, even though the word baptism is not used in this text, it is certainly true that there is a cleansing from sin that occurs at the time of conversion. Ananias told Saul, “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).

To teach that washing away of sins is the only thing (or even the most essential thing) pictured in baptism does not faithfully represent New Testament teaching. Both washing and death and resurrection with Christ are symbolized in baptism, but Romans 6:1–11 and Colossians 2:11–12 place a clear emphasis on dying and rising with Christ. Even the washing is much more effectively symbolized by immersion than by sprinkling or pouring, and death and resurrection with Christ are symbolized only by immersion, not at all by sprinkling or pouring. In all the discussion over the mode of baptism and the disputes over its meaning, it is easy for Christians to lose sight of the significance and beauty of baptism and to disregard the tremendous blessing that accompanies this ceremony. The amazing truths of passing through the waters of judgment safely, of dying and rising with Christ, and of having our sins washed away, are truths of momentous and eternal proportion and ought to be an occasion for giving great glory and praise to God. If churches would teach these truths more clearly, baptisms would be the occasion of much more blessing in the church. 2

The view refered to as “believers’ baptism,”  holds that only those who have themselves believed in Christ — those who have given reasonable evidence of believing in Christ — should be baptized. This is because baptism, which is a symbol of beginning the Christian life should only be given to those who have in fact begun the Christian life.

After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost we read, “Those who received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). The text specifies that baptism was administered to those who “received his word” and therefore trusted in Christ for salvation. Similarly, when Philip preached the gospel in Samaria, we read, “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women” (Acts 8:12). Likewise, when Peter preached to the Gentiles in Cornelius’ household, he allowed baptism for those who had heard the Word and received the Holy Spirit—that is, for those who had given persuasive evidence of an internal work of regeneration. While Peter was preaching, “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” and Peter and his companions “heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (Acts 10:44–46). Peter’s response was that baptism is appropriate for those who have received the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit: “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Then Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:47–48).

The point of the above three passages is that baptism is appropriately given to those who have received the gospel and trusted in Christ for salvation. There are other texts that indicate this as well. In Acts 16:14–15 Lydia and her household, after “the Lord opened her heart” to believe — And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

And cosnsider that the family of the Philippian jailer was baptized after Peter preached “the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house” (Acts 16:32–34)

In 1 Corinthians 1:16  we see that Paul baptized the household of Stephanas — and this was a household baptism.

Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV): And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

1, 2 Grudem


Article posted by Glen R. Jackman, founder of GraceProclaimed.org

Glen has optimized his eldership role to teach the full scope of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ without boundaries.
You can read his testimony.