When I was a seminary student, I took a class in pastoral ministries that included a one-day lecture and lab on the theology and practice of New Testament baptism. The lecture from the professor who was also a pastor suggested the following verbiage to use with a baptism candidate while enacting the ordinance.
Pastor: “Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins?”
Pastor: “Based on your profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and in obedience to His divine command, I baptize you, my brother, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Then place the candidate under the water while saying, “Buried with Christ unto death.” Immediately raise the candidate up out of the water while saying, ”Rise again to new life.”
For the lab, we traveled to a local church, filled the baptistery with water, and practiced on our fellow students. Facilitating a baptism by full immersion is not as easy as it looks. It’s one thing to bury the candidate by placing him under water; it’s another thing to raise him from the dead without the pastor going under himself. Sprinkling candidates with water or pouring it over their head sounds a lot easier. But the Greek word baptizo, which means “to dip, sink, submerge or immerse,” compels me to perform baptisms by full immersion.
The lecture and lab provided me with the opportunity to closely examine the sacred symbol that Jesus ordained for practice in the church. Since then, I have baptized hundreds of people in various places, including the church baptistery, swimming pools, Jacuzzis, and the ocean. I have even traveled to Israel and baptized people in the Jordan River. What a joy! In the Christian faith, baptism is one of two practices ordained by Jesus Christ who Himself was baptized by John the Baptizer (Mark 1:9); the other ordinance is communion or the Lord’s Supper.
Debate about the holy ordinance of baptism litters church history. The Catholic Church still views baptism as one of seven sacraments that confer God’s grace. Protestants, of course, protest such theology, rejecting it on the basis that eternal salvation is a gift of God’s grace and “not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7), not even the work of baptism.
So what exactly is Christian baptism? First, baptism is a symbol not a sacrament. Like a wedding ring, baptism outwardly pictures an inward reality made possible by a pledge of faith or commitment. Baptism by immersion under water best pictures this spiritual reality and identifies us with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). Baptism does not accomplish our salvation any more than a wedding ring makes a single person married. Likewise, a person does not need to be baptized to be saved and go to heaven. Jesus assured the thief on the cross of paradise even though the thief was never baptized (Luke 23:39-43).
Second, baptism is an act of obedience. Jesus mandated baptism in the Great Commission when He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them …” (Matthew 28:19). This is a command not a suggestion. For this reason, baptism is a first step of obedience in the Christian life. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Have you been baptized?
Third, baptism is a public profession of faith; it is the way we say unashamedly, “I have decided to follow Jesus!” Therefore, baptism is a celebration and proclamation of one’s faith in Jesus Christ. In the early church, it cost a disciple something, perhaps his or her own life, to publicly identify with Jesus Christ through baptism. Therefore, only true believers were baptized, but when they believed they were baptized immediately.
Are you ready to go public with your faith?
This blog is an excerpt from Starting Point: A Disciple's First Steps. Starting Point is an online discipleship coaching experience by Dr. Ron Jones.