What is Baptism?
A. Baptism symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We were therefore buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that ,just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. – Romans 6:4
B. As such, it symbolizes the washing away of our sins through Christ’s death and resurrection. Importantly, it is not the water that saves, but Christ, and our faith in him.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
C. Baptism is also a “going public,” the event by which we are identified with the family of God – the church – a family that began with the faith of Abraham.
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. . . If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. - Galatians 3:26-29
D. Finally, baptism is only a beginning. We truly “go public” as we grow in holiness, living out in obedience the commands of Jesus. This is a lifetime event and Jesus promises to be with us every step of the way!
Jesus said: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. - Matthew 28:18-10
When should baptism take place?
We, at FCCOE, recognize both infant, and believers baptism.
A. “Believers baptism” typically takes place when an adult, or young adult, trusts Jesus with his or her life. As soon as this relationship with Jesus has begun, you should be baptized. If you’re waiting until you’re perfect, you’ll never be ready!
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water, Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” . . . Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. - Acts 8:36-38
B. “Infant baptism” takes place when one or more parents of faith brings an infant or small child before the church to receive baptism. Infant baptism has deep biblical roots, in which the following should be observed:
1.) Jesus did not come to start a new religion. Abraham, who lived some 2,000 years before Jesus, is called the father of our faith. When Paul and James speak of our faith in Christ, both refer to Abraham as our example of one who has been “justified” and declared “righteous” (brought into a right relationship with God) by God’s grace through faith (Romans 4, James 2). Paul even goes so far as to say that God “announced the gospel in advance to Abraham” (Gal. 3:8). So, like us, Abraham was a sinner, saved by grace, through believing.
2.) God gave Abraham a sign – circumcision – with which to mark this everlasting relationship with him. It was a sign to represent a clean heart, and to indicate the cutting away of the old and the entering into the new. It was a sign of God’s salvation.
I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you . . . This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. - Genesis 17:7, 10
Paul sums it up this way:
And [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe . . . - Romans 4:11
3.) Abraham was instructed to apply this sign, not only to himself, but to infants within his community.
For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner – those who are not your offspring. - Genesis 17:12
4.) Jesus completes and fulfills the Old Testament events, signs, and expectations. As, for instance, the Lord’s Supper fulfilled and took the place of the Passover, so baptism fulfills and takes the place of circumcision. Paul explained this to a group of Gentiles in Colossae who were being told by Jews that they needed to be circumcised because that was the sign of salvation. But Paul had already baptized these new converts, so he said:
In [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. - Colossians 2:11-12
5.) Infant baptism retains the link that God established between faithful parents and their children under Abraham. This sign of salvation in Christ – baptism – is applied to our children in the same way (though more inclusively) that circumcision was applied to the children of our OT ancestors. It should not surprise us that when some of the first converts heard the good news about Jesus and wanted to be baptized, they had their entire households baptized too. Speaking, for instance, of a woman named Lydia, Luke reports:
The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. - Acts 16:15
Although we can’t be sure of the age of those in Lydia’s household, the point is that baptism is given to the household because of the faith of the head of the household, just as with Abraham and his household- Genesis 17:12.
6.) In baptism, we are declaring that our infants are children of God’s covenant of grace, begun with Abraham. Like circumcision did not save, neither does baptism. Our baptized children will one day need to declare, profess, or recognize their personal faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. When that day comes, re-baptizing is not necessary. It is, instead, a time of celebration of the working of God’s grace in a person’s life, through parents, through the church, and through the Holy Spirit.
7.) Lastly, are we being inconsistent by recognizing both believers and infant baptism? Not at all; it rests, not only on biblical tradition, but on good, congregational tradition! As one of the documents of our congregational heritage, the Savoy Declaration puts it:
Not only those that do actually profess faith in, and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized, and those only.
- Chapter 29, IV.
This Declaration was put together in 1658 by our English, Puritan ancestors as a working manual of faith and church order. It is known for its great spirit of tolerance toward Christians who held differing beliefs. May we be able to do the same when it comes to this precious sign that God has given us.
Rev. Tim Ziegenhals