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."
Baptism is an integral part of disciple-making endeavour. For this reason when the Lord commissioned the disciples to be disciple-makers, He instructed them to do this by baptizing those who believe in Him and teaching them to observe all that He commanded. The disciple-making enterprise involves these two means. It is with this in mind that I venture to touch on this important practice of the church. Essentially, I will attempt to answer a few questions.
What is baptism? It is the dipping, immersing, submerging or plunging into water (Matthew 3:16; John 3:23) in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to signify our adoption into Christ, our cleansing from sin, and our commitment to belong to the Lord and to His church. In the Words of the various dependable and historic confessions, ‘Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be to the person who is baptized - a sign of his fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into Christ, of remission of sins; and of that person's giving up of himself to God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.’ (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16) It outwardly marks the entrance into the body of Christ.
Why baptism? It might look the silliest thing to do to a carnal eye. Yet it is so simple to obey! It is so important, that the second Person of the Trinity – the Lord of glory Himself, even Christ, was baptized, ‘to fulfil all righteousness’ (Matthew 3:15). Moreover, it is His command and ordinance. We know that the commandments of the Lord are holy and righteous and good (Romans 7:12) – saints obey them! No true Christian would disdain or neglect the rule of the Lord who left His glory, shed His blood and gave His life to save him. The apostles obeyed this rule. At the very inception of the church of Christ, all who believed were baptized and added to the number of believers in His church. Shall we disobey what the Lord has set an example and commanded? If you truly name the name of Christ, then be baptized and be part of the church of Christ.
The Presbyterian theologian, A.A. Hodge, puts it this way, ‘Protestants regard the sacraments both as a preaching of the Word, and as authoritative seals, and badges of church membership’. A long-serving Baptist pastor, Keith Underhill, so well explains the intention of Baptism in his exposition of the Baptist Confession of Faith:
What is the intention of baptism? It is both a message from God to the one being baptized, and a response to God by the one being baptized.
1) A sign from God – God declares, and so assures the one being baptized, that he is united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12, see also Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 1:13-16, 10:2), because baptism has the idea of being united with someone in leadership over the person; and he has forgiveness of sins through Christ, symbolized by baptism as a washing with water (Acts 2:38, 22:16). Baptism does not accomplish this, but is an outward sign that this has happened.
2) A commitment by the baptized – Baptism also symbolizes our saving response to the Gospel, that we have submitted to the demands of the Gospel, in order to live a new life in Christ (Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21). Thus baptism takes on the character of a covenant ceremony between God and the one being baptized.
While baptism is a means of grace, yet it does not and cannot save. Its proper and appointed use cannot be too highly valued. On the other hand, if it is abused to purposes for which it was not given by the Lord as if it were containing in and of itself salvation to man or washing from sins, then it is desecrated as it would encroach on the throne of Christ, the Saviour. The water of baptism must neither be confused with the blood of Christ, nor the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. In effect, there is no place of the so called baptismal regeneration by the Roman Catholics. This truth also crushes to powder the ‘golden calf of reformation’ called infant baptism, which is prevalent among our Presbyterian brothers, as well as Lutherans and Anglicans friends.
As a means of grace, it means that as one is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Clearly this is one of the clearest verses on both the unity of Trinity – in the name (the name is singular – it is not in the names) meaning God is one. There is diversity of the three Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, for each is distinctively designated. By all means, we must look up to God in this ordinance, since it is Christ’s own idea, and we must expect from God through it the conveyance of His grace and peace. ‘Baptism is to be reverenced, but not idolized. It is to be used as means, but not rested in as an end. No one is to imagine himself the better, simply because he has attended on any ordinance, (baptism included)’.
Who is eligible for baptism? Of course, we should just learn from the pages of Scriptures how to rightly administer baptism, to the right people (true believers) at the right time and age (definitely not at infancy, as such cannot clearly and publicly profess faith in Christ. In quoting the Baptist Confession of Faith, Those who actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects for this ordinance. (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 36,37; 2:43; 18:8)
Where and in what context should baptism be administered? Can Christian baptism be conducted as a private event, outside of the oversight of a local visible church? Who should administer the sacrament or ordinance of baptism? Can it be administered by any person, by any baptized Christian, or must it be administered only by a minister who has been set apart to office in the church? These are ancient and important ecclesiological questions, which are being raised anew in our day. However, in answering them, we should evaluate the evidence of Scripture in terms of instruction and example.
A close and thorough examination of the New Testament evidence clearly indicates that our Christians have held that baptism should only be administered within the context of the local church and that baptism should only be properly administered by the church’s officers. In obedience to the Great Commission cited above. After all, these instructions were especially given to them as the leaders and representatives of the church.
The context of Acts indicates that the converts at Pentecost were baptized by Peter and the other apostles (Acts 2:38-43). The first Samaritan converts were apparently baptized by Philip who had preached the gospel to them (Acts 8:12). Philip was one of the seven servants of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 6:5). Luke notes specifically that the Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized by Philip (Acts 8:36-38). Saul (Paul) was ostensibly baptized by Ananias, who, though he is only overtly described as a “disciple,” likely served as an officer of the church at Damascus (Acts 9:10-18), since God spoke to him directly, designating him a prophetic office.
Cornelius and the other converts at Caesarea seem to have been baptized by the apostle Peter aided by the six men from the church at Joppa (most likely including at least some of the church’s officers) who accompanied him (Acts 10:23, 44-48; 11:12-17). Paul and Silas apparently baptized Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and the converted members of his household (Acts 16:14-15, 31-33). Paul also apparently baptized Crispus and the other converts at Corinth (Acts 18:5-8; cf. also 1 Corinthians 1:14, 16 where Paul says he baptized only Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanus in Corinth), as well as the twelve disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:5). A survey of Acts reveals that there is not a single explicit narrative description of a believer being baptized by anyone other than a church officer. It further shows that, whenever the Apostles to an , and they , and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the whole household was baptized.
The Great Commission specifies duties, for the performance of which the apostles were to provide. One of these was the administration of baptism. They were commanded, not to make disciples and teach them the baptism doctrine or the duty of being baptized; but to make disciples and actually baptize them. The administration of the rite was in their care; and, where they could not personally perform it, it was made their duty to provide for its performance by delegation. Therefore the administration was not designed to be left to any one whom the candidate might select or prefer (this is true of teaching as well). It is the duty of the pastors under whose oversight he is to provide.
This has direct implications on any non-baptized Christian. Even though you have been a Christian for a century – seek to be baptized properly (biblically) immediately as a believer. Then become a member of a Bible-preaching, believing and practising local church. You must delay no further in obedience, if you want to honour your Saviour and Lord. For, He has instructed us to baptize them in the Name of the Triune God. Pastors, you have a responsibility of baptizing those who believe properly.