Relevant Readings: Matthew 3 & 28:19-20, Mark 1:1-11 & 16:14-20, Luke 3:1-22, John 1:19-34, Acts 2:38-41, 8, 9:18, 10:34-48, 16:33, Romans 6:1-14, Ephesians 4:1-7, Colossians 2:1-15
Part 1: Defining Baptism
1. Is every mention of ‘baptism’ in the Bible speaking about the same thing? If not, which form of baptism is applicable to us today?
In the New Testament, we see examples of two distinct types of baptism: John’s baptism, and the baptism of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which was introduced by Jesus in the Great Commission and was practiced throughout the early church (often called “Believer’s Baptism”).
- John’s Baptism:
- Matthew 3, Mark 1:1-11, Luke 3:1-22 & John 1:19-34, Acts 10:37
- “…a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)
- John was tasked with preparing the way for Jesus coming, per Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 40:3). Those who were baptized with John’s baptism were also “confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). In doing so, they were acknowledging in their hearts their failure before God and need of a Saviour (who would be Jesus).
- Not applicable to Christians today
- Believer’s Baptism:
- Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38-41, 8:12-13 & 35-40, 9:18, 10:34-48, 16:33
- “…in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19)
- Throughout Acts, individuals were baptized after they had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, accepted it, and repented of their sin.
- Applicable to Christians today
2. What does the baptism that we practice today represent?
- Going under the water represents Christ’s death and burial
- Romans 6:3-4 “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…”
- Colossians 2:12 “…having been buried with him in baptism…”
- Coming out of the water represents Christ’s resurrection
- Colossians 2:12 “… in [baptism] you were also raised with him…”
- By being baptized, we are identifying with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection
3. Does baptism accomplish anything physical or spiritual in the life of the believer (i.e. is baptism more than a symbol)?
- Short Answer: Yes. Baptism is significant in the same way that all acts of obedience are significant to our spiritual growth.
- John 15:10 “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
- Romans 6:16-18 “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
- Though salvation and baptism are closely linked throughout the New Testament, Baptism does NOT achieve salvation.
- Mark 16:16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Although baptism is paired with belief, it has nothing to do with escaping condemnation; Jesus does not tell us that those who are not baptized will be condemned, but those who do not believe.
- Acts 8:9-24 In verse 13, we see that Simon the Magician was baptized: “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip.” In verses 21-23, we see that, despite his baptism, Simon was neither freed of sin, nor right before God: “You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart might be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
- Colossians 2:12 Emphasis is placed on faith rather than the act of baptism itself “…having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:17 Paul’s priority was for people to understand the Gospel separate from the act of baptism: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
- For a more thorough explanation of the Biblical basis for salvation by grace through faith, please reference the notes from last month’s study on the Gospel, available at www.newtonchristianassembly.com (Blog/Resources)
- Discussion of baptism as a public declaration
- Colossians 2:11-12 Parallels to circumcision
- Not a lasting symbol (only visible the moment that it’s done)
- A lasting declaration to the individual
- The sign of a covenant between the individual and the Lord
- Acts 8:26-39 Example of the Ethiopian Eunuch
- It is likely that an entourage was present, but there is no emphasis placed on them
- He asks Philip what prevents him from being baptized and Philip makes no objection (vs. 36-38)
- Conclusion: There’s no reason that a baptism cannot function as a testimony to witnesses, but based on the examples we have of early church baptisms it does not appear to be the express purpose of Believers’ Baptism
- Colossians 2:11-12 Parallels to circumcision
- Discussion of baptism as a precursor to church membership
- Acts 2:41-42 In the early church, belief and baptism both occurred before an individual was added to the church community. We continue this pattern today.
- Acts 8:26-39 The account of the Ethiopian Eunuch’s baptism does not mention his addition to a local church/assembly. We do not believe that an individual must be immediately added to an Assembly following their baptism, though this is certainly the next step.
- 1 Corinthians 5 We do not believe that baptism alone is grounds for membership in the church. There are clear standards of behaviour for a member of an Assembly, and we believe that the same discretion that is used in applying that standard to our existing membership (through the practice of church discipline) should be used when we are welcoming a new member to our Assembly.
Part 2: Who Baptism is for
1. Is there anything in your mind that should prevent a person from being baptized (ex. age, understanding, behaviour, etc.)?
- An inability to demonstrate understanding of the Gospel
- No evidence of repentance of sin
- Questionable incentives (pressure by family/friends/the church, wanting to be baptized because their friends are being baptized, etc.)
- Evidence of misunderstanding the purpose of baptism (ex. asking for baptism to make them a Christian)
2. Are there examples or specific teachings in the New Testament that would support these views?
- Understanding the Gospel – Short Answer: YES
- In Acts, baptism always occurred after repentance and acceptance of the Gospel.
- When baptism is spoken of in the New Testament teachings, it is clearly presumed that those who have been baptized are also saved. (Romans 6:1-14)
- We believe that it is reasonable to conclude that a person who does not understand the Gospel cannot have accepted it, and therefore is not ready to be baptized.
- Evidence of Repentance – Short Answer: NOT EXPLICITLY
- Question restated: We know that we don’t need to clean up our lives in order to be saved, but do we need to clean up our lives to be baptized?
- Repentance was clearly taught as a necessary part of accepting the Gospel before baptism occurred (Acts 2:38). Therefore, we believe that repentance must necessarily occur before baptism.
- In Acts, all were baptized immediately following their conversions. We assume that they had repentant hearts before the Lord, but there does not appear to have been any length of time during which they could have proved that repentance before their baptisms.
- It is possible that professing salvation was considered to be sufficient evidence of repentance in the early church because persecution of Christians was so prevalent at the time Acts was written. In our own context, where an individual can identify as a Christian at little or no cost to their own comfort or safety, it is much easier to make a false profession. For that reason, it may be prudent to allow time for fruit to be evident before baptizing believers in our present time and culture.
- We acknowledge that there is no prescriptive teaching in the New Testament on the subject of when a person ought to be baptized. We are instead only able to observe descriptive patterns. For this reason, we at Newton Christian Assembly believe that it is reasonable to conclude that the baptizing party be responsible for practicing discretion when deciding who to baptize (1 Corinthians 1:14-15 suggests that Paul may have had a similar opinion).
- Incentives – Short Answer: YES
- The issue of incentives for baptism in particular is not explicitly mentioned in scripture.
- Christ clearly condemns the use of spiritual practices to bolster an individual’s own pride or public reputation (Matthew 6:1-18)
- Understanding Baptism – Short Answer: NOT EXPLICITLY
- Question restated: What level of understanding would we expect an individual to be able to demonstrate before being baptized?
- NCA’s answer: We would expect an individual to understand that baptism is a command of Jesus to them as a believer.
3. Based on what we see in Scripture, who is baptism intended for?
All who have accepted the Gospel. (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16)
Part 3: Baptism in the Assembly
1. Who is responsible for initiating a baptism?
The Assembly is responsible for teaching new believers about Jesus’ command to be baptized, and it is the individual’s responsibility to express their interest in being baptized.
2. What does the process look like from start to finish?
*We recognize that there is no Biblical mandate for this process. These steps outline what is typical, not what is inalterable:
- The believer informs an elder or member of the Assembly that they want to be baptized.
- The elders arrange a time to meet together with the individual.
- In their meeting, the elders will likely ask to hear the individual’s testimony (how they became a Christian), ask what has brought them to the decision to be baptized, and discuss details of the day of the baptism.
- The church will be informed, and others invited to be present on the day.
- What a typical baptism event looks like:
- Most are done in an indoor baptism tank at the close of a church meeting (like a Gospel meeting).
- Often the individual will share their testimony before being baptized, or ask a close friend or family member to read it on their behalf.
- The baptizer (often an elder of the Assembly) will announce that they are baptizing the individual upon their confession, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- The baptizer will lower the individual into the water and help to lift them back out again.
- After the individual has had a chance to dry off, there is often some time of socializing to celebrate
3. What comes next for a baptized believer?
We encourage all recently baptized believers to start prayerfully considering the step of joining fellowship/becoming a member of a local church.
Note: for the sake of time, we purposefully did not go in-depth into other denominations’ views of baptism (ie. sprinkling vs. immersion, infant baptism vs. adult baptism, etc.). We are happy to arrange times for discussion with anyone who is interested in a more thorough discussion of these denominational differences.