Monday, July 7, 2014

How Southern Baptists understand the rich meaning of believer's baptism

Colossians 2:11-12 " and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."

Whenever we begin to approach the ordinance (or what some call the sacrament) of water baptism, much discussion and debate can ensue between different church groups and denominations. Many people do not realize the richness of meaning that lies within the practice of water baptism. To understand this, we first of all have to see the variety of ways in which the term "baptism" was used in the New Testament to speak of a variety of events, including of course our target discussion of the rich meaning of water baptism.

Several different types of baptism in the New Testament
Whenever we survey the New Testament, we discover nearly 100 passages of scripture mentioning or discussing baptisms of one sort or another. Hebrews 6:2 for example speaks of what is called the "doctrine of baptisms" as pertaining to the many types of ceremonial washings that existed in the Judaism of that day. Jesus speaks of having to undergo a "baptism" in Mark 10:38-39, indicating the suffering He would endure on the cross. We see reference to what is called the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" from the lips of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11; Peter in Acts 10:37 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:13.
The Apostle Paul once again uses the term "baptism" to describe the journey of Moses and the children of Israel across the Red Sea in 1 Corinthians 10:1-3. There is even of course the very hotly debated text of 1 Corinthians 15:29 which uses the difficult to interpret phrase "baptized for the dead".

Unfolding the rich meaning of the New Testament ordinance of water baptism
For our purposes in this post, we are interested in the rite of water baptism as commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 and practiced by the early church in Acts and the Epistles. We could had included John the Baptist's practice of baptizing people, including Jesus Himself, however for the sake of space we will focus only those texts that deal directly with the church itself and Jesus' giving of the ordinance to the church to perform on new converts.  Of those nearly 100 passages referenced above, we can narrow our focus to those references that speak specifically of the water baptism that is to be performed by generation after generation of Christ's church.

1. 22 New Testament passages speak of the act of water baptism, whether it was being performed in the early church or was included in the instructions of an apostle or an associate of an apostle.

2. 8 New Testament passages serve to unfold the meaning and richness of this very important practice of Christ's church.

Due to the significance of these texts in numerous ongoing discussions over the meaning of baptism, I will simply list them, and offer a very brief comment on each:

a. Matthew 28:18-20
Baptism is a command of the Lord Jesus Christ, and points to the meaning of discipleship and the Great Commission. This command of Jesus also includes the notion that baptism is meant for those who have by grace through faith believed on Jesus Christ and thus are disciples. This is why baptism, at least in Baptist circles, is called "believer's baptism".

b. Acts 19:5
Baptism includes the idea of having associated oneself with Jesus Christ, hence the phrase: "baptized in the name of Jesus".

c. Romans 6:3-4
Baptism speaks of having identified oneself with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. The word "baptism" itself comes from a verb and corresponding noun that unless otherwise prohibited by context, speaks of immersion or dipping of the candidate into the water to bring them back up. This text is one we can point out in understanding the proper mode of baptism.

d. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
The baptism here refers to the Holy Spirit connecting the new believer to Jesus Christ. Thus this event, which occurs at salvation, is signified, pictured and illustrated by water baptism.

e. Galatians 3:27
Water baptism also communicates the idea of someone who has been "clothed" with Christ - His life, character and nature.

f. Ephesians 4:5
The Spirit's baptism of the new convert into Christ at conversion and water baptism following conversion have a logical relationship to one another as a sign (water baptism) signifying an already existing reality in the life of the new convert (The Spirit's baptism or "installing" of the believing sinner into Christ at salvation). In experience and scripture they are two distinct events in terms of sequence. Hence when the church is practicing water baptism, it is an act that signifies a prior genuine act of God in bringing the person to saving faith. Thus people do not get water baptized to get saved, rather they get water baptized because they have been born again. 

g. Colossians 2:12
Baptism communicates that the person being baptized has turned their back on the world and former way of life as a result of God's prior working of saving faith in their life through the Gospel. Circumcision was a rite in the Old Testament that pictured a saint's identification with God's Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and New Testament Baptism signifies the New Testament saint's tie of faith with Jesus Christ. Some well meaning and Godly people attempt to build the practice of infant baptism from texts such as these, however we do not see one example of infant baptism being practiced by the church nor apostles in the New Testament.

h. 1 Peter 3:21
Baptism is not something done to get saved, but rather something one does because they were saved. It is the pledging to God of a good conscience and a public profession of one's prior faith to a group of witnesses.

How Southern Baptists understand the act, meaning and mode of Jesus' ordinance of water Baptism
It is so important to derive our understanding of any doctrine or practice from the scriptures - which constitutes our final authority of faith and practice. In looking at the Southern Baptist's understanding of water baptism, one can compare the following statement in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 to the above scriptures:
"Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."

Closing thoughts
When I look at doctrinal statements like the BFM 2000 or any other denomination, it must be remembered that they function to summarize and capture the main points of the Bible's overall detailed and rich contents. After all the words of men in doctrinal statements, no matter how weighty, are ever to be judged by the words of God in the Bible. To whit, the BFM 2000 appears consistent with the Biblical evidence for communicating the rich meaning of water baptism as so given by Jesus to His church. As always, the final court of appeal is the scripture, being that it is where we turn to in understanding how we ought to believe, act and worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Truly then we can say that Baptism in the New Testament is rich in meaning. It pictures and communicates the richness of the Gospel, the scriptures, the Christian life and Christ Himself.  


  1. I was baptized as a baby. Do I need to be rebaptized?


  2. Hi Abby:

    The short answer would be yes. Now let me expand on my answer by illustration, by biblical argument and pastoral advice.

    First, to illustrate, my wife was baptized as an infant and when we got married she studied the scriptures for an entire year on the subject of water baptism. The Presbyterian denomination of which she was a part is a really good, Bible believing group of people. Frankly I agree with them in 99% of things save of course the matter of baptism. When she concluded her study, she became convinced of needing to be baptized, and so I had occasion to do that at the church we were a part of at the time. That was 18 years ago.

    Secondly. now to put some Bible underneath this. The above post represents where I stand on the issue and the quotation of the BFM 2000 represents where Southern Baptist stand. Thus I simply refer you to the scriptures on the subject. When other folks come to me about questions like this, I refer them to Acts 19:1-7 with regards to the Ephesians who had received John's baptism but had not yet been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

    In baptism, the proper candidate is someone who has by grace through faith trusted in Christ. (Mt 28:18-20; Eph 2:8-9; Ro 6:4-5). The mode is that of immersion, based upon the primary meaning of the word baptize in its original language (governed by context) as well as the imagery of burial/resurrection per Ro 6:4-11 and the practice thereof in passages such as Acts 8:36-38. The meaning centers around taking that first major step of Christian obedience and going public with you faith, as outlined in the above post.

    Third and final, some pastoral advice. If I were you, I would talk to your pastor. Though the scriptures are always our final rule of faith and practice, nonetheless I always advise Christian people involved in other churches to speak with their pastors. To me, the Elder/Pastor is God's appointed undershepherd over the souls of the flock. If your church is governed by a plurality of Elders, ask their counsel as well. Seek counsel and search the scriptures and then be obedient to what the Lord tells you in His Word. Hope that helps.

  3. Several years ago I read C.S. Lewis' "Pilgrim's Regress." I remember at the end of it I had a strong sense of wanting to be baptized again (in Lake Michigan!). I told one of our Elder's, who was a friend of ours, and he wished for that too. He said he'd do it with me -- but we never did. (I think my husband and I moved to St Louis shortly after.) My Lutheran congregation would frown on my request. However, I have always said that if I ever get near the Jordan River I will be in it with someone baptizing me. I plan to take my grandson on a trip over there either in a year or two and I already told him about my plan. I wouldn't doubt he'll join me in the river.

    If all this doesn't happen, I know another Pastor who would most definitely do it if I asked. The thought comes to me on a more than occasional basis. Maybe that is a good indication that I should do it.

    God bless,