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Baptism. It's What We Do

Baptism. It’s what we do. After all, we are Baptists. But to those outside our Baptist world, baptism can have some differing meanings.

Bobby Jamieson, in his book Understanding Baptism, defines it as “a church’s act of affirming and portraying a believer’s union with Christ by immersing him or her in water, and a believer’s act of publicly committing him or herself to Christ and his people, thereby uniting a believer to the church and marking off him or her from the world.” Jamieson does a good job of breaking that down, and I recommend reading his book.

Mark Dever says, “Among Baptists, baptism has never been treated as an essential conduit for God’s grace. Rather, we have regarded it as a command given to new believers and therefore the normal means for marking and celebrating their salvation. Baptism is a visible sermon, informed by the word, and entirely dependent on God’s spirit to create the spiritual reality it depicts.”
All our Protestant brothers share with us, of course, that baptism is not an “essential conduit for God’s grace.” Although it is not essential, it is a command, and what is not essential for salvation may be essential for obedience. About this Spurgeon says, “Do it if Jesus commanded it. Do it whether it appears to you to be essential or not!... If he puts it to you, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved’ (Mark 6:16), believe and be baptized.”

Baptism symbolizes identification with the Person of Christ and inclusion in the Body of Christ. Jamieson says, “Baptism is where faith goes public. It is where we put on Jesus’ team jersey. Baptism is how a believer commits him or herself to Christ – owning him as savior and submitting to him as Lord – in plain view of all.”

If baptism celebrates and marks salvation, then baptism must only be for believers. The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 says, “Those who actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.”

We see this throughout the book of Acts. First individuals believed, then they were baptized.
Given this, we, as most Baptist churches do, require believer’s baptism for church membership. Dever says, “From the beginning, ecclesiology has set Baptists apart from other evangelicals. The doctrine of a visible church composed of only the baptized regenerate is the hallmark of Baptists.”

Finally, baptism is a “visible sermon.” I think Romans 6:3-5 shows this best: “Do you 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, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the father, we to might walk in newness of life.”

It is probably of no surprise that as Baptists we believe that the only appropriate and scripturally supported mode of baptism is by immersion. Jamieson says, “Immersion best captures the symbolism of being buried and raised with Christ. In both Romans 6:1-4 and Colossians 2:11-12 Paul takes for granted that baptism signifies this union with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The most reasonable inference is that his readers would call to mind a time not when they were sprinkled or doused with water, but when they were thrust under it and pulled up out of it.”

We baptize in obedience to Jesus’s command. Baptism both celebrates and marks salvation in a believer, and it is a visible sermon that pictures and promotes the gospel.

We have barely touched on the subject, so here is a short list of references that I have found useful:

  • Dever, Mark, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2012.
  • Dever, Mark, “Chapter 13: The Church”, A Theology for the Church: Revised Edition, Ed. Daniel L. Akin, Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2014.
  • Grudem, Wayne, “Chapter 27: Baptism”, Bible Doctrine, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1999.
  • Jamieson, Bobby, Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Church Membership, Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.
  • Jamieson, Bobby. Understanding Baptism, Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2016.
  • Johnson, Jeffrey D., The Church Why Bother?: The Nature, Purpose, and Functions of the Local Church, Free Grace Press, 2012, 2015.
  • Schriener, Thomas R., “Chapter 4: Baptism in the Bible”, Baptist Foundations: Government for an Anti-Institutional Age, Ed. Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman, Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.
  • Wright, Shaw D., “Baptism in History, Theology, and the Church”, Baptist Foundations: Government for an Anti-Institutional Age, Ed. Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman, Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.