I can understand how things have turned out the way they have. If baptism is something that we do as our first act of obedience in Christ, it certainly cannot save, because the result would be each of us earning salvation, and that is something that all Protestants would collectively deny. So therefore the clear verses are explained away because if they were true and literal, that would make baptism efficacious, and us no different from the Judaizers of Galatia. What believers’ baptism has done to get around this issue is adopt a modern form of Gnosticism. The Gnostics taught, and still teach today, that the spirit is inherently good and the material is inherently bad. Therefore, those that profess believers’ baptism, in effect, are saying that God only chooses to work through the spirit manifestation, not by any real material means. Therefore baptism is taught as symbolic only; like a wedding ring. The problem with this is that it negates the efficacy of Christ coming in the flesh. Christ became “material” at the incarnation. He physically lived and touched people during His 33 years of life. Those who closely watched as he was scourged, played witness to the nails pounded into his hands and feet as well as those who watched the violence play out as they stood under the cross as he bled and breathed his last breathe saying “It is finished” all had access to his physical blood to cover themselves as an atonement. We, today, cannot go back to Calvary and scrape Jesus’ blood from the ground to cover ourselves. It is no longer there. But Jesus knew this and gives the good news to the disciples in Matthew 28 when they realize what was accomplished and how disciples are made. This bloody picture of our ravaged savior is the precise picture of what baptism is and what it delivers to us. The real and physical means that Christ chose to dispense atonement to those that could not access it. Christ touches through the waters of baptism because his word says he does. From the Old Testament means of grace and baptismal foreshadowing (Part 1 & 2) to the preparatory work of John the Baptist (Part 3) that resulted in the baptism of Jesus (Part 4) and the subsequent fulfillment of means of grace and prophecy through the gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit (Part 5 & 6) the masterpiece of salvation through baptism is now complete. As this series comes to a close there is one additional point to be made.
What does it mean when God says “remember?”
It comes up many times in scripture and is synonymous with salvation. There are many verses that point to this (Genesis 8:1, Genesis 9:14-16, Genesis 19:29, Genesis 30:22, Exodus 2:23-25, Exodus 20:24, 1 Samuel 1:19-20, Psalm 105:8-11, Psalm 111:4-5, Isaiah 65:16-17, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Luke 1:54-55, Luke 1:69-78, etc., Hebrews 8:10-14, etc). These verses display that when God “remembers” his promise, salvation flows forth. The scarlet thread of the Old Testament text shows the preparatory means by which everything proceeding from the gospel promise given in Genesis 3:15 was to prepare the way for the one who will bruise the head of the serpent. All of the covenants, miracles and opened wombs were means of grace to prepare the entrance of the savior into the world. God Remembers Noah and rescues him, his family and an ark full of animals from the great flood. God remembers his covenant with Abraham in Exodus and returns Israel from Egyptian exile. God remembers Rachel and her womb is opened to birth Joseph. God remembers Hannah and her womb is opened to birth Samuel. God remembers the remnant and rescues them from Babylonian exile and points to a future covenant in which he will remember their sins no more. In Luke, John the Baptists father, Zechariah, prophesies over his son saying that he will prepare the way for the Lord which is an answer to the prophecy in Jeremiah 31. In Hebrews, the Jeremiah prophecy is shown to be fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. All of scripture points to Jesus Christ. He is the reason for God’s remembrance. There are three particular verses that will help bridge the gap between God remembering and baptism. The verses are…
An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.
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.”
1 Peter 3:18-22
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
In Exodus, God gives a promise of blessing attached with the remembrance of His name. When God remembers his promises, salvation happens. In Matthew, Jesus gives the baptismal formula which is by water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In each and every baptism, His name is remembered. Peter then affirms that as God remembered Noah (Genesis 8:1) He also remembers each of us in our baptism stating that as God saved Noah and his family by bringing them through the flood waters, so too will he save us through the waters of baptism. Peter continues that this is not merely a temporal cleansing, but a true means to clear ones conscience through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Baptism is more than a mere act of obedience or a hollow ordinance. Baptism is true salvation. Baptism is an extension of the cross because just as God “remembered” the thief on the cross, so too will he remember us who were adopted in baptism. I’ll close with one last picture. When the soldier pierces Jesus’ side with the spear; blood and water flow out. What a perfect picture of the sacraments of baptism and communion. As Eve was created out of Adams side, so to the church was created from the side of Christ through the promises he offers through the proclamation of His word, the Lord’s table and the waters of baptism.
1. Can someone be re-baptized?
There is no such thing as re-baptism if baptism is God’s work. If it is God’s work, then the act of re-baptizing would signify that God was either only partially effective or ineffective in the baptismal waters the first time. This would also mean that God doesn’t keep his promises; which makes Him out to be a liar. I am not saying that if you are re-baptized you are condemned, only that you have a misunderstanding of what baptism is and should, when convicted, repent of that misunderstanding. On the other hand, if baptism is our work (a position I disagree with), an infant baptism would become null and void while necessitating cognizant “age of discretion” baptism since the claim of those who affirm believers’ baptism is that it’s the first act of obedience. Since I see neither scripture or history affirming anything resembling “age of accountability” or a “first act of obedience” view of baptism, the infant baptism performed in the triune name of God, would be the fully efficacious baptism the second “baptism” (as first act of obedience), would merely be an empty work. The only time that I believe scripture merits a second baptism is if your first baptism was not done in accordance with Matthew 28:19; that is in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” We see this in Acts 19. This still would not be called a “re-baptism” as the first baptism wasn’t a true baptism, thus scriptural baptism has never occurred in the first place. Any denomination that will baptize an adult more than once has zero scriptural evidence to perform such a multitude of rebaptisms and is completely missing any scriptural foundation for understanding baptism.
2. Does the absence of baptism condemn?
The short answer is no, but it is much deeper than simply that. Our sins are what condemn us. So to escape condemnation we need forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sin (grace) is dispensed by the means of faith through hearing the word and the waters of baptism. The command given in Matthew 28:19 is to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching, therefore an un-baptized Christian is a rare bird, however, there is precedence. The thief on the cross heard the Word proclaimed, believed and that gifted faith justified him. The thief often finds himself in the midst of poorly formed arguments against efficacious baptism. As stated earlier, it’s not the absence of the baptism that condemns, but the despising of it. Despising baptism is any attitude that keeps you from it. Secondly, Jesus’ exhortation to make disciples through baptism was some 43 days after the crucifixion. Lastly, he was nailed to a cross thus making it relatively impossible for him to be baptized. It wasn’t the thief’s attitude that kept him from baptism, but 3 nails and a cross (and lack of directive since the narrative in Matthew 28 hasn’t happened yet). This carries forward to paint the big picture. Baptism is A means of grace, not THE means of grace. As pointed out many times in this series saving faith comes both through hearing of the word and the waters of baptism. These two means are not to be pitted against one another, but are to harmoniously interact.
3. Why don’t you just go to the hospital and start baptizing all the babies if it is indeed certain salvation?
This is a question that comes up rather frequently because it seems logical at first glance. However, the life of a Christian, from birth to physical death in one of constant nourishment and care. When a baby is born they must be fed and cared for until they can care for themselves apart from their parents or guardians. The same goes for babies and their spiritual lives. Baptism is only given to infants and children of believing parents or guardians because the parents and guardians are responsible for the spiritual nourishment and upbringing. The have to take them to read and teach them the word, take them to church, and generally bring them up in the ways of the Lord. It would be frivolous and un-scriptural to baptize infants of unbelievers because their faith will ultimately be starved to death. It would be akin to welcoming an infant with an incredible feast and then sending them to a barren desert to live out the rest of their days as their spiritual life is quickly staved out.
4. What about those that were baptized as infants that are not bearing fruit in keeping with repentance but claim salvation in their baptism anyway?
I believe that John 15 best answers this. In John 15 we are told that God the Father is the vine-dresser, Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. We are told that if we abide in him we will bear fruit, but if we do not abide in him, we will be removed from the vine and thrown into the fire. In this picture there are several things to point out. First, if we want to stay in the vine, we have to understand how to abide. In the proceeding verses we learn that “we abide” by loving Jesus and we love Him by keeping his commands. The Greek word there is “tereo” which does mean keep, but not in the same sense as it is typically preached. It means keep-in-tact or guard. Therefore, to abide we must guard or keep-in-tact His commands (also see John 5:38 for further evidence of this understanding). This also insinuates that we have to know what His commands are. Faith needs nourishing just like branches need nourishing. It is important for the parents and the church to collectively work together in bringing our children up in the faith by not only teaching them God’s Word and commands, but also teaching them to guard them. This is a true picture of discipleship. Secondly, it is apparent that those that are not bearing fruit are still in the vine before they are removed and thrown into the fire. They are in the vine by baptism. So God kept His promise that was made in their baptism. However, somewhere along the line, through malnourishment, they reject the promise, stop bearing fruit, and are thus removed from the vine and thrown into the fire. This is a sad picture that should touch us all. This is the picture of one whom claims salvation through baptism, while refusing to receive spiritual nourishment through word and sacraments. Just as there are those who hear the word and come to faith only to eventually fall to apostasy, there will be those who in like manner are baptized and will fall to apostasy. As long as we find ourselves on this side of the grace, proper spiritual nourishment important no matter the age of the believer.
5. Do infant baptizing brethren ever baptize adults?
Yes. Infants are only baptized when their parents are professing believers. If there is an adult that comes to repentant faith in Christ having never been baptized in the triune name of God, then this calls for adult baptism. This is the same baptism that is seen in scripture concerning Cornelius, the Philippian Jailer, Lydia and the Eunuch (among others). These were all converts that had never been baptized previously. The text clearly says their whole household was baptized. This brings us to the debate centered on what is meant by households. It is my contention as well as the contention of historical Christianity, that households are inclusive of all who live in the house. Household is as inclusive as “nation” is. I purposefully left the debate about “households” out of the previous parts of this series because it is an overused argument from both sides of the fence. Ultimately, we can fight about assuming whether household equates to infants. The fact is we do not know for certain that these households had infants nor can we, with any certainty, say they didn’t. What we do know is that the whole household was baptized; therefore if there were infants, they too were baptized. What we can say with absolute certainty is that all nations include infants and the baptismal directive is to baptize all nations. Households are part of nations. I see no scripture anywhere that gives a positive case for infants to be excluded.
6. What’s the proper mode of baptism?
This is a hot topic amongst the brethren. The typical infant baptizing congregation will say sprinkling while the believers baptizing congregation will demand immersion. There is some validity on both sides of the argument. I personally think that baptizing by pouring water on the head three times out of a shell is the most historically accurate way, but ultimately I don’t think it matters all that much since it’s God’s work and he has promised to work and gift through water and word. As long as water and word are present it shouldn’t make much difference. This is one reason I spend any time on this in the series. However, the hang up tends to focus on the Greek word “baptismo.” This word can mean immersion and it can also mean a sprinkling. The believers’ baptism congregations use this to invalidate infants because they say that you must be immersed to truly be baptized and thus immersing an infant could drown them. The infant baptism crowd says that we sprinkle all and thus do not see a problem. I personally believe the Didache is insightful when considering the mode. The Didache is a writing, believed to be written in first century, that has been called “the teaching of the apostles.” It is a short work dealing with many of the rules and regulations for the ecclesia or church. Here is what it says concerning baptism…
Now about baptism: this is how to baptize. Give public instruction on all these points, and then “baptize” in running water, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If you do not have running water, baptize in some other. If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The baptismal hierarchy within the Didache is…
1. In running water in the name of the Trinity
2. If you don’t have running, use some other water
3. Use cold water and if you don’t have that, use warm
4. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Trinity.
Notice there is a hierarchy of water modes, however, what doesn’t change is that water is used in combination with the triune name of God. Also, even though full immersion paints of beautiful picture of being buried and raised with Christ, I have a hard time harmonizing this with scripture. The text typically used for this is Acts 8:39 when Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch. The text says “and when they came up out of the water” and this is usually quoted as proof that Phillip immersed the eunuch. This is not what the text says. In Acts 8:38 Philip and the eunuch come upon water and go down into it. In verse 39 Philip baptizes the eunuch and they come out of the water. If this was talking about full immersion the text could not say “they came up out of the water” because when someone s baptized by immersion only the baptized comes up out of the water. The baptizer is always above the water. Therefore this verse is simply stating that they went down to the water, the baptism happened, then they returned to the dry land. I do not see support for full immersion from this passage. Once again, it is my position that the means doesn’t particularly matter, but we must be faithful to what the text actually says and not jump through hoops just to attempt to prove our presupposition.
Thank you for reading the “Christian Baptism Series” and please feel free to comment of email e with any questions.