Why are Baptists so excited for Baptism? If you ever observed water baptism, there is a lot of celebration happening. Baptismal services seem to posses a unique, electrified atmosphere of joy and excitement. Yet, biblically, water baptism is not necessary for salvation. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ did not sent me to baptize but to preach the gospel”. Paul was not called to baptize but to preach the gospel, because through the gospel alone people are saved.
If baptism is not necessary for salvation, then why perform it? Why get baptized? Some Christians today reject any special “ceremonial procedures” because we are saved by grace through faith, and therefore, nothing else matters. Should we perform something as ritualistic as baptism? In the Bible, we observe 2 important facts about water baptism: the first is that Jesus ordains baptism to be performed and the second is that baptism holds great significance.
Baptism is Ordained
The word “baptism” is a transliterated word from the Greek language. This means that it was not translated, but written as originally sounded, except with English letters. Thus, the Greek rendition of this word sounds exactly the same, “Βαπτιζω” (Baptizo). But if we are to translate it, it means “dipping in water” or “immersion in water”. This definition is accurately illustrated when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. He goes into the river and is immersed, or “baptized”. Also, when Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch, the text says “they both went into the water, Phillip and the eunuch and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-39).
When Jesus was on earth he “ordained” two visible practices to be performed by his church. These are “the Lord’s Supper” and “Water Baptism”. Some call them “sacraments” and others call them “ordinances” (from the word “ordained”). The Roman Catholic church has seven sacraments, yet there are no biblical grounds to count them as “ordinances” because Jesus did not specially ordain them as he did the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
Right before Jesus was ascended into heaven he commanded his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizingthem 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” (Matt 28:19). Jesus officially ordained baptism to be performed on those who become His disciples.
At the birth of the church at Pentecost Peter concludes his sermon by urging the crowd, “repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Act 2:38). In the development of the early church in Acts we see a “pattern of hearing and responding to the gospel, receiving the forgiveness of sins and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by baptism” (Allison, p. 324). There are numerous examples of individuals (Acts 8;16, 9:18, 16,15, 16:33) and groups of people (Acts 8:12, 10:47, 18:8) who were baptized after conversion. The church took this ordinance seriously.
The Significance of Baptism
In addition to baptism being commanded by Jesus, it also possesses much meaning and significance. Baptism symbolises and proclaims numerous spiritual realities that have occurred. Primarily, we see that Jesus commands us to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28). In other words, we believe, proclaim and announce the trinitarian Lord in our baptism.He is the one who planned, created and sustains all things. This is the visible mark that distinguishes us from all other religions.
In baptism we also proclaim that we have died to sin and are resurrected to a new life. In Romans 6:3-5, we read “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, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Baptism identifies and symbolizes that we have died to sin as Jesus died on the cross for us; and we have been resurrected to a new life as Jesus was raised from the dead.
Not only is baptism a symbol of our death to sin, but a symbol of our cleansing from sin. In Acts 22:16 Paul is narrating his conversion and Ananias commands him saying “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Baptism does not cleanse our sins, but it symbolises that our heart has been washed by the blood of Jesus. We proclaim through the visible act of immersion into water that we are clean and forgiven through Christ.
Lastly, Greg R. Allison points out in his book “Sojourners and Strangers” that “baptism symbolizes incorporation into the new covenant community, the church” (p. 356). As Peter commanded in the day of Pentecost “repent and be baptized every one of you” (Acts 2:38); the narrative concludes with these words “so those who received the word were baptized, and there were added that day about three sounds souls” (v. 41). Baptism proclaims that you are now an official part of a local church. We understand that we were already incorporated in the body of Christ by faith; yet, baptism is an official way of proclaiming this fact, and we, as the church, celebrate the reality of this person’s salvation and entrance into the family of God.
Although baptism does not save anyone it is an important symbol proclaiming of our inner change and was commanded by Jesus Christ himself. The brutal WWII lasted for 6 years. In April of 1945 the Germans surrendered, and the Allies were victorious. However it was not until September 2, 1945 that the official documents were signed to mark the end of the war. Baptism is that official announcement of the change that has already taken place. It proclaims that you have died to sin, and have been made alive in Christ, to serve our Lord within the body of Christ, the church.