What is Baptism?

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Baptism means a ceremonial cleansing and purification: a sign that tells God that we have repented and seek His forgiveness and desire to accept a new life.
Baptism what is it and what does it mean?

Baptism has caused quite a stir amongst believers since the founding of the church. The main reason why we have so arguments surrounding this as there are as many different modes and practices of baptism is because the Bible does not give us a clear pronouncement on the mode or way of doing it. The Bible and God's truth is more concerned with the idea and motives behind it and not the exercise of it. So we cloud the meaning with our limited understanding placing the emphases on the mode and not the reason. The importance is why we are being baptized and what it represents not how or even who for the most part we baptize.


Baptism means a ceremonial cleansing and purification: a sign that tells God that we have repented and seek His forgiveness and desire to accept a new life. The word literally means to be immersed, it also means to be identified as or committed too. When you put in the context of the passages it means to be immersed in the identification and obedience of Christ, not just the water or mode, which is a symbol (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13; Eph. 1:13-14; l5: 25-27; Col. 2:11-12; Titus 3:5).

  • It is a symbol of our union and covenant with our Lord (1 John 5:11-12).

  • It is a sign of our commitment to be His disciple (Matt. 28:19).

  • It is a work of our Lord that we participate by contributing our faith and obedience (Rom 6: 3-11; Col 2:9-13)!

  • If baptism was essential for salvation, why do you suppose that Jesus did not baptize anyone?

Christian adult/ believer's baptism is the public profession that a changed occurred in you by the way of repentance! We cannot have salvation without repentance. Grace is free, but grace cannot come in a heart where it is not welcomed, and being unrepentant means we will not welcome His grace! Baptism is not a magic "get into Heaven card" or to receive His blessings and riches, nor is it even mandatory; hence why some Christian groups do not practice it (Salvation Army).


Baptism does not have a specific mode, such as to say baptism in the name of Jesus, or in the Trinity, or to immerse, dunk, sprinkle, hose off in the parking lot, or my favorite hold them down until they really repent (kidding). Baptism means to be cleansed, and Christians have no basis to fight over which mode (yet we do any way), since no specific mode is required or even taught in Scripture. We are just commanded to do it! The "modes" come from various passages is Acts and in church history, when they were not near water they sprinkled, when they were near water they immersed (simple), and that transitioned into tradition for various groups.


A lot of people think baptism is necessary for salvation and quote John 3:4-7; however they miss the point of the passage about Nicademas and baptism in general. Thinking it is essential for our salvation. It is essential in that we are commanded to do it, but it is not essential for salvation, because we are saved by what Christ has done period. Justification by faith alone through His grace alone, and not by any work of ourselves (Eph. 2:8-9). The water in the Nicademas passage is not referring to baptism, but to natural birth, notice the word flesh in verse 6 that makes this clear. When a person is born the mother's water breaks and it is time to give birth, "being born of water".


Salvation is from Christ through our faith, by His grace. Baptism is the sign and acknowledgement we do to show it. It is our identification and public proclamation, but Scripture does not teach we need baptism to be saved. It is a ceremony. The Scriptures that people use to make this point are taken out of their context and clear meaning (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom 6: 3-8;2Thes. 1:19; 1 Peter 3:21). Marriage is also a ceremony that shows the marriage commitment to the public, but the ceremony does not marry you, it is the license from the court that does! Christ is our license, the baptism is the ceremony. We of course are commanded to obey and be baptized, but again baptism does in no way contribute to our salvation.


If you have not been baptized we encourage you to do so. You should find a good church to be apart of (if not so already), where the Word is taught and you can be involved. Then seek the pastor to be baptized. If you think your baptism contributed to your salvation, then please carefully examine the Scriptures and get your thinking aligned with His truth. If you have already been baptized as an infant it is not necessary to be re-baptized, as long as you proclaim the faith.


Baptism is not necessary for your salvation, but we are called to do it as a sign of our regeneration, our acceptance of His grace.


Infant Baptism

The Bible neither explicitly commands the practice of baptizing infant children of believing parents or prohibits it. Most mainline churches practice infant baptism, only the Baptists and recently in the 20th century the Fundamental, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches have refused to do so. The Catholic Church teaches that infant baptism washes away original sin and is regenerative, however nowhere does the Bible teach this! In Protestant and Reformed churches, infant baptism is not regenerative but covenantal and validated through the believing parent(s), and sealed only if they accept Christ as an adult. The baptism looks forward to the consummation of the person as an adult or of age making a public profession of their faith. This seals and completes the baptism as a believer. When the adult does not make a profession of their faith the baptism becomes null and void, as it has not been consummated. God lives outside of space and time, so to Him the timing is not important, the obedience is.


There are no clear accounts of infant baptism in the Bible. However, it cannot be completely disqualified as a possibility given that entire households were baptized including children and infants. (Rom. 7:12-14 see carefully verse 14!) Although most baptisms in the NT and the early church were Adults only (Acts 16:15,33; 18:8)! The early church practiced infant baptism without controversy until the second century.


There are good Biblical arguments against this practice by godly people, who see baptism as a seal of accepting Christ. Thus an infant is unable to accept, as they are not cognitively aware of what is happening. So a baptism should not be given until after faith is presented. Again they are right! But they often do not take into account the public profession of faith, which is the purpose of the baptism, to publicly proclaim Christ as Lord. Which infant baptism looks too. And it acts as a covenant to bring the child up in the faith to be taught and nurtured.


Most Evangelical churches practice infant dedication as a substitute. Under careful study (this is my opinion and not shared by most Reformed or Evangelical theologians) I believe it is semantics that separate the Reformed perspective from the Evangelical one (as I have served in churches that practice either or both), as both teach it is the proclamation of faith as an adult that accepts Christ's work. Both see it as a process of faith and duty of the parents to rear their child in a godly way teaching them the facts about the faith. Both see it as a form of circumcision looking to the OT command, and both do not believe baptism saves us. Only the Catholic Church would be in disagreement and some Fundamental groups.


Do I personally baptize infants? Yes and no. I never have, but if a parent would like me too, I would, just after 20 years, no one has asked me too, only dedications. (Gen. 17:1-14; Acts 2:38-39; 16:25-34) I personally prefer to baptize people in a large natural body of water, but again the method is not important!


Jesus and John's Baptism (Isa. 40:3; Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:1-5; II Cor. 5:21)


The baptism that John gave may seem similar to a Christian baptism, but remember that they were preformed before the sacrament was called for by Christ (Matt. 28:18-20). Johns' baptism was identified by the OT covenant as a requirement to be prepared as John preached that the kingdom of God was at hand as the herald for the Messiah. In the OT, gentiles were required to repent and under go a purification rite before becoming Jews. So John's baptism was a means of purification and preparation. John was getting people ready for the Christ. The Jewish leaders objected to John's baptism because he was treating fellow Jews, as they were gentiles, which the leaders believed Jews did not need purification, which of course they did.


Jesus baptism was not for the cleansing of sin or purification. John objected to baptize Jesus because he knew Jesus was sinless. But John did not realize that even though Jesus did not need it, for Him to be the Messiah He had to submit to every aspect of the Law in our place. Thus, He submitted Himself to the law on our behalf and identified Himself as a fully sinful human (even though He was not sinful) and fully God. He was anointed (ordained - called and set apart) by the Spirit for the ministry of redeeming us. His name means the anointed one so it climaxed with His baptism (Isa. 61:1).

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