Baptism- Taking The Plunge ~ Getting Drenched ~
As Christians we participate in two celebrations here at Riverside Community Church that bring to mind what Jesus did for us on the cross: communion and baptism. Communion is celebrated on a regular basis here at Riverside, while baptism is a once in a lifetime declaration of a life devoted to God. But there is a lot of confusion surrounding baptism in America today, and for good reason... "the human mind explaining baptism is like a harmonica attempting to play Beethoven: in the end the music is just too majestic for the simple harmonica." 1
"Likewise no human mind can fully appreciate what the moment of baptismmeans in heaven. Any words on baptism, including these, must be seen as human efforts to understand an incredibly holy event." 2 Our danger is to swing to one of two extremes: we make baptism either too important or too unimportant. Both sides are equally dangerous. One person says, "I am saved because I was baptized." The other says, "I am saved so I don't need to bebaptized." The challenge for us is to find the balanced answer which lies somewhere in between those two extremes that the Bible itself suggests. "This is done by placing baptism in the only place it makes any sense: at the foot of the cross." 3 Baptism is like a diamond- alone it's nice but its dazzling displays don't impress us unless a light source is focused through it's natural prisms. It's the same with baptism- alone it doesn't make much sense "but place baptism against the backdrop of our sin and turn on the light of the cross, and the jewel explodes with significance & beauty. Baptism at once reveals the beauty of the cross and the darkness of our sin." 4
Just as a diamond is multi-faceted, baptism also has many sides: forgiveness, cleansing of sins, clothing with Chirst, burial of our old way of life, resurrection to a new way of life, the death of the old, and the birth of the new. And "according to the Bible, once a person admits his sin and turns to Christ for salvation, a step must be taken to proclaim to heaven and earth that he/she is a follower of Jesus. Baptism is that step." 4
Baptism is an important step of obedience by one who has given his/her life to God. It's so important that as far as we know every single believer in the New Testament (except one) was baptized. "With the exception of the thief on the cross, there is no example of an unbaptized believer. The thief on the cross, however, is a crucial exception. His conversion drives some people crazy. It is no accident that the first one to accept the invitation of the crucified Christ had no creed, confirmation, christening, or catechism. Here's a man who never went to church, never gave an offering, never was baptized, and said only one prayer. But that one prayer was enough because it was offered to the only one powerful enough to save him. The thief has a crucial role in the gospel drama. He reminds us that though our teachings may be airtight and our doctrine dead-center, in the end it's Jesus who saves us, whether we understand the way He does it or not." 5
If we want to understand baptism we need to look to the Bible. The Apostle Peter said in I Peter 3:21.
"And that water is like the baptism which now saves you- not the washing of dirt from the body, but the promise made to God from a good conscience."
This promise that you make from a clean conscience is symbolized inbaptism and is terribly important. "You see, baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers."6 Would you feel comfortable marrying someone who wanted to keep your marriage a secret? Neither does God. "It's one thing to say in the privacy of your own heart that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. But it's quite another to walk out of the shadows and stand before family, friends, and colleagues to state publicly that Jesus is your forgiver and master. This step raises the ante. Jesus commanded all his followers to prove it, to make the pledge, by public demonstration in baptism." 7
One of the last things Jesus said to his followers was to "go and make followers of all people in all the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). In the New Testament, baptism was not a casual custom. It was no ho-hum ritual to be done or not done depending on how a person felt about it. Baptism was, and is "a pledge made to God from a good conscience" (I Peter 3:21). "Indeed,baptism is a vow, a sacred vow of the believer to follow Christ." 8 The symbolism is almost identical to the vow made at a wedding ceremony where the Bible teaches us that the two become "one" (Genesis 2:24). So the Bible teaches that we became "one with Christ when we were baptized" according to Romans 6:3.
So what do you need to know to be baptized? Well, what do we require of couples who want to be married? "Do the bride and groom understand all of the implications of their wedding? No. Do they know every challenge or threat they will face? No. But they know they love each other, and they vow to be faithful to the end." 9
"Likewise when a willing believer enters the waters of baptism, does he know the implications of the vow? No. Does she know every temptation or challenge ahead? No. But they know the love of God and are responding to him." 10 Don't misunderstand- it isn't the act of getting wet that saves us. But the act does symbolize how we are saved! The miraculous and invisible work of God is visibly played out in the water. "Remove your shoes, bow your head, and bend your knees: this is a holy event. Baptism is not to be taken lightly. The event is a willing plunge of the body and soul into the promise and power of Christ. The ritual of washing signifies our admission that apart from Christ we are dirty, but in Christ we are pure. The ritual of burial signifies that we are willing to die to sin and self and that we can be made alive again because of him." 11
According to Romans 6 baptism unites us with Jesus and his death, burial & resurrection.
We died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised as he was.
Do you see what the Bible is saying? His death becomes my death. His resurrection becomes my resurrection. Here's the bottom line... the reason there is no example of an unbaptized believer in the New Testament (yes... other than the thief on the cross) is because it would have been unthinkable to those men and women to give themselves to Jesus and then refuse to do what He asked. In my humble opinion it should be just as unthinkable now.
So What Exactly Is Baptism?
I'm glad you asked! Baptism is a word that has only been in the English language since the King James Bible of 1611 was first introduced. You see by that time the church had been practicing infant baptism by sprinkling for so long that nobody knew any different. But when the Bible was finally translated into English the monks had a problem... how to translate the Greek word "baptizo" into the English language? All the Greek dictionaries of the New Testament define the Greek word "baptizo" as "immersion", but the scribes couldn't translate this word correctly without causing problems since the church at the time was "sprinkling" instead of "immersing". So a new English word was born. "Baptism" is a way of saying something without actually saying it.
In Romans 6:3-4 the Bible suggests the symbolism of immersion and is a compelling argument for it: "just as a person lowers you into the water, Christ lowers you into the pool of his grace until every inch of you is clean. Buried in a watery grave, covered from head to foot with God's love, you are washed clean by the blood of Jesus. And then as you are brought up out of the water you are raised to a brand new life, just as Jesus Himself was raised never to be the same again." 10 If you have any questions or concerns about this aspect ofbaptism, we would welcome the opportunity to talk with you about it.
What About Baptizing Babies?
It seems clear that in the New Testament baptism is a willing pledge made by those who are old enough to recognize their sin, mature enough to comprehend the significance of the death of Jesus, and independent enough to commit themselves to him. In Acts 2:38 the Bible says, "Change your hearts and lives and be baptized, each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins." We are never told to be baptized and then believe, anymore than we would be told to get married and then fall in love. "The Bible identifies the progression over and over: come to belief, to trusting faith, and then display that decision by associating ourselves with Jesus in baptism.Baptism is the initial step of a believing & faithful heart yet it requires significant levels of maturity." 13
While we don't baptize babies we believe it is appropriate to dedicate a baby and at Riverside Community Church we do this yearly with the entire congregation or, on request if you prefer a more private ceremony with your family. This ceremony offers parents an opportunity to come and dedicate their children to God and themselves to raising their children the way God wants them to be raised.
What If I Was Baptized As A Child And Was Never Immersed?
First, you should be grateful that you had parents who cared enough about you to set you apart for God and to dedicate themselves to doing everything in their power to bring you up the way they believed God intended when He gave you to them. Because of their devotion, you have an opportunity to completetheir prayer and dream for you by willingly submitting yourself to Jesus as believers did in the New Testament- in adult baptism. Adult baptism is not a sign of disrespect for what your parents did. In fact, it can be seen as a fulfillment of their prayers. Be thankful for your heritage and the legacy of religious, concerned parents. Several who are now members of this church were baptized as infants and then, upon coming to a personal faith and learning more about baptism, were baptized as adults. It's not a slap in your parents face... it is simply part of your spiritual journey with Jesus. Taking the steps that He places before you to the best of your understanding and knowledge just as your parents did- what better gift could you give them?
What Do I Need To Know To Be Baptized?
Well, you need to bend your knees, close your eyes & hold your nose. That may seem like a flippant answer but it's really not rocket science. As far as we can tell from the Bible you need to realize only that you are a sinner and that Jesus is your Savior. "As you grow in Christ you'll learn more aboutbaptism. You'll learn that embodied and represented in baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38); commitment to other members of God's family (I Corinthians 12); and being clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:26), to name a few." 14 It is helpful to read the book of Acts and try to determine what the candidates in the first century knew before they were baptized: the three thousand baptized on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2; the Ethiopian official in Acts 8; the jailer in Acts 16; and the conversion of Paul in Acts 22:16. In each case there was an innocent, initial faith and an immediate response. Do you see some similarities? The message and the response are consistent. The message is Jesus and the response is belief & baptism.
Does It Matter Where I Was Baptized?
Not to God & therefore not to Riverside Community Church. If you werebaptized in a Baptist Church or at a Pentecostal camp or in the lake at a family reunion, that doesn't matter. What is important is that you knew that you were a sinner, that Jesus was your Savior, and that what He wanted from you was that you be baptized.
What If I Don't Want To Be Baptized?
That's an interesting question. It's understandable to be intimidated bybaptism. It runs completely contrary to our sensibilities as 21st century Americans. We are, for the most part, private people and baptism is a public ceremony. However, if you have truly given yourself to Jesus and accepted the gifts of eternal & abundant life that He offers then doesn't it make sense that we would do whatever He asks? In Luke 6:46 Jesus says, "Why do you call me, 'Lord'... but do not do what I say?"
"True believers not only offer their sins, they yield their wills to Jesus.Baptism is the initial test of a believing heart. If one won't obey Christ inbaptism, what will he do when Christ calls him to obey him in other areas?" 16 The highest motive for doing anything is because God asks you to do it. Our hearts should say, "If you want me to be baptized in a pile of leaves, I'll do it. I may not understand every reason, but neither do I understand how you could save a sinner like me. Thank You!" 17
What About Those Who Die Before They Can Be Baptized?
This question is usually phrased something like, "What of the ones who die before they have a chance? What if I entrust my soul to Christ and before I can tell anyone or arrange to be baptized, a swarm of killer bees attacks me and I die?" "The answer to this question is found in the character of God. Would a God of love reject an honest heart? No way. Would a God of mercy and kindness condemn any seeking soul? Absolutely not. Having called you and died for you would he cast you away because of a curious sequence of events? Not a chance. Look through your Bible and try to find one example of God turning away an honest person who is truly seeking Him- you won't find one." 18 Not even when the honest person is "doing it all wrong" does God turn Him away because God sees the heart and knows why we do everything we do.
"Is it possible for an unbaptized believer to be saved? Yes, definitely. Should every believer be baptized? Yes, definitely. Baptism is bowing before the Father and letting Him do His work. The moment is like that of the first grader entering the first grade. The young student does not enroll by virtue of his knowledge or merits. He simply requests, "I'm here to learn, will you teach me?" Baptism is like that- not graduation but induction. It's the presentation of the willing pupil before the Master Teacher. 'I'm here to learn Lord. Will you teach me?'" 19 Baptism is your first lesson in becoming like Jesus.
So What's The Final Answer?
Don't allow baptism to be something it is not. Apart from the cross it has no significance. "If you are trusting a dunk in the water to save you, you have missed the message of grace. Beware of becoming a "know it all". No one this side of heaven can fully understand the majesty of baptism. Watch out for the one who claims to have a corner on the issue, especially if that person is in your mirror." 20
But neither should we prevent baptism from being what God intended. This is no optional command. This is no trivial issue. It is a willing plunge into the power and promise of Christ. Baptism is the first step of a believer. If it was important enough for Jesus to command, isn't it important enough for you to obey? And if it was important enough for Jesus to do Himself, isn't it important enough for you to follow His example?"21
"In baptism God signs and seals our conversion to him. And for all we may not understand about baptism, we can be sure of one thing- it truly is a holy moment understood fully only in Heaven."22