This last Sunday, we had the joy of celebrating the ordinance of baptism together. Despite what some think, baptism is not “just about the person being baptized.” It is an ordinance for all of us to see, affirm, celebrate, and even applaud. It builds the church and renews our collective commitment to the Great Commission.
Our church Statement of Faith (the Baptist Faith & Message) refers to baptism as:
“the immersion of a believer in water.”
While all Christians cherish baptism as an ordinance of Christ’s church – as Baptists, we cherish two unique baptismal convictions: “for believers” and “by immersion.” We insist upon these distinctives, not out of mere tradition, but because of our fidelity to the plain reading of Scripture as well as our desire to promote these church practices which, we believe, honor Christ, His word, and gospel the clearest.
If you are uncertain about why we hold to these distinctly baptistic ideas (or if you just need a reminder), below is a compact summary of the biblical arguments regarding our first and primary conviction that it is for believers only.
- The New Testament directly commands and records the baptism of believers.
In the Great Commission, Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…” Jesus spoke of baptism as the initial act or the profession of faith for a disciple of Jesus. The book of Acts records how the church, then, did this.
Throughout Acts, the order of events, surrounding salvation, assumes that baptism is for believers. The simple pattern found in Scripture is: word, hearing, faith, THEN baptism. The apostles upheld this order when, in Acts 2, God tells us that Peter preached the word after which “those who had received his word were baptized.” Acts 8:12 likewise states, “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” This is the same order found in Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:17-19), Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:44-48), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), and the Corinthians (Acts 18:8). The recurring pattern of Scripture is clear: the heart receives the gospel (by faith); THEN the water receives the body (in baptism).
Those who have been “baptized” PRIOR to their personal faith in Jesus, should not be considered baptized, because the order of events in their life is inconsistent with the pattern of the New Testament. In Acts 19, Paul even met a group of men who had all been previously baptized (not as infants, but as adult followers of John the Baptist). Paul specifically told them that their previous baptism was invalid because it was not preceded by their own personal faith in Jesus. The men, then, heard the gospel, responded in faith, and were then re-baptized (or, better yet, baptized properly for the first time). Today, then, those who have been sprinkled as infants but did, in fact, later in life come to faith in Jesus, have a responsibility to align the order of events in their Christian experience with those given in Scripture.
- The New Testament parallel for circumcision is regeneration, not baptism.
A major argument for infant sprinkling comes from a covenantal perspective of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Without getting too technical, many who advocate the sprinkling of infants, do so from an understanding of the Old Testament act of circumcision. (For a more thorough treatment, see the book Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace by Paul Jewett), However, Colossians 2:11-12 makes it clear that the New Testament version of circumcision is a spiritual act (of the heart) called regeneration, not a physical one (of the flesh). (See also Rom 2:28-29).
There is yet another problem with equating OT circumcision with NT baptism. Say, for argument’s sake, that this assumption is true – that OT circumcision is the predecessor to NT baptism. The reasoning, then, is that just as the OT symbol (circumcision) was applied to the physical children of Abraham, then the NT symbol (baptism) should likewise be applied to the spiritual children of Abraham. The main problem, however, lies in the fact that the New Testament makes it clear that the spiritual children of Abraham, today, are “those who are of faith,” hence believers. (Gal 3:7) Infants cannot and do not affirm their loyalty or allegiance to Jesus through faith. Thus, the very argument unravels on itself. Even by its own criteria, the sprinkling of infants must be ruled out as an option.
- Nowhere in the New Testament is the sprinkling of infants recorded or advocated.
There are a few other claims sometimes made as a support for infant sprinkling. Some will point to those occasions when small children were brought before Jesus. Three of the gospels mention such events. (Matt 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17) Upon a close examination, though, it is clear from these texts that while Jesus did, indeed, welcome them, touch them and bless them – nowhere does He baptize children (or advocate such.)
Furthermore, the “household” baptisms found in Acts (10:44-48, 16:33-34) and 1 Corinthians (1:16) do not mention any infants being present. To assume the presence of infants within these “households” requires that one “read them into” the text. Furthermore, the household members involved in these cases, are described as hearing the gospel, receiving the Spirit, speaking in tongues, praising God, and, most significantly, believing. (If, somehow, there were infants or toddlers present, who did in fact do these things – then, yes, they too would be prime candidates for baptism!)
- Sprinkling infants, as a supposed baptism, muddles the doctrine of the church.
The local church, by God’s definition, is the “household of faith.” (Gal 6:10) It is made up of men and women who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. As Baptists we believe in and guard closely our conviction in a regnerate chuch membership – that is, all local church members must be believers first. To administer “so-called” baptism (sprinkling) to those who do not and cannot exercise faith in Christ (i.e. infants), is to distort the clear, God-given parameters for the church. Baptism welcomes people into the visible, local church. Doing this to infants, then, is tantamount to welcoming unbelievers into the “household of faith.” This is illogical, unhelpful, and above all, unbiblical.
The church is for believers. Believers come into the local church and profess their faith through baptism. Infants cannot and do not believe. Therefore, infants should not be “baptized.” For the sake of the church’s identity and witness, believers and believers alone, are the only appropriate candidates for Christian baptism.