The Baptist Faith & Message (2000) refers to baptism as “the immersion of a believer in water.” As straightforward as that definition may seem to some, these two simple convictions – that baptism is “for believers only” and “by immersion only” – have been one reason that pages of ink have been written and gallons of and blood has been spilled throughout church history.
While all Christians cherish baptism as an ordinance of Christ’s church – as Baptists, we cherish two unique convictions about baptism – “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 His gospel the clearest.
Here is a compact summary of the biblical arguments in favor of baptism: for believers only and by immersion only.
Baptism: For Believers Only
1. The NT directly commands and records the baptism of believers.
In the Great Commission, Jesus said, “Go therefore and makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them…” Jesus spoke of baptism as the initial act or the profession of faith for a disciple (or follower) of Jesus.
Throughout the New Testament, the apostles carried this out and the order of events found there assumes the baptism of believers. The pattern is: preaching, hearing, believing, THEN baptizing. In Acts 2, the Bible states that “those who had received Peter’s 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 woman alike.” This is the same order with Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:17-19),Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:44-48), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), and the Corinthians (Acts 18:8). Throughout the book of Acts a recurring pattern is clear: the heart receives the gospel (by faith); THEN the water receives the body (in baptism).
Those who were “baptized” prior to their personal faith in Jesus, are not counted as 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 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 personal faith in Jesus. The men heard, responded in faith, and were then re-baptized (or, better yet, baptized properly for the first time).
Thus, those who have been sprinkled as infants, who did in fact come to faith in Christ later in life, have a responsibility to align the order of events in their Christian experience with those given in Scripture.
2. The NT 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, argue from an elevated understanding of the Old Testament act of circumcision. However, Colossians 2:11-12 makes it clear that the New Testament version of circumcision is a spiritual act (of the heart), not a physical one (of the flesh). Similarly, Romans 2:28-29 (emphasis added) states, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” Clearly, Paul paralleled OT circumcision (of the flesh) with NT regeneration (of the heart.).
Though the evidence, as just shown, is against equating OT circumcision with NT baptism, there is yet another problem with this view. 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 problem, however, lies in the fact that the Bible makes it clear that the spiritual children of Abraham 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.
3. Nowhere in the NT is the sprinkling of infants 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) Examined closely, it is clear from these texts that Jesus did, indeed, welcome them, touch them and bless them – but nowhere does He baptize them (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 there were infants or toddlers present, who did in fact do all of these things – then, yes, they too would be appropriate candidates for baptism!)
4. Sprinkling infants denies regenerate church membership.
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. This is called regenerate church membership. In order for church discipline to be properly practiced and for the Lord’s Supper to have meaning, it requires that believers are the only members of the church – and how do they become members – through baptism. 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.
Baptism: By Immersion Only
In addition to this idea, we also believe that the Bible teaches that true baptism can only be performed in a certain way – by immersion only. Immersion is not merely one of several options: it is the only proper mode consistent with the grammatical evidence, Scriptural pattern, and theological implications for what baptism is.
1. Immersion is what the word “baptize” means.
The Greek word baptizo (root word: bapto) means “to dip something in a liquid,” “to plunge,” or “submerge.” (BDAG, 164-165.) Even apart from the sacred Christian ordinance, this was the most common way in which the word was used in the Bible.
Consider what happens to other objects “baptized” in the Bible. In John 13:26, Jesus “dipped (bapto) the morsel” of bread at the Last Supper. In Luke 16:24, the rich man asked Father Abraham to “dip (bapto) the tip of his finger in water.” The word is also used in the Bible (and in other Greek literature), to describe the way in which fabric or cloth was immersed into a dye, so as to change its color. For instance, in Revelation 19:13, Jesus is seen wearing a “robed dipped (bapto) in blood.” The grammatical evidence supports the conviction that to “baptize” is to immerse or submerge.
2. Immersion fits the NT accounts of baptism.
Several instances of baptism are recorded in the New Testament. The language found in all of these indicate a full body submersion into water. For instance, after His baptism, Jesus “came up immediately from the water” (Matt 3:16, Mark 1:10).
Likewise, the eunuch and Philip “both went down into the water…and he [the eunuch] was baptized.” (Acts 8:38) After this, they too “came up out of the water.” (Acts 8:39) These frequent references to “coming up out of the water” fits well with the immersion approach.
Furthermore, the Bible repeatedly states that John baptized people “in the Jordan River” – not “at,” “by,” or “near”, but “in.” (Matt 3:6, Mark 1:5, 9) This small preposition supports the plunging of one’s whole body into water. Immersion best explains what these passages describe as happening at a baptism.
3. Immersion best symbolizes death, burial and resurrection.
In several places within the New Testament, baptism is referred to as a reenactment of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. Romans 6:4 refers to being “buried with Him through baptism.” Colossians 2:12 talks about “having been buried with Him in baptism.” A sprits or pouring of water over the head, does not recreate any burial imagery or resemblance. Baptism by immersion is the truest embodiment of this biblical imagery.
For the sake of obeying the plain text of Scripture and all of its implications, we believe that immersion and immersion alone, is the only appropriate mode for Christian baptism.
Believer’s Baptism by Thomas Schreiner & Shawn Wright
Infant Baptism & the Covenant of Grace by Paul Jewett