This week, Janet and I attended church and witnessed 9 baptisms during the service we attended. If my math is correct, the program listed a total of 38 people who made the commitment this week-end, during 4 services, to demonstrate their commitment to Christ through baptism.
Now one of the things about baptism is that there are many different views on exactly what baptism is. The Scripture is somewhat open to interpretation as to how the act of baptism is to be done. In the Catholic church, Methodist, Presbyterian and many other denominations, the “sacrament of baptism” is done to infants, usually in front of the congregation, and through the practice of “sprinkling”. You know what I mean – water is splashed on the head of the infant, symbolic of immersion and the child’s parents commit to raise the child in a Christian home, etc. From that moment on, the child is considered “baptized”.
In the Baptist community and several other denominations, including Evangelical Free and many other Bible or Community churches, baptism is done by full immersion and done “post profession of faith”. That means that a person gets baptized after a proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – then baptism is considered an act of obedience as suggested in the Scripture. This brings us another interesting point. These denominations consider the act one of obedience and not anything that has to do with salvation or being acceptable to enter heaven.
However, there are faiths out there, including Catholicism, that require baptism as a condition of salvation. So if you don’t get baptized, you’re not on the “bus” bound for heaven. This whole issue is what creates such a chasm between people of different religious backgrounds. And the whole idea brings up passionate differences of opinion on the topic. Is baptism a condition of salvation – can you enter heaven without it – or not? Or is it an act of obedience to Jesus, and if that is the case, how can small children make the decision to get baptized? They aren’t old enough, as infants, to know if they wish to follow Jesus…. Does this mean that their parents can commit to follow Jesus on their behalf? And what happens when the child is old enough to make a decision on their own and they choose not to follow Jesus? Is the baptism null and void? And if the parents believe that baptism is required for salvation, where does that put the child?
To complicate the problem even further, the Bible appears to have supporters on both sides of the issue. Many conservative theologians would submit that there are no examples in the Bible of children being baptized – every case of baptism is preceded by a profession of faith by the person getting baptized. However, in fairness to the other position, those who believe in baptism without a profession of faith turn to the story of Peter and the Roman centurion. In this story, Peter has a dream, ends up in the house of the Roman commander and baptizes him and his family.
This is the verse that is cited as the section of Scripture that endorses infant baptism – Acts 10:44-48, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
This was the first time that Gentiles had been baptized, and by Peter no less, whose ministry was to the Jews. The key verse for the opposition is also from Peter, in Acts 2:38, “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Notice that in this section of Scripture, Peter admonishes people to “repent” before they get baptized – quite a difference from the story of the Roman centurion and his family, who were apparently baptized after the descent of the Holy Spirit.
So, the question is, what is correct? And this side of heaven, we probably will never know. But one thing we do know for sure – and that is that God wants us to get baptized. In fact, for one of the few times recorded in the Bible – all three members of the Trinity were present at the baptism of Jesus Himself – Matt. 3:16-17 tells us, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” One final note – from the Greek, we are told that when Jesus came out of the water, His eyes were open and he was looking toward heaven. Really interesting, isn’t it?
My encouragement this evening is to make sure that you realize that the act of baptism is very important to our Savior. So if you haven’t done this, or were even baptized as an infant, I encourage you to consider adult baptism by immersion. Everyone in our Bible study has taken this step in their faith walk. My prayer is that some day you will hear the Father say that He is well pleased with you! Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…