The biblical doctrine of water baptism has taken a beating. Christians disagree on its function, its form, and the appropriate age and circumstances required to be baptized. And I doubt the global church will find unity on these issues anytime soon!
Among those of us though that adhere to Believer’s Baptism – meaning that only those who believed in and received Christ as Saviour qualify for baptism – I have seen two disturbing trends that diminish Believer’s Baptism to near irrelevance. Here they are:
1st Trend: WHEN BAPTISM IS USED TO IDENTIFY THE DISCIPLED RATHER THAN IDENTIFY DISCIPLES: This is the disturbing trend to delay baptism well beyond believing and receiving and make it the end result of a lengthy discipleship process. We see this when churches require people to take a series of classes on Christian living and doctrine prior to qualifying or require people to prove their faith over time through faithful service and growth in holiness. Under this system, baptism becomes a de facto diploma that one qualifies for once he/she has shown biblical aptitude, sanctification, etc.. The argument is that the church needs to sift and scrutinize people to make sure that the converted are going to stick with their faith prior to public baptism.
2nd Trend: WHEN BAPTISM IS CONSIDERED UNNECESSARY TO BEING COUNTED AMONG GOD’S PEOPLE: Under this system, baptism becomes something you do when you get around to it and has nothing to do with being considered a Christian. In the meantime, even if it takes you years to set a date, you should still be counted among God’s people in your church. We see this displayed in the willingness of churches to permit unbaptized believers to serve, lead, be married to other Christians and, in one disturbing case, to pastor a church without being baptized! What is the rationale behind this trend? Very simply, it appears to be some misguided attempt to disjoin saving faith from baptismal profession. By making baptism unnecessary to being counted among God’s people, churches feel that they are reinforcing the great doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Without hesitation, we should all agree that justification is by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We should also agree that water baptism is not the means of justification or saving faith. But baptism is the means of making your profession public to the world and church; it is the means of being counted among God’s people!
Do not all post-Pentecost instances of baptism portray unencumbered baptism after profession? They do! No new disciple took classes, and no one had to “prove” the authenticity of their profession over an extended period. The only qualification was believing and receiving Jesus Christ! Consider these New Testament examples that show the immediacy and necessity of Believer’s Baptism:
- So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41) They were “added” to the Acts 1:15 number of 120 believers (counted as “brothers”).
- But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12). Presumably believing the good news was all these converts heard prior to being baptized by Philip, and even if there was an 8-week discipleship class taught in the space between the words “Christ” and “they”, it certainly wasn’t recorded or required!
- And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38) I wonder how many new disciples have asked the same question of their parents or pastors only to be met with a list of prerequisites foreign to Scripture?
Baptism is not one of many options you can choose to declare your faith; it is the biblical means of identifying oneself with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Therefore, properly understood you MUST be baptized before you should be counted among God’s people. It is the first step in true discipleship!
Admittedly, demolishing these trends will be met with resistance because the dominant view in churches today that practice Believer’s Baptism is contrary. One can almost anticipate the opposition responding: “How dare you say I’m not a Christian because I haven’t been baptized!” Or, “But we need to make sure that the profession is real before we go public with it.” Nevertheless, to the new disciple we say:
When you believed and received Jesus, you necessarily decided to be baptized. It is not a decision others are qualified to make for you, and it is not a second decision for you to make.
To be a disciple is to be baptized as the 3000 were, and those converted under the ministry of Philip were.
To church leaders we say:
Let us remove the encumbrances that not only diminish Believer’s Baptism but delay the process of true discipleship from beginning.