The greatest joy of the pastorate was watching the Lord call people to Himself, and then baptizing them into the Kingdom of God. By God’s grace I’ve been able to baptize dozens of new believers into the church.
Before transitioning to the PCA, I was a Children’s pastor within the SBC and held to what’s known as “Believer’s baptism”. Southern baptists believe that only professing believers (hint, hint) can and should be baptized. This means that one must give a credible confession of faith before being baptized. Baptists believe that baptism is an outward demonstration of an inward faith; an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. Baptist’s also believe that immersion is the only proper mode of baptism, symbolizing the death, burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (per Romans 6:3-5). This understanding of baptism prohibits infants from being baptized, because infants are unable to make professions of faith. Not only that, I don’t know any Baptists comfortable with immersing babies (like these folks).
Growing up in the rural south, I honestly did not know there were differing views on the significance, mode, and efficacy of baptism. Sure, I knew that Catholics sprinkled their kids, and the Church of Christ folks believed baptism saved (THE REAL CHURCH) but those churches were mainly outliers in my hometown.
In this series on baptism, I will be discussing my journey into a Reformed understanding of baptism. But first, something we can all agree on:
Baptism is important.
We baptize because Jesus commands us to. Historically the church has baptized believers and their families since its inception (read Acts y’all!)
But…questions abound regarding the purpose and significance of baptism. Questions like,
- What is baptism?
- What does is signify?
- What does it symbolize?
- What happens at baptism?
- What are the modes of baptism? (Dunking, pouring, sprinkling, etc.)
- Who should administer baptisms?
- Does baptism save?
- Should every believer be baptized?
- Should children of believers be baptized?
- Is baptism merely symbolic?
- Can a person be re-baptized?
- Should non-believers be baptized?
- Should transferring church members be baptized or re-baptized?
- May a Christian refuse baptism?
- What happens to believers who aren’t baptized?
- Should a transferring member of another church be re-baptized?
- Should churches keep tallies on their baptisms?
To begin, let’s talk about my wedding ring!
Now to be honest, I had to have my titanium wedding ring cut off last year for my job at a metal shop. So now I’m wearing a blue rubber band specifically designed for welders, mechanics, etc.
But I digress…
When explaining baptism in the past, I commonly pointed to my wedding ring as symbolic representation of my marriage. I would explain to converts that just as my wedding ring publicly declares that I am a married man, baptism is a public demonstration of the commitment a believer has made to Christ.
So when a person is baptized, they must profess their faith publicly by going before the church and making their profession known. In many churches, this means walking the aisle during the invitation and telling the pastor. I have even heard it explained that baptism is similar to a press conference an athlete conducts in order to announce which team he will play for.
Full disclosure: I believe this understanding of baptist is man-centered. Baptism is about the commitment youmake to Christ. Baptism is the promise that youdeclare publicly before God and His church. It is an outward demonstration of your inward faith. Perhaps this is why so many Christians are baptized and re-baptized within the church.
If baptism is all about our commitment to God, then what happens when we screw up?
What happens when a believer falls away from the Lord for a season?
What happens when a believer’s outward lifestyle does not represent an inward faith?
Well, we recommit our lives to Christ and receive baptism again.
And again. And again.
This understanding is unavoidable when Christian’s believe baptism to be the seal of their faith in God. I believe “Believers only” baptism inadvertently contributes to the idea that baptism can be a recurring sacrament. Baptism becomes a way for a Christian to make a “fresh start” with God (re-dedications anyone?)
I’ve seen pastors take advantage of this misunderstanding by pressuring their congregants to be re-baptized. Believe me, it happens
Let’s return to my wedding ring. What is its purpose? It symbolizes the commitment my wife made to me on our wedding day. On May 28th, 2011, I entered into a covenantal agreement with my wife. We promised ourselves to one another, and then sealed those promises with rings.
The primary purpose of my wedding ring is not to publicly declare to the world that I am a married man. Certainly that is one of its lesser purposes. My wedding rings primary purpose is to remind me of the promise my wife gave to me on our wedding day. It is a sign and seal of her promise to me. It is a constant reminder that I am loved, and that she is devoted to me through thick and thin-till death due us part.
Perhaps baptism should be understood in the same manner.
What if baptism was not all about our promises to God…but rather His promise to us?
That’s something to think about! I will be diving a little deeper in the following posts.
Charles is an MDiv student at Covenant Theological seminary, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church of America. Charles’ family attends Kirk of the Hills (PCA) in St. Louis, MO.