Though we do not claim to know or follow God's Word perfectly or better than any other church or denomination, our authority and pattern for becoming a Christian is found in the Bible alone. So, we seek to practice baptism in a manner that most closely models the New Testament church. According to our understanding of the New Testament, here are our answers to several important questions regarding baptism:
1. Who should be baptized?
All those who believe, are willing to repent of their sins, and confess their belief in Christ should be baptized (See Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38-39). Note, however, that baptism is pointless without these first three steps.
2. How should we be baptized?
The word for "baptism" in the New Testament is the Greek word baptizo, which means "to completely immerse in water; to dip; to plunge." The New Testament says baptism represents the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (See Romans 6:1-5). Baptism serves as a symbol of the burial of the old self and the resurrection of the believer's soul to walk in life with Christ. Most every Biblical scholar will not debate the fact that immersion was indeed the method of the first century church. So, at SFCC, we baptize people by immersing them in water, not only for the symbolic expression it gives, but because we are seeking to restore the practices of the “first Christian church” found in the book of Acts.
3. When should we be baptized?
Again, following the New Testament example, we hold the belief that a person should be baptized as soon as possible from the moment he or she trusts in Christ. The Bible teaches we are saved by grace through faith (See Ephesians 2:8), but in the New Testament church, a person's baptism was always the first expression of faith, not separate from it. Therefore, what Scripture shows as an integrated practice, we do not seek to separate. Baptism was not just a symbol or a memorial of faith, but was intended to offer a means of union with Christ and a benchmark of transformation, marking the place and time a person made a commitment to Christ (See Romans 6:1-8), very much the same way as a marriage ceremony marks the beginning of a marriage commitment (which is not to say that the relationship didn't start long before the actual wedding). Since we are attempting to restore the original intent and practice of baptism, we ask a person to be baptized at the point that he/she is ready to make a commitment to Christ.
4. Why should we be baptized?
A person should be baptized to follow the example of Christ (See Matthew 3:13-17), to obey Christ's command (See Mark 16:16), to accept forgiveness of sins (See Acts 2:38; 22:16), to receive the Holy Spirit (See Acts 2:38), to express trust in Christ (See Acts 8:12-13), to be brought into the body of Christ (See 1 Corinthians 12:13), and to testify to God's work in his or her life (See Romans 6:1-8 and Galatians 3:27). Baptism also serves to cleanse a guilty conscience (See 1 Peter 3:21). The Holy Spirit prompts individuals to recognize their sin and guilt. The only method by which the human soul can be wiped clean of sin is through the blood of Jesus Christ (See Hebrews 9:27-10:7). This "washing away" of sin is most clearly symbolized in the act of baptism (See Acts 22:16 and 1 Peter 3:21).Since one of the biggest obstacles between God and man is human pride, baptism also offers a venue by which believers humble themselves before God and others and admit their need for Christ's redemption (See James 4:6). In addition, baptism meets a God-given human need for expression. Everyone needs an outlet for emotion, or an expression for an impression. Baptism is the outlet for an expression of faith in Christ. Please understand, it is not the act of baptism alone that saves us! We are saved only through accepting Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Repentance of sin should always precede baptism. So, once a person has accepted or believed Christ to be God's Son, confessed that belief before others, and repented of their sin, he/she ought to be baptized. Baptism demonstrates the believer's acceptance of Christ and is the point of time when the believer receives assurance of his or her faith, knowing he/she has been fully obedient to what the Lord has asked us to do.
5. Can a person be saved if he/she has not been baptized (immersed)?
There are really two ways to answer this question, depending on what is meant by the person asking. If one is referring to the mode of baptism, we do not claim that those who were never immersed but rather were baptized in another way (such as sprinkling or pouring as infants) are unsaved. That is not for any human to decide. We hope that Jesus will say to any person who has truly submitted to Him but was not taught about immersion, "Your faith has saved you." After all, God has shown in His Word that He is more concerned about the heart than about legalistic procedures. We cannot speak on matters the Bible does not address. However, it is altogether different if someone understands Christ's command to be baptized and blatantly refuses to obey. This constitutes utter disobedience and a lack of submission to Christ.Other times when this question is asked, what the person is actually wondering is, "Is baptism necessary for salvation?" This is an often debated topic between Christian Churches and other denominations. Interpretations differ widely here. The answer to that particular question is not nearly important as the question, "What does the Bible demonstrate?" as was discussed above in question #3. It's useless to debate the exact moment of salvation, whether at the moment of belief, repentance, or the moment a person is immersed. What matters most is, if we call ourselves followers of the Word of God, then we ought to follow the practices laid out by the Apostles in the book of Acts. Putting aside man's interpretations, if we were to simply emulate the practice of the early Christian church, we will find a very simple truth. "Necessary" or not, the examples in the book of Acts give witness that baptism went hand in hand with the salvation experience. These individuals accepted Christ and then were baptized...immediately. Therefore, in modeling this, we encourage a person to be baptized as soon as possible after their acceptance of Christ. In Acts 2:38, Peter commanded it; Christ Himself modeled it (See Matthew 3:13-17) and commanded it (See Mark 16:16), therefore, "necessary" or not for salvation, the Bible is clear that we haven't been fully obedient to Christ until we have submitted ourselves to baptism. A predictable scenario by critics is always raised, “What if someone accepts Christ on his/her deathbed and just cannot be baptized?” Or “What if a person is killed in an accident on the way to be baptized?” Though extremely rare, these kinds of scenarios occasionally occur. In such cases, look to the grace of God. Again, He knows the heart, and we are not the Judge. As was mentioned above, there is a significant distinction between the man who accepts Christ and wholeheartedly wishes to be baptized and the man who believes, repents, and confesses Christ, yet deliberately refuses to be immersed for whatever reason. Again, this constitutes utter disobedience and a lack of submission to Christ, to whom he will have to answer.
6. Should a person ever be re-baptized?
We cannot sit on God’s judgment throne and declare that someone who has sincerely accepted Jesus in good faith but has not been immersed will be condemned. Faith is absolutely essential for being saved. It is conceivable that one could be saved without baptism but not without faith. We encourage (though we do not require) re-baptism for those who lack confidence in their initial baptism experience because of one or more of the following reasons: they feel the mode was incorrect, they were too young to remember it, they were coerced, or their heart was not right with God at the time. For those who have fallen into sin after having been baptized, they should repent and seek forgiveness, but re-baptism is not necessary (See Acts 8:13-24).Some who wish to be re-baptized by immersion may feel they are pronouncing a judgment on their past, basically saying they were never saved all along. This, however, should not be assumed. If you have been following God's will to the best of your ability, and you encounter something in the Bible that you feel you need to do, then all you need is a willing heart that is ready to do it. You don't have to admit you've never been saved, but rather that you have not fully understood God's will for your life. Now that you do, you're ready to take a step of faith and commitment that shows you have a humble heart toward God.Concerning membership (not salvation) in this local congregation at Sandborn FCC, any person who has trusted in Jesus as the sinless Son of God and who has willingly been baptized into Christ may become a member of Sandborn First Christian Church, whether the baptism occurred here or elsewhere.
7. At what age should a person be baptized, as a baby or once he/she is older?
Perhaps you are struggling with this question, wondering: Should my infant be baptized? When one speaks of whether or not children should be baptized, it hits a very sensitive nerve for many people because it involves matters of faith, family traditions, and strong feelings. But our primary concern should be: what does the Bible say? We cannot debate personal experiences; we can only deal with what God has said. We practice “believer’s baptism” for the following reasons:
1) There is no record of infant baptism in Scripture. The New Testament never tells us to baptize babies, nor is there even one example of an infant being baptized. Since the Bible says nothing about the human inventions of sprinkling, christening, confirmation, or limbo (a kind of blissful place where the souls of unbaptized children go, but they are denied entrance into heaven), we do not teach or practice it.History tells us that infant baptism was introduced long after the New Testament was written. It didn't even become officially approved by the Catholic Church until the Council of Ravenna in 1311. Notice what the Encarta Encyclopedia [Microsoft Encarta '95] says: "During the late 4th and 5th centuries, Saint Augustine laid the foundations for infant baptism... According to him, people are born with an affinity for sin and, as descendants of Adam and Eve, share in the guilt of original sin." But are children truly born guilty of sin? The evidence of Scripture seems to support the position that we did inherit a sinful nature from Adam and Eve, which only means we are prone toward sin. However, we are not born with the guilt of others' sins. Sin is defined as something you willfully do to rebel against God's commands (See 1 John 3:4 and Romans 6:23). When you stand before God, you'll have no one to blame for your sin but yourself – not Great-great-great-great Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve. Ezekiel 18:20 clearly says, "The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son."Listen to what Jesus says: "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Mark 10:14). Jesus is saying here that small children already have a free pass to Heaven. They don't need to be saved, because they're already in God's Kingdom. Many parents have their newborns baptized as a public dedication to raise the child to know God. Baby dedications are fine, but because we don't believe that a young child has sinned, he/she doesn't need baptism. That will come later when he/she is old enough to make that faith decision on his/her own. Also, some believe that baptism under the New Testament replaces circumcision under the Old Testament, for which reason they insist it ought to be done shortly after birth. But nowhere does the New Testament teach that. Besides, there are too many differences for it to be a parallel ceremony.
2) Those who were able to believe were baptized in Scripture. As soon as one places faith in Christ, he ought to be baptized as soon as possible. Baptism is not the cause of salvation – it is God's grace which meets faith at baptism. We are saved by grace through faith; therefore, baptism apart from faith is meaningless. Acts 8:12 provides an example: "But when they believed Philip as he preached the Good News...and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women." Some try to point to the household conversions in the book of Acts, such as the Philippian jailer's family and Lydia's family, claiming that if their entire families were baptized, there must have been a baby or a young child present. First of all, most households do not have toddlers. Secondly, it says that the jailer's whole family “had come to believe in God” after hearing Paul's message (Acts 16:34). Do babies respond to messages? Romans 10:17 says that "faith comes by hearing the message."Baptism requires personal faith – not parental proxy. It is not a ritual, but an "appeal" or a "pledge" to God, (See 1 Peter 3:21). But an infant is not appealing to God during baptism. They have no say so at all. They're baptized whether they like it or not. Someone has insightfully pointed out that God has no grandchildren – He only has children, those who have decided to follow Jesus, not grandchildren whose parents have made that decision for them. Children are old enough to become baptized believers when they become accountable to God. He does not hold us accountable for sin until we are old enough to understand personal sin and faith.
8. How old does a child need to be to be baptized?
The Bible is not clear on that question. It certainly has to do with each individual's maturity level. When does a person understand there is a God to whom they are accountable? When do they understand that doing something wrong is wrong because God has said it is wrong? When is a person able to experience the guilt that comes from doing wrong? It varies based on intellect, upbringing, and opportunity. Some children who grow up in Christian households are taught God's Word from the time they are very young and will tend to reach that age of accountability sooner than others. Other children grow up never hearing the Bible or about God, but still develop a moral conscience that they eventually will rebel against at some point, and recognize they have disobeyed the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, even if they don't know Him personally. Some who are mentally challenged may grow up and never reach an age at which they become accountable. We believe they are still innocent in God's eyes because they don't understand what sin is.
9. Must a person be baptized during a worship service?
No. Baptisms at other times are completely acceptable (See Acts 8:38 and 16:33), but baptisms during worship services are encouraged at SFCC because they provide the opportunity to testify to your faith and show humility. Also, they encourage the body of believers, and at times, prompt others to step forward and take that step they have been putting off.
10. Why not be baptized?
While we acknowledge that not all may agree with us in this matter, we request that all who desire to be members here follow the practice of the baptism of the early church. If you have not allowed this pattern for baptism, we hope that you will joyfully seek to do so. Please understand that church life here is open to all – anyone may worship, serve, enjoy the fellowship and activities, and all Christians may accept His invitation to share in the Lord's Supper each week when it is served.Paul exhorts all believers to unite, for we are all of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (See Ephesians 4:5). Regardless of our particular beliefs about baptism, it is important for all Christians to seek unity as representatives of Christ's body. We believe the source of unity is the truth of God's Word, and we pray that baptism will be a place of unity, not division, among believers (See John 17:17-21). It means you are making a fresh commitment of your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This involves your need for both confession and repentance. As you rededicate your life, focus on God’s strength and not your own. Only God’s strength will keep you and sustain you. His Word will light your path. Your desire for rededication shows the desire of your heart – a closer personal relationship with Jesus. You will experience freedom from the constraining power of sin in your life. Again, our position is not to judge or create division amongst brothers and sisters in Christ, but to teach truth and help restore the church of the New Testament. God knows each person's heart, and takes into account the amount of light that was available to him/her. But now that you have seen what God's Word says, what will you do?
Part of this content has been adapted from an article written by Brett Kays in the "Christian Standard," issues 3-2-97, 9-10-00.