“Baptism” forms part of the two “ordinances” given to us by Jesus. The Lord’s Supper (Communion) being the second ordinance.
An ordinance is an authoritative decree or order given to us by Jesus.
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:18–20 NRSV
Baptism, as we understand it, started with John the baptiser and was a public demonstration of a repentant life, one decidedly turned to follow after Jesus:
5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.Matthew 3:5–6, 11 NRSV
So while the water itself does not save you it also IS NOT “just a demonstration” or “merely an external expression of an internal reality”. There is more to it than we can fully comprehend and so avoid say “merely” or “just” when conducting a baptism or when explaining it to others.
We hold to the Reformed view that while baptism forms part of the important process of “making disciples”, salvation is a free gift from God:
But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.Romans 4:5 NRSV
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8–9 NRSV
This free gift is given to those who put their trust in both the saving work and lordship of Jesus:
9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.Romans 10:9–10 NRSV
Once we have been reconciled with God in which He has legally freed us from the sentence of death, which our sin earned us:
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 6:23 (NRSV)
He also desires to see us freed from the guilt which sin brings and desires to have us living with the clear conscience that we are forgiven and that eternity is our inheritance:
And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,1 Peter 3:21 NRSV
This physical expression of immersion into water will also serve to remind us along our walk with God of our commitment to Him and His loving kindness in forgiving and rescuing us. When our thoughts or the devil attempt to bring doubt and fear, the remembrance of our obedience to God and immersion in Him ought to bring us peace of mind.
We hold the view that true saving faith begins to produce fruit from the righteousness which now belongs to the believer who is in Christ:
Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?James 2:20 NRSV
That fruit is a growing love for Jesus and thereby growing obedience to Jesus:
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.John 14:15 (NRSV)
3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,1 John 5:3 (NRSV)
This obedient act is also carried out by Jesus and so those who follow Him follow Him through baptism too.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”Matthew 3:13–17 NRSV
Our current culture asks the question, “if I have given my life to Jesus, but have not been baptised, am I still saved?” In the early church it was more a question like the Ethiopian eunuch:
36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.Acts 8:36–38 NRSV
For the believer, the correct approach to baptism is, “what is preventing me from being baptised?” rather than “do I need to be baptised?” The need for baptism was clearly given by John, demonstrated by Jesus and followed by believers ever since.
While we increase in the knowledge of Christ and His commands, the immediate call to obedience, as seen in Matthew 28, is an immersion (baptism) into Christ and into His Church (which is His Body) by His Spirit.
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.1 Corinthians 12:12–13 NRSV
The fruit is also a heart-felt sorrow for past and present sin
38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.Acts 2:38 NRSV
The fruit is then also a deep desire to walk free from existing and all other sins into the future.
1 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.Romans 6:1–4 NRSV
This requires The Spirit of Christ, which caused Jesus to walk perfectly before God, to dwell inside us and transform us from the inside.
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.Titus 3:4–5 NRSV
And so after baptism in water we immediately pray for the infilling and baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Since the Early Church the practice has been:
- before baptism the new believer is taught the basic facts of the Gospel centring on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how these facts are related to the act of baptism.
- understanding, repentance of sins and confession of faith in the new believer was verified (Acts 2:37-38)
- baptism in water followed immediately. (Acts 2:41)
- prayer and baptism in the Holy Spirit followed. (Acts 2:37-38)
- after baptism the new believers received further instruction for spiritual development while walking in fellowship. This is called “discipleship.”