BELIEVERS’ BAPTISM - Who and Why?
As a Baptist Church, we do uphold the responsibility for all Christians to be baptised. By definition, Believers’ Baptism is for believers; baptism does not make a person a Christian. But baptism shows that a person has put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, and baptism shows that they are a Christian. It is a step of commitment and obedience to the Lord we have come to trust and serve.
a) The original word means this
The unanimous consent of modern scholarship is that the Greek word “baptizo” means “to immerse”. Sophocles, a native Greek, wrote in his Greek Lexicon: “Baptizo, to dip, to immerse, to sink”. In Roman and Byzantine times, the word “baptizo” was used with regard to a sinking ship.
b) The baptism of Jesus
It is difficult to read the story of our Lord’s baptism and not conclude that it was by immersion. The very fact that it took place in the River Jordan, and Jesus came from Galilee to submit to it, all point to this. In the account of this event in Mark’s Gospel, Mark uses the Greek preposition “ek” meaning out of, not “apo”, which means from. Mark 1:10 reads: “...and immediately, coming up from the water...”. It would be difficult to explain any other reason for Jesus coming to John and requesting this baptism in the river, unless it was by immersion. John’s baptism was that of repentance, and by immersion as a sign of that repentance and cleansing.
It is important to note that in the New Testament, “baptizo” is always in the passive voice, with water as the subject. Hence, water is never baptised on the candidate, but the candidate is immersed in the water. Jesus set us a wonderful example in this!
c) The command of Jesus
The Great Commission given by Christ to His disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel was the authoritative command of the Risen and Glorious Lord. We are to evangelise, and then to baptise the new disciples in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and then further teach them the Christian faith (Matthew 28:18-20). The important thing here is obedience and response to our Lord’s command. Jesus said: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Our response should be: “Lord, not because I must, but because I may!”. This step of obedience honours His Lordship over our lives.
d) The practice of the Early Church
Why did the apostles preach and practise the Baptism of Believers by immersion? They had been the closest to Jesus, and would therefore know the mind of their Master. Not only did they practise it, but they taught it, preached and explained it, and wrote about it as The Acts of the Apostles and the New Testament letters all clearly demonstrate.
e) The New Testament picture
The Apostle Paul writes in picture language to explain in detail the meaning of Believers’ Baptism. It is portrayed as a picture of burial and resurrection. It symbolises the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, without which there is no salvation for a lost world.
The same symbolism follows for the Christian believer whose life is indwelt by Christ. Thus, Colossians 2:12 reads: “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him:” Bishop Lightfoot paraphrases this verse: “You were buried with Him to your old selves beneath the baptismal waters to a new and better life”.
All this most clearly speaks of immersion, and to change the mode of baptism would completely destroy the symbolism. The same truth is endorsed by Paul in Romans 6:3-4. Baptism for the believer symbolises a break with the old life and the start of a new life in Christ; there is hardly a clearer or a more decisive act which could be taken before God, or witnessed to by many others, than in the watery grave of the open baptistry.
Believers’ Baptism is an act of obedience and devotion to our Lord, It is a personal step of commitment. Anything that brings joy to our Lord’s heart should be a delight for us to do. It would be too much to say that all baptised believers follow Christ fully, but it is not too much to say that no one can follow Christ fully without being baptised.
“Oh, let me see Thy footmarks,
And in them plant my own;
My hope to follow duly
Is in Thy strength alone.
Oh, guide me, call me, draw me,
Uphold me to the end,’
And then in Heaven receive me,
My Saviour and my Friend.”