Often held as a rite of passage and entrance into the Christian church, baptism is much more than just symbolic ritual. Baptism was commanded by Jesus Christ in the Great Commission recounted in the book of Matthew. Even though we are simplistically called to be obedient by being baptized the Christian church has long debated the aspects of this ordinance. Denominations are divided on the basic meaning, types and modes of baptism even two thousand years after the founding of the Christian church. Just as the other ordinance, the Lord’s Supper, congregations find themselves at odd with tradition, biblical interpretation and even individual understanding. However, the simple message of this awe inspiring act can be explained out of the misinformed child that views this act as being “baptarded”. Not understanding the pronunciation or the event he explains, “that you are held under the water until Jesus gets into your heart!” Even this child understands that it is obedience to Jesus Christ that forms the foundation that we will study.
Meaning and Purpose of Baptism
To understand the purpose and meaning of baptism we must first understand the foundation in scripture where we find the practice. Before the act of Christian baptism is introduced in Acts we see the example of John the Baptist. John’s baptism was an act of repentance of sin and in preparation of the coming Messiah. (Norman, 2005, pg 131) Christian baptism shows the same attributes of repentance and acceptance of Christ’s message; however, it was not complete without the death, burial and resurrection of Christ later. Even the symbolism of Christ’s sacrifice is seen in the act of baptism. At the end of His earthly ministry Christ commanded his disciples to baptize, along with discipleship in order that the new church be established. (Holy Bible, Matthew 28)
Baptism in the New Testament constitutes three broad concepts to understand. A new believer is united with Christ, he is united with Christ’s church and there is the sealing of a covenant with God. Each stand alone yet they are intertwined with each other in meaning. To be united with Christ a new believer has put faith into the resurrection and second coming of Christ as a promise. Baptism is performed in Christ’s name and under his authority. This ordinance is a public declaration of the believer’s intention to become a follow of Jesus Christ and His teachings. The believer is also united with His church through baptism. As stated in 1 Corinthians 12:12 believers become part of the body who is subject to its head, Jesus Christ. By this act of submission the believer is publically stating that they will stand with the church and that this represents their decision of salvation. In the book of Acts, every salvation decision is immediately followed by baptism. Lastly, the believer is sealing the covenant between believer and God through the act of baptism. This seal was to symbolize a believer renouncing his allegiance to Satan and the ways of the world and uniting with God and church He has established. (Norman, 2005, pg 133-135)
As an aside, the meaning is much more importance that the details of the act, it has become a point of contention to debate the administration of this ordinance. The Roman Catholic Church hold to the stance that only the priests of the church shall represent the grace conveyed by God. Martin Luther and other Reformers believed in the priesthood of the believers however they did hold to the fact that not everyone could speak or administer or else there would be chaos. Most churches hold to the Luther thought process today. There is no theological reason yet it does hold the church to an orderly process of worship. (Hammett, 2005, pg 260)
Infant versus Believers’ Baptism
One the most contested issues in the New Testament church regarding baptism is the practice of infant baptism as compared to believers’ baptism. Infant baptism is the...
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