Chapter 29: Of Baptism
What is baptism? What does it symbolize? Can I be saved without being baptized? Are professing believers alone to be baptized? What about infant baptism? What is the baptismal formula? How is baptism to be performed? Is it by sprinkling, pouring or immersion?
Let me start with a personal testimony. I was born in Iraq to an Armenian (not Arminian) family. The church of the Armenian people is the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is an Orthodox church and it is very much similar to ROMAN CATHOLICISM. Infants would be baptized around 40 days old or something around that time. That was not different in my case. Throughout my youth, I saw my infant baptism as the basis that I was a Christian. What made it also difficult was the fact that in Iraq, everyone would have their religion on their ID card. I even served as an altar boy in the church when I was little. But to be honest, I did not know the Gospel, yet I was not ashamed to proclaim that I am Christian, but don't ask me what the Gospel is! Thus, throughout my youth, I saw my baptism as the ground that I am a Christian, even though I did not pray often or did not know why Christ died. The Armenian Church, by the way, believes in baptismal regeneration and baptism by dipping the infant thrice in a bowl of holy water. My family came to the Netherlands in 2008 and I finally knew what freedom was, but not the freedom of the Gospel (yet). Two years or so after that, I met with an old friend and stayed with him a few days. He saw that I did not pray before bed, so he questioned me. He told me about prayer and how proper is it to pray to God and thank Him for everything. I told him that I don't want to be religious. He directed me to videos and episodes of Zakaria Botros (Arabic), who shares the Gospel with Muslims via TV and exposes Islam. Through his videos and episodes, I came to know the true Gospel and was saved by God's grace. After that, there grew in me a desire to study His Word, so I bought Bibles and study Bibles and started reading the Scriptures daily. Around that time, I started attending a Baptist church. I did not know that it was a Baptist church. We went there with some friends of mine and by God's grace, kept attending church on the Lord's Day.
I started reading the Bible and I could not find anything about the baptism of infants or that baptism as the basis of my faith and all the things which I had simply assumed in my youth. So I set out to study this matter and came to the conclusion that infant baptism was unscriptural and what happened to me as an infant, was not biblical baptism. On a Saturday night, I fell on my knees and asked the Lord if He wanted me to be baptized that He would give me some sign. The next day, the Lord's Day, the preacher talked about discipleship and following Christ no matter what and he said something like, “It doesn't matter what your family will think of you if you want to be baptized”, which I saw as a sign from heaven. My family would not have been happy about my baptism because they think that my baptism as an infant was valid. Moreover, the Armenian Church is a national church. It does not get new converts, for example. Most infants are baptized and declared Christian, even if they know not the Gospel. Therefore, the only baptism that is practiced and that I have heard of is infant baptism.
I still feel guilty for asking the Lord for a sign when I had already concluded that believers’ baptism is the biblical position and that infant baptism was unscriptural. His Word was clear on this subject. So, after that service, I directly went to one of the elders and told him that I want to be baptized. After giving my testimony and based on that I was baptized on 16-06-2013.
It is not my purpose in this chapter to overthrow the paedobaptist position by directly arguing against it, but by presenting a positive case for credobaptism—baptism upon the profession of faith. No doubt, we would have to touch upon some arguments or texts which our paedobaptist brethren like to use. But mainly, this is meant to be a positive case of what we (Reformed) Baptists believe.
§1 What Baptism Is And Is Not
- Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; 1 of remission of sins; 2 and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life. 3
- Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12; Gal. 3:27
- Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16
- Rom. 6:4
Things Which Baptism Signifies
Christian Baptism is the immersion of a believer in water, in token of his previous entrance into the communion of Christ's death and resurrection,—or, in other words, in token of his regeneration through union with Christ.
Baptism signifies the new life and the blessings thereof, which the believer has received through faith and repentance. The Confession describes it as “a sign of fellowship with” Christ. Baptism shows our union with Christ, just as He Himself was baptized, so we share in a baptism similar to His and follow His example. Stanford E. Murrell defines baptism as:
an ordinance wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, signifies and seals the engrafting of a soul into Christ, and the partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace and our pledge to be the Lord’s.
We will look at the different aspects of baptism as presented in the New Testament below.
Union With Christ In Death, Resurrection, Newness Of Life
Gal. 3:25-27 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
We are children of God, why? Because we have been baptized into Christ. What does this mean? It means that we identify with Christ and we declare that we belong to Him. What is the meaning of “have put on Christ”? This means that we “have put on his sentiments, opinions, characteristic traits” (Rom. 13:14). We are identifying with Him and saying to those watching that we belong to Him. To Paul's argument, this then would mean that all who are baptized into Christ are children of God because they have put on His characteristics. They identify with Him. Jamieson, Fausset, Brown give the input of Paul's argument well when they write: “By baptism ye have put on Christ; therefore, He being the Son of God, ye become sons by adoption, by virtue of His Sonship by generation. God regards us in Him, as bearing Christ's name and character, rather than our own.” These are realities which baptism signifies, but are not caused by water baptism. The baptism into Christ is not the same as water baptism in the name of Christ. But we will see why that is the case below.
Rom. 6:3-5 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
This is the most familiar and known aspect of baptism amongst Baptists. Baptism symbolizes our death to the old life and our resurrection to the new life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is even more strengthened when we understand the mode of baptism to be immersion. The whole body goes into the water, symbolizing the death of our old self and identification with Christ's death, and then we come out of the water, symbolizing the resurrection of the new man in Christ and with Christ. It is a given fact, the Apostle assumes, that baptism into Christ, which means to be engrafted in Him and united with Him, of which water baptism is a sign or representation, is a baptism into Christ's death. This means that in our baptism we are identifying with Christ's death. Baptism symbolizes the laying down of the old life with Christ and being united with Him in His death. Paul says elsewhere, "I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). This is symbolized by water baptism when the person being baptized is immersed and is under water. This signifies the person's death to his old self, even that the waters of baptism are seen as a grave for the old man. Dr. Wayne Grudem observes:
In fact, the waters of baptism have an even richer symbolism than simply the symbolism of the grave. The waters also remind us of the waters of God’s judgment that came upon unbelievers at the time of the flood (Gen. 7:6–24), or the drowning of the Egyptians in the Exodus (Ex. 14:26–29). Similarly, when Jonah was thrown into the deep (Jonah 1:7–16), he was thrown down to the place of death because of God’s ju...