The Meaning of Baptism
Baptism is to be administered once only to each believer as an initial identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. This ordinance is the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace confessed. The outward sign speaks of the participant’s identity with Christ in his dying and rising again. The confession sets forth his death to sin, and new life to righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism is not essential to salvation, but it is vital to proper discipleship.
Mat. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:11, 12; 1 Pet. 3:21; Gal. 2:19, 20.
The Person to be Baptised
The person to be baptised is to be, as far as can be discerned, regenerate as evidenced in true repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. In his baptism, he is avowing his submission to Christ as Lord. Verbal testimony is not sufficient. Such a testimony needs to be confirmed by the visible evidence of a work of the Holy Spirit in a hunger for the Word of God, a conviction of need of Jesus Christ, and a desire to be baptised as a believer in obedience to him. No confession by proxy or promise of a later faith on a candidate’s behalf can make a baptism valid, but only his own spiritual state as a regenerate person, confessing and obeying Christ for himself.
Acts 8:27-40; Mat. ,28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 9:18; 16:30-34.
The Manner of Baptism
Scriptural baptism is the immersion of the whole body in water. The Lord Jesus Christ himself gave example of this both in His own baptism and the practice of his disciples. Furthermore, immersion alone gives adequate meaning to Romans 6 where
baptism is spoken of as a burial with him in death and the apostle adds like as Christ was raised .. . so we… Meticulous adherence to total immersion is not in itself a special source of grace but is a more complete setting forth of the spiritual significance of the ordinance. The primary meaning of the words employed throughout the New Testament is immersion, and they were so understood by the early church. Any inadequacy on the part of the administrator does not in itself invalidate the baptism of a proper candidate who rightly submits to it.
Col. 2:11; Mark 1:5-9; Luke 11:38; John 3:23; Acts 8:38, 39; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12.
The New Testament church did not re-baptise. Provided that the first baptism is a valid ordinance in that the scriptural requirements are fulfilled, no further baptism is called for, either on account of a change of church or denomination or because of backsliding and restoration. As said above, defective administration does not invalidate the baptism of a proper person, so that such defects as an unspiritual baptiser or failure to immerse fully do not disqualify a candidate’s baptism, provided that they are not willingly and knowingly accepted by him. Where baptism has been invalid, however, submission to the ordinance is not a re-baptism. Each case of a possible invalid baptism must be considered in the light of all the circumstances.
The ordinance would normally be administered by an elder, but another member of the local church may be set apart for this purpose. The spiritual significance lies mainly in the confession made by a proper candidate, and consequently it can be administered by one obedient disciple to another in exceptional circumstances. Such might be pioneer evangelism, or persecution of the church.
1 Cor. 1 :14-17; Acts 8:26-40; 9:18.
The Preparation of the Candidate
In the context of normal, stable church conditions, the elders should ensure the proper preparation of the candidate, giving him a clear understanding of the step which he is taking. Care should be taken to explain the manner of administration so that all anxiety is removed. A gracious, gentle examination of his profession of faith will be made, and the spiritual meaning of the ordinance and the principles of committed discipleship within the local church taught. Church membership should normally begin with baptism. Where possible it is desirable that the steps towards it should be carried through concurrently with preparation for baptism, to avoid delay. Any unnecessary delay provides the enemy of souls with opportunity to distress the weak in faith. For female candidates, the use of spiritually mature women in the fellowship is commended. A candidate’s youth shall not in itself be an impediment to believer’s baptism, but due regard should be paid to the scriptural injunction to honour parents as well as to the other that we ought to obey God rather than men. In practice, any such conflict of loyalty frequently resolves itself, in the patience and prayerfulness of all concerned, and through the consistent, godly life of the believer. Care should be taken by both the young believer and the elders to ensure that parents are properly informed and consulted. The deacons are responsible for the making ready of a suitable place for baptism and for ensuring the provision of suitable dress for those ministering and receiving baptism. Suitable persons should be provided to assist the baptised person immediately following his immersion. The deacons are to see that all is done decently.
Rom. 6:3; Eph. 6:1, 2; 1 Cor. 12:13; Mark 16:15; Acts 8:35-39; Titus 2:3, 4; 1 Tim. 5:2; Acts 6:4; 1 Cor. 14:40.
Any place is suitable which has adequate water and where confession of repentance and faith can be made. It would normally be in a public place before the christian congregation, and not done privately. Baptism will normally follow the ministry of the Word and is best administered in the context of public worship which provides for the proper teaching of all present. The minister may exhort the assembly, suitably giving the meaning of the ordinance and adding an exhortation to the candidate as to the consequence of his obedience to Christ’s command.
Mat. 3:5-6; John 3:23; Acts 8:12, 13, 36; Mat. 28:19; Acts 2; Acts 8; Mat. 3:1-12; John 1 :19-28.
The Method of Baptism
Some may find it appropriate to invite a simple confession of faith by the candidate, asking him such a question as, Do you repent of your sins before God, and trust alone in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation? This would normally find adequate response in the simple affirmation I do. The minister will normally enter the water with the candidate, standing in a manner suitable for the latter’s total immersion without danger of indecency. He will hold the candidate securely, inspiring confidence and making full use of the buoyancy of the water. He may address him, using such words as My brother in Christ . . . (then either his full name or first name) . . . upon your profession of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ I baptise you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. The minister will then quickly but carefully immerse the candidate and set him back on his feet in a position suitable for leaving the water. Elder brethren and sisters can assist the candidate at this stage as well as in drying and re-dressing afterwards. The congregation may sing a verse of praise or a doxology, and the minister conclude the service with a Gospel exhortation or call to discipleship, as he is led.
Acts 8:38; Col. 2:12; Mat. 28:19; Acts 2:38, 39.
Pastoral care should follow the baptism of all candidates, whatever their age, with the purpose of leading them into full fellowship of the local church, assisting them to take their place as christians in the world by continued instruction in the Word. There is a particular need for this after-care in the case of those who have not had the benefit of christian family life and instruction.
Eph. 4:5; 1 Cor. 12:13; 10:3, 4.