Last Sunday I preached a sermon about baptism. The day before at our men’s breakfast I brought up the topic and found out that some of our congregation had been baptized as infants. Boy am I glad I found that out before I preached! That’s not to say I believe in infant baptism. But it helped me understand a touchy subject that previous pastors failed to understand. As of now no one has responded to a call to be baptized, though I know of a few people who could be.
Text: All over the NT
I heard a story once of a man who had recently become a Christian but was struggling with feeling like he wasn’t close to God. He went to his pastor and told him how he was feeling and asked, “What can I do? I just want to feel close to God again.” The pastor asked, “Have you been baptized?” The man said, “No.” His pastor replied, “Let’s baptize you. That should do the trick.” So they went to the local lake and the pastor said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” dunked him and asked, “Well, do you feel closer to Him?”
The man replied, “No.” “Well, let’s do it again.” So they dunked him a second time. The pastor asked, “Do you feel closer to God?” Still no. So they baptized him a third time. “Do you feel closer to God?” The man said, “No. Are you sure this is where he went down?”
Today we’re talking about baptism. Baptism isn’t about getting closer to God. It isn’t about your feelings. It’s about what God has done in your life by saving and transforming you into a new creation.
Sometime before Jesus came on the scene his people, the Jews, began baptizing converts to Judaism. For a Jew, circumcision was the most important sign that one had turned from paganism to serving the one true God. But baptism also was a way of cleansing and initiation. By being baptized, a Gentile was able to offer sacrifices. He was now a part of the group. To Jews, baptism was only for converts.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist (or Baptizer) began baptizing Jews, saying they needed to be cleansed and repent from their sins. He was claiming that the moral platform the Jews thought they were standing on was really more of a stage, showcasing their sins for all to see. Just because they were God’s chosen people didn’t mean they didn’t need to repent. Sure, offering a sacrifice atoned for the sin itself and removed the guilt from the sinner. But did it mean the sinner had changed his heart and turned from his sin? Not necessarily. That’s where baptism came in. It leveled the playing field between Jews and Gentiles; all were in need of repentance and cleansing. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Christians picked up on this theme and began baptizing converts from the beginning. In Acts 2 we hear of a mass baptism: 3,000 in one day. Throughout Acts people get baptized after becoming Christians: the Ethiopian eunuch, the Philippian jailer and his family, Samaritans, Lydia…
The Didache, written in about AD 100, which stands for “Teaching” of the Apostles, gives four ways to be baptized: immersion in a stream, immersion in standing water, either cold or warm, and triple effusion, or pouring. Catechumens, the candidates for baptism, as well as the person baptizing them, were instructed to fast for one or two days before baptism. They modeled Jesus, who fasted in the desert 40 days before His baptism and subsequent ministry. Jews also required their converts to fast before baptism, so it could have been taken from them as well.
Tertullian, a Christian in the third century, wrote a pamphlet on baptism called De Baptismo. In it he explains how people were baptized in his day. Baptism was done publicly, where the candidate renounced the devil and his angels. He was then immersed three times in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The water used for baptism was consecrated prior to use. The candidate then recited a creed and was fed milk and honey to symbolize citizenship in the new Canaan (heaven). After this he was anointed with olive oil, followed by the laying-on of hands, as well as making a sign of the cross on his forehead. Tertullian also believed in waiting to baptize infants because they don’t understand what responsibilities come with baptism (e.g. repentance, righteousness).
That’s how people were baptized. But what is it all about? Here’s a helpful acronym, using the letters of “baptism,” which are on the back of your bulletin in case you’re taking notes.
“B” stands for Believers. In Acts 8, Philip was in Samaria. He preached the gospel, and verse 12 says, “When they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” In Acts 18, Paul is in Corinth. Verse 8 tells us that, “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.” Baptism in for those who believe the message of the Gospel. It’s not for anyone who wants to. Anyone can come to church and sing and listen to a sermon, but only those who have put their trust in Christ for salvation may be baptized.
Baptism is a sacrament, which is a big word that means it signifies a work of God inside you. It’s like putting actions to an invisible action God has done. Thus, if God hasn’t drawn a person to Himself and that person hasn’t responded by repenting of their sins, baptism doesn’t make sense for them. Baptism is for the believer.
Some believe and teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. If you’re not baptized, you don’t go to heaven, they say. Perhaps some of you have heard that. Augustine, a theologian living in the 400s, taught that. That’s one of the reasons why babies were baptized; so they wouldn’t go to hell if they died soon after birth. Baptism doesn’t save you, nor does it allow you to enter heaven. Only Jesus has done the work necessary for salvation, and only trust in Him gives eternal life.
“A” stands for Adults and Children. Because baptism is for believers and is a sign of a work God has done inside of you, Wesleyans believe that babies—who have no recognition of sin or salvation—should not be baptized. Instead they should be dedicated to God, just as Chad and Stephanie did a few weeks ago with Nickolas. The child’s parents are able to covenant with God to raise the child to follow Christ, so that upon putting faith in Christ, the child may then be baptized.
Galatians 3:27 says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Can a baby understand what being clothed with Christ means? There are some of us who wonder what it means. “To clothe one’s self” in Greek was a figurative term that meant to take on the characteristics, virtues, and/or intentions of the one referred to, and so to become like that person. Being baptized means you strive to become like Christ. A baby cannot do that, and thus baptism for a child doesn’t make sense.
Infant baptism really took the church by storm after the reign of Constantine. Constantine was the ruler of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, and he made Christianity the religion of the empire. Thus, if you lived within the boundaries of the empire, you were considered a Christian. That meant that fewer and fewer people converted to Christianity as teens or adults and more and more people were “born into it.” During this time, babies were generally baptized the eighth day after birth, like Jewish babies are circumcised 8 days after birth. Baptism became a tool used to prevent children from going to hell rather than a testimony to the world of what Christ had done in one’s life.
By the 16th century, during the Protestant Reformation, Christianity was no longer the official religion anywhere, and thus both infant baptism and adult baptism were practiced. I realize that some of you were baptized as infants. Your parents had you baptized as a way of them stating they wanted to raise you as a Christian. I’m not here to say that your baptism doesn’t mean anything. I’m not here to say you need to be baptized again, though if you would like to as a way to share your testimony, I will. I’m here to say, this is what Wesleyans believe and what we practice.
“P” stands for Purification. Baptism symbolizes the change Christ has made in you, cleansing you of your sin and making you a new creation by giving you the Holy Spirit. In some traditions, people are baptized and when they are put under the water, the pastor says, “Dead to sin.” When they come up, he says, “Alive in Christ.”
Romans 6:1-4 explains it this way: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Symbols are powerful. They make us feel certain ways. What do you feel when you see three arrows curved into a triangle printed on your milk jug? What about an exclamation point? A cross? A burning cross? A swastika? Each of you were feeling something when I said those words. Baptism is the same way. It gets us to feel and perhaps better understand what purification is all about.
In Zimbabwe, Christians don’t get baptized with water. Most of the flowing, natural water is contaminated and unhealthy, so they use another method. The candidates for baptism dig graves and lie down in them. They then rise up out of those graves as a way of saying, “I was baptized into Christ’s death and I am raised to live a new life.” To us that sounds crazy, but to them it says the same thing and gets them to feel the same thing as being dunked does for us.
“T” stands for Testimony. When we hear “testimony,” normally we think of people standing up in church to share something that happened that week. God healed a family member or provided for a need. Testimonies of that sort are verbal. Baptism is another form of testimony. It’s a way of saying to the world and to those who are not Christians, “I have taken my stand and placed my trust in Christ. I am His and He is mine.”
I was baptized at Brookhaven Wesleyan almost four years ago. During the service, each of us who were baptized was asked to share our testimony. I told how I had accepted Christ as my Savior and was striving to live for Him, and how I wanted everyone to know it by getting baptized.
Baptism is about testifying that you believe in Christ. Therefore it’s done publicly for all to see. We don’t come to your house and put you in the tub. We go out to Devil’s Lake or to a swimming pool.
“I” stands for Initiation. This meaning for baptism isn’t nearly as emphasized now as it was in the early church. In the early church those who weren’t baptized could only stay for half of the service. The first half was a service of the Word, like coming to a service this morning. The second half was a love feast centering on the Lord’s Supper. Only those who were baptized stayed for the meal. This was done partly because of the misunderstandings associated with the Lord’s Supper during that time. Christians were accused of being cannibals, actually eating a man’s flesh and blood. In order to keep rumors from spreading by those who didn’t understand what communion meant, only those baptized were allowed to stay for the meal.
Jesus told his disciples in the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples, baptizing them…” Wesleyans emphasize the call to make disciples and understand that baptism is a part of that call. Thus, as new people are brought into the church and put their trust in Christ, they are baptized. So baptism somewhat coincides with one’s introduction to a local church.
So, if you’re not baptized, can you participate in the ministry of the church, teaching Sunday School, leading worship, etc.? Yes. And we encourage you to do so. We also encourage you to get baptized because that’s what Jesus called us to do.
“S” stands for Sorrow. As John the Baptist was baptizing, he said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” So people were baptized and repented of their sins. They were sorry for sinning against God and were baptized, again, as a way of showing God’s cleansing of their hearts.
Baptism isn’t just for anyone. It’s for those who have repented of their sins. Like we said before, it’s for believers in Jesus. Sometimes a pastor will ask a group of people if anyone wants to get baptized. A handful will raise their hands. Then the pastor will give a brief class, explaining to them what it’s all about. And sometimes he’ll find that a few of them raised their hands just because their friends did. Baptism is a chance to be in front of a lot of people, a chance to be proud. It’s tempting for some to say, “Look at me. Look at what a good Christian I am because I’m being baptized.”
In reality, this attitude is wrong. Baptism is for the sorrowful and humble. Acts 8 tells the story of a man who misunderstood baptism and following Christ. His name was Simon. Philip went to Samaria, where Simon lived and practiced sorcery. When he heard the gospel, he believed and was baptized with many others. When Peter and John came to check on things and laid their hands on the new believers the Holy Spirit came. Simon asked them if he could pay to have this power.
Simon thought that he could buy the power of the Holy Spirit. His attitude post-baptism causes me to question what he thought baptism was all about. Did he really repent? Did he really desire to be cleansed by the Holy Spirit, and to show that at baptism? I doubt it.
“M” stands for Means of Grace. During baptism, God gives a grace to both the one being baptized and the ones watching. He works through baptisms to draw people closer to Him. My theology professor in college told of people coming to know Christ simply through witnessing a baptismal service. We don’t know how God does it, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that He works through baptism.
Thus, some of you are wondering, I’ve become a Christian but I’m not so sure I should be baptized. Maybe you’re scared of being in front of people. Maybe you’re scared of what people will think. Or maybe you just don’t like water. I don’t know. Weigh all those things against the fact that God could use your testimony as a way to draw others to Him.
Then think about it. If you desire to be baptized, come talk to me.