A Brief History of Baptism
Baptism is not an exclusively Christian sacrament. It is mentioned in literature as early as the third century BC and believed to go back centuries further. It was used in various forms as an initiation rite in many religions. Baptism was one of three things required of a Gentile (non-Jewish person) who converted to Judaism. It was a ceremonial expression of cleansing based upon ones inward belief. That is why John the Baptist could perform a baptism of repentance and everyone understood. John’s baptism did not produce repentance. Rather, John implored people to repent and then be baptized. The baptism was an outward testimony to those present of the recipient’s admission of personal sin and willful decision to turn away from that sin (Matthew 3:1-6). It symbolized the spiritual cleansing from forgiveness of sin.
Baptism is simply an outward demonstration of that which has taken place inwardly. Baptism is not an initiation rite into Christianity. It is not a hoop that a person must jump through to become a Christian. Baptism does not bestow points with God. It is symbolic of joining with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection for one’s sin (I John 2:2). Therefore, the Christian and Missionary Alliance believes that baptism is reserved for the person who already believes in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his or her sin.
What about infants and children?
Some Christian groups believe that, with the exception of extreme circumstances, a person cannot have salvation without being baptized. Therefore, they baptize infants and young children who are not old enough to understand sin and the need for a savior to make sure the person is covered. They do not believe that the baptism brings salvation, but that it is a necessary part of salvation. Some of these groups believe that baptism takes away original sin so that the person can now earn his or her salvation through good works or practicing sacraments. However, the Bible is clear that forgiveness and salvation from the wages of sin is by grace through faith alone. Salvation is not a result of works: religious rites, sacraments or good deeds (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-7).
There are other Christian groups who baptize infants and young children because they believe that baptism for the children is a sign of being a part of God’s covenant people in the same manner as circumcision for Jewish males. Just as the Jews do not believe circumcision brings or secures salvation, these Christians believe the baptized children still need to personally place their trust in Christ. However, this does not fit with the historical meaning of baptism and there is no direct evidence in the Bible of infants and very young children being baptized.
For more information on infant/child dedication and qualifications for baptizing children, see the Kids Baptism page.
Why should a follower of Christ be baptized?
God established baptism for His followers, not for Himself. It is about what His followers get from it and not what God receives. Jesus tied baptism into the disciple-making process (Matthew 28:18-20). Through baptism a person makes a public profession of being a follower of Christ and demonstrates obedience to Jesus Christ.
Such, sincere public professions of faith bring about greater internal commitment. Therefore, baptism is a way to strengthen your faith through affirming your commitment to God before the body of Christ and those who do not know Jesus Christ. While most baptisms today usually occur in front of followers of Christ and those seeking to understand Christianity, this has not always been the case and is not always so in other parts of the world. In the early church and in many parts of the world today, being baptized brings persecution. It can mean being disowned or considered dead by one’s family. It can bring societal persecution and even threats of death.
How should a person be baptized?
There are three modes of baptism used by the church universal: immersion (dunking), effusion (pouring) and aspersion (sprinkling). The Christian and Missionary Alliance baptizes by immersion for two main reasons. First, it was the method used in the early church whenever possible. Second, immersion gives the best visual picture of uniting with Christ in His death and burial as one goes under the water, and cleansing and resurrection to new life as one comes up from under the water. Consider the following passages.
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. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. Romans 6:1-4 NIV
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:9-12 NIV
These two passages are speaking of what happens spiritually when a person trusts in and becomes a follower of Jesus Christ as opposed to the physical act of baptism. Still, they are significant in that the physical act of baptism is an outward demonstration and proclamation of what has happened inward. In both of them we see how the immersion provides a beautiful picture of being united with Jesus Christ in both His death and resurrection.
While immersion is the preferred method for baptism, the meaning of baptism is more important than the mode. Documents from the early church reveal that pouring or sprinkling was used when immersion was not possible. Therefore, if someone has been baptized as a believer by pouring or sprinkling, we do not require that person to be baptized again by immersion.
Requirements for Baptism
The person must be a follower of Christ. Essex Alliance does not have a minimum age requirement. However, children must be mature enough to understand the essentials of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
What does it mean to be a believer (follower of Christ)?
God created mankind to have a true loving relationship with mankind. As distinct from the rest of creation, God placed His image (His moral character) in mankind. Now, true love only exists when it is the result of free choice. Instead of choosing God, Adam and Eve chose to believe that God did not really love them, that God was a liar and withholding good from them. They chose against God and the relationship was broken. (Genesis 3:1-13) God’s image in mankind was also broken.
God still loves mankind and desires a relationship with each and every person. However, in addition to loving, God is also righteous and just. Just like oil and water do not mix, God in His righteousness can have nothing to do with unrighteousness. Because of His justness, God cannot simply overlook sin. If God simply overlooked sin, He would violate His own character and cease to be righteous and just. Therefore, God had to pronounce the penalty of death for sin (Romans 6:23). It is physical in that our present bodies are no longer eternal. More importantly, the death is spiritual in that our relationship with God is broken and there is absolutely nothing that anyone can do to change the situation. Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV). This means that we are all broken people who no longer reflect the image of God in our lives as we were originally created to do.
In spite of this, God loves us so deeply and desires so strongly to have the relationship restored that He willingly paid the penalty of death for us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). God sent His Son to take upon Himself our sin and die on the cross in our place: the righteous for the unrighteous (I Peter 3:18). God grants forgiveness to all who admit their sinfulness and need for a Savior, who turn away from their sin, trust in Jesus Christ’s death for their sin, and choose to follow Him. He credits them with the righteousness of Christ and restores their relationship with Him (Romans 3:19-26).
Our next Baptism is on May 21, 2017
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