Apologetics, Biblical Doctrines, Culture & Society

What is the Meaning of Baptism?

Various church traditions have placed different meaning on baptism. It is important that every mature Christian study the Scriptures in order to be fully persuaded in their own mind the proper Biblical meaning of baptism, its mode, who should be baptized, and who should not.

The Meaning of Baptizo

The word “baptizo” has come to be very controversial when transliterated in the English as “baptism”. The word “baptize” means “to immerse, submerge; to make overwhelmed (i.e. fully wet); used only of ceremonial ablution, or washing, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Christian baptism.” It is translated, Baptist, baptize, wash. Part of the controversy over baptism comes because of the view that baptism is essential for salvation. Theologians call this baptism regeneration.

 Catholic Faith and Practice

In the Catholic tradition, baptism is one of seven sacraments, that, when embraced, and practiced, will lead to a meritorious justification in the sight of God. The seven sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick. These seven sacraments are the life of the Catholic Church. Each sacrament is believed to be an outward sign of an inward grace.

Two Ordinances

In the mainstream Protestant tradition, baptism is one of two ordinances instituted by Christ. The other being the Lord’s Supper. Within the Protestant tradition a variety of positions have been taken regarding baptism.

 Presbyterian Faith and Practice

Some Protestant traditions administer baptism to a child with a view towards the child confirming the sacred act, someday. There are Christian parents who view infant baptism as a form of baby dedication.

Others take a stronger view of infant baptism. According to Bruce A. McDowell, Minister of Global Outreach, Tenth Presbyterian Church, “Reformed believers baptize their child because they believe he/she is a member of the new covenant community in Christ, having been sanctified through a believing parent (1 Corinthians 7:14), given the covenantal promises (Acts 2:39), and welcomed into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:13–15; Mark 10:16; Luke 18:15–16).”

Westminster Larger Catechism

Question 165: WHAT is Baptism?

A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.

Question 166: Unto WHOM is Baptism to be administered?

A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.

Question. 167. How is baptism to be improved by us?

A. The needful, but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

Lutheran Faith and Practice

Within the Lutheran tradition, baptism is administered to a child with a view towards salvation. Baptism is not to be repeated “for we cannot be born twice,” suggesting that salvation occurs at the baptismal font, and is something to be lost if faith is not confirmed.

Heidelberg Catechism

 Holy Baptism

Lord’s Day 26

Q&A 69

Q. How does holy baptism remind and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross benefits you personally?

A. In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it promised that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, that is, all my sins.

Acts 2:38; Matt. 3:11; Rom. 6:3-10; 1 Pet. 3:21

Q&A 70

Q. What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit?

A. To be washed with Christ’s blood means that God, by grace, has forgiven our sins because of Christ’s blood poured out for us in his sacrifice on the cross.

To be washed with Christ’s Spirit means that the Holy Spirit has renewed and sanctified us to be members of Christ, so that more and more we become dead to sin and live holy and blameless lives.

Zech. 13:1; Eph. 1:7-8; Heb. 12:24; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 1:5; Ezek. 36:25-27; John 3:5-8; Rom. 6:4; 1 Cor. 6:11; Col. 2:11-12

Q&A 71

Q. Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and Spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?

A. In the institution of baptism, where he says:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

“The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”

This promise repeated when Scripture calls baptism “the water of rebirth” and the washing away of sins.

Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Titus 3:5; Acts 22:16

Lord’s Day 27

 Q&A 72

Q. Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?

A. No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit, cleanses us from all sins.

Matt. 3:11; 1 Pet. 3:21; 1 John 1:7

Q&A 73

Q. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins?

A. God has good reason for these words. To begin with, God wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ takes away our sins just as water removes dirt from the body.

But more important, God wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that we are as truly washed of our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water, physically.

1 Cor. 6:11; Rev. 1:5; 7:14; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27

Q&A 74

Q. Should infants also be baptized?

A. Yes, Infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people, and they, no less than adults, are promised deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood, and the Holy Spirit, who produces faith.

Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant, they too should be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.

Gen. 17:7; Matt. 19:14; Isa. 44:1-3; Acts 2:38-39; 16:31; Acts 10:47; 1 Cor. 7:14; Gen. 17:9-14; Col. 2:11-13

Church of Christ Faith and Practice

Another tradition within the Protestant community is to baptize a person for salvation, provided they take six steps. The Northside Church of Christ in Hillsborg, OH, sets forth in detail the six steps to salvation.

Step 1: We must HEAR the Word.
Step 2: We must BELIEVE what we hear.
Step 3: We must REPENT of our sins.
Step 4: We must CONFESS our faith.
Step 5: We must be BAPTIZED.

Baptism shows a good conscience toward God / The Apostle Peter clearly confirms, “baptism doth also now save us.” 1 Peter 3.21.

Baptism washes away sins. Acts 22.16

Baptism gives entry “into” Christ. Romans 6.3; Galatians 3.27.

Jesus, our authority, made baptism necessary, when he gave the command in Mark 16.16. In other words, our sins are not washed away, and we are not “in Christ” until we are baptized.

Since baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2.38), we are still in our sins (and lost), until we are baptized.

Step 6: We must remain FAITHFUL. The Bible tells us “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Rev. 2.10

Baptist Faith and Practice

Baptist tradition embraces baptism for professing believers, young or old, and rejects infant baptism on the grounds that there is no clear authorization, or example, in the New Testament, to baptize babies. The idea that water baptism of all children replaces physical male circumcision in the Old Testament is viewed as without Scriptural foundation.

 Baptist Confession of 1689

Chapter 29: Of Baptism

1.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; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:3-5;   Colossians 2;12;   Galatians 3:27;   Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4

2.  Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.

Mark 16:16;   Acts 8:36, 37; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 18:8

3.The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 8:38

4. Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.

Matthew 3:16; John 3:23

Of these various teachings about baptism, the student of Scripture must decide which position is most consistent with the Bible when a passage is actually turned to and read, which position is consistent, and not self contradicting, and which position makes the most sense.

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