Baptism at Mission Church
August 23, 2017
by Andy Littleton
Early this morning a group of friends from our church took a short hike into Sabino Canyon. Justine had been a part of a solid group of Christian friends, and a part of our church for awhile now, but hadn’t been baptized. Most of us assumed she had, but she didn’t grow up understanding the gospel. Once she had come to know Jesus through the ministry of a few churches here in town, but especially through her friends, she had begun to contemplate the fact that she felt she should be baptized as the other believers she knew had been. Her path to baptism was unique to her, but it meant the same thing it’s always meant. It meant that she belongs to Jesus. That his life, death, burial and resurrection are her hope. It meant that she has been changed by God, called by God, and that her heart now desires to follow in his steps. Her baptism pointed to a miracle, in which God had opened the eyes of her heart to see and comprehend the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are a number of baptisms described in the Scriptures. Some people were baptized immediately upon hearing and believing the gospel (See the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-38 and the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:25-40). Some people were baptized after becoming disciples, but coming to a more full understanding of the gospel of Jesus (See the 12 men in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-7). Some believers of course, were never baptized. The example most think of is the thief on the cross who recognizes his own sinfulness, and the sufficiency of Jesus (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus assures him of his salvation though he was unable to enact any form of Christian worship or receive any sacrament save the most important acts of worship of all, the posture of humility before God and a willingness to be justified by grace alone.
We see baptism as especially given by God to serve as a sign upon the people who belong to him by believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many questions surround baptism. Should people be immersed, or is sprinkling sufficient? Should babies be baptized? Should children? How soon?
In the case of children, we’d especially urge you to make sure that your child is at a point at which they are able to articulate and own their faith in Jesus themselves. There is not a specific age when this always happens of course. Many traditions of Christianity see a direct correlation between circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the New Testament. Therefore they view baptism as being a sign and seal given to babies when they are born into believing families. Though this is not a view we hold deeply, we do understand it and do not exclude those who hold it. If an adult was baptized as a child, and truly believes that God used their parents to raise them under the covenant of grace and they see their baptism as a child as a sign of that reality, we do not require that they be re-baptized. Similarly, if someone was baptized as a child, but feel they weren’t fully “in the know” at the time, we don’t require that they be re-baptized unless they are convinced they should be.
Baptism is a beautiful sign of the work of Christ, but it is not the deciding factor. Faith in Jesus Christ is. Because we believe this, membership in our church is available to folks who view baptism differently than us. We do not though, consider babies and children who are baptized to be fully functioning church members who would participate in the decision making of the church.
On the question of immersion versus sprinkling, we see a beautiful correction between immersion and the imagery of baptism as an identification with Jesus in his death and resurrection to new life (Romans 6:1-11). At the same time, being cleansed of our sin is a fitting image applied to the water of baptism, and the Old Testament cleansings were usually via a sprinkling or washing of a part of the body…symbolizing the whole (which Hebrews 10:19-22 applies to believers in Jesus and their baptism). We’d love to discuss the imagery and Scriptures with anyone who comes forward for baptism, and we are willing to employ either immersion or sprinkling. Our concern is that you understand your baptism as God’s sign upon you, that you belong to him because of his grace.
We here at Mission Church are always excited to see someone receive Christ by faith and get baptized. If you’re considering baptism, we encourage you to talk to one of the elders here. We’d love to explore it with you. If you have come to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, and have not been baptized, you should! Though it isn’t a necessity for belief, it is a very important gift that God has given his people. It provides us with a monument of sorts, to look back on when we struggle or doubt. It is a pledge from God, that he will bring us through to the end by faith in Jesus. It is a powerful public enactment of the impact that Christ’s death, burial and resurrection has upon a person. We especially love to baptize people in public, whether in a church service or in a prominent body of water (like a river or a swimming pool). It is also a way to identify with the people of God throughout the world. Old Testament circumcision was very private. In Jesus Christ the idea of being set apart by him and adopted in to his family is very public, because it ties believers to the people of faith in Christ worldwide. Just before his ascension Jesus told his disciples;
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Baptism is a sign from God to his people, signaling his faithfulness and the power of the gospel. It is also a sign to the watching world, that God is at work, transferring people from death into life and into a community of people of all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations. So we hope you come to faith, and experience the power change that baptism proclaims. We hope you get baptized, and receive God’s sign of his covenant to his people. And we hope you look back at your baptism with gratitude in your hearts to God.