After my last two sermons on baptism, I have received many good questions on the subject. I figured I’d write up the answers in a post since so many seemed to have the same questions.
What’s the difference between dedicating a baby and baptizing a baby?
Churches that baptize babies do so for different reasons. The Roman Catholic church believes that through baptism the infant is cleansed of original sin. Presbyterians believe that God’s covenant promises apply to the children of believers, and therefore they are baptized into the community of faith before professing faith on their own.
The function of baby dedication (at least at our church) is different. Our times of dedication are meant for parents to pledge to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to share the gospel with their children, and to pray that they would be saved by grace through faith in Jesus. We also, as a church family, pledge to support the parents in this task. So for us, the time of dedication is more about the parents and their church family dedicating themselves to see the child grow up to know Jesus and trust his gospel.
Does God give a special grace to believers who are baptized?
In his goodness, God has appointment many means of grace–that is, ways of mediating his grace to believers. Bible meditation, preaching of the Word, fellowship in the Body of Christ, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are all means of grace. What is common among all these means is the necessity of faith. We are “saved by grace through faith.” All of these means of receiving God’s grace are effectual only as they are done in exercise of our faith.
I do not believe that when we are baptized we receive grace of a different substance or species than the grace received during prayer and meditation or through preaching or fellowship. It is saving grace that justifies, sanctifies, and will glorify. Baptism is one powerful means of receiving that grace. When we obey in faith Christ’s command to be baptized, we are blessed with grace that grows us in holiness. But this grace is no different than the grace we will receive as we continue in his Word.
Should we be baptized immediately upon profession of faith or only after a time of deliberation and discernment?
The pattern of the New Testament is that people are baptized immediately after expressing repentance and faith. Some, however, believe that individuals should have to prove their faith for some time (months or years) before being baptized. I’m not comfortable with such requirements, but I am also not comfortable baptizing every person who says they want to be baptized.
In the time of the early church, there was no question that baptism was a radical act of separation from the rest of the world and alignment with Jesus Christ and his church. In our culture, baptism isn’t so radical an act. But it should be! The gospel is no less radical today than it was 2,000 years ago. For this reason, I believe we have a responsibility to make sure people understand Christ’s call to follow him, understand the meaning of repentance and faith, and are ready to devote themselves to gospel living. Once they have settled that issue in their minds, they should be baptized as one who is repenting of sin and believing in Jesus Christ.
Do people who were baptized in a different denomination need to be rebaptized to join our church?
If someone was baptized as a believer with the same understanding of baptism that our church has, then they do not need to be rebaptized. However, if they were not yet a believer or if their church taught that baptism had a different meaning (for example, many Churches of Christ teach that baptism is necessary for salvation), then they should be baptized with an understanding of that baptism as a profession of their faith and a sign of their salvation.
Some believe that one must have been baptized in a Baptist church in order to join that church. I strongly disagree. Paul writes to the believers in Corinth that there should be “no divisions” among them. They are not to say, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Paul then asks, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:10-13). Paul is emphasizing the unity of the church through the one gospel of Jesus Christ. If someone believed the gospel and was saved by Christ, their biblical baptism as a demonstration of that faith is sufficient. We are baptized into Christ, not a denomination.
Does baptism always signify entry into a local church?
Baptism always signifies entry into the universal, invisible church. The norm should be that it is practiced in the context of a local church as a visible expression of the invisible church. Therefore, people should be baptized into fellowship with a body of believers. However, in some situations, this is not possible. Chaplains on the battlefield baptize converts. Missionaries sometimes baptized people before a church has been formed in the area. I think these exceptions to the norm are okay because the priority becomes the believer’s obedience to Christ’s command to be baptized.
Why does our church say that believers should be baptized before participating in the Lord’s Supper?
Two reasons come immediately to mind. One, the meaning of each of these ordinances and how they relate to the new covenant community demonstrates that communion is for baptized believers. Those who partake in the rite that signifies renewing the covenant should have already participated in the rite that signifies entry into the covenant. Two, if we believe that Christ commands believers to be baptized and an individual has no obeyed that command and does not intend to obey that command, they should not be admitted to the table because they do not have a spirit of repentance over the sin of not being baptized.
What about someone waiting for baptism (say, the following Sunday)? Could he or she partake of the Supper if it were being served prior to his or her scheduled baptism. Here I’d say yes, because their heart is to obey.
What about someone who is a gospel-believing, Jesus-loving Christian from a denomination that practices infant baptism? Let’s say R.C. Sproul were in our church as a visitor and we were celebrating communion. Should he come to the table? I’d serve him. Why? He believes the gospel and has been baptized. Even though I disagree with his position on baptism and do not believe that his baptism is a biblical baptism, if his conscience is clear before the Lord and he believes he has been obedience to Christ’s command for baptism, then he should be able to partake of the Supper. Baptism is important, but it is not a first-tier theological issue.