Friday, November 25, 2022

Baptism: It's Mode and Recipients or Subjects

A major and continuing debate concerning the sacrament of baptism involves its proper subjects. Credobaptists and paedobaptists generally agree that the external conditions of baptism are repentance and a credible profession of faith in Christ. In order to symbolize that internal reality of salvation, the New Testament calls believers to be baptized in water as a public testimony to their faith in and solidarity with the Lord Jesus. Water baptism, then, is the outward, postconversion demonstration of an inward reality that has already occurred at conversion. The baptism of John the Baptist symbolized repentance from sin and turning to God (Matt. 3:6; cf. Acts 19:4–5). In Christ, baptism not only signifies a turning away from sin but also serves as a public affirmation of one’s identification and union with him in his death, burial, and resurrection.

Scripture presents baptism as the first step of obedience for believers after they have embraced the Lord Jesus in saving faith. Baptism is not the cause of regeneration. Baptism is commanded by Christ himself (Matt. 28:19). Those unwilling to confess their Lord and Savior publicly through baptism are living in disobedience and thus call into question the genuineness of their faith because they are unwilling to obey (cf. Matt. 10:32–33).

The proper mode of baptism is by immersion, as indicated by the Greek word baptiz┼Ź. Immersion also serves as a symbol of one’s burial and resurrection, signifying the spiritual reality that believers have died to sin and risen with Christ (cf. Rom. 6:4, 10).

Though pervasive throughout church history, the practice of infant baptism lacks clear New Testament support, since saving faith precedes baptism and not vice versa. In Scripture, only believers are said to be baptized. The New Testament definition of baptism, in fact, requires that the inner realities of repentance and faith precede the external symbol. In Acts 2:38, only those who believed and repented were called to be baptized. According to Colossians 2:12, those who have been baptized into Christ (a spiritual reality represented by water baptism) have been “raised with him through faith.” First Peter 3:21 explains that baptism symbolizes “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” Yet none of these realities—repentance, faith, or a conscious appeal to God for a good conscience—can be exhibited by an infant.20 Hence, the practice of infant baptism (or paedobaptism) should be rejected. Believer’s baptism (or credobaptism) appears to have been the prevailing practice of the early church until at least the third century, when explicit attestations of paedobaptism appear more frequently in extant Christian literature.