Today we have an exciting day ahead of us as we get to celebrate the baptism of one of our sisters, Brittany Greier. Brittany is a unique case, she was baptized as in infant in a gospel preaching church, but she stands here today to testify of her faith in Jesus Christ and to follow him in baptism as a believer. She will come up later and give her testimony about what God has done and is doing in her life, and we celebrate with her.
But I want to first take a minute and look into the scriptures and explain our position as a church, not only why we baptize, but also why we would re-baptize someone who received infant baptism in another church.
For some people this is not an issue. I myself was baptized in a Catholic Church as an infant, but it was merely an external religious ceremony. My parents weren’t devout by any means; I don’t know the exact reasons why they did it, perhaps to please family or community, or that’s just what they thought that you do to babies. However, although we attended church from time to time, when I was little, especially on holidays, our household was functionally atheist. So when I came to Christ, it wasn’t really a difficult question to me. I wasn’t transferring to a different church, I was coming into the faith. And I find that’s the experience of many who come into the faith from nominal religious backgrounds. It’s not that they are transferring church membership, but they themselves understand that they were coming into the faith, and so believer’s baptism make perfect sense to them.
This is not without controversy. During the reformation, those who rebaptized (called anabaptist) were persecuted by Catholics, Lutherans and Presbyterians, and many were executed by the governments aligned with the State-Churches. [It’s helpful to us to understand that at that time, the churches and the State were strongly aligned - think Roman-Catholic, German-Lutheran, Dutch and French Reformed. In a state-church, the correlation to baptism makes sense - just as you become a citizen of a nation by being born to citizens of that nation, one would become a citizen of the church by being born into members of the church. While the Roman Catholic church had been practicing infant baptism for 1000 years, it was during the reformation that John Calvin explicitly linked infant baptism with circumcision of the Old Testament. Israel, after all, was a theocratic nation, a nation formed around a covenant with the Lord, and circumcision marked ones inclusion in that covenant community. No Israelite was saved by their circumcision alone, but their circumcision was to testify to them that they needed to circumsize their hearts, in faith and repentance. Calvin explained that in the same way, the church is Israel, and infants born into the church must receive baptism, the sign and seal of the new covenant, and are thus included into the community. What made the anabaptists so despised was there rejection of theunion of church and state. They viewed the church, not through a nationalist lens, but as a counter-kingdom called out from the nation, and were thus persecuted and at times executed as enemies of the state.]
Thankfully, we are not in danger of execution today, but this is still a divisive issue in the church. So why do we rebaptize? Well to answer this, I think it will probably be sufficient to explain why we baptize. And so were going to look a little deeper at a text we quickly looked over in Acts 2.
In Acts 2 if you remember, Peter has finished preaching the first sermon after the Holy Spirit has fallen upon the church. Right away we noted that there is a clear distinction here in this account between the Jewish people who have come to the Temple as the Old Covenant called them to do, and the church gathered, at this time mostly Jewish, upon which the Spirit falls. So here in this text already, there is a distinction in Israel between those who belong to the nation and the Old Covenant, and the followers of Jesus, who are now filled with the Spirit who pour out into the streets. As Peter preaches to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem, they call out in verse 37:
“What must we do to be saved?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Does Baptism Save Us?
Be careful here: our salvation is the work of Christ alone. We do not add to his work. The only thing we bring to our salvation is our sin. Salvation is the work of God in Christ to redeem sinners of himself for his own glory. Our contribution in our salvation led Christ to the cross, His contribution was his own self, a sacrifice for our sins on our behalf, in our place, to do what we could not do in presenting a perfect offering for sin. But to say our salvation is wholly the work of Christ, is not to say that there is nothing we must do to receive salvation. These are called called the instrumental means of salvation - think of an instrument. It doesn’t do anything, the musician does. But its got to be there.
Some take Peter’s words here “Repent and be baptized” as a two-fold requirement for salvation. As in, in order to secure salvation, both are necessary. We read these as one command, and yes, in English it appears as one command. Yet this is not one command but two. You can see this by noting in the original language which verbs in the sentence are singular and which are plural. The phrase “be baptized each one of you” is set apart from everything else in these verses, which are plural. This is important because in Greek, the ways verbs are formed is much more important than word order in understanding the meaning of sentences. So that the verse could be better translated as:
38 And Peter said to them: “You all are to repent for the forgiveness of sins and you all will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; and each one of you is to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”
So what must we do to be saved? We must repent. When we repent we receive forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. And each one who repents are to be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ. Thus salvation (the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit) is connected to repentance and faith, and not dependent upon our baptism; although those who repent are to be baptized.
This corresponds to the rest of the book of Acts. In Acts 3:19 - the very next sermon by Peter recorded in the book of Acts, contains no mention of baptism, but concludes, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” In Acts 10:43, again we have Peter preaching the forgiveness of sins, and again Peter says nothing about baptism: “Acts 10:43 About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Yet, as he is still speaking, the Holy Spirit falls on all who heard the word, the gift of the Spirit being poured out. So those hearing the gospel are receiving the gift of the spirit and presumably the forgiveness of sins, before receiving any outward sign. The only way to understand this is that they were responding inwardly in faith and repentance, and thus receive the blessings of salvation before being baptized. However, having turned to Christ in faith and repentance, they are commanded to be baptized. This is why we sometimes refer to baptism as the outward sign of an inward faith. It it the inward faith alone that is the instrumental means of our salvation, but upon receiving salvation, Christians are to be baptized. It is the sign of our union with Christ and is therefore not to be neglected.
What Does Baptism Do?
If baptism does not save, what does it do? Well it seems most evident to understand baptism as marking ones public identification with Christ and His church. Baptism marks us as Christ’s own, and we see this through the book of Acts. In Acts 2:39 we not only see those who respond to the word of God be baptized, but the are also noted by the church as now being a part of their number: and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Water baptism is the mark of participation in Christ and the church. This can be seen at two vital points in the book of Acts in which the church welcomes people into full fellowship, even though they might be excluded for various reasons.
In Acts 8 God send Philip the evangelist to find a man who is returning from Jerusalem to his home country of Ethiopia. This man was a eunuch, and as such, even though he had come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, because of his sexual deformity and his foreign origin, under the Law he would have been restricted and forbidden from approaching the Temple. However, the Lord send Philip to this man to proclaim to him the gospel of Jesus Christ. That this man was used to spiritual rejection is evident in his question to Philip: 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Notice, he assumes rejection. But Philip does the surprising thing - 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. This man, excluded from the temple worship of Israel, is immediately welcomed into the church.
A similar thing happens in Acts chapter 10 - again a controversial baptism. We’ve looked at this passage already but take note of verse Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Peter knew this would be controversial. Again, Gentiles were not permitted to approach the Temple as Gentiles. In order to enter the Temple Courts, they had to convert to Judaism. Yet here, Peter sees these Gentiles, having received the Holy Spirit, and says “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” In other words, can we exclude from the church those whom Christ has included. And knowing this may stir up controversy, Peter commands them to be baptized. And yes, he was criticized. In 11:3: a Jewish contingency criticizes Peter saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” - but Peter relates the whole story to them, concluding: “17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Peter knew exactly what he was doing when he commanded the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house to be baptized. He was definitively including them into the church, making a statement about God’s inclusivity in welcoming them into the family of God.
Who should Be Baptized?
Perhaps this is the most controversial question. And this text is used as a proof text for infant baptism, as Peter says, “this promise is for you and your children”, understand this as a clear command for believers to baptize their children. But the promise spoken of is the Holy Spirit, who as we’ve already seen is promised to those who turn to Christ in repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. It makes no sense to read this verse as referring to infant baptism, for it doesn’t say “this promise is for you and your children” but this promise is for “you and your children and for all who are far off”, and no one is advocating that we go around randomly baptizing those far from the Lord, Nacho Libre style. Remember that the book of Acts is concerned with explaining how the gospel of Jesus Christ expanded beyond its initial origins as an offshoot of Judaism to include gentiles like us. And so it fits the both the immediate context and the theme of the entire book to understand that Peter is declaring that the promise of the gospel - namely forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit - is for everyone, for the Jews gathered there on that day, and for their descendants, as well as for any Gentiles who will come to Christ in faith and repentance.
And so this is why we baptize. Not because it saves, but because it is the outward sign of faith and repentance and is the mark of our inclusion into the church. We baptize because Christ has commanded us to go into all the word, making disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and then teaching them to obey all that he has commanded.
- Should I be baptized? Are you a believer in Jesus who has not yet been baptized? Yes.
- I was baptized as an infant before I made any profession of faith. Yes, we’d encouraged you to be baptized as a believer in Christ. Your parents had good intentions, but we’d not see that as a baptism according to the scriptures. You ought to thank your parents for bringing you up in a Christian tradition. If anything ought to bring joy to the hearts of parents, it should be their child saying, "Mom and Dad, I have come to know the Lord as my personal Savior and now, having found the Lord as my Savior, I need to proclaim that in the context of the assembly of believers, just as the Bible teaches. I want you to come and celebrate with me to see that what you started many years ago has now grown to maturity.
- I was baptized as a believer, but then wandered, or my faith was stagnant, or now has grown deeper, and I would like to re-dedicate myself to the Lord. This is tricky, but in this case we would not encourage you to be re-baptized, for having believed at one time, we believe that God has sustained you through your wandering and is now affirming his sustaining grace in you. However, if you are convinced that you were not genuinely a believer when you were baptized, not because your faith was weak, but because it was not, then come and talk to me.
- I was baptized as a believer in a church that was weak in the gospel, or the pastor later was revealed to be a bad man, or had a different view of baptism, or the holy spirit or the church. In most cases we would not encourage you to be re-baptized.