Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… (Matthew 28:18, 19)
There is much confusion in Christian church culture concerning baptism.
- Some denominations teach and practice a baptism they say puts a person in Christ/and or the church with or without their consent. They teach this makes them a “Christian” from birth or early childhood.
- Some denominations teach and practice a baptism which puts or confirms a person’s position in Christ after a series of lessons are learned and official baptism (whatever form is used) has been applied.
- Some denominations teach and practice a water baptism as essential to eternal salvation. They insist on baptizing a person as soon as they confess to belief in Jesus as the Son of God or risk dying in a fallen state. Opponents sometimes refer to this as baptismal regeneration.
- Some denominations teach that if a person wants to join a local church, no matter their age, they must have baptism administered before they can be a member with all rights to the Lord’s table (observe the Lord’s supper, take communion) and the right to vote.
This confusion concerning baptism comes from a number of misunderstandings.
- The Greek word baptizo is generally transliterated and rarely translated in most Bible texts. Perhaps because of early political pressure and later accepted usage we’re stuck with the word baptize. Were we to translate the word, our English texts would read “to dip or submerge”, “to plunge into”, “to be put into”, etc. For example: John also was dipping or submerging at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water. (see John 3:23)
- If we believe the power of salvation is in church membership and we believe in baptismal regeneration then we would “baptize” our children as soon as possible.
- If we read passages like: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3 NIV); or “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27 NIV) and don’t translate them in our mind, it will lead to confusion. Paul is saying “…don’t you know that all of us who were put into Christ Jesus were submerged or put into his death?” and “for all of you who were put into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” That’s translating the word baptize. I call this a “dry” baptism. These passages and others like them have everything to do with our position in Jesus Christ, not our being submerged in water.
- If we see baptism as an initiation rite into the church (or Church) then we will be confused. This may include the idea that baptism is an ordinance that belongs to the church.
So, what is the baptism found in the New Testament? What is the baptism of discipleship?