What is Baptism? (A Credobaptist View)
The discussion of baptism is one that has been prominent in Christianity since the second century of the Church. Even saying the word “baptism” will draw many people into a debate as they plant their flags and defend their respective position. It is important to note that both the paedobaptist (infant baptism) view and the credobaptist (believer’s baptism) view believe that baptism is a command from God. When we engage in either practice without the utmost conviction that it is what God has commanded in Scripture, we put words in God’s mouth which is blasphemous. We must derive all teachings from Scripture and study them earnestly rather than haphazardly holding to a teaching because it is the tradition of our denomination or family. Regardless of where you fall on this issue, I pray that this article leads a greater understanding and more importantly a greater love for one another. We must recognize that despite our slight difference in teaching, we are both children of God.
I believe that the best way to begin explaining why I affirm believer’s baptism is to show why I do not affirm infant baptism. Before I begin, I want to state something that both sides of this argument can agree on: baptism does not save you. This is a clear teaching in Scripture that is fundamental to understanding salvation and baptism.
Baptism = Circumcision
Paedobaptists will often equate baptism to circumcision in the Old Testament and propose that, like circumcision, baptism is a sign of God’s covenant. We see in Romans 4:11 that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith.” Scripture is clear that circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant, while baptism is never called a sign of the New Covenant. Scripture tells us what God’s sign of the New Covenant is in Ephesians 1:13-14: “In Him you also – when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you also believed – were sealed in Him with the promised Holy Spirit.” God seals His people with the Holy Spirit after their belief in Christ (also see Eph 4:30 and 2 Cor. 1:22). To say that baptism is the sign or seal of God’s covenant is to contradict Scripture. Circumcision and baptism are mentioned many times in Scripture, but no verse ever makes a one-to-one comparison between the two. The Israelites’ sign was circumcision but as those under the New Covenant, ours is the Holy Spirit.
Household baptisms are another prominent argument for infant baptism. The book of Acts is most referred to when speaking of household baptisms because it accounts for the household baptisms of Cornelius (Acts 10:24-48), Lydia (Acts 16:11-15), and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-34). Many people who hold to infant baptism will say that they cannot prove that there were infants in these household baptisms. Nonetheless, they argue, based upon the silence of Scripture, that “household” includes infants. In each of the accounts of household baptisms, Luke emphasizes that God’s word was taught. This indicates that people heard and comprehended the gospel message. In the stories of both Cornelius and Lydia, there is mention of the Holy Spirit moving among the people and drawing them to God.
Finally, in every passage mentioned above there is an account of baptism. This is not an uncommon procession throughout Scripture. In most occasions of salvation recorded in Scripture, it is noted that people heard the word of God preached, understood it, repented of their sins, and rejoiced over their baptism. An infant is incapable to do any of those. We must remember that Scripture teaches that belief must precede baptism (Mk. 16:16, Acts 8:37, Rom. 10:10-11, 1 Cor. 1:21, and Eph. 1:21).
One of the greatest arguments for believer’s baptism is the story of Jesus’ own baptism. It is mentioned in all four of the Gospel’s and is detailed in Matthew 3. Matthew 3:14-15 says,
But John tried to stop Him [from being baptized] saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John allowed him to be baptized.
What is the significance of Jesus being baptized? There are many significant parts to the baptism of Jesus, but Jesus only mentioned one – to show the way we are to fulfill righteousness. Christ, at that moment, identified with sinners. His own baptism symbolized the sinner’s own baptism into the fulfillment of righteousness. Acts 2:37-38;41 says,
Now when they [the crowds] heard this [the Gospel], they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do now?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’ … So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
These verses reveal a brief look at Pentecost. In these three verses, we see some very essential truths regarding salvation. First, we see that after hearing the Gospel, people were pierced to the heart. Peter responded by telling them to repent of their sins so that they may have forgiveness of their sins. After they repented, he baptized them. Secondly, we see that the promise of salvation is offered to them and their children. This does not mean that their children had to be baptized for this promise to be fulfilled. Peter is stating that the Gospel is open to everyone. It is not just reserved for certain people but it is a promise given to all if they repent. Thirdly, after Peter had told them to repent, Scripture tells us that those who had received his word were baptized. Here we see that the act of baptism is reserved only for those who were pierced to the heart, repented, and received the Holy Spirit. Luke, the writer of Acts, was very clear about this. Believers are expected to, by the power of the Spirit, rid themselves of their old nature and put on their new found identity in Christ. Baptism is a public declaration of this new identity. In order words, it is a outer expression of an inward reality. Through baptism, we publicly declare that we are a new creation in Christ and that we have passed from death to life, just as Christ has done.