Baptism and the Church

Community Christian Church

Baptism – A Church Position Paper

Author: S. Ayers Created: 1st April 1997 Last Updated: 11th August 1997

Introduction

This document has been written to outline the Community Christian Church’s agreed position on baptism. It follows discussion of the issues in our Adult Sunday School Church Basics series during 1996 and at the full church’s AwayDay in June 1997. It is intended to act as a framework in which the church can as a whole view Christian baptism. It is by no means intended to provide a comprehensive doctrinal statement, nor to act as a creed against which congregational membership should be judged!

The document is designed to help new and existing members of the congregation understand where the church stands. It is emphasised that the church contains and welcomes Christians of both Believers and Paedo-Baptists persuasion. As of today, the majority of the congregation hold to the former view.

The Biblical Position

The New Testament position on water baptism is relatively clear. Baptism appears in the overwhelming number of cases to be intimately linked with belief in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Examples of this are numerous e.g. Acts 2v38, Acts 8v12. In summary, it appears the NT knows nothing of an unbaptised Christian. Similarly, it is recognised there is only one baptism: Ephesians 4v5.

Baptism has many sides to it including confession of faith, union with Christ – into his death, living for Christ, and being linked to him for the future. It is also a link between water and Spirit baptism.

While the overwhelming majority of baptism references (both in Acts and the Epistles) link the act to

the response of an individual, there are some examples which refer to households or families e.g. Acts 16v15, 33. Potentially, these incidents could have included the baptism of infants.

The mode of baptism is not specified. We can imagine a range of activities, from full immersion (in a river, Matt 3v13, Acts 16v15), through to in-doors “sprinkling” (Acts 9v18, 16v33). It would appear the act of baptism was more important to the apostles, and the NT writers, than the mode.

The Christian Church’s Response

Infant Baptism

Historically, the church from at least the second century has baptised children and babies. This approach is known as paedo (i.e. infant) baptism. This is the position today in all Catholic, Orthodox and many Protestant churches, including the Anglican Church of England, Methodists and Presbyterians. This position is supported by many evangelical members of Protestant denominations (past and present), including such well-known figures as Luther, Wesley, John Newton, John Stott and Michael Green.

Evangelical Anglicans and others would generally see baptism as the equivalent to OT circumcision. This being instrumental in including the child in the Kingdom of God, but requiring a later individual response from the person. (This is recognised at confirmation, where the candidate ‘confirms’ promises previous made on their behalf by others). Consequently, continuity between the Old and New Testaments ‘sacraments’ of circumcision and baptism is stressed.

Believer’s Baptism

Alternatively, since the Reformation, there have been some Protestant churches, probably the best known being the Baptism denomination, who have regarded NT baptism as being closely linked to an individual’s faith. Most new churches, including the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have adopted the position of ‘Believer’s Baptism’. Among the best known ‘baptists’ are William Carey, Spurgeon, and Billy Graham.

Few ‘baptist’ churches actually practise baptism immediately following conversion, as we see in the NT. Instead they prefer a period of instruction on Christian basics. Stress is also laid on the “witnessing” aspect of the ceremony as opposed to initiation into the church.

Baptists do not see a link between OT male circumcision and NT universal baptism, nor do they seek to separate grace and faith. From this viewpoint baptism of young children is not possible. Generally, however, some form of ‘thanksgiving’ and welcoming children into the church is, however, practised. (Nobody is suggesting that the parents of Baptists treat there children any differently than non-Baptists!)

The Christian Community Church Position

We stress that baptism is to do with entry of the individual into the church. It symbolises union with Christ and his death. All Christians should be baptised.

When to Baptise

There is no biblical evidence that the NT church imposed any significant delay between conversion and baptism. Indeed, on some occasions, the church erred on the side of acceptance e.g. Simon Magnus in Acts. Consequently, we are ready to encourage new converts from a pagan background to be baptised.

How to Baptise

Baptists and Paedo-baptists alike generally prefer full immersion. It is, however, equally valid to ‘sprinkle’ in the presence of church. Indeed, in certain cases this is preferable e.g. hydrophobia or long term illness. We would stress that the mode of baptism is secondary to the act itself.

The emphasis on a believer’s “testimony”, together with a special baptismal event, common in our Free Church environment, has no direct biblical warrant – nor is it always helpful. We rejoice in the symbolism of baptism, but wish to ensure ceremony or tradition does not inhibit or inappropriately influence unbaptised believers.

Where to Baptise

We would recommend that the most appropriate place to baptise is in presence of the church congregation. This represents commitment from the individual to the church of Christ (or this local expression of it) and commitment from the church in welcoming the individual into the Kingdom.

Typically we would expect a number of the members of the congregation to be involved in the ceremony, but lay no emphasis on who should actually baptise.

Who to Baptise

While the majority of the congregation regard Believer’s baptism as the correct practise, on the issue of paedo (child) baptism, we agree to disagree.

The church will support a family or an individual’s decision. It is stressed, however, that infant baptism will be undertaken within the context of a family or an individual who are committed to the church, and who are fully convinced of the doctrine of paedo-baptism. The overriding principle adopted here is unity and commitment one to another in the church. The church will then accept the responsibility of ensuring the child is given a subsequent opportunity to confirm the vows made on their behalf.

It is not felt to be appropriate to indiscriminately invite baptism for families in the community. A thanksgiving service and appropriate preparation will, however, be offered

.References

To assist further understanding of the issues, read around some of the NT verses about baptism, then think about the case studies.

Matthew 28v19, Acts 2v38, Acts 8v12, Acts 8v35-38, Acts 9v17-18, Acts 10v44-48 and 11v15-18,

Acts 16v13-15, Acts 16v30-33, Acts 18v8, Acts 19v4-6, Romans 6v3-4, 1 Corinthians 12v13, Gal 3v26-29, Ephesians 4v5, Colossians 2v12, 1 Peter 3v21.

Case Studies

1. An adult becomes a Christian from a pagan background. The person has not been Christened. How can the churches approach the individual about baptism?

2. A Christian Young Adult is brought up in Christian baptist family. The person asks for baptism because he or she would like to take communion. How should this be handled?

3. An adult, christened as baby, convinced in their own mind they have been baptised, wishes to join the church. Some in the church who believe strongly in believers baptism. What are the options open to the church in dealing with this situation? How might the individual respond to pressure to be (re-) baptised?

4. An adult, having been christened as baby, from a nominal background, becomes a Christian. What options are available to the church in talking to the individual?

5. A member of church wishes to have their young child or baby baptised. Why might they want this?

6. Some churches typically include a “testimony” during the baptismal services. Is this necessary? What should baptism stress?

7. Some churches stress full emersion as the best way of baptism. Why is this and how might this influence some people?

 

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