For more than 1500 years Christians have been using the Nicene Creed in their worship. Towards the end, it says this. I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. That was alright in the Fifth Century because at that time there was only one church, the catholic church (catholic meaning all-embracing) and that was centred on Rome. And there was only one pattern of baptism practised anywhere – the baptism of infants by sprinkling.
But nowadays there are literally thousands of branches of the one church. And on top of that we Baptists have a problem because the pattern of baptism we practise is not the baptism of infants but the baptism of believers. So here’s the question: “One church, one baptism: but which church, which baptism?” Let’s start for this week by focussing on just one issue – what do we believe about baptism? For Baptist Christians like us, believer’s baptism can be summed up like this.
“Baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality”
Baptism is like a wedding ring; they both symbolize things that have happened. A wedding ring symbolizes a marriage which has taken place. Baptism symbolizes salvation which has been received. Wearing a wedding ring does not make you married any more than being baptized makes you saved. But even nowadays if a woman is not wearing a wedding ring you can almost always assume that they aren’t married. So it was in New Testament times. If a person had not been baptized, you could reliably assume that he or she was not a believer.
Baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality =
SIGN OF BECOMING A CHRISTIAN
Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
The NT way of showing that you want to become a disciple of Jesus is to be baptised.
Acts 8:36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptised?”…. 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him.
PAUL TO CROWD IN JERUSALEM: ACTS 22:12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him .
14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
Baptism is a sign of salvation – in fact it represents the two sides of salvation – God’s side, and man’s side.
MAN’S SIDE OF SALVATION
Mark 1:4 And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River.
Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women.
Acts 16:15 When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.”
Acts 16:31 Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved,” ….. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptised.
Acts 18:8 Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised.
GOD’S SIDE OF SALVATION
FORGIVENESS AND CLEANSING
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, 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.
Acts 22:16 (Risen Christ’s words to Saul on the Damascus Road) 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
UNITED WITH CHRIST
Baptised INTO Christ – “In Christ” sharing all the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection life, God’s gift of eternal life to all who believe.
Romans 6:3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Galatians 3:27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
THE GIFT OF THE SPIRIT
It is the Holy Spirit, the Helper, God living inside us, who unites us to Christ and brings us all the blessings of salvation.
Matthew 3:11 “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, 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.
47 “Can anyone keep these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Man’s side of salvation – repentance, faith
and God’s side of salvation – forgiveness and cleansing, union with Christ and the free gift of eternal life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But then there is a third side to salvation (one we often neglect) and a third side to baptism:-
SIGN OF JOINING THE CHURCH
Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
So baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality, God’s gifts of forgiveness and new life and the Holy Spirit, received by repentance and faith, which at the same time bring a person into God’s forever family, the church.
SO IN THE NICENE CREED WE SAY: I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins
One church. But which church? And one baptism? But which baptism? When we recall that none of the churches who agreed that Nicene creed in 5th century were “Baptist” churches – all of those churches practised infant baptism and none practised believer’s baptism! None at all.
What does the Bible say about INFANT BAPTISM?
Nothing! Some denominations – RC, Anglican, Methodist, URC, practise infant baptism. They say that infant baptism is a declaration of God’s promises – so it is a symbol of God’s side of salvation. Then years later they have a service of confirmation, or reception into membership, where the person declares their repentance and confession. So when a person who has been baptised as an infant becomes a Christian in later life, these denominations will NOT baptise them again as a believer. They believe that their combination of “infant baptism plus confirmation” is equivalent to NT baptism of believers. Is that valid? I am not persuaded that it is. I don’t think it is Biblical to separate God’s side of salvation and man’s side of salvation in that kind of way.
Baptism in NT is a sign of an inward change which has already taken place. It does declare God’s promises of salvation. But baptism in NT, and in church history for the first hundred years at least, is only ever given to those who show in their lives the conditions for man’s side of salvation – sincere repentance and saving faith. Baptism is for believers, not babies. Indeed I heard of a Church of England Vicar who would ask his congregation, “can you remember your baptism?” If a person was too young to remember their baptism they could not have shown sincere repentance and saving faith – and so he offer’s his Anglican congregation believer’s baptism.
Does a person have to be baptised before they can be saved. Some people think so, especially because of the words of Jesus in Mark 16:16.
Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
In fact, read it carefully and this passage does not say you HAVE to be baptised in order to be saved. But it does imply that baptism is the normal sign that a personal has been saved. Unless there is a very good reason why not, the NT expects that a Christian WILL be baptised.
Baptism is a SIGN of salvation. Baptism does not BRING salvation. We do not believer that a person is saved at the moment they are baptised. We do not believe in “baptismal regeneration”. A person is saved at the moment that they first truly believe. But the New Testament pattern is that somebody will demonstrate that saving faith by being baptised at the earliest opportunity.
Some time during the first century that practice was modified, when the church discovered that too many baptised people were turning away from Christ. So they introduced baptism preparation classes, to make sure that those who were baptised really did understand what baptism was all about and so to try to make sure that all who were baptised were truly born-again believers. But baptism was always only for people who believed in Jesus for themselves! And the New Testament pattern is always SUBSEQUENCE. People made a confession of Christian faith and THEN were baptised at a later stage. An outward sign of an inward reality – a salvation which had ALREADY been received, a new life which had ALREADY begun.
So what do we say to somebody who has been baptised as an infant in another tradition, then confirmed or received into membership in another tradition? I don’t think the Bible lets us recognise as baptism an act where the person being baptised is not capable of witnessing to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, do we then say to such a person that they MUST be baptised as a believer? I don’t think we should say that either. Although believer’s baptism was the norm in the New Testament, I don’t believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Normal – but not essential. So what do we say if a believer with a background in another denomination asks, “Why SHOULD I be baptised?
Baptism, like communion, is an ordinance – a ritual ordained by Christ Himself for our benefit. They are both “means of grace” – ways that God promises to bless us. They are also expressions of obedience “do this in remembrance of me”, “repent and be baptised”. Can a person be Christian without ever taking communion? Yes, but they miss out if they do! Can a person be a Christian without being baptised as a believer? Yes, of course they can, and the vast majority of Christians throughout church history have done so because they belonged to churches which didn’t practise believer’s baptism. So I will never tell a brother or sister in Christ, you MUST be baptised. But I will share with them what the Bible teaches about baptism. That baptism is the outward sign of an inward reality. If a person has experienced the inward reality, WHY NOT have the outward sign? Remember Philip and the Ethiopian official. As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the official said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptised?”
Does a person have to be baptised to be saved? No. But it is always very interesting when I discuss this question with Christians and especially clergy from other denominations. Different churches may disagree about what form baptism should take – but all the denominations agree that a person who is a Christian SHOULD show that they have accepted Christ as Saviour by being baptised. Baptism is not an option for Christians – baptism is an obligation.
Or so it has been for around 1950 years of the church’s existence. But something strange has been happening in churches in recent years. It isn’t true around the world, but only in the Western world a new kind of Christian has emerged – a Christian who professes faith in Jesus Christ but who is not baptised either as a believer or as an infant. In the 30 years or so, some churches have become so worried about scaring away new Christians that they have stopped making demands of their new Christians. Some Churches have shown so much understanding and consideration for new Christians that they have not expected them to attend church regularly. And some churches have stopped demanding that a new Christian shows their saving faith by being baptised. Only in the individualistic West – only over the last few decades, new Christians have been given the impression that baptism is optional. But I want to be very clear, in the New Testament and in the history of the church, baptism is not an option! It is God’s way for Christians to show they are saved.
The story is told about the baptism of King Aengus by St. Patrick in the middle of the fifth century. Sometime during the rite, St. Patrick leaned on his sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the king’s foot. After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down at all the blood, realized what he had done, and begged the king’s forgiveness.
“Why did you suffer this pain in silence?” the Saint wanted to know.
The king replied, “I just thought it was part of the ritual.”
Being baptised is God’s way of showing we are saved. I believe many Christians are missing out on the fullness of the blessings of salvation because they are refusing to be baptised. A public confession of faith may be costly, it may seem embarrassing and difficult especially if your friends and family are not Christians and wouldn’t understand. But if a person doesn’t feel that all the wonderful blessings of salvation are worth a little difficulty, then they really haven’t begun to experience the joy of true salvation!