Baptism is a sacrament
Baptism is a sacrament. That means that it is an “outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace.”
Christ commanded this physical washing with water. He told his apostles, “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20.) This sacrament strengthens our faith: we see how water washes dirt away from the body, and we connect this to our certainty in God’s promise to wash us clean from sin.
Baptism is a covenant sign
The apostle Peter said that baptism corresponds to the salvation of Noah and his family through the floodwaters. (1 Peter 3:21)
As the rainbow is the sign of God’s covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:12), and circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:11), so baptism is the sign of God’s covenant with believers; specifically, His promise to save them (1 Peter 3:21).
The water baptism is understood as a sign of several about our identity and reality in Christ. We are:
- Cleansed of our sins;
- Buried together with Christ;
- Raised together with Christ;
- Indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Debate over infant baptism
Acts 2:38 “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each 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, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
Reformed Christians say that the children of believers are included in the covenant, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, “the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” They will point to 1 Corinthians 7:14 where apostle Paul takes it as a given that the children of a believer are holy. Since the children of believers are already set apart by God, they should therefore receive the sign that they are in the covenant. Reformed Christians see God as the primary actor in baptism; the recipients of His grace are passive, and ought to receive the sacramental sign without delay. In other covenants, God is also the agent, and the recipients are passive. An 8-day-old Israelite child receiving circumcision had no awareness of his sin, nor his inclusion in the covenant that God made with Abraham; nevertheless, he was included in the covenant, and so he ought to receive the sign. This does not mean he was saved by the sign; however, the promise belonged to him.
Reformed Baptists and Remonstrant Christians rather argue that the Bible mandates believing as a prerequisite for baptism, and that infants do not receive an exemption from this mandate. For example, they will point to Apostle Peter’s imperative in Acts 2, “Repent, and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This “believer’s baptism” is an act of man showing something to God. It is some offering to God, or some step of maturity in the faith. There is no biblical evidence for these ideas.
Stronger arguments against the baptism of believer’s children could be found from John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/topics/baptism-membership) or John MacArthur.
A better explanation of baptism than this little introduction could be found from Dr. R.C. Sproul (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/topics/sacraments/?type=Article).
Belgic Confession, Articles 33 and 34 (http://canrc.org/?page=500).
– or –
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 26 and 27 (http://canrc.org/?page=388#Holy%20Baptism).
- Does the physical act of water baptism save a person? If not, does it have any reality other than symbolism? Consider Paul’s indication (Romans 4) that the promise was a reality in Abraham’s life before he was circumcised, and also his word “a seal” corresponding to the circumcision.
- Should the infants of believers be granted the sign of God’s covenant promise while they are yet uninstructed by their parents and unable to make an adult decision, or should they be prevented until they are of age to profess their faith?
- (When/should) a Christian denomination re-baptize someone who was already baptized in one form or another? What is important about the form of baptism? What if the administering elder/pastor wasn’t a true believer? What might be the problem with unrestrained re-baptisms?