Believer’s Baptism

G. B. Fyfe, London

Part 1 of 7 of the series The Assembly - its Fellowship and Functions

The intention in this series of articles is to deal with the practical side of things. As an introductory paper, therefore, we have decided to write on the obligation laid upon every true believer to obey the command of the Lord Jesus to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Looking at our subject in general, as presented in the Scriptures, we discover that baptism as an ordinance is commanded and commissioned by the Lord Himself in the Gospels. It is practised by the evangelists, whose activities are recorded in the book of the Acts. It is expounded doctrinally by the apostles in the epistles of the New Testament.

We note, moreover, that believer's baptism was not mentioned until after the resurrection of the Lord, whereas the Lord's Supper was instituted prior to His death. This is significant, for baptism represents not Christ's death/or us, but our death zoith Him.

In the closing passage in Matthew's Gospel, the disciples of the Lord are commissioned by Him not only to preach the Gospel but to baptize the converts. Conversely, at the end of Mark's Gospel, those who believe the message are commanded by the Lord to submit to the ordinance of baptism. Thus, the respective responsibilities of both evangelist and convert are clearly defined.

Scripture, likewise, leaves us in no doubt as to the candidates for baptism. Only true believers qualify - but all true believers have an obligation to be baptized. Many instances of baptism are referred to in the Acts, and indeed such a person as an unbaptized Christian is never envisaged in the Scriptures. At this point, dear reader, may we ask - Have you been baptized? If not, why not? In the adapted words of another "What doth hinder you to be baptized?".

We have briefly remarked upon:

The Mandate for Baptism. This was given personally and directly by the Lord Himself after His resurrection and just before His ascension to His Father in heaven. Divine authority for believer's baptism was thus announced by Christ before He left this world.

The Mode of Baptism. A few comments upon the mode of baptism may not be altogether superfluous here. We are sometimes in danger of taking for granted that all Christians are familiar with those basic truths which many of us were so diligently taught when young in the faith! The mode of baptism has formed an unnecessary subject of controversy for many years. Yet Scripture could scarcely be more explicit as to the only authentic mode of Christian baptism. The term "baptism" is the transliteration (not the translation) of a Greek word which, in its verbal form, means "to dip, or plunge" - as one would dip a garment in a dyeing solution, until every part of it is immersed in the liquid. So baptism signifies immersion and submersion in, and then emergence from a watery grave.

The mode of baptism (apart from the etymological significance of the word) is graphically described in the Bible. Observe how emphatic the narrative is in Acts 8. 38-39 on this very point. "They went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water . . .". Believer's baptism is never spoken of as being with water but always in water. The sprinkling of infants, therefore, does not conform to the Scriptural mode or concept of baptism.

The Meaning of Baptism. Paul in Romans 6 sets down a doctrinal exposition of the subject in detail. Essentially, baptism means burial - "buried with him by baptism into death", v. 4; Col. 2. 12. Our "old man" is buried, completely covered, put out of sight, in the symbolic grave of Christ. While baptism, strictly speaking, means burial, the expression nevertheless implies also death (only dead bodies are buried) and resurrection. Thus, baptism is a figure of our death, burial and resurrection with Christ.

Consider now three phrases found in the context of Romans 6.

1. "Baptized into Christ Jesus"', v. 3. In a word, this means that through, baptism we are brought out into the sphere of Christ's authority over us - brought under the Lordship of Christ. He is our new Leader. We must obey and follow Him. Having been transferred out of the Adamic order altogether, we have a place in the new creation, of which Christ is the risen Head.

2.   "Baptized into his death", v. 3. That is to say, we now take the place of being dead to all that Christ died to. Our baptism is not like the baptism practised by John the Baptist - "unto repentance", an acknowledgment that the Jews who submitted to it were deserving of nothing short of death and judgment. Ours is unto Christ's death. This goes beyond John's, for in our baptism we confessed that we died with Christ - taking His death to be our death.

3.    "Buried with him by baptism", v. 4. This phrase indicates (as previously mentioned) that the person is put completely out of sight, entirely covered, as in a grave. But that is not the end of the matter. Baptism connotes more than death and burial with Christ. It is also a figure of resurrection. We have been raised with Christ. Out of the symbolic grave of Christ we too have emerged, having been identified with Him by faith in His death, burial and resurrection. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him", Col. 2. 12.

The Message of Baptism. Our baptism ought to have a moral effect on our lives. It is not only a command to be obeyed, but a new kind of life to be lived. The old life has been repudiated by us, and the old self crucified with Christ; and now having been raised with Him we walk in newness of life -a life animated by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells our mortal bodies and acts in and through our new natures. Paul declared, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me", Gal. 2. 20. Then, by way of exhortation, he wrote to the Colossians, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God", Col. 3. 1. In effect, he appealed to them to live on earth as they would live in heaven! This is the message and moral of baptism, which (like circumcision in the old economy) yields spiritual profit only when we practise its meaning! Can we honestly say that we are true to our baptism?