I have had several conversations with some of my Christian friends over the issue of the mode and candidates for baptism. And while this topic tends to divide us on doctrine it is nevertheless a crucial and important topic to have. As I heard one theologian put it: “when doctrine divides the worst thing to do is to say nothing.” So here are some reasons why I believe the proper mode of baptism should be immersion, and the proper candidates should be those who can believe and repent (i.e. not babies or children):
- The original word “baptism” comes from the Greek baptizo which literally means to “immerse” or “dip (see A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer. 2nd ed. 130).”
- In John 3:23 we are told that John the Baptist was baptizing near Salim “because water was plentiful there.” There is no need for a large quantity of water if anything other than immersion is to be understood.
- In Acts 8:38-39 we are told that Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch went “down into the water…and they came up out of the water.” This seems to indicate that Phillip Immersed the Eunuch, rather than sprinkling or pouring.
- The picture baptism symbolizes in Romans 6:2-4 is one that can only make sense with immersion in view. According to Romans 6 baptism pictures a death burial and resurrection.When one is immersed into water, and comes up out of the water it pictures Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Sprinkling or pouring cannot picture these symbols.
- In the early church the only mode of baptism was immersion (see The Emergence of the Church, Arthur G. Patzia. 240.)
The Candidate—a Repentant believer
- Baptism is always accompanied with faith and/or repentance (e.g. Acts 2:38; Romans 6:2-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13; 1 Peter 3:21). Therefore, one would have to have the ability to place their trust in Christ and understand that they need to turn from their sin—babies and children are unable to do this.
- Nowhere in the NT do we find children being baptized. Therefore, the silence of such examples leads one to conclude that infants are not required to be baptized.
- Jesus says in Matthew 19:14 that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children. Thus, until they reach an age of accountability it seems appropriate to conclude that Children are under the grace of God.
Smaller churches today struggle to keep young families in the church, because they lack many of the resources and programs that larger churches can offer. As a result, many end up leaving the smaller congregation for a bigger one, for the purpose of getting their kids in a more effective ministry to meet the needs of their children. Unfortunately, I have experienced this situation first hand in the churches I have served in, and have sought to encourage families to re-consider leaving simply on the basis of what other churches have to “offer.” While there is nothing intrinsically wrong about seeking other churches that may meet the needs of their children more effectively (I am thankful they are still in the church!), I would caution leaving a particular congregation solely on these grounds. If you are thinking about leaving your church because another church has more to offer your kids, let me offer four points to consider:
- No matter the vibrancy and health of a church youth program, nothing will affect and transform your children’s life more than the Parent. The Bible emphasizes greatly the important role of the parents to their children. Deuteronomy 6:1 and following speaks of the parents as the primary teachers and disciplers of their children. Proverbs for example, is an entire book where a father seeks to pass on godly principles to his son. Paul in Ephesians 6:1-4 admonishes dads to “instruct their children in the way of the Lord.” Titus 2:4 speaks of the importance of the mom loving her kids. One of the major confusions in the church today is that the church is the primary spiritual leaders for children. But in actuality the church is simply the equippers (see Ephesians 4), and supplemental to the parents, so they can train their children well. The parents are the primary spiritual leaders of children.
- If the parents are not 100% devoted to the local church, and committed to serving the church as a main priority, it doesn’t matter how good of a youth group you may find—he will most likely leave the church after he is out of the home. One article showed that “82% of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home attached great importance to their beliefs. It also found that children who were active in their congregations while growing up tended to be religiously active as young adults. It was parents engaging with their children about their faith that made the difference.” Thus, a self-examination of the parent’s devotion to Christ is so important. You must ask the question: If the kids were not in the picture would this still be a major concern—would we still have a hunger and desire to be committed to Christ and his church? I believe if the parent’s devotion to Christ is primary then your children will follow. Discipleship is caught more than taught.
- Youth DO need good and godly peers to surround themselves with. While I do believe youth programs are not necessary for kids to grow in their Christian faith, I do believe surrounding themselves with Christian influences is necessary. Paul says “bad company corrupts good character.” So, youth do need Christian friends and acquaintances. However, if kids have Godly parents who exemplify and emphasize holiness, and they are involved in a church where the people surround them with love and support, I truly believe this is a sufficient influence for their Christian development. Yes, Christian peers of the same age are beneficial (and they seem to naturally come given time), but what is necessary is the example of godly parents, a Godly church, and peers to show youth how to live.
- As long as the parents are devoted to a Bible-believing, God-honoring, Christ-exalting local church, serving on a regular basis, but find one with a youth program they feel is more beneficial to the growth and spiritual development for their children, then they should have their pastor(s) full blessing to go to that church (not that you need their blessing!). While, the selfish part of us as pastors would obviously desire that each family remain in our church, we ultimately should long for the spiritual growth of the family. For example, I understand that at our current stage as a church we are unable to provide families with some of the options other churches can. I am confident that as we grow numerically we will be able to offer more opportunities for our kids, but as of now we simply do the best we can with the resources we have. So, if a family prayerfully decides to devote to another local church in order to help their kids grow in their Christian walk, then by all means they should do so. Pastors should be 100% on their side, praying for God to use whatever church they connect with to assist them in training their kids in the instruction of the Lord.
How do you feel about these four points? What would you add or take away?