This morning, we as a congregation are experiencing the great joy of a baptismal service. We have already rejoiced at how God has worked in lives as we have heard the testimonies. God is alive and at work in people, at work among us, changing and regenerating and sanctifying.
As we baptize those who have come for baptism today, what exactly is it that we are doing? We have been studying our Confession of Faith for the last few weeks and come today to the article which speaks about baptism. We know that there are many beliefs regarding baptism which various church bodies practise. What does our church teach?
Our belief regarding baptism has arisen as our forefathers have studied the Scriptures and have interpreted what they understood them to be saying. One of the earliest formulations of what we believe was written in the early 1500's. This confession is called the Schleitheim confession and reads as follows:"Baptism shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and the amendment of life and who believe truly that their sins are taken away through Christ, and to all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with him in death so that they might rise with Him..." This confession provides a background of our understanding of the scriptures teaching regarding baptism.
When the Mennonite Brethren church was formed on January 6,1860 the document which was written at that time says,"We confess a baptism on faith, as a seal of faith; not on a memorized faith, as is the practise but on a genuine, living faith effected by the Spirit of God."
Today our MB Confession of Faith says: "We believe that Christians should obey their Lord's command to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To qualify for baptism, one must repent of sin and trust Jesus Christ as personal Saviour and Lord. We practise water baptism of the believer by immersion.
Baptism symbolizes death to sin and resurrection to the new life in Christ and the receipt of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a public commitment to discipleship. At baptism the believer enters into the full fellowship and work of the church. Local congregations may receive into fellowship those who have been baptized by another mode on their confession of faith."
Let us examine this statement which declares what we believe regarding baptism.
We believe baptism is:
I. A Step of Obedience, Matt.28:19
When people come for baptism it should not be a matter of church tradition. It should not be due primarily to parental wishes and it should not be done as a response to a state law. Baptism should be done freely upon personal conviction as an act of obedience to Christ.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus was baptized(Matt. 3:14-16) and that the early disciples were baptized and baptized others(John 3:22-26;4:1,2) during the time of the ministry of Jesus. When Jesus left this earth and sent the Holy Spirit to be with the disciples, the first church baptized those who came to join their number.(Acts 2:38ff.) The precedence set by Jesus and the first followers of Jesus was to practise baptism.
But we need to note that they did so as an act of obedience. Jesus taught by his example and practise that baptism was important. When he left, he commanded the disciples that this is what they should do. Matthew 28:19,20 "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."
It is in obedience to this command that a person should be baptized. We believe that baptism is an act of obedience to Christ. When we heard the testimonies we heard more than one person express this conviction, as they did they were in agreement with our Confession of Faith.
II. Upon Confession of Faith, Rom. 6:3-5
We believe further that as an act of obedience it should be done by those who can consciously make the choice of faith in Christ. Baptism is to be upon confession of faith.
A. This is the New Testament Pattern
The New Testament pattern of baptism is that those who had faith in Christ gave sign of that faith through baptism. In Acts 2:38 when the Spirit came upon the believers, Peter preached the first sermon and told the people about Jesus and what they had done to Jesus. Upon hearing this they asked,"what shall we do?" Peter responded by saying, "Repent and be baptized, 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 2:38)
What we see here is the first example of what follows as the New Testament pattern. First there is faith and then there is baptism as a sign of that faith.
Later, when Philip met the Ethiopian Eunuch, the eunuch came to understand and believe the gospel message, and then he was baptized.
When Paul, then called Saul, was walking on the road to Damascus, he met Jesus and a few days after he had believed he was baptized.
In the New Testament, we always find that baptism is given to those who have first believed. It is always upon confession of faith.
B. The New Testament Teaching
The New Testament teaches why this must be so. It is not baptism that saves but rather faith in Christ.
We have the same teaching in so many places in the Bible that it is inescapable. Acts 3:19 teaches that repentance is the way to faith, not baptism. Ephesians 2:8 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith."It is the work of God accepted by faith that results in a person's salvation. Baptism symbolizes what has taken place. So we believe in baptism upon confession of faith.
III. By Immersion, Col. 2:12
We also practise baptism by immersion. There are several different modes of baptism used in different groups that bring out different aspects of the meaning of baptism.
Some churches practise pouring of water. This is a good symbol of the cleansing that Christ has brought about by his blood. It also is a picture of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5,6 says,"he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour."
Some practise sprinkling. In the Old Testament sprinkling of blood was used to symbolize a sacrificial cleansing. Leviticus 4:5,6" Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull's blood into the tent of meeting. He is to dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it seven times..." Water was also used to symbolize cleansing in the Old Testament. Numbers 8:7"To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them." This imagery is taken up in the New Testament to picture the sprinkling of Jesus blood to cleanse us from sin, I Peter 1:2 "who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of Holy Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood." The picture of Christ's cleansing is symbolized with reference to water. Hebrews 10:22,"let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."
We do not practise these modes of baptism, although we accept anyone who has been baptized in this way upon confession of faith. We practise baptism by immersion because we believe that it best symbolizes the death to sin and resurrection to life pictured in Romans 6:1-6 and Col.2:12,13. Colossians 2:12 says,"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."
We believe in baptism by immersion.
Let us review what we have said so far. We believe in baptism as an act of obedience to Christ upon confession of faith by immersion. But what does baptism mean? Someone has said,"a picture is worth a thousand words." We believe that baptism is a picture of a number of important truths. Baptism is a symbol of:
A. New Life, Rom.6:4
A new life in Christ.
When the new hospital was dedicated, one of the symbols of the possession of a new thing was the giving of a key. In a similar way, baptism is a symbol which pictures the salvation we now possess in Christ.
As already mentioned, in baptism the symbol of immersion pictures that we have died to sin, died in Christ. The "coming out of the water" symbolizes the new life in Christ which we have been given. When a person is baptized, that person is saying to all who observe the baptism, "I am thankful that I have received a new life in Christ.
Romans 6:4 indicates,"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."
You who are being baptized today are expressing a symbol which says, I have received new life in Christ.
B. Commitment, Gal.3:27
When a person signs a document such as a mortgage, it means that they are making a commitment to what is written on that document. The signature is a symbol of that commitment.
In a similar way, baptism is the signature of the person being baptized saying in picture language, "I am making a commitment to Jesus Christ."
Galatians 3:27 "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."
It is a symbol of the commitment of identification with Christ; of the commitment of allegiance to Christ and of the commitment to following Christ in discipleship.
For those of you being baptized today, baptism is a way of declaring that this is your commitment.
C. Receipt of the Spirit, Acts 2:38
When we purchase a new product, it usually carries a guarantee with it. That guarantee promises that we have a good quality product.
With salvation, the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that we have salvation. The Holy Spirit is the seal of our salvation. He is the one who works in us assuring us of our acceptance with God. Baptism symbolizes that we have received the Holy Spirit.
The Bible teaches that we receive the Spirit of God by faith in Jesus. Romans 8:9,"if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ."
Every believer has the Holy Spirit. You who are being baptized are declaring in baptism that you have received the Spirit.
D. Identification, Gal.3:27
In any sport,putting on a team uniform identifies you as a member of the team. Similarly, baptism is a symbol of identification with Christ and with his body.
In baptism you are saying to the world, "I belong to Jesus Christ, I wear the uniform of the `Jesus team.'"
2.With Christ's body
It is also an identification with the body of Christ. Being a Christian means being a part of Christ's body. In the New Testament there is no such thing as a Christian not identified with a local church. We believe that when a person is baptized, that person should also become a part of a local church. Therefore, today, you will also take up the commitment of church membership as an expression of your identification with Christ's body.
This then is what we believe about baptism, it is an act of obedience to Christ upon confession of faith by immersion which symbolizes the new life in Christ, commitment to Christ, the receipt of the Holy Spirit and identification with Christ and his body.
This is what those of you who are being baptized are saying this morning. I want to tell you that I rejoice with you as express, in baptism, this commitment and identification and wish you God's blessing as you continue to walk with Him.