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First Thoughts

Why Do Baptists Baptize? (Part 2)

Baptists are thankful for our rich and deep heritage. But sometimes, even in Baptist churches, people can be confused as to why we baptize. In this post, I am describing three reasons that people often think are the reasons that Baptists baptize but are actually not.

1. Not Because Baptism Is Required for Salvation

 This is a vitally important clarification to make. Baptists obviously think that baptism is very important; it’s in our name, after all. However, we want to be crystal clear that we do not believe that baptism is required for salvation. Sadly, many even in Baptist churches are confused about this. I do not think it’s because they were directly taught it, but somehow they have picked up this doctrinal confusion. I have interacted with many children who have expressed a desire for baptism, and when I ask them why they want to be baptized, they respond, “to get saved.” Baptism is a command of Christ (Matthew 28:19) and the Apostles (Acts 2:38), but it is not required for salvation. Baptists, like all good Protestants, believe the Bible teaches that justification is by faith alone and not by works (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

Some broadly “Christian” groups do believe that baptism is required for salvation (or is at least part of salvation). In reference to infants, Roman Catholics believe that baptism takes away original sin and begins the process of infusing saving grace. Lutherans believe in what is called baptismal regeneration. They believe that in the act of baptizing the infant, they are regenerated or made spiritually alive. Disciples of Christ, or the so-called Christian Church, practice adult baptism of believers, but they teach that it is necessary for salvation.

Despite the beliefs of some Christians, the Bible does not teach that baptism is required for salvation. For instance, think of Jesus’s words to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:42-43, “And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” It would have been good and right for this new disciple to get baptized if he lived long enough to do so. But even though he died right then on the cross, Jesus promised that he would receive eternal life after his true profession of saving faith. Here we see that baptism was not necessary for salvation. Or think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” If baptism was necessary for salvation, then Christ should have sent the Apostle Paul to baptize. But it wasn’t part of Paul’s mission because baptism is not required for salvation.

 2. Not Because We Are Baptists

 This reason might surprise some people. Let me explain. Every Christian group (except for the Salvation Army and the Quakers) believes in baptism. So every Christian group practices baptism in some form. Some groups baptize infants, such as Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, and Methodists. As Baptists, we do not recognize their practice as true, biblical baptism because they have a different meaning and mode of baptism. Nevertheless, these groups believe they are obeying Christ’s command and practicing the ordinance of baptism.

Some might say, well, none of those groups baptize by immersion, which is true. But even practicing baptism by immersion is not unique to Baptists. The Mormons also practice baptism by immersion. Even the Eastern Orthodox baptize babies by immersion. So even baptizing by immersion is not what makes Baptists distinct. Many non-denominational churches, such as “Bible” churches and “Community” churches, also only practice the baptism of believers by immersion. But they still aren’t “Baptist” churches, not technically speaking. They have some of our Baptist distinctives, but not all of them. We do not baptize because we are Baptists, or at least our particular view of baptism is not unique to being a Baptist. Baptism of only believers and only by immersion is what the Bible teaches, and it’s what we practice, but other Christian groups also practice the same thing. So being a Baptist is not the reason why we baptize.

 3. Not Because Jesus Was Baptized

 This reason exposes another common misconception among Baptists. Baptists do not baptize because they are following the example of Jesus getting baptized. We do baptize because we are following the command of Jesus, but not his example, nor that of John the Baptist. John’s baptism was not Christian baptism but a Jewish baptism. It was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins for Jews or Jewish converts (Mark 1:4). The Apostle Paul explained this difference in Acts 19:1-6 when he was helping some of John’s disciples understand why they did not have the Holy Spirit. Surely this was a unique time in salvation history, but it clearly highlights that there was a difference. Jesus underwent John’s baptism “to fulfill all righteousness” and as a representative of the nation of Israel (Matthew 3:15). We are baptized to symbolize the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, which had not yet happened at that point in salvation history. Christian baptism is also in the name of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

Displaying the Gospel

These three reasons are not the reasons that Baptists baptize. Sometimes Baptists have been confused about these reasons themselves, but we have other reasons from the Bible for our practice of baptism, such as the reasons we looked at in the last post.

The center of our practice of baptism is to visibly display the gospel. We preach the gospel in our sermons, we sing the gospel in our songs, we read the gospel in our scriptures, we pray the gospel in our prayers, and we display the gospel in the ordinances of baptism and communion. May God grant us many opportunities to display the gospel in baptism because he is saving souls here in Jacksonville through our church.

Richard Lucas (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Pastor of Teaching and He is the co-editor of Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture.

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