WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT BAPTISM
CITY OF GOD CHURCH
Baptism is and has been a central practice in all Christian churches, and this paper will briefly lay out what City of God believes about this issue.
Before beginning, baptism has been a controversial issue throughout the history of Christianity. The controversy hasn't so much surrounded whether to practice baptism. Instead, Christians have disagreed on questions like: When should someone be baptized (as a child or an adult)? How should someone be baptized (immersed or sprinkled)? Is baptism necessary for salvation? Throughout church history, these questions have been debated, and this paper will hopefully layout where City of God stands on these issues.
Why should I be baptized?
This is perhaps the most straightforward question for us to answer. We encourage all believers to be baptized because Jesus commanded it. Jesus himself was baptized (Matt. 3:16) and subsequently commanded his disciples to baptize others as they decided to follow Jesus (Matt. 28:19). Following Peter's first sermon in the book of Acts, 3,000 people chose to follow Christ, and they were immediately baptized (Ac. 2:41; cf. Ac. 8:12, 13; 8:36; 9:18). It is the clear teaching of the New Testament that once someone becomes a Christian, they are baptized in water almost immediately. Simply put, the idea of an unbaptized Christian would have been a foreign concept to the earliest Christians.
The teaching of Jesus and the example of the early church lay a clear foundation. Baptism was taught and practiced by all Christians, and its use was expected to continue until Jesus' return. Maybe the more practical question is, what difference does baptism make in a person's life? What is the significance that the New Testament gives to this practice?
Probably the clearest explanation of the meaning of baptism found in the Bible is 1 Peter 3:21.
In this passage, Peter writes:
21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Peter makes an important point here. What's most important about baptism isn't the physical act, but the spiritual reality behind it. There is nothing magical about being immersed in water. However, when water baptism is coupled with a genuine appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we've found its true meaning.
This is an essential point for Peter to make, and it will make clear one of our core beliefs about baptism. Some individuals have and will be baptized who are not saved. An individual might get baptized for reasons other than genuinely loving Jesus (peer-pressure, pressure from family, a feeling that it's the right thing to do). All this is to say if you've been baptized, but there is no love for God or spiritual fruit in your life, you should probably assess the condition of your heart.
However, the fact that baptism is a physical picture of a spiritual reality shouldn't diminish its importance or our desire to practice it. As stated above, it was a practice of Jesus and the early church, and we would be foolish to abandon it. For those first Christians, it had deep meaning, and so again, we return to our question, what is the benefit of being baptized?
Baptism publically displays our union with Jesus
Key Texts: Romans 6; Colossians 2:12
The primary focus of baptism is a public display of the union of Christ and an individual. Because baptism and conversion were tied so tightly in the early church, Paul could use "baptism" as shorthand for someone becoming a Christian. Speaking of one's baptism was a way of talking about everything that surrounded a person coming to faith (repentance, trust, etc.).
How does baptism symbolize our new life with Jesus? First, Paul says baptism signifies our union with the death of Jesus (Rom. 6:1-4; cf. Col. 2:12). The heart of the gospel is that Jesus died in our place and received the punishment from God we should have received because of our sins (Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 15:3). Jesus' punishment in our place removes God's wrath from those who trust in Jesus. When someone is united with Christ in his death, we are saying, "I trust in the death of Jesus to pay the penalty for my sin." Being immersed in water is a public "acting out" of the reality that we have died with Jesus when we place our faith in him.
Along those same lines, baptism also declares our hope in a future resurrection. Paul goes on to write that because we're united with Jesus in his death, we can have the confidence of living a new life because of the resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:4-5). Jesus' resurrection was a "sneak preview" of our coming resurrection, and when we emerge from the water in baptism, it too is an "acting out" of our hope of a new life.
Baptism then is a public and physical declaration of something that has already taken place spiritually in our lives. God saves us by his grace through faith, and not by any work we do (Rom. 3:28). Jesus talked about this work of God as if someone was "born again" (Jn. 3:3). Once God has transformed your heart and brought you to faith in Christ, the natural reaction should be to be obedient to the Biblical command of baptism. Again, we believe that baptism is a public confession to God and the church of a more significant spiritual reality that has already taken place in your life.
Baptism displays the unity of the church
Key Texts: 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:5
Baptism not only publicly declares our faith in Christ, but it also shows our desire to enter into God's people (the church). Paul writes in 1 Cor. 12:13, "we were all baptized into one body." One of the great truths of the gospel is that all men and women have equal access to God. People from every gender, race, and social class are free to receive Jesus in faith, and baptism marks their entry into the people of God (Gal. 3:28). Baptism is a physical representation of an individual's desire to come into the family of God's people.
When should I be baptized?
The question of when baptism should take place has been a hotly debated topic throughout the history of the church. We need to make clear at this point that while City of God has a position on when someone should be baptized, we see the method of baptism as a secondary issue and will not divide from other Christians over it. The two primary positions are that individuals should be baptized only after confessing faith (credobaptism), or that the child of a believing family should be baptized upon birth (paedobaptism).
City of God holds to the belief that baptism is only for those individuals that can offer a personal confession of faith (credobaptism). Because baptism is an appeal to God to be united with Christ, we feel someone must first be able to understand these truths before being baptized.
The arguments for baptizing children largely depend not on what the Bible says, but rather on what it doesn't say. At various points in Acts, Luke makes mention that an entire household was baptized upon the conversion of the father (Ac. 16:15; 16:33; 18:8). This position assumes that children would have been present and included in this baptism. Rather than making that assumption, we want to speak where the Bible speaks and not emphasize too much from inference.
Another argument for infant baptism stems from its connection to the practice of circumcision in the Old Testament. Children of covenant families were circumcised in the Old Testament, and so some believe that the same should hold true for the infants of Christian families today (with baptism). On this point, several ideas should be considered.
The sign of circumcision was an ethnic boundary marker that declared someone to belong to the ethnic people of Israel.
Many apparently started to believe that the physical act of circumcision marked them off as God's people. Paul responds in the New Testament by arguing that if circumcision wasn't accompanied by a genuine love for God, then it was merely a physical act and was of no spiritual value to the individual (Gal. 5:2-6; Rom. 9:6).
We feel that the weight of evidence in scripture sides with the view that only confessing believers are to be baptized. This means that at City of God, we do not practice infant baptism. Individuals that come from backgrounds that do baptize infants may be uncomfortable with this, but this is our Biblical conviction from a thorough study of the Bible.
Question: What if I was baptized as an infant? Should I get rebaptized?
We have already had some individuals ask us what they should do if they attend City of God but were baptized as an infant. Specifically, those pursuing membership will need to wrestle with this because baptism is a requirement for membership. Each situation is different, but here is how we usually respond:
- If you become a Christian at City of God, you should be baptized.
- If you are a Christian that has never been baptized, we encourage you to pursue baptism at City of God.
- If you were baptized as an infant, but: you have been living apart from Christ for some time, or you cannot Biblically defend why you believe this fulfills the scriptures command to be baptized, then we will recommend you pursue baptism at City of God.
- If you are an individual that can Biblically defend the validity of your baptism as an infant and this satisfies your conscience regarding the Biblical command, then we will not ask you to be baptized as an adult. The leaders of City of God will want to meet with you to confirm this, but because the method is a secondary issue, we are open to this possibility.
Hopefully, this paper has helped address and clarify where City of God stands on the issue of baptism. We believe that it is a gift of God given to the church, and all of God's people should experience it. Please don't hesitate to contact the church with any further questions.