Is Baptism About You… Or About Jesus?
At Harvest, we LOVE baptism. It’s a big celebration for our church family to see what God has been doing in people’s lives. Thus far, baptism celebrations are a mix of new Christians proclaiming their faith in Jesus but also folks who have been Christians for perhaps many years, but never really understood why it mattered so much that they get baptized. At our most recent baptism, I found myself in a conversation that went from “interesting” to “very awkward” in about 0.5 seconds. I was chatting with a married couple I hadn’t met before, and after a few minutes asking what they did, where they live, and so on, I asked if they had been involved in a church anytime recently. It went like this…
Me: So, have you guys been involved in a church recently?
Me: Oh, which one?
Them: The Church of Mormon
…awkward silence and me head nodding…
Me: Oh, interesting…
Conversation lasted another 40 seconds after that.
This was all before the baptisms commenced. After the baptisms, the wife remarked to me and Scott how pleased she was to be there, and how important it is that even though we are different religions, we should all support each other since we’re ultimately striving for the same cause. Then she quickly left, leaving Scott and I looking at each other like “What just happened?”
The reality is that the word “baptism” means different things for different people, and we want to be clear about what Christian baptism is verses other versions of baptism that are not described in Scripture.
There are 2 especially misguided views of baptism that need to be warned against. I’ll list them with a little explanation and clarification for each one.
False View #1: Baptism works like magic and must be performed by a specific person
The belief of the Mormon Church is that the ceremony of baptism is what washes away your sins. And, as a Mormon child, you ought to be baptized at 8 years of age. But of course if you become a Mormon later, you may be baptized after that. This heretical (false, non-Christian) view of baptism essentially treats the act of baptism like magic… that is, “If I perform these things, I am magically washed of my sin and automatically saved.” Rather, God saves us by his grace through a person’s faith in the person and work of Jesus. Baptism does not save you, Jesus saves you. And not the Jesus of the Mormon Church, the Jesus of the Bible.
Mormons also believe the person performing the ceremony of baptism is extremely important, limiting those who baptize others to someone with proper authority. But in Matthew 28 Jesus tells all of his disciples to baptize people. This is not to say every Christian must baptize at least one person, but it does mean that if you want your dad, mother, close friend, or the janitor at your church to baptize you, that’s your call. So long as it’s a Christian baptizing another Christian, it’s all good.
False View #2: Being baptized as a baby is all I need
This view is known as paedobaptism, or “infant baptism”. It promotes the idea that infants are brought into the covenant community through a ceremony done in the church, in which children are sprinkled with water and prayed for. The merits for or against infant baptism are not the intention of this article. The real issue at hand is what a person who was baptized as an infant thinks happened to them because of that baptism. If the assumption or dogmatic belief is that it saved you, or did anything to ensure you would go to Heaven, then it needs to be corrected by the Word of God and the person’s mind needs to be changed. Sadly, many people do believe this is the sort of thing that took place when they were baptized as a baby.
Everywhere we see baptism happen in the New Testament, it is tied to a personal profession of faith in Jesus. Someone has heard the gospel, has come to understand that they are a sinner deserving judgment from God, but also hears the phenomenal news that Jesus died for our sin and rose for our salvation, and that by his grace alone through our faith in Jesus alone, we are saved. If you were baptized as a baby, and then later become a Christian, it is a matter of obedience to Jesus that you declare that faith publicly through baptism, associating yourself with his death in your place and showing your new life in him.
Volumes and volumes have been written about baptism, so my point is not to introduce every possible view of baptism here. My hope is that you would know that baptism is a sign of your salvation, a joyous occasion for you to declare you have repented of sin and trusted in Jesus for your salvation. The water you are baptized in, or the person who baptizes you, are not the point. The point is Jesus – his death, his resurrection, and your connection to him by faith. Let us rejoice and celebrate the new life he is producing in our church!