Believer's baptism is the Christian practice of baptism in which the participant publicly professes faith in Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior, and as admission into a local community of faith. Believer’s baptism has also been understood as a sign of obedience to Christ (Matt. 28:19-20). Believer's baptism by immersion is more common than by affusion or aspersion. It is practiced by many Protestant churches, especially those with Baptist and Anabaptist (literally, rebaptizer) traditions, and their theological relatives. It is also referred to as credo-baptism, from the Latin word credo, meaning I believe. Churches and denominations that practice believer's baptism do so in contrast to denominations that practice Infant baptism (or paedo-baptism, from the Greek word paido meaning child or infant). A key concept in believer's baptism is that a credible profession of faith must be given by the recipient before baptism.

History

When a person professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the new Christian is typically baptized. Baptism is an act of applying water to an object; in the meaning of the Greek term baptizo,^[1]^ "baptism" means to dip or immerse a person into water for religious reasons. Another word (ekcheo) is used for pouring, leading to a conclusion that baptizo does not mean pour. "…There is thus no doubt that early in the 2nd century some Christians felt baptism was so important that, when the real baptism (immersion) could not be performed because of lack of water, pouring might be used in its place."^[1]^ In the opening gospel stories of the New Testament, John the Baptist baptized his disciples at Bethany beyond Jordan where Jesus met John and was baptized by him (John 1:25-34).

Scholars report that forms of baptism or ritual cleansing were practiced by Jewish sects at the time of Christ, so baptism in some form preexisted the Christian movement.^[2]^

Among the earliest Christians, water baptism became a sign of identification^[3]^ with the Christian faith and community.^[4]^ Instructed to go and teach the nations, the disciples were also told to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Peter called on his listeners "to repent and be baptized" (Acts 2:38–41). Philip baptized an Ethiopian (Acts 8:26–38), and Paul’s converts at Philippi were baptized following their conversions (Acts 16:11–16; 31–34). Clearly, baptism was an important experience in being faithful to Christ in the New Testament churches.^[5]^^p.68^

In the next several centuries, the practice of baptism underwent some important changes. In the third century, leaders of the Church began to teach that infant baptism was acceptable. By the fourth century, baptism had become a required sacrament^[6]^ of the Church, administered according to a stated rite, and given to infants.^[7]^

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Christian Church (East and West) continued to stress baptism at the beginning of life. With the use of an elaborate ritual, priests baptized infants, and upon nomination of the parents, proclaimed each child’s Christian name. Thus, baptism had both a theological and social importance that the early church had not recognized.^[2]^

In the Reformation, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldreich Zwingli, and others gave less emphasis to the mystical elements of the sacrament of baptism. In keeping with medieval tradition, the terminology of "sacrament" was retained,^[6]^ though with more stress on the role of parents and, later in a child’s development, individual accountability for personal faith.^[5]^

The radical reformers called "Anabaptists" insisted upon a "rebaptism" as believers.^[5]^ That restored some of the original meaning of baptism from the primitive New Testament context. The Anabaptists believed that becoming a Christian disciple was a radical step of separation from one’s past that required in baptism an act of high symbolism before the Christian community. Anabaptists stand historically just before Baptists.^[2]^

In major studies in the past two centuries, many Christians have come to the position on believer’s baptism by immersion as consistent with the ancient churches. While the possibility that infant baptism was also practiced in the apostolic age cannot be excluded, baptism upon personal profession of faith is the most clearly attested pattern in the New Testament documents.^[8]^

Theology

Christians who practice believer's baptism believe that saving grace comes from God by the recipient's faith alone. Thus they consider that it cannot be imparted or transferred from one person to another (such as from parent to child) by sacraments such as baptism.

Most denominations practicing believer's baptism do not consider baptism to have any saving effect, but rather see it as a public expression of one's faith in Christ. To them it is a symbolic representation of the inner conversion of the person being baptized. Therefore, having no saving grace according to their theology, baptism usually would not be termed a "sacrament," but rather an "ordinance." They understand the baptism by immersion to depict the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some other Christian groups, such as the Churches of Christ, hold baptism to have salvific value, hence a prerequisite for salvation. While such groups do not describe baptism as a "sacrament", their view of it can legitimately be described as "sacramental."

Because Jesus commanded that baptism should be conducted to the end of the age, baptism becomes a seal of the promise that Christ will return to claim his people (Matt. 28:20).

Biblical basis

The biblical basis of believer's baptism centers around the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34) and several other New Testament passages:

  • "...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." (Col. 2:11-12, NIV)
  • "...this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Pe. 3:21)
  • "^37^Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" ^38^And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...." ^41^So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:37-38, 41)

Age of accountability

Believer's baptism is administered only to persons who have passed the age of accountability or reason, which is based upon interpretation of the New Testament, and examples therein, that only believers should be baptized. Some individuals never reach this stage regardless of age, possibly because of a developmental challenge or other factor that prevents them from making a personal choice. Sometimes the pastor or church leader will determine the believer's understanding and conviction through personal interviews. In the case of a minor, parents' permission is usually sought.

Practice

Most denominations that practice believer's baptism also specify the mode of baptism, generally preferring immersion (complete lowering beneath the surface of a body of water) over affusion (water sprinkled or poured over the candidate). In the case of physical disability or inability to be totally submerged under water, the pouring of water upon the baptismal candidate is acceptable to some.

Some baptize only in "living waters"?active or flowing waters as in a stream, lake, or ocean (John 5:1-7). Others have accommodated themselves to indoor facilities such as a baptismal pool, usually with heated water. Indoor or outdoor swimming pools also are sometimes used.

The words of the administrator are to be meaningful, but typically are not specifically prescribed by the denomination. An example of words that are often used in believer's baptism: "I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Buried in the likeness of the burial of Christ, and raised in the likeness of His resurrection." By no means is this phraseology standard, not even with a particular denomination. In most all evangelical and reformed churches, being Trinitarian in their beliefs, it is considered essential that the person be baptized specifically in the name of the Trinity.

Some denominations consider believer's baptism to be a prerequisite to full church membership. Persons who wish to become part of the church must undergo believer's baptism in that local body, or another body whose baptism the local body honors. Typically, local churches will honor the believer's baptism of another church if that tradition uses the same mode of baptism, teaches it to have the same symbolic meaning, and administers it according to Trinitarian belief.

Believer's baptism is inextricably tied to mission as it vividly portrays the gospel and fulfills Jesus’ Great Commission for all true disciples. Most importantly, baptism cannot be separated from one’s doctrine of Christ, since Christ himself was baptized and his redemptive work is depicted in baptism by immersion as a new relationship in Christ which all believers enjoy.

In recent years under the influence of the charismatic movement, significant minorities of Christians who have been baptized with water then, as a separate act, experience a baptism with (in or by) the Holy Spirit. This has produced manifestations like prophesying and speaking in spiritual languages (Acts 19:2-6).

Endnotes

? ^1.0^ ^1.1^ W. H. T. Dau. "Baptism." International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A-D. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1979. ISBN 0-8028-3781-6 ? ^2.0^ ^2.1^ ^2.2^ William H. Brackney. "Doing Baptism Baptist Style: Believer's Baptism." 2001. Web: 23 Nov 2009<www.baptisthistory.org/pamphlets/baptism.htm> ? Matt Slick. "Baptism and Romans 6:3-5." Web: 23 Nov 2009 ? "We Believe in Water Baptism: The Meaning of Baptism." Arthur L. Farstad, ed. Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring 1990—Volume 3:1 ? ^5.0^ ^5.1^ ^5.2^ G.R. Beasley-Murray. Baptism in the New Testament. Macmillan (UK), 1973. ISBN 08281493X ? ^6.0^ ^6.1^ Oscar Cullmann. "Baptism in the New Testament." Studies in Biblical Theology No. 1. London: SCM Press, 1950. Pbk. pp.84. ? Major Denominational Families of Christianity ? David F. Wright. "The Apostolic Fathers and Infant Baptism: Any Advance on the Obscurity of the New Testament?" in Andrew F. Gregory, ed. Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006. ISBN 978-019926783

See also

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