Article of Faith #12 - Baptism
Date: Sunday, August 29, 2004
Author: Rev. Jonathan K. Twitchell
So far in our study on the Articles of Faith, we have looked at the nature of God, His revelation to us through the Incarnation and through Scripture, our sin which separates us from God, God’s plan of redemption, and the steps by which God calls us by grace: repentance, justification, and sanctification. Last week we looked closely at the way in which God is at work in our world today, namely through the Body of Christ that is the Church Universal.
For the next three weeks we will look at some of the ways in which God interacts with His creation, through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, as well as His miraculous touch through divine healing. We will then conclude our study in the following two weeks as we look at the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, final judgment, and life everlasting.
Today we look at the Nazarene doctrine of Christian Baptism, as stated in Article number 12. Simply put, Christian Baptism is a sacrament, or a means of grace, which functions as the primary sign of the new covenant for all who desire to unite themselves with the Body of Christ.
Before we look at the doctrine of Baptism, it is important to define a sacrament. You’ll want to keep this discussion in mind both this week as we talk about Baptism, and next week as we talk about Holy Communion. Some have said that a Sacrament is "an outward sign of an inward grace." Others refer to it as a "means of grace," meaning that somehow God’s grace is mediated to us through the sacrament. One pastor, Dr. Russell Metcalfe combines these ideas and defines a sacrament this way: "We use the term ’sacrament’ to signify an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given to us, ordained by Christ Himself as a means of receiving that grace, and as a pledge or assurance of Christ’s promise. From the earliest times, the sacraments have been understood by the church to be religious rites that carry the most solemn obligation of loyalty to Jesus Christ and His Church." Each of these definitions are valuable to us, but this word picture may help more.
We know that Jesus, God’s Son, came from heaven and put on human flesh. This is what we call the Incarnation (or enfleshment). Jesus took the natural body and infused it with His presence and it became supernatural. The ordinary became extra-ordinary, and the mundane became heavenly.
In many ways, the sacraments are like the incarnation. Simple tangible elements: bread, juice, water; which have no intrinsic value of their own are combined with God’s presence in worship and the ordinary becomes extraordinary, the natural becomes supernatural, and the mundane becomes heavenly. These "Means of Grace" become the ordinary means by which we meet the extraordinary God. Let’s make clear right now that Baptism doesn’t save you anymore than Holy Communion sustains you. It is always and only God’s grace which saves, sustains, sanctifies, and glorifies. The Sacraments are the God-ordained ordinary means by which this grace is mediated. Notice that I didn’t say "only means" as God can give grace (unmerited favor) any way He desires. Nor can we assume that we can control God through the sacraments and force His grace upon us. Rather, we understand that they are the ordinary means by which God gives us extraordinary grace.
With that in mind, let us now turn our attention to the Sacrament of Baptism. In our time this week, I intend to answer a number of questions which you might raise. We will begin by looking at the Article of Faith as it is written, and then I will pose a number of questions and set out to answer them from the grounds of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. You can find our doctrine on Baptism in the inside flap of your bulletin.
16. We believe that Christian baptism, commanded by our Lord, is a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ, to be administered to believers and declarative of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and full purpose of obedience in holiness and righteousness.
Baptism being a symbol of the new covenant, young children may be baptized, upon request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training.
Baptism may be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, according to the choice of the applicant.
As we work through this article of faith, we will take time to ask the most common questions which are asked about baptism in the Church of the Nazarene. If your question is not answered in this format, you are welcome to ask it later, and I will try to find an answer for you. For the next several minutes, I will simply go ahead and ask those frequently asked questions, and attempt to offer an answer to them.
Question: Does baptism save you?
Answer: No. "8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Let us remember that the primary factor in our salvation is God’s grace. It is His grace by which we are saved. This grace is mediated through our faith, but even that faith is a gracious gift of God, so that no-one can boast. Baptism does not save you, church membership does not save you, not even repeating the "sinner’s prayer" saves you. We are saved only by God’s grace, through our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Question: Why then should we be baptized?
Answer: Simply put, each believer should be baptized because Jesus set that example for us in Matthew 3, and later commanded that the Church be his witnesses in all the world, baptizing in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28). We are baptized primarily in faithful obedience to Christ’s call upon us to be baptized.
Question: What is the purpose of baptism?
Answer: Baptism is the sacrament most closely associated as the initiation into the Body of Christ. Just as circumcision functioned as the conversion rite in the Old Covenant, baptism is the sign and seal of the New Covenant. It represents to us the washing away of our sin, the sprinkling clean of our hearts, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. As a Sacrament, we understand it to be the ordinary (not the only) means by which Justifying Grace is mediated to the believer, and Prevenient Grace is mediated to the infant. The ordinary water accomplishes something extraordinary in our lives, as we are washed clean and brought into the Body of Christ.
Question: Why does the Church of the Nazarene baptize infants and small children?
Answer: According to our Article of Faith, "Baptism being a symbol of the new covenant, young children may be baptized, upon request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training." We understand that male children born into a Jewish household were circumcised on the eighth day as a sign of the covenant. In many ways baptism is the sign of the new covenant the same way circumcision was the sign of the old covenant. While infant baptism is not specifically recorded in the book of Acts, we do know that entire households were baptized into Christianity. An example of this is the conversion of the jailer in Acts chapter 16. Further, we know from Church tradition that newborn babies were baptized into the faith of their parents. While those points may be enough, we have a theological understanding which drives our understanding of Infant Baptism. If baptism is a sacrament, and a sacrament is the ordinary means by which God’s grace is mediated to us, then we understand Infant Baptism as an expression of God’s Prevenient Grace. Remember that Prevenient Grace is that grace at work in our lives before we were even aware of our need for grace. It is that grace which called us, preserved us, and protected us until the moment of our rebirth. We understand then, that Infant Baptism is all about God’s Prevenient Grace. You see, the sacraments are never about what we have done, or about our choice, but are rather about God and His grace. Baptism isn’t about my decision to "accept Christ" as much as it is about His decision to search me out and redeem me. Baptism is my faithful response to God’s grace at work in my life. We therefore will baptize infants of parents who have given their assurance of Christian training and upbringing as an expression of our faith that God is at work in the life of that child.
Question: Is an infant who is baptized any more saved than one who isn’t?
Answer: Remember that baptism doesn’t save anybody, rather God’s grace saves us, and baptism is one of the primary ways in which that grace is mediated to us. We do not somehow control God’s grace through baptism, for grace is always "unmerited favor" and if we could control it then it would cease to be unmerited.
We also believe (see Article number Six on the Atonement) that "The Atonement is graciously efficacious for the salvation of the irresponsible and for the children in innocency but is efficacious for the salvation of those who reach the age of responsibility only when they repent and believe." In other words, we believe that the atonement covers all children who are not yet morally responsible.
Since infant baptism does not provide justifying grace for the child, it is important that we realize that the day will come when that child will have to either accept or reject the terms of their baptism. Nobody will be in the Kingdom of God because of the faith of their parents, but only because they have responded to God’s grace. It is important that children be brought up and nurtured within the Christian community that they might personally accept and respond to God’s grace, affirming those baptismal vows as their own.
Question: Does the Church of the Nazarene recognize baptisms from other traditions or denominations?
Answer: We are not baptized into a local church or into a denomination, we are baptized into the Body of Christ. In fact, Galatians reminds us that there are no divisions among the Baptized, for we have been baptized into one family, and have been made one in Christ. Hear these words from Galatians 3, verses 26-28: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." For this reason, many pastors (myself included) are very reluctant to rebaptize anybody simply because they were baptized as an infant or in a different denomination. An act of rebaptism is not an expression of faith, but in fact becomes an expression of doubt that God was at work the first time. We recognize as valid any Christian baptism which utilizes water and is done in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (in accordance with Matthew 28:19).
Question: What if I am unsure of whether or not I was baptized?
Answer: Perhaps you think that you might have been baptized as an infant, but don’t have any baptismal certificates, and don’t remember for sure. You would like to affirm your faith publically in this way, but don’t want to be rebaptized. In those instances, I will perform what is known as a "conditional" baptism, whereby in the baptismal liturgy I will simply state that "if you are not already baptized, then I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
Question: What if I was baptized as an infant, but wish to make a public confession of faith as an adult? Or, what if I was baptized as an adult but wandered away from the church and have now come back?
Answer: Just like marriage partners take time to renew their vows to one another, it is always appropriate to allow people to reaffirm their baptismal vows publicly. This gives believers an opportunity to accept the terms of their infant baptism and publicly identify themselves with Christ. Those who have drifted from the Body are able to renew their acceptance of the covenant relationship in a public way. No water is used, but the candidate is examined and given the opportunity to publicly affirm the baptismal vows and the creed. For that reason, at our last baptismal service, opportunity was provided for those who were already baptized to publicly renew their baptism as well.
Question: What modes does the Church of the Nazarene utilize and recognize?
Answer: The Church of the Nazarene recognizes and utilizes three modes of baptism: immersion, sprinkling, and pouring. Each mode has historical roots within the Christian church, and early archeological evidence points to Christian baptism utilizing a shell to pour water over the head of the candidate. In addition to historical tradition and archeological evidence, each mode is enriched by images presented in Scripture.
Hebrews 10:21-23 lends meaning to the act of baptism by sprinkling:
"and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 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. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."
In Acts chapter 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter has just witnessed the baptism of the Holy Spirit among the believers, and explains the occurrence utilizing language from the prophet Joel. Peter says:
"Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem , let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17" ’In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy."
And so, we recognize that Baptism by pouring reminds us of the Pouring out of the Holy Spirit. This mode also has its roots in the anointing of the Kings and leaders in the Old Testament who were anointed by the pouring of oil.
Baptism by immersion is given rich meaning by the imagery found in Romans 6, beginning in verse 3:
"Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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."
Each mode of Baptism has a rich tradition within the Body of Christ, historical and archeological evidence for its use, and scriptural references which help us understand what God does for us through the sacrament of baptism. It is for those reasons that the Church of the Nazarene has accepted and utilized all three modes of Baptism. One Nazarene theologian may have summarized our position best when he said, "We believe that al believers should have some water by some means."
Question: If I have never been baptized, what should I do?
Answer: You should be obedient to what Christ has asked you to do. If you have already expressed faith in God’s saving work upon the cross, then baptism is the logical next step. If you have not already found that faith, then I urge you to seek forgiveness for your sins and enter into a right relationship with God. Jesus died on the cross for your sins, that you might be forgiven and washed clean. Once you’ve settled that question, then make no delay in seeking water baptism to make public your entrance into the Body of Christ and to encounter the supernatural through the natural waters.
If any feel the Lord calling them to follow Him in obedience in regard to baptism, do not delay in this matter. You can speak to me later today, or utilize a pew card to let me know. It would be a delight to welcome you into the Body of Christ in this way. Even though we do not have a baptistery here, if you desire baptism by immersion we are certainly able to make the arrangements as well. All I ask is that you be obedient to God. If you’ve come to saving knowledge of Jesus as your Savior and not been obedient in this way, now is the time to affirm your faith and your dependence upon His grace.
Let me conclude our time today with this passage of scripture from Acts 2. The Holy Spirit had just come upon the believers at Pentecost, and Peter had preached a wonderful sermon to the crowd. After the crowd heard and contemplated the message, we read that this was their response:
37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
38Peter replied, "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. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call."
40With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Let us seek each day to be faithfully responsive to God’s Grace at work in our lives. May we continue to seek His cleansing and filling, that we might be formed into His Image, moment by moment, day by day.
Benediction: I Thess 5:23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.