Summary: The who, how, and why of Christian baptism.
The Church; Its Baptism I Pet. 3:21
INTRO.: Alexander Campbell was a Presbyterian minister from Scotland who immigrated into the United States in 1809. His father, Thomas, had come to the new world two years earlier. Thomas had settled in the area of Washington, Pa. And had begun The Christian Association of Washington and established the Brush Run Church, an independent congregation. After a separation of 2 years, each discovered the other had been engaged in an intense examination of their religious beliefs in the light of the Bible and had come to many of the same conclusions. They combined their efforts to strengthen the Brush Run Church and preach a powerful plea for Christian unity based on the Bible.
Both Campbells were intensely interested in the biblical teaching about baptism but did not wish to make it an issue because they were afraid it would interfere with their efforts toward the unity of all believers. They sort of "put it on the back burner" while concerned about things they saw as more urgent.
One day, while calling, the elder Mr. Campbell became acquainted with a carpenter named Brown and he promised to lend Mr. Brown some books. Instead of delivering the books personally, he sent them with his son Alexander. The Browns had a daughter named Margaret and she and Alexander fell in love and married. Their first child was a daughter they named Jane, after Alexander’s mother.
This presented a problem to Alex and Margaret. Reared Presbyterians, they were faced with the question of whether or not to have little Jane sprinkled in accordance with Presbyterian teaching. No longer able to ignore the subject, Campbell became passionate in his study. He carefully studied, in the Greek, every passage where the word "baptism" or any of its variations appears. He came to the conclusion that only believers were candidates for baptism. He was also convinced from his studies that baptism is properly immersion. Not only did they decide not to baptize Jane, they became doubtful of their own baptism and decided to be immersed.
Interestingly, Thomas Campbell had come to the same conclusion. He and Jane would also be immersed. Alexander’s sister, Dorothea, also had confided a desire to be immersed.
The baptismal service was conducted in 1812 at the farm of David Bryant on the banks of Buffalo Creek near Bethany, Virginia. The service lasted 7 hours as both Campbells were lengthy speakers. A Baptist preacher named Matthias Luce immersed a total of seven persons that day on the basis of a simple confession of Jesus as the Son of God.
An interesting sidelight; One of David Bryant’s sons had time to leave the service and go to town to be sworn into the army for the War of 1812, and returned in time to hear an hour of the preaching and witness the baptisms.
In regard to the Church’s baptism, three questions are important; Who should be baptized, how is it to be done, and for what reason. Let’s look at these:
I. Who is a valid candidate for baptism? Let’s see two examples from Acts 16:
A. Verses 13 -15 tells the story of Lydia, the first European convert of wham we have record.
1. Paul usually spoke first to Jews because they had the background in Old Testament Scripture. Evidently there was no synagogue in Philippi because there were no Jewish men. The women gathered to pray by the river on the Sabbath.
2. Lydia’s heart was opened to respond to Paul’s message.
3. Verse 15 indicates she was baptized because she was a believer.
B. Verses 25-33 recount the story of the conversion of the Philippian jailor:
1. He was either a Roman soldier or a Greek hired by the Romans to guard the prison. He was not a believer in God or in Jesus:
2. Paul responded to his inquiry of verse 30 with "believe in the Lord," then preached the Gospel to everyone in the house. It was after midnight and he preached to everyone. There wee no babies.
3. His belief immediately led him to repent and be baptized. 32, 33
C. Who, then, is a valid candidate for Christian baptism?
1. Those who have heard the preaching of the Gospel of Christ and have believed it and are willing to Commit their lives to Him.
2. Acts 8:37 has been omitted from newer translations because it isn’t in the oldest manuscripts. However, it is at least a testimony to what the primitive Church believed and practiced, i.e. baptism on the confession of Jesus as God’s son.
3. There is no case in the New Testament indicating anyone but a believer was ever baptized.
II. How should baptism be done? Some say it is enough to simply sprinkle a little water on one’s head. They say, it’s what’s in your heart that counts. Certainly, if your heart is not right, no baptism can save you.