Baptism: form follows function

My purpose here is not to consider the practice of baptism in general or to define exactly what baptism is. My purpose is to consider what place baptism has in the church worship service explicitly and the biblical methodology of practicing baptism. Here are my assumptions:

    1. Baptism is not required for salvation but is an act of obedience to Christ and testimony to what Christ has done in bringing our dead spirits to life.
    2. Baptism is by immersion and practiced after a person confesses Christ as Lord.

I have seen people baptized in bathtubs by their parents. I have seen Wrestle-Maniaesque baptisms. I have seen baptism practiced with concert style music playing in the background with strobe lights, lasers, and smoke. I have seen people baptized in rivers and lakes. I have heard of people who self-baptize. I have seen baptisms practiced with and without pastors present. I have seen architectural places behind the church pulpit designed for baptism. I have seen baptisms in kiddie pools. We joke about baptizing others as we dunk them at pool parties. I have seen solemn baptisms. I have had the congregation stand in honor of the new life of the person being baptized. I have seen people wear white robes while being baptized. I have seen people in t-shirts and shorts. I have seen people so excited about Christ’s testimony through them that they cannonballed into the baptismal waters. I wonder if the Scriptures inform our methodology?

When we read the book of Acts, we see people getting baptized directly following their conversion (Acts 2:38, 8:12, 36-38, 9:18, 10:48, 16:15, 33, 22:16). Those baptized before their conversion to Christ were baptized again (Acts 19:6). Some were baptized before receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, 19:6). Some were baptized after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48). People were baptized by the apostles and by people who were not apostles (Acts 22:16). There were people who were converted but did not get baptized immediately, so far as we know. In fact, their baptisms are not recorded at all (Acts 13:12, 48, 17:34). Others were converted and baptized but we do not know the timeframe between conversion and baptism- only that they believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8).

So we see by examining the Scriptures that there is room for diversity in our practice of baptism. What I want to do is remind us of the biblical principles we have seen in our study thus far. When we are thinking about how to practice baptism in our local churches, we ask these questions:

    1. Does our method serve the glory of God or the glory of people?
    2. In our practice of baptism, are we declaring the Gospel and exalting Christ alone?
    3. Are we overemphasizing baptism, or do we trust in salvation by grace alone through faith alone?

We have the freedom to allow form to follow function in our local church meetings. Let all glory be God’s. Let us not draw attention to ourselves or make baptism explicitly about the person being baptized. Let us not fall into idolatry by baptizing people simply to record the numbers. This is true of baptism, it follows conversion and serves God’s glory by the exaltation of Jesus Christ in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.

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