After Peter proclaimed the gospel of Jesus, Acts 2:41-47 says: 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Rigid institutionalism, empty religious tradition, controversy and confusion often characterizes far too many Christians today when it comes to the sacraments of the church. However, reacting against these by neglecting something good that Jesus intends for us to practice is not the answer either. We can learn from Scripture and follow the Spirit while practicing the sacrament of water baptism with heart and meaning so that it strengthens us and portrays the good news of grace. Preaching makes the gospel audible, sacraments make it visible, and God uses both!
We set forth this document to help everyday ordinary followers of Jesus grasp the why…what…when…who…and how of water baptism. We long to see this sacrament practiced with joy in loving obedience to Jesus and aligned with his word. This guide is set forth to instruct followers of Jesus who are doing the baptizing as well as those being baptized. The format is as follows:
What is baptism?
When do we baptize someone?
Who can baptize?
How is a baptism done?
We baptize because it’s part of Jesus’ commission to us. The timeless commission of Jesus to us is seen in Matthew 28:18-20:
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
The central command in this passage is “…make disciples of all nations.…” There are three participial phrases connected to this process of making disciples. These include “going….baptizing…teaching….” This commission and these practices were not limited to just one cultural context of the original apostles and the early church. Jesus has all authority and he wants this done among “…all nations….” Jesus promises his presence with us as we continue to carry out his commission and these practices “until the end of the age.” As we proclaim the gospel and make disciples, we also practice baptizing in water each one who personally receives this gospel of grace by faith.
What is baptism?
Scripture teaches that water baptism is a visual portrayal of a believer being personally united with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism publicly pictures one’s initiation into Christ by faith. This individual is then to be received by the church community who is in covenant with Jesus as their Lord and Savior. When someone is baptized, he/she makes a public profession of being forgiven, dead the old life under sin, and now alive to life with God by the Spirit through Jesus (Romans 6:1-11; Acts 2:38). It is the living God in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we have share life with and that is the name we identify with in water baptism (Matthew 28:18-20).
When do we baptize someone?
We believe the preponderance of Scripture demonstrates that baptism is for a person who professes faith in Jesus. That is, it is best to wait to baptize an individual until he/she personally repents and trusts in Jesus who is proclaimed in the gospel. Here are just a few biblical examples:
“38 And Peter said to them, "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…41So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
“31And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.”
8“Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.”
What about infant children?
Teaching believer baptism almost always raises additional questions such as…What about infants and small children of believing parents? We believe infants of believing parents should wait to be baptized until they come to personally repent and trust Jesus. God has always saved us by grace through faith apart from any meritorious works or ceremonies we do. This was true throughout the Old Testament as well as the New Testament (Romans 4).
But, when should a person receive the outward sign of faith? Abraham received the outward sign of circumcision after he believed and then circumcised his children before they were old enough to believe. This sign continued through the old covenant. While there is continuity between the old and new covenants, there are also some areas of discontinuity between these covenants. For example, the old covenant included promises of a particular area of physical land, and it was a covenant with one nation that one came into merely by physical birth. The new covenant is different than this. One particular area of discontinuity is who should now receive the outward sign of being part of the covenant people of God. The old covenant sign of circumcision is now replaced in the new with the outward sign of water baptism (Colossians 2:8-15). In the old, one had only to be born physically. In the new, one should be born again spiritually to receive the outward sign of being part of the covenant community. Knowing the Lord by faith, being forgiven, and having his Holy Spirit are conditions of being part of God’s new covenant people – his church body (Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 1:12-13; Acts 2:38; Galatians 3:23-29). That is why we teach that infants of believing parents should wait to be baptized until they come to personally repent and trust Jesus. This is what we believe and practice though we have families in our church who have come to differing convictions. They too can be members of our church and will not be looked down upon or judged if they have their child baptized. We believe this is an "open item" that is not essential.
Parent – Child Dedications
If infant children are not to receive the outward sign of baptism as being part of the new covenant people of God until they personally believe on Jesus, then the question remains "How are children of believing parents in the covenant community to be viewed?". Certainly they are not to be viewed as pagan children.
Scripture gives us some clues to help us. Jesus welcomed and blessed small children when parents brought them to him (Mark 10:13-16). As Paul instructs the Corinthians about an issue they faced, we also pick up insight about children of believers. When at least one of the parents in a family comes to faith in Jesus, I Corinthians 7:12-16 describes that marriage and family as no longer being a spiritually “unclean” family with a believer in it, but rather it is a believing household with unbelievers still in it. It is now considered a set apart believing household (“holy,” no longer spiritually “unclean”). While each unbelieving person will still need to exercise personal faith, there does appear to be an acknowledgement that children are under the blessings of a parent who is standing in grace by faith in Jesus. Therefore, rather than baptizing infant children of believing parents, we practice parent-child dedication as a church community. This allows believing parents to publically dedicate themselves and their child unto the Lord for his purposes in front of their church family and friends. This gives the covenant community of church friends an opportunity to hear this public dedication and to affirm their commitment to support and stand with these parents in the weeks, months, and years to come as they rear their children to believe and follow Jesus.
What about adults sprinkled as infants who now personally believe in Jesus?
Another question often raised is…What about those sprinkled as infants who now believe in Jesus? How do we relate together as true believers given differing views on water baptism? At Downtown Hope we practice, teach, and encourage believer baptism. Can someone be a fully functioning part of Downtown Hope if they were baptized as an infant and are now genuinely trusting Jesus Christ for salvation? The answer is yes. Although we would encourage him/her to be baptized as a believer, we do fully accept these believers into our church family provided that they reject the notion that there is anything meritorious before God accomplished in their infant baptism. As long as that individual professes that their salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone we welcome him/her (Romans 5:1-5; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2:8-9). We hold this position because Scripture is much clearer about practicing love and unity among believers in Jesus and his gospel than it is about the timing of water baptism (John 13:31-35; 17:20-23; Corinthians 12:12-13; Ephesians 2:11-22; 4:1-6; Philippians 1:27). In this same spirit of unity, we ask that these friends in Christ refrain from teaching infant baptism among us to help protect the unity of this body.
Who can baptize?
At Downtown Hope, we empower all believers to participate in baptizing their friends and family once someone professes faith in Jesus Christ.
How is a baptism done?
There is great freedom to personalize each baptism for the person or persons being baptized. However, many of us feel better prepared by having guidelines that help us capture the essence of biblical teaching in simple ways when baptizing another. Here are recommendations for before, during, and after water baptism.
Before a baptism:
Read or remember from Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:29-47; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:1-11 that…
you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
you are NOT saved by your own good works or ceremonies, including water baptism.
you will be personally and publicly identifying with Jesus in baptism as an outward sign of the inward reality of your faith in him alone for salvation
you will be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit (i.e. one God in three persons)
During a baptism:
1. Story - share part of your salvation story & why you want to be baptized. [note: Some persons may prefer to have someone else read or tell their story on their behalf. This is perfectly acceptable since public speaking should not become a barrier for those desiring to be baptized; also the story shared need not be too long, but excerpts of the most significance part of the story can be shared]
2. Summary – what is included when baptizing? [While standing in the water the dialogue goes like….]
- “Are you trusting Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?”
- “Based on the profession of your faith in Jesus Christ, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- [Now immersed backwards under the water, while holding your nose; then it is proclaimed when back up from the water…] “Buried in the likeness of Jesus’ death, raised in the likeness of his resurrection.”
3. After a baptism: Celebrate!
4. The Day of your Baptism:
We baptize every third Sunday as people are ready and willing to be baptized. These are the things remember before a baptism:
1. Prepare to share part of your story about your faith in Jesus (see Preparing MY story worksheet for guidelines). You may prefer to have someone read or tell part of your faith story on your behalf. [Suggestion ahead of time: write it out/talk it out & select the part you want to share or have someone share on your behalf; Note: We recognize that some of us have had negative church experiences in our past and that’s part of our story. If you do mention something about this, we ask that you refrain from naming specific churches or denominations. Thanks for helping us avoid “church bashing.”]
2. We have towels & clothes for you to be baptized in. If it is not at a Gathering be sure to wear appropriate clothing. Remember, shirts cling to your skin and undergarments after getting out of the water.
3. Discuss whom you might want to baptize you. You are free to request a believer in Jesus to baptize you. A leader from Downtown Hope will baptize you, if you do not have a specific request.
4. You might want to arrange for someone to photograph or videotape your baptism.
5. Arrive early before the Gathering to discuss any other details.