A couple of things have instigated this post:
1) Not so long ago I had a chat with some guys at church about baptism. They hadn’t been baptized yet, so we chatted about things like the thinking behind baptism; why they should consider it for themselves etc; So it got me thinking that some of these questions might be worth tackling for the potential benefit of a wider audience.
2) Over my years as a Christian and in gospel ministry I’ve encountered a number of people (some have been fairly close friends) who have professed Christ for a number of years – but have never undergone baptism. While I’m sure some of these brothers and sisters may have had better reasons than others – much of what I’ve encountered seems to boil down to a subjective feeling of “unreadiness” for baptism and/or an unclear or unhelpful idea about what baptism is and where it fits into the Christian life.
So I’m writing with potentially both sets of people in mind. When and why should anyone get baptized?
What is baptism all about?
First things first, I probably ought to say something about the “what” of baptism. [Since I plan to cover my detailed thoughts on baptism in future posts, I’ll keep things brief here].
Baptism is a visible symbol of the gospel. Specifically, the immersion of a person in water, in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19-20), depicts their union with Jesus Christ in His death (going down into the water) and resurrection (coming up out of the water) (see Romans 6). Baptism is also a statement of entry into the community of people that confess Jesus as Lord and trust Him for the forgiveness of sins. In summary, baptism is a visual, elemental declaration – first and foremost about Jesus – but also about the person being baptized and the community they’re identifying with through baptism.
When should I get baptized?*
Short answer (stated positively): You should get baptized as soon as possible once a) you’re confident that you’ve become a Christian (through genuine repentance from sin and personal trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord) &
b) your church is willing to baptize you based on what they’ve assessed to be your genuine profession of faith in Christ.
Short answer (stated negatively): If you know you’re a Christian and your church has been treating you as such for some time – you definitely shouldn’t be delaying getting baptized.
Explanation: In the early days of Christianity, baptism took place very soon after conversion and confession of faith in Christ (often immediately after, see Acts 2:41; 8:36-39; 9:18; 10:47-48). Why they did it so early on seems to be because baptism functioned as a visible symbol of conversion to Christianity and an entry marker into the church community. Baptized people were distinct from everyone else in the sense that they had identified with Jesus and the gospel in a very public way and the church had recognised and received them into her ranks.
While not everyone needs to be baptized the day, or day after, they profess faith in Christ – the faith and practice of the early church suggests earlier is better than later. I have no problems with churches taking the possibility of false conversions seriously and wanting to be duly accountable to God that the person they’re baptizing has become a genuine disciple of Jesus.** But in principle, I’d say it’s a credible profession of faith that forms the basis for baptizing someone and that neither a believer or church should be mucking around too much if that’s present.
If your church has a short baptism course that runs for a few weeks or a program for new believers to make sure every Christian is grounded in the essentials of the faith, there’s nothing wrong with that – and it has potential to be of great benefit to both the new Christian and the church community they’re joining.
But delaying baptism indefinitely, as though it is not a matter of importance, is an unhelpful practice. One which the New Testament would not commend.
I’ll have a follow-up post in a few days time, considering some motivations and incentives as to “why” someone should get baptized.
*I’ve deliberately left aside questions of infant baptism and “rebaptism”, as my concern and focus here is those who have never participated in anything they’d call a Christian baptism.
**I’d say this is a good idea, proportionally to how much nominal Christianity has been an issue in the culture a church is operating in. If there have been historical, social benefits associated with outward affiliation with Christianity, it probably pays to have a method of instruction and examination of the person’s understanding of the faith before baptizing them. If there is little or no social advantage (or immediate risk of persecution) connected to Christianity in a society, I see no problem with immediate baptism upon profession of faith, as per the New Testament.
 Wilderness Kev Baptism (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr