Monday, December 10, 2012


By David Howie

Yesterday we had our daughter Alaina Ruth baptized.  In our church we baptize the infants of church members.  In this post I’m going to try to explain some of the reasons why.

God gives His people rituals or ceremonies to help in our following Him.  They involve all of our 5 senses as we’re reminded that we are supposed to follow Him with our whole being.  In the Old Testament, the Israelites (the people of God) had two main ceremonies.  Every male child was to be circumcised on the 8th day.  This was to set the people of God apart from all the nations around them.  And once a year, the people were to celebrate the Passover in which they killed and ate a lamb in remembrance of God’s judgment on Egypt and deliverance of them

Notice that both of these ceremonies involved blood.  Following Jesus’ death for us, our sins have been paid for once and for all and there is no more need for blood sacrifice.  Jesus instituted two new ceremonies that we call sacraments – baptism and communion.  Note that our word sacrament is from the Greek word mysterion from which our word mystery comes.  The Spirit works in a special way in the sacraments that we don’t fully understand.

Communion is a meal like Passover.  But it is bread and wine instead of a lamb.  Just as the Israelites looked back to the Exodus, we look back to Jesus’ death on the cross where He defeated all our enemies and accomplished salvation for His people.  It is also celebrated regularly as we remember what God has done for us.

Baptism is a washing with water symbolizing the work of the Spirit in cleansing us from our sins and setting us apart for His use.  Like circumcision, it is only done once.  (Remember that Communion is not only a remembering and baptism is not only a symbol – the Spirit works mysteriously as we observe the sacraments.)

I did a Bible word search of the various forms of the word baptism, and was somewhat surprised by the results.  It is not found at all in the Old Testament – not a single time.  It first occurs in the gospels that tell of John baptizing at the river Jordan.  I am so familiar with the word baptism and what it is, that it’s never before stuck me as strange that this guy pops up in the dessert doing something that, as far as the Bible says, has never been done before.

Another strange thing is that baptism is never explained.  John baptizes.  Jesus tells us to do it.  Acts records it happening.  Paul talks about doing it in his letters.  But no where are we told how to do it.  This is especially strange when you consider God’s usual detail in how He is to be worshiped.  Remember the pages and pages in the Old Testament about how the tabernacle and temple were to be built according to the exact plan of God and how all the sacrifices were to be made at certain times and in certain ways with this part burned up and this part thrown out and this part eaten.  Or notice the instructions given regarding Communion.  Jesus demonstrates it and teaches it in the Upper Room, and Paul explains and clarifies in I Corinthians.  But no such teaching on baptism.

In our church, we baptize infants of church members by sprinkling water on their heads.  If someone joins the church who has never been baptized, they would be baptized at whatever age in the same manner.  We do this for several reasons:
  • It follows the pattern of circumcision which was also usually done to infants.
  • God is a God of families.  “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  “The promises are to us and to our children.”
  • Old Testament ritual cleansings were often done by sprinkling water, blood, or oil - the priest in his ordination, those sick or unclean, houses, the altar, the temple curtain, etc.
  • In Acts, new believers and their families are baptized, presumably including children.
It is my opinion that because the Bible does not specify, the how must be less important than the doing of it.

What does baptism mean?  We absolutely state that it does not save.  No work of ours is able to save – not baptism, not communion, not church attendance, not Bible reading, not prayer, not service to the poor, not right doctrine, not anything.  We are only saved by the perfect work of Christ on our behalf.  But baptism is a precious picture of God’s work in cleansing us.  And we claim the promises of God on Alaina Ruth’s behalf confidently knowing that He is faithful.


Anonymous said...

How do you go to heavan if you said there is nothing you can do to become saved?

David Howie said...

No work of mine can save me. Only the work of Christ can save.

David Howie said...

Anon - yes, we are called to believe, we are called to repent, we are called to follow, we are called to obey, etc.

My point in the blog post was that those things (or anything else we do) don't save us. Our believing doesn't save us, etc.

I like the old story of the young man standing for examination to be a minister. He was asked who saves him. He said it was a work together of himself and Christ. The examiners were aghast and asked for an explanation. He said, "I resisted all I could, and Jesus did the rest."

Anonymous said...

Not trying to start an argument, but what about the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8? When the eunuch asked "what doth hinder me to be baptized?" Phillip answered, "If thou the believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." It seems to me that belief is a qualifier for baptism. And in Romans 10, Paul said "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, And shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." That says to me that Salvation comes from believing in the finished work of Christ. The Bible describes Salvation as a gift, but just as with any other gift, it does no good until it is accepted by the recipient.

David Howie said...

There are 2 big questions here.

Regarding baptism, I think that in the case of adult baptism there is a public confession of faith that does comes first. This is the case in our church. This was the case with the Ethiopian you referred to. In Acts it also talks of whole families being baptized, so it seems that those under the headship of believing adults (their children) are also baptized.

Regarding salvation, the famous passage to quote is Ephesians 2:8-9. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." If salvation comes from my believing, then I can boast that I believed. Then after salvation comes good works. Ephesians 2:10. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Believing is one of these good works. So salvation comes before believing. Or it has been said Regeneration Precedes Faith.