Baptism Takes Two

Baptism is one of the most misunderstood doctrines of our generation. Recently at our church there was somebody who got baptized for the second time because he wanted to rededicate his life. Surprisingly nobody stopped him beforehand, and it did not seem like anybody saw a problem with it. I could only sit there and wonder if this person actually understood what he was doing. Typically in my church people get baptized as an adult by immersion, as an act of obedience and a public declaration of their faith. Is the point of baptism to perform an act of obedience? Is the point of baptism to publicly declare your faith? Only a careful look at the Scriptures can show us God's purpose for baptism.

"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 (Acts 2:38)." In this speech to the Jews, Peter makes the first call for baptism ever made in the Church. A careful reading of this verse seems to imply that baptism is linked directly to the forgiveness of sins. Many churches, most notably the Catholic church, adhere to this doctrine today. Peter reiterates this link again when he says in his first letter, baptism "now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Peter, however, is not saying that baptism confers salvation anymore than a prayer. In Western societies we typically consider someone saved if they have said the "sinners" prayer. There is a direct parallel between this and baptism for the early church. Instead of saying the "sinners" prayer they would be baptized. The Catholic church is constantly criticized for this doctrine, however, the Evangelical church seems to have the same one. A prayer will not save you if it is not offered in repentance, just like baptism, however, if both are done in repentance then your sins will be forgiven.

Earlier this year I went to Israel and visited a spot on the Jordan river where people were being baptized. I saw many interesting things there, but one of the most interesting was that people where baptizing themselves. Once again this showed a fundamental misunderstanding of baptism. In Acts we read of the story where Peter preaches the gospel to the Gentiles. While he is preaching the Holy Spirit falls on the Gentiles, and they begin speaking in different languages. Peter recognizes that they have been given the Gift and exclaims, "can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have (Acts 10:47)?" We know from reading Romans that "anyone who does not have the Holy Spirit does not belong to him (Rom. 8:9)." Therefore, all of those who have received the Holy Spirit have been accepted by God and forgiven of their sins. If baptism of the Holy Spirit shows God's acceptance of the Gentiles which leads to life (Acts 11:17), then what does baptism with water show? Peter clearly understood that it showed his acceptance of them leading to life in the Church, which is why he commanded them to be baptized (Acts 10:48). But Peter was not there as an individual but as an Apostle and his acceptance showed the acceptance of the Church. Baptism cannot be done by yourself, it must be done by someone else in the Church. It is a demonstration of being included into the Church.

Each baptism requires two people, one person to receive it and another to perform it. It also symbolizes two inseparable things. The first thing it symbolizes is a request to God for the forgiveness of sins. This is symbolized by the use of water washing away your sins (Acts 22:16). The second thing it symbolizes is membership in the body of Christ, His Church. This is symbolized by being baptized by someone who is already part of the church. This should also remind us of two things, our life in Christ, and our life with each other. However, we must remember that symbols are nothing if they do not represent reality.


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