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The History of Baptism

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Matthew chapter three is our first picture in the act of believer’s baptism. John the Baptist (who was Jesus’ cousin) was baptizing believers at the river Jordan. It seems strange that Jesus wanted to be baptized by John, considering that Christ was without sin. Each subject will be based off of a discussion question.

Where do we get baptism from?

We stated before that the first showing of believers baptism is in Matthew where John baptizes Jesus. But where does it go from there? The Great Commission in Matthew twenty-eight says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” So where is that portrayed in the ballad of history?

There has always been an ordinance of baptism throughout early and present church history. The Catholic Church has baptism as a part of their sacraments for those in the church. Wayne Grudem, in his Bible Doctrine book, shows that the Catholic Church teaches that, “these sacraments in themselves actually convey grace to people (without requiring faith from the persons participating in them).” The Baptist stance has always been opposed to the idea and belief of the Catholic Church in this area and has since called the sacraments ordinances (much like I have already). The dilemma has never really been with what to call it (that is minor and somewhat insignificant). There is a problem with the actual carrying out of the action.

Mode and Significance of Baptism

Like I said before, the problem is not with the name of the practice, but how the practice is carried out. So here is the dilemma. How are we supposed to baptize? The Catholic Church uses it as their admittance to the church itself with its infants known as “christening”. There is a belief in culture that baptism is a means to salvation (why Baptists do not hold to the view of the sacraments). Wayne Grudem references this is somewhat like Paul’s combating of the necessity of circumcision to be a believer in Galatians. So what do Baptists hold to for their act of Baptism?

A Baptist church should hold the view of Baptism after salvation, rather than the Catholic stance of baptism for salvation. Scripture is quite plain to Baptists about its meaning and its symbolism. The Greek word for baptism is baptizo which is translated as, “to plunge, dip, or immerse.” Anywhere you look in the New Testament you see baptism by immersion. Immersion means placing the full body of someone under a body of water. It has a couple of major significant symbols that go along with it. One, baptism is obeying the Great Commission. The first step Christ gives is to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We follow through with baptism because we believe in the power of the Trinity as well as in the ministry and sacrifice of Christ. Second, the act of baptism is a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Romans, it seems as though because of the symbol of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection we would have to be completely immersed:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:3-4

In fact, this passage is used as reference in most Baptist baptisms. So why is this an argument? How (and don’t take this the wrong way) does it seem that Baptists have a very correct literal view of this act?

What do you know about Baptists?

Most people know about Martin Luther and his ninety-five thesis. Luther was a German priest who found his faults with the Catholic Church and nailed his disagreements to the Church in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. Luther started the reformation or as the Catholic Encyclopedia calls it, “the great religious revolt.” But he was 1300 years after the corruption of scripture.

Baptists have always had a problem with the idea of infant Baptism. The early Church, in fact, did not hold to this practice until later. Tertullian in A.D. 200 says, “when they understand Christianity let them profess themselves Christians.” Infant baptism did not show up in Church thought until thirty years later when Origen wrote, “…and it is for that reason, because by the sacrament of baptism the pollution of our birth is taken away, that infants are baptized.” Slowly it got worse and worse through the next couple of centuries all the way up until Augustine proclaiming that infants are better off not even being born for the punishment they might suffer.

The first Baptist baptism by immersion took some time to actually take place. Almost 1100 years from Augustine to be exact. There was urgency within the priesthood of Europe to give the people the truth of scripture and tear down the corrupt nature of the Church. The people who began baptizing were given the derogatory nickname of Anabaptists. The Anabaptists were not anything but men following the scripture. The first Anabaptist was a man of Conrad Grebel (1498-1526). He was baptized January 21, 1525 ( in the house of Felix Manz) along with Felix Manz and George Blaurock. Grebel sadly, however, only lived a year after his conversion. He was said to have baptized over 500 at one time in the winter in the frozen Sitten River. Manz was arrested at the same time as Grebel but lived until January 1527 when he was martyred by the Church. Blaurock was the first official Anabaptism in history. A very zealous man, he is recorded in October 1525 of stopping a service at the Hinwil Church. He said, “Whose place is this? If this is God’s place, where the Word of God is proclaimed, I am a messenger from the Father to proclaim the word of God.” Blaurock was imprisoned and charged never to preach the Gospel again. The reason he lived longer (1529) was because he was travelling…sharing the gospel.

That was just the start of the Baptist movement. We are no strangers to persecution in our history. We have hit walls of liberalism and drawn lines in the sand that we know are the truth. Our statement of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, is Testimony to that long history of standing by scripture. Here are a few of the newest revisions:

  1. The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man
  2. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture
  3. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.

We have been called Jesus freaks and Bible thumpers, but we know what we are. We are Baptists because we could not let the error of man filtering the scripture go unnoticed. It all started because of infant baptism.

How old were you when you were baptized?

The discussion here really is driving in one direction. We see the error of a required baptism but there is an underlying question as well. How old is old enough to get baptized? There is no clear statement in scripture of a specific timetable or required age for someone to profess Christ. A good way to gauge sincerity and clarity of a person’s salvation is if they can give a precise (or as precise as you can get out of the younger ones) reason for their want to know Christ. That could be early or later in life. There is no scriptural basis however for an exact age of accountability.

What’s the point?

The goal here is not to make you change denomination. Truth is truth, it is not relative. Baptism in its biblical origin was through immersion. It is a symbol of us accepting Christ as well as an outward, public display of dying to ourselves and letting the Holy Spirit descend upon us. The scriptural necessity of baptism is evident in the Great Commission. It is not, however, required for salvation. It is the first step in obedience with Christ though. At the day of Pentecost there were 3000 baptized (Acts 2) and all of them followed through on believer’s baptism. Here is the point. Baptism is a sacred act. It cannot be taken lightly and most assuredly should not be someone’s act of salvation. So two things:

Baptism is not a means of salvation rather an act of obedience after salvation

The act of baptism is a two-fold symbol. It is the representation of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Secondly, it is symbolizing your new dependence on Christ and the washing away of the old self.

The Lord’s Supper

Lord’s Supper falls in with the same category as baptism and the two are usually paired together. The Catholic Church has it as part of the sacrament system under the title “communion”. Now it does not matter at all what it is called honestly. It is, however, an ordinance that should be a regular practice in the local fellowship. Luke twenty two gives a very clear insight into the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gathered with His followers in the upper room in Jerusalem, His last moments alive. There are a lot of questions that arise from this particular act. When are we supposed to have the Lord’s Supper? Who can partake of it? What does it mean? How can I eat the body, and drink the blood of Christ? Let’s try to answer that.

Why is the Lord’s Supper so Important?

There are a couple of reasons why we choose to follow the Practice of the Lord’s Supper. On one hand it was the last thing Christ did before the cross. Then on the other, Christ himself says do this in remembrance of me. Grudem, in his book, gives seven reasons why the Lord’s Supper is so important.

  1. When we take a part of the Lord’s Supper we are symbolizing Christ’s death for us
  2. Our participation in the benefits of Christ’s death
  3. Spiritual nourishment
  4. The unity of believers
  5. Christ affirms His love for me
  6. Christ affirms that all the blessings of salvation are reserved for me
  7. I affirm my faith in Christ

Even beyond the symbols of the Lord’s Supper it was a bench mark for the age of Christ at His death. We know Christ was thirty when he began His public ministry but the way we know He was thirty-three was the number of Passovers He attended. Since Passover was a yearly festival in Israel and we know there were three that Christ attended we know that He was in fact thirty-three.

Another great object lesson from the Lord’s Supper is the account in John thirteen. Christ gets down and washes the disciple’s feet. It seems ridiculous from the outside looking in that a man with no sin would bend down and clean the feet of those who have no right to even be in fellowship with Him. Jesus even washed Judas’ feet too! It is a perfect and awesome picture of humility. Christ Himself says, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter got mad, just as anyone would. After a quick scolding Peter realized what Christ wanted to show.

“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’”-John 13:12-17

The Lord’s Supper is Just a Symbol of Christ’s body, Right?

For some reason this became a debate in the Church. In fact, the Catholic Church still holds to this view. Transubstantiation is the belief that the bread and wine in communion, when they enter your body, become the actual flesh and blood of Christ. A priest elevates the bread and he (the priest) blesses the bread as Christ’s body. But this view point is a literal reading of scripture through a symbolic passage. Christ often times spoke through symbols throughout His ministry. Christ is not a vine, or a door, or even manna. It ultimately is a failure to see that Christ’s death for our sins is finished and complete. So the Lord’s Supper is a symbol. A very powerful symbol, but a symbol none the less.

How often should we partake of the Lord’s Supper?

That’s up to your Church. While I feel that the Catholic Church has done wrong by idolizing the action rather than the significance, it is not wrong to weekly remember what Christ did through this act but you have to be cautious. There are two extremes that need to be avoided. We do need to observe Lord’s Supper, but it cannot be our focus is just on the communion. We have to look at the symbol and act out what it represents. Then, one the other side, we cannot completely remove ourselves from its practice. It is a command of Christ in a sense when He says, “…do this in remembrance of me.” So there is no exact number of times that is required or that is “too many.” But it is an act of obedience.

Who can participate in the Lord’s Supper?

We, as Baptists, hold fast to our stance that this is reserved for those who have accepted Christ. Each Church varies from who they allow to take part but that really needs to be a deciding factor. Another problem is if there are visitors. Can they take part? Technically they are not a part of the local body and there are numerous ways to look at this. But, the Pastor knows what his congregation needs to look like. There should be no conviction, for believers, who take part in the Lord’s Supper outside of their local body. That can really be the only exception though. Even children who have not accepted Christ should not participate.

“Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” 1 Corinthians 11:28-30

The Lord’s Supper is a time of self examination; a time of reflection. It is not just a bread and juice break from life. There is a very serious implication for those who participate and delight in the Lord’s Supper.

What’s the point?

These past two lessons we have looked at two very important ordinances of the Church (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Not in great detail but just an overview of thought. They are obligations we have to fulfill to be obedient followers of Christ. The point is this. We should have an understanding of why we do what we do. That understanding should always be scriptural based but needs to have a logical train of thought from start to finish. We cannot take lightly the staples of Faith.

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