Baptists and baptism – Matthew 28:16-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 29, 2018
Christians should be baptized out of obedience to and love for our Lord Jesus. Water baptism by immersion is the biblical method of baptism because of its symbolic representation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Water baptism symbolizes the believer’s total trust in and total reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as a commitment to live obediently to him. It also expresses unity with all the saints because we are “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19), that is, with every person in every nation on earth who is a member of the Body of Christ where there “is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Water baptism conveys this and more, but it is not what saves us. Instead, we are “saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9). We are baptized because Jesus commanded it: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Total immersion was practiced for the first 800 years of church history.
Water baptism is for believers. Before we are baptized, we must come to believe that we are sinners in need of salvation. We must also believe that Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins, that he was buried, and that he was resurrected to assure our place in heaven. When we turn to Jesus, asking him to forgive our sins and be our Lord and Savior, we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our eternal salvation is guaranteed, and we begin to die to ourselves and live for Christ. At that time we are scripturally qualified to be baptized. Infant baptism was not practiced for the first 300 years of church history and some texts by early church fathers regarding the issue deal with heresies. It is not found anywhere in Scripture and the closest we find are three references to “households” being baptized but a household only considered those over a certain age of maturity meaning adults.
Water baptism is a beautiful picture of what our Lord has done for us. As we are completely immersed in the water, we symbolize burial with our Lord; we are baptized into his death on the cross and are no longer slaves to self or sin. When we are raised out of the water, we are symbolically resurrected—raised to new life in Christ forever. Water baptism also illustrates the spiritual cleansing we experience when we are saved; just as water cleanses the flesh, we are cleansed when we trust Christ.
The fact that water baptism is not a prerequisite for salvation is best seen in the example of a saved man who was not baptized in water—the criminal on the cross (Luke 23:39–43). This self-confessed sinner acknowledged Jesus as his Lord while dying on a cross next to Him. The thief asked for salvation and was forgiven of his sins. Although he never experienced water baptism, at that moment he was spiritually baptized into Christ’s death, and he then was raised to eternal life by the power of Christ’s word (Hebrews 1:3).
Baptists derive their name from their view of baptism and from the word “baptizō” (bap-tid’-zo) which is a Greek word for dipping cloth.
Sadly, most people today do not have a proper understanding of who Baptists are and where we came from. Baptists are not “Protestants”. We never protested or were part of the Reformation where Luther broke free from the Catholic Church. We came from a group known as the Puritans. Puritans tend to be thought of as old stogies who just wanted to spoil everybody’s fun. However, the modern-day view of the Puritans is far from the truth. They did not wear black with white collars and frown a lot. In fact they wore very colorful clothing and were happy joyous folks. They broke away from the likes of Lutherans and Anglicans.
The Puritans wanted to see real biblical reform come to the Church of England. The Anglican Church was founded by Henry VIII so he could marry whom he wanted. It was basically a “Catholic Light” organization. These early Puritans were led by Bishop Hooker and Thomas Cartwright and they began to call for a “pure” Church. However, the Queen and the Church of England were not willing to put up with these Puritans and thus began to enforce religious conformity by law.
Catholics and Anglicans both believe that only they can impart the grace of God. It is faith in Christ and then the ministering of God’s grace through specific acts within the “church” that saves a person: infant baptism, confirmation, confession, acts of contrition, prayers, marriage and in some cases how you die. Grace is seen as a big bucket you dip into.
This demand of conformity from the political and religious persecution in England produced a group known as the “Separatists”. The principles behind this movement were the freedom of the Church from State rule, pure doctrine rather than a watered-down or compromising doctrine, and overall reform of the Church. The Separatists took the Bible seriously and they were determined to order their lives by its teachings. They separated themselves from the Anglican Church. They believed in believer’s baptism after one placed their faith in Jesus and no longer in infant baptism.
From this group of Separatists came a small group know as General Baptists because they believed in a “general” atonement. General Baptists also had a distinct belief that Christians could face the possibility of “falling from grace”. The two primary founders of the General Baptist movement were John Smyth and Thomas Helwys.
The earliest General Baptist Church was thought to be founded about 1608 by John Smyth (1570-1612) and it was located in Holland. Smyth’s history begins in England where he was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1594. Soon after his ordination, his zeal landed him in prison for refusal to conform to the teachings and practices of the Church of England. Smyth continually battled the Church of England until it became obvious that he could no longer stay in fellowship with this church. Thus, he finally broke totally from them and became a “Separatist”.
From the General Baptists a second group formed known as the Particular Baptists. They came out of the Separatist movement as well. This group emerged in the 1630’s. It was influenced by the great reformer John Calvin and held strongly to a “particular” atonement. The first church was thought to be founded around 1633 or 1638. This small group in 1644 acted together to issue a confession of faith called the First London Confession of Faith. This confession preceded the widely known Westminster Confession of Faith by two years. Present-day Baptist churches can be traced back to these early Baptists. Many of these folks fled to the New World and America for religious freedom. Many of the pilgrims were Separatist and Baptist in theology.
The first Baptist church in America is thought to be the church at Providence founded by Roger Williams in 1639. This church was founded on Particular Baptist doctrine, but in mid-1650 fell away to a more General Baptist position. Even though there was growth for Baptists in the 1600’s in America, it was during the 1700’s that the Baptist churches in America began to gain a widespread voice. In 1700, there were only 24 Baptist churches with 839 members, but in 1790 there were 979 churches with 67,490 members. The Baptist John Leland was influential in having the First Amendment placed within the Constitution that guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices.
This article is copyrighted © 2018 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.