Biblical Basis for Baptism, and How Should it be Performed

The biblical basis for baptism, and how should it be performed


National Association of Christian Ministers Manual to Ministry: Planning

Baptism stands as a pivotal rite within Christianity, signifying a believer’s faith in Jesus Christ and their incorporation into the body of Christ, the Church. It is a commandment, a grace, a rite, and an initiation embodying the death and resurrection of Christ and the believer’s participation in this mystery. This article delves into the 1) biblical foundations of baptism; 2) its theological significance; and 3) practical considerations on how it should be performed, drawing upon scripture, tradition, and contemporary Christian practice.

The Biblical Basis for Baptism #

Old Testament Prefigurations #

Baptism, while a New Testament ordinance, is prefigured in the Old Testament through various types and shadows.

The Waters of Creation (Genesis 1:2)

The Flood (Genesis 7-8) and

The Crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14)

These three mentions are seen as antecedents to baptism:

Symbolizing Purification,

Salvation, and

The Start of a Covenantal Journey With God.

New Testament Command and Practice #

The New Testament explicitly institutes baptism as a Christian rite, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist. John’s baptism, though a baptism of repentance, prepared the way for Jesus’ own baptism and ministry (Matthew 3:1-17). Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River is pivotal, marking the inauguration of His public ministry and the revelation of the Trinity.

The Great Commission #

Before His ascension, Jesus commissions His disciples, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This command underscores the trinitarian formula of baptism and its centrality to the Christian mission.

The Apostolic Practice #

The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles provide numerous accounts of baptism following Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preaches to the crowds, leading to the baptism of about three thousand souls (Acts 2:38-41). The practice of baptism is consistently linked with repentance, faith in Christ, and the reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:12-17, 10:44-48, 16:14-15, 16:31-33).

Theological Significance of Baptism #

Initiation and Identity #

Baptism marks the believer’s initiation into the Christian faith and the community of believers.

It signifies the washing away of sins (Acts 22:16),

A new birth in the Spirit (John 3:5), and

The believer’s adoption into God’s family (Galatians 3:26-27). In baptism, one’s identity is fundamentally transformed, becoming a part of the body of Christ.

Participation in Christ’s Death and Resurrection #

Pauline theology, especially as found in Romans 6:3-4, emphasizes that in baptism, believers are united with Christ in His death and resurrection. This union signifies the death of the old self to sin and the birth of a new life in righteousness. Baptism thus encapsulates the paschal mystery—Christ’s death and resurrection—as the foundation of Christian living.

Covenant and Kingdom #

Baptism also signifies the believer’s entry into the new covenant in Christ and the Kingdom of God. It is a sign and seal of God’s promises, akin to circumcision in the Old Covenant (Colossians 2:11-12). As such, baptism is not just a personal act of faith but also incorporates the believer into the broader story of redemption and God’s unfolding kingdom.

How Should Baptism Be Performed? #

While the essence of baptism is universally recognized among Christians, practices and understandings vary among different traditions. However, several key principles emerge from scripture and tradition.

Mode of Baptism #

While some are dogmatic about the “way baptism should be performed,” the New Testament does not prescribe a specific mode of baptism. Early and historical Christian practice includes immersion, affusion (pouring), and aspersion (sprinkling). The symbolism of burial and resurrection with Christ (Romans 6:4) has led many to favor immersion. However, the essential element is the use of water and the Trinitarian formula, rather than the amount of water used.

Note: The NACM does not take a position regarding the “appropriate way to baptize.” Our goal is to win souls for Jesus, and we know that He has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

1) As long as those three names are declared at baptism, and

2) The candidate confesses that salvation is in no other name of Jesus, and

3) The candidate is ceremonially infused with water as a symbolism of their repentance from sin.

Candidates for Baptism #

The practice of baptizing believers upon confession of faith is widely attested in the New Testament (Acts 8:36-38, 16:31-33). This has led many Christian traditions to practice believer’s baptism. However, the practice of infant baptism is also ancient, predicated on the understanding of baptism as entry into the new covenant community, akin to circumcision in the Old. Some believers embrace this approach and others reject it. The key is that a person can not truly be symbolically baptized for repentance without being the age of accountability or sin.

Nevertheless, both practices emphasize grace—either the grace anticipated in a child’s future profession of faith or the grace realized in an adult’s confession of faith.

The Role of Faith and the Community #

Baptism is not a mere ritual but an act of faith and obedience, both on the part of the one being baptized (in believer’s baptism) and the community of faith that witnesses and affirms this sacrament. The community’s role is vital, as baptism incorporates the individual into the body of Christ, necessitating the support, teaching, and