Two Ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s supper, are given to the Church by its Risen Head, the Lord Jesus. Here, we consider the first ordinance, and in order to clarify what the word ordinance means we turn to the Oxford Dictionary, where it is defined as “a religious rite, a decree, an authoritative command”; this is fully borne out by Matthew 28. 18-20, where we have the threefold command, “Go, baptize, teach”.
There are at least eight kinds of baptisms found in the New Testament, but the only one which can be regarded as a command for the believer is found in believer’s baptism. To help us to have an understanding of believer’s baptism, we put forward six questions, answering each one from the Scriptures.
Mark 16. 16 makes it clear that, whilst baptism is not necessary for salvation, yet the person who believes is to be baptized. This is further borne out by the Corinthian believers who “hearing believed, and were baptized”, Acts 18. 8. The Holy Spirit also records the fact of the Philippian jailor’s baptism, and goes on to say that he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house”, 16. 34 (that is to say, all the members of his household were old enough to believe and rejoice). In Acts 2. 41, “they that gladly received his word were baptized”. Thus from these scriptures we conclude that it is the believer in Christ who is baptized. It is true to say that the New Testament does not contemplate a believer who is not baptized, neither does it authorize an unbeliever to be baptized.
The longest recorded interval in the scriptures between conversion and baptism is three days, Acts 9. 9-19. Here Paul had his priorities right, for he considered it more important to obey and be baptized than at that time to eat, indicating that the ideal time for baptism is at conversion, (for this is part of the meaning of the picture), in Acts 8. 36-39 the eunuch also would have no delay; seeing water he asks, “what doth hinder me to be baptized?” and after his confession of faith (A.V.) he was baptized. Peter, in Acts 10. 47, having seen the Gentile believers truly born again, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, stated that no man could forbid them to be baptized. In the royal decree of Matthew 28. 19 (R.V.), baptism comes before teaching them to observe all things. Although no specific interval of time is laid down, a principle is clearly established that it is on the individual’s confession of faith that he or she is baptized. Remember, that baptism is something like the soldier and his uniform - the uniform does not make him a soldier, but it does identify him as a soldier.
The Greek word baptizo means to put into water and then take it out again; or of dipping a garment into dye to dye it. This shows clearly that no idea of sprinkling is involved. That immersion is the scriptural method of baptism is shown by John baptizing in Aenon because there was much water there, John 3. 23; this was also true of Philip and the eunuch, for we read that they went down into the water, Acts 8. 38; it was a baptism in water not with water. Paul illustrates this point perfectly in 1 Corinthians 10, when he speaks of the children of Israel being “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea”, 1 Cor. 10. 2. The children of Israel, having the sea on either side and the cloud above, were totally immersed.
Now it is not only the amount of water that is important but the number of persons who participate in a baptism; that number must be two, the baptizer and the baptized (e.g., Philip and the eunuch).
There is required from both parties obedience, for the one who is being baptized, obedience in identification with the Lord, thus having a good conscience towards God, 1 Pet. 3. 21. Then the baptizer is acting in obedience to the royal command of Matthew 28. 19 R.V., “baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”. Notice it is a name, and not names; it is the name of the Triune God. The name, as always in Scripture, reveals character, indicating that we have become partakers of the divine nature. But the responsibility of the baptizer does not end with baptism, for he is to teach those whom he baptizes “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”. This aspect of obedience in baptism is often a neglected truth.
The actual physical act of baptism consists of three definite stages, and each of them teaches what happened when we were converted.
Stage 1. Immersion - Going into the waters.
Stage 2. Submersion - Going under the waters.
Stage 3. Emergence - Coming up out of the waters.
Now we must look behind these physical acts, and note that in symbol the act signifies that in our conversion we shared in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Stage 1. Immersion - Died with Christ, Rom. 6. 8. Our old nature here in Romans 6 is seen to have been put to death with Christ on the cross; it therefore has no power or claim ove: us. Dead men do not frequent their old haunts and practise their old habits, neither do they practise falsehood or tell lies. The children of Israel’s baptism unto Moses sealed them off from their old life in Egypt, and this should also be true of us.
Stage 2. Submersion - We were buried therefore with Him, Rom. 6. 4. Burial is a ratification of death; it is a proof that death has taken place. Abraham could say “that I may bury my dead out of my sight”, Gen. 23. 4. Likewise baptism indicates that my old nature is dead, and as far as God is concerned it is out of His sight forever. What comfort the words “buried with him” provide, for as surely as we have been buried with Him, then in that same union and power we shall be raised with Him.
Stage 3. Emergence - Raised together with Christ, Col. 2. 12. We read in Romans 6. 5 that as we have been united with Him in death, so we shall be united with Him in resurrection. We draw life from the same source, divine life, a new nature that cannot sin. It is a life that is marked by seeking heavenly things, a mind that is always occupied with the things of heaven and of God. So to sum up, baptism teaches that at conversion we were united with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.
Baptism, as we have established, is an outward witness of what happened inwardly when we were converted. But how does such a witness benefit us? We shall consider three ways in which we are benefited.
Benefit 1. Obedience, Matt. 28. 19. Baptism, as we have seen in Matthew 28, is not a desire or wish of the Lord Jesus, but a command that must be obeyed. Such obedience is found in Romans 6. 17 and it has three things to commend it: (a) Obedience of the child of God to the Word of God will result in other believers giving thanks to God. (b) The obedience is not of the mind but of the heart: it is out of the heart’s affection, for the Lord Jesus could say “if ye love me, keep my commandments”, John 14. 15. (c) It is an obedience to a pattern or mould of teaching that will conform us to Christ -likeness, such likeness being manifested when in baptism we are identified with Christ.
Benefit 2. Faithfulness, Acts 16. 15. It is to be noticed from Acts 16. 15 that only when Lydia was baptized did she consider herself to be faithful to the Lord. Then and only then was Lydia prepared to venture out into service. There is no place in the service of the Lord for those who are unfaithful, and to be an unbaptized believer is to be unfaithful.
Benefit 3. Good Conscience, 1 Pet. 3. 21. Here we are reminded that, just as the waters saved Noah, so the waters of baptism save us in the matter of conscience, for baptism does not and cannot remove the filth of sin, but it declares or confesses (for this is what the word “answer” means) that I have a good conscience towards God through the resurrection of Christ who is at the right hand of God. It saves me then, as the context would show, from everything that is contrary to my identification with Christ, and declares to all that I am right with God. What a benefit then we have in baptism; it declares that I am right with God, and that my conscience is at peace with God!
We answer this question by considering firstly what follows baptism as an ordinance, namely, what is the next practical step after baptism, and secondly what follows baptism in its symbolic teaching.
What follows after baptism as an ordinance. “And they continued stedfastly”, Acts 2. 42, is simply a statement of fact concerning those who had gladly received the word and had been baptized. This is the theme that the Hebrew Epistle stresses, that if we are saved, then we will continue. Note the order of the four things in which they continued : the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in prayers. The Scriptures therefore were the basis and foundation for the assembly (fellowship) and its activities (worship and prayer). But look at these statements again, and you will observe the assembly and its three great internal activities, worship, prayer, and scriptural teaching. The next step, then, after baptism is fellowship in the local assembly, and a continuance in the scriptural meetings of the assembly: breaking of bread meeting, prayer meeting and a meeting where the Scriptures are taught.
What follows baptism in its symbolic teaching. Baptism, as we have seen, teaches us that at conversion we are united with Christ in death, burial and resurrection, and in Romans 6. 11-13 the resulting issues of such an event are laid before us. In Romans 6. 11 we are called upon to do two things, one positive and one negative, and then these two statements are amplified in verses 12-13 Firstly the negative and its amplification, “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin” (to count or calculate) and do not let sin be king in your lives, with you being its obedient subjects. Neither should we yield (continually) the members of our body as the weapons of unrighteousness. Secondly the positive and its amplification, to count ourselves alive unto God in and because of Christ, and then to yield once for all our members as weapons of righteousness unto God. Wherefore let us be engaged on the side of God waging warfare against sin and Satan.
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