Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was brought up in a church that baptizes children, way too young to understand the process. Is it important that I get baptized as an adult?
Baptism is like a wedding ring. We put on a wedding ring as a symbol of our commitment and devotion. In the same way baptism is a picture of devotion and commitment to Christ. A wedding ring reminds us and tells others that we belong to someone special. In the same way, baptism reminds us and others that we are devoted to Christ and belong to Him.
The purpose of baptism is to give visual testimony of our commitment to Christ. It is the first step of discipleship (Acts 8:26-39).
According to Romans 6:1-10, baptism pictures at least three things:
First, baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. As we stand in the water we are representing Christ on the cross. As we are dipped underwater we illustrate the burial of Christ. As we come out of the water we demonstrate the resurrection of Christ.
Second, baptism is a personal testimony to us of the washing away of our sins. As we go under the water we reconfirm that our sins are forgiven and as we come out of the water we are resurrected to live a new life in Christ.
Third, baptism represents our personal identification with Christ. Paul declared in Romans 6:3-4 “We were buried with Christ in baptism and we are raised to walk in a new life" as forgiven followers of Christ empowered by the Spirit of God.
Being sprinkled or having water poured over your head when you were an infant, or too young to understand, missed the point of baptism on all three levels.
Why? Because the Bible teaches that commitment to Christ always precedes baptism. In fact, baptism is your testimony of surrendering your life to Christ. The New Testament order is not be baptized and then receive Christ. It is always first you receive Christ and then you get baptized. If you were not aware of submitting to the Lordship of Christ then it is impossible to think of your baptism as a personal commitment to Christ.
It is now important to be baptized as an adult. I recommend that you proceed with Biblical baptism as soon as possible.
Remember, baptism never washes away sins; the blood of Jesus washes away sins.
Perhaps you are wondering where infant baptism originated. Let me give you a brief overview of the source and the evolution of infant baptism. In essence, infant baptism arose from the teachings of some early second and third century church fathers that baptism washed away sin. This meant that if you died without being baptized then you died with your sins unforgiven and thus went to Hell (or purgatory as that concept developed over time). With the high infant mortality rate in the early centuries, the concept of baptizing babies as soon as possible came into vogue. Since it is not necessarily good to push baby heads underwater, the idea of sprinkling took hold.
The Greek word for “baptism” is “βαπτιζω". The English letters look like this: "baptidzo." The word does not mean “sprinkle or “pour”. The Greek word "baptidzo" literally means to “dip” or to “immerse”. For example, when Odysseus was escaping from the Cyclops he took a stick and “baptized” the stick into the eye of the Cyclops. He did not sprinkle it in. He fully immersed it in.
The early translators of the Bible from Latin into English faced a problem with how to translate the Greek word, "baptidzo". If they translated the word as "immerse" a firestorm would erupt because most of the church practiced sprinkling and not full immersion.
To understand the cultural and religious implication, think of the Anabaptists who were persecuted mercilessly (including death) for practicing baptism by immersion.
So, instead of translating the word, the early translators transliterated the word by simply taking the Greek letters and transposing them into English. The word “baptism” was not translated as "immersion," it was transliterate as "baptize". Crisis was averted and the early Bibles in English were less likely to be offensive to some and outright rejected by others.
You may find it interesting that early writings from some 2nd century Christian desert communities dealt with the practical issues of baptism. They taught that if not enough water existed for full immersion then pouring on the head was acceptable. If not enough water existed for pouring then sprinkling was acceptable. And, if water was in really short supply then sand may be used. This practice was expedient and probably necessary.
On the other hand, the Ethiopian eunuch surrendered his life to Christ as he was riding in the desert reading the scroll of Isaiah. He didn't choose to be baptized by sand. He waited until he found a body of water large enough for immersion (Acts 8). There is no record that any babies or children were ever baptized in this manner. These were all adults.
Throughout the years of the Church, baptism by immersion has taken several forms. Some baptize by dipping three times in the “Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Others use the Jewish model for baptizing Gentile converts into Judaism. The initiates wear white robes and are dipped three times forward and three times backward. The most common mode of baptism is once backward to portray the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Well, Britney, I hope this sheds some light on the subject of baptism and I hope it is helpful to you in making up your mind regarding your own baptism. Again, from my understanding, baptism is the first test of obedience to Christ. Go get baptized. It will be a most meaningful and spiritual experience for you now as an adult.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.