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Baptism refers to the act of immersing a person in water or simply sprinkling some water on a believer as a way of seeking forgiveness of sins (Spinks 2006, 213). Baptism follows faith and it is said to form the first act of discipleship. After baptism, one is deemed to have repented all his/her sins and s/he can inherit the kingdom of God (Dunn 2010, 23).
Different churches have their different modes of administering baptism. Some do it by dipping a person in water while others simply wash the face with some water considered special for that purpose. Baptism is an important rite of passage amongst Christians though there is heated debate on who should be baptized (William 2010, 97).
Some Christians believe that baptism is only applicable to infants, while others hold that it can be done at any stage in life. According to Christians, baptism creates a contract between the baptized and God and the latter commits himself/herself to Christianity (Stott 2006, 245). This belief has sparked heated debate on the ability of an infant to make a contract, thus raising questions amongst believers on who should actually be baptized.
This essay seeks to answer this question and shed light on the nature of baptism in the contemporary times coupled with providing supporting evidence on the issue. It will analyze the purpose of baptism based on the biblical teaching and the believers’ point of view. It will analyze both the proponents and the opponents’ view and come up with a conclusion on whether baptism in the modern world serves its purpose.
Who Should Be Baptized?
The question regarding who should be baptized has attracted debate with some believers arguing that it is open to anyone who believes in the death of Jesus Christ and others asserting that it should only occur once in the lifetime of an individual, at infancy (McDonnell and Montague 1991, 54). Christian believers in support of child baptism base their argument on the teachings of the New Testament that support infant baptism (Ferguson 2009, 156).
They normally cite Acts 2:39, which states that the kingdom of God is for those who act as “children” (Jeremias 2004, 53). However, to some other section of believers, the inclusion of the word “children” does not imply that baptism should only occur at infancy, but rather it should occur to all believers regardless of age.
The question depends on the individual interpretation of the scripture. Those who oppose infancy baptism allege that there is no direct connection between baptism and infants in the N.T. They interpret the teachings of St. Peter in the aforementioned verse to mean generations to come and not necessarily children.
Those opposing infancy baptism also argue that baptizing children at a tender age is dangerous since baptism creates a covenant between God and the infant, which may have adverse consequences on the kid at his/her old age in case he/she decides to abandon Christianity in favor of a new faith (William 2010, 132).
This argument is based on the teaching of the scripture that views baptism as a contract between God and the person being baptized. In light of this understanding, Lloyd Jones argued that baptizing a child does not guarantee his/her commitment to Christianity since an infant cannot enter into any enforceable agreement (Jeremias 2004, 54). Notably, most infants, who are baptized at infancy, later defect to other faiths when they grow up, thus invalidating infant baptism.
Supporters of child baptism usually allude to the verity that circumcision is open to all Christian believers as stated in the Old Testament (Dunn 2010, 232). They claim that baptism is the connecting sign for the two testaments, viz. the New and the Old Testament. Unfortunately, such arguments overlook the view that the two rituals signify change from physical to spiritual (William 2010, 217). The circumcision/baptism allusion is based on the teachings in Colossians 2:11 that talks of circumcision as a way of cleansing one’s sins (Hunter 2009, 230).
Their take on circumcision is that physical circumcision is similar and equally important as spiritual circumcision. However, the proponents of such thinking tend to distinguish the two by claiming that physical circumcision has no spiritual significance and that the scripture is in support of spiritual circumcision as opposed to the physical circumcision cited by the supporters (Jeremias 2004, 48). Proponents of childhood baptism use Acts 16:15 and 33 by claiming that the mention of households includes infants as well (Ferguson 2009, 132).
No one has attempted to shed light on who was in the household, and thus the supporters only speculate about the presence of children in the household in question. A section of Christians also alleges that children of baptized and committed Christian parents automatically inherit holiness from their parents (McDonnell 1996, 234). The believers base their argument on 1 Corinthians 7.
What is the purpose of baptism?
The main motive of baptism is to show love and commitment for Christ (Hunter 2009, 251). It represents union with Christ in his demise, suffering, and resurrection (William 2010, 234). Jesus sacrificed his life due to the love that he had for the people and he taught his followers that his blood would clean up all the sins that an individual had committed (Jeremias 2004, 241). It is only through baptism that a Christian can pay back. Allegedly, Christians acquire their names through baptism. It is through baptism that a person gains recognition and acceptance in a congregation.
The other purpose that Christians cite is that baptism saves the soul (Lampe 2004, 97). In the book of Mark, it is stated that whoever believes in the teachings in the scripture and in turn accepts to be baptized, his /her soul will be saved (Dunn 2010, 342). Therefore, from this verse, it is evident that the key objective of baptism is to save the soul and inherit the kingdom of God.
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Christians agree on the view that baptism is a way of cleansing sins (William 2010, 425). They believe that once a person is baptized, the washing of sins takes place immediately. In support of this view, Acts 2:38 states that a person who believes in Jesus Christ and baptized automatically receives the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ferguson 2009, 300). In a bid to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, one must first repent or otherwise undergo baptism.
When Jesus was being baptized in the river of Jordan, he automatically received the gift of Holy Spirit that was symbolized by a frame on the head (William 2010, 329). Christians also connect baptism with being “born again.” In the book of John, Jesus explained the meaning of the term being “born again” as being born again through water and spirit. Baptism through water signifies the reception of the Holy Spirit, and thus through baptism one can be said to be born again.
What are the benefits of baptism
The first benefit that accrues from baptism is that the baptized individual acquires salvation, which is the key to inheriting the kingdom of God (Jeremias 2004, 245). Christians believe that everyone shall present himself/herself before Christ in the doomsday and that salvation will be assessed.
Considering the view that salvation comes from faith and baptism, every Christian ought to be baptized through water in order to inherit the kingdom of God. In addition, the scriptures explain that whoever does not go through baptism will not see the kingdom of God and such people are likened to a thief or a robber trying to enter heaven through unacceptable route (Hunter 2009, 112).
The second benefit that Christians get from baptism is the gift of the ability to avoid and escape temptations (Jeremias 2004, 36). This purpose is supported in the teaching of second Peter, which says that God bestows wisdom to righteous people to enable them escape and avoid temptations (William 2010, 53). Temptations are part of Christian lives and every Christian has to overcome them just as Jesus did. No one can be righteous without being baptized, and thus to acquire the aforementioned wisdom, one must first undergo baptism through water. Christians thus seek salvation through baptism to enjoy the benefit of wisdom as righteous people.
The third benefit that accrues from baptism is that one becomes a child of God. In the scriptures, God says that He will be the father of all the righteous people (Dunn 2010, 26). Being a child of God comes with numerous benefits and Christians believe that they will be heirs of their Lord. This desire to become God’s heirs motivates Christians to undergo baptism. Baptism is seen as way of becoming righteous, and thus Christians seek righteousness through baptism in order to be called God’s children.
The final benefit is that baptism signifies redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ (Ferguson 2009, 307). Christians believe that Jesus, the son of God, died on the cross and shed blood for the sake of believers. The blood that he shed was meant to redeem Christians from sins. Through love, Jesus consented to be crucified for those who believe in him to inherit the kingdom of God. Christians reciprocate to this love by believing in Christ and being baptized in order to be redeemed from sins.
What mode of baptism is biblical?
Christians anonymously agree on baptism through water (Hunter 2009, 38). However, they differ on whether to use immersion or sprinkling mode of baptism. Some church leaders prefer to immerse their church members in deep water, while others sprinkle water on the face of an individual. Both methods are biblically acceptable since water does not baptize, but rather the name of the Lord, which is believed to be in and with the water used during baptism (William 2010, 232).
Faith is also important during baptism as baptism with water without faith is not effective. According to St Paul’s teachings, baptism with water without God and faith is ineffective and it does not wash away one’s sins (Jeremias 2004, 139). Water, as a mode of baptism, is highly emphasized in the New Testament as Jesus sent his disciples to go and baptize people through water and the spirit (Dunn 2010, 48).
Jesus, the son of God, was baptized by water at the river of Jordan. During his baptism, he received the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is a clear indication that baptism through water is biblically acceptable as long as it is done in the name of God and the believer has faith in the baptizing water.
Baptism refers to the act of immersing a believer in water or simply sprinkling water on an individual’s forehead. To most Christians, baptism signifies union with Christ in his death and resurrection. The main purpose why Christians undergo this ritual is to gain salvation, and thus acquire the kingdom of God. A number of benefits accrue for those who undergo baptism, which include the reception of the Holy Spirit that helps Christians to overcome temptations that come along their way.
There have been arguments on how and to whom this ritual should be performed. A section of Christians believes that baptism should be performed exclusively to infants. Other Christians argue that baptism can take place at any stage regardless of age or gender.
Christians, who are in support of baptism during infancy, claim that baptism should precede circumcision while those opposing the practice hold that an infant cannot make a binding contract at his/her tender age. Baptism, according to the scriptures, should take the form of immersion in water. In light of the above discussion on baptism, it is evident that baptism is an important rite of passage to Christians as it leads to salvation.
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Hunter, Harold. 2009. Spirit Baptism: A Pentecostal Alternative. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
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