Rites and Ceremonies
Written by: David Buschart
Fundamental to the Baptist tradition is the belief that the Church consists exclusively of persons who have been spiritually born again through knowingly and intentionally entrusting themselves to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.Thus, everything possible should be done to see that the membership of local churches corresponds to this reality; that is, only genuinely, consciously born-again Christians are to be acknowledged as members of the local church.This understanding of the Church undergirds, both historically and theologically, the Baptist view of baptism.
Baptism is the rite through which a person who has been spiritually born again testifies to this fact.It is an expression of and testimony to God's saving grace already received as the result of a conscious choice to entrust oneself to God in Christ.Pedobaptism (that is, the baptism of infants) is thus seen as invalid--indeed, not as baptism--and baptism, in the Baptist tradition, is often referred to as "believer's baptism" or even "adult believer's baptism."Keeping in mind the Baptist view of the Church described above, one can understand that baptism is important because the Church, particularly the purity of the Church, is important.The Church is for spiritually alive Christians only, and baptism is the testimony to and of individuals for whom this is a reality.
Though the earliest Baptists did not baptize by immersion--that is, submersing the entire body--this came to be the practice, as the result of study of the New Testament, within two or three decades.Particular Baptists adopted baptism by immersion in the 1630s, and shortly thereafter General Baptists followed.Thus, baptism by immersion has been the essentially universal practice among Baptists since the mid-17th century.Immersion is thought to be consistent with the terminology and language of the New Testament, which associates baptism with "going down into" and "coming up out of" water (Acts 8:39, Matthew 3:16), as well as symbolically consistent with the new Christian's identification with the death (going down) and resurrection (coming up) of Jesus Christ.
There are differences among Baptists with respect to the steps leading up to baptism.Some Baptists, believing that there is some kind of link or association between baptism and salvation, encourage people to be baptized immediately upon their profession of saving faith in Jesus Christ.Most Baptists, however, while believing baptism to be a necessary step of obedience and one that should not be unduly delayed, do not consider baptism to be inherently necessary for salvation.Many of them think it best that a period of time be given to basic instruction in the Christian faith and to the expression of new life in Christ through speech and behavior.Then, upon evidence of being born again, and only upon such evidence, a person should be baptized.