Why this was written and why you should read it.
Although the Christian doctrine of baptism hardly generates the level of controversy in today’s culture as it has in the past and seems to have passed the torch to issues such as homosexuality, abortion, or the exclusivity of Christianity, the consequences of a faulty understanding of baptism remains as dire as ever. Every person has a theology of baptismeven those who don’t think they do. The point of this paper is
- To articulate what the Apex elders understand to be the biblical theology of baptism.
- The help every person (Apexer or not) identity your theology of baptism and compare it with Apex’s.
- To clarify for house church leaders various aspects of baptism that have confused Christians in recent and ancient history.
The point of this resource is to help you embrace a biblical understanding of both the gospel and baptism. We need to always ask God for wisdom and grace to grow in our understanding (Col 1:910, Jam 1:5) of these things, asking that as we do, it is never apart from love for God and others or it is a waste (1 Cor 13:2).
YOU’VE ALMOST SOLD ME. YOU’RE SURE THIS DOCUMENT IS FOR ME?
Yes! This paper is especially aimed at disciples of Christ who are considering or preparing for baptism at Apex, house church leaders, all Christians who regularly worship at Apex, and anybody just wanting to know more.
Summary of Position
Baptism is a physical demonstration and symbol of the gospel and its effects in the life of believers by being immersed in water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is commanded by Christ as an ordinance for the church to obey (Matt 28:28), as a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a demonstration of a disciple's union through faith in Him in their death to sin, burial of their old life, and resurrection to a new life in Christ (Rom 6:14, Col 1:11-12, Gal 3:27).
The Gospel and Baptism
Baptism gets its meaning, beauty, and importance from the gospel.
Unfortunately, many of Jesus’ followers, for many reasons, fail to view baptism as meaningful, beautiful, or important. Often this disconnect stems from backwards reasoning. Many people implicitly start with their observations of or assumptions about the act of baptism and from those draw conclusions about the gospel.
That is similar to looking at something through the wrong end of a telescope; you’ll see a version of what you’re looking at, but you’ll miss its actual size and significance and miss out on seeing it for all it is. (Act of ) Baptism> (What is the) Gospel
Christians need to start with a clear, biblical understanding of the gospel and from there move towards a biblical understanding of baptism. Only this route allows baptism to be illuminated and, in turn, illuminate further one’s view of the gospel.
It is important to make sure that we understand ourselves and are helping others understand first what is the essence of the Gospel.
What is the Gospel?
The Gospel is that though we are rebellious sinners against God and deserving His judgment and wrath, God in His Son Jesus Christ came and in: his sinless life, substitutionary atoning death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead has secured salvation for sinners. This is the forgiveness of our sins and the adoption into the family God for all those who repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you.... For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...” (1 Cor 15:1 &34).
The Gospel is the good news of what God has done!! It’s an announcement, a declaration that the God of the universe has entered into history and won the battle against sin and death.
The Gospel is what God has achieved in Christ on behalf of sinners.
The proper response to this good news is faith and repentance. Repentance is seeing and grieving the cost of our sin on the cross of Christ, turning from it and faith is trusting that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the only means of being reconciled to God our creator. The Gospel is often called the Gospel of God’s grace because it is comes from the mercy and undeserved provision of God. Faith is even a gift of God’s grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9).
Since it is through what Christ alone has done that saves us, we know that there is nothing we do, including being baptized in water, that saves us.
What is Baptism and why should we do it?
Baptism is an ordinance given to the Church to obey as an expression of faith in Jesus Christ as both Lord & Savior.
Baptism is first and foremost an ordinance an action that Jesus has ordered his church to observe in
obedience. Like the other ordinance, communion, baptism is a means of reminding Christians what Christ has done for them. Matthew 28 records Jesus’ command to the Twelve to, ““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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..”(v1920). When Christians baptize new believers, and when new believers submit to the teaching & authority of Christ, the church honors and obeys Christ. When Christians delay or diminish baptism, they dishonor him with their disobedience of a fundamental command.
How does baptism relate to & illuminate the gospel?
Baptism is an expression of faith not merely because it is an act of obedience , but because of its extraordinary symbolism. It is a symbol and sign of five things: the gospel (good news) itself, the cleansing of sin, union with Christ, union within the Church, and being setting apart for God.
- The Gospel itself: People are prone to think that a baptism is about the person being baptized, when in fact it is all about Jesus. Baptism is a sign of the Gospel, pointing to the person and work of Jesus Christ. “Baptism is a neon light flashing 'Gospel, Gospel, Gospel.” The good news in the Bible is that in Christ God has done the work of saving man. “Baptism is a beautiful Godgiven rite which displays, proclaims, and testifies to the reality of the gospel.” Stephen Wellum, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Of the cleansing of sin: On the cross Jesus took on our sin (2 Cor 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24) along with the entire penalty for our rebellion toward God (1 John 4: 10). By substituting himself for us, Jesus cleansed us of the fatal stain, so that when God looks on us he sees not our sin, but the pure righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21).
- Union with Christ: The apostle Paul, when describing the believer’s union with Christ, uses water baptism as the picture of what has already happened to the believer (Rom 6:1-11, Gal 3:26-27). Baptism signifies that the believer’s old self has died with Christ, dying to their old life of sin, and been raised to a new life, just as Christ was raised from the dead (Rom 6:34, Col 2:11-12). Thus, in baptism, a person is “buried” (immersed) and “resurrected”. The act of baptism is an expression of faith in Christ and a demonstration of what has occurred by faith our union with Christ.
- Union with the Church: As an act of both individual and corporate obedience, baptism symbolizes the corporate (community) identity of the believer and strengthens the community that is the body of Christ. While baptism has no saving power, its fulfillment serves as a public seal, or indicator, of who is a follower of Christ and who is not.
- Set apart to God: The believer, having been united to Christ is freed from the reign and power of sin and is “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”(Rom 6:11). We are saved by grace, but are saved unto good works and service to God (Eph 2:10).
The believer has died with Christ, been raised with Christ to life in Christ, so that they as a disciple may live for Christ.
Gospel, Baptism, and Disciples
Jesus makes a clear tie between discipleship and baptism in Matthew 28:1820, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Why should I get baptized?
The motives of a disciple of Christ for getting baptized should be:
To obey the commands of Christ; obeying Jesus
To love Him in obedience; loving Jesus
To follow the example of Christ; knowing Jesus
Other motives for getting baptized (joining a local church, to please a family member or friend, etc) may coincide with those listed above, but are not adequate themselves.
Since baptism is a sign of the Gospel and commanded by Christ, we might say that, Baptism is not necessary for salvation, but is necessary for obedience.
Improper thoughts and motives for delaying baptism:
“Since baptism isn't needed for salvation, it isn't for obedience.”
This is a problem because it implies that disciples can pick and choose like a buffet line what commands to obey and which to disregard, making them Lord and not Christ. In the times of the New Testament, the idea of an ‘unbaptized Christian’ was unheard of, not because baptism was thrust upon believers, but because faith in Christ and baptism were seen as two aspects of the one reality of salvation.
“Baptism is for mature Christians, I should hold off till I'm mature enough or 'good enough'.”
This is a problem because it forgets the Gospel and the purpose of baptism: which is to signify that you are a sinner saved by God's grace not as a sign that you were saved and now you have it all together. A disciple can never decide when he or she are “good enough” when one should constantly be walking in repentance. In the history of the Church, baptism quickly followed salvation and not after maturity (Acts 2:37-41, 22:16).
“I am afraid of being in front of people.”
Though this is common, anxiety should never keep a disciple from obedience to Christ. Withholding baptism out of fear puts the disciple at the center of their motives and not obedience to Christ. If you are fearful, it is important to remember that confronting sin, is part of being a disciple of Christ (Rom 8:13) and that the disciple has been freed from the mastery of sin (Rom 6:1-11). Baptism is therefore an excellent way to begin honoring Christ.
How Apex Baptizes
Jesus is the senior pastor of Apex and has commanded baptism, so Apex regularly conducts baptisms in house
churches and in the larger weekend gatherings. Baptism is an exciting and serious joy at Apex. For every person that is baptized, we are reminded that God has come to rescue us and that He saves sinners. Jesus said that when one sinner repents and puts his or her faith in Him Heaven rejoices (Luke 15:7). In a way, baptism is Apex's opportunity to then rejoice with Heaven.
Who gets baptized?
Baptism is intended only for the individual who has professed faith in Christ and follows him as his disciple. This is commonly known as “believer's baptism”. Every New Testament command and instance of baptism follows the presence of faith and repentance in a person. In the book of Acts alone there are some 11 references showing this: Acts 2:38-39, 41, 8:12-13, 35-38, 9:18, 10:47-48, 16:14-15, 32-34, 18:8, 19:35, 22:16. There is no evidence in Scripture either by command or example for the baptizing of infants.
How do we baptize?
While sprinkling and pouring occur in other denominations and theological traditions, Apex gatherings and house churches practice baptism by immersion, or dunking. This occurs in light of what Scripture both teaches and shows:
Symbolism: The apostle Paul refers to water baptism as a sign of believer’s union or in Christ. Full water immersion best demonstrates our union with Christ.
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
Being in the water prior to being immersed is symbolic of one’s life prior to Christ, being immersed is symbolic of one’s death and burial with Christ. Coming out of the water is symbolic of Jesus' resurrection and living a new life in Christ.
Many scriptures, such as the two below, make use of the death & resurrection imagery of baptism:
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27).
“..having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2:11-12).
It is worth mentioning that in the Scriptures, water is a form of God's judgment (e.g. the flood in Gen 67 and the Red Sea in the destruction of Egypt in Ex 14). By passing through the waters in baptism, it is representative of how, in Christ, believers have passed through God’s justice for sin unharmed.
Example: Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in this way. “And when he [Jesus] came up out of the water...” Mark 1:10
John the Baptist was intentional about his location.
“John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized.” (John 3:23).
Church History: The church planting apostles practiced baptism by full immersion.
“And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water...” (Acts 8:3839).
Church fathers of the past, scholars, and pastors today support that baptisms in the NT were by immersion:
“The word baptize signifies to immerse. It is certain that immersion was the practice of the primitive church.” John Calvin
“The word baptism in Greek means dip or immerse. And most scholars agree that this is the way the early church practiced baptism.” John Piper
“Buried with him in baptismalluding to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion." John Wesley
Grammar/Linguistics: The Greek word βαπτίζω (baptizo) means “to immerse” or “to plunge.”
There are other sources of Greek literature from the time period of Paul's epistles that use this same
word when talking about a ship that had “sunk” or “been baptized.”
Where can I be baptized?
There are no commands about location, and we do not want to say more than Scripture does, but because salvation brings us into community (1 Cor 12:13, Acts 2:41, 1 Peter 2:10), and the Christian life is to be lived in community. We strongly encourage baptism to be done before the body, either at a weekend gathering (newer believers are not yet always in a house church) or your house church. This also allows the person being
baptized to communicate a desire to be held accountable to the Christian life: to the continual putting to death of sin, love for God and neighbor, and walking in the newness of life by the Spirit. Many may want the crowd to be just spouses, friends, and/or family. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it is important to remember that through the blood of Christ, your family has now been extended to all those who have faith in Christ, and specifically to those with whom you now share community. It is an exciting time for friends and
family, so consider having them be a part of it, but don’t exclude those who will also be a part of encouraging and pushing you towards Jesus and conforming to His character.
Who can baptize me?
There is no command in Scripture that restricts this to persons in particular roles within the church, contrary to some traditions.
In Christ we are one body. No person is more qualified than another for baptizing:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Therefore, we allow any believer of the gospel, male or female, to baptize a brother or sister in Christ. The person baptizing must be a believer because of Christ's command for disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”(Matt 28:19)
I or someone I know within Apex wants to be baptized: What do I need to do?
- Talk to a pastor, elder, or house church leader and send an email to email@example.com.
- Obtain the baptism info packet online from the baptism page.
- Turn it into the Apex office or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Read the baptism resource (what you’re reading now).
- Come to both a baptism info meeting and video shoot following on a later date.
- Be baptized!!!
Final Thoughts and Helps
Why is there a video?
At Apex, we show a “baptism video” prior to actually baptizing a person. Scripture grants freedom to share in a creative way the believer’s faith in Christ, in order to encourage the body. This also allows the body to get to know them personally, giving the Apex body responsibility in praying for them. Many Apexers relate to a baptized person’s experiences and circumstances and are encouraged to remove stumbling blocks between them and Christ.
It is important to remember that baptism is commanded, which the video is simply warranted. The video exists to put focus on the baptism which in turn puts focus on what God has done in that person’s life. If you are withholding baptism because of being camera shy, remember that being baptized is what we are doing in obedience and the video need not be a stumbling block to obedience (see improper motives above).
A word to those who have been baptized prior to faith in Christ:
There are lots of people who have been baptized as infants and later come to faith in Christ and ask, “Did my baptism count?”. To best answer “did my baptism count?” we need to ask whether faith in Christ first occurred. There is no evidence in Scripture that infants were baptized or that infants are assumed to have faith in Christ via water baptism or that the faith of their parents stands in place for personal faith in Christ.
If you were baptized as an infant and have since come to faith in Christ, being baptized won't be a “rebaptism”, but your first Scriptural baptism.
A word to parents:
It is always important to remember that a parent's role is not to make sure his or her child gets baptized. It is our hope that our children are growing up where the gospel is being shared and seen. House church and youth leaders can be useful at some points, perhaps in asking the child questions, but it is the parents' role to pastor them at home. Count it your responsibility not to attempt to create faith for your children, but to pastor them in your homes: praying with them, reading the Word with and to them, talking with them about Jesus and his love for them and others. They are your kids; they want you to be proud of them and will even be baptized to do so. Make it your calling to labor over their faith, not their baptism, trusting that God is both sovereign and good. Pray that God will reveal to them their sinfulness and hope in Jesus’ work on their behalf, seeing His loveliness.
 D. Marion Clark, “Baptism: Joyful Sign of the Gospel”, in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, ed. Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W. H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan III (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 171