GraceLife Church of Pineville

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Water Baptism: History and Controversy— Who Should Be Baptized?

Table of Contents


In our study on baptisms,1Our study on baptisms is part of a larger series on the oracles of God (based on Hebrews 5:12), of which baptism is the third of six. we now turn our focus to what most people assume we’re talking about when hearing the word “baptism”: water baptism.

So far, we’ve studied a small slice of the history of baptism in Israel and the early church. Two sermons ago, we covered a period of about 30 years, beginning from the baptisms performed by John the Baptist up through the Apostle Paul’s baptism of 12 men in Ephesus in Acts 19.

While that’s not the complete history of ritualistic washings, it is the history of Christian baptism, which had its forerunner in the baptism of John. John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was the forerunner of baptism in the name of Jesus, just as John himself was the forerunner of Jesus.  

We’ve said that baptism is identification. Identity is something to be taken seriously. Self-identity and group identity almost always progress into rivalry. (It’s March Madness in North Carolina as I preach this sermon—if you follow college basketball, you understand this concept!)

We get a flavor of rivalry in the four Gospels when the Pharisees became spectators of sorts because they heard that Jesus’s disciples were baptizing more people than John the Baptist.2See John 4:1–2.

Identity-turned-rivalry was familiar to Paul. Paul baptized in Corinth in Acts 18, but later when he wrote to the church in Corinth, he had to open his letter chastising them3Correction (in various areas) was a common theme in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. because they’d begun to identify with the person who baptized them, instead of hanging their identification on Christ:

Now I exhort you, brethren,4The term “brethren” or “brothers” is used to refer to both brothers and sisters—that is, all believers—in Christ. by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel … (1 Corinthians 1:10–17)

That’s the history of baptism, and though it is a history now 2,000 years old, it is the history that God records for us in Scripture, and we do well to take note of it.

But if we’re going to complete our study on baptisms, there’s more recent church history we should also be aware of—the history of what happened about 500 years ago. Let me frame it this way:

  • It was controversial 2,000 years ago that the church would reach the remotest part of earth—that inclusion in the body of Christ, the Jewish Messiah, would extend as far as Rome (see Acts 1:8; “Baptism Blueprint” sermon).
  • 1,500 years later, the question was no longer whether remotest Rome would be considered part of the church, but whether Rome5Rome being the center of the (Roman) Catholic Church, led by the pope, bishop of Rome. was the center of the church, and whether inclusion in the body of Christ could happen apart from her.

That latter question came to the forefront during the period of history known as the Reformation.6Sometimes thought of as the Protestant Reformation; however, there were other reformations taking place at the same time—including the Counter-Reformation and a movement to reform the church from within.

But before you think the baptism rivalry that I want to set up here is between Protestants and Catholics, you need to know about another group called the Anabaptists.7Note that these are not “anti-Baptists.” (Hold on to that name—we’ll come back to it in a moment.)

Here’s where the concept of baptisms (plural) enters into controversies (plural).

The Reformation and the Anabaptists

As part of the Reformation, there was debate over whether infants should be baptized or whether baptism is something to enter into after you believe in Jesus for eternal life. There are two theological terms that represent those positions:

Credobaptism = believer’s baptism (the prefix credo- refers to a “creed,” or something someone believes)

Pedobaptism = infant baptism (the prefix ped- refers to children, like in the word “pediatrics,” meaning the medical care of children)

Pedobaptism is practiced by the following denominations: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Nazarene, and United Church of Christ, as well as churches that embrace Reformed theology. In fact, infant baptism is practiced by the majority of the worldwide church today, and by the majority of those who ushered in the Protestant Reformation.

Here’s where the Anabaptists come in: They were credobaptists, but when they concluded that the Scriptures taught only believer’s baptism, they considered their prior “baptisms” to be illegitimate. So they decided to get rebaptized, and that’s what anabaptism means—literally “re-baptism.” And like many monikers, it was a name given to them by their enemies.

The Anabaptists’ enemies were fellow Protestants. The Anabaptists were considered to be part of the radical Reformation—the fringe. And while Lutherans and Catholics were busy arguing over who was a heretic, there was at least one thing they agreed on: somebody had to put an end to anabaptism.

In 1529, a joint edict was issued stating that every rebaptized person was to be put to death. Cruelly, it was often done by drowning (You want to be rebaptized? Here’s your water!). Somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 Anabaptists were legally executed between 1525 and 1618 by burning, decapitation, and drowning.8Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981), 332.

Why The History Matters

I give you this history for a few reasons.

First, it’s helpful to know how we got to where we stand today regarding baptism. It’s hard to talk about baptisms without understanding that history. You need to see that the history of baptism in the church is in many ways a sad commentary: the tendency of mankind is to be unkind to your fellow man.

The history of baptism in the church is in many ways a sad commentary: the tendency of mankind is to be unkind to your fellow man.

I insist that our discussion on baptism in no way follows the uncharitable way in which fellow proclaimers of Christ have treated one another through the centuries. And although I don’t expect believers today to hunt other believers down over heresy, I issue this caution because history does highlight the gravity of this topic.

None of the above reasons preclude us from wrestling with ideas and saying, “This is what we believe,” (and, by contrast, “Here are all the things we’re opposed to, theologically”).  But the way we go about this wrestling must be with an extension of grace toward people.

Our Position & Approach

Here’s our approach, especially when we get into more controversial issues surrounding baptism:

  • We’ll recognize that the church where I serve as lead pastor—like nearly every other local church—holds a very specific position on baptism; however, at this church (GraceLife), as at many churches, not every attender holds the same position. That’s okay.9To be clear, those who want to join GraceLife as members do have to agree to certain beliefs and practices about baptism. We’ll talk about reservations about baptism in a later sermon; most of those have to do with culture and family–how we were taught and grew up (remember, the majority position still today favors infant baptism).
  • You should listen to/read what’s said about baptism with a view toward education and understanding about all of the views. Learn. Enjoy learning. Be challenged. Be curious.
  • My commitment is to put forth a positive case for the GraceLife Church position, while explaining where and why we disagree with other positions. But please know I do not teach or hold this position with an air of superiority. If you’re a credobaptist who thinks pedobaptism is just silly, then you haven’t understood it well enough or why people hold it dear. (You’re still free to think it’s silly … but you’re also free to keep that thought to yourself!)

In summary, the controversy surrounding this subject throughout centuries will not prohibit our pursuit of both grace and truth.

Let me provide some reasons for why so many who wholeheartedly agree that Jesus is Savior—including many across the Protestant/Catholic divide—also wholeheartedly disagree on how He saves us and how He has instructed us regarding that salvation.

The questions we’re trying to answer are as follows:

  1. Primary question: Who should be baptized? (Believers only, or infants also?)
  2. The question behind the primary question: What is the function of baptism? (Is it a confession of faith or a cleansing of sin?)
  3. The question behind question 2 above: What is the nature of sacraments? (Is there causation or signification?)

The third question will require that we get into some philosophy and theology. I’ll say more about the term “sacrament” later.

Understanding our Differences

You need to understand that the differences over who should be baptized goes beyond just a disagreement over how to interpret Scripture. I think the most helpful way to frame the subject is in terms of systems of salvation.

All of us are, to some extent, committed to systems: systems of belief, systems of authority, systems related to the mechanisms of salvation, systems that have to do with the effects of salvation. A person might say, “My system of salvation is based on my understanding of the Scriptures.” There’s nothing wrong with that statement (I don’t disagree); an argument10I use the word “argument” here not to refer to bickering or fighting but to a statement or case of one’s position. over who should be baptized should appeal to the Scriptures. But in and of itself, that argument will be suspect to someone whose theological system views the handling of Scripture differently than you do. If you assume others are starting from the same position, you’re never going to understand the differences.

Some may hear an appeal to Scripture, and they will take it a step back and say, “Understanding the Scriptures fits into a different place in my system—it stands next to Tradition,” or, “The Scriptures are to be understood under the guidance of the (institutional) Church and not simply left to one’s own interpretation.”

During this sermon, if you find yourself thinking, “Just show me the Scriptures to prove what you’re saying!” I understand. And usually, Scripture is exactly where we focus. But there’s more to the baptism question than that. This sermon is more educational in nature, but it’s in the spirit of education in order to better understand our fellow believers—fellow members of Christ’s church who hold different positions. We aren’t demanded to gather with those who disagree with us on baptism every Sunday morning, but we are demanded to be charitable toward them—and part of charity includes understanding why they believe what they believe. 

This sermon is … in the spirit of education in order to better understand … fellow members of Christ’s church who hold different positions.

Three Systems

We’ll frame our understanding and discussion of water baptism in terms of three systems:

  1. Sacramental salvation
  2. Spiritual sign
  3. Symbolic celebration

There is some fuzziness between the lines, so we’ll view these systems less as three sharply divided categories and more as three anchor points along a continuum.

As we discuss these three systems, we can think of them in terms of certain familiar representatives:11These aren’t the only representatives but they’re what I would consider to be the best examples.

  • Sacramentalism—Roman Catholic theology
  • Spiritual sign—covenant theology (or Reformed theology); think Presbyterianism
  • Symbolic celebration—Baptist theology

System #1: Sacramentalism

Sacrament is a theological term referencing an external rite (a formal or ceremonial act or practice) or sign. Baptists and some other Protestant groups favor the term ordinance over sacrament. The term is significant for this study because baptism is considered one of the sacraments of Christianity.

The Catholic Church recognizes seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the Holy Eucharist (known as the Lord’s Supper or communion in many churches), penance (confession), anointing of the sick (known as last rites), holy orders (ordination), and matrimony (marriage). Catholics believe these sacraments to be not only outward signs of inward grace, but also to actually effect a real change within the believer (thus they are considered “efficacious”)—that is, they convey grace or salvation to the believer.

Catholics believe sacraments … effect a real change within the believer … that is, they convey grace or salvation to the believer.

One argument during the Protestant Reformation was over the number of sacraments. From the time of the Reformation, Protestants generally have recognized only two sacraments or ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In response to Protestant rejection of the sacramental system, the Catholic Church at the 16th-century Council of Trent responded: “If anyone says that the sacraments of the new law were not all instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, or that there are more or less than seven … or that any one of these seven is not truly and intrinsically a sacrament, let them be condemned.”

In summary, salvation comes from Christ, but He has entrusted the Church with the dispensing of salvation.12Some go too far by claiming that Catholics do not believe that salvation comes through Christ. That is incorrect—it’s the method by which that salvation is dispensed to individuals that is the point of disagreement.

In his book The Doctrines That Divide, Erwin Lutzer wrote of the rise of sacramentalism, “Salvation was no longer thought of as a personal relationship with God but with a proper relationship to the church.”13Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 86.

Here are some explanations of sacramentalism straight from the Catholic Catechism:14When studying baptism, it’s best to go to the original sources within the system itself rather than to rely (or at least rely solely) on another’s explanation of that system. You can read the Catechism online at

The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. (1129, italics are original)

The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. (1131)

In the second quote, notice the word “signs.” Catholics do believe baptism is a sign; but they don’t believe that it’s only a sign. It is an “efficacious” sign, meaning it has some effect. It does something. The thing it does is give “divine life.”

Notice, too, that this power has been “entrusted to the Church”; thus, to be outside of the Church is to be removed from the possibility of obtaining that life.

You don’t have to agree with the sacramental system to acknowledge the reasonableness of its conclusions if you accept the premises. (Saying a system is logical is not the same as saying you agree with it.)

Another statement from the Catholic Catechism is this:

Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord’s will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism. (1277)

If the sacraments are causal in nature, then the next question is, What is the function of baptism? Sacramentalism says its function is to remove original sin, the sin that we inherited from Adam and are all born into.

If baptism removes original sin, then answering the next question (the one that we called “primary”) is easy:

Question: Who should be baptized?
Answer (in sacramentalism): Everyone—as soon as possible.

The Catechism again:  

Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifested in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth. (Catholic Catechism, 1250).

That’s the sacramental system in brief.

System #2: Spiritual Sign

Another system is the belief in baptism as a spiritual sign. This system is sometimes easier to think about in terms of spiritual presence.

This middle position can be harder to understand than the two extremes of sacramentalism and symbolism. When you think of sign, think of the word signify (of which “sign” is the root). It carries the idea of consequence, of something weighty.

Pedobaptism, or infant baptism, in Reformed theology has everything to do with covenant theology. You need to understand covenant theology to understand pedobaptism. In a nutshell, with this theological position, the covenant of the New Testament church is closely connected to the continuing covenant from the Old Testament. Both of those covenants fall under what is called a covenant of grace, since Adam failed in the first covenant of works. (Within this view, everything that happened after the fall of Adam is under the covenant of grace.) Within this covenant of grace, baptism is the new covenant sign that replaces the old covenant sign of circumcision. Baptism welcomes the individual into the society of the church; it’s the sign and seal of the covenant community.

Within this [system] … baptism is the new covenant sign that replaces the old covenant sign of circumcision. … It’s the sign and seal of the covenant community.

This view sits in a middle ground between sacramentalism and symbolism—baptism is a sign and a seal, but it’s not just those things, because baptism does something. What does it do? Those who hold to this view vary in their answers. But you can think of it as strengthening faith or as being activated in conjunction with faith. If you happen to be baptized when older, the baptism and activation happen more simultaneously (closer in time); but for the infant who is baptized, that faith may be activated later in his life. Either way, the sign and seal of baptism does something.

With this system, spiritual presence is active, and it is revealed when it is combined with the Word and the Spirit and joined by faith.

System #3: Symbolic Celebration

Third and lastly is the view of baptism as symbolic celebration. This is the position of Baptists (and that of the church I pastor, GraceLife). The denomination chose its name for a reason—because baptism holds an important place.

Keep in mind, even within the Baptist position, you’ll find variations. Just as those who argue for spiritual presence will say “it’s not just a sign,” you won’t hear me teach it’s “just a symbol.” I won’t do it because it’s language that tends to denigrate baptism rather than elevate it. Baptism is something we should revere and celebrate.  

There are other symbols in our lives that we hold dear that we’d never deem unimportant because they don’t “do” something. Symbols can be important even if they don’t “do” something. For example:

  • Patriotic symbols (we hold a certain reverence for our flag as Americans, for example)
  • Religious symbols (like a cross in Christianity)
  • Printed photographs of loved ones (these don’t do anything, but you would be upset if someone came into your house and ripped them off the wall)
  • A wedding ring (again, it doesn’t do anything, but it symbolizes something—that you are and have been married)

Take the last example, a wedding ring. You wouldn’t say it’s “just a symbol.” But neither can you say that it confers the status of marriage. My wedding ring is:

  • A symbolic declaration to the world that I am married
  • A symbolic reminder to myself that I am married
  • A symbolic celebration of my marriage

Baptism is similar. People who say “baptism is just a symbol” are trying to convey that it doesn’t offer eternal salvation or forgiveness. But instead of latching on to the positive case that salvation is offered through trusting Christ, they (perhaps unconsciously, for some) end up denigrating the symbol by saying that baptism “doesn’t really do anything.” We can celebrate both—we can uphold it as a symbol that points to a greater thing.

We don’t believe baptism offers eternal salvation because we believe the overwhelming message of Scripture is that eternal salvation is offered solely on the basis of belief. By belief, I am referring to mental assent moved by the will, directed toward a Person. I am referring to a commitment of the mind based on the truthfulness of a proposition and the trustworthiness of a person.

We don’t believe baptism offers eternal salvation because we believe the overwhelming message of Scripture is that eternal salvation is offered solely on the basis of belief.

Jesus says He will give you life if you trust Him for it.15See John 11:25, for example. I take His promise in the simplest form possible. Others don’t—others take that offer to mean you must trust Him and the system He set up for salvation. I don’t see it that way, but I understand why others do.

As a symbol, we believe that baptism is a confession of faith rather than a cleansing of sin.

As a symbol, we believe that baptism is a confession of faith rather than a cleansing of sin.

Possible Objections to Baptism as Symbol

You might be thinking, But wait, didn’t Peter say that baptism forgives sins? He did. Do I disagree with Peter? No. Here’s what he said in Acts 2:

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

We discussed this verse and its context in an earlier sermon. Judge for yourself whether what I taught then, as I teach now, is true: The baptism Peter speaks about in Acts 2 was for the Jewish generation who rejected the baptism of John and killed Jesus. Their baptism also served as a forgiveness of sins. But God established His church logically and in stages, to the shock of the world at that time, first to the Jews and later to the Gentiles. Once the church was established (as of Acts 10) to encompass Jews, Samaritans (half-Jews/half-Gentiles), and Gentiles, the normative practice of baptism was set in motion, and nowhere else is the forgiveness of sins attached to baptism in the Scriptures.

If you know the book of Acts, you might be thinking, What about Acts 22? There, specifically in verse 16, we see the Apostle Paul being told to be baptized for the forgiveness (washing away) of his sins. But in Acts 22, he’s telling the story of what happened to him prior to Acts 10. Chronologically, it still fits. Moreover, Paul is a Jew who rejected the baptism of John and was guilty of rejecting the Messiah.

What about Peter’s words in his first epistle, then, where he says “baptism saves you” (see 1 Peter 3:21)? When we studied James 2 (see part 1 and part 2 of that study), we saw that the word “saved” must be attached to a context. I’ll cover that verse in a future sermon, and I’ll explain what I think it means.

In fact you may have a lot of “What about … ?” questions. We’ll cover some of those later. For now, know that, outside of the baptism of John the Baptist, water baptism (in my view) has limited numbers of mentions in the Scriptures. Almost all, if not all, references are in Acts. Let’s look at those now, one at a time.

Water Baptism in Scripture: Linked to Belief

As you read the following passages, look for the common theme that holds all six together: an association of baptism with belief.

But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. (Acts 8:12–13)

As they [Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch] went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:36–37)

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.16While the word isn’t “believe” here, the concept is there—the idea of listening and responding with her heart. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:14–15)

They [Paul and Silas, in prison] said [to the jailer who had asked what he needed to do to be saved], “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. (Acts 16:30–33)

Crispus, the leader of the synagogue,17His name is also mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, quoted earlier; he was one of the people Paul could remember (water) baptizing. believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. (Acts 18:8)

And he [Paul] said [to the Ephesian brothers], “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:3–5)

Some see these passages and immediately notice the tie of baptism to belief in each one. However, others read them and see references to baptism of whole households—of which infants were certainly a part. We’ll address this question later.

Conclusion: An Ordinance to Be Obeyed

We skipped Acts 10 and 11 in the passages above. Let’s go back to those critical chapters, where the establishment of the church is being completed. Look at Acts 11:11–17, where Peter is reporting to the church at Jerusalem:

And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, “Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?

Jesus’s message to the church was that John baptized with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And after the church is established, the reception of the Holy Spirit is immediate upon belief.

The rest of the church challenged Peter as to whether Gentiles are really Christians. Peter, at what historically has been called the Council of Jerusalem, gives this testimony to their challenge:

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (Acts 15:1–11)

Some observations about this passage:

  • The people of God throughout history have confused signs and symbols with saving power. That’s what the debate in Acts 15 was about—about whether they’re saved if they have not participated in the sign and symbol of circumcision. Today, the debate is about whether a person is saved or not if they have participated in the sign and symbol of baptism.
  • In his report in Acts 15, Peter had every opportunity to say, Listen, these people have been baptized. Instead, he appeals to their hearing and believing (Acts 15:7) and their hearts as the locus of faith (vv. 8–9).

The people of God throughout history have confused signs and symbols with saving power.

Water Baptism as Symbol: A Summary

For the position that sees water baptism as a symbolic celebration, water baptism is a physical ritual that denotes a spiritual reality. Holy Spirit baptism is a spiritual reality that dignifies the physical ritual.

As a symbolic celebration, water baptism is a physical ritual that denotes a spiritual reality.

So, who should be baptized? Everyone—after they believe. Who should be baptized? Every believer—because we’re commanded to do so.

But it doesn’t bring about eternal salvation, so why do I have to?

Well, why single out baptism for that reason? Literally nothing else other than belief brings about eternal salvation, but in that case, why do anything we’re commanded to do? Why come to church? Why read the Bible? Why pray? None of those things save you either, but they’re good for you.

In regard to baptism as an ordinance to be obeyed rather than a sacrament that saves, some have pointed out that baptism-as-symbol has been robbed of the power and presence of God. I would argue that many of my fellow credobaptists have indeed robbed it of power and presence, because they fail to recognize that there is power and presence in obedience. Obedience to God is always accompanied by His power and presence, especially when it is the believer who obeys.

There is power and presence in obedience.

Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21). If that’s not power and presence, I don’t know what is.

If you’re a believer in Christ, you should be baptized. If you have more questions about baptism, stick with me, and meanwhile, it’s Easter season: let us celebrate our common Savior, whatever your position on baptism may be.