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6. Church Ordinances Part I: Baptism

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What are the ordinances or sacraments which the church should regularly practice as a part of worship? Generally speaking, an ordinance is any type of rule or regulation set up by an authority.1 The church has two ordinances which were set by Christ: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Lk 22:19-20, Matt 28:19). In some denominations, ordinances are called sacraments because they are sacred and a means by which God gives grace to church members. Since sacraments are at times considered a means of grace for achieving salvation, such as in Catholicism, others prefer the term ordinance, because they were ordained by Christ and are a symbolic reminder of foundational doctrines.2 In the following sections, we will consider both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, including various views on them.

Introduction

What is baptism? Acts 2:41 says, “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.” The people in Jerusalem heard the preaching of Peter and 3,000 repented and accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. Immediately, they were baptized and added to the number of the church. Baptism in the early church was the first step of obedience after salvation. They accepted Christ and immediately were baptized. This is an ordinance, a command, we are called to follow as believers in Christ. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said this to his disciples:

Therefore go 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 obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Charles Ryrie said this about baptism:

Theologically, baptism may be defined as an act of association or identification with someone, some group, some message, or some event. Baptism into the Greek mystery religions associated the initiates with that religion. Jewish proselyte baptism associated the proselyte with Judaism. John the Baptist’s baptism associated His followers with His message of righteousness (he had no group for them to join). (Incidentally, John was apparently the first person ever to baptize other people—usually baptisms were self-administered.) For James and John to be baptized with Christ’s baptism meant to be associated with His suffering (Mark 10:38–39). To be baptized with the Spirit associates one with the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) and with the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1–10). To be baptized into Moses involved identification with his leadership in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt (1 Cor. 10:2). … Christian baptism means identification with the message of the Gospel, the person of the Savior, and the group of believers.3

Infant Baptism and Believer’s Baptism

Now it should be noted that throughout history there have been two primary camps on baptism. There is “believer’s baptism” or “credobaptism.” “Credo” comes from the Latin word for creed or belief. Those in this camp believe that only those who repent and make a conscious decision to follow Christ can be baptized. However, the second view is “infant baptism” or “pedobaptism.” “Pedo” comes from the Greek word for children. Those who hold this view would baptize adults who recently accepted Christ, but they would also baptize the infants of believers.

Infant Baptism

What supports are used for infant baptism? Two primary supports are used:

1. Pedobaptists argue that infant baptism demonstrates God’s covenant with not only believers but their children.

It is argued that Abraham’s children and Israel’s children were circumcised before having their own faith (Gen 17:10-12). Since circumcision was a sign of the covenant with God in the Old Testament and baptism is a sign of the covenant in the New, children of believers should be baptized. In Colossians 2:11-12, circumcision and baptism seem to correspond with one another.

In him you also were circumcised—not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ. Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.

Likewise, Peter said this in Acts 2:38-39,

Repent, and each one 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. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.

Charles Ryrie’s summary of this common argument is helpful:

The argument rests on the covenant theology concept of a single covenant of grace that involved an initiatory rite into that covenant, the rite being circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the New. These rites indicate membership in the covenant, not necessarily personal faith.4

2. Pedobaptists point to the “household” passages in Acts of whole families getting baptized.

For example, in Acts 16, Lydia’s household was baptized, and the jailer’s family was baptized as well. Consider the passages:

A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, a God-fearing woman, listened to us. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me to be a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.

Acts 16:14-15

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him, along with all those who were in his house. At that hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized right away.

Acts 16:31-33

They would argue that there were probably infants in the house, who were baptized.

Believer’s Baptism

What are the arguments for practicing believer’s baptism and not infant baptism?

1. Credobaptists point to the fact that baptism is always commanded after belief (or repentance)—not before.

Acts 2:38 says, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each one 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.’” Matthew 28:19 says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

2. Credobaptists point out that only believers are baptized in the New Testament.

There is never a command in Scripture to baptize infants or an example of it. In the “household” texts that pedobaptists sometimes refer to, an infant is never mentioned. For example, Acts 16:33 says, “At that hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized right away.” It is best to assume that not only did the jailer accept Christ, but so did his family. In Acts 16:31, Paul and Silas told the jailer that he and his family should believe in Christ: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.” Since the family was baptized, apparently, they also believed.

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What are supports for infant baptism?
  3. What are supports for believer’s baptism?
  4. Which form of baptism (infant or believer’s) do you think is most biblical and why?
  5. How and when were you baptized?
  6. How should churches handle believers who desire membership but have different views on baptism or were baptized in a different tradition (infant or believer’s baptism)?
  7. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

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1 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God?Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

2 Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

3 Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (pp. 488–489). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

4 Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (p. 489). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

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