What is Baptism?
"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Ephesians 4:4–6 ESV
One Lord, one faith, one baptism
The ordinance of water baptism is presented in the Bible as the first step of obedience for the Christian. In fact, baptism is so closely associated with the Christian walk that the Apostle Paul mentions it in the same breath as the centrality of our belief in God Himself. Given the sheer number of times that baptism is referenced in the Bible it is undeniable that it holds a central place in the life of the believer.
And yet, there are few issues so close to our faith that are surrounded by as much disagreement and misunderstanding. So how does Mercy Hill understand the ordinance of baptism and the role that it plays in the life of the believer and of the church?
An Example and Command
The most obvious example of baptism that we see in the Bible is that of Jesus Himself (Matt. 3). In that case, baptism served as confirmation from God the Father that Jesus was, in fact, who He claimed to be. But Jesus didn’t stop at merely setting an example of baptism. He went on to command in Matthew 28 that Christians should go into the world, preach the Gospel and baptize believers. Therefore, baptism is not just a recommendation for the believer, but a command for all those who have been saved by the grace of God, put their faith in Him and desire to obediently follow the Lord.
A Sign and Symbol
Signs and symbols have great significance in our world. They provide warnings and directions. They tell us what is coming next or where to find something. But what makes a sign “a sign” is that it points to something outside of itself. In a similar way, baptism functions as a sign or a symbol for the Christian. Just as a stop sign has no ability to physically stop your car, baptism has no ability to provide the promises to which it points. This means that the symbol of baptism has no inherent power to bring us forgiveness of sins, acceptance in the sight of God or assurance of our salvation.
We do not believe then that baptism imparts grace or brings salvation to an individual. Nor do we believe that baptism is simply an empty ritual devoid of any meaning or effect. Rather, we observe baptism out of an obedient heart, understanding that baptism signifies the salvation that comes through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and the future hope that we have in Him.
Baptism is a symbol of the promises of God. It serves as a testament to the covenant that is part of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It represents the promise that we are forgiven through Christ (Eph. 1:7), that we will never see death (John 8:51) and that we will live eternally with our Savior (John 14:1–3). So while baptism is not necessary for salvation, a Christian who refuses baptism is living in disobedience to the command of Christ and is neglecting to publicly acknowledge the immeasurable promises of God.
Baptism is also an outward sign of our inward change. It serves to demonstrate that a person has put their faith and trust in Jesus alone for salvation (John 14:6), that they have received the grace of God through Jesus sacrifice on the cross (Eph. 2:8), and that they desire to follow Jesus example in baptism (Matt. 3:15–17). It signifies that their former way of life has been put to death (Rom. 6:3–5) and graphically illustrates the freedom from slavery and the new life they have received in Christ (Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:11–12).
Identification with the Church
The purpose of baptism is not limited to demonstrating the covenantal relationship between God and man. In addition, it symbolizes the Christian’s entrance into the universal body of Christ and demonstrates the unity of the church (Eph. 4:5). For this reason, water baptism is done publicly as a testimony to the work of Christ in one’s life.
This public recognition gives the local church an opportunity to witness this step of obedience and encourage the believer in their walk. Baptism allows the Christians to publicly identify as a member of the local church and demonstrates their commitment to their community of faith.