Preparing for Baptism Bible Study

Ready for Baptism

Is your child ready to be baptized? How do you know? This five week Bible study was written to help parents and disciple-makers teach children how to obey Jesus’ command to repent, believe, and be baptized.

Please feel free to use this material but do not change the content in any way.

Baptism and the Marks of Conversion

Theology-Thursday

The question of when a child is ready for baptism can be difficult. What follows is a post from a class I taught parents to help them prepare their children for baptism.

How does a parent, pastor, or church know when a child is ready to be baptized? What is a credible confession of faith? Here is a short list of biblical marks of conversion. If a person gives evidence of these (or a desire for these) then baptism should be given. If a person does not give evidence of these (or a desire for these) then baptism should be withheld.

We need to start with thinking biblically about conversion. Scripture uses these terms interchangeably: conversion, born again, new heart.

I. Conversion

  • Ezekiel 36:25-27
    • I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey all my rules.
  • John 3:3
    • Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
  • Has your child been changed? Does your child have a desire to change? A person who wants to avoid hell while continuing in disobedience needs teaching, not the waters of baptism.

II. Repentance

  • Mark 1:14-15
    • Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
  • 2 Corinthians 7:10-11
    • For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.
  • Is your child sorry about his/her sin or simply sorry to have been caught or punished? Repentance is a necessary ingredient of conversion. Only those who can give credible evidence of repentance (ask their parents) should be baptized.

III. Faith

  • Acts 20:21- Faith in Jesus
    • Paul summarized his message as “repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-5- Gospel belief
    • Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
    • Faith is trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Faith is not simply believing Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose.
  • Can your child explain the gospel at his/her level? If a person gives evidence of a desire to change, demonstrates the beginning of repentance, and can explain the gospel in simple terms then baptism may be the next step.

IV. Confession

  • Romans 10:9-10
    • If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
  • Is your child willing to claim or confess Jesus? Embarrassment is a warning sign.
  • Does your child show an increasing willingness to submit to Jesus? Can your child explain the importance of the resurrection of Jesus? Ask, “Why would God forgive you?” If your child can prove in simple terms that he/she is trusting in Christ crucified and raised for salvation, then move ahead.

IV. A desire to know and obey God

  • Hebrews 8:10-12
    • Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sin no more.
  • Does your child give evidence of an increasing willingness or desire to know more about Jesus, be with the church, read the Bible, worship, and obey? A simple desire to be baptized is no mark of conversion. A desire to know Christ, obey Christ, and be with the body of Christ lends credibility to a child’s confession.

Be Baptized

Text: Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38

Main Point: Baptism is commanded, practiced, and meaningful.

Today we have the great honor of baptizing a believer. But before we baptize, we are going to take some time to consider what God says about baptism so that we follow His commands and obey His voice. So, more than an accurate understanding of baptism, we want to faithfully baptize. Here’s the big picture: baptism is commanded, baptism is practiced, and baptism is meaningful. We are going to cover a lot of ground today, so I have listed the passages in the notes and given supporting references. In the Church there are a great deal of disagreements concerning baptism. Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, and Baptists have separate denominations for a few big reasons. One of those big reasons is baptism. I am an elder of a Baptist church for several big reasons and baptism is one of them. So, I want to make my case from Scripture and then lead us to celebrate baptism with faith and joy. Let’s begin with the command; Matthew 28:16-20

I. Baptism is commanded

  • Jesus commands us to be baptized

With your Bible open in front of you, I want to make some observations from Matthew 28:18-20. The command to baptize is tied directly to the authority of the risen Lord. Verse 18, Jesus has all authority over heaven and earth. In light of his all-encompassing authority, his disciples are told to go and make disciples. The King of all creation commands his disciples to go into all nations and make Christ-followers; make learners of Christ and his life and his ways. And what do we do with these disciples? We baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism is a testimony to the work of the Trinity. Baptism is a testimony that the one being baptized is owned by God. Alongside the command to baptize is the command to teach the one being baptized to obey all of Jesus’ words. This makes baptism the beginning of a life of discipleship. It looks like this- become a disciple, then be baptized as a disciple, then keep growing as a disciple. I could say a lot here but for our purposes today I want you to see that baptism is commanded by Jesus. Make disciples and baptize them.

Jesus’ command to baptize is also given in Mark 16:15-16, “Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

So, after his resurrection and before his return to the Father, Jesus appeared to his disciples and commanded them to go to the nations, preach the gospel, make disciples, baptize those disciples, and then teach those disciples how to follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t have to explain baptism to his disciples because, according to John 3:22-24, they had already been baptizing a lot of people.

Okay, now turn over to Acts 2:37. Peter has just preached the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He made clear that the people who had just been yelling for Pilate to crucify Jesus were in big trouble. That Jesus, you killed, has been raised from the grave and installed as king. Let’s pick up with Acts 2:37, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So, Jesus commands baptism and the apostles commanded baptism.

  • The apostles commanded people to be baptized

The people were convicted of their sins and Peter commanded them to repent and be baptized. So that’s what they did. Verse 41, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” The disciples did what Jesus commanded. They preached, made disciples, and baptized them.

We see this repeated with Ananias and Paul. We read it yesterday in our daily Bible reading. Acts 22:16, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” The command to baptize or be baptized is clear. Now, that’s the command, let’s look at the practice.

II. Baptism is practiced

  • The book of Acts illustrates the practice of baptism

We have already seen Acts 2:41 how Peter preached and commanded baptism. Nearly 3000 responded that day. The next place we see baptism practiced is in Acts 8 as the gospel spreads further out from Jerusalem. In Acts 8 it is Philip who is preaching Christ. Look at Acts 8:12, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” What is interesting here is that these disciples believe the good news and are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but do not receive the Holy Spirit. This requires Peter to come, and when Peter lays his hands on them, they receive the Holy Spirit. The order here is preaching, belief, baptism, then receiving the Holy Spirit.

Our next reference to baptism is again in connection with Philip, later in chapter 8, Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip starts in Isaiah 53 and tells the man the good news about Jesus. Apparently, Philip included Jesus’ command to be baptized because when they passed some water, the Ethiopian says, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Obviously, Philip judged him ready for baptism because, verse 38, he commanded the chariot to stop and Philip baptized him. They went into the water together and came up out of the water together. Baptism.

Next comes Paul’s baptism by Ananias in chapter 9 (9:18). We’ve already seen that one. Let’s go to Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter is sent by God to preach the gospel. The climax of Peter’s message is in 10:43, “To Jesus all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” The Holy Spirit falls on everyone who heard the word and they start speaking in tongues. What happened in Acts 3 is repeated here. So, Peter asks, verse 47, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” There are no objections, verse 48, “Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Cornelius and his household hear the word, receive the Spirit, and are baptized. Baptism is what you do.

Next comes Lydia in Acts 16:14. Paul is preaching, God opened her heart to pay attention, then she and her household are baptized. Immediately afterwards comes the baptism of the Philippian jailor, also in chapter 16. Verse 31, the Jailor takes Paul and Silas to his house, Paul preaches the gospel to all in the house, they go get baptized, and then they go back to the house and celebrate.

Two more- Acts 18 and 19. In Acts 18 Crispus is the leader of the Jewish synagogue in Corinth. Acts 18:8, “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” Last one, Acts 19, some disciples of John in Ephesus. Acts 19:4, “Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Viewed collectively, it’s right to understand five elements showing up when someone responds to the gospel. There is repentance to God, there is faith or belief in Jesus, there is a confession of Jesus as Lord, there is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and there is baptism. Now, when you sit down and read through the book of Acts this question is likely to come up

  • Was baptism practiced or reported occasionally?

There are multiple instances where the gospel is preached, and people believe, but there is no mention of baptism (Acts 2:47; 5:14; 6:7; 11:24; 13:48; 14:21; 17:34). Should we then assume that the early church baptized some disciples but not other disciples? Or, should we assume that the church baptized all disciples but did not mention their baptism on every occasion? In light of Christ’s command, the practice of baptism, and the terminology of adding people to the Lord, we should understand baptism was practiced consistently but reported occasionally. Additionally, the reported baptisms follow Jesus’ instruction that the disciples serve as his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). More than simply recording baptisms, the sequence of the report verifies the advance of Jesus’ mission. Since its beginning and up to today the Church has baptized God’s people. Baptism is the biblical and common practice. Now, let’s look at the meaning of baptism.

III. Baptism is meaningful

  • Baptism is union with Christ

Romans 6:1-6 (Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12)

Romans 6:3 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Baptism needs to be understood as the desire for and the display of union with Christ. By faith, the one being baptized is looking to Christ to take away sin, free from sin’s captivity, and give life. With Christ’s crucifixion sin is atoned. With Christ’s resurrection sin’s power is broken. With Christ the believer has life and that is precisely life with God. The church should baptize those who long for life giving union with Christ because baptism puts this desire front and center. Baptism displays unity with Christ for the whole world to see. This one is united to Christ and will walk in newness of life. This one is united to Christ and will begin to look more and more like Christ. Baptism is union and…

  • Baptism is an appeal to God for a clear conscience

1 Peter 3:21-22 says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this [to Noah’s ark] now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

It’s not the outward working of water that makes the person clean. Baptism is not as simple as taking a bath. What is essential in baptism is the appeal to God for a clear conscience through the work of Jesus Christ. But how does this relate to Noah’s ark? I’m glad you asked.

The waters in Noah’s day were the waters of God’s wrath because of sin. The wages of sin is death and death came upon the whole world because of sin. The entire world was judged and put to death because of sin. In a moment, we will put this new believer under the waters of God’s wrath because of her sin. She will join Christ in a death like his, in a death because of sin. The waters of God’s wrath are similar in Noah’s day and in baptism. The ways of escape are also similar. In Noah’s day, all those who believed God and got on the ark were saved from his wrath. Because of the ark they went safely through God’s wrath. Now, Jesus is a better ark! All those who trust in him. All those united to him, all those who get into Jesus, will be carried safely through the waters of God’s wrath.

In a moment, we will bury this young lady under the waters of God’s wrath because of her sin. In baptism, she will be making public her personal faith in Jesus Christ. She will submit to the waters of God’s wrath and appeal to God for the forgiveness of those sins through the righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus will save her.

The baptism prayer is simple: God I deserve your wrath because of my sin but give me life because of Jesus Christ.

To put it another way, baptism must not be separated from repentance. It is the one who feels her sin and wants to be saved through Christ who is baptized. The reality of sin, the connection with Noah’s ark, and the promise of life in Jesus’ name lead us to the baptistery.

In a pointed way baptism puts the faith of the person being baptized on display.

  • Baptism is the demonstration of a person’s faith

Through baptism, the person being baptized goes public with her faith. She declares, “I’m with Jesus. He is my life and my Lord.” I think it’s helpful to think about baptism like putting on the jersey. Dak Prescott used to be a Mississippi Bulldog. He was lost in darkness wearing maroon and white. Then, he was drafted by the cowboys. The cowboys picked Dak as their own and there was a transfer of ownership. With the transfer of ownership came a new jersey. At the end of the draft Dak held up a blue and white jersey. Dak went public and declared that he now belongs to the cowboys.

In a way, baptism is like that. In a few moments this new believer will put on Jesus’ jersey. She will put on death, burial, and resurrection. She will go public by declaring her union with Christ and demonstrating her faith. This is what Christians do. We live like Christ because of Christ. We look like Christ because we are joined to him. Union and faith should be obvious in baptism. Baptism is the demonstration of a person’s faith and

  • Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are inseparable

In the book of Acts there is a minor plot line that deals with the differences between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist’s baptism and new covenant baptism are not the same things. The difference between the two baptisms is the gift of the Holy Spirit. You can start with Acts 1:5 and trace it out. Jesus says, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit now many days from now.” Wait, go back to John 3:22, Jesus baptized with water. That’s right, Jesus baptized with water and the Holy Spirit while John only baptized with water.

The reality of the Spirit is what makes Acts 8 and the Samaritans being baptized so important. The Samaritans heard the gospel and were baptized in Jesus’ name (that’s water) but they didn’t receive the Holy Spirit. Peter’s coming and laying on hands so that they received the Holy Spirit completed their conversion. Until the Holy Spirit was given, their conversion was incomplete. Concerning this fact Robert Stein writes, “The litmus test that determines if a person is truly a Christian in Acts is the reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 10:47; 11:17-18; 19:2; Rom 8:9-10; Gal 3:2)” (Stein, 38). This truth is why the Apostle Paul asks John’s disciples in Acts 19:2, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

In Acts 2, Peter quotes from Joel to clarify that the mark of membership in God’s new covenant people is possession of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-18). God’s people are convicted of their sin by the Spirit and therefore they repent to God. God’s people are convicted by the Spirit that Christ is their righteousness and therefore they put their faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit teaches God’s people that the resurrected Jesus is King and therefore they confess Jesus as Lord. The Holy Spirit speaks to God’s people and convinces them that they are children of God. The Holy Spirit works in the believer and makes her more like Jesus. Is this you? Do you have the Holy Spirit? Then be baptized. If this is not you then I urge you to pray the prayer Jesus taught, “Father, give me the Spirit.” The Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13).

Several weeks ago you heard this new believer’s confession. You’ve had time to talk with her and get to know her. Now it’s time to baptize her. Baptism is something we do because, finally,

  • Baptism and the church are inseparable

In the book of Acts we see people joining the church and we see the church’s numbers increasing. And how did people join the church? In the New Testament, we see no other means of joining a church but through baptism. Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are not identical, but they are inseparable. Baptism and church membership are not identical, but they are inseparable.

In response to God’s work through Christ and in this new disciple it is time for us to make good confessions. It is time for her to confess that she belongs to Jesus and it is time for us to confess that she belongs to us. Now that we know, let’s celebrate union with Christ in baptism.

Talk about Baptism

  1. In what way did God challenge, comfort, or correct you today?
  2. Do you understand baptism to be a command that must be obeyed? Explain your position.
  3. What parts of the church’s practice of baptism, recorded in the book of Acts, surprise or confuse you?
  4. Explain how baptism is the desire for and display of union with Christ (Romans 6:1-6).
  5. According to 1 Peter 3:21-22, the appeal to God for a clear conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to baptism. How important is repentance to starting and living the Christian life?
  6. In what way is baptism the demonstration of faith?
  7. Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? How do you know?
  8. Have you been baptized? What do you think is the most significant aspect of your baptism?
  9. If you have not been baptized, why not?

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper

Our statement of faith and church covenant are helpful tools for discipleship and unity. Concerning discipleship, our statement and covenant teach true doctrine in a short summary fashion. Concerning unity, our statement and covenant provide short reminders of what we believe and what we commit to do for one another. Broadly speaking, the statement of faith records what we believe, and the covenant records our commitment as members one of another. As we come together, please consider what Christ and His Church have handed down for our benefit.

On Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

We believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer1, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost2; to show forth, in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, with its effect in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life3; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a Church relation; and to the Lord’s Supper4, in which the members of the Church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ5; preceded always by solemn self-examination6.

  1. 3:5-6; 28:19; Mark 16:16; John 3:22-23; 4:1-2; Acts 2:38; 8:12, 36-39; 16:32-34; 18:8
  2. 28:19; Acts 10:47-48; Gal. 3:27-28
  3. Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:20-21
  4. 28:19-20; Acts 2:41-42; Acts and Epistles
  5. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:26
  6. John 6:26-71; 1 Cor. 11:28; 5:1, 8; 10:3-32; 11:17-32

 Our Church Covenant

As we trust we have been brought by divine grace to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ and by the influence of his Spirit to give ourselves up to him; so, we do now solemnly covenant with each other:

That, God, enabling us we will walk together in brotherly love.

That, we will exercise a Christian care and watchfulness over each other, and faithfully build up, encourage, rebuke, admonish, and discipline one another as the case shall require.

That we will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor omit the great duty of prayer, both for ourselves and for others.

That, we will participate in each others joys and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each others burdens and sorrows.

That, we will earnestly endeavor to bring up such as may be under our care in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

That we will seek Divine aid to enable us to walk circumspectfully and watchfully in the world, denying ungodliness and every worldly lust.

That we will strive together for the support both temporally and spiritually for a faithful evangelical ministry among us.

That we will endeavor by example and effort to win souls to Christ,

And through life, amidst evil report and good report, seek to live to the glory of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light,

And may the Great Head of the church enable us to keep and perform this solemn covenant. Amen.

Baptism Catechism

BAPTISM 1. What duty has God intimately associated with Faith? The profession of that faith in the ordinance of Baptism.

2. What is Baptism? It is the immersion of the body in water, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

3. Why is it done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost? To denote that the person baptized thus professes to believe these three to be God, and to devote himself to His service.

4. What does the use of water in Baptism represent? The washing away of our sins by the cleansing influences of the Holy Spirit.

5. What does the act of immersion represent? The union of the believer with Christ in His death.

6. Do the Scriptures assign this union as a reason why we are to profess Christ by immersion? They do; they tell us that it is on this account that we are buried with Christ by baptism unto death.

7. Who alone are the fit subjects of Baptism? Those who exercise faith; for they only can properly profess to have experienced the things which Baptism represents.

Boyce, James P.. A BRIEF CATECHISM OF BIBLE DOCTRINE (Kindle Locations 297-312). Kindle Edition.

What is a church?

“We can illustrate the difference between a church and a collection of Christians in this way: I can easily imagine a summer camp counselor watching a seventeen-year-old boy undergo conversion over the course of a summer, which is followed by a seemingly credible profession of faith. Should the camp counselor then baptize the body? He can, if he can baptize him according to the authority of the charter Jesus handed the apostles in Matthew 16. Has this counselor, together with several others, determined to continue indefinitely in overseeing the boy and one another; to regularly proclaim the Lord’s death through the Lord’s Supper; to discipline the boy or one another should they revert to following in the ways of the world; to teach one another everything that Christ has commanded; to guard, protect, and proclaim the gospel; and to make more disciples among not just other teenagers but among all comers who do not yet know Christ? If so, yes, he can baptize that boy on behalf of the church. If that counselor cannot commit to all this, that is, if there is no church to speak of, he does not have the authority to baptize the boy. The camp counselor’s desire to protect the gospel in the boy’s life and in the eyes of the broader public should impel him to send the boy to a church saying, ‘Join it! Be guarded. Be watched over. Be cared for. Be protected. Be loved.'”

Jonathan Leeman, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, 205 

The Baptism of Believers Only

The goal of this paper is to use biblical theology[1] to demonstrate the merits of credobaptism. The form of the paper will be as a response to the paedobaptistic reading of the covenants defined by the Westminster Confession of Faith. The specific paedobaptist claim, based on the covenant of grace, is that it is biblical to baptize unbelieving infants as a sign of their inclusion in the covenant people of God.[2] The specific credobaptist claim, based on a promise-fulfillment reading of the covenants, is that baptism is reserved only for new covenant believers. In order to defend the credobaptist position this paper will first define both positions, then highlight a danger of addressing covenant theology without a biblical theology. Next, biblical theology will be used to explore the aspects of the debate: the covenant of grace, the newness of the new covenant, and the signs of the covenant.

The definition of baptism in the Westminster Confession and Second London Confession are remarkably similar. The Westminster Confession, 28.1, defines baptism as:

A sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting [sp] into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.”[3]

From the credobaptist perspective, the Second London Baptist Confession, 29.1, defines baptism as “an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.”[4]

The debate is not the meaning of baptism; the two confessions agree substantially on the meaning of Baptist. The debate centers on who may receive baptism. The paedobaptists position is that unbelieving infants of Christians may receive baptism. The credobaptist position, defended in this paper, is that only believers may receive baptism. Historically, it is common for paedobaptists and credobaptists to argue mainly about the inclusion of unbelieving children in the household baptisms of Acts 10, 16, and 18. The paedobaptist points to those chapters as a defense. In response, the credobaptist notes the description of those baptized as exhibiting fear, reception of the Holy Spirit, repentance, or rejoicing (Acts 10:2, 44; 16:34; 18:8; with the exception of 16:15). It is a weak argument to try to settle the matter of who should be baptized solely on the descriptive accounts of who may or may not have been present.[5] Instead of relying mainly on descriptive accounts, it is better to rely on biblical theology because the issue of baptism is not settled simply with how one reads the book of Acts, but how one reads the entire bible.

The Covenant of Grace

God’s means of salvation is often summarized by the phrase “covenant of grace.”[6] The position advocated in this paper is that the biblical story line follows a promise-fulfilment pattern to establish the covenant of grace. The initial promise of redemption found in Genesis 3:15 is worked out progressively through the covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Israel, David, and Christ. Credobaptists understand the covenants made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David to include a promise of the covenant of grace but those Old Testament covenants are not the covenant of grace. Pascal Denault explains the credobaptist understanding of the covenant of grace, “The Baptists believed that before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was not formally given, but only announced and promised (revealed).”[7] Hebrews 9:15 states, “he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (ESV). The historical death of Christ secures redemption for sins committed under the old covenant in a retroactive sense. That grace was promised but not already established in the old covenant.[8] The old and new covenants, therefore, possess fundamental discontinuities to be addressed later.

The paedobaptist position is that the covenant of grace unifies all the biblical covenants after the covenant of works.[9] Pascal Denault summarizes the paedobaptist position, “The Abrahamic, Sinaitic and Davidic Covenants were seen only as different administrations of the Covenant of Grace revealed to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.15. The reformed considered that these covenants and the New Covenant were of the same substance, that is, grace, and that the disparate elements among these various covenants were only external factors.”[10] The classic paedobaptist position is that after the covenant of works, all the covenants are expressions of the one covenant of grace. While recognizing the slight differences in the covenants, the paedobaptists reduce those differences to the level of administration or circumstance. The paedobaptists terminology to describe the covenant of grace is “one substance with two administrations.” The old and new covenants, therefore, share fundamental continuity.

At this point, the differences between the two positions are due to hermeneutics. Paedobaptists and credobaptists start reading the story of redemption from different perspectives. Credobaptists start interpreting the Bible from the lens of promise worked out through covenants ultimately fulfilled in the new covenant.[11] This hermeneutic should allow the covenants to be understood in their context without a preconceived interpretation. The paedobaptists start interpreting the Bible from the lens of the covenant of grace understood as one covenant with two administrations. The problem is, this paedobaptist presupposition forces undue interpretations and erroneous applications of the covenants. New Testament theologian Stephen Wellum cautions against this flattening out of the covenants. He writes, “in the end, [covenant theology] fails to do justice to the biblical distinctions between the covenants which lead us to affirm some crucial covenantal discontinuities—all of which have massive implications for the baptismal discussion.”[12] Arguing for mixed communities under the old and new Covenants is the main erroneous conclusion caused by the faulty paedobaptist hermeneutic.

Up to this point, the discussion has been at the level of hermeneutics; reading all of Scripture according to a preconceived notion of an overarching covenant of grace, or following the narrative of promise-fulfillment. Admittingly, outside of a reference to Hebrews 9-10, little Scripture has been used to establish either position. The next segment will utilize Scripture to demonstrate the newness of the new covenant. The newness of the new covenant will prove the weakness of the paedobaptist understanding of the covenant of grace and prove the strength of the credobaptist understanding of the promise-fulfillment approach to the covenants.

The Newness of the New Covenant

The position advocated in this paper is that the new covenant is fundamentally new compared to the old covenant. The covenants are different at the level of their substance; what they accomplish. The use of Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8:8-12 will highlight what is new in the new covenant thereby strengthening the credobaptist position.

Initially, it must be noted that the Jeremiah passage, promising the new covenant, was given after the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants had been established. God is pointing his people ahead to something that will happen in the future. God is not pointing backward to something already in existence. The paedobaptists err by understanding the substance of the covenant of grace to exist prior to the new covenant. As referenced above, Hebrews 9:15 makes the inheritance of the promise dependent upon the historical death of Christ. The first century AD substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is effective for the forgiveness of sins under the old covenant. From the Old Testament perspective, the inheritance depends on a future event, not the preexisting substance of the covenant of grace.

To support the credobaptist position, it is necessary to note the nature of Christ, the high priest of the new covenant, and then quickly overview the Hebrews 8 passage. Hebrews 7 distinguishes between Christ, the high priest of the new covenant, and the various high priests of the old covenant. Old covenant priests forfeited their office because of death, but Christ continues forever with an indestructible life (Heb 7:23-24). Additionally, Christ’s continuing priesthood and intercession enable him to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him (Heb 7:25). This Christ offered himself as an unrepeatable perfect atoning sacrifice for sins (Heb 7:26-28). It is this Christ who mediates the new covenant (Heb 8:6). These priests differ in substance; they are not simply giving the same things in varying ways.

Regarding newness, first, God promises the future establishment of a new covenant with the house of Israel (Heb 8:8). Second, this new covenant will be different. It will not be like the Mosaic covenant (Heb 8:9a). The reason for this change is the people did not continue in the old covenant (Heb 8:9b). This new covenant will be characterized by God putting his laws in their minds and writing them on their hearts. He will be their God and they will be his people (Heb 8:10). When this new covenant is established there will be no need to teach the members of the covenant to know the Lord because every member, from the least to the greatest, will know the Lord (Heb 8:11). This knowledge of God will be dependent upon the forgiveness of their sins (Heb 8:12). Every member of the New Covenant will personally know the Lord.

The major difference between the old and new Covenants is the unmixed nature of the new covenant people. Hebrews 8:11 states that all the members of this new covenant will know the Lord. Consider the nature of the old covenant people. Not every member knew the Lord (Heb 8:11). The transition from a mixed community to an unmixed community is a fundamental characteristic of the new covenant. Stephen Wellum writes, “in the coming of Christ the nature and structure of the new covenant has changed, which, at least, entails that all those within the ‘new covenant community’ are people, by definition, who presently have experienced regeneration of heart and the full forgiveness of sin.[13] The transition from the old covenant to the new covenant is not a transition of circumstance while the substance remains the same. The substance of the new covenant is that all the baptized members of the community have their sins finally forgiven by Christ and they all know the Lord. According to Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8, the new covenant is an unmixed community. Paedobaptists deny this truth saying under the overarching covenant of grace the Old and New Testament communities are the same; they are mixed communities. The only change in the covenants is the sign. The paedobaptist claim of continuity loses strength against a straightforward reading of Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8. The paedobaptists defense of one covenant with two administrations appears to be unsustainable. The credobaptist position remains firm. The new covenant is an unmixed community.

Now, with a proper hermeneutic in place and a proper understanding of the newness of the new covenant, it is possible to consider the change in signs from old covenant circumcision to new covenant baptism.

The Sign of the Covenant

The various covenants are established with differing signs. The sign of the Noahic covenant is the rainbow (Gen 9:12-17). The rainbow points to the promise that God will not again destroy the earth and symbolizes the retiring of God’s war bow. Circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 17:10). Circumcision stands as a reminder of God’s promise to give Abraham physical offspring and give those offspring land and a relationship with God. Interestingly, the sign of the Mosaic covenant is the Sabbath (Gen 31:16-17). The Sabbath is a reminder of God’s rest after creation. Possibly, the Sabbath is a reminder of God’s work of recreation bringing his people back to the land.  The sign of the Davidic covenant is a son ruling on David’s throne (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

The new covenant signs are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The paedobaptist argument for infant baptism rests on the continuity of the covenant of grace and the idea of the future efficacy of baptism.[14] Drawing on Deuteronomy 30:6, that physical circumcision must be accompanied at some time with spiritual circumcision during the old covenant, paedobaptists claim that physical baptism of infants may be accompanied at a later time by personal faith. The newness of the new covenant, however, raises serious doubts as to the paedobaptist application of the covenant of grace. The new covenant does not make allowance for a separation between baptism and personal faith. In addition, the common paedobaptist idea that baptism does in the new covenant what circumcision did in the old covenant cannot be sustained from the text. The only way to defend the argument about the identical roles of baptism and circumcision is to downplay the differences and flatten out the covenants to only the covenant of grace. Baptism and circumcision are both signs that make statements. The question is if baptism and circumcision point to the covenant of grace in the same way.

As noted above, circumcision is the sign given to the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 17:1-14. This covenant is an everlasting covenant between God, Abraham, and Abraham’s offspring (17:7). Included in the Abrahamic covenant is the promise that God will be their God and they will receive the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (17:9). Throughout their generations, the males are to be circumcised, whether born or bought. The significance of circumcision is that it marks out a specific people as the inheritors of the blessing promised to Abraham; the blessing of relationship with God and land throughout their generations. Bear in mind, as the Abrahamic covenant moves into the Mosaic covenant, the sign of circumcision continues, reminding the people of the promise to Abraham. Throughout the Old Testament covenants, signs are added but none are removed. The sign of the rainbow is not nullified by the sign of circumcision and the sign of circumcision is not nullified by the sign of Sabbath. The covenant with David does not nullify any covenants but arguably brings all the covenants together under the promised son.[15] The reason the new covenant sign of baptism replaces circumcision, instead of supplementing as with previous covenants, is because the new covenant sign marks the fulfillment of the other covenants in Christ. In Christ, the new covenant is an unmixed community, therefore, the sign of the mixed community is no longer necessary.

It is now appropriate to consider baptism as a sign of the new covenant. Colossians 2 is a helpful passage because it connects circumcision and baptism. Colossians 2:11 states that the recipients of the letter were circumcised in Christ by putting off the body of flesh. Here, circumcision is not a physical act but a spiritual act. This spiritual circumcision happened by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism through faith (2:12). The result is that those who were dead in trespasses and uncircumcision are forgiven and made alive in Christ (2:13). Circumcision is used to image the cutting off of sins by union with Christ. Circumcision and baptism obviously bear continuity here but not in the paedobaptistic sense. For paedobaptists, baptism is a sign to be received by unbelieving children; like physical circumcision in the Old Testament. In Colossians 2, however, baptism is a sign of spiritual circumcision; the one baptized experiences forgiveness of sins through union with Christ. Baptism mirrors spiritual circumcision not physical circumcision.[16] Colossians 2 has no category for a physically baptized but not spiritually circumcised person. It is difficult to understand how an unbelieving infant can be in any real sense forgiven of sins and united to Christ by baptism without faith.

A complimentary baptism passage is Romans 6:1-4. In Romans 6:1-4 the Apostle Paul is making an argument for why Christians cannot continue in sin. The explicit reason a person should live a holy life is that person has been united to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection through baptism. Baptism, therefore, is the display of union with Christ by faith such that the person is empowered to live a new life of godliness. Thomas Schreiner makes a bold claim, “union with Christ in his death and burial and his resurrection become a reality for believers through baptism.”[17] It is believers who are united to Christ through baptism. Similarly, every New Testament baptism passage connects baptism with either repentance, faith, or fear.[18] The one exception is the baptism of Lydia’s household. In the case of Lydia, there is no mention of infants; it must be assumed or read into the passage by paedobaptists. To summarize, every New Testament description of baptism includes a reference to personal faith; all except the account of Lydia which does not mention infants. Additionally, the theological descriptions of baptism include explicit references to personal faith on the part of the one being baptized. It is the paedobaptist’s understanding of the covenant of grace which supports infant baptism. New Testament descriptions and explanations of baptisms support the baptism of believers only.

Galatians 3 is another New Testament passage addressing baptism. The covenant progression of promise and fulfillment is also seen in Galatians 3 where the promise of Abraham’s offspring finds its fulfillment in Christ. Christ is Abraham’s seed, his offspring, the promise of the Abrahamic covenant (Gal 3:16). Additionally, all the nations will be blessed in Christ as the disciples go out and baptize disciples from all nations (Matt 28:18-20). The blessing is had in baptism. Galatians 3:26-27 explain the connection between the blessing and baptism, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Baptism is union with Christ through faith for the fulfillment of the covenants and personal faith is necessary. Personal faith is necessary to put on Christ in baptism. Personal faith and baptism are inseparable.

Now it is possible to summarize the credobaptist argument for the baptism of believers only. Baptism is a sign demonstrating the person being baptized is united to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection through faith. Union with Christ through repentance and faith is required for membership in the New Covenant community. The unmixed community of believers, where all members are forgiven in Christ and personally know the Lord, is what makes the new covenant different from the old covenant. Additionally, an overview of the New Testament descriptions of baptisms and explanations of baptisms overwhelming support the baptism of believers only. The only remaining argument to support the baptism of infants is a presuppositional argument based on an unsustainable idea of a covenant of grace possessing one substance and two administrations. Having demonstrated the weakness of that paedobaptist hermeneutic and the strengths of the credobaptist hermeneutic it is this author’s firm conviction to baptize believers only.

 

 

bibliography

Carson, D. A., Exegetical Fallacies. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996.

Denault, Pascal. The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobpatist Federalism. Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013.

Duncan, Ligon. “Introduction to Covenant Theology.” Accessed December 14, 2016. http://ligonduncan.com/introduction-to-covenant-theology-1198/.

Lawrence, Michael. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker House, 1998.

The Second London Confession, 1689. Accessed January 7, 2017, http://www.1689.com/confession.html.

The Westminster Confession. Accessed January 9, 2017, http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html.

Welllum, Stephen J. “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants.” In Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas R Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, 97-162. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006.

Williamson, Paul. Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Wright, Shawn D. “Baptism and the Logic of Reformed Paedobaptists.” In Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas R Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, 207-256. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006.

 

[1]Ligon Duncan defines biblical theology as, “the study of the history of redemption from the perspective of a particular theme traced through the eras of that history of redemption.” Ligon Duncan, “Introduction to Covenant Theology,” accessed December 14, 2016, http://ligonduncan.com/introduction-to-covenant-theology-1198/.

[2]The Westminster Confession, 28.6, states, “The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.”

[3]The Westminster Confession, accessed January 9, 2017, http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html.

[4]The Second London Confession, 1689, accessed 1/7/2017, http://www.1689.com/confession.html.

[5]Carson, D. A., Exegetical Fallacies, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 117. This appears to be an error of reading between the lines.

[6]Second London Confession, 7.2, “Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved.” Westminster Confession, 7.3, “the Lord was pleased to make a second [covenant], commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved.”

[7]Pascal Denault, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobpatist Federalism, (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013), 62.

[8]A clear expression of this principle is the type-antitype relationship between Old Covenant repeated animal sacrifices and the unrepeatable New Covenant sacrifice of Christ. See Hebrews 9:11-10:18.

[9]See Paul Williamson’s book, Sealed with an Oath, pages 52-58 for an exegetical argument against a covenant with Adam.

[10] Denault, Distinctiveness, 37.

[11]Michael Lawrence writes, “[The new covenant] is not fulfilled and established until Christ comes, who picks up and fulfills the various strands of the previous covenants. He is the perfect image (Colossians 1), the promised seed (Galatians 3), the true Son (Matthew 3), and the messianic King (Matthew 21).” Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 60.

[12]Stephen J. Welllum, “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants,” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, ed. Thomas R Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 110.

[13]Stephen J. Welllum, “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants,” 105.

[14]See Westminster Confession, 28.6 in footnote 2.

[15]Paul Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 122-129.

[16]Shawn D. Wright, “Baptism and the Logic of Reformed Paedobaptists,” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, ed. Thomas R Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 239.

[17]Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker House, 1998), 306

[18]See Matt 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 13, 16, 35-38; 9:18; 10:47; 16:31-33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16; Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 1:13-17; 12:13; Gal 3:27; Eph 4:5; Col 2:12; and 1 Pet 3:21. This is a reference to water baptism as a New Covenant initiation rite, not a reference to John’s baptism or Jesus’ baptism of suffering. Though John’s requirement of personal repentance before baptism does strengthen the credobaptist position. Additionally, Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mark 1:8) points to the Luke-Acts association of receiving the Holy Spirit in connection with repentance, faith, the forgiveness of sins, and baptism.