By baptism we confess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and testify of our death to sin and of our purpose to walk in newness of life. Thus we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, become His people, and are received as members by His church. Baptism is a symbol of our union with Christ, the forgiveness of our sins, and our reception of the Holy Spirit. It is by immersion in water and is contingent on an affirmation of faith in Jesus and evidence of repentance of sin. It follows instruction in the Holy Scriptures and acceptance of their teachings. (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 2:38; 16:30-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:1-6; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12, 13.) (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 2:12, 13; Acts 16:30-33; 22:16; 2:38; Matt. 28:19, 20.)
This fundamental is also unchanged, with the exception of the re-arrangement of texts. It equates baptism with joining the church. While the statement doesn’t specify who “the Church” is, one presumes the SDA Church is in mind here. Aligning baptism with church membership is pretty common practice among Seventh-day Adventists around the world, but it can be challenging at the local level. It collapses two things that should probably be distinct. As a pastor I often felt that I was baptizing people too late and bringing them into the church too soon. When a person is clearly committed to Christ they long for baptism to seal that full commitment. Yet at that point they are often far short of the theology and practice expected of members in good and regular standing.
Some other dilemmas occur with regard baptism: Do we baptize people primarily in light of their spiritual achievements (“you have made all these changes in your life”) or in recognition of a sinful past that is being abandoned? Is baptism an individual thing, a personal commitment, or is it entry into a community?
Matthew 28:19-20 places baptism in the context of discipleship. It is not so much a single act along the way as a step on a journey that is lifelong. It is the starting point to a way of life. Even after baptism, we are to keep learning and keep growing. In Romans 6 baptism is not the key reason for the passage, it is mentioned in the context of Paul’s doctrine of renewal. This fundamental calls people to newness of life, the beginning of a journey. Many people feel that baptism is a great moment of change, and they often feel disappointed when afterward little seems to have changed. We need to emphasize to new believers that baptism is the first step on a journey and that there will be pitfalls along the way.
Baptism is also immersion into a grand narrative, it relives the history of a people, the Exodus, which was the foundational act of God in the creation of Israel as a people. Baptism also ties people to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the great act of God in the New Testament era. Just as the Israelites passed through the sea to take on a new kind of life, so individuals experience freedom and restoration as a consequence of baptism. Like baptism, the Lord’s Supper also connects the believer to both the cross and the Exodus.
In our discussion, questions arose about the concept of “union with Christ.” What exactly does that mean? Does that mean absorption of the individual into the divine in some fashion, or is the term to be understood more on a bridal analogy. At a wedding, two individuals are united together, but they don’t lose their own individuality and personality.
As often happens with this subject, the conversation ended up with a group of pastors swapping hilarious stories of baptisms that went wrong, such as small preachers trying to baptize large men in knee-deep water! Feel free to share your favorite baptism story in the comments section.