What does the Bible say about baptism?

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Pronouns are in the news for many reasons these days, but the difference between “I” and “we” has rarely been more important to so many people.

In early February 2022, an Arizona priest resigned after the Roman Catholic Church determined that its use of “we” instead of “I” in baptisms invalidated the sacrament. Instead of saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the priest mistakenly said, “We baptize you. . . .

As Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, explained, the difference is significant because “it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather it is Christ, and He alone, who presides over to all the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes.

While it’s unclear how long the priest had been using the incorrect pronoun, the Catholic Church has ruled that the thousands of baptisms he performed from Arizona and California to Brazil “are presumed invalid. “.

After resigning, the priest in question said, “It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula. I deeply regret my mistake and how it affected many people. . . With the help of the Holy Spirit and in fellowship with the Diocese of Phoenix, I will devote my energy and full-time ministry to help remedy this and heal those affected.

However, the Arizona priest is not the first to make such a mistake.

Reverend Matthew Hood had been working in the ministry full-time for years when he learned that his baptism had been ruled invalid as a result of the same error. The error was quickly corrected and he was re-ordained a priest shortly thereafter. But the controversy has left many confused about the nature of baptism and why a little note would make such a difference.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says about baptism.

What is baptism?

Word baptize comes from a Greek word meaning “to soak” or “to immerse”. The word was often used in the ancient world to describe the act of dipping a cup in a stream or washing clothes in a laundromat. Literally, to baptize something is to immerse it in water.

John the Baptist was the first person in the New Testament to baptize people. He immersed those who publicly repented of their sins and wanted to follow God in faith. Their baptism took place in the Jordan as a testimony of their community. When Jesus began his public ministry, he did so with his baptism by John.

Of course, Jesus did not repent of sin since he is the sinless Son of God. Rather, he publicly testified to his faith in his Father and supported John’s preaching and baptism work. Later, Jesus commanded his disciples to continue this work of baptism: “Go therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

Baptism therefore began with John and is commanded by Jesus Christ for us today.

Why should Christians be baptized?

Christian denominations vary widely in their understanding of baptism and its meaning. Catholic tradition regards baptism as the first sacrament children receive, a step with which they begin their journey in the Christian faith. Some Protestant traditions also view infant baptism as an act of faith on the part of believing parents, a kind of New Testament circumcision.

Churches that baptize believers by immersion, however, take a different approach. These communities of faith do so for the following reasons.

First, they view baptism as an act of obedience.

Jesus commanded us to baptize anyone who becomes his disciple. The early church followed this command very carefully, baptizing those who became Christians at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and those who trusted in Christ through personal testimony (Acts 8:38).

Baptism does not make us Christians, but it is a very important response to God’s call to obedience. And it is a call that only believers can answer.

Second, baptism is an act of witness.

Through baptism, we announce to others our new life in Jesus Christ. Again, baptism does not create this life; water does not wash away our sins, nor do we need to be baptized to be saved. On the contrary, baptism shows others that we have already received this salvation.

In the act of immersion, we are laid under water to symbolize the burial of the “old person” we were before we trusted Christ as Lord. We are then resurrected out of the water to symbolize the resurrection of the “new person” that we now are in Christ. This symbolism is best represented by the immersion of those who have personally trusted Jesus (see Romans 6:4-5).

Traditions that practice infant baptism do so to consecrate children to God on the faith of their parents. However, the only baptisms described in the New Testament involved people who had come to personal faith in Christ as Lord. And so churches that practice Christian immersion believe they are continuing the New Testament pattern.

Baptist churches often explain to those who were baptized as infants that their immersion as a believer does not invalidate the faith their parents demonstrated in baptizing their child. On the contrary, a baptism by immersion completes their dedication because the person makes his own faith commitment public.

What makes a baptism lawful?

Baptism is an important act of obedience, but it is not the essential condition for salvation.

The thief on the cross next to Jesus, when he made Christ his Lord, received the promise: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Although he could not be baptized, he could trust Jesus. All who followed his example, regardless of their baptismal tradition, are children of the same Father and members of the same family.

Saying the wrong words at a baptism (or during any other sacrament) won’t change that.

Ultimately, baptism is and always was intended to be a public symbol of personal commitment. Whether it is a symbol of the parents’ faith in the baptism of their child or of an individual’s faith when it follows a personal decision to place one’s trust in Christ as Savior, baptism is meant to tell the world that Jesus is our Lord and invite others to join our faith.

If those who witness our baptism trust Christ because we have done so, our baptism fulfills its most important purpose, to the glory of God.

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