11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection April 29, 2018
"Reflections on Baptism" by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
The following article is an up-dated version of two older Advance articles. It’s my hope that we might have a few people who might wish to seek baptism in our church for the Great Feast of Pentecost, May 20, 2018!
Is baptism necessary for someone to be saved and be with God for eternity? The simple answer is NO! As our brother Paul assures us: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ …” (Romans 5:1) It is faith that “saves” us - not baptism.
But not everyone agrees with what Paul says. Many will quote what Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6) But this reference to “being born of water” is clearly a reference to natural childbirth - not a reference to baptism by water.
There are, however, many Christians who strongly argue that baptism is essential for salvation. Many believe that if a child dies before being baptized, that child cannot go to heaven. This is why most Christian denominations baptize infants.
I’ve lost track of the number of grandparents (mostly grandmothers) who told me that he or she baptized their infant grandchild in the kitchen sink. They often did this because the infant’s parents seemed too slow in setting up baptism for the infant. The grandparents feared that if the infant died, the infant could not get to heaven.
Are such “kitchen-sink” baptisms valid? Yes, the truth is that any baptized disciple of Christ can baptize another person validly. But such is certainly not the best way to approach baptism.
We, Baptists, do not subscribe to the notion that unbaptized infants and unbaptized people cannot get to heaven. We do not believe that people such as Abraham Lincoln, who was born into a Baptist family but never joined a church and was most probably never baptized, must be barred from the presence of the Risen Christ.
For us, Baptists, we believe the decision to be baptized needs to be made by a person who has the maturity to make such a decision. We never impose baptism on an infant. A person must make the decision for himself or herself - a decision that depends on the person’s level of maturity.
Baptism, for us Baptists, is a response to the gift of faith. It’s a public declaration of a believer’s conversion to Christ. It was the great 20th Century Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, who argued pointedly against infant baptism. He concluded: “1) Infant Baptism is without biblical foundation. All evidence points to infant baptism becoming the norm in the post-apostolic period, not the period of the New Testament itself; 2) The practice of infant baptism has led to the disastrous assumption that individuals are Christians as a result of their birth; 3) The practice of infant baptism weakens the central link between baptism and Christian discipleship. Baptism is a witness to the grace of God, and marks the beginning of the human response to this grace.” (Please reread this quotation!)
There is, as would be expected, a good deal of debate about the age someone should attain before being baptized. I personally would hesitate baptizing a child who was under the age of seven. I’m more comfortable baptizing children who are at least 12 years of age. But this is not any kind of rule. We, Baptists, don’t like rules!
God’s Spirit is always involved in any decision to be baptized. I would happily talk to any one who desires baptism - especially our young - along with his or her parents. Naturally, I’d also be happy to talk with any adult who wishes to be baptized.
As Baptists, we believe baptism is an outward sign of an inner reality. It’s a public declaration of a personal decision to follow Christ. In baptism by immersion, which we Baptists follow, it’s clear that the person being baptized is being ritually “drowned” - symbolizing the new life - the “rebirth” that happens in and through Christ.
As Paul teaches us: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
In a very real sense, baptism involves a ceremony into the fullness of the Paschal Mystery: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a simple ceremony (a simple “ordinance” to use our Baptist terminology) a person experiences the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
We likewise “put on Christ” when we are baptized. Again from Paul: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)
I believe everyone should seriously consider becoming baptized. I believe baptism is a vitally important and spiritually rich ceremony. One of the best dates to be baptized is Pentecost Sunday. So, on this coming Pentecost (May 20), the day when 3,000 people were baptized into Christ Jesus, we’ll gladly baptize anyone of a mature-enough age.
Prior to Pentecost, I’ll offer a special class to explain what baptism involves and a walk-though of the ritual itself. Please let me know if the Spirit of the Living God is leading you, guiding you, to this most special life-choice, this decision to become a baptized disciple of the Risen Christ!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor