As a church leader, I probably get more questions about baptism from prospective members than any other subject. And I understand—each church has its own way of doing things, so it can be a bit confusing. This article is my attempt to answer the most common questions I’ve heard.
In the Bible, Jesus commanded that His followers be baptized with water as a symbol of their devotion to God; a way of publicly announcing to the world that they are Christians. (Matthew 28:19) Think of it like an ID badge flashed before the world, a proclamation of who you are and what you intend to become (Acts 2:38, 8:35-38). Baptism was even practiced before the ministry of Jesus, when God’s people wanted to demonstrate a renewed commitment to God or a change of life (Luke 3:3).
I like to think of baptism like I think of my wedding ring. My ring symbolizes my great love for and unbreakable commitment to my wife. The ring is a public indicator and reminder of my wedding vows, of the woman I’ve chosen to spend my lifetime with. Baptism is my “first step” in following Jesus, a way of declaring my intention to serve Him, not only “till death do us part,” but for all eternity.
I was baptized, not because some mystical, magical thing happens when I am put underwater by a church leader, but because I wanted to show my commitment to the Savior. Refusing baptism is akin to telling your spouse that, though you are committed to the marriage on the inside, you’d rather not wear a ring (husbands be advised: this is not a good thing to say!).
What kind of baptism should I receive? The imagery in the Bible is that baptism is immersion in water, a “dunking” where the person is symbolically “buried” to his or her old lifestyle, then “raised up” to live a new life (Romans 6:3-4). Some churches have traditionally “sprinkled” water on people, and I suppose they have their reasons for doing so. Our church has chosen to baptize by immersion, as we feel this fits the biblical model more accurately. To become a member of our church, baptism by immersion is necessary, although it need not necessarily be performed at our church.
What about infant baptism? We practice infant dedication, rather than infant baptism. If baptism is indeed a symbol of a person’s faith in Christ, infant baptism doesn’t make much sense (like putting a wedding ring on a baby). Infant dedication follows biblical precedents (1 Samuel 1, Luke 2) and gives the parents the chance to dedicate their child to God publicly, promising to raise the child in the “training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-3) Later, when the child is old enough to commit himself to the Lord, he can follow the Lord in baptism.
When should children be baptized? It is important for baptism to be a personal decision, not just a cultural or family tradition. When children a clear understanding of what it means to follow Christ, and what the purpose of baptism is, our church may baptize them. We encourage parents, however, not to “push” the decision on their children, but to let them initiate the process on their own. Personally, I was baptized at 7 years old, but really didn’t understand the Christian faith, even though I had the right answers to religious questions. I was re-baptized at age 18, after I was truly committed to following Christ. I would encourage parents to wait until their children are at least 12 before encouraging baptism – although that is only my personal opinion. We have baptized children younger than that before. If your child is asking about baptism and you are unsure if they are ready, feel free to contact one of the church leaders to discuss it. (One test I’ve used with kids who are well-intentioned but not quite ready is that they have to call and talk to me (as the pastor) about it personally, not their parent. If they still need mom or dad to do the talking, they probably aren’t ready quite yet.)
How do I schedule my baptism? If you’d like to be baptized, be sure you can answer these questions in the affirmative: Have I put my faith in Jesus Christ for salvation? Have I repented of my sins and devoted my life to follow Jesus? Would I like to make a public and permanent declaration of my intention to love, serve and obey Him? Then, schedule a brief meeting with a pastor to share your own faith story, and to get on the list of baptismal candidates. We typically hold baptisms once or twice a year, and enjoy a party and luncheon along with the rest of the church family. While you are preparing to be baptized, I recommend reading through the Gospel of John and the book of Acts in the Bible.
What’s holding you back? I’ve met a number of Christians who know they “should get around to it,” but have a list of personal excuses for not being baptized. If that’s you, I challenge you to lay aside your excuses, and, in love for your Savior, take the plunge (so to speak).
**Obviously some of this post is specific to my home church, LifeChange / Weymouth in Medina, Ohio. If you are feeling compelled by God to seek baptism, call your pastor.