Philosophy Lite: Christian baptism testimony of faith in Christ as Savior
By Raymond Smith
The subject of Baptism goes back to pre-Christian days. The "mikvah" in the Jewish Bible and other Jewish texts meant immersion in water, preferably running water, for ritual purification and was established for restoration to a condition of becoming ritually defiled by contact with a corpse, for example.
The Jews had to use the mikvah before being allowed to participate in the Temple. Immersion was required for converts to Judaism as part of their conversion. This change of status by the mikvah could be obtained repeatedly, while Christian baptism, like circumcision, is, in the general view of Christians, unique and not repeatable (Wikipedia). Before Jesus presented himself publicly, John the Baptist was performing a baptism of repentance as he announced the coming Kingdom of God.
Christian baptism is a testimony of faith in Christ as Savior. From the Greek, Baptisma, which means to dip or to wash ritually. It is truly a beautiful picture as the candidate is lowered beneath the water, symbolizing burial to sin and coming up out of the water symbolizing newness of life.
Candidates are baptized according to Jesus' admonition in Matthew 28:19, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." As it relates to Old Testament baptism, it is a cleansing to walk in newness of life. Barclay writes of a missionary who baptized in a stream and had the new Christian exit on the opposite bank. Some protestant churches look at baptism as an ordinance to be observed faithfully, but not necessary for salvation; others consider it as a sacrament, necessary for salvation. Whatever the case it is designed to leave an indelible imprint on the believer's mind. In rare instances the convert is baptized immediately upon his profession of faith.
New Testament baptism speaks of total immersion, while some denominations practice sprinkling or pouring. Since we are all prone to argue over such things, I believe Jesus would say, get over it - concentrate on things that really matter like loving God, loving your brother, obeying the moral law and caring for the poor and the sick. It is to be noted, however, that Jesus chose the traditional method for himself even though technically, he did not need to be baptized, as the son of God. His purpose was to set the right example. I understand that in most churches, the candidate himself can request the mode of baptism that he feels to be correct.
Every candidate should be given pre-baptism counseling. Age is not terribly important as long as the candidate fully understands the implications of such a step. Infant baptism should be viewed as a dedication ceremony. It is an act of the parents dedicating that child to a spiritual upbringing. Some churches do not accept a foreign method of baptism and will require the person to be rebaptized by immersion. Baptism is for believers only and is a prerequisite to church membership and the taking of the Lord's Supper.
Raymond F. Smith is a deacon at Fellowship Bible Church in Victoria and President of Strong Families of Victoria.