Teaching Extra 10 - The commitments
Being baptised and committing yourself to the church
An opening reading: Matthew 28:16-20
A. About believer's baptism
1. Baptism is the immersion of Christian believers in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is done at their own request; it shows that they have become Christians and normally takes place near the beginning of their Christian lives.
2. Sometimes people are baptised by having water poured over them instead. This too is acceptable, especially when the water is in short supply! However, since the word 'baptise' literally means to 'dip' or 'soak' in water, it is best to immerse people whenever possible. It is also more dramatic to do it in this way. Baptisms are joyful, spiritually powerful and very meaningful occasions - both for those who are baptised and those who are there to witness them.
B. Is baptism important?
In a word, yes. In fact, it is very important. This is because:
the New Testament commands it We see this in our opening reading.
the first Christians practised it Baptism was part of the package of being a Christian. For instance, when 3,000 people came to faith on the Day of Pentecost (the day the church was born), they were all baptised (Acts 2:41). This is the way things continued.
Jesus was baptised - by John the Baptist. We read about this in Luke 3:21-22. He set us an example. If Jesus was baptised, it must be important for us!
Baptism is not an 'optional extra' that we can take or leave. It is part of following after Jesus seriously and wholeheartedly.
C. What baptism means
Baptism in fact means many things. It is highly symbolic and is like a number of pictures.
- Picture No.1: Being born
Just before a baby is born, the sack containing it in the mother's womb bursts. We call this the 'breaking of the waters'. Jesus once said 'no-one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit' (John 3:5). Baptism is a sign that we have been 'born again', that we have started to live spiritually in our relationship to God, just as once we came alive physically.
- Picture No.2: Being washed
Being baptised is like taking a bath! But it is to do with the washing of our consciences and of our inner selves rather than just our bodies: 'God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour' (Titus 3:5-6).
- Picture No.3: Being buried
If being baptised is like being lowered into a bath, it is also like being laid in a grave. It is a picture therefore of the old life before we were Christians being done away with, and the start of a new life in Christ: 'Don't you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life' (Romans 6:3-4).
- Picture No.4: Being immersed in the Holy Spirit
When we are baptised we are plunged into water. This is also a picture of being plunged into the Spirit of God, into the realm of spiritual reality and power. John the Baptist said, 'I baptise you with water. But one more powerful than I will come... He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire' (Luke 3:16).
In short, baptism is a sign that we have become Christians and so have entered into the new life which is given to us in Christ. It is a way of nailing our colours to the mast, of stating publicly that we are Christ's disciples and that Jesus is our Lord.
D. Who is baptism for?
It follows from what has been said that baptism is a step to be taken by every Christian believer. Let's be clear about this: it is not essential for salvation, as though without it we could not be children of God (the story of the dying thief who believed in Jesus should make this clear - see Luke 23:39-43). But it is essential for discipleship since it is commanded by Jesus, and disciples live to please Christ. It is also essential for the church, so that together we can make a clear witness to Christ.
Baptism should be accompanied by a strong commitment to the local church. Many churches have a practice of inviting people to become 'members' in a more formal way. This enables the church to build a strong core of people who will support it and help it to fulfill its responsibilities. This includes financial support, giving time and energy to the church's community life and work, and sharing in the decision-making processes. When people are baptised, they usually also learn more about these aspects and become part of the church's committed membership.