Welcome to the Family: An Essay on Baptism as Obedience and Acceptance

By: Dustin Walters

I remember it like it was yesterday. On a Sunday afternoon in March of 2005, I was baptized by immersion and welcomed into the family of God as a twelve year old. I had professed faith in Christ a few months earlier and, after completing the pastor’s discipleship course, “The ABCs of Salvation”, I was deemed ready for believer’s baptism. I remember the joy of that evening so vividly. My family (even the unbelievers) visited my church in Hamilton Alabama. I remember hearing God’s people resounding with hymns of praise with the songs “Victory in Jesus” and “Family of God”. I had no idea that this experience would forever change me.

Baptism is to Protestants what an affirmation service is to a young Catholic believer. It is a special, public symbol that one has experienced the new birth through Jesus and now aims to walk as an obedient disciple of Jesus, burying his old ways in the water and being raised to walk in newness of life. It is an exciting time. It symbolizes a new beginning, in much the same way that a wedding symbolizes a new beginning for a new couple. In this post, I want to consider what baptism is, who is eligible, and some practical considerations for busy pastors. Space will not permit an in-depth discussion on the differences between credobaptism and paedobaptism.

A Hearty, Yet Distinctive Affirmation

At Everyday Theology, we affirm believer’s only baptism as articulated in the FWB Treatise, which states,

“This is the immersion of believers in water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in which are represented the burial and resurrection of Christ, the death of Christians to the world, the washing of their souls from the pollution of sin, their rising to newness of life, their engagement to serve God and their resurrection at the last day.” [1]

We mention this here because of a diverse readership, however, we aim to clearly communicate what we believe the Bible teaches about baptism.

What is Baptism?

Millard J. Erickson observes that there are four basic views on Baptism within the broad Christian tradition. [2] His summary provides us with a paradigm, which helps us locate baptism on a theological spectrum.  

  1. Baptismal Regeneration (A Means of Saving Grace); traditional Catholicism and some divisions of Lutheranism
  2. A Sign of the Covenant: Makes us sure of God’s promises; Traditional Reformed and Presbyterians
  3. A Token of Salvation: an outward symbol or indication of the inward change that has been effected in the believer; mostly Baptistic, some Mennonites who affirm
  4. The Point at Which God Gives Salvation: Stone-Campbell Tradition, Christian Churches and Churches of Christ; baptism is closely bound with faith

F. Leroy Forlines captures the relationship between baptism and one’s union with Christ when he remarks,  

“Water baptism does not baptize a person into Christ. It only symbolizes baptism into Christ. In this baptism, we are united with Christ. In this union, His death becomes our death.” [3]

For our purposes in this post, it is helpful to consider baptism as both an act of obedience and acceptance.

Baptism as Obedience

Jesus affirmed the significance of baptism when he commissioned the first disciples. You will recall Jesus’ last words before he ascended to the Father, known as the “Great Commission”.

"18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying,'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20, NKJV)
[Ben has written previously about the Great Commission here.]

We know that the controlling verb in this passage is μαθητεύσατε (mathēteusate -make disciples), and that the verb is an aorist, active, imperative, 2nd person plural. (You plural). Several participles are also included in the passage, which are going, baptizing, and teaching.

Essentially, this passage implies that Christian disciples make other disciples. Baptism is a pivotal component of Biblical discipleship because Christians participate in believer’s baptism as obedience to Christ’s Commission. Not only is baptism an act of obedience, it is also an act of acceptance.

Baptism as Acceptance

A disciple is one who follows another to learn from him. The practice of following a teacher, like a Rabbi, was not unique to Jesus. There are examples of a mentor/mentee discipleship model throughout the Bible, such as Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament and Paul and Timothy in the New Testament. Disciples are those who accept Jesus as Lord and obey his teachings.

In baptism, the disciple publicly affirms an acceptance of Jesus, which means acceptance of all that Jesus taught. One is buried to his old nature and raised to live a new life, in the power of the Spirit. The apostle Paul provided us with a powerful sermon on Baptism in Romans 6. Jesus said,

"23 Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.'" (John 14:23-24, NKJV)

Through baptism, the new disciple makes a covenant to walk with Christ and pursue sanctification. By the way, this is where the role of the local church and pastoral leadership and discussions of ecclesiology arise. We should not baptize new disciples and force them to figure out the Christian walk on their own. When someone is baptized, we, as a collective church unit, make a commitment to help this new believer grow in holiness – or sanctification. We are committing a grievous sin when we merely evangelize but do not help people grow in Christ (more on that in another post!).

In short, baptism is a symbol of one’s union with Christ, made possible through faith in Jesus’ imputation of righteousness and acceptance of his substitutionary atonement. It is the initiatory rite whereby new persons are welcomed into the Church and as a result into God’s family. Baptism is both an act of obedience and acceptance. Now we turn our attention to the important subject of candidates for baptism.

Who should be baptized?

The thoughts for this post were inspired by a recent question in an online minister’s group. A caring pastor asked the group of ministers a question about the appropriate age for baptism. We at Everyday Theology will not list a specific age where someone is ready to follow Jesus in baptism, demonstrating their submission to him and commitment to walk in faith. We realize that further work is necessary to engage with views of baptism outside of our own. For this post, we will simply say that only believers who understand the decision of baptism should be baptized. Baptism is for believers. If an individual understands their sin nature, need for Christ, repents of sin, and confesses Jesus as Lord, it is okay to baptize them. Here are four important considerations about baptizing children for busy pastors:

  1. Allow younger children to be baptized if they belong to a believing family. They might understand the Gospel better than some older believers in the congregation!
  2. Assess the candidate. Seek to develop a relationship with the family and engage in conversations to assess where the child candidate for baptism is. By the Spirit’s power, you can determine, pastor, if they are ready or not.
  3. Be cautious about baptizing children of non-believers. They might need more time to grow in their faith. Part of being baptized is understanding what the gospel of Jesus Christ is AND what it does for sinful humanity.
  4. Don’t rush baptism. We do not believe in baptismal regeneration, so what’s the rush? Perhaps we need to reintroduce the practice of catechism in our family ministries! Historically, believers were catechized before they were baptized and admitted into church membership.

Conclusion

Christian pastor and author Tim Challies wrote a helpful article on why he was a credobaptist. He said,

“So why am I not paedobaptist? I am not paedobaptist because, quite simply, I cannot see infant baptism clearly prescribed or described in the New Testament. I see believer’s baptism and so, too, does every paedobaptist.” [4]

Baptism is intended to welcome new believers into Christ’s family as well as the local church. While no specific age requirement is mentioned in the Bible, the ordinance is intended for those who have reached the age of accountability. Children of believers might reach this age sooner than children of unbelievers. There is no hard and fast rule about whether you should baptize young believers in your congregation. If you baptize children, work intentionally with the parents to create a discipleship plan. That’s the most biblical method for ensuring the next generation adopts the Faith.


[1] See https://nafwb.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2016-FWB-Treatise.pdf, Chapter XVIII, section 1.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed., (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, 2013), 1016-1024. 

[3] F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, (Randall House: Nashville, TN, 2011), 213. He refers to baptism as a metonymy in this section.

[4] Tim Challies, “Why I Am Not a Paedobaptist” Challies.com, Accessed April 10, 2021, https://www.challies.com/articles/why-i-am-not-paedobaptist/.

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