Without fundamental Christian doctrine, there is no church and there can be no growth. Fundamentals are important in a variety of fields. We see the importance of fundamentals especially in the world of sports.
I remember first learning the game of basketball in East Bernstadt. I played basketball at East Bernstadt Independent School from 4th-8th grade and it is there that I learned the fundamentals of the game from my dad. He was our coach and there was one thing that he emphasized over everything else, and that was the fundamentals of basketball. Passing, dribbling, shooting, defense. He convinced us that we would be able to beat a lot of teams that may be more talented than us if we excelled at the fundamentals.
Before he would put in any plays or defensive formations, we would practice dribbling, passing, and shooting the basketball in all of their various forms. There was no need to practice creative plays or learn deceptive defenses if we could not run and dribble at the same time. If we could not make a clean, hard chest pass, we had no business running an elaborate offense. Fundamentals are essential to the game of basketball. Without them, a team cannot grow.
Likewise, a church cannot spiritually grow without a firm grasp of the fundamentals of the faith. How can we deal with the cultural pressures that will inevitably violate our religious freedom if we are not firm in our conviction that the Bible is God’s Word and is authoritative over our lives? How can we even begin to deal with the more difficult and controversial issues of our day if we are hung up on the fundamentals? The doctrines of Scripture, God, Christ, salvation, the church, baptism, and so on ground us in our mission as the people of God to make disciples of all nations in a hostile and increasingly anti-Christian world. And these doctrines also are means of grace that deepen our faith and joy in God.
Three Questions on Baptism
One of the most fundamental doctrines to any Christian denomination is the doctrine of baptism. By and large, the difference between major denominations lies in the doctrine of baptism. For example, I am a Southern Baptist. But apart from just two major issues, I agree wholeheartedly with the doctrinal statements of many PCA churches. One of the issues we clearly differ on, however, is the doctrine of baptism. Presbyterians baptize infants. Baptists don’t. They believe it is biblical. We don’t.
But as I have grown as a Christian and experienced more life, I have realized that very few people realize the significance of doctrinal issues until it is too late. While baptism is not an issue that separates Christians from non-Christians, it is important for church membership and fellowship. And I have learned that what is most important is to have a good understanding of what you believe before engaging other positions.
I want to take a few moments to answer three questions important questions with regard to a Southern Baptist interpretation of the biblical doctrine of baptism: (1) What is baptism? (2) Why should I be baptized? (3) Is baptism more than a symbol?
What is Baptism?
Very simply, Baptists believe that baptism is…
- An ordinance of the Lord Jesus to be followed by all believers
- An outward symbol of an inward change. Baptism expresses union with Christ in the same way that a wedding ring expresses the union between husband and wife.
- A sign of the new covenant. Baptism replaces circumcision as the sign of the people of God received not by birth, but now by faith.
- A symbol of the work of the Trinity in salvation. We baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, because in salvation the entire Godhead is one and at work. The Father initiates. The Son propitiates. The Spirit regenerates.
- Immersion in water. Baptists believe that the practice of baptism is to be carried out by immersion in water. The word itself in the original Greek means to “dip or immerse.” We see examples of this in Acts 8:37-38 and John 3:23.
- For believers only. Baptism is an expression of the faith of the one being baptized. An unbeliever or an infant should never be baptized because there is no faith to be expressed.
Why Should I Be Baptized?
- You believe in Jesus. If you have trusted Christ for salvation, you should be baptized.
- Jesus commanded it. Baptism is not an option, but rather it is a command from the mouth of Jesus and a normal practice of the early church.
- To be united with the body of Christ. Baptism is necessary for local church membership. You identify with Jesus and his church through baptism.
- To celebrate the gospel of God’s grace. Jesus died and rose again. Your baptism is a picture of this. In baptism, you identify with Jesus’ death and you participate in his resurrection as you walk in newness of life made possible by his resurrection.
Is Baptism More than a Symbol?
We have been clear that baptism is an expression of faith or an outward symbol that signifies a person’s inward change by grace through faith in Christ. However, does baptism serve a further purpose than mere symbolism? I think it does. I believe baptism is a means of grace to help you…
- Focus on Christ. Just as the Lord’s Supper helps us remember the death, resurrection, and return of Christ, baptism reminds us of the work of the Trinity in saving sinners. We see the grace of God in the baptismal waters.
- Foster new disciples. Baptism signifies that another disciple has been made. This should spur us on as fellow disciples to continue in discipleship. In the words of Jesus we must “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
- Fight sin. When you are struggling with treacherous temptations and you are leaning toward sin, remembering your own baptism can be a means of grace to help you fight. In your baptism you have a picture of death to sin and life to Christ. When you are tempted to sin, think of your baptism and know that you have been redeemed and you are no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to righteousness. Pursue holiness by remembering your baptism.
Mathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.