March 18, 2009
This morning I am considering the practice of baptism in our church and specifically as part of the gathering of believers for corporate worship. I feel a strong conviction to make baptism a more central part of our worship at Trinity. We are having a baptism service on Good Friday and in preparation, Gary did some teaching on it in our staff meeting yesterday. He has written an excellent booklet that outlines the who, what, why and how we approach the practice of baptism at Trinity. You can find it on our website here: Baptism at Trinity After an extremely disturbing hour skimming through church history on the topic, I came away deeply grateful that our church seeks to practice first and foremost according to the Bible. This avoids allowing the traditions of men to distort our understanding and seeks to keep the practice of our faith pure according to the will of God. I’d like to consider what baptism accomplishes for the Lord, for the body of Christ, his church, and for the believer who is being baptized. We will consider the practice of baptism within the context of worship. First, let us consider what baptism accomplishes for the Lord. The most obvious answer is that it honors him as an act of obedience to his Word, the clearest being the Great Commission where Jesus commands his disciples to continue the process Jesus began with them making more disciples.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
Of course we obey not just out of duty, but our motivation is out of love. That is what makes obedience an act of worship that is pleasing to God. Another thing we accomplish for the Lord is putting the spotlight on his work of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It shouts out, It is true! The gospel is the power unto salvation for all who believe! Baptism is evidence that God’s program is working. There is a wonderful story worth noting here. It is found on the musical group Selah’s Hiding Place project during the song “By and By.” Apparently the government of the country of Congo in Africa outlawed baptism for 2 years thinking that they could extinguish the rise of Christianity. This song begins with Selah members, Nicol Stonberg and Todd Smith’s grandfather, Laban Smith, describing the wonderful scene the day the ban was over. People kept coming from all over to be baptized. It is a wonderful testimony of God’s saving work he is always working and we are called to spotlight his salvation work.
“Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.” (Psalms 96:2 ESV)
Second, we consider what baptism accomplishes for the gathered body of believers who are the witnesses of it. In this context it is an act of corporate worship as was always intended to be. First of all, baptism declares the works of the Lord in a public setting. Our practice at Trinity is to include a faith story with each baptism. While this is not a biblical requirement, we do it this way specifically to praise the Lord and edify the body to celebrate the saving work of our God who has saved us and brought us into his family. The telling of how and when God saves us is encouraging for others to hear and results in something wonderful a worship response, celebrating, clapping, cheering for our great God who saves us. Psalm 145 beautifully demonstrates worship flowing out of personal testimony.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalms 145:6-7 ESV)
Notice the pattern of “they” and then “I.” The declaration of the awesome deeds of the Lord causes those who hear to add their voices to the declaration of his greatness and to sing loudly of his righteousness I really like that! God does too. That’s why I usually follow baptisms with a loud song of praise. Additionally, the symbol of baptism itself, apart from the public testimony, is a dramatic illustration of salvation. Borrowing Gary’s words from the booklet, he explains this clearly. The very act of baptism is a powerful display of what God has done in our lives: 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 6:4, NIV). “It therefore becomes a testimony to friends and family of our conversion experience: a means of declaring the gospel visibly.” (Baptism, Gary Inrig, p.12) In this regard, I think we need to be careful not to force a person to declare their personal testimony publicly, although we should greatly encourage it. A third aspect to the public testimony of baptism is that observing a baptism increases our faith and resolve to wholeheartedly follow the Lord. I am reminded of the power of the public testimony of baptism each time I sit with my son and observe baptisms. His attention is completely captured by it and has been since he was three years old. It was at Mears Lake in Forest Home where we sat side by side on the shore and witnessed an unusual number of high school boys following the Lord in baptism. I really think that Billy’s 3 year old mind began to understand what it means to follow Christ that day. All who were there were edified by their testimonies as they humbled themselves before the Lord to follow him in baptism and declared their belief in Christ as Lord and Savior and their intent to devote their whole lives to follow him. Lastly, let us consider what baptism accomplishes for the one being baptized. Gary explains clearly in his booklet, that baptism does not accomplish their salvation; it bears witness to it. Water baptism is the outward and visible sign of the inward, invisible transformation of life. (Baptism, Gary Inrig, p.8) Steve Springsted usually teaches our baptism class for adults and encourages people to take it very seriously. I did when I was baptized at sixteen years old. The decision to be baptized was a personal and public statement that I was “all in”, committed for life. This seems to be the case for the early believers that is one of the reasons baptism usually immediately followed conversion and why it was public. Paul emphasized baptism not just as an “all in” statement, but also as an “all new” statement.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3,4,11 ESV)
It makes our faith a public commitment with many witnesses to not only celebrate with us, but I think to hold us accountable to living a life that is dead to sin and alive to God in Christ! Baptism not only identifies us with Christ, but also with the community of faith to which we now belong. Think for a moment about the humility that baptism requires. I would argue that this is another wonderful thing that it accomplishes for us. We humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord and he lifts us up. This command occurs twice in the New Testament and is strangely similar to the symbolism of baptism. This may be a bit of a stretch, but I think there is a point to be considered. Let’s look at the first practice of baptism in the New Testament. John the Baptist’s ministry was marked by this symbol and practice of baptism.
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4-5 ESV)
It is a blow to our pride to admit our need for Christ, to confess our sins, and then to submit ourselves to being pushed under the water in front of others. I think that is part of the reason John didn’t want to baptize Christ. He wanted it to be the other way around.
John would have prevented him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? 15 But Jesus answered him, Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he consented. (Matthew 3:14-16 ESV)
This makes me consider the question, why was Jesus baptized? While there are many reasons, an obvious one being that he did the very thing that he would command his followers to do, I think there’s another implication that we shouldn’t miss. It began his public ministry in a posture of humility before God and others. And his Father was well-pleased. Christ lived his life teaching his disciples to serve and not be served. He ended his life with the ultimate demonstration of humility that would give his followers an example to follow.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8-9 ESV)
Baptism serves as a reminder of this posture of humility before the Lord and our new spiritual family. Finally, so obvious that I almost missed it, is that baptism is itself an act of worship. It is a direct statement to the Lord that he is worthy of giving our whole lives in service to him. It is identifying with our Savior and loving him by obeying his commands and following his example. This is the very heart of worship. I’d like to consider one extra thing that is, what baptism accomplishes for those who observe but do not yet believe. It is a powerful witness that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the truth. Especially when accompanied by personal testimonies, a baptism service includes a sermon like no other. While the real test comes with the day-to-day witness that follows, I think baptism was meant to be the commencement of our life as witnesses. It is interesting that accompanying Christ’s Great Commission must have been this parallel statement recorded in Acts as the very last thing Jesus said before ascending to heaven.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8-9 ESV)
Taking from the end of the gospel accounts and the beginning of the book of Acts, we get the full picture of our mission. God commands us to baptize and make disciples and to be his witnesses. He promises another baptism of the Holy Spirit that would make us effective witnesses. (Recall that John the Baptist spoke of this Holy Spirit baptism.) In this way, we see that water baptism is our initiation as a witness it is our first witness. And that is what baptism ultimately accomplishes for the unbeliever who observes, another witness that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. The baptism service is one of the most treasured times our church family meets together. It is an unmatched experience worshiping together as the body of Christ. I pray that God would give us cause at Trinity to witness baptisms more and more.