Passage: Colossians 2:6 – 23
Harrison Mungai Macharia.
It is very important for us as a church family to be careful about what we believe. Since we proclaim to be a Bible believing and gospel proclaiming, we need to be well acquainted with the Bible and submit to its authority in all matters of life and conduct.
Although we are today dealing with a topical study on the subject of Baptism, it should be noted that we remain committed to expositional preaching and we (the leadership) believe that as the Bible is taught expositionally over a length of time, all matters of faith and practice necessary to life and salvation are addressed. The Bible speak to us most clearly in the way it is written and when read in context. There is however value in zooming in on a topic from time to time.
A Word on Doctrine: First, Second and Third Order Questions
A doctrine is basically a summary of belief. Doctrines can also be said to be a theological conclusion arrived at after careful study of the Bible. It is important for us to understand that within in the history of the church, Christians have sometimes come to differing conclusions on some matters. This can be expected given our divergence of opinion as people on many other issues. However, it is helpful to notice that there are core matters, non-core matters and even tertiary matters. In the core matters [such as authority of scripture, The Triune nature of God, Salvation by Faith alone, by grace alone in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, etc] we need solid agreement. These matters have a bearing on salvation/redemption which is the grand theme in the Bible.
Then there are second order matters for which there can be divergence of opinion/conclusion without necessarily hurting the body/witness to the gospel. They are more to do with church practices and do not have a direct bearing on Salvation. These include such matters as Church polity – congregational, Presbyterian (body of elder led), Episcopal (bishop/apostle led), gender roles in church, Baptism and Communion. Etc
Finally there are outer core/third order issues that are really open to preference. These have more to do with tradition and cultural context rather than a firm scriptural teaching. In this domain are matters such as frequency of communion, robes for ministers, Titles, pews or plastic chairs, hymns or choruses, offering plate/basket/envelope or none etc.
It is helpful for Christians to seek unity in faith as our Lord prayed in John 17. We need to hold others as brothers and sisters if we are on the same page on first order issues. Sadly, a lot of division happens when we major on the minor issues. I appreciate the fact that debate continues on what issue goes into what category but surely there are some issues that are more critical than others.
What is Baptism?
In his address to the disciples after resurrection, Jesus commands his disciples to baptize those who will believe their message (Matthew 28:19 ff). Earlier on, Jesus had himself been baptised by John the Baptist in the River Jordan and his disciples also baptised many. (John 4:1-2)
The word baptism comes from the Greek ‘Baptizo’ which simply means to immerse in water. The practice seems to have been common in Jesus time as it is not explained in detail.
Other sources point to baptism being a pledge of allegiance, a public declaration of change of direction, thought or practice (Matthew 3:6; Acts 13:24). We have earlier pictures of in the OT that point to baptism such as the crossing of the Red Sea and Noah’s flood which the NT sees as baptism (1 Cor 10:1-6 and 1 Peter 3:18-22)
In Romans 6: 1- 4, Paul shows us that baptism is a symbol of the death of the old man and the resurrection to new life in Christ. As one of the two sacraments that Christ commanded his church to do, Baptism is an outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible grace.
In the passage that we are considering today, Paul presents baptism as the initiation rite for the new covenant people of God.
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Why: 5 Reasons
- Christ commanded it (Matthew 28:19)
- It is an expression of our salvation and union with Christ (Rom 6:3-4, Mark 16:15, Acts 22:16]
- It is a public declaration of faith (1 Peter 1:23 -25)
- It is an entry rite into the body (Colossians 2:12, Galatians 3:26-27, Acts 2:41)
- The early church did it and it has been passed down to us. (Acts 8,9,10)
Who should be baptized?
There is strong NT evidence that baptism is for believers. It is for those who have believed. It is however worth noting that baptism does not save but rather it is a sign for those who have been saved.
There is however allusion to whole households being baptised after the family head believed. [Philipian Jailer, Lydia and Crispus Acts 16,18]
When should a Christian should be baptised?
NT practice seemed to be immediately at conversion. Later practice seems to be after some teaching/instruction (Catechumen). There is however no rule on the timing.
Precedent: It seems evident from the many events of baptism that repentance precedes baptism. Those seeking to be baptised need to turn from
How: By Immersion
The Name: This denotes authority to which the person is submitting. Matthew 28:19 shows that Christians are to be baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Mode: As the term baptizo denotes and the word picture we find in Colossians (buried), the symbolism is best captured in immersion.
Since the symbolism is water (cleansing) some traditions hold that quantity does not matter [Exactness of the symbol or the meaning of the symbol]. (Compare with communion – dipping or sipping)
Where: The witness of the local church
In Acts 2, those who were baptised we ‘added to the number of believers and the visible church was gathered there. Historically Baptisms have been public due to their very nature – public declaration.
There are a few exceptions though – The Ethiopian eunuch is baptised enroute to Africa and there seems to be no other witnesses except Philip the Evangelist who baptised him. We also see baptisms in homes of converts such as Cornelius (Acts 9:47), Lydia’s household and the Philippian Jailer’s (at night!)
Who should do it?
It is interesting that Jesus did not baptize people but his disciples did. From the Lord’s command in the great commissioning, and it being and ordinance of the church, it appears those in leadership of the church family to which a person being baptised will belong, should administer it. There is however no prohibition to other believers. Philip was not an apostle.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Does Baptism save you (Mark 16) (Necessity of Baptism – Thief on the cross]
- Infant Baptism [Acts 2:39, OT Model]
- Rebaptism [Ephesians 4:5-6, Circumcision]
- Quantity of water [Does it matter?]
- Sin after baptism [Is that the unforgivable sin?]
- Baptism in proxy [ 1 Cor 15:29]
- Alternative symbolism. [Flags, signatures etc] (Was the practice set in a given cultural context)
It is quite clear that the Lord instituted baptism for all those who would follow him. Believers who are committed to Biblical truth will want to be faithful to the command and indeed the example of Jesus. Although Baptism is not salvation, it is indeed a mark of obedience to our Lord who established it. We can come to varying conclusions on the mode and timing of baptism but we must uphold it as an ordinance of our Lord that should be done throughout the age of the church.
A more important question is if we have our faith in Jesus Christ. We can be tempted to unwittingly place our faith and confidence in baptism rather than the Lord in whose name Christians are baptised. Without faith, really there should be no baptism.
Col 2:16 – 19.
Rev. Harrison Mungai Macharia.