As a Baptist minister, I have lots of conversations with people about baptism. Besides confessing Christ as Lord, believers baptism is the only other requirement for becoming a member of a Baptist church. Other denominations have classes that must be attended for a number of weeks before baptism. Baptism is a highly-regarded sacrament for a Baptist church and, indeed, how you view baptism does matter.
I’ve served at a church that practices infant baptism. It is essential for that church that no one have two baptisms. They refer to the creed where it says there is one baptism, so as long as you have been baptized, you can take communion and move towards membership. In their view of baptism, parents dedicate their children to be raised as Christians so they baptize them right away, believing that the child will make a decision to accept Christ at their confirmation (between the ages of 12-14). Every time baptism is done in their church all who have been baptized participate by recommitting the baptismal vows. Cradle members cannot remember their baptism except through photos their parents took, but they are charged to remember what their baptism meant then and means now.
When I discuss baptism with adults who were baptized as infants, I confirm that I understand the thinking that there is only one baptism. However, I explain that the sacrament of baptism is very important in the Baptist church because in your believer’s baptism you are acknowledging the great salvation that you have received in Jesus Christ and you are willing to publicly declare that you are a Christian, even if you have been a Christian for many years.
There is resistance for a variety of reasons. I understand this. I share my own experience of baptism (I was raised a Baptist) at seven years old. It was only months after I accepted Christ. I didn’t think about what it meant to stand up in front of the whole church proclaim that I am a Christian and be baptized, rather it was just what we did at church. I liked the fact that the baptismal waters in my church baptistery were warm that cold March night. I knew people in my church were happy that I did it. I didn’t know why. For me, it was kind of fun to go swimming at church and finally experience what it felt like for the pastor to: dump you under water while wearing a white robe, change into dry clothes, and come back to sit with your family wet hair dripping down. I had only seen this happening before. At seven years old I didn’t understand the spiritual significance of what I agreed to do through being baptized. My church didn’t teach me, nor do I think I could have fully grasped the knowledge had they offered it.
Now I see baptism as an honor. I recognize better that it is significant and meaningful to God therefore it is meaningful to me. I am one of those people who stop the children I know who get baptized, look into their eyes and assure them that it was the most important decision they will ever make. I hope that in their lifetimes they will come to actually understand why my words are true. It takes spiritual maturity to recognize the significance of baptism. Peter explains baptism to Christians in 1 Peter 3:20-22:
To those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Baptism is an act of obedience that has more meaning to God that I can ever comprehend. I don’t know which church is right or wrong about how to best practice baptism; I just know that I want to be a part of God’s church through baptism, so I will comply to the church’s interpretation of which I am a member. Peter helps me see that God was planning baptism to be the entry point of His church all along, even when He saved humankind through the flood. Baptism is a beautiful reminder of the love and grace of our Great God!