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Believer’s Baptism and the New Covenant

The book Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright; Nashville: B & H), has stirred a considerable amount of discussion. In his endorsement of the volume, Daniel Akin says the book “is destined to be a classic concerning the doctrine of baptism.” Wayne Grudem says this is “a challenging book that may well cause many readers to re-think their own positions on baptism.” Contributors to the volume include Bob Stein, Tom Schreiner, Stephen Wellum, Steve McKinion, Jonathan Rainbow, Shawn Wright, Duane Garrett, Ardel Caneday, Mark Dever, and myself. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of my essay on “Baptism in the Gospels” (pp. 33–34).

Baptism Is for Believers

“First, the rite of baptism is designed for believers who have repented of their sin and have put their faith in God and in his Christ. Believer’s baptism is presupposed by both John’s baptism and the Matthean “Great Commission” passage. This does not mean that fairly young people, say, at the age of seven or eight, should be barred from receiving believer’s baptism if they have genuinely understood the implications of Christ’s death on their behalf and have repented of their sin and placed their faith in Jesus Christ. However, the Gospels provide no evidence or support for the baptism of infants, nor does the principle of believer’s baptism enunciated in the Gospels allow for such a practice. In fact, if (as is sometimes alleged) Jews were predisposed to baptize infants owing to the parallel with circumcision, it is remarkable—in fact, striking—that there is no mention of infant baptism anywhere in Jesus’ teaching recorded in the Gospels.

Baptism Is an Essential Part of Christian Discipleship

Second, baptism is an essential part of Christian discipleship. This is clear from the Matthean “Great Commission” passage, where disciple-making is said to consist of baptizing converts and of teaching them to obey the commands of Jesus (see also John 4:1). An obedient church will take to heart the risen Christ’s command to engage in mission and evangelistic preaching, seeking to engender conversions that ensue in baptism, instruction, and Christian growth. On an individual level, those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and have repented of their sin must be baptized as part of their Christian discipleship. While there may be a period of instruction preceding baptism, no undue obstacle should be placed in the path of a person who is genuinely converted and desirous of baptism.

Baptism Is by Immersion

Third, the mode of John’s and Jesus’ baptism was most likely that of immersion. This is suggested by the root meaning of the word baptō, “to dip” (e.g., Josh 3:15 LXX; Ruth 2:14 LXX baptizō, “to baptize,” is an intensive or frequentative form. It is also indicated by the LXX usage of baptizō with reference to immersion (see 2 Kgs 5:14). Another piece of supporting evidence is the statement that Jesus “came up immediately from the water” subsequent to his baptism (Matt 3:16 par. Mark 1:10: euthus anebē/anabainōn apo/ek tou hudatos). While there are differences of view as to the way in which baptism by immersion ought to be stipulated in church polity, evidence from the Gospels suggests that this was in fact the NT and early church’s mode of baptism.

Baptism Presupposes Spiritual Regeneration

Fourth, theologically, water baptism presupposes spiritual regeneration as a prevenient and primary work of God in and through the person of the Holy Spirit. This follows plainly from the Baptist’s announcement that the Messiah would baptize people in the Spirit. Thus repentance from sin and faith in Christ, accompanied by regeneration, are logically and chronologically prior to water baptism. This, in turn, puts water baptism in proper perspective. There is no warrant in the Gospels for the notion of baptismal regeneration. There is also no support for viewing baptism as a sacrament, a sacred rite which mediates some sort of special grace to the recipient of baptism by virtue of the intrinsic efficacy of the rite (ex opere operato).”

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