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A biblical view of baptism

Anglicans, like the majority of the world’s Christians, are paedobaptists—meaning that we strongly support and encourage parents to have their children baptized as soon as practical after birth. There are many reasons for holding this view, but for now, I will explore the strictly biblical perspective.

First and foremost, baptism is important. It is so important, in fact, that Jesus himself participated in it. Not only did he give us baptism, as he also did with the Lord’s Supper, but he underwent baptism. Luke 3:21 says that, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” He set the example, leading his flock both to and through the waters of baptism. He did not do this because he needed to be baptized, but because he was showing that baptism is an important step, the first step, on the journey of a Christian life.

John the Forerunner (also called the Baptist) preached of baptism “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples of, “all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey…”

The gospels speak of baptism as an initiation. They speak of a baptism that forgives sins but also a baptism that begins a journey. The scriptures order that the people of the nations be baptized, and then, that they be taught the commandments of God, to obey them. Baptism is a seal, a sign of our journey and our covenant with God. It is our participation, our entry into the grave with Christ. By being baptized into Christ, we are also baptized into his death and “buried with him through baptism” (Romans 6:4).

We are baptized with water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is our initiation. This is our seal into the death of Christ and into the covenant of God and his people. We are “circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands” (Colossians 2:11) We were ruled by sin and flesh, but that is put off when we are “circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism…” (Colossians 2:11-12). Circumcision is the mark of the covenant made between God and his people. As Christians, we are people of God, made so by our participation in Christ’s death through baptism.

Up to this point, most paedobaptists and credobaptists agree. We run into conflict when we go further.

Circumcision was the mark of the covenant between God and his people, which was ordered for the sons of God’s people. Baptism is the circumcision of those who belongs to God by the death of Christ. It is appropriate that those who convert into the family of God’s people be baptized at the time of their conversion—just as one who becomes a Jew should be circumcised at the time of his conversion. Just as with circumcision for the Hebrews, it is right that one who is born into the Christian family of faith should be baptized and sealed into that covenant at birth.

Lydia was baptized (Acts 16:15) because she believed, and her family was baptized with her. In Acts 16:30-34, the jailer sent to arrest Paul and Silas came to believe, and then he was baptized, along with his whole family. As I noted above, we are commanded in Matthew 28 to make disciples of “all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey.” We baptize our children because they are born into our family and our faith. We baptize and mark them with the sign of our covenant with the Lord, then we teach them to obey him and nurture their faith in him. They belong to God by merit of their creation, and are set apart by the sign and seal of Christ’s death.

It is important to remember that, regardless of what age a person is baptized, baptism unites all Christians in Christ, in his passion, and in his love. Ephesians 4:4-6 reminds us of this fact: there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” We may disagree about the mode or means of baptism, but we should be united in our common faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • John Taylor Brantley is a vicar, teacher, and Christian education advocate from eastern North Carolina. He is a minister in the United Episcopal Church of North America.

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