Splash! The Baptism Question…

baptismI wonder if you have ever read a bit of the bible, particularly the book of Acts, and noticed that the early church did something very differently to how we do it now?

One of the things that stands out to me is how the early church did baptism.  As a church planter I have to work out how we are going to do baptism.  There are centuries of varying Christian traditions and teachings on this subject – and there is plenty of contention in that history as well.

What stands out to me about baptism in the early church is the incredibly short time between someone committing their life to Christ and them being baptised in water.  I took a closer look this week and discovered the following:

There are 9 instances in Acts of people being baptised in water.  I don’t mean that there were 9 individuals who were baptised, I mean that there were 9 different occasions where someone or some group was baptised.  Of those, 5 of them were definitely baptised on the same day as the people first came to Christ.  They are the 3,000 who believed at Pentecost – Acts 2, the Ethiopian eunuch – Acts 8, the friends and family of Cornelius – Acts 10, the Philippian jailer and his family – Acts 16 and the Ephesian disciples – Acts 19.

Three of the nine were possibly baptised on the same day that they first believed, or possibly later – we can’t know because the texts don’t give us that information.  They are the Samaritans who heard Philip – Acts 8, Lydia and her family in Philippi – Acts 11, and the Corinthian converts – Acts 18.

That leaves one more, which is the curious case of Paul, or Saul as he then was.  I guess that you possibly could say that he was not baptised the same day as he first believed but it is a bit of a hard one to categorise.  He was blinded by God on the road to Damascus, taken into the city where he stayed for 3 days, still blind.  He was then visited by Ananias who prayed for him, restored his sight and he was then baptised.

So with Saul it is not clear to me if he first believed when he was prayed for by Ananias, or 3 days earlier when he encountered Jesus on the road.  So that one is not easy to categorise.  But overall we can conclude that there was a very short time between believing in Jesus and being water baptised throughout the book of Acts.

Which is a substantial contrast to my experience of church life.  I spent 9 years in the Anglican Church and then 17 years in a variety of Pentecostal churches.  In the Anglican Church water baptism was generally not on the agenda much because it was assumed that people were baptised as infants.  If someone older came to Christ then I don’t think that enquiries were even made as if they had been baptised or not.  In my various Pentecostal churches baptisms were done every couple of months, and anyone new to Christ would be encouraged to be baptised in the next group.

Across church history we find that what was done in Acts is very much the exception, not the rule.  Within 100 years or so baptism was delayed until you had done a course, and after a few more centuries the course went for years!  You were not allowed to take communion until you had completed years of study.

So as a church planter I have to decide what we will do.  Plenty of Pentecostals are so enamoured with Acts that they would readily dismiss a great deal of historic church practice.  I don’t want to be so proud to think that the Catholic Church and the accrued wisdom of many Christian leaders cannot teach me.  However I think that on this issue same day baptism has a lot going for it.  Or at least very close to same day baptism.

I’d love to hear from some of you as to when you got baptised, and if it was memorable.  Leave a comment!


6 Comments to “Splash! The Baptism Question…”

  1. Hi John I received the baptism in the Holy Spirit when I asked God at home then I was baptised in water,full immersion, a few days later. It was a remarkable experience. Unfortunately however I took a legalistic approach to baptism. I recall two cases after ministering deliverance I then “insisted” on water baptism immediately. I do not take this approach now. I believe being baptised in the person of God’s Holy Spirit and being led by Him will lead to bearing fruit worthy of repentance. Water baptism is too very important as a further public display of an inward change. It’s the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. I want to see people producing the fruits of the Spirit. This is a real outward display of God at work in our lives.

  2. This topic is so emotionally charged for church people it will be difficult to sort out. From John the Baptizer and Acts, we know baptism demonstrated personal repentance, NOT church membership, creedal agreement or catechetical obedience.
    I was baptized as an infant in the United Church (akin to Australia’s Uniting Church). I was raised Baptist, and I was baptized their way as a young teen (years after my conversion at age 8). I regret that, because it was a church thing, not a Biblical thing. It was necessary to become a denominational/congregational member. That is very sad.
    Right or wrong my family had me baptized while I was still in the innocence of new birth, so it is not irrelevant. I now reject all re-baptisms of all kinds for any reason which smacks of cultism (like the Mormons).
    I have also struggled with the Salvation Army which does not baptize nor observe communion, but follow Jesus anyway.
    So, anything we do must be for the glory of God, not institutional regulation. And I will not pretend that makes it easy. Do we do what we do because of ingrained tradition which we don’t even recognize, or from radical obedience to a loving God?
    Fortunately, God is kind to us even when we presume authority that isn’t ours (like is someone saved?). That’s grace. But what do we want to teach people, submission to church or to Jesus Christ.
    Many days I treasure what was ascribed to Martin Luther, “Love God and sin boldly”. Love God completely, and do right even if tradition or church declare it sin.
    Sorry, this sounds a bit like a rant, and I suppose it is in a way, but I want the First Commandment to be the guide.

    • Thanks David. I have plenty of respect for those who baptise infants and my owns views towards it softened when I became a parent. But we are in an adult baptism denomination, and I’m OK with that. Granted your comment what would you do with someone who wanted to be baptised as an adult, even though they were baptised as an infant?

      • It gets complicated, and I am not prepared to say it’s easy. For myself, I prefer a laying on of hands, a declaration of repentance before the congregation, but more a commitment to service and call. These are beautiful. I use them for healing, commissioning and re-dedication. If a denomination organization demands only one kind of baptism, that’s tough. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism…” for some means “only our way”. The New Testament does teach a baptism of Spirit (recorded twice in Acts) and so that might be a way to deal with a regulatory demand. Is that fudging or living peaceably with all? Surely the candidate would be the one to decide. And glory be to God!

  3. Great thoughts on baptism John. Maybe you can check out Mark Driscoll’s church – Mars Hill – in Seattle. I think he has taken a lttle bit of a different approach that may interest you. I have noticed when I’ve been there that they have shorts and t-shirts available for people who want to get baptized right away. I’m not sure what the criteria is but I think they are approaching this a little outside the box. So it may be interesting for you to check out their policy as you look at developping your own. Anena

  4. If you are the one doing the baptising, I’d imagine it’d be important to be certain the person was born-again. How long does that take?

    Personally I was baptised as an infant as my family is Catholic. After I joined a Pentecostal church it was a matter of weeks before I was asked about it. Not long after that I was baptised by full immersion in water.

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