Baptism, with the Lordâ€™s Supper, is one o the two Christian sacraments believed in and practiced by almost all Protestants, the Quakers and the Salvation Army being perhaps the only significant exceptions. The word baptism is defined as a rite involving water. The term is derived from a Greek word meaning â€œto immerse in or wash with waterâ€. In the New Testament baptism is used as a self-revealing of God. As a sacrament, baptism is both a sign and a seal of saving grace. Baptism marks the Christian as belonging to God. God has always marked his people. Under the old covenant (in the Old Testament), God ordained the sign of circumcision as the way to mark his chosen people. Baptism is the mark of initiation into the new covenant. In the book of Colossians Paul declared that baptism, because it replaced circumcision, was the new outward sign of the inward grace of Christ in the lives of the Christians. Baptism has long been looked at as the sacrament that enters the Christian into a covenant with God and takes the place of circumcision.
Baptism can be provided through 1) sprinkling the person with water, 2) immersion of the person into the water or 3) pouring water onto the person. Each mode has its own symbolic value and it is up to the personal preference of the person who is being baptized as to which method is to be used.
Immersion is most commonly thought of as the mode that comes closest to symbolizing the Christians union with Christ through his death and resurrection.
The method of sprinkling the person with water best symbolized the cleansing of the heart from a guilty conscience as described in the book of Hebrews in the Bible.
Pouring of the water onto the Christian best symbolized the out pouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost as described in the Bible.
All three of these methods of baptism signify aspects of the work of Christ in saving us from death. Some people believe that the more water that is used, the more valid the baptism. Baptism is a symbolic action. Its value lies in what it symbolizes.
Size and amount are not significant factors in symbolism. It is not the amount of water that gives baptism its value but rather the meaning of the whole symbolic action. There is great comfort in knowing that we have been marked as Godâ€™s children by this sacrament that he has ordained.
Baptism is a sign and seal of Godâ€™s grace in the life of the Christian. As the Bible sees it, baptism is not primarily as sign of repentance and faith on the part of the baptized. It is not primarily human testimony. It is rather a sign of Godâ€™s covenant or promise and is therefore a sign of the work of God on behalf of his children.
When infants are baptized, it is right that when they come to maturity they make their own confession, which involves personal repentance and faith. A person may choose not to make this confession in which case the symbolic baptism as an infant does not provide the grace for them that God himself provides. It is the responsibility of parents, pastors and congregations to nurture their baptized children, to teach them and guide them toward that eventual confession of personal faith.
Baptism has both human and divine aspects. On Godâ€™s part, the seal is the visible assurance of faithfulness to his covenant. On manâ€™s part, the seal is the way man binds himself as a party to the covenant and pledges to be faithful in all things. The covenant between God and man to be faithful to each other is thought to be ratified once the Christian has been baptized.
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