“Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
— Matthew 28:19 (GNT bold added)
The Great Commission, Jesus’ imperative to “go... make disciples,” is clarified by the specification to “baptise them” or immerse them. Indeed, Jesus, himself, was baptised by immersion. Further, to be “baptised” is to be “immersed.”
Pauline theology explains the three-phase process in baptism that replicates the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. (See Romans 6:1-10) By being baptised just as Jesus was – by immersion – we take on the identity of Jesus by experiencing something that he experienced. And so many baptisms by immersion are tangibly transformational. Many new baptisees are profoundly touched in the event of their baptisms and through the sharing of their testimonies.
There are many places in Scripture where baptism by immersion takes place immediately after conversion. The eunuch asks Philip why he shouldn’t be baptised there and then (Acts 8:36-38). The jailer of Paul and Silas and his whole family were baptised immediately they came to faith (Acts 16:33). And, of course, on the day of Pentecost, Peter urged those who sought right standing with God to, “Repent and be baptised...” (Acts 2:38).
Baptism is both a theological and a devotional mandate if we read our Bibles truly.
Because “baptism” and “immersion” are synonymous, we are not to blur the lines further.
The coherence between the event of salvation, baptism, and the receipt of the gift of the Holy Spirit are the established pattern of the New Testament church.
The gift of the Holy Spirit comes as a response to a believer’s obedience; they have done what Jesus instructs them to do.
As evangelicals, can we really contemplate being a member of the body of Christ (in a Baptist church) without baptism?
Matters of regeneration are a key in attending to the lack of spiritual depth in Christian circles these days. But if we baptise or even rebaptise we encourage the Holy Spirit to take the person in question on a new journey of self-discovery, because Christ has come into them.
Keeping to a standard of baptism or immersion cannot be problematic in the theological landscape. Baptism, especially when shared with a testimonial reflection, is a very powerful instrument in the hands of the Spirit of God.
Conversion is the regenerative event. It is the moment that a decision is made for Christ. It is also the moment that Christ puts his Spirit into the emergent believer.
There is the imperative of baptism as a forerunner to the real regenerative journey we all need to undertake.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.