ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF BAPTISM AND MUST THE PERSON BEING BAPTIZED KNOW THAT PURPOSE?
“an appeal to God for a clean conscience” – 1 Pt. 3:21
Among churches of Christ, this is a question being debated. There are some preachers who are approving baptism even though the person did not know the Biblical purpose of baptism. These are people who were baptized “because the Bible said to” without knowing its purpose.
Just do it and don’t ask why. Let’s apply this to another Biblical to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Do people eat the bread without knowing the meaning or reason for doing so? You can imagine they do. But is this acceptable? Certainly not, but since it is done each Lord’s Day, the Christian can learn and partake of it next week for the right reason. When there’s a clear meaning or purpose to partaking, ignorance is not acceptable. The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of something very important and it must be partook with this in mind.
What matters is sincerity, right? Where’s the example in Scripture of the sincere person who is saved when taught wrong? Apollos was a disciple and they were even called disciples in Ephesus but sincerity didn’t save them, Acts 19:1-6. They had to be rebaptized. These “disciples” believed in Jesus and got baptized, just like Jesus commanded, and since it was John’s baptism they received, it was also for forgiveness of sins. But God didn’t give His blessing on the basis of their sincerity. To say that a person’s baptism is valid even though taught wrong simply because they were sincere is presumptuous. Is it wise to grant that people are saved on a presumption?
Most every religion teaches the importance of obedience. Baptizing adults is a step in the right direction, and we have to assume that any adult getting into the water must be doing it “out of obedience to Jesus.” But it is important to ask if God wants or asks for “obedience alone”? Someone will say, “But it’s not “obedience alone” because they do have faith in Jesus.” Do they? Do they have faith in Jesus’ words? Do they have the faith of the people in Acts 2:41? Do they have the faith of the Eunuch in Acts 8? Do they have the faith of Saul in Acts 22:16? No, those Biblical examples are of people who were taught the purpose of baptism and entered baptism with the understanding that they were lost and needed God’s salvation.
Imagine if Jesus commanded His disciples to eat some unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. And imagine that nowhere else in Scripture is the subject elaborated upon. If such were the case, then Christians would obediently eat and drink those items. They could even say they did it “in faith” because “Jesus said to”. But they wouldn’t know a meaning for it. Now consider that Jesus does say why to eat and drink these items and the the only proper reason for partaking of them is the reasons He gave. So if someone eats and drinks the emblems without knowing the reason Jesus gave, would you say it pleased God? How could you be sure to say yes? To say yes is to affirm what you don’t know. It’s would be presumptuous. Instead, what you should do is gently correct the person so that he partook of it in a way to please God. If last week he partook in ignorance and then learned by your gentle teaching the true purpose of the Lord’s Supper, then next Lord’s Day he would correct why he partook. Likewise, baptism is an act of faith in the saving power of God. And to receive baptism for the wrong reason, or for “obedience” alone, would be unjustifiable.
Look at the following verses:
“having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12)
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:26,27)
Note that from these verses baptism and faith are integral parts of salvation, and Colossians 2 shows that being “raised” (terminology for the new life in Christ, Col. 3:1) happened at Baptism “through faith in the working of God.” Obviously, if one is “raised” at the baptism, it requires that God is at work in the baptism. But this passages says that their is faith is IN the working of God to raise you. Paul says that the person being baptized has his or her faith in the power of God to save. A person who is baptized for no other reason than “God said to” has a denominational understanding of baptism and does not have faith in the power of God to raise him. Paul very clearly, as can be seen in this verse and in Colossians 3:1, is speaking of the new life or new birth in Christ. Everyone in the Bible had this information when they were being baptized.
To the Galatians, Paul says something in 3:26 that nearly everyone agrees on: “we are sons of God through faith.” Like Paul says to the Ephesians, salvation is by grace through faith. Anyone who says otherwise is either confused, deceived, or a liar. But Paul is not finished with the discussion as the very next verse says that being “clothed with Christ” occurs through baptism combined with faith. The Galatians were “sons of God” by faith, because they were “clothed with Christ” when they were baptized. Baptism is truly a faith act. This is not the same thing as doing it “because he said to”. Baptism for any other reason cannot be about faith, because it is not based on the commanded purpose. Like someone once said, you cannot be taught wrong and be baptized right (see Acts 19:1-6).
A sense of urgency that denominational baptism doesn’t include. Why does Biblical baptism come with a sense of urgency? In Acts 22:16, the man who was known as the Apostle Paul, who had been blind, praying, and fasting for three days, was told that it was urgent that he be baptized. Ananias said, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name”, Acts 22:16. There are some obvious points to be learned from the text. As already said, there is a sense of urgency for Saul to get up and do something. Second, we may infer from the command by Ananias that Saul believes in Jesus and has repented of his sinful past. Third, Saul had not yet been Baptized. Fourth, Saul is not yet saved because he has not yet “washed away his sins.” Fifth, washing away sins in baptism is the way to “call on the name of the Lord” for salvation. All these points are derived from this text. It’s all very simple and straight forward. Baptism, when understood and acted upon correctly is an act of faith which brings about the release of sins by the gift of God.
Jesus said, “13 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”, Mt 7:13,14. People must seek the truth. Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ, Rom. 10:17. When people are taught error, and when they obey teachings not found in the Scriptures, then it is presumptuous to assume they are saved. We should do all we can to save these people by teaching them correctly. If they are honest and sincere, the simple truth will set them free. Baptism must be understood as they place where a sinner receives God’s saving grace.
In the comments below, Padziernik is Catholic and argues that Baptism is effectual in an of itself without understanding the person. Of course he speaks of an infants receiving effectual baptism without knowing it’s meaning.