A summary of where many churches have gone wrong on the subject of baptism in water

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From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 16 – Step three in detail – be baptised in water

In the majority of churches baptism in water is handled in the opposite way from what God intended.  Let us examine the various ingredients in turn and compare what the Bible says with what we generally see happening:

Biblical BaptismHow most churches actually do baptism:
Full immersion under the waterSprinkling with water
Done by people old enough to believe and repent for themselvesDone to babies too young to understand anything
Done as part of the process of becoming a ChristianDone to make a baby into a Christian. That is baptism by itself is seen as giving salvation to the baby, which is not true. Thus multitudes of nominal Christians assume that they are Christians and are saved, just because their parents had them baptised. I was speaking to a girl some time ago called Alexia who told me she was a Christian. I asked her when she had become a Christian and she replied, perfectly seriously, “When I was baptised as a baby”. She really thought that event had saved her.
Done by a person immediately after they have repented and believedDone either:

to a person as a baby, many years before they repent/believe OR

done by a person long after they have repented and believed. It is seen as non-urgent – just whenever you get round to it
Always done by every new believer and considered to be obviously essentialNot always done at all – very much an optional extra for those who want it.

I feel I ought to add another point to address a practice which has become increasingly popular, but which is problematic. That is the idea that before getting baptised a person is expected, or even required, to stand with a microphone and ‘give their testimony’ to all those present. In larger churches, that could mean addressing hundreds of people. It is not that there is anything wrong with doing this in itself. On the contrary, giving one’s testimony is a good thing. It enables the gospel to be proclaimed to any unbelievers in the audience. It also helps those present to gauge whether the person getting baptised really believes and repents.

However, there is a problem, and even a danger, with this approach. Firstly, this practice is not biblical. That is, there is no indication in the book of Acts, or in any of the letters, that any new convert was ever required to give his testimony or demonstrate his bona fides in any other way before being baptised. Doing so might bring some advantages. But the point is it isn’t what the apostles did. Moreover, I believe there were good reasons why they didn’t do this and those reasons still apply today.

One problem that can arise where a succession of people come to the lectern, one after the other, to give their testimony, is that it feeds pride. It is evident that for some of them it can turn into a competitive performance in which they are anxious not be outdone by the others. Therefore, instead of them making simple, sincere statements, one sometimes hears detailed accounts which draw too much attention to the one giving the testimony rather than to God or the gospel. So, for those who are already prone to pride and exhibitionism, this practice of requiring them to give their testimony publicly, especially to a large audience, can become a temptation which may cause them to stumble.

Conversely, for those who are shy by nature, or who are less educated or less articulate, the prospect of being baptised in front of a large audience can come to be seen as an ordeal. It can make them wary or even afraid of being baptized at all. There are people who have refrained from being baptised, or have put it off until later, because they dread the prospect of having to speak in public, and especially to have to speak about themselves. I know this because they have told me. This second problem is actually my main concern.

Of course, if Jesus or the apostles had commanded us to give our testimony in public before being baptised, then there could be no argument on the point. We would all need to do it, whatever we might feel about it. But they neither commanded it nor practiced it themselves. It is a wholly man-made practice, as indeed is so much else of what has come to be seen as normal church practice.

We have no right to impose our own ideas, traditions and preferences on other people and, least of all, to make such things appear to be an essential part of the process of becoming a Christian. It is one thing to allow people to give their testimony if they wish to do so. But it is quite another thing to require it of them.

Indeed, I believe that it is not wise even to allow the practice to become the norm. If we do that, there is effectively no alternative but for new believers to go along with it, even if it is not formally insisted upon by a church. Traditions and familiar practices can easily become so rigid that they might as well be made into rules, because the reality is that they are seen as such.

That said, some churches are actually going so far as to make it part of their written constitution or rules that every person being baptised must give their testimony. I came across this recently in the case of a particular evangelical church. My own conviction is that man-made rules such as that, which do not come from the Bible, should not be imposed on people, notwithstanding any advantages they might be felt to offer.

We should not require, or even ask, people to do anything more than the Bible requires, especially in relation to such a crucially important issue as baptism. The apostles kept it very simple and so should we. For even one person to avoid getting baptized due to shyness or a sense of social or academic inferiority is a tragedy. Yet I fear that there are many for whom that is the case.

So, if that applies to you and you are choosing to avoid or delay water baptism because you don’t want to give your testimony to a large audience, then be reassured. You do not need to do that if you prefer not to. You can just be baptised at home in the bath, or at a swimming pool, and with only a handful of people present, if that is what you feel is right for you.

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