by Richard L. Burguet •
The Westminster Confession of Faith: Of Baptism XXVIII
Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.
The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.
Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.
Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.
Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.
The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.
The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.
All of the discussion of baptism should be centered around the Covenant of Grace, and the fact that baptism is a sign of our engrafting into Christ, and of our decision to walk in newness of life. It marks us as someone whose sin has been atoned for.
The practice of baptism with water by John’s disciples, and then the disciples of Jesus shows us that our baptism represents purification symbolized by the washing with water. Acts 22:16 says: …Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ (See also Jn 3:22-25; Mk 7:4; Hb 9:10, 13, 19, 21) From the above it is an easy conclusion that baptism is a symbol of cleansing from sin. Baptism also identifies us with Christ and his death, which is another one of the facets of this beautiful sacrament of our induction into the family of Christ.
We all have Baptist brothers and sisters who insist on immersion as the only Biblical mode of receiving the sign of the covenant. It appears that the scriptural mode has more support for sprinkling or pouring. No instance recorded in the New Testament demands immersion, although some allow it. Not even the baptism of Jesus demands immersion because the preposition translated up out of the water (Mt 3:16) also can be translated from or leave (see Mt 8:34), which would have Jesus stepping from shallow water onto the bank of the Jordan River. Again, when the Ethiopian Eunuch is said to have gone down into the water (Acts 8:38), the preposition indicates the point reached or entered which would have the Eunuch entering the water by stepping into it. The text does not say that the Eunuch went under the water, and actually says that both Phillip and the Eunuch went down into the water. Were they both immersed? No. Neither was. They stepped together into a shallow pool of water in the desert.
All instances allow sprinkling or pouring. When the Scriptures say in Jn 3 that there was much or plenty of water there where John was baptizing, it means no more than there were many streams or rivulets.
Spiritual purification and consecration, public identification with Jesus Christ, and the inward work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as believers are all symbolized in the sacrament. This is a beautiful picture of God’s grace to the believer, and every time we see a baptism, whether an infant or a new believer, we ought to recall what Jesus has done for us by placing faith in our own hearts.