Believer’s Baptism and Those Awkward Testimonies
Christian baptism is important. Jesus commanded His church to fulfill the ordinance symbolizing the reality of Spirit baptism (Mt 3:11; 28:19–20; Acts 2:33, 38; 10:44-45). Water baptism is the sign that points to one’s entrance into the community of Christ’s Spirit-filled body of people (1 Cor 12:13), the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), God’s holy nation of royal priests (1 Pet 2:9).
In the Old Testament, the sign of the covenanted community of believers in Yahweh was that of circumcision — an outward sign pointing to an inward condition of the heart. The human heart is deceitful and wicked, with every inclination being only evil all the time (Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9). Only a heart transplant (spiritual) can remedy the disposition of the sinful heart (Ezek 36:26). The sign of the covenant was applied on the eighth day after birth for those children born into the visible community of Israelites — God’s chosen people, set apart to be holy (Rom 11:5; 1 Pet 1:15–16).
The cutting away of the foreskin left a visible mark revealing the seed of Abraham (Jesus), who would be the King (corona), who kept the Law, and who would bring new life at His coming. Circumcision included blood from the cutting, and this pointed to Christ on the Cross, who shed His blood when He was crowned King of the Jews and when He was pierced for our transgressions (Is 53:5).
After the Cross, the sign of the covenant was changed from circumcision to water baptism (Col 2:11–12). Christ was sent (circumcision fulfilled), and now the symbol points to the Spirit, who is sent to purify a people of God’s own choosing, and to set them apart from every nation — into the one holy nation (spiritual Israel realized) of God’s chosen, redeemed, and regenerate believers in Christ.
Jesus Christ is God’s beloved and only begotten Son (Jn 3:16). Following His sinless life and substitutionary death (1 Cor 15:3; Heb 4:15), along with His burial and resurrection, He ascended into heaven and was enthroned at the Father’s right hand in Majesty (Heb 1:3; 8:1). Jesus is the King of kings and King of glory (Ps 24; 1 Tim 6:15). He reigns over all and forever more.
He is holy and innocent, and a people of His own possession — purchased by His precious blood — is being transferred from the kingdom of this world and into His marvelous kingdom of light (Col 1:13; 1 Pet 2:9). It is the Holy Spirit sent to baptize, regenerate, indwell, minister, etc. who sanctifies God’s holy ones (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2).
Christians are Spirit-filled witnesses (Acts 1:8; Rom 8:9, 11), who unashamedly testify to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. As we learn the spiritual things of God (1 Cor 2:15), it is the Spirit who is our Teacher (Jn 14:26). As we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18), our Christian witness manifests with greater clarity and boldness.
Christian, spiritual maturity is the Spirit of God employing the Word of God to conform each believer into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29), who is the icon of God (Col 1:15). In other words, Christians are growing up into Christ, and all of this is the evidence of Spirit baptism, marked by water baptism.
When and how water baptism (sign) is applied to a candidate for covenant community is disputed. Infant baptism follows the biblical pattern of infant circumcision. It points to the promise of God in the covenant of grace. God has chosen this select group (Rom 11:5; Eph 1:4–5). Christ has redeemed this same group (Job 19:25; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1:7). The Holy Spirit has made this exact same group of members to be born again (Jn 3:1–8; 1 Pet 1:3). While a covenant child is helpless (very symbolic), the sign is applied with the affirmation of the family — to raise the baptized child in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Prv 22:6).
Believer’s baptism is water baptism applied to a child or adult after a credible profession of his or her faith in Christ. Over time, most Christians become witnesses to many infant and many believer’s baptisms. Thus, the first approach declares the covenant promises to the children of at least one believing parent. It emphasizes that God is faithful to households. The second approach declares one’s personal faith in those same covenant promises fulfilled by Jesus Christ, the one and only faithful promise keeper.
In these two testimonies, “faith in Christ” is professed in the act of sacrament application. “God is faithful to do what He promised and in His true and faithful work, the spiritual evidence is manifest over time in His elect people. The baptized infant grows in grace, knowledge, and faith. The baptized believer grows in grace, knowledge, and faith.
A new baby or a new babe in Christ are not the best candidates for testifying to Christ as His faithful witnesses. It is never expected that a baptized baby will give a speech. It is, however, expected in believer’s baptism that the new believer will answer questions and/or give a speech, or read a testimonial.
Believer’s baptism events that include this “witnessing” are often a source of cringe. Many heresies of man-centered theology are proclaimed to the chagrin of mature believers. One after another, the baptized announce that they “decided” to let Jesus save them, having “accepted” His sales offer of the Gospel. “Proud” parents, who wrote their children’s testimonial to be read, stand by as if they themselves have produced spiritual reality. Nervous pastors try to coax the event along, hoping nobody says anything too overtly blasphemous. It is awkward.
At the end of the day of baptisms, nobody but God knows whether the infant or the professing child/adult will evidence a persevering faith in Jesus Christ. Every one of those baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit does bear the sign, however. The message communicated by the sign of Christian water baptism does not change, nor will the sign itself.
Both sacraments (water baptism and Lord’s table) remain visual Gospel presentations that both proclaim the death of Jesus Christ and His washing His people clean from the filth of sin. Sacraments are the message of life — the life of God given to the souls…and later the bodies of His beloved people — who are always in a position to bear clear and credible witness of the Gospel of God.
What none of God’s people could ever do to secure their salvation, God has done for them and done to them. That is the message of the sacraments, therefore, it is our recommendation that the awkward and often errant testimonials at believer’s baptism events cease for everyone’s benefit.
In the place of testimonials, it behooves pastors to preach the Word, instead (2 Tim 4:2). After all, that is what the sacrament has already done in visual form. Faith comes by one hearing the Word preached and receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the process. Dear pastors, please tell them that because the newly baptized simply cannot do it.
Spokane Valley, Washington
September 4, 2022