Why the Timing and Mode of Baptism Do Not Matter
All churches baptize, as a one-time sacrament for initial entry into Christ’s church. This is in obedience to the command of Jesus Christ (Mt 28:18–20), who was both circumcised (Old Testament) and baptized (New Testament).
Both circumcision and baptism were signs of inclusion into the covenant of grace (Col 2:11–12).
Circumcision was administered on the eighth day after birth to male children of covenant parents (Lev 12:3; Lk 1:59; Acts 7:8; Phil 3:5). Circumcision was a cutting sacrifice that produced blood. It pointed to the first advent of Christ, who cut the covenant of grace with His own blood. Just as the veiled foreskin was permanently removed, so was the veil of the temple at Jerusalem cut and removed by God at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (Mt 27:51; Mk 15:38; Lk 23:45).
Because there is no more shedding of blood following the death of Christ, water baptism has become the new sign of the covenant.
Just as circumcision pointed to the advent and death of Christ, so baptism points to the coming of the Holy Spirit, who baptizes the elect with His permanent presence (Mt 3:11; Jn 14:17; Acts 2:38; 11:16, 18; Rom 8:9, 11; Heb 13:5). This is the reality of regeneration and the fulfillment of the sign (Jn 3:1–8; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13; 1 Pet 1:3). In other words, water baptism is an external rite that shows us what God’s Spirit does at the point of His internal renewal of a soul, who was spiritually dead in her trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1).
Because man can only know another by outward appearance, we run into trouble in our judgment of, “Who should be baptized?” The right answer is, “The elect of God, who have been redeemed by Christ, should be baptized.” Our problem is that only God knows who is elect and redeemed.
So, two resolutions to this problem have been practiced.
First, all churches have professing-believer’s baptism (baptistic/covenant). Second, some churches baptize the infants of professing believers (covenant).
The trouble with the first group is that some who profess Christ, at the time of their water baptism, are not really believers. The trouble with the second group is that some baptized infants do not become true believers.
The result is that regardless of baptismal practice method (mode and timing), we have baptized unbelievers in our churches. Therefore, it is imperative to state that water baptism does not save anyone. One may be (water) baptized and be found reprobate on the day of judgment. One may not be (water) baptized and be found elect on the day of judgment.
Conclusion: water baptism is a sign that points us to the reality of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, who is given as a gift to the elect, according to the covenant of grace. Spirit baptism and water baptism rarely, if ever, are simultaneous events. Infant baptism precedes this reality of Spirit baptism, in most cases, while professing-believer’s baptism typically follows this reality. Because the same thing is accomplished in paedo and credo baptism, the timing and the mode of water baptism simply do not matter.
What matters is that the church preaches the Gospel so that people hear and understand the Gospel. In this, the Holy Spirit baptizes the elect, redeemed so that they believe. Paedo-baptism bears witness to God’s faithfulness to covenant families and credo-baptism bears witness to God’s faithfulness to believers. Both of these witnesses is true, regardless of the presence of reprobate unbelievers in both exercises. If the Bible presses you to believe and be baptized, then you either were and do…or you do and should be.
Spokane Valley, Washington
February 7, 2022