One of the final commands Jesus Christ gave to His apostles before ascending to heaven is found in Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
The stated condition for proceeding with this command is that the person being baptized has been made a disciple; that is a follower of Jesus Christ. We believe that the Scripture clearly teaches and illustrates (see Acts 2:41; 8:36-38; 10:47; 16:31-34) that only professing believers in Christ are eligible for baptism, or what has been commonly called “believers’ baptism.” There is no indication or illustration in the New Testament of unbelievers (including infants too young to make a profession of faith) undergoing water baptism.
We affirm the New Testament teaching that salvation is completely by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect, atoning sacrifice (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that water baptism in no way contributes to a person’s eternal salvation. Instead, water baptism is an outward symbolic act of an inward, spiritual reality; that which is called the “spiritual baptism” (Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:13). In water baptism, the believer publicly identifies with Jesus Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (see Colossians 2:12) and follows his Lord in obedience to this command (Matthew 28:19).
The word group associated with baptism in the original language (Greek) means “to immerse” as one would immerse a garment in dye, so that the garment becomes saturated with and identified by that dye. In light of this understanding, we practice full immersion of the believer into a pool of water, which also symbolizes the believer’s death with Christ. This understanding is further supported by the New Testament examples of baptism taking place near “much water” (see John 3:22-23; Acts 8:36).
Because water baptism is a command given by our Lord, we believe that every true Christian should obey the Lord Jesus in this act. Those who refuse to do so (upon full conviction that they are true Christians) are in direct disobedience to our Lord and subject to His discipline (cf. Hebrews 12:5-8). As one of two ordinances Jesus gave for His church to continue practicing (the other is the celebration of our Lord’s Supper – also called Communion – cf. Luke 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26), we regularly practice this command as often as the Lord brings us new believers.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about this important step of obedience or undergoing this public identification with the Lord Jesus is encouraged to call the church office at (818) 776-2435 and speak with a pastor.