Baptism – Who, What and When? (June 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Royce Ogle

I am eons short of being a theologian. I am not a professional anything. I teach a class sometimes, I’ve preached here and there, but never as a regular paid preacher, so I have a right to speak as a non-professional, a layman if you will.

I am very familiar with the several nuances about water baptism discussed ad nauseam by “sound” brothers in sermons, lectureships, journals, books, and blogs. I could recite most of the verbiage with the best of them if I so desired. In this article I’m not going there, I believe previous articles have stated the church of Christ’s traditional views and values well. What I propose is that we take a step back and see if we can learn from our mistakes.

It is clear that water baptism is in the Bible and that everyone who would follow Jesus should be baptized. It is also clear that baptism is for new believers. I have always loved the story of Philip and his encounter with an official from Ethiopia. Philip was a Jesus preacher. (Acts 8:5) He went to the country of Samaria and preached Christ to them and he baptized those who believed. (Acts 8:12) So Philip had a track record of preaching Christ and baptizing those who believed the message.

A heavenly messenger instructed Philip to go in a certain direction and when he did he came upon the Secretary of the Treasury for Queen Candace of Ethiopia. This distinguished gentleman was riding along in his chariot reading from Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip hopped on the chariot and beginning with that passage he “he told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35) About the time Philip finished his gospel lesson they came to some water and the Ethiopian wanted to know if there was any reason why he couldn’t be baptized. They stopped, Philip baptized him, and Philip went on to his next preaching assignment. (Acts 8:38-40) What a grand story!

I’m pretty sure Philip was not a member of the church of Christ. Had he been, after the man asked about baptism he would have tried to “set up a study” at a later time. “Maybe when you are up this way again we can study baptism together, I don’t want you to make a mistake.” No, Philip just baptized him. That was exactly what Jesus had instructed disciples to do, make disciples and baptize them. Why isn’t the way Philip did it sufficient?

To this non-professional, it makes no sense to delve into a theological/doctrinal study with someone who is a brand new believer (or according to the traditional view, a lost person). In my view those studies are not for non Christians or new believers. It’s fine for brothers and sisters to discuss the many views about the efficacy of baptism, is it an ordinance or a sacrament? But for someone who just heard the good news about Jesus and has said he believes it’s time to baptize him, it is not a fitting time for a detailed Bible study. Anyone can say in two or three sentences what needs to be said, even assuming the candidate knows absolutely nothing about Christian baptism.

Jesus said as we disciples make disciples, we should baptize them. The Bible never says what words are to be spoken at the time of the actual baptism. To baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit does not mean even those words need to be said. Those words mean that we are to baptize in the authority of those names. In the same way to pray “in Jesus’ name” does not mean to say those  three words at the end of every prayer. And the Bible never says what a person is to know about baptism before he is baptized.

What the person about to be immersed believes about Jesus and his work for sinners is of utmost importance. He does not need to know everything the Bible says about water baptism before he is baptized. I told my small grandsons they should wash their hands before they eat, every time! I did not try to give them a course in biology, I just insisted that they wash their hands. If they did what I asked they had clean hands when they touched their food. A person who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ and is baptized will have a clean heart, without a course in Restoration theology.

Perhaps we should take a fresh look at the gospel. It is not a stated theory. It makes no command. It asks no questions. The good news about Jesus is an announcement! It is very, very GOOD NEWS! Our task is to announce the good news and leave the results to God. It is what Jesus has already accomplished for sinners that reconciles men to God. Jesus offered his faithful life of obedience, his body of flesh to be crucified for us, ungodly everyone, and he was raised out of death to immortality so that his life can be our life and our future can be eternally with him. Tell it here, tell it there, tell it everywhere and baptize those who believe.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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