During the summer months, many churches take their youth to the beach to get away for a week and focus on intense discipleship and evangelism. These trips can serve as growth opportunities for the young people within the church as well as evangelistic opportunities for those youth who haven’t been born again.
Each year, as I scan through social media, it never fails – I typically see at least one beach baptism scene where a group of teenagers are gathered around while a few of the teenagers are baptized in the ocean. It’s usually not a group of teenagers from a church near the beach. It’s a baptism of one of the youth from the church who professed faith in Christ and was immediately baptized in the ocean before traveling back home.
As we consider baptism and its purpose, I want to provide several reasons why you should not baptize a new believer until the church is gathered. It doesn’t matter if it’s a young person on the summer retreat or a senior citizen who professes faith in Christ while visiting Israel. Before being baptized in the ocean or the Jordan River, you should consider waiting until you arrive back home and gather together with your church.
Baptism Isn’t Private – It’s a Public Event
Baptism serves as a public act of obedience and a profession of faith in Christ. In the first century, as people would gather around a river or watering hole for baptism, when other people walking down the road would pass by and witness this act, they perhaps would ask, “What’s going on here?” Someone from the crowd would respond, “This man has become a follower of Jesus and he is being immersed under water as a sign. His old life is dead and as he’s raised up from the water it serves as a symbol that he has a new life in Jesus – the Messiah.”
Throughout my formative years, I can recall people being presented before the church as new converts. This wasn’t done in the baptistry, it was done at the end of a church service. At some later time, the person would be baptized. As I read the New Testament, the pattern of a public profession of faith seems to happen at the time of baptism.
Therefore, to baptize someone at the beach in a small group of teenagers is to miss the point of the public testimony of conversion. The overwhelming majority of people in that geographic area are complete strangers. Beach baptisms for believers who live hours away from the beach fail to serve as a public profession of faith. The most pure profession of faith is not at the end of a church service or an announcement on Facebook, but it happens as the new convert follows the Lord in the waters of baptism. John Piper once stated the following in his sermon titled, “I Baptize You With Water” from Matthew 3:
The message Peter gave in Acts 2 ended with the words, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Our renewed conviction is that we need to regularly offer baptism as the decisive public way for people to respond publicly to the gospel.
Baptism and the Church
The act of baptism is one of the ordinances of the church. Would you be confused to find out that a group of seniors from the church observed the Lord’s Supper in a cabin in the mountains while they were on a church trip together? That should concern us, because the church isn’t gathered and the Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the church. Who fenced the table? Were other people from our church invited to observe the Lord’s Supper too? We immediately consider the implications, and we should.
The same thing is true regarding small private baptism services on the beach or at the lake. Just because a teenager professed faith in Christ doesn’t require him to be baptized immediately. It’s trendy because it’s the beach. Often kids from places like Kansas don’t see the beach very often, so the temptation is to perform the baptism in the ocean just so the child will be able to say he was baptized in the ocean. That’s not a sufficient reason to perform an immediate baptism. The church and baptism go together and to separate them is to miss the mark.
The church is responsible to disciple people in the faith. Before baptizing people, we must be sure their faith is genuine. Often, this requires intentional discipleship opportunities and oversight from the elders of the church. The church should desire to evangelize people through baptism services, and holding private baptisms at the beach or at the lake will not allow for that opportunity upon returning home. Since baptism doesn’t take away sin, the need for immediate baptism is simply not required. It’s important for family, friends, and others in the church to see new converts obey Christ through baptism.
After a person is baptized, it is the duty of the church to journey together through life. It’s the mandated responsibility of the church to hold one another accountable in the faith. Baptism is a marker and serves as a public testimony for the church to see the new believer and take responsibility in the act of discipleship. That’s missing when baptisms are held in private.
If you’re planning to take a church trip this year to the beach with a group from the church, if someone professes faith in Christ, rejoice with them, however, don’t allow them to be baptized in the ocean. Explain why it’s important for them to be baptized in the context of the gathered church. If done properly, there will be little regrets for waiting until you return and celebrate together with the entire church. As the new convert comes from the waters of baptism, the church is reminded of Christ who died for their sin and was raised again on the third day. The church will continue to celebrate this central truth until Christ returns.
As a pastor, I’m often asked a very important question by members of the church I pastor and by friends in the ministry – “When should my child be baptized?” As I begin, I want to be clear that I will be writing from a distinctively Baptist position, first because I’m Baptist and also because it’s the right position as I like to tell my Presbyterian friends.
What Is Baptism?
Baptism is an act of obedience to Jesus Christ whereby a follower of Christ is immersed under water to symbolize the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the new life in Christ (Romans 6:1-11). Baptism is the most pure profession of faith that a follower of Jesus can make publicly. Baptism is an ordinance of the church, and as a result, should be performed under the authority of the church. It should likewise be noted that nowhere in Scripture do we see that the act of baptism saves sinners or removes sin. Salvation involves several aspects such as regeneration and justification which both precede the public statement of baptism. It should be further stated that baptism is for believers – just as the Lord’s Supper is reserved only for followers of Christ. That’s why I hold to a firm position of believer’s baptism rather than baptizing infants as my Presbyterian friends do.
Words of Caution
Baptism matters to God. To approach it lightly is to overlook the significance of baptism. By now, we’ve all seen the YouTube video of the boy entering the baptistry with a cannonball splash. It should be our desire to avoid such circumstances. It’s not that we can’t “laugh” in church, but that we want to approach baptism with a more serious tone.
Baptism is not a yearly competition for churches to race each other through the calendar year. We would frown upon publishing the fastest churches to eat the Lord’s Supper during a communion service each month. We would consider that a perversion of the sacredness of the Lord’s table. Likewise, we should frown upon competing with other churches based on baptism numbers in a given time period. Baptism isn’t a race, it’s an ordinance of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Just because little Jimmy attended the last night of summer VBS (Vacation Bible School) and raised his hand when the teacher asked if anyone wanted to “ask Jesus into their heart” doesn’t mean he should be baptized. Likewise, just because Jenny attended summer youth camp at the beach and prayed a prayer after an emotional evangelistic meeting doesn’t mean she should be baptized in the ocean with her youth group. The why, how, when, and where of baptism all matter. Likewise, age matters too.
I’ve also heard troubling stories of spontaneous baptisms where people are invited to be baptized on the spot after viewing others follow the Lord in believer’s baptism. Once again, we must approach baptism with a sense of humility as we consider what it means for the individual and likewise what it communicates to others. As a pastor, I see the magnitude of responsibility regarding proper instruction through the baptism process. To error here could cause unnecessary stress and a false sense of security for unbelievers who are baptized without being properly examined and discipled. How many of us have been baptized more than once as a result of a false conversion and subsequent baptism at an early age?
What Age is Appropriate?
Some well respected pastors such as Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church require believing children to wait until they can articulate their faith through words and actions that are not bound by parental authority. According to their official statement adopted in 2004 by their elders, they write:
We believe that the normal age of baptism should be when the credibility of one’s conversion becomes naturally evident to the church community. This would normally be when the child has matured, and is beginning to live more self-consciously as an individual, making their own choices, having left the God-given, intended child-like dependence on their parents for the God-given, intended mature wisdom which marks one who has felt the tug of the world, the flesh and the devil, but has decided, despite these allurements, to follow Christ. While it is difficult to set a certain number of years which are required for baptism, it is appropriate to consider the candidate’s maturity. The kind of maturity that we feel it is wise to expect is the maturity which would allow that son or daughter to deal directly with the church as a whole, and not, fundamentally, to be under their parents’ authority. As they assume adult responsibilities (sometime in late high school with driving, employment, non-Christian friends, voting, legality of marriage), then part of this, we would think, would be to declare publicly their allegiance to Christ by baptism.
Many other Baptists feel that the language of the New Testament insinuates that baptism should be closely linked in time to the conversion of the sinner. While they would oppose the baptism of infants, they are willing to baptize believing children because of the Scripture such as, Acts 2:38 – “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.‘”
Grace Community Church, under the leadership of John MacArthur and their elders are willing to baptize believing children. According to their church distinctives, they provide the following explanation:
Here at Grace Community Church, our general practice is to wait until a professing child has reached the age of twelve. Because baptism is seen as something clear and final, our primary concern is that when a younger child is baptized he tends to look to that experience as proof that he was saved.
The choice to baptize or withhold baptism from believing children both carry good motives and logic. When making decisions as a church it’s important to base decisions upon the Scriptures. Once again, in the case of those who withhold baptism they do so on the basis that age is rarely mentioned and that the converts are coming from a non-Christian background and can adequately demonstrate outward signs of conversion that may not be as clear in our Christian contexts. While it seems that children are following Christ too, the lack of information provides enough reason for some churches to make a decision to baptize adults only.
The decision to baptize believing children under the care of their parents and the oversight of elders likewise has merit based on texts that have conversion and baptism closely connected (to name a few verses: Acts 2:38; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:48). The decision to baptize children rests upon the elders and the church as a whole, but the decision should be carefully made and each baptism should be taken seriously.
My personal position falls closer in line with Grace Community Church than Capitol Hill Baptist Church. While I respect Mark Dever and their church greatly, I differ with them on this issue. Age my vary, but I’m cautious to baptize children too young. I do think that the evidence of the New Testament provides grounds for believing children to be baptized, but the burden of oversight must be taken with a spirit of maturity and serious examination must be carried out prior to entering the baptistry. Each believing child must cognitively grasp the truths of the gospel and the definition of baptism while demonstrating faith in Christ.
The ability to articulate this without pressure from parents or a peer group is essential, and sometimes this can be difficult to discern. That is one of the burdens for elders to bear in their oversight of the church. Just because a child doesn’t want to burn in hell or has “asked Jesus into their heart” doesn’t mean they are a legitimate candidate for baptism. We must bar the gate to the baptistry and only allow people with a credible conversion to partake in this sacred act of obedience.
Baptism matters! Each individual baptism should be taken with a spirit of mature oversight by the elders. After the work of examination and education is complete – the gathered church celebrates as each individual is baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ. As they go through the physical act of baptism, they are communicating some really important truths to the gathered assembly and likewise, the church is communicating some very important truths to them. The work of Christ on the cross is enough. Jesus is their Savior. Their sins have been atoned for by Christ’s work on the cross. Christ was buried and rose again on the third day – and as each individual rises from the water – they do so with the understanding that Christ is their hope and one day they will experience a different resurrection just as Jesus was bodily raised from the dead.
No matter where you land on this issue, we should all agree that it’s an important issue worthy of consideration and we should likewise approach the ordinance with a spirit of maturity and a heart of joy! J.C. Ryle accurately describes the sacredness of baptism in his commentary on Matthew 3:
[We should] regard the sacrament of baptism with reverence. An ordinance of which the Lord Jesus Himself partook, is not to be lightly esteemed. An ordinance to which the great Head of the Church submitted, ought to be ever honorable in the eyes of professing Christians.
My grandmother (aka – Gammy) and stepmom (aka – Mystie) run a talent agency in Atlanta (Houghton Talent), and I remember discussing the reality show explosion with them a few years ago over a meal. They pulled back the curtain for me and explained that even though the show is a “reality” show, it will have a heavily scripted side to it that you never see. In other words, what they were telling me was that in reality, it wasn’t reality at all. So, as I watch several different reality shows, I do pick up on the scripted parts of the show from time to time.
Last year my wife and I were introduced to a show by the name Duck Dynasty. We both had been hearing a buzz about the show (complete with quotes from a bearded guy named Si), but in my non-conformist ways, I refused to watch it or pay much attention to it. So, one day my wife and I actually decided to give it a shot. We were immediately hooked. Since I love the outdoors (hunting and fishing) – the show was right up our alley. Furthermore, we appreciated the way each show ended with a prayer. From the very beginning, the show was a hit in our home. My wife and I get a bowl of ice cream on Wednesday nights after we put the kids to bed and watch the latest Duck Dynasty episode.
For those who don’t know about this show, it’s a reality show based on the family and business of the Robertson family. Phil Robertson invented a successful duck call years ago, and now his sons run the company. They work together, hunt together, and the show is a combination of business, recreation, and family. This season has been a bit of a disappointment to us. We both feel that the show has way too much scripted parts in it when compared to last season. But, that has not prevented us from watching – and laughing! From Si’s crazy vocabulary to Mountain Man’s slow speech – we find ourselves laughing at the simple and clean humor produced in the show.
A few weeks ago, I was sent a link to one of Phil Robertson’s sermons on Youtube. The link was a short clip of him preaching. I was excited at first and watched it a few different times. After a few days, I was sent another clip to Willie (the son of Phil and CEO of the company) speaking about the gospel. I paid more attention to this clip and watched it several more times. As I listened to the words more intently, I could hear a doctrine being taught that violates the gospel of Jesus Christ.
First Things First:
I appreciate Duck Dynasty for obvious reasons stated above, especially their commitment to clean humor in a day where that is about as rare as spotting a white deer in the woods (aka – Piebald Deer). The show emphasizes a close family which is another rare thing in our disconnected family units today. I also appreciate the fact that they demonstrate the spirit of America – a hard working (well – when you overlook Si and a few others in the mix), inventive, motivated, driven, business minded group of men who have found a way to be successful through something they enjoy in life. Furthermore, my wife and I will continue to watch (and laugh frequently) Duck Dynasty.
Down to Business:
These two clips show Phil and Willie describing salvation and how a person is saved. While I would like to discuss in more detail the way the church is to baptize new believers and the fact that baptism, like the Lord’s Supper, is an ordinance of the church rather than a private matter, I will save that for another day. The point I want to emphasize is much more important. It deals with how a person is saved by Jesus Christ.
The danger of the Duck Dynasty gospel is that it comes from their background and influence of the Church of Christ movement. The Church of Christ doctrine is centered heavily upon “baptismal regeneration” – the teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation. For instance, the following statement on “How to Receive Salvation” is taken from a local Church of Christ website:
The Bible teaches that a person receives God’s grace by putting faith in Christ, repenting of sin, publically confessing Christ, and being immersed or baptized into Christ (Luke 24:45-47; Acts 2:36-41; Romans 1:16-17; Romans 6:1-7; Romans 10:9-10; Galatians 3:26-27).
If you examine the paragraph closely, you’ll see that they have linked baptism with salvation. This is the foundational belief system of the Church of Christ. I examined the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ (where the Robertson family attends church) to see a statement of their doctrinal beliefs, but they didn’t have one posted. However, both Phil and Willie use the language of “baptizing someone into Christ” in their videos. In fact, some Church of Christ congregations insist that a person’s baptism is not valid unless it’s performed through a Church of Christ assembly.
Baptismal regeneration is the belief that a person does not receive the Holy Spirit and the transaction of justification is not fully made until the act of baptism is completed. This is why the people who believe this doctrine baptize a person immediately after they repent, because faith alone in Jesus Christ is not enough for their salvation. According to The Christian Chronicle, Phil has been known to baptize people in the middle of the night after leading them to Christ. A close examination of the words of Phil and Willie seem to indicate that they embrace the doctrine of baptismal regeneration – a doctrine that clearly violates the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Salvation is not based on any work that we do, and the Scriptures are clear on that fact. Ephesians 2:8-9 reveal that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, not baptism. In fact, Ephesians 2:8-9 describes the reality that if our salvation was based on works that we performed, we would likely boast about it. Therefore, in genuine salvation, we are unable to boast about anything because Jesus paid it all, God did the drawing work of conviction, and we were led to a state of humble repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
The misinterpretation of verses that have baptism included in the scene of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ have led to the building of a false gospel. The great transaction and exchange does not include us offering our baptism to God for mercy. It involves God saving us through Jesus’ blood alone. The exchange is whereby God placed on Jesus our sins on the cross and He provides us with the righteousness of His Son by faith alone.
Why did the early disciples baptize almost immediately? In the book of Acts, we see people being baptized where no church existed. This was the case with the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8). In other places in Acts, you see a very small number of believers in each city who are likely present when the new believer is baptized. Much of what we see in the book of Acts is the building and organizing of the church rather than a set structure of how things operate. By the time you get to the Epistles, things have started to become settled, in place, and organized by the Holy Spirit. However, it is clear, baptism is commanded as an ordinance of the church rather than a means of redemption. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are both commanded, but neither of them are able to save a person. Jesus’ blood is sufficient.
What’s the difference? The two ordinances are commanded in the Scriptures, but they are not linked to a person’s salvation. They are evidences of a person’s salvation and they are means of communion with God and fellow believers, but they are not in any way part of the salvation equation. If salvation included baptism, Jesus would have rejected the thief on the cross who hung next to Him due to the inability to be baptized. If one believes in baptismal regeneration and insists that a special case was given to the thief, we have an inconsistent God. The fact is – sinners are not saved in multiple different ways. There is one way (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) – and our God is immutable.
In conclusion, I want to say that I like the Robertson family and their show Duck Dynasty. I appreciate their commitment and desire to produce a clean and humorous show for the family. I do, however, disagree with their gospel. I don’t enjoy calling out guys that I like, but I must speak up when someone alters the gospel that I preach. The apostle Paul said, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). When I see professing Christians posting videos of Phil and Willie preaching on Facebook and linking to them on Twitter and approving their gospel, it becomes necessary to distinguish between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Duck Dynasty gospel. It’s not enough to talk about God and Jesus. We must be clear as to what we mean when we talk about faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. Is the work of Christ on the cross enough, or must our faith be in Jesus plus the work of baptism? What exactly is the Duck Dynasty gospel?
A man who knows that he is saved by believing in Christ does not, when he is baptized, lift his baptism into a saving ordinance. In fact, he is the very best protester against that mistake, because he holds that he has no right to be baptized until he is saved. — C.H. Spurgeon (Baptismal Regeneration, sermon 10.326)
For more on the subject of baptismal regeneration – click here.
In Britain, a movement to renounce the baptism a person received during infancy has gained a significant following. What started as a simple website download has turned into a full movement. The London-Based National Secular Society (NSS) has provided an opportunity to download a certificate that says the following:
I ________ having been subjected to the Rite of Christian Baptism in infancy (before reaching an age of consent), hereby publicly revoke any implications of that Rite and renounce the Church that carried it out. In the name of human reason, I reject all its Creeds and all other such superstition in particular, the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged ORIGINAL SIN, and the evil power of supposed demons. I wish to be excluded henceforth from enhanced claims of church membership numbers based on past baptismal statistics used, for example, for the purpose of securing legislative privilege.
With more than 100,000 formerly baptized individuals taking part in this movement – many people are taking note and asking very important questions. No matter what side of the fence you find yourself on in this issue, the implications are huge and should be carefully considered.
Issues Related to Baptism
The certificate claims that the practice of infant baptism is “Christian baptism.” That is simply not true. Christian baptism is only performed after a person becomes a Christian – after salvation – after regeneration – after being saved. This can be validated through a clear reading of the New Testament.According to the certificate, the people who consent to this statement say that they were baptized before they reached an age of consent. As many people know, the Roman Catholic Church, along with others, baptize infants into their church membership. The purpose, in many cases, is to erase original sin handed down by Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12). Those involved with the NSS De-Baptism movement claim that they were unable to consent to this and should not have been subjected to it.
From a biblical standpoint, they are right – up to this point. The Bible does not say anything about the baptism of infants and therefore should not be practiced. Baptism is always done after a person is saved (see Acts 8 and 9 for examples). Using the Old Testament means of circumcision is not justified since the New Testament does not command this link. Furthermore, what can water and a religious ceremony do to the stain of sin upon the person’s soul? Therefore, these people are justified in their concern regarding the effects of their infant baptism.
Issues Related to Original Sin
The certificate goes further to say, “In the name of human reason, I reject all its Creeds and all other such superstition in particular, the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged ORIGINAL SIN, and the evil power of supposed demons.” In other words, the NSS does not believe in the doctrine of original sin. The website says, “Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had.” Rather than clinging to human reason, logic, or any other belief to renounce original sin, the Bible should be examined to see what it says about the issue.Romans 5:12 – Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for thatc all have sinned:
The point Paul was making in this text is that Adam passed down to all of his future generations a sin nature (the doctrine of original sin). The point is very clear – because of our relation to Adam – we are all born with a sinful nature.
Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. David said the same thing long before Paul was born. David, in his confession and repentant prayer to God, said that he had been conceived in sin. In other words, before he came from his mother’s womb, he had a sinful nature and make-up.
Therefore, a certificate that claims to renounce the doctrine of original sin through a statement of human reason does not win the day. Just the same as sprinkling water on a baby in infancy does not erase original sin, neither does a certificate by consenting adults provide power to remove guilty human sinners from their responsibility before God. Ceremonies and certificates both fall short in the process of removing sin from the person’s soul.
Issues Related to Politics
While the NSS certificate is not going to suffice as these individuals stand before God someday in the near future, the implications of this movement hit close to home – even to a Southern Baptist. In a day where we see people disapproving of being used for numbers and power in the political world, what does that mean for the Southern Baptist Convention? Should we continue to press for numbers? Sure we should! But, we should make sure we are pressing for true conversions that are wrought through the Holy Spirit’s power and conviction as opposed to manipulative number games and tactics. Because, in the end, it will not be a movement like NSS that we will need to fear – but God Himself.
The Solution Is Christ
The solution to this problem for those who find themselves discouraged, used, and empty as it relates to their religious affiliation and baptism should remember the following:
1. Baptism is not the answer – Jesus Christ is the answer. It is not the religious ceremonies and church traditions that erase sin – it is the precious blood of Christ who was killed on a cross as a sacrifice for our sin.
2. Faith alone in Christ alone is the answer! If a person is going to be forgiven of their sin, they must turn to Jesus Christ and call upon Him for forgiveness. John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 speak clearly of this issue. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes a clear statement related to salvation. It is Grace – not works, not baptism, not tradition, not church dogma, nor any other thing. It is the finished work of Christ alone that sets a person free from the shackles of sin.
3. The empty feeling that you have inside related to the baptism you received as an infant will not be taken away through a certificate on an NSS website. In fact, many times people receive a baptismal certificate when they are baptized. That same empty feeling will linger in your heart even as you replace your current certificate of baptism with your certificate of De-Baptism.
4. Some have claimed that those who sign this certificate and go through this process have sealed their eternal destiny and have made a covenant with the Devil. Do not believe it. If you will turn to Jesus Christ and call out to Him for salvation – you will be saved (Romans 10:13).