Editor’s note: Sunday (Sept. 12) is Baptism Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
NASHVILLE (BP) – While Baptism Sunday (Sept. 12) will mainly serve as a day for Southern Baptist churches to perform and celebrate baptisms, it can also serve as a day for pastors to continue teaching and discussing the critical ordinance.
Pastors and church leaders have the opportunity not to simply ask people to participate by being baptized, but also to explain the why and how of baptism to their congregations.
Eric Stephens, senior pastor at Black Mountain Baptist Church in Cave Creek, Ariz., said he wants new believers in his congregation to have a clear understanding of what they believe as a local church about baptism before participating.
“In the Bible we have what we would call the order of repentance and faith which is evidenced first by baptism. I want to shepherd people back to that order,” Stephens said.
Some of the questions Stephens said he has encountered range from new Christians wanting to learn what the church believes about baptism, to people coming from other denominational backgrounds who believe their sprinkling as a child constitutes baptism.
He said he encourages people to hold off on getting baptized until they come to an understanding of the biblical teaching for themselves.
“I will hold off on encouraging people to [get] baptized if they view it as just something they have to do to be a part of this church,” Stephens said.
“I want them to see what they may have done as a kid was probably sincere, but now they’ve been convinced from the Bible that this other thing [baptism by immersion after conversion] this Baptist church is calling me to is actually the biblical expression of obedience.”
Article VII of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines baptism as “the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”
Thomas Schreiner, professor and associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said this view of baptism has been a consistent and vital belief for the convention since its inception.
“The word baptism means to immerse, so for someone who has been sprinkled, we would say that the meaning of the word is such that it doesn’t mean to be sprinkled,” Schreiner said. “That’s the historic Baptist position, and I think it accords with the New Testament.”
As Baptism Sunday approaches, Schreiner said he encourages churches to genuinely celebrate the new life on display through baptism, but cautions them to emphasize the biblical teaching on the subject to promote spiritual transformation as opposed to mere tradition.
“We should celebrate new life in our churches and we rejoice in those who are baptized and saved, but on the other hand we must be careful that those who are baptized have really put their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to avoid tokenism,” Schreiner said. “We celebrate baptism, but it has to be tied to conversion.”
Stephens said another common issue surrounding baptism has to do with those who have been baptized by immersion previously, but believe they just recently have been saved and want to make sure their salvation is on the right side of their conversion.
When shepherding these people, Stephens said he is careful to make sure the person really believes they have just now become saved as opposed to having experienced a new conviction of the Holy Spirit, which is a part of his own testimony.
“I’m especially sensitive for that one because of my own personal experience,” Stephens said. “Assurance of salvation is found in looking to Christ. I ask these people questions like, ‘Prior to these moments were you looking to Jesus or looking to the flesh?’
“I’m also aware of insecurity in my own heart and abuses in my heart where I could quickly baptize someone if for no other reason than because this Sunday is Baptism Sunday and we want to celebrate and get our church listed as having X number of baptisms. I would rather fall on the other side of the horse on the side of caution. But one of the things we want to do is give people peace of heart and mind. So if their conscience is pricked and they are convinced [of their recent conversion] then we will move quickly to get them baptized.”
Black Mountain Baptist does not expect to have any baptisms taking place this Sunday on Baptism Sunday, but did recently baptize three women of different ages.
Stephens said regardless of which date a baptism takes place, Baptism Sunday gives churches an opportunity for both reflection and rejoicing.
“This Baptism Sunday can make us face as a congregation what may not be happening in our churches, or gives us a grand opportunity to rejoice in what is happening in our churches,” Stephens said. “It can be a reminder of God’s grace in our own lives as well.”