Calvary Road Baptist Church

“GUARDIAN OF THE ORDINANCE OF BAPTISM”

Matthew 28.19

The chief distinguishing characteristic of Baptists as opposed to other Christians since the first century has been baptism. Other groups of Christians have sometimes resembled Baptists in terms of church government. Other groups of Christians have frequently resembled Baptists in terms of gospel message. However, no other group of Christians has as consistently practiced scriptural baptism, as have Baptists. What is scriptural baptism? It is baptism as it is practiced in the Word of God, baptism as it is commanded in the Word of God, and baptism as it is authorized by the Word of God.

We live in a day when most pastors, and far too many Baptist pastors, baptize anyone who wants to be baptized, without exercising any caution or discretion about the candidate who seeks baptism. As well, far too many pastors, including far too many Baptist pastors, exercise no judgment concerning the authenticity of someone’s baptism. Baptism is important. It is one of two church ordinances given by Christ to the church, so it is wise for us to be careful about whom we administer this ordinance to, how we administer this ordinance, and to what purpose we administer this ordinance.

Four considerations will be helpful for you:

First, THE COMMAND TO BAPTIZE

Matthew 28.19-20 is where the most complete example of what is commonly referred to as the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ is to be found. The Greek text contains a single verb accompanied by three participles that explain how the verb is to be accomplished:

19     Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20     Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

The Greek verb in the passage shows that Jesus directed His disciples to make disciples. The participles show that disciples were to be made by going, by baptizing, and by teaching to observe all things Christ commanded. Thus, the directive to baptize is integral to the process of fulfilling the Great Commission.

What many professing Christians and Christian denominations concerning baptism typically ignore is that not only is baptism commanded by Christ, but how to baptize, whom to baptize, and to what end baptism is to be performed is also indicated in God’s Word. Thus, the notion that one can do what Jesus directed while ignoring how Jesus directed it is inconsistent with what we know in scripture.

Next, THE CONSEQUENCE OF BAPTISM

Most in Christendom these days who do not baptize infants (which is unscriptural in the extreme) nevertheless misconstrue a great deal about baptism. Allow me to mention just a few of the consequences of baptism:

First, baptism is an act of obedience on the part of the congregation performing the baptism. Did you catch the significance of what I just said? Read the Great Commission once more and you may notice to whom the directive was issued. Jesus did not direct new converts to be baptized. Jesus directed His disciples to baptize. Thus, this modern day dynamic of hopeful converts insisting that pastors baptize them, insisting that congregations baptize them, or behaving as though they were authoritative in seeking baptism for themselves does not reflect what we find in the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. When someone is baptized, it is the congregation that is obeying Christ.

Second, baptism is the means whereby a Christian becomes an integral part of a church of Jesus Christ, a member of the body, if you will. Here is where Baptists and Protestants are frequently divergent. Protestants are a bit like the Roman Catholic Church they protest against when they claim the church is universal. Roman Catholics claim their group is the universal visible church of Jesus Christ. To refute that counterreformation argument, Protestants claimed that they were the universal invisible church of Jesus Christ. Both groups are wrong, with Protestants certainly being incorrect when they insist that every Christian receives Spirit baptism at the time of his new birth and is incorporated into the invisible body of Christ. That confuses the body of Christ with the family of God. As soon as a sinner is saved, he is born again into God’s family, and also sealed by the Spirit. Spirit baptism? It does not happen, though that is another sermon entirely. The scriptural reality is that the congregation is the church is the body, and baptism is the means by which someone who is already a Christian is brought into the fellowship of a local church and is placed under the authority of that local church. Acts 2.41: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” How can we verify this to be true? In two ways: First, there are no examples of baptism performed in the Bible in order to make someone a Christian. Second, there are many passages in God’s Word which show salvation to be a matter of faith in Christ and not a religious observance of any kind, including baptism, with Titus 3.5 and Ephesians 2.8-9 being but two.

Third, baptism is a public profession of one’s faith in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul dealt with salvation through faith in Christ in Romans chapters four and five. In Romans chapter six he deals with the Christian now living his life in Christ. It is in Romans 6.3-6 that Paul shows baptism to be a picture, an illustration if you will, of the Christian’s identification with Christ’s saving work:

3      Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

4      Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

5      For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

6      Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

How do we know that baptism is symbolic of a believer’s salvation experience and not a saving ordinance? Three ways: First, because First John 1.7 declares that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from sin, not the water of baptism. Next, when Paul uses the phrase “like as” in verse 4, we understand that he is using a simile, a figure of speech in which the real is compared with the symbolic. Salvation is real and baptism is symbolic. Third, we know from many other passages that salvation is by grace, with grace and works being incompatible when it comes to salvation, according to Romans 11.6: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”

Fourth, baptism is a witness of the congregation’s assurance of the salvation of the person being baptized. Assurance of salvation is greatly misunderstood these days, with even most pastors unaware that there are two kinds of assurance taught in the Bible, the assurance a Christian has about his own relationship with Christ, as well as the assurance others have about his relationship with Christ. Read Second Corinthians 13.5, a verse written to a congregation and not an individual: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” Paul does not here encourage an individual to examine himself and to prove himself, but the congregation to examine themselves and to prove themselves. Now read First Peter 3.15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” These two verses address the assurance that others have concerning someone’s salvation, with First John 5.13 related to one’s own assurance of salvation: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” Though I will say more on this shortly, baptism is rightly administered when a congregation is confident that someone is truly converted, not when he insists that he is converted and demands that we baptize him.

Third, THE CUSTODIAN OF BAPTISM

The local congregation is rightly understood to be the custodian of the ordinances Jesus gave to the church, baptism and the communion of the Lord’s Supper. Only the congregation has the authority to administer baptism, when Matthew 28.19-20 is rightly understood and applied. As well, only the congregation has the authority to observe the communion of the Lord’s Supper. Reflect on this for a moment if you will. Writing to Timothy, who was then the pastor in Ephesus, Paul says in First Timothy 3.15, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Thus, the congregation is not only responsible for upholding the truth of the Christian faith. It is also responsible to see that Christ’s will and the church ordinances are properly executed.

Are we perfect in the execution of our responsibilities? No, we are not. From time to time churches authorize baptism for those who are unqualified. When that happens, and especially when someone in the congregation threatens the good name and testimony of the church with serious sin, Matthew 18.15-20 is employed to reconcile the sinning member where possible and to eject that sinning person from church membership when necessary.

Finally, THE CRITERION FOR BAPTISM

From the dawn of the Christian era Baptists have held the conviction that church membership should be restricted to those who are born again, with only those who are felt to be true Christians qualified for baptism. That is why we refer to it as believer baptism. That is also why baptism has to be and can only be immersion of the candidate. How else could baptism symbolize the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Christian’s identification with the Savior’s saving work unless the baptism is an immersion in water? While Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Protestants were baptizing (and typically sprinkling) unsaved infants (Are there saved infants?), Baptists have always observed the baptism of those who could intelligently testify of their saving faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, being a Baptist requires that you recognize some level of discernment of another person’s spiritual condition.

I mention this because it is politically correct to be so utterly nonjudgmental that many these days question whether anyone can evaluate the spiritual condition of another person. “No one really knows but God” is what we frequently hear? However, is that true? Are not Christians forbidden to marry unsaved people? Are not believers commanded not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers?[1] While not claiming infallibility, Baptists have always held the conviction that a church’s membership is rightly comprised only of regenerate people. Thus, baptism is to be performed only when the congregation has some level of satisfaction the candidate is genuinely saved. If such a test is recognized by Baptists as valid then it must be that at least in Baptist circles there is the belief that you can tell who is and who is not saved. Not perfectly, mind you, but passably.

How do we ascertain the spiritual condition of someone who seeks baptism? Do we just assume that only those who are truly born again will want to be baptized? That is not wise. How many lost people become church members if that folly is pursued? At our church, in our efforts to be careful and cautious when dealing with the lost to bring them to Christ, we also strive to be careful and cautious with those who profess to be Christians. Why must we exercise caution? Because it is wicked to baptize someone who is lost. It is also harmful to baptize someone who is lost, harmful to that individual and harmful to the congregation. Therefore, we seek confirmation by several means, including personal testimony and corresponding lifestyle. We do not claim to be perfect. We insist that we are not perfect. However, rather than kicking the can down the street for someone else to worry about, we seek to be faithful to the Lord and helpful to the prospective candidate to do our due diligence and faithfully minister the gospel.

No attempt has been made in this sermon to present a thorough and fully developed understanding of our church’s responsibilities with respect to believer baptism. I have only designed to provoke thought and cultivate some interest about the matter.

When Jesus commanded His apostles to make disciples by going, by baptizing, and by teaching to observe all things whatsoever Christ commanded, He charged them not as individuals but as being those first set in the church, First Corinthians 12.28. Each time an apostle established a congregation and ordained spiritual leadership to provide guidance that local church was fully responsible to carry out the Great Commission. We recognize that responsibility as our own.

Why are we a missionary Baptist church? We have an interest in worldwide missions. We not only go ourselves, but we also send others to place we cannot go. Those we are convinced have come to Christ we baptize. Those we baptize, now that they are members of our church and accountable to our church’s authority, we teach to observe all things Christ commanded. Thus, the Great Commission is ours, and not any individual Christian’s. That being so, we are the guardians of the two ordinances, baptism and the communion of the Lord’s Supper. That is why we decide who will and will not be baptized by us, how they will be baptized, and when their baptism will take place.

It is our conviction that only when this ordinance of believer baptism is performed in the right way, by the right authority, upon the right candidate, can it properly testify of the gospel and that candidate’s identification with Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection from the dead.



[1] 2 Corinthians 6.14-17



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org