As I was searching the Scriptures for another reason, I noticed that in the early Church, the new converts to Christ were baptized immediately upon conversion. This is something of a rarity today. Perhaps this is because not that many are being converted, at least here in America. I think more of a reason is that we do not stress the obedience to water baptism as the early church did. One of the things that has flown in the face of the modern practice of baptism is the many false teachings on the subject. Because so many cults and religious systems put baptism as a means to be saved, it is harder to bring up the subject to people without all the disclaimers. A prime example is in Acts 2:38 when Peter says, “repent and be baptized”, that passage is usually not read “as is” to an audience in an evangelism setting. The common practice today is for people who have been saved for a number of years is to schedule a baptism service at a church. There is nothing wrong with that and it is great they are being baptized. I say wonderful! Some churches even have baptism classes. The precedence in the early church however shows converts being baptized pretty much right away.
This paper may not be exhaustive on the subject; however I will cover some things that stand out to me in the Scriptures as to the topic of water baptism. I know there is some disagreement about the method of water baptism. Let’s just say that I believe that the Bible teaches immersion (or submersion). I also believe that baptism is not for babies or young children. I also believe that the act of baptism does not save anyone, nor do you need to be baptized to enter heaven. Maybe I will start with the occasions of baptism in the New Testament. Although baptism was an antitype in the Old Testament and the Jewish people were familiar with baptizing before John the Baptist, I will limit my discourses within the New Testament.
The Occasions of Water Baptism
The Crowds (or Multitudes) Were Baptized
The crowds were baptized by John the Baptist. Specifically the common people, tax collectors, and soldiers were the ones baptized. Matt 3:1-12 Mark 1:1-8 Luke 3:1-20
The Pharisees and Sadducees Reject John’s Baptism
Matt. 21:31-32 Luke 7:30 Note: It is the will of God to be baptized.
Jesus is Baptized
Jesus Himself was baptized. This should tell us something. Matt. 3:13 See also Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22
Jesus Disciples Baptize New Disciples
John 4:1-2 entire passage; John 4:1-4
Large Crowd at Pentecost
A very large number of people were saved and baptized. Acts 2:41
Men & Women of Samaria
Philip preaches the Gospel in Samaria Acts 8:12
Simon the Sorcerer
Under the ministry of Philip the Evangelist Acts 8:13
The one Philip ministered to after leaving Samaria Acts 8:38
The Apostle Paul was baptized after his conversion. Acts 9:18
Peter sent by the Lord to the house of Cornelius and they be lived and are baptized. Acts 10:48
Lydia of Philippi
This is the woman who the Lord opened her heart to hear and respond to Paul as he preached Jesus to her. Acts 16:15
Philippian Jailer and His Family
This man about to kill himself sees the witness of Silas and Paul. He then believes and He and his household are saved and baptized. Acts 16:33
Crispus and Corinthians
This is one of Paul’s converts. Acts 18:8
John the Baptist’s Disciples in Ephesus
These men had not heard of the Holy Spirit and were only baptized in John’s baptism. Acts 19:5
Gaius & Stephanas
Crispus mentioned above along with Gaius and Stephanas who Paul forgot he baptized. 1 Cor. 1:14-16
The Great Commission
Part of the instructions of Jesus before leaving back into heaven. Matt. 28:19
In all of the examples above, the people were baptized immediately either after repentance, in the case of John the Baptist’s ministry or after believing upon hearing the Gospel in the case of the other preachers. It is possible today we associate baptism more with discipleship than we do conversion. If so, this may explain the careful teachings about baptism and a elapsed period of time before people are baptized in our American churches today.
Does Baptism Save?
Does the literal physical act of baptism save us? I would answer this no. No external act is necessary for salvation. Salvation is by divine grace through faith alone Rom 3:22-30 Rom 4:5 Gal 2:16 Eph 2:8-9 Phil 3:9 Etc.
The penitent woman, Luke 7:37-50 the paralytic man, Matthew 9:2 the publican, Luke 18:13-14 and the thief on the cross Luke 23:39-43 all experienced forgiveness of sins apart from baptism. Note the thief on the cross who never came down and was baptized before he died, yet he was to be in paradise according to Jesus Christ’s own words.
Footnote: The above two paragraphs taken from gracetoyou.org
Secondly, Paul states that was not sent to baptize but to preach the Gospel. 1 Cor. 1:10-17 Here you have the arguing amongst the Corinthian believers as to who they followed bragging on behalf of one leader over the other. In the Apostle Paul’s correction he brings up the fact that he has only baptized a few people. Perhaps one of the points of contention was who they were baptized by. If you actually had to go through the act of baptism to be saved certainly Paul would have mentioned it here. Instead he says he was not sent to baptize. From other New Testament Scripture you would definitely ascertain that Paul was representing the true Gospel and the whole counsel of God. Rom 2:16 Rom 16:25 1 Tim. 1:11 2 Tim. 2:8 Acts 20:26 27
The Great Commission according to Mark. Mark 16:16 In the second part of this verse it states that he who does not believe will be condemned, not he who is not baptized will be condemned.
Baptism a symbol or anti-type 1 Peter 3:21
What Purpose Does Baptism Serve?
Baptism is a symbolic act of obedience showing that we have been converted into the faith and believe Jesus Christ is Lord. Going down in the water is the death and burial of the old sinful man and coming up out of the water symbolizes the resurrection of the new man in Christ. Being baptized identifies us with Jesus Christ as His follower. Baptism is a (not the only) evidence of someone’s salvation. Rom 6:1-5 Col. 2:12 and Gal. 3:27
Baptism is also a way for us to practically put our faith into action and demonstrate to the world that we’ve died to our old selves and desires, and have received a new resurrection life in Christ. It keeps us accountable and mindful that the world is watching us and expects to see some sort of change in our lives. In many foreign countries people who are baptized into Jesus Christ are severely ostracized by family members and their culture. Some are even killed.
Baptism for the Dead
A passage that I feel most commentators get wrong. 1 Cor.15:29 full context: 1 Cor.15:12-32 I have heard many commentaries on this passage all having to do with a pagan practice of baptizing the dead in their rituals. Some relate it to the Catholics or Mormons in their practices of proxy. I believe what Paul is trying to point out here is his rebuttal to the dead do not rise, arguing like an attorney. In verse 12 Paul addresses the idea of someone saying there is no resurrection. Paul goes on a lengthy discourse refuting this notion. All he is saying here is that if there is no resurrection then why are we (Christians) baptized for the dead (meaning Jesus). If there is no resurrection then Christ is still dead and not alive, why would we be baptized for that? That is Paul’s argument here. I don’t think it has anything to do with some crass ritual in that culture.