NEW HARVEST’S POSITION ON BAPTISM
There are two schools of thought that dominate the issue of baptism in the Christian Church. These could be loosely described as follows:
- Believer’s baptism based on conversion. Obviously this is the practise that typifies New Testament times when Christianity was started. New converts, having understood and been touched by the preaching of the Gospel, came to be baptised as an outward sign of their conversion experience. They would typically be stripped of their outer garment (leaving the old life behind), enter the water and be immersed (washing away the past, dying to self and rising to Christ), exit the water to be clothed in a white robe (purity, a fresh start) and be given a new name (Christian name). Believer’s baptism presumes an intellectual understanding of the Gospel, an inner conviction about sin, a desire to change and a commitment to Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
- Infant baptism based on Covenant. Once the Church was established and became the faith of the Roman Empire, parents were found to be baptising their children. It’s not clear when exactly the practise started, but it became the norm for Christian parents to present their infants to the Church for baptism. The practise takes its roots from the Old Testament concept of covenant. When God covenanted Himself to Israel it included all future generations, not just the people alive at the time. This covenant was symbolised in themselves and their children through the act of circumcision. The present understanding is that Christians have entered into the New Covenant with God through the death of Jesus, and that this covenant is extended to their children as well. Therefore the act of baptism is closely equated with the act of circumcision, administered to infants as a sign of their inclusion in the New Covenant.
Theological arguments around these two approaches have been heated, giving rise to different Church groupings and Church practises. Usually the “correct” approach has been tied to the Church group’s understanding of the Kingdom of God and how one becomes a member of that Kingdom. This has led some Churches to adopt a stance known as “baptismal regeneration”, implying that salvation is not complete unless it includes the act of baptism administered according to their particular approach.
NEW HARVEST’S POSITION.
Our position on baptism is based on two factors:
- Historical. This is the lesser influence, but is nevertheless important to mention. We come from an infant baptism background where it was the norm for parents to bring their infants for baptism based on Covenant thinking. Also, our evangelical/charismatic stance resulted in a number of new converts joining us. Their conversion experience and the infilling of the Holy Spirit caused them to seek believer’s baptism. So historically we are comfortable with accommodating both approaches.
- Biblical. The Bible shows quite clearly that baptism is a rite of entry into the Church and that its practise is important. But this importance is tempered for us by the following passages: John 4:1-2 “The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples”. Paul also comments in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 “I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Later in the letter he also comments, “Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.” (1 Cor. 7:18-19) These passages indicate quite clearly that baptism was not central to the teaching or practise of either Jesus or Paul, yet many evidently came into the Kingdom through their ministry. Paul’s comments on circumcision also tempers the need for an expression of the covenant relationship.
New Harvest’s position is then firstly that we do not hold with “baptismal regeneration”. We believe that the primary requirement for salvation is faith in Jesus as Saviour and an ongoing relationship with Him which evidences His Lordship over us. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9) Secondly that baptism is for us not an issue important enough to cause us to break fellowship with other Christians. We are happy to “live and let live”, regardless of the position adopted by others. Thirdly, when it comes to our own practise we will accommodate the baptismal requests for either infant or believer’s baptism on the following conditions: Infant baptism – the parents must have demonstrated by their lives and their involvement with us that they are Christians; Believer’s baptism – an ability to speak of their conversion experience and their commitment to Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Either of these would be explored through a “baptismal preparation” discussion with those involved prior to the baptism taking place.
This is a related issue and usually arises for parents who are persuaded towards believer’s baptism. They do not want to baptize their infants but wish to “dedicate” their children to God at a special service in Church. Our approach is as follows:
- For parents who believe that salvation is the result of personal conviction and faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, it’s incongruous to speak of “dedicating” our children to God. Their lives are their own, and if these lives are to be dedicated to God they will need to do this themselves. We do not have that kind of authority over our children’s lives.
- However the parents are able to, and should rightly, dedicate themselves to doing all in their power to introduce their children to Jesus so that their children can be drawn into a love relationship with Him. On this basis we encourage parents to stand before the congregation to give God thanks for the birth of their children and to dedicate themselves to raising their children in a manner which would enable them to see Jesus.