If we would take the basics of the Christian faith seriously, then we must begin with what Jesus actually said.
Of Baptism

Jesus said, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," Matt. 28:19.

This text, which speaks first of all of the calling to preach the gospel and the work of missions, speaks also of baptism. It is the command to administer baptism. Among many elements in this verse, to name but one, Jesus plainly teaches that there is one God, one name (singular) and yet God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three persons. Jesus teaches the doctrine of the Trinity.

Several elements stand out in Jesus' words concerning baptism, which is our concern here. First, Jesus gives the command to baptize to His disciples and in them to the church. By baptism we are brought into union with God's name, baptized into His name. Baptism with water is administered to us. It is something God in Christ is doing. We are to "be baptized," as Ananias said to the Apostle Paul (Acts 22:16). While we are called to seek this ordinance of God and Ananias calls the Apostle Paul to seek baptism and to "wash away thy sins," by it, baptism is something that is given to us, performed upon us. In it man is passive. We are to "be baptized." (This distinguishes it from the Lord's Supper which involves an active eating and drinking.)

Secondly, we are baptized "in the name" (or more literally "into" the name) of God. In baptism God speaks, not man. God puts His name upon us, separating us to Himself by His redeeming work in Christ. The truth that man is passive and that it is God Who speaks is important. Telling us what baptism is and what it is not, this sets before us the nature of baptism. According to Jesus' instruction, baptism is not an act of man, nor a word of man. The notion that baptism is man's confession of his faith, a kind of symbolic public confession, is false. It is true that confession of faith and of sin and repentance accompanied the baptism of adults and heads of households (Matt. 3:6, Acts 8:37), but that is not what baptism is. Baptism, according to Jesus' instruction, is God speaking His Word as a visible sign and seal, by which He represents the promises of the gospel. A visible sign of the washing away of sins and righteousness in Christ (Acts 22:16) of the washing of regeneration or being born again and the renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5), it is a sign and pledge of the promises of the gospel and of our being brought into union with them by God's grace in Christ.

This is Jesus' point respecting baptism in Mark 16:16. Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned," Mark 16:16. The point of the text is that, under the gospel, believers are saved and unbelievers are damned. It is the spiritual meaning of baptism, as a washing away of sin and spiritual birth, to which Jesus refers in order to make it clear how it is that believers are saved. They are washed in the blood of Christ, born of God, and therefore believe. Faith itself does not save us. It is only a instrument of grace to bring us into union with the blessings of Christ's death. He that is truly brought into the spiritual reality which baptism represents through faith is saved. Jesus is not teaching that we are saved because of our work of believing and baptism with water, but that he that is brought by God's grace through faith into the blessings of Jesus' death and resurrection, whose sins are washed away in Jesus' blood and renewed by His Spirit, is saved. It is because baptism with water is a visible sign and seal of these blessings, that Jesus assures His disciples by the promise of Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." This means too that mere baptism with water, which is only a sign and seal, saves no one. Grace is not in the water (I Peter 3:21).

In setting forth this sign and seal of His blood and Spirit, Jesus points us to the fact that by this spiritual reality we are brought into fellowship with the name of God. We are baptized "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," Jesus' atoning death and the quickening power of the Spirit make us children of God. God is become our God and Father. We are brought into the blessings of God's covenant of grace. God's covenant is a relation of fellowship and communion of life in which God is become our God and we His people. This was God's word to Abraham, "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." Gen. 17:7. To speak of baptism only as a washing in Jesus' blood and Spirit is to ignore the blessing established by it, namely that God in Christ is become our God. In baptism God says to His people washed in Jesus' blood, what He said to Abraham, I will be thy God. Baptism is a sign and confirmation of these blessings. It also has the same meaning and significance that circumcision had, which was a token of the covenant (Gen. 17:11), a seal of the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:11), a pledge of the regenerating grace of God in a circumcised heart (Deut. 30:6), and a seal upon the covenant. Baptism and circumcision are in fact the same thing in different form, both signs and seals of our incorporation into God's covenant, founded on one work of God in Jesus' death (Col. 2:11, 12).

What Jesus by His instruction concerning baptisms now teaches is that the Gentiles, "all nations," are now brought into the name of God and covenant fellowship with Him. That the Gentiles who were once aliens from the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12) are now brought nigh by His blood (Eph. 2:13) and made fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God (Eph. 2:19). Baptism is the New Testament form of the sign and seal of God's covenant and our incorporation into it and its blessings. It is an outward and visible sign and seal of an invisible spiritual reality which God bestows upon His elect. As the Lord's Supper was given to replace the sacrifices of the Old Testament and the Passover as a new testament in Jesus' blood, so baptism is a sign and seal of incorporation into the blood of Christ, which is both the true circumcision of Christ (Col 2:11) and the sign and seal of God's covenant in the New Testament. We are baptized "in the name" of the triune God.

As to infant baptism, this is simply the consistent teaching of God's Word concerning baptism. The children of believers have never been excluded from God's covenant, from the blessings of Christ's death and life in Christ. God's promise is, "I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee." That covenant bond God wills to establish "in their generations," Gen. 17:7. Jesus' testimony, "of such is the kingdom of God," Mark 10:14, speaks the same language. That He took young children in His arms and blessed them (Mark 10:16), testifies against those who would introduce their own invention of children's exclusion. It is exactly because they are included in the covenant, church, and kingdom of God, of which inclusion baptism is the sign and seal, and God has put His name on them, that the Apostle can say to parents, "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," Eph. 6:4. One does not nurture a dead tree but a living plant. Children are addressed, as well as adults, as fellow saints in the epistles and called to honor parents for the Lord's sake.

As to the misuse and corruption of Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," by which some try to exclude children from baptism, by excluding them from faith and therefore also salvation, it is to be rejected. The text itself is a promise accompanying the commission to preach the gospel on the mission field, not a command about how to administer baptism. This error of the Baptist contradicts the Savior, Who speaks of these "little ones that believe in me," Matt. 18:6. This error of exclusion also involves a failure to interpret Scripture with Scripture, for the practice of the apostles was, upon the conversion of the Gentiles, that a believer and then his household were baptized. Thus it was with the Philippian jailor, Lydia, and Cornelius. Thus also Paul speaks of baptizing "the household of Stephanas," I Cor. 1:16. At issue is whether there are two kinds of salvation, the one organic, a living unity as God saves His people from generation to generation in the Old Testament and a different God with a different salvation which is individualistic in the New Testament. Such false individualism is not taught in Scripture. At issue is really the gospel of grace, that God saves His people in Christ. It is His work in us personally (Eph 2:8) and His work also with a believer and his seed ( Gen. 17:7). God puts His name upon us in Christ and takes us to Himself, and not man who saves himself.

By Rev. Thomas Miersma, Missionary Pastor

Index to articles:

What Jesus said about...