Reflecting on Truth #44
New City Catechism Question 44
Q: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; it signifies and seals our adoption into Christ, our cleansing from sin, and our commitment to belong to the Lord and to his church.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. . . . (Matthew 28:19)
Why does this matter?
Baptism is not a word that we can plainly understand in English because it is imported from Ancient Greek. In Greek, it literally means dipping, plunging, submersion, or as we commonly understand it, immersion. Immersion gives us a picture of full and thorough washing of the entire body. This physical act of immersion signifies the spiritual act and reality of a full and thorough cleansing of our sin by the blood of Christ, and consequently signifies and seals our status as sons and heirs of God in Christ by adoption.
Christ, who instituted this ordinance, commands His disciples to make disciples of people. This act of discipleship does not only include evangelism and didactic. It also includes baptism. While baptism does not in and of itself grants any salvific effect to us, baptism is still a matter of obedience as much as evangelism and didactic are, because our Lord commands it. He also instructs us specifically to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This tells us that even in the act of baptism, we remember the very nature of God which reminds us of His works of creation, providence, and salvation.
Baptism is normatively not a private affair. But because baptism is a public declaration of our allegiance to Christ, it signifies our commitment to belong to the Lord and to his church. This goes both ways. We are committing ourselves to the church, while the church is committing themselves to us. All these are done, not for the sake of certain individuals or certain groups within the church, but for the sake of the Lord and both the parts and the whole of the church inasmuch as it is biblical and towards Christ-like maturity.
What does this mean for us?
Baptism is the immersion of a professed believer in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the triune God, in the water, signifying his/her death, burial, and resurrection into a new life in Christ’s own death, burial, and resurrection. This baptism is not optional. Unless there are some ailments that genuinely prevent a Christian from going through the act of baptism, baptism is an act of obedience and part of being a disciple of Christ. But at the same time, as an exception, we ought to be compassionate towards a Christian who is genuinely unable (though willing) to go through the act of baptism, recognizing baptism does not in and of itself save.
Because baptism is a public declaration of someone’s faith, we do it in the context of a local church. The person baptized does not just become a part of the universal church, he/she becomes a part of a local church, taking an active part in the life of the local church. In fact, we don’t just do baptism, we celebrate baptism, because baptism is a celebration of a new birth. How do we celebrate the new birth of the children of our loved ones? What’s special about the celebration of baptism is that we don’t just focus on the person baptized. Instead, both the person baptized and the congregation remember our triune God and what each person of the Godhead has done to us, the church, and the world in creation, providence, and salvation.
The person baptized rejoices because they now have a new family in Christ. The congregation rejoices because they now have a new family member in Christ. What a glorious salvation in Christ through his church. Beloved, we are one family in Christ.
May the baptisms happening in our church remind us of the goodness of God shown in Christ. Consequently, may we be motivated to joyfully obey Christ and his ordinances.
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