Dear Timothy: To baptize or not to baptize.
Question: We have a couple at our church that is wanting to join and has been with us for a couple of years now. They love Jesus, but she was baptized as a teenage believer by sprinkling. As elders, we are wrestling with the question of should we require her to be baptized again by immersion? or is believers baptism by sprinkling good enough? Please help. ---------------- Dear Pastor, This is a great question and one we hear from every one of our church plants. Two driving decisions you must make:
1. How you define "baptism."
2. What precedent do you want to set early in your church and why?
Here are my thoughts:
1. Baptism means immersion. Since we already differentiate water baptism from spirit baptism, that only leaves us with a symbol of regeneration and a mode in which to display the symbol. so what picture does sprinkling paint? What is the biblical significance of water being sprinkled on a believer's head. What picture does immersion paint? The significance of burial and resurrection (Romans 6) demand immersion.
I would conclude that a person who is sprinkled after their conversion has made a public statement of their faith, but has not been baptized. So, I would say she has never been baptized although I would honor the confession of Christ she made by being sprinkled. Also, baptism by immersion is the only mode given in the New Testament. To do what Jesus did and to fulfill the Great Commission of "baptizing" them we need to follow the mode as closely as possible.
2. Consistency. If you allow for possible modes of baptism, then you are allowing division in your church on the level of a church ordinance. Now you may be thinking, "but this is not a primary doctrine, so we need to allow for some freedom." I think this is a categorical mistake. Ordinances do not have to be primary doctrines in order for them to be primary and demand unity in the local church. The proper mode of an ordinance is a primary function of the local church.
Imagine allowing members who have not been immersed and then teaching that you must be immersed? Then imagine your own church members telling others, "well I did not have to be immersed." Too muddy for me when clarity is needed. Also, would you make allowance for a significantly different mode of the Lord's Supper? Would you allow cookies and Kool-aid or Coca-cola and potato chips to function as the Bread and Cup?
I don't think I am being overtly or overly "baptist" here. I really do think clarity and consistency with our two church ordinances is essential for illustrating and commemorating the cross and the resurrection.
I would encourage this young woman to take the opportunity to be baptized as another milestone moment in her spiritual walk. I would tell her how excited you are for her to identify with Jesus the same way the rest of her church family has.