Within a seven-day time frame, I was approached by two people asking to be baptized. One “reminded” me that churches of Christ baptize immediately, as opposed to most Protestant groups which baptize monthly, quarterly, or when it is convenient.
It is true and appropriate for the Lord’s church to immerse people relatively quickly. The reason is simple: immersion into Jesus Christ is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), and such immersion unites one to Christ (Romans 6:3-4). It is an obvious result of biblical teaching, then, to immerse soon after a confession of faith in Christ.
There is also biblical precedent for such a practice. The Jews on Pentecost were baptized the same day they heard Peter’s preaching (Acts 2:41). The Samaritans in Acts 8 were baptized subsequent to the expression of their faith (Acts 8:12), and Simon did as well (vs. 13). Also in that chapter, the Ethiopian treasurer was immersed on the road home, following the confession of his faith (vs. 38).
From the time Saul of Tarsus saw Jesus on the road to Damascus, three days passed before he was immersed, but his immersion was immediately subsequent to Ananias, the Christian, visiting him (Acts 9:18). On that occasion, Ananias told Saul to quit delaying and be baptized (Acts 22:16).
When Peter preached to the first Gentile convert, Cornelius, he informed him about Who Jesus was. Once Peter and the Jews were convinced by the Holy Spirit that a Gentile could obey the Gospel, Cornelius was baptized immediately (Acts 10:48). Paul met a woman named Lydia at a river side, and she was immersed soon after her heart was opened by the preaching of the Word of God (Acts 16:14-15). In that same chapter, the pagan jailer in Philippi was immersed “immediately,” “the same hour” (vs. 33).
One last example of conversion in the book of Acts is found in chapter 18. The text suggests that as soon as the Corinthians “believed,” they were “baptized” (vs. 8). Again, knowing the purpose of baptism, it is easy to understand why such a practice was done.
Yet, in the two situations that happened to me recently, I put off baptizing. Here is why. How much did they know? Did they believe in the God of the Bible? Did they have any conviction about the nature of Jesus? Did they understand what sin is? Baptism is not a point on a checklist—“Okay, I have done that now; I am ready for heaven!”
In every case in Acts we have highlighted above, there was always preaching and teaching that occurred before the immersion took place, albeit sometimes it seemed to be a very short period of time. But what type of “prior” knowledge did the individual have? We do not know. The treasurer had been studying Isaiah (Acts 8:32). Lydia and her fellow women had been praying and likely discussing the law (Acts 16:13).
Before I baptize someone, I like to at least get the candidate’s general knowledge of biblical history and God’s plan of salvation up to the point where the Jews were on the day of Pentecost. I feel I can do that in about four hours. After that, we will study those passages that discuss the mode and purpose of immersion.
One of the individuals who requested immersion from me, a man, had been watching Billy Lambert’s TV program. I studied with the man for four hours and baptized him for the forgiveness of sins, although the study stretched over a seven-day period (by his choice). He was appreciative that I took the time to explain more thoroughly what baptism was about. It also gave me more time to develop a relationship with him.
The other individual was a female, whose aunt had requested I baptize her. She has cancer. I visited with her and had prayer for her, for the cancer. I also left my initial lesson with her to study and to call me when she was ready to discuss the Scriptures. A month later, I have yet to hear from her.
As I said before, I say again with emphasis: baptism is not a point on a checklist. Until people understand what baptism does for them, they are not ready for baptism. And if they are not willing to study, do they have the conviction necessary to even be disciples of Christ (Luke 14:26-33; 2 Peter 2:21)?
Copyright © 2015 by Paul Holland, in Droplets of Living Water, December 29.