One of the most bitterly contested teachings of the Bible within Protestantism is the meaning of Baptism. The great reformer Martin Luther largely embraced the historic Catholic understanding of Baptism, that it is a sacrament that brings God’s grace unconditionally to a sinner of any age and intellectual development. But beginning in the 1520s, a resistance movement arose that proclaimed a radically different idea of Baptism. Because they rejected the validity of all child Baptisms, all who wanted to be part of their movement were baptized again—hence their name, the Anabaptists (i.e., those baptized again). Although the Anabaptists as an organization did not survive, their ideas did, and great swaths of Protestantism today still reject infant Baptism. They believe that Baptism is a human ritual chosen and performed only by an informed and consenting adult who is of the “age of accountability.”
I doubt that this divide will ever be bridged until the Lord Jesus returns. But in the meantime, you need to know what to think. Here are some questions and answers from Scripture:
Q: What does Baptism actually do for people?
A: The Bible says:
Q: If Baptism is so important for salvation and it was only instituted at the time of Christ, how could people in Old Testament times be saved without it?
A: God used various ways to bring the gospel of the Savior to people in various ages of human history. For 1,500 years before Christ, for example, God’s forgiveness came to people through the sacrifices of animals in their place. The shed blood of these innocent victims would be sprinkled on people literally and figuratively for the forgiveness of their sins. Giant washbasins in front of the tabernacle and temple provided cleansing from sin for the priests who worked there.
At Christ’s command the blood sacrifices of animals are no longer needed because the Lamb of God has been slain on the cross to take away the sin of the world. In its place the Savior gave his Great Commission in Matthew 28:19,20 to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching them.
Q: Why baptize children? Aren’t children all innocent little angels until the “age of accountability”?
A: The Bible teaches that all people, little children included, are born with their hearts and minds already contaminated by sin and thus under God’s curse (the theological term is “original sin”).
Q: But very small children cannot choose Baptism freely.
A: The Bible presents Baptism primarily as something God does for the individual, not what the individual does for God. The reality of Baptism’s working is not conditional on the depths of one’s understanding or choosing.
Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.
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