Baptism


The Church of the Nazarene recognizes two sacraments. The first of these is baptism. The second of these is the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. Today, we will briefly cover the Church of the Nazarene's view on baptism. Our 12th Article of Faith states our view on baptism. Words in brackets are being removed from the language of the Article, and words in italics are being added:
We believe that Christian baptism, commanded by our Lord, is a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement [of Jesus Christ, to be administered to believers and declarative of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and full purpose of obedience in holiness and righteousness. Baptism being a symbol of the new covenant, young children may be baptized, upon request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training. Baptism may be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, according to the choice of the applicant.] and incorporation into the Body of Christ. Baptism is a means of grace proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. It is to be administered to believers indicating their full purpose of obedience in holiness and righteousness. As participants in the new covenant, young children and the morally innocent may be baptized upon request of parents or guardians. The church shall give assurance of Christian training. Baptism may be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion.
What is Baptism?

The Church of the Nazarene acknowledges that the act of baptism is a command given to us by Christ (Matthew 28:19). We are commanded to baptize as we spread the message of the Gospel. Thus, for a believer to avoid baptism is an act of disobedience. In addition, a minister of the Word who is able to baptize, but refuses baptism to a believer who seeks it is not being obedient to the command of Christ. Baptism, therefore, is a commandment that has implications for both the individual believer and for the minister who is able to baptize.

For the believer, baptism signifies the acceptance of the atonement that Christ made for our sins. Baptism by immersion paints a beautiful picture of dying with Christ and rising with Him to new life. The old self symbolically dies with Christ when he or she is plunged under the water. He or she symbolically rises with Christ to new life when he or she comes up from the water.

Baptism is also a sign of the covenant that Christ has made with the Church. In the words of Laurence Stookey, "The church is the community of his [Christ's] covenant, his family, the sons and daughters of God, adopted by grace. Baptism is the sign of the covenant, the sign of the birth that is not of flesh and blood but that comes as a gift from above. The sign is.....a bond of union between each Christian and all others who are in Christ."[1] Baptism is the means by which a person visibly becomes part of the covenant community. Do not confuse this with the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation. Baptism is a means of grace and a sign that one is in communion with Christ's visible body, but it does not confer salvation.

Modes of Baptism

The Church of the Nazarene recognizes three "modes" or types of baptism: immersion, pouring, and sprinkling. This is in contrast to other denominations, particularly Baptists, who believe that the only proper mode of baptism is immersion.

Those who believe that baptism by immersion is the only valid form of baptism believe so because of the Greek word βαπτίζω (baptizo), which is used in Scripture to describe baptism (Matthew 3:13-16; 28:19). This word literally means to "submerge" or "dip under." It is argued that, because the New Testament does not use any other word to describe baptism, therefore immersion is the only valid form of baptism. However, there are some passages on baptism that are not especially clear (see Acts 8:36-39, where "went down into the water" does not appear to indicate the mode of baptism, leaving the mode vague). Because of this, it does not make sense to be dogmatic on this issue.

Of some help in this is the early Christian document known as the Didache. It states,
And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
This document, which was definitely completed prior to 300 AD, and possibly as early as the late first/early second century, gives a clear indication that the early church did, in fact, practice baptism in forms other than immersion.

Who Should Be Baptized?

There is also some debate as to who can be baptized. Some denominations affirm that baptism is only for believers who are mature enough or capable of articulating their faith in Christ, thus excluding the young and some with mental issues from baptism. It is a sad fact that many have been turned away from full participation in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper due to such issues.

The primary argument for this type of baptism comes primarily from some of the examples in Scripture. However, some passages, such as Acts 2:38-39, appear less clear about the notion that only adults were baptized in the early church. While children are mentioned, we don't know the age or condition of those children. In addition to this, it has been argued that a parallel can be drawn between infant baptism and circumcision for Jewish males.

The Church of the Nazarene, however, recognizes that the young and morally innocent should not be excluded from the sacrament of baptism. The Church of the Nazarene allows the baptism of children and of the morally innocent. This is done in the context of parents and church family promising to provide Christian training to the child or morally innocent person being baptized. In short, the Church of the Nazarene allows for child baptism and the baptism of the morally innocent provided that parents or the church are able and willing to provide a Christian upbringing to the child. Outside of this context, it is my view that children should not be baptized.

As mentioned above, those who are professing Christians should obey Christ by undergoing baptism, and those who are able to administer this sacrament should not prohibit them from undergoing it.

Rebaptism and Emergency Baptism

There is a misconception that many Christians, including many pastors, have. Many Christians see baptism as a sacrament that introduces an individual to a particular denomination or other group of Christians. As a result, many end up with the erroneous view that they must be re-baptized should they change denominations or associate with another Christian group. This is not the case. From the theological perspective, at baptism, you become a member of the covenant community of the Church, not of a particular denomination. Baptisms done at a Baptist church should be accepted at a Nazarene Church, and vice-versa. In addition, a person who was baptized by pouring should not have to undergo baptism by immersion, or vice-versa.

There are also situations where individuals will request what have been termed "Emergency Baptisms". Often, these are requested for individuals who face imminent death. For example, a parent may request an "Emergency Baptism" for their newborn child who is expected to live less than 24 hours. Oftentimes, this kind of request is made out of a misunderstanding of the purpose of baptism. Some who request this believe that baptism is a guarantee of salvation. Those who believe such things about baptism need to be corrected on their understanding of salvation. Those who make such requests should have the correct view of baptism explained to them. It may be advisable for pastors to sympathize with the individual's concerns. It is my opinion that such situations should be handled delicately and on an individual basis.

Conclusion

 The Church of the Nazarene baptizes adults, children, and the morally innocent. We also baptize by one of three methods: immersion, pouring, or sprinkling. There is much more that could be said about baptism. Although he is not a Nazarene, Laurence Stookey offers an excellent overview of the topic of baptism in his book on the subject, and I owe much of my understanding of baptism to his work on the topic. If you have any more questions or comments about baptism, let me know in the comments.

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[1] Stookey, Laurence. Baptism: Christ's Act in the Church. p.16

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