Baptism - Not Just a Symbol, But a Seal
Few issues distinguish denominations and churches from one other as much as baptism. Many groups overemphasize baptism - believing that one is not saved until they are baptized. Other groups undervalue baptism - believing that it's just a symbol and not that important to the Christian life.
From what we read about baptism in the New Testament, this is a very important part of the Christian life. Almost all the calls to salvation in the Bible are paired with a call to baptism. Baptism is the visual representation of the spiritual act of being buried like Christ and raised to new life in the Spirit (Romans 6:4).
Like nearly all Protestants from the Reformation onward, we believe that salvation is by grace through faith, and that is a gift of God (Ephesians 2). This means that while baptism is always meant to be the next step in the spiritual journey, it is not literally required for salvation. One text to further support this is Jesus' promise of heaven to the thief on the cross (Luke 23). Here we see no baptism, yet salvation being promised by our Savior.
It's my opinion that most of our Christian traditions around CoaH actually undervalue baptism as opposed to overvaluing it. In our attempts to explain how baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation, we actually strip the ordinance of it's power and significance. Baptism is a place where God "meets with believing hearts to give them grace, assurance, and blessing" (Hammet, 40 Questions about Baptism and the Lord's Supper, pg. 152).
Baptism is more than just a sign, rather, it is a seal. A helpful analogy can be provided by marriage. Our faith can be compared to two people deeply in love with one another and committed for life. But it is the ceremony of marriage that seals those two in an official sense. Their love is being celebrated, confessed, sealed, and confirmed. Through the ordinance of baptism, we see new believers confess their commitment to Christ and initiated into the Christian community (This analogy is borrowed from Hammet, pg. 103).
We're planning on celebrating baptism on Easter Sunday, April 16th. Join me on April 9th during the 11AM in the cafeteria to talk more about this and all your other questions about baptism!
- Pastor Fletcher