When I was a newly converted Christian at seventeen years old, I was told by many of my friends from youth group the next step was to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. As someone who was baptised as an infant in the Catholic faith, I was utterly confused as to why I would need a second baptism.
“Being baptised as an infant doesn’t count!” one friend of mine told me. “It is a public declaration and a personal choice to ‘seal the deal’ you’ve made with God. You can’t do that when you’re a baby!”
Although it was a fair point, I was still hesitant to make such a dramatic decision. I felt as though if I chose to get re-baptised, I might as well have slapped my parent’s faces for their efforts in trying to raise me with Catholic values – it would not have been honorable of me to do so. However, I was in for an even bigger surprise! Not only did I find out how apprehensive some people were about infant baptism, there was also a lot of division among Christians about what baptism really means.
When I was 19, I witnessed one of my close friends, along with several others, gathered at a river bank for baptism for the first time. The youth pastor immersed each of them over their heads in the water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Even though it was an adult baptism, I was taken aback by the fact they used the same words a Catholic priest would have used in baptising infants – the Trinitarian formula.
One of my former friends who was a strong advocate of the KJV-only movement told me about her frequent experiences with demonic attacks after her initial baptism. She told me they apparently stopped after she was re-baptised in the name of Jesus instead of the typical Trinitarian formula. I had asked her about further details of these events, but she was often vague in her explanations while beating around the bush. I’m usually quite skeptical when I hear stories of supernatural events from other people, especially when it comes to demonic encounters. I have no doubt we live in a spiritual world, but I often wonder if some Christians confuse satanic opposition with minor human adversity.
Despite this, my friend was adamant the only proper way to be baptised was in no other name but Jesus. This was largely because the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible and she believed it was a misleading term that leaned towards polytheism. This struck me as odd, even as someone who was fairly new to faith in Christ. My understanding of the orthodox view of the Godhead was the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all separate persons but united as one (not separate deities, to be clear).
She had often reprimanded me for defending my reasoning for not getting re-baptised, especially when I suggested talking to a pastor for input or quoted passages from her own Bible such as,
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” – Matthew 28:19 KJV
“Jesus is God!” she reacted. “If you don’t get re-baptised in the name of Jesus, you will lose your salvation!”
Long story short, our friendship was short-lived. I truly wish her the best, despite our heated theological disagreements. But I refused to back down because, yes, I certainly believe Jesus is God; but He is the Son and not the Father. If I were to sit on a three-legged stool, I wouldn’t cut off two legs and try to balance myself on one leg to sit comfortably. When I pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I am acknowledging all three persons of God and not just His human form alone. If baptism had to be strictly done in Jesus’ name, I feel as though the majority of orthodox Christian conversions around the globe would be invalidated because many of them are done in the Trinitarian formula. It is also worth noting, there are many other church denominations (Jehovah’s Witnesses for example) who reject Christ’s divinity as the Son of God, so their implications of baptising in Jesus’ name would be much different because their views of who Jesus really is does not align with what He says in John 10:30,
“I and the Father are one.”
Another hot debate I’ve had with fellow believers was whether baptism was a form of ‘works salvation.’ The most commonly dissected verse was Mark 16:16,
“Whoever will have believed and been baptised will be saved. Yet truly, whoever will not have believed will be condemned.” (CPDV)
For the most part, it was unanimously agreed upon between me and my peers that baptism is an act of obedience out of faith. However, our debates became an endless ‘chicken-or-egg’ argument that was never resolved. One could easily conclude that a believer should be baptised without necessarily following through – to just have faith and everything will work out, right? To be honest, I’ve found myself to be quite unsatisfied with such a mindset largely due to my views on justification.
The most compelling thing I find is the Bible does not explicitly condemn infant baptism. From what I’ve read, entire families were received at the moment of their conversion (Acts 16:15, 1 Corinthians 1:16). At the Brethren church I attended in my 20’s, it was common for the elders to perform baby dedications for families who wished to raise their children in the Christian faith. Even without the use of water immersion, I find this to be highly reminiscent of what would be considered sacramental in raising children in the Christian faith. It is worth noting most liturgical churches like Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Anglicans also view infant baptisms as a sacrament as well as a public declaration in introducing their children into the kingdom of God. These churches also hold the Sacrament of Confirmation, which is a way of renewing their baptismal vows to pursue their faith in a similar manner an older married couple would renew their marriage vows.
One of the most common arguments I’ve heard is children below the age of reason cannot wilfully make a choice to become baptised. Seems like a very grey area to me. When I consider Jesus’ words, “Let the children come to me,” it makes me wonder, at what point can a child willfully pursue God on their own? When it comes to introducing children into the family of God, does this mean infants and younger children are meant to be excluded until they can wrap their minds around it?
Should I tell my own kids that they could not bear my last name until they’re smart enough? Probably not.
If parents want to instill their children with the same values, they should be free to do so. Regardless of whether a person is baptized as an infant or an adult by choice, the possibility of choosing a different lifestyle afterwards is never out of the equation. I can recall several occasions as an adult when I was faced with a moral dilemma and have chosen what appealed to my own desires over what I knew was right. I’ve also had several Christian friends who chose a completely opposite direction after their baptism in adulthood. This testifies to me God’s grace is not irresistible like many Calvinists would argue. If the angels knew God’s grace firsthand and rebelled with Lucifer anyway, doesn’t this mean we as humans can willfully choose a life outside of the faith even after baptism?
Out of all the theological debates I’ve had with fellow believers, no other topic has frustrated me to the point of insanity other than baptism. Shouldn’t we be rejoicing when someone is welcomed into the family of God rather than being overly critical about when it happens?
If we confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, maybe it’s best that we stop it with the baptism-shaming.
“And indeed, in one Spirit, we were all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether servant or free. And we all drank in the one Spirit.”
– 1 Corinthians 12:13 CPDV