NEW HARVEST’S POSITION ON BAPTISM
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There are two schools of thought that dominate the issue of baptism in the Christian Church. These could be loosely described as follows:
- Believer’s baptism based on conversion – Obviously this is the practice that typifies New Testament times when Christianity was started. New converts, having understood and been touched by the preaching of the Gospel, came to be baptised as an outward sign of their conversion experience. They would typically be stripped of their outer garment (leaving the old life behind), enter the water and be immersed (washing away the past, dying to self and rising to Christ), exit the water to be clothed in a white robe (purity, a fresh start) and be given a new name (Christian name). Believer’s baptism presumes an intellectual understanding of the Gospel, an inner conviction about sin, a desire to change and a commitment to Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
- Infant baptism based on Covenant – Once the Church was established and became the faith of the Roman Empire, parents were found to be baptising their children. It’s not clear when exactly the practise started, but it became the norm for Christian parents to present their infants to the Church for baptism. The practise takes its roots from the Old Testament concept of covenant. When God covenanted Himself to Israel it included all future generations, not just the people alive at the time. This covenant was symbolised in themselves and their children through the act of circumcision. The present understanding is that Christians have entered into the New Covenant with God through the death of Jesus, and that this covenant is extended to their children as well. Therefore the act of baptism is closely equated with the act of circumcision, administered to infants as a sign of their inclusion in the New Covenant.
Theological arguments around these two approaches have been heated, giving rise to different Church groupings and Church practices. Usually the “correct” approach has been tied to the Church group’s understanding of the Kingdom of God and how one becomes a member of that Kingdom. This has led some Churches to adopt a stance known as “baptismal regeneration”, implying that salvation is not complete unless it includes the act of baptism administered according to their particular approach.
NEW HARVEST’S POSITION
Our position at The New Harvest Christian Fellowship holds with believer’s baptism as an act of obedience in response to one’s salvation – an outward (public) expression of an inward condition (conviction / conversion). We do not, however, support the idea of “baptismal regeneration”. We believe that the primary requirement for salvation is faith in Jesus as Saviour and an ongoing relationship with Him which evidences His Lordship over us. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8 – 9) We believe that believer’s baptism enables Christians to identify with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection – thus dying to self and being born again in Christ. “…have you forgotten that when we became Christians and were baptised to become one with Christ Jesus, we died with him? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6: 3 – 4)
Due to our persuasion towards believer’s baptism, as opposed to infant baptism, we encourage parents to dedicate their parenting of their children to God at a special service in Church.
Our approach is therefore as follows: For parents who believe that salvation is the result of personal conviction and faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, it’s incongruous to speak of “dedicating” our children to God. Their lives are their own, and if these lives are to be dedicated to God they will need to make this commitment themselves. We as parents cannot make that kind of decision on our children’s behalf.
However, as parents we are able to strive to the best of our ability to apply Christian principles in the raising of our children so that through what happens in our home they will come to respect God and to know of His love for them; to strive to grow in our own relationship with the Lord so that our Christian lifestyle will be an example and not a hindrance to our children; and to commit to expose our children to the life of the Church in its worship and teaching with the intention that our children will be drawn into a love relationship with the Lord all of their own .
On this basis we encourage parents to stand before the congregation to give God thanks for the birth of their children and to dedicate themselves to raising their children in a manner which will eventually enable their children to encounter Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour.