Sorry about the lag time between parts two and three–busy with the kids. Also, thanks to John for mentioning these on the illustrious Methoblog. If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is part one and here is part two.
To review, in my first post, I said that a better question about baptism to begin with than the typical, “What does baptism do?” is instead, “What does baptism mean?” Then, I offered two more questions for the bible to answer on our way to answering the question of baptism’s meaning.
1. What did biblical writers say about baptism? In other words, what meanings are associated with baptism from the biblical writers?
2. What did people in the bible do? In other words, what was their practice of baptism?
In answering the first question, one Scripture I neglected to share that I usually think of is Acts 2:41-47:
Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church—about three thousand in all. They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. (NLT)
Also, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13:
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only one body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into Christ’s body by one Spirit, and we have all received the same Spirit. (NLT)
These two verses from Luke and Paul express that baptism involves being intiated into a community centered in Christ whose lives (and life together) are lived in a particular way. So, baptism initiates persons into a community that has a particular Way of life that is centered in God, as revealed ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ, and as energized and formed by the Holy Spirit. Luke says this through his narrative; Paul touches on it through the situational teaching in his letter.
Now I’d like to move on to the second question, “How did people in the bible practice baptism?” To answer this question, I’d like to look at the book of Acts. But before I do that, let me say a word about Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism is not the same as Christian baptism. That said, Jesus’ baptism is instructive for Christian baptism. For one thing, Jesus’ identity was proclaimed at his baptism in terms of his relationship with God the Father: “You are my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Also, it marked the beginning of his ministry. These two elements, we connect to the meaning of Christian baptism: identity and ministry.
In the book of Acts, people were baptized more or less in two scenarios (Scripture references are examples, but, of course, not exhaustive):
1. Upon making a personal faith decision
Acts 2 – Three thousand people were baptized of the crowd that heard Peter’s first sermon.
Acts 8:26-40 –The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized after hearing the Good News through the witness of Philip.
2. Belonging to a household in which the leader makes a personal faith decision
Acts 16:11-15 – Lydia, a businesswoman, receives the message and her household is baptized along with her.
Acts 16:25-34 – Paul and Silas’ jailor believes in Jesus Christ and his household is baptized along with him.
Because the biblical cultures were community-oriented instead of individual-oriented (like modern American culture), it is reasonable to conclude that there were infants or others within these households who were baptized before professing faith for themselves. At the very least, we may not conclude from the biblical accounts that infants or others who did not profess individual faith prior to receiving baptism were not baptized within a household in which the leader became a Christian.
UPDATE: Some thoughts on baptism, part four is here.