What Is the Significance of Baptism?
Not only are the subjects of baptism (babies or believers) debated, but the significance of baptism is debated as well. Doctrinal divergence runs the gamut from Quakers, who do not believe in physically baptizing followers, to Catholics, who believe in baptismal regeneration.
Among those who hold to baptismal regeneration, there is a variety of opinion. The Church of Christ holds that believers must be baptized to be saved; the Roman Catholic Church holds that baptism confers the grace of justification,10 thus dealing with the problem of original sin; and Lutherans hold that the sacrament of baptism involves a nonverbal communication of the gospel, which newborn babies can choose to accept or reject.
Reformed churches (Presbyterian Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church) hold to baptism as a sign of God’s election and calling. As Israel was separated unto God through circumcision, so children of the covenant are separated unto God through baptism. Those who mature to an age of reason ratify their baptism through a public profession of faith.
Many contemporary evangelical churches, including Baptists, Pentecostals, and Calvary Chapels, opt for a symbolic rather than sacramental11 view of baptism. In their view being submerged in baptism is symbolic of dying to our old lives and being buried. Emerging up out of the waters of baptism is symbolic of being raised with Christ to newness of life (Rom. 6:4-6).
While evangelicals debate secondary concepts surrounding baptism, there are essential teachings regarding baptism that must never be compromised. First, baptism is not necessary for salvation, but it is necessary to obey the command of Christ (Matt. 28:19-20). Furthermore, while baptism does not save us, it does publicly set us apart as those who are part of the community of faith (Rom. 6:5). Finally, a key passage concerning the significance of baptism is found in Romans 6:4-6. Here Paul pointed out that we are buried with Christ “through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Thus baptism represents our saving union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
This is an excerpt of article DB040 from the Christian Research Journal by Hank Hanegraaff.