B is for Baptism

Baptism, like atonement yesterday, is one of those topics that is vitally important to the Christian tradition but which has developed and evolved over time to have a multiplicity of perspectives.B-Baptism

Let’s talk about the second aspect first.

Sprinkling, pouring and immersing in water are the 3 main methods. There are churches that have fonts built in, others have a basin they pull out when needed. Some have baptismal tanks at the back of the platform. My favorite are the tanks built below the stage that can be uncovered when needed.
For groups that do no do baptisms during the worship service, some groups go to a member’s house and gather around the swimming pool. Other groups go to the nearest lake, river, or ocean.

Here are four aspects of baptism that intrigue me:

1- I grew up in a tradition that did ‘believer’s baptism’ and so we ‘dedicated’ infants to the Lord. I now work in a tradition that baptizes babies and then has confirmation for teens. I see the strength of both … and the weakness. I wish that we could combine these two and that churches who do A) immersion and B) believer’s baptism also had confirmation class in the build up. I’m sure somebody out there does this but I have not found them.

2 – My evangelical background doesn’t do ‘sacraments’ as much as ‘ordinances’. Baptism and communion we ordinances because Jesus A) did them and B) commanded them. I now work in a situation which is nearly ‘catholic’ by my evangelical sensibilities. It is not just sacramental but practically sacerdotal.*

What intrigues me is that for the nearly unanimous expression of baptism in the Eastern and Western, Catholic-Protestant-Orthodox, ancient and current churches … there is no unity or uniformity about how it should be practiced.

In fact, people have historically died over this. Christians have killed other types of christians over this issue! Even today, there are groups which will not recognize (or transfer) members of another group who practice baptism differently.

For something so central to the christian practice you would think there would be more continuity.

3 – Baptism is a great example of a major difference between Christianity and other religions like Islam. I find it really illustrative.

There is nothing geographic about the christian practice of baptism.

  • We don’t have to go to the Jordan River (like Jesus did)
  • We don’t even have to baptize in a river.
  • We don’t have to face East of Jerusalem when baptized.
  • We don’t have a specific time of year when we baptize.

I am fascinated with how little geography is involved in Christianity. I have written about it before. Sometimes people use the word ‘universal’ when they talk about some aspect of christianity. I shy away from that. Its not that it is universal so much as it is not earthly (or earthy).

This is something that concerns me very much.

4) The New Testament stories of baptism do not happen in a vacuum. Many people have no idea that part of the Temple worship of Jesus’ time involved frequent baptism – or ceremonial washing. There were actual permanent pools with two sets of steps – in and out – for purification.

This is so important to know and I am shocked at how many bible-believing people don’t know this biblical scholarship or background. John the Baptizer being A)outside of Jerusalem and B) in a river not a man-made pool is a massive critique and protest against the corrupt religious-political-finacial systems of the Temple religion.

What John and (later) Jesus’ followers were doing was not original to them nor was it the sentimental ceremony it is often portrayed as. What a fascinating way to begin a ministry. It is impacts the whole rest of the gospel … and most people I talk to read it without this context or knowledge.

I would love to hear your thoughts!


* whereas sacrament is concerned with elements (like bread or water) , sacerdotal is concerned with who have perform this sacred ceremonies. ‘Priests only’ is the elevation of certain commissioned individuals being the only ones allowed to. 

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Maybe my thoughts would be best left for 'S' which it might be likely that you'll cover 'sacrament' and/or 'salvation', because as a sacrament to some, baptism is, if not essential, very very important. My understanding of baptism is that it's largely symbolic (another 'S' to cover maybe...) so I don't get the purpose of it as a sacrament. Perhaps I am overly influenced by Catholic ideas of sacrament. So why do infant baptism, thus depriving the decision of that public acceptance of Christ with one's friends, family and congregation, if it's not a way to guarantee salvation of the innocent?

Love this series so far!

Patrick Frownfelter
Patrick Frownfelter

I didn't get baptized until I was 21, despite growing up in the church (the A/G is straight credo-baptism).  I was also in my senior year at Bible college.  I distinctly remember people offering to baptize me in a bathtub when I mentioned I hadn't been baptized at that point. 

Baptism was never something really pushed on me, even as a tradition (let alone a sacrament or ordinance).  In fact, I don't even really remember having the discussion growing up or even in theology class (I could have been browsing Facebook at the time, though). Even now, it's not something I deeply concern myself, and I'm not even fully sure as to why. I mean, I get that Jesus did it, so it's probably something we as Christians should do (I do remember reading how the ancient Christians would do it; VERY big deal). Perhaps I'm not taking this as seriously as I should.


Hi, thanks for this post and series! I find this post really interesting. I grew up in a tradition that did not practice baptism, the church I attend now does, but not as a requirement for membership....I remain unbaptised.

Your comments about Islam made me think of the ritual washing before one enters the mosque, appropriate preparation for the coming of God. But Jesus has done that for me at Easter, atonement was achieved. So I still contemplate what baptism is and does a lot. The gospels seem to indicate that Jesus was doing a new thing, baptising in a new way, different from (eg) John the Baptist, but what and how? Is baptism as we practice it today only a symbol for what happened on the cross, a rite of passage into the church, or does it do something of its own? Sure symbols are meaningful ways of making the abstract more real, but for someone who has believed without baptism for many years, would it add anything?

Once again, thanks for this post and conversation - I do feel a bit odd wondering these things when everyone else seems to agree on the fact it should be done!

david matthews
david matthews

Hi, I downloaded the free Peter Rollins book yesterday, Friday, while I was away from home; I used my tablet to do this. I assumed that it would also appear on my PC at home because I am unable to open the download on my tablet. However, it is not on my PC. So, I have the free book of 420MB on my tablet but cannot open it - I suspect because it's too big(?). Is there any remedy for this. I tried to re-download it but, of course,  got the messgae that it has already been downloaded.

BoSanders moderator

@Katsharp SO glad you wrote in!  Many interesting points in your comment - I'll pick just a few (feel free to write in again if you want) 

i am curious about the tradition that did not baptize.  Can you talk about that? 

Symbol: I grew up (and was Ordained) in a tradition that said "an outward sign of an inward truth" about 'ordinances'.  This is why sacramentalism is not really my cup of tea. 

I DO have thoughts on why Baptism matters and why every believer should be baptized :)  but it is late 

Thank you so much for writing in.  I would love to hear more from you.   -Bo 


It was The Salvation Army. I'm not sure if there are any other similar denominations. (And I'm in Australia, I'm not sure if things are quite the same in America) As part of a reaction to the "once saved always saved" baptism guarantees entry to heaven types, TSA decided to not do baptism at all. Christianity had to be lived, worked and proclaimed. (No-one (afaik) ever had a problem with anyone being baptised as part of their journey it was just seen as non-essential and not made part of normal church life. Communion was treated the same way). Interestingly, they had to come up with a whole new bunch of symbols and rites (even using the same line "outward sign of an inward commitment"!) of membership as the movement grew - I guess that's partly why I see the symbols as something God gave us to fulfil human need, rather than things that God requires.

I would be thrilled if my daughter told me she wanted to be baptised - it would be a symbol of her beginning her adult faith. For me it sits awkwardly- for a start I think my pastor would be shocked to find out I haven't been "done" yet and although I've found a different church home, I guess I'm still somewhat loyal to the tradition I grew up with - the one thing that gives me pause is that Jesus did say to baptize!

Thanks again for this conversation!


@Katsharp Salvationist here too! I'm also in Australia... do we know each other??!!??

I don't know about too many other traditions, but I'm fairly sure the Quakers don't practice baptism either.

The Salvation Army's reasons for not practicing the sacraments are more historical than theological, although we created a theology to explain our practice (or lack thereof) fairly promptly. Of all things the problem was the Salvation Army's insistence on ordaining (sorry, commissioning) women. The established churches could turn a blind eye to street preaching, using brass bands in worship and even women preachers, but they could not countenance women administering the sacraments. Pressure was brought to bear and the Army had to do something. Rather than restrict presiding over the sacraments to men, they were withdrawn altogether.

Sorting out the theology was easy. We already had a low view of the sacraments, seeing them as the outward expression of the inward reality rather than a means of grace. You're right about some of the popular understanding though, which was quite at variance with our official theology---it was widely believed, apparently, that baptism was sufficient for salvation as opposed to a simple picture that carried no soteriological significance at all. It wasn't hard to take the obvious step and substitute new symbols.