he whole congregation erupted in cheers and applause. It was wonderful a high and holy moment I will never forget. Ninety-six-year-old Milburn was stepping into the baptistery to declare his faith in Jesus.
Since Milburn had moved in with his son, he had been attending our church faithfully for about three years. I assumed he was a follower of Jesus, referring to him as “Brother Hindmon.” I was wrong. Milburn had never given his heart to Christ.
Each Sunday he would turn down his hearing aids during the praise and worship. Our music was not quite his cup of tea. Yet, he always turned them up again for the sermon. One day as I was greeting Milburn, his son said, “Dad, tell Pastor Chapman what has happened.”
With a big smile, he said, “I got saved!” A look of astonishment came over my face. His son said, “He’s been listening closely to your messages for weeks and weeks, and he decided to give his heart to Jesus.” Then Milburn smiled and said, “I thought it was about time!”
As Milburn was exiting the baptistery, waving to the crowd as he went, a young boy began his descent into the water. That young boy was my six-year-old grandson. His dad—my son—met him in the water and baptized Jacob as a follower of Christ.
There was almost a century between Jacob and Milburn, but the grace of God and the beauty of baptism was still the same. There were many others baptized that day as well, reminding us “the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 100:5 RSV).
Is Baptism Necessary?
Christians and churches often disagree about baptism. We tend to swing between two extremes. We either make baptism too important or too unimportant. We either deify it or trivialize it. Both sides are equally perilous.
Baptism is necessary, but it is not necessary for salvation. We do not find Jesus in the waters of baptized once we have found him through faith. So, it is necessary if we are going to obey Scripture. For instance, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples . . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19 NIV).
Baptism is necessary if we are to be a New Testament church. In the Book of Acts and the Epistles, we discover every convert was baptized—from the massive three thousand on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41) to a single household in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:16) to one man from Ethiopia (Acts 8:38).
The Importance of Baptism for a Believer
Although baptism is not the means by which we are saved, it is the means by which we declare our salvation. In the waters of baptism, a believer goes public with his or her faith. Since the revivalist movements of the last 150 years, we have come to think of going forward at an invitation or altar call as the public profession of faith. While there is nothing wrong with this practice, it is not the biblically mandated declaration of one’s faith. It is in baptism we are to declare we are not our own—that we have been bought by Christ’s blood and are now part of His community of faith. We declare to heaven and earth that we are followers of Christ.
Baptism also helps believers understand the spiritual truth of what has happened to them through their faith in Christ. Their old man (the person they once were) has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6). Their sins are washed away (1 John 1:9), and they are raised to a new life (2 Cor. 5:17). The invisible work of the Holy Spirit is visually dramatized in the baptism.
The Importance of Baptism for the Church
Baptism is another means for the church to proclaim the gospel. What preaching is for our ears, baptism is for our eyes. We see the essentials of the Gospel in the simple beauty of baptism. Baptism proclaims the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the capstone of God’s redemption plan. Baptism reveals the beauty of the Cross and the darkness of sin. It proclaims Jesus as the hope of the world.
Baptism is a great time of celebration for a local church. Here it sees the fruit of its labors for the sake of the Gospel. It is easy for a church to be caught up with church work (programs, budgets, committees, etc.) and miss the work of the church. The work of the church is changed lives through the Gospel. In baptism, the church is again reminded of its mission of disciple-making. Whether it be one person or a hundred being baptized, the church joins the rejoicing of the angels in heaven (see Luke 15:7).
Making Baptism Special
Let’s give baptism its proper place in the life of our churches. A simple first step is to schedule it. Whether you baptize in a baptistery, a lake, a creek, or the ocean, put baptism on your church calendar (once a year, quarterly, monthly—whatever works) and pray and plan toward it. Don’t wait until someone asks to be baptized; announce the baptism. Trust God for new converts and rejoice when they come.
At least once a year, preach on baptism. We get what we preach! If you want people to be baptized, preach it. On the day you preach your baptism message, let people know the message will be followed by an opportunity for baptism. Call people to faith. Call people to the waters of baptism.
In addition to those who come prepared to be baptized, be ready for those who want to follow Christ on the spot—spontaneous baptism, just like the Book of Acts! Have extra towels, robes, or other appropriate “baptizing apparel” available.
Recently at our church, I preached on baptism and faith in Christ. We already had 12 people signed up to be baptized. At the conclusion of the message, another 20 adults stepped out to declare their faith in Jesus! What a great day it was! New converts! New declarations of faith!
Prepare people for baptism. Provide materials (brochure, CD, information on your website, etc.) that explain the essentials of baptism. Do not assume a certain level of biblical literacy. This is a great opportunity for the church. However, it means we must be on our game with materials and methods to orient people to the purpose and meaning of baptism.
Learn to translate the biblical information for nonchurch minds. Put it in words and vernacular they can understand. Have a high school student or a new believer critique it. You may also want to provide your materials in age-related formats: designed for children, teens, and adults.
Consider printing baptismal invitation cards. Give several to each person who signs up for baptism, and encourage them to invite family and friends to their baptism. This is a great way for them to share their faith and to let others hear and see the Gospel.
In the last three years, God has done some amazing things in our church. We have baptized 172 people! Each baptismal service renews the motivation of our congregation for the mission of Jesus entrusted to us.
A year after I baptized Milburn Hindmon, God took him to heaven. As I spoke at his funeral, I shared the story of the baptism I will never forget. I told the gathering of family and friends what Milburn had told me about accepting Christ: “Well,I thought it was about time.” With his words, I challenged them, “Isn’t it about time some of you gave your life to Christ?”
And what about my grandson Jacob? He is about to enter middle school. He is a solid follower of Jesus who amazes me with his devotion to Christ. He took his first stand for Jesus in the waters of baptism. There will be many more times he will have to take a stand for his faith. None will be greater than his first.
Lead them to the water—young and old! God’s love and faithfulness endures to every generation!