There’s been some talk recently about some churches practicing “spontaneous baptisms” as a part of their services. Without getting into the validity of that specific practice, the largest complaint seems to be that quick baptisms like that downplay the significance of baptism and church membership. On the other hand, there are churches that require a person to jump through various hoops of lengthy classes and pastoral interviews before even allowing for baptism. After all, baptism is a first step of church membership, and to have a regenerate church membership you have to make sure the members are believers. It is something to think about: quick baptism or delayed baptism?
So, let’s consider for a moment: what does the biblical picture present to us concerning baptism and discipleship?
We know baptism is meant to be a post-conversion experience expressing our union with Jesus in salvation (Matthew 28, Romans 6). Baptism is for believers only. But how sure must we be about a person’s profession before we baptize them? One problem we face is that in answering this question we are left with no prescription (such as wait X number of days or do Y number of classes) but only descriptions about what the early church did. Yet from that example, surely we can draw a solid conclusion.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came, Peter preached, 3000 people received his word and were baptized. In Acts 6, the Spirit led Philip to a eunuch reading Isaiah, Philip explained about Jesus, the eunuch believed and was baptized. In Acts 9, Paul was knocked to the ground and blinded, God sent Ananias to find him, Paul’s sight was restored and he was baptized. In Acts 10, Peter preaches to the gentiles, the Holy Spirit comes upon them similar to at Pentecost, and they were baptized. We’ll stop there.
Granted in certain cases, there was some insight we don’t receive today—Philip and Ananias being told by the Spirit and mass tongues-speaking for the gentiles—but the pattern in each case is the same: baptism follows salvation ASAP. Most likely in the case of the 3000, all the apostles had to go on was the profession of the people. There is no way they could have spent significant time interviewing each person. Likewise, today, the best way we can tell the “moment/occurrence” of salvation is a person’s profession. Now if they don’t understand the gospel, period, we need to work on that first. But if they rightly profess faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, the pattern is that baptism is to follow as soon as possible. Maybe not spontaneous baptism, but certainly quick baptism.
But baptism is also never left alone: you’re baptized? Check. You’re a member, you’re good! No, but as Jesus said—baptize them, and teach them all that I commanded. Baptism is the recognition a person is a disciple and then they are moved into a slow, life-long process of discipleship within the local church. We teach them about Jesus and what it means to obey, we rebuke and correct their sin and wrong thinking, and we train them for righteousness.
It’s what we do here that I think is the real issue. Our problem as Baptists is not that we baptized too many people too quickly, or even that we baptize people who are not Christians though we initially thought they were. The problem is we don’t deal with people who fall into sin, remain in sin, and quit the fellowship of the church. You know—those millions of people who are on our roles because they got dunked at some point in time, then quit showing up.
Simple fact of the matter: it is a sin to not be regularly involved in the fellowship of a local church (Hebrews 10:23-25). But instead of going to the people, confronting their sin, pleading for their repentance and return, and removing them if they refuse (Matthew 18); we just let them keep on their merry way untouched, or we move them to an “inactive” role.
In my opinion, quick baptism is the biblical model, but so is a quick move to follow up with slow discipleship, and a quick response to at least try and go after those who seem to want to slip away.