Debating Bible Basics Duncan Heaster  
email the author

14-4 A Sample Baptism Service

To give some idea of how a baptism can be performed properly, the following is an account of a baptism service performed by the the present writer in Hartlepool, England on a Saturday afternoon in November, 1990. However, it must be noted that baptism is fundamentally an immersion in water following a true repentance and belief of the Gospel. The ‘service’ is just an optional extra to give a suitable sense of importance to the occasion. The order of proceedings was as follows:-

- Opening prayer

- Reading of Romans chapter 6

- Short address about baptism (printed below; real names changed)

- Prayer

- Immersion of the person in a swimming pool

- Prayer

Baptism Address

There can be no doubt that today is the most important day in Dave’s life; in a few moments he will go under the water and rise fully “in Christ”, a seed of Abraham, having those glorious promises which make up the Gospel made to him.

The extreme simplicity of this act can be deceptive, yet Dave and all of us here fully believe that this dipping in water will associate him with the death and resurrection of Jesus, as we have read in Romans. 6 vs. 3-5.

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection”.

For a few moments let us try and imagine the scene at the resurrection of Jesus, because we have seen that when Dave comes up out of the water he will be associated with the rising up of Jesus from death.

We can imagine the freshness and silence of the night air, and the glorious feeling of new life within Jesus. He would have been able to see the lights of Jerusalem shimmering away in the distance; the people there were completely unaware of the wonderful thing that was happening so close to them - that a man was rising from the dead to newness of life.

And so as Dave rises from the water, the world around us has no appreciation of the glorious thing that is happening; all they can see, if they bother to look, is a small group of men and women walking to a swimming pool and one man dipping another. But as the Angels rejoiced at the resurrection of Jesus, so now, unseen to us, the Angels rejoice at one sinner who repents.

We have read in Romans 6 that we should “walk in newness of life” - the joy that Dave will now have should go with him as he walks onwards through life. As we have read, he will no longer be a slave of sin, but of God, doing His will as it is revealed in the Bible. It is tempting to reason that we should want freedom for ourselves, but by serving ourselves we are not free, we are slaves of sin. Dave is now changing masters, to serve God. At times it will seem that the apparent restraints which living the new life impose upon us are too much to bear, and we are tempted to try to be free of them. But if we do so, we will not be free, we will be serving sin again.

Paul explains in 1 Cor. 10:1,2, that our passing through the waters of baptism is like Israel passing through the waters of the Red Sea. They were baptised “in the cloud and in the sea” - there was water on both sides of them, and above them in the cloud. As they went through, “the clouds poured out water” (Ps. 77:17) - they were probably soaked through in the downpour. A kind of parable can be developed from this, with many lessons for us. Israel had been slaves in Egypt, living a pointless life, working hard in their slavery and serving the idols of Egypt. Through their experience of life they cried to God to find some way of escape, although they probably had no idea how He would answer them.

In reply God sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and then through the wilderness, to enter the Promised Land. Israel in Egypt were like Dave and all who come to baptism; now Dave has been led, as it were, to the shores of the Red Sea. Once he passes through the water, he will not immediately be in the Promised Land of the Kingdom, he will join the rest of us here in walking through the wilderness. God led Israel through the wilderness by an Angel, who was constantly with them by day and night. So, too, each of us has an Angel encamping around us, leading us through our lives towards salvation (Ps. 34:7; Heb. 1:14).

Israel were fed each day with manna, which Jesus interprets in John 6 as both Himself, and God’s Word. If they had not eaten it they would soon have died in that wilderness - there was no other food there to eat. For this reason we cannot commend to you strongly enough the “Bible Companion” reading tables, whereby you read the Bible each day, getting the whole context of passages as you read through, and especially, feeding on Christ, whom you will find “in all the scriptures”. It is vital to make space in our daily routine, preferably at the same time each day, to read those chapters and reflect on them.

In passing, Israel were told not to try to gather several days’ manna in just one day, but to make the effort to go out and collect it each day. Our feeding on the Word needs to be daily. As we just would not forget about eating our natural food, so we should instinctively make the daily effort to feed on the Word of God; indeed, Job could say that he valued the words of God “more than my necessary food”. Israel also drank from the stream that flowed from the smitten rock; 1 Cor. 10 tells us that this represents “Christ”.

So we should feed and drink in the example of Jesus, which we can do by the memorial service each week. Speaking of meetings, it should be our natural desire to meet with others who share our Hope. A traveller in a literal wilderness would jump at any opportunity to meet another traveller to discuss the possible problems which may lie ahead, to share experiences. So we in the wilderness of life in this wicked world should make every effort to keep in contact with each other. Often such meeting is not possible in the flesh as much as we would like, but we should take every opportunity to keep in touch by letter-writing, reading of the magazines, etc.

We have spoken about the responsibilities of the new life, but it would be wrong to give the impression that if we do certain things, such as the daily Bible readings, then God will have to reward us. It is God’s good pleasure, His will, to give us the Kingdom as a gift, not as a wage for our works (Rom. 6:23). It would be wrong for us to feel that baptism is a good idea because now we have a fair chance of entering the Kingdom. The Truth and the love of God, the victory of Christ, make it all far more positive than that. God really wants Dave and all of us here to be in the Kingdom. This fact is so glorious that we have to remind ourselves time and again that it really is true and that in the light of it we should be making some kind of response to God’s love.

When Israel came out of the Red Sea there was tremendous rejoicing; Moses sang his song and all the people rejoiced. Psalm 105:35-41 well expresses this, showing how God provided everything that was necessary for their journey:-

“And (the Lord) did eat up all the herbs in their land (Egypt), and devoured the fruit of their ground. He smote also all the firstborn in their land, the chief of all their strength. He brought them (Israel) forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes. Egypt was glad when they departed: for the fear of them fell upon them. He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the night. The people asked, and he brought quails, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river”.

That joy is the joy of us, your future brethren and sisters, who are here to witness your baptism. It is the joy of God, of Jesus and of the Angels who are intensely watching us at this time. May we each keep this Hope and this rejoicing “steadfast unto the end”, that we might walk together in the Kingdom.

We will now make our way down to the changing rooms, and then into the swimming pool...

Further Reflections On The Exodus As A Type Of Baptism

One of the big themes of the Exodus record is: 'Who shall Israel serve?'. Time and again the point is made that they are the servants of Pharaoh; but God wants them to come out from there and serve Him (e.g. Ex. 1:13,14; 4:23; 5:9-21). And so it is in the waters of baptism- this is a changeover point, a change of masters, as Paul stresses throughout Romans 6. When we enter Christ through baptism, we become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). And so the Red Sea deliverance is described in terms of a new creation- the waters separated, dry land appearing etc. (Gen. 1:9,10). But of course the whole process required faith- to walk through a sea canyon, between those walls of water, would've been a scary experience. The Red Sea / baptism experience was so wonderful that it simply had to have some consequence in practice. To resolve to faithfully break bread in memory of Christ's deliverance is one such consequence. There is a word play in Ex. 12:17,24- as God had kept watch over or observed Israel on Passover night and thus spared them from death, so they were to keep / observe the feast of Passover. The path chosen for Israel from the Red Sea to the promised land was carefully chosen- they didn't go the most obvious, direct way, as God foresaw that they would fall to temptation and weakness in that path; and so God's knowledge of the weakness of each one of us who is baptized leads Him to plan out a relevant and appropriate path for us through the desert of this life, a way which we can handle, and in which we are daily and nightly led by the Angel. Note how God left the mountain of Sinai and came and lived with Israel in a tent / tabernacle, just as they lived in tents (2 Sam. 7:6,7). The language used about God's presence on Sinai (Ex. 24:15-18) becomes that used of God's presence in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-38). After our baptism, as we set off into the desert guided only by clouds and promises, God is very much with us.

According to the Exodus parallel, straight after baptism, you're going to enter the wilderness and fall into temptation. Be prepared! For this isn't merely a piece of fascinating Bible suggestion- it's been the experience of so many. Israel must've wondered at times: 'Who can live by words alone?'. They longed for visible evidence, they had such weak faith, and even wished to do the unthinkable- return to Egypt. They complained that they lacked water, decent food etc.- but ultimately Moses could remind them: "These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing" (Dt. 2:7). If we stay the course, we will be able to look back and say the same.