The church bulletin for Sunday 31 October included this announcement: “On Saturday 15 January, there will be a special event at the church building. On that day, please make plans to come join in the special celebration that has been planned. Mr. and Mrs. Lee, frequent visitors at our assemblies, have decided to be baptized together on that day. Please be present to support them.”
What do you think about such an announcement? [Note: It is not a genuine quote from a bulletin. I am only using it as an illustration]. In some locations, one well-known denomination has the practice of designating two days per year as “baptism days.” Ponder this question: What is there in the New Testament that convinces you that it is right for the church to arrange for baptisms to be carried out only on special days of the year?
When religious groups designate in advance certain days as “baptism days,” what does that show about their attitude toward the necessity of water baptism? Listen. If I am the only one that witnesses a person badly injured in an accident on 1 December, but I tell that person that I will not call for medical assistance until March of the following year, you would not get the impression that I thought the person needed immediate medical attention, right? In the same manner, if a religious group tells a person that their next baptism day is scheduled for a time several months later, that sends a message loud and clear: there is no rush for you to be baptized. Any pre-planned baptisms like I have noted are clear, clear indicators that the group(s) practicing such do not believe that a person is lost before being baptized. They deny the Bible teaching that baptism is to be for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Their teaching and practice are both false.
Suppose we are not talking about a group baptism, but only one individual. Question: What if a prospect says he wants to obey the gospel and admits that he could do it today, but he has personal reasons for preferring to delay until ten days from now? What about setting an evening next week as the time to baptize him? Do you ever recall reading about such a practice in the Book of Acts? Me neither. What we do see in the Book of Acts is this: when lost people heard the gospel, believed it, and were ready to obey it, then they did not delay. No setting a date four months away. No waiting until a large group of people was ready to be immersed at the same time. No waiting until grandparents returned from a vacation. No waiting from Thursday until Sunday. And, no putting it off for 36 hours. Brethren, read the Book of Acts and you will see example after example of people being baptized without delay (I mean, of course, people who understood that they were lost and had already decided to obey the truth). Look at them: Acts 2 – about 3000 on “the same day” (Acts 2:38,41); Acts 8 – the eunuch did so without delay; Acts 16 – the jailer and family baptized after midnight; Acts 22:16 – Saul of Tarsus was urged not to delay.
The young man was nearly 15 years old at the time. I was so thrilled when he called to tell me that he had just been baptized into the Christ. I was over 11,000 kilometers away, but I was so happy for him. You see, it was our second son, Jacob. I was planning to be back with my family in a couple of weeks, so shouldn’t he have waited on his dad to be present? No! I am so proud of him for choosing to follow Jesus. I am equally proud that he did not delay in having his sins washed away.
“But do you think the Lord would let a person die if that person sincerely wanted to be baptized?” I know of at least two people in my lifetime who died while they were waiting to be baptized. It happens. Delay is foolish. On our part, setting a special future time to baptize someone is more than foolish. It is just not the Bible way.
I sometimes hear of members of the church making plans to go sometime in the future to take a family member hundreds of kilometers in order to be baptized in a certain place or by a certain person. Brethren, I do not understand such an approach. Why are we risking someone’s soul by waiting for weeks?! Why are we risking someone’s soul by traveling several hours when the baptism could be done quickly close to home? If it is my intent to baptize someone in a few weeks’ time, then I must not think he is lost between now and then. And, if I can convince a person to wait for a few weeks, then he must not think that he is lost between now and then! Make no mistake about it: forgiveness of sins is in the Christ (Ephesians 1:7), and the only way to get into Him is via water baptism (Romans 6:3-5). Thus, a sinner who has not yet been baptized is lost. Why, then, would we circle dates on the calendar for future baptisms?
Here is a gentle reminder. Baptisms are not for the benefit and pleasure of those who are eye-witnesses to them. When only one person is baptized, it is not a “family activity” that requires the presence of all family members in order to have special significance and be valid. Baptisms are not staged events for those that watch and take photos. Sure, it is pleasant to have people present to support the one(s) being baptized, but let us keep the emphasis where it needs to be: baptism is a personal matter between the lost person and the Lord Who died for Him. Did the eunuch from Ethiopia wait until he returned home to be baptized in order that more people could be present? No. He was baptized when he learned the truth, understood that he was lost, and desired to obey the gospel (Acts 8:34-39).
If a person wants to delay or put off being baptized, then the bottom line is, he/she is not really ready to obey the gospel. Again, the Book of Acts shows us that water baptism is not something to be taken lightly or delayed once a person has made the decision to follow the Christ. We preach that Jesus could come at any moment (Mark 13:32-35). We teach that life is uncertain, like a vapor that comes and then vanishes out of sight (James 4:13,14). We preach that water baptism is a condition of salvation (Mark 16:16). But, does our practice support our teaching? In practice, we sometimes set days and times to baptize people. On Tuesday night we agree with a prospect to baptize him on Sunday morning. Why?! What happened to the message that people are lost until they are baptized? What happened to the urgency? What happened to the truth that Jesus could come at any moment? What happened to the truth that a person’s life could end unexpectedly at any time? I personally refuse to arrange a time to baptize a lost person on some future day. Why? I do not believe it is a biblical practice.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.