The New Testament’s message about the water baptism of Jesus’ Great Commission is plain (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16). The Bible teaches that the purpose of baptism, which simply means an immersion, is to wash away sins (Acts 22:16), that is, to have past sins remitted (Acts 2:38). Yes, water baptism is a condition of salvation.
We wonder, though, could there ever be an occasion when the right course of action on our part would be to refuse to baptize someone? “Well, I do not recall reading any example in the Bible when a gospel preacher or other member of the church refused to baptize a person that requested to be baptized.” Nor do I. But, there are other biblical principles that we ought to take into account as we think about this question.
There are, in fact, several scenarios which we might encounter that would cause us to “pass” on immersing a person. Let me mention a few. If I was convinced that a person was drunk or high on some drug, I personally would deny his request to be immersed. Why? First, scriptural baptism takes place only when one obeys the truth “from the heart” (Romans 6:3,17). One whose mind is affected by some drug could hardly do that. Second, God’s word portrays immersion into the Lord’s death as a serious, special activity: surely a stumbling, doped-up man is not ready to be baptized.
Second, if a person does not have the mental capability to understand what the death of Jesus means, what sin is, or the purpose of baptism, they are not a proper candidate for baptism. Baptism is for those that gladly receive God’s message about the Christ and how to be saved (Acts 2:36-41). If someone brings a small child and asks us to baptize him, we cannot do such. Why? Because that child is not a proper candidate for immersion. We would refuse to “baptize” such a small child.
Again, if a person indicates that he has no intention of repenting, we would refuse to baptize him. Why? Because repentance is a condition of baptism and having sins blotted out (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Anyone that tells us in advance that after he is baptized he plans to continue lying, being a homosexual, attending a man-made church, or living in a state of adultery, does not have a heart of repentance. It is true that he might change his attitude in the future, but for now, such a one is not ready to be immersed into the Christ.
Furthermore, if a person indicates that he has no intention of fulfilling his Christian obligations after he is baptized, we would not agree to baptize him. A new creation in the Christ not only puts off the old, but also puts on the new (2 Corinthians 5:17). When one says, “Look, I just want to be baptized. I do not want to go to worship, I do not want to be around other Christians, I just want to be baptized,” such a fellow does not see or accept the call to deny self and forsake all for Jesus (Luke 9:23; 14:33).
What if a person does not understand the purpose of baptism? He knows a couple of Christians that he considers to be real nice people, so he thinks getting baptized might somehow help him, too, but he has no clue what the real purpose of baptism is. The stated purpose of baptism is to remit or forgive sins (Acts 2:38), and it is essential that one understand that prior to being immersed. We would gladly make arrangements to teach one that wants to learn the truth about baptism, but we would refuse to baptize anyone that does not know its purpose.
Here is another scenario. What if a person indicates that she only wants to be baptized in order to please some other human, such as a boyfriend or parent? Again, her admission shows that she would not be doing it “from the heart” (Romans 6:17) or for the right purpose (Acts 22:16). Until she has a change of heart, she is not ready to obey the gospel, and we refuse to be a part of her mock immersion.
“I think we should just go ahead and baptize anybody that asks for it. It would be better to be safe and grant their request instead of trying to play God and read their minds.” We have no desire to try and place ourselves in God’s place or on His level, but the philosophy of baptizing “everybody” is a blatant disregard for the teaching of the New Testament. It shows no recognition or appreciation for the fact that one who will be immersed biblically must be one that is ready to confess a sincere belief in the Christ, have a heart of repentance, and understands the purpose of baptism as well as the new life that comes on the other side of the water.
We are thrilled each time one decides to leave darkness and enter the Lord by being baptized into Him. Let us refrain, though, from immersing those who are not proper candidates for baptism.
— Roger D. Campbell