THE BAPTIST CREEDSAccording to the London Baptist Confession of faith, chapter 25, part 1, baptism is
a sign of his fellowship with Him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.So here we see baptism is first and foremost a sign of our union with Christ. It's an outward event or picture that conveys the truth of our inward situation. The Baptist Faith and Message which guides the Southern Baptist convention is even more explicit about this when it says,
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water. …It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.
The American Baptist Association says the same in their own way,
Baptism, an act of full immersion following Christ’s example, is undertaken by those spiritually mature enough to understand its profound, symbolic significance: resurrection to new life in Christ.
INDIVIDUAL BAPTISTSIf that cross section of Reformed Baptists, Southern Baptists, and something-in-between Baptists wasn't enough, here's further proof from selected individuals that this is what baptism is. We can of course do no better than to appeal to the most famous Baptist of all, Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers on the matter,
And to which later Baptists fully agree. Take for example William Pinson who runs Baptist Distinctives when he says this regarding baptism:...It seems to me that baptism is connected with, nay, directly follows belief…Again, baptism is also Faith’s taking her proper place. It is, or should be one of her first acts of obedience. Reason looks at baptism, and says, ‘Perhaps there is nothing in it; it cannot do me any good.’ ‘True,’ says Faith, ‘and therefore will I observe it. If it did me some good my selfishness would make me do it, but inasmuch as to my sense there is no good in it, since I am bidden by my Lord thus to fulfill all righteousness, it is my first public declaration that a thing which looks to be unreasonable and seems to be unprofitable, being commanded by God, is law, is law to me.”
I find this quote particularly helpful because it plainly shows why baptism absolutely has to be the sign of our faith: because it can be nothing else. Once we require a personal confession before we allow someone to be baptized we've cut off every other options, at that point baptism has to be principally about our professing faith.The New Testament records that baptism always followed conversion, never preceded it, and was not necessary for salvation (Acts 2:1-41; 8:36-39; 16:30-33). Since Baptists look to the Bible as our sole authority for faith and practice, we believe that baptism is only for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Bob Vradenburgh of Friendship Baptist church (and who could not sound more like a typical Baptist if he tried) says it like this,
Baptism is the only true expression of one's profession of faith in Christ as Savior and Lord that is set forth in the New Testament. It is a true picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. When a person is scripturally baptized, he is openly identifying himself with Christ, acknowledging that he has both died and is raised again. He has died to self, to sin, and to false religion, and he has been resurrected spiritually…
In the early days of Christianity, the sign or badge of being a follower of Christ was baptism. Christians were hated and persecuted. A man might profess Christ as much as he liked, but until he submitted to baptism he was not willing to be "branded for Christ". He wore no badge that identified him with the despised Nazarene in the eyes of the world.
Today, Christianity as an institutionalized religion is much more fashionable (at least in the western world), but the badge remains the same. Are you a believer of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Have you sincerely repented of sin and received His mercy and forgiveness? Then PROVE IT by publicly wearing the "badge"?
All of this matches perfectly with what my hero in the faith Alistair Begg says. Baptism is a "putting on of the Christian uniform."
The paedo-baptist however has a very different view of what baptism is. Notice that they see it first and foremost as a sacrament, and a sign of the faithfulness of God, and only secondarily as our statement to Him. The Presbyterian Missions agency says,
"Baptism enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: God's redeeming grace offered to all people. Baptism is God's gift of grace and also God's summons to respond to that grace. Baptism calls to repentance, to faithfulness, and to discipleship. Baptism gives the church its identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world."
Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.
Calvin says baptism is,
And B.B. Warfield says,the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God's children"(Inst.4, 15, 1)
Baptism is the form that the circumcision which God gave Abraham in the old covenant takes in the new. The apostle therefore called it "the circumcision of Christ," Col. ii. 11, the circumcision, that is, which we have received in this new dispensation in which Christ is now Lord and Master. In the passage from the old covenant to the new the form of the rite was changed, not its substance. It remains a "sign" which God has given his people, marking them out as his, and a "seal" binding them indissolubly to him and pledging them his unbroken favor. Baptism, as circumcision, is a gift of God to his people, not of his people to God. Abraham did not bring circumcision to God; he "received" it from God. God gave it to him as a "sign" and a "seal," not to others but to himself. It is inadequate, therefore, to speak of baptism as "the badge of a Christian man's profession." By receiving it, we do make claim to be members of Christ, and our reception of it does mark us out to the observation of our fellowmen as his followers. But this is only an incidental effect. The witness of baptism is not to others but to ourselves; and it is not by us but by God that the witness is borne. We have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and God gives us this sign as a perpetual witness that this faith is acceptable to him, and as a seal, an abiding pledge, that he will always treat it as such. He who has been baptized bears in himself God's testimony and engagement to his salvation.More could be said of course, but I think that's sufficient to demonstrate the real and substantial difference that exists between this and this. Presbyterians and Baptists have a very different understanding of what baptism is. This is undeniable.