Baptism is one of two sacraments or sacred privileges that were left to the church by Christ. How these sacraments are practiced vary somewhat among the different denominations. Thomas Boston, though a Presbyterian minister, answers the sixth question to himself using a broad brush, not mentioning the various denominations practices but rather dealing directly with the specifics of the right to the sacrament itself. The question is, “Who have a right to baptism, and who are to be baptized?”
Many movements have entered the Church over the centuries. Some of the most destructive have centered on the use of baptism and the nature of its efficacy. There are many much more qualified than I who have written extensively on the topic of baptism and I dare not use this forum to elaborate or explain the various positions. Rather, I will steer narrowly upon the course that Boston has taken.
One point that Boston makes early in this work is that in 18th century Scotland there were very few adult baptisms. As the practice was then, and still is today in the Presbyterian Church, infants were presented for baptism by their parents. It was unusual for anyone to grow up outside of the Church. Nearly all people would have been baptized as infants and therefore the opportunity for adult baptism would have been rare. Because the Protestants of Western Europe were connected by the religious practices of the Reformation, even those who descended from other countries, England, Germany, France, etc., would have been baptized as infants as well. Only those with Anabaptist roots, which were generally associated with the more northern European people, the forerunners to the Mennonites and Amish for example, practiced waiting until the age of verbal professions of faith for baptism. I have mentioned before the importance of a little familiarity with Church history for understanding your faith. The practice of baptizing once as an infant, all the covenant people of God, has been the primary practice of the Church since Christ instituted the sacrament. Confessional baptism is a relatively new practice except where the gospel takes root in pagan places. The countries such as those of Europe and North America probably now fall into that category. Wouldn’t Boston be surprised today.
That being said, Boston’s answer deals more from a covenant theology perspective, so I intend to make it more relative to you personally, regardless of your Church background. We none spend enough time considering our own baptism. Regardless of what age you were baptized, this was a very significant event. Even more so than some conversion experience. If you can verbalize exactly when and how you “came to faith” in Christ or were “saved,” then it is an event that you probably have recalled many times and shared with others. However human nature tends often to creep into our “testimonies” and our perception of what happened tends to fall prey to imagination and embellishment. However the undeniable fact of our day of baptism is indisputable. What we often dispute in our own mind is our right to baptism. Doubt based upon a season of backsliding or some false legalistic doctrine can shake you to the core. I have known fellow believers who have doubted their right to their baptisms and the efficacy of them. They have fallen prey to Satan’s web of deceit. They say they could never have been a Christian because of some continuing sin or perceived sin. In turn some have been baptized again. Their doubt about their first baptism is usually the result of their misunderstanding of what the sacrament is.
Not knowing the reader personally, I can only assume you understand your baptism. Of course it is not necessary to understand your baptism for it to be effectual. If that were the case not only could infants not be saved, but neither could the mentally handicapped, the deaf mute, nor the simply ignorant. But for those who have no excuse for not understanding, there is a need for a basic clarification of what it is and is not. First it is not a converting ordinance. Baptism does not magically transform you. The act within itself does not cleanse you. There are some within the visible church who would even contend that the place and method of administration is significant. Whether you were dunked in the Jordan River or sprinkled in the Sahara Desert your baptism is the same. Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s promise to his people. God says that he will be your God even if he is not now your God. I would be safe in saying that many of you were baptized long before you were regenerated. You required no do over. Just think of someone you know who was baptized and then for many years lived a life of rebellion against every principle of the faith they once professed. Some churches practice a form of recommitment of faith. I can’t say that this is incorrect, though I see no biblical warrant for it. What is wrong is when their is another baptism performed. In that case you are saying that God needed a do over. It would be better to say God used the time of rebellion to bring greater glory to himself in the eventual conversion of the person. It should drive you to adore your baptism more if God chose not to thrust you into a time outside of the camp, if he allowed you to live continually in the light of his countenance from the time of your baptism.
The very fact that God commands you to be baptized and to baptize your children is cause enough to believe in your right to baptism. Your duty to be baptized is a privilege of citizenship. Circumcision was a duty commanded to the Israelites. This rite was also extended to the children and the slaves and aliens living among them. What a privilege to be marked with the sign of citizenship of the Kingdom of God, especially for those who were not naturally born. Baptism replaced circumcision as the continuing sign for the church. The right was extended to us, the aliens accepted by God. Believers must wear their baptism as a banner. We don’t need t-shirts or bumper stickers. Our baptism is the clothing of white, the proof of God’s promise.
In the reformed faith we use the phrase “improve your baptism.” By this we mean that we use our baptism for something other than just some tradition or rite. We do not just perform the ceremony and move on. It is to stay in the forefront of our faith. When faced with temptation, our baptism is a weapon for the fight. Being clothed in the battledress of Christ, our baptism, we should be reminded of our apparel and what it signifies. When we witness another’s baptism we reflect on why Christ instituted it, and its benefits. We are to be humbled by the experience and how our sin defiles it. The assurance of God’s pardon is represented in it. Baptism is a means of God’s Grace. We improve our baptism by using it. Like reading our bibles, hearing the word preached, praying, partaking in the Lord’s supper, and fellowshipping with the church, baptism is a way of strengthening and nourishing our faith. Like water flowing from pipe, if we stand back and don’t drink we will remain thirsty. Take of the water and use your baptism along with all the other means of grace. Like a vitamin deficiency if you are not using all of these means, for example improving your baptism, how do you expect to have a healthy faith? I hear so often, “I’m just not growing at my church. We don’t have enough activities. The worship is just not uplifting. (blah, blah, blah),” my response usually is not what they are looking for. I usually ask them how are they using God’s means of grace. I can guarantee one, if not several of the six things I just mentioned, is missing. Without fail, improving upon their baptism is always one. It doesn’t take a PhD, MD, nor DD(Doctor of Divinity) to figure out what is wrong with them. They are “vitamin deficient.” They have left some of God’s grace on their plates.
Hopefully your baptism came with the complete package. What I mean is, I hope your baptism came with the rest of Christ’s commission to the Church. The Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20 is most often understood to be a personal call to evangelism. We certainly are to be witnesses for Christ, but this is not the verse to use as your personal call to do so. This verse is directed to the leadership of the Church, as the intended original audience were the first Pastors. Before this event the apostles were disciples. Now they are ordained to go plant churches and to carry the evangel, the gospel, to the world. This included baptizing, discipling, and teaching obedience. Sadly, the church today is typically lacking two of the three duties required to complete the mission. There is a plethora of baptizing, but not much disciplined teaching. With your baptism was discipleship included? Were you directed to be instructed and sit under the tutelage of instruction in righteousness? Probably not. Yes, maybe you did have Sunday School class. But more than likely this was fluff or some pooling of ignorance where their was more sharing than teaching. The apostles walked with Christ for three years if intensive study. The Church was what Christ instituted for the continuance of his instruction. You were done a great disservice if you baptized and then left to fend for yourself. The Church that does not disciple and teach is not by definition a Church. It is a civic organization.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a reason to quit your body of believers. You must first do your part to improve your baptism and to take advantage of what your church does offer. You must be connected to a Church. You cannot be a separatist and just church yourself. That is not biblical, baring isolation not of your own making. You must plug in somewhere, it is a right and a duty of your baptism. The perfect Church does not exist in this life. If you are looking for one and find it, don’t join. You will ruin it by your need for perfection.
Take heed to your baptism now while there is time. Use it for God’s Glory and your good. Improve it by studying it and thinking often of it. Do not forsake what God was so gracious and pleased to give you.