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Many church websites offered inadequate statements of the purpose of baptism. One way this was done hinged on the idea that baptism is a public demonstration of faith:

 “Baptism is one of the ways God asks us to go public with our faith.”

 “Once you start your lifelong adventure with Christ, baptism by immersion is a tangible way of showing your new commitment.”

 “Baptism is the first visible expression of our faith.”

 “We demonstrate our trust in Jesus by obeying His command to be immersed (baptized) in water demonstrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.”

Baptism does demonstrate faith. But there is more to it than that, significantly more than that, and most of the churches taking this approach had little else to say on their websites about the meaning of baptism. None of them even hinted that baptism is the occasion when we are promised God’s “gift package.” One statement in this category gave some insight into what might be behind these kinds of statements:

 “We are saved from sin’s penalty by trusting in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice as God’s offer of forgiveness. We show our faith publicly through baptism.”

There is some truth here, but notice how it skirts the issue of when we are saved from sin’s penalty. The public vs. private approach was very popular on church websites. Some of them offered these ideas in exactly the same words, perhaps indicating that this template is being passed around.

Some churches couched their explanations of baptism in terms of sign and symbol:

 “We believe baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper are symbols of faith in Jesus Christ that are to be observed by the church.”

 “We practice believer’s baptism by immersion as a symbol and sign of the decision to put one’s faith in Jesus Christ.”

 “Baptism is being immersed into water as a symbolic participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

While true, this is also significantly incomplete, perhaps to the point of creating a false picture of baptism. Some churches offered detailed statements of belief that seemed to avoid carefully any mention of baptism. In these cases, the silence seems to speak more clearly. For example, one church website informs us that:

* “God’s offer of love and forgiveness must be accepted by each of us by faith in Jesus, for it to be effective in our life… No one will go to Heaven just because they are a good or a religious person. When we commit to knowing God by asking forgiveness of our sins, God’s Holy Spirit takes up Personal residence within us, providing the strength, guidance, and power to live the life God desires.”

How To Make Sticky Online ContentNotice, according to this church, when “God’s Holy Spirit” comes to us: when we ask forgiveness of our sins. The Bible teaches that this happens when we are baptized into Christ. One popular, and false, view of baptism says that baptism is the first act of obedience for a Christian, rather than the occasion when a sinner is incorporated into Christ. This error was on display at a church website which proclaimed:

 “After a person accepts Jesus as Savior, they are to be baptized. This is not to suggest that baptism saves a person. Faith in Christ is what saves. However, baptism is a step of obedience that every believer is expected to take.”

 One church’s website displayed this error even more clearly: “Baptism… reflects physically something we’ve already done spiritually. In other words, faith in Christ is to be followed by obedience through baptism.”

The explanation went on to summarize:

“First, the Bible teaches that a person is saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Second, all true faith will result in obedience to God. Third, baptism is a step of obedience to be taken after a person accepts Jesus as their Savior.” One poignantly mistaken church declared that:

 “Baptism, as it is known and practiced today, began with Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan River… people who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior have publicly acknowledged their faith by being baptized. In a baptism, after confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of his or her life, the believer is immersed in water and then raised up. This is symbolic of the washing away of one’s old, sinful past and the rising again to life in God’s grace … it is still important for a believer to be baptized even if it has been years since becoming a Christian.”

Of course, the baptism of Jesus was unique as to meaning and purpose, so the baptism first taught by Peter on Pentecost did not begin with “Jesus being baptized by John.” Notice how, since baptism is here seen only as “symbolic,” a person can be baptized “years” after “becoming a Christian.”

Surfing around Christian church websites reveals that few (none I could find) have a problem with the form of baptism (immersion) or the proper subjects of baptism (believing adults). But there is substantial confusion out there as to why sinners are baptized, and when sinners receive God’s gift package. In fact, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that, in regard to baptism, many Christian churches are really Baptist.