Then those who gladly received his word were baptized.... And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:41–42)
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the two sacraments of the Christian church. They are part of "the ordinary religious worship of God" (Westminster Confession, 21.5) and should occur regularly in church.
In our culture, we do not appreciate baptism nearly as we should. People in our nation often view baptism simply as a festive religious custom. In other cultures, however, baptism is viewed with a seriousness that is far more in line with the teaching of Holy Scripture. When individuals or families are converted from a background of Islam or Hinduism, for example, those around them understand their baptism as a death with respect to their former life. Those baptized are part of a new community, with a totally new allegiance. In some countries, this can bring serious negative consequences to those who are baptized.
The Scriptures do, in fact, teach that baptism marks the death of one's old nature and entrance to a new life in Christ (Rom. 6:3–4). Baptism also marks the one baptized as a member of the visible church and officially brings the person into fellowship with God's people (Acts 2:41–42). The person baptized is marked out as a disciple of Jesus Christ the Lord (Matt. 28:18–20). Indeed, baptism represents being united with Christ as surely as a bride's wedding garments represent her being married to a husband (Gal. 3:27).
For all of these reasons, baptisms are rightly regarded as part of our worship. In a visible way (because sacraments are "visible signs of invisible grace"), Christ shows the work of his kingdom in claiming individuals and families to be his. This should fill us with praise and fresh confidence in his saving work in human history. Likewise, the baptism of others is designed to remind us of our own baptism. It is a time to remind ourselves of Christ's goodness and mercy toward us. It is also a time to repent of our own sins against the meaning of our baptism, and to renew our commitments to Christ, our husband and our Lord.
The author is pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Franklin Square, New York. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, June 2008. First article in series. Index.