Believe it or not, there are some professing Christians who do not believe that the practice of baptism is for the church today. One such organization is the ironically named Berean Bible Society named after the noble Bereans of Acts 17:11. Another group who do not practice baptism are the Quakers. When I first read about the belief that baptism is not for the church today, I thought it was a joke that would make a good article for Christian satire. No one could actually believe this, right? But I was wrong. This organization claims that baptism is no different from Jewish practices like circumcision which were only intended for Israel. They make the incredible claim that “there is not one verse of Scripture instructing one member of the Body of Christ to baptize with water another person who is already a member of that Body.”
According to them, the practice of baptism as instituted by Jesus Christ is “a bad testimony,” “a confession of a lack of appreciation of the finished work of Christ,” that baptism “betrays a poor understanding of the heavenly character and position of the Church of this age,” and is an expression of “presumption and religious pride.” Those who disagree with their position are described as “some well-meaning brethren,” as if the belief that baptism is for the church today is some minority position rather than the universal teaching of Christianity until the rise of hyper-dispensationalism.
If baptism is not for the church today, then why did Jesus command the apostles to make and baptize disciples in Matthew 28:19-20? If baptism is not for today, then why should we believe that making disciples of all nations is also for today? This is the same kind of argumentation that the hyper-Calvinists used. They argued that the command to make disciples of all nations was only given to the apostles and therefore there was no command for the church today to do so. But as William Carey pointed out, this line of reasoning also makes the command to baptize only for the apostles as well so that if we are going to argue that we have no warrant to reach the nations for Christ today, to be consistent, we should not baptize anymore either resulting in a reductio ad absurdum.
If baptism is not for the church today, then why did Paul baptize the Gentile Philippian jailer and his family in Acts 16:33? Why did Paul baptize Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas in Corinth? Why is the book of Acts filled with references to baptism? Why does Paul assume that all of those he is writing to have been baptized? (Rom 6:3-5; Gal 3:27). The New Testament assumes that all Christians have been baptized to signify their desire to follow Jesus as Lord (Acts 19:3-5; Eph 4:5; Col 2:12; 1 Pet 3:21).
A common verse used to argue that baptism is not for the church today is 1 Corinthians 1:17 where Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” But this argument completely ignores the context of the verse where Paul says that he did baptize Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. When Paul says he was not sent to baptize, the point he is making is that the proclamation of the gospel is more important than the act of baptizing. We are saved through the proclamation of the gospel, not through the action of immersion in water. Paul’s primary mission was to preach the gospel, not to baptize. But that does not mean he never baptized people.
Another verse that is used for their position is Ephesians 4:5 which speaks of “one baptism” all Christians share in. They argue that because there is only “one baptism,” water baptism cannot be for today or else there would be two baptisms: one in water and one in Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). But Paul can speak of “one baptism” because he assumes that all Christians have been baptized. Water baptism unites all Christians together because it is an event which every Christian would have participated in as part of their conversion process into the Christian faith. Paul’s point is that there is only one water baptism into which we are baptized. There are no additional baptisms after that which distinguish some Christians from others.