by Pastor Jacques R. Days
Baptism as One of the Sacraments
The African Methodist Episcopal Church, with most other protestant churches, affirms two sacraments in the Church of Jesus Christ. They are baptism and the Lord's Supper. According to the AME Book of Discipline, the Holy Scriptures contain “all things necessary to salvation; so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man...or be thought...necessary to salvation.” As such, we agree with those Bible-believing churches who aver that we are saved by grace through faith and that water baptism”does not grant eternal life in God's Kingdom.” We further agree with them, that water baptism is a sacred “sign of profession, and mark of difference...a sign of regeneration, or the new birth.” However, from here we differ with some denominations. As alluded to earlier, that difference is mainly predicated on the understanding of grace and faith, the place of covenant relationship, and the meaning of sacraments in our salvation. The Bible is very important in bringing us to unity of belief; therefore, whenever there is disagreement, it is important to search the Scriptures diligently and honestly to understand the difference and come to agreement.
Baptism Follows Belief
The AME Church allows “every adult person and parents of every child to be baptized” to “have their choice of either...immersion, sprinkling, or pouring” and prohibits “rebaptism” for those who have been baptized in the name of Christ. While the majority of Christian denominations hold this view, this is a point of difference from some other denominations. Thus, it is important to understand why the AME church accepts these biblical doctrines. As a uniter, let me first say that I believe that all true Christians who own the Bible as the Word of God can agree that Christian baptism follows belief in Christ Jesus. Apostle Peter said in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In this case, persons who came to faith, probably mostly adults, would have chosen to be baptized therefore individual baptism would have followed individual faith. In Acts 16, on the other hand, the keeper of the prison came to saving faith. Then, Paul and Silas went to his house and “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house...and immediately he and all his family were baptized.(32, 33)” In this case, it is possible multiple baptisms, including children, followed the faith of one individual.
Scripture is Profitable
Some argue that the new testament accounts are mostly stories of adults who were saved then baptized. This of necessity was true because the Church of Christ was newly established and the accounts were of new converts and not of people who had been born into Christian homes or grown up therein. AMEs would agree with anyone that new converts need to be baptized if they have never been baptized before. However, there is no explicit statement one way or the other regarding: (1) a change in God's treatment of children and infants under covenant relationship, (2) the exclusion of infants in those situations where whole households were baptized, (3) a youth or young adult who had been raised from infancy in a Christian home then asked to be baptized when he became of age. Because the Scriptures explicitly warn us not to add to or take away from Holy Writ, it is safer to allow the Bible to give its answer through its consistency in areas where principles are clearly stated rather than for us to draw our own conclusions based on particular experiences in specific verses that do not answer our questions directly.
The Abrahamic Covenant
A biblical covenant is an agreement between God and His people in which God makes certain promises and requires certain behavior from His people. The Abrahamic covenant was that agreement between God and His people in which he promised, among other things, to make from Abraham a great nation, to bless those who bless him, curse those who curse him, and bless all people through him. As a sign of the covenant of communion between God and His people, circumcision was implemented in the males of covenant pointing forward to the Male child who would be cut off for our sins(in our stead). As we would be sanctified in His sacrifice, so the women and girls of covenant would be "covered" by their relationship to the males of covenant who received the cutting of the flesh in their stead.
As with the new “New Testament” believers in Acts, the bulk of males who were brought into covenant with the initial circumcision were probably adults, Ishmael being 13, Abraham was 99, and the servants were various ages. All received the sacred sign of the covenant because Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. From there, each male child born to those in the family of God were to be circumcised at 8 days old as a sign of their inclusion in the covenant community. Jesus, who fulfilled the mandates of the Old Testament, was circumcised at 8 days old though He was born of a Virgin and God manifest in the flesh.
Circumcision was the sacred sign of the Abrahamic Covenant and was a sign of a renewed heart. Thus, Deuteronomy 10:16 exhorts, “Therefore, circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be stiff-necked no longer(NKJV).” and Deuteronomy 30:6 promises, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendant, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live(NKJV).” Apostle Paul expounded upon this by stating in Romans 2:28-29, that we do not become recipients of God's promise by what we do outwardly, “nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but...inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God(NKJV).”
According to Paul in Romans 4:11, circumcision was also a sign in the Abrahamic Covenant “of the righteousness he had by faith while still uncircumcised...” It signified that the recipients of the sign could have righteousness imputed to them also, “all those who believe.” Finally, circumcision was a sign of the believer's union with Christ in His death. We deserved to be cut off from the covenant community of God because of our uncircumcision of heart as the uncircumcised men were figuratively cut off from their people because of their uncircumcision of foreskin. Yet, Christ was “cut off out of the land of the living” because of our transgressions according to Isaiah 53:8.
Thus, Apostle Paul teaches in Colossians 2:11, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands...by the circumcision of Christ (NKJV).” Thus, circumcision was an outward but sacred sign of an inward change and the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant. It was inextricably linked to Christ and His suffering as that act of God which brought individuals into communion with Him. It was applied to adult converts to faith in the God of Abraham but also to 8-day-old infants before anyone knew whether they would embrace the circumcision and the faith it represented late in life. The act was an act of obedience to God under the covenant but could not renew a person's heart in and of itself.
The New Testament
Testament is another way of saying covenant. Under the new testament, or new covenant, baptism was commanded by Christ. As an ordinance of our Lord, it is to be embraced by all believers. Like circumcision, baptism is an outward sign of an inward work. Look back at Colossians 2:11-17 and note that Paul uses both the symbolism of circumcision pointing forward and baptism pointing backward to the work of Christ on the cross. Of circumcision, he reminds us that we were dead(cut off) in our sins and made alive with Christ. Of baptism, he proclaims that we have been buried(dead) with Christ and raised(made alive) with Him through faith. As circumcision was a sign of a renewed heart under the Abrahamic covenant, so also is baptism under the New Covenant. Ezekiel 36:24-27 extends the promise of renewal of heart by the work of the Holy Spirit stating, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean...I will give you a new heart and ...I will put my Spirit within you(NKJV).”
Paul gives further emphasis to the renewing of the heart in Titus 3:5stating that it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Paul emphasizes the fact that the water does not cleanse us in and of itself when he reminds us in Ephesians 5:25-26 that Christ sanctifies the Church to Himself and cleanses her “with the washing of water by the word.” Thus, the outward sign is accomplished by the application of water while the inward change which brings us into fellowship and communion with God is accomplished by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, baptism is now a sign of righteousness by faith as was circumcision under the Abrahamic covenant.
Apostle Paul tells us that we have been “baptized into Jesus Christ...that...we also should walk in newness of life...knowing this that our old man is crucified with Him...dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”Now, we are “instruments of righteousness unto God” and “servants of righteousness” yielding our bodies as “servants to righteousness unto holiness.” In short, having “been baptized into Christ,” we are now “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” As stated earlier, baptism is a sign of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. Accordingly, it symbolizes the spiritual blessings that belong to the believer.
Nevertheless, water baptism does not now, as circumcision did not then, guarantee that the person receiving the sign had been or would be in good standing with God. It is “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” Water baptism does not save, but it gives the Church a visible demarcation of the boundaries of the Church. Those who have a good conscience toward God, should be willing to respond yes to this ordinance. If the answer of a good conscience was made by parents and applicable to children of believers in the Old Testament, there is no reason to believe God would exclude children from the covenant community in the New Covenant. Likewise, it is up to the child to embrace the new covenant signified by the baptism now as it was up to the child to embrace the covenant signified in the circumcision when he came of age.
Baptism: Definition of Terms
To baptize means to dip a thing into an element or liquid or to put an element or liquid over or on a thing. The Greek verb baptizo and the Greek nouns baptisma and baptismos are used to denote baptizing and baptism. However, these Greek terms have other meanings that help us to understand there use better. The verb baptizo is also used to denote the ceremonial purification of the Jews by pouring water on the hands before eating. The verb is further used to signify the sufferings of Christ and the deliverance of God's people in Old Testament times. The noun baptismos, on the other hand, indicates Jewish ceremonial cleansing and Christian baptism while baptisma is usually used to indicate the rite of baptism. Other terms used to indicate baptism are hydor or the water, loutron or the washing,katharizo or cleanse(as in preceremonial bridal bathing), and louo(rhantizo) or washed(sprinkled). Therefore, the term does not necessarily suggest immersion and in several instances suggests otherwise based on the text.
Baptism: The Spiritual Significance
The water baptism is a sign of spiritual benefits. The spiritual benefit is brought to reality by the work of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist prophesied of this work when he declared that he baptized with water but that Jesus would baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus confirmed and clarified the baptism of the Holy Spirit when He instructed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Holy Spirit. That promise was fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit as cloven tongues of fire which sat on each of the disciples. This sat, in essence, meant that He settled down and made His abode in them. Peter gives a greater picture of what happened by declaring that Christ Jesus poured out what the crowd witnessed. Thus, while immersion may give a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, afflusion(pouring) and aspersion(sprinkling) give a more vivid picture of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This outpouring was effected by Jesus Christ and reminds us that there is “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism,one God and Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
 The Book of Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2008, AME Sunday School Union, p17
 The S. A. T. Manual for African Methodism, 2007, G. G. M. Ingram, p77.  The Book of Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2008, AME Sunday School Union, p20  Genesis 12:1-3; Hebrews 6:13-18  Romans 4:1, 10; Galatians 3:6  Luke 2:21; Matthew 1:18-25; 1 Timothy 3:16  Acts 1:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13;  Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16  Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1997, M. G. Easton, AGES Software.  Mark 7:4; Luke 11:3(Compare Numbers 19:18-19)  Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50  1 Corinthians 10:1-2; 1 Peter 3:18-21  Mark 7:4, 8; Hebrews 9:10(Compare Numbers 8:7; Exodus 24:4-6)  Romans 6:4; Ephesians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:21  Acts 10:47; Ephesians 5:26  Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5  Acts 2:38-41; 9:17-18; 10:22, 44-48; 16:32-34  Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16  Acts 1:4-5; 2:1-4; 11:16  Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25