Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – Who should be baptized? How should it be done? What does it mean? 

This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.

Synopsis of Chapter

In this expansion on the means of grace, Wayne Grudem surveys baptism in this next chapter. Grudem begins by discussing the difference between “ordinances” and “sacraments” – and opts to use the terms interchangeably. Adopting a ‘Baptistic’ understanding of baptism, Grudem understands baptism to be full immersion for believers, not sprinkling of children or infants who cannot make a believable profession of faith. Grudem also reviews other views of baptism that churches have adopted. Finally, he demonstrates the necessity of baptism and whether churches should be divided over baptism and who should baptize.  

The Mode and Meaning of Baptism

In the New Testament, baptism was immersion taken from the Greek word ‘baptizo’ (βαπτίζω) meaning to ‘plunge, dip, immerse’ something in water. This can be seen in several verses including: 

  • People were baptised “in the river Jordan” (Mark 1:5).
  • Many were baptized in an area “because water was plentiful there” (John 3:23). 
  • Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch “went into the water” and “came up out of the water” (Acts 8:38-39). 
  • Paul points to baptism as a symbol of burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). 
  • Ananias tells Paul to “wash away your sins” in baptism (Acts 22:16).

The Subjects of Baptism

New Testament baptism was practiced for those who gave a believable profession of faith. Also called “believers’ baptism,” we find people being baptized in response to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:41), with those who heard Philip preaching being baptized (Acts 8:12), with those Gentiles who heard Peter preaching (Acts 10:44-46), and in other passages. 

Another view of baptism within Evangelicalism is the paedobaptist practice. Paedobaptism, or baptism of infants, is practiced by many Protestant groups especially Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches. These groups point to baptism being a sign of the New Covenant, just as circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant in ancient Israel. They also argue that “household baptisms” implies children were also baptized when the fathers were converted. It should be pointed out that those arguing for infant baptism have a difficult time finding justification for the practice in the pages of the New Testament. It may be implied but it’s not explicitly mentioned. 

The Effect & Necessity of Baptism

Baptism is a means of grace in the church. It’s a blessing to the person being baptized, an encouragement to the church, and a testimony to the world that another person has turned to the Lord. And every Christian should be baptized since Jesus commanded it (Matthew 28:19). 

However, we should be careful not to overemphasize baptism. Since baptism is a work, it does not save a person. Instead, a person is saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). So as important as baptism is, we should never suggest it’s necessary for salvation. Baptism is a matter of obedience, but it does not save the person. 

Application: Division Over Baptism

Baptism is important. However, many Evangelicals disagree about the nature and mode of baptism. Many genuine believers have coalesced around more central beliefs like the nature of God, Christ’s work of redemption, and even Reformed theology more than the nature of baptism. Agreeing on baptism may be important in forming individual congregations, but it should not be used to divide Christians globally. Whether you believe in ‘believers’ baptism’ or ‘paedobaptism,’ we can all agree on the central claims of Scripture and tolerate those with whom we disagree about baptism.  

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

Special Terms

  • believable profession of faith
  • believers’ baptism
  • covenant community
  • ex opere operato
  • Immersion
  • paedobaptism

Resources: Wayne Grudem

Related Resources

Image credit: Baptism Pool Prayer by KalebTapp

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