All of the following are true statements, so it is interesting to ask yourself which ones are most meaningful to you:
- It is a funeral service for our former self and a celebration of our spiritual resurrection in Jesus Christ. (Romans 6)
- It is an act of obedience to Jesus’ commands.
- It is a ceremony that marks the fact that we have joined the Universal Church.
- It washes away our sins. (Acts 22:16)
- It is a ceremony that reenacts the way that Jesus washes away our sins. (To me this is just a wordy way of agreeing with Acts 22:16.)
The ancient church considered baptism an essential act of faith, because Jesus commanded it in Matthew 28:19. It seems to me that whoever claims to be a servant of Jesus and then immediately disobeys a simple commandment has at best stumbled over the threshold of faith.
The ancient church considered baptism to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Just as the Hebrews only passed through the sea once, Christians are traditionally baptized only once in a lifetime. Many modern churches refuse to rebaptize people who were baptized in other churches. For example, if you join the Episcopal Church of the USA and you are not sure if you were validly baptized, they perform a baptismal ceremony for you, but the priest says, “If you are not already baptized, I baptize you…” So historically, baptism is not repeatable.
The baptismal ceremony consist of two parts: the promises we make to God, and the promise that God makes to us. Some people feel they have wandered away from the faith so badly that they need to be baptized all over again. God always keeps His promises, so there is no need to go under the water again. We, however, do not always keep our promises, so we can repeat the baptismal vows as often as we need to.