What Do Seventh-day Adventists Believe About Baptism?
This post will walk you through what the Bible teaches about baptism, and how Adventists practice it today. You’ll learn:
- Where the practice of baptism came from
- What baptism means
- Why Adventists baptize by immersion
- Where the practice of sprinkling came from
- Why baptism is necessary
- What baptism means today
And as a statement of their firm belief in the importance of baptism, Adventists have it as one of their fundamental beliefs, which reads:
Thus we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, become His people, and are received as members by His church.
Baptism is a symbol of our union with Christ, the forgiveness of our sins, and our reception of the Holy Spirit.
It is by immersion in water and is contingent on an affirmation of faith in Jesus and evidence of repentance of sin. It follows instruction in the Holy Scriptures and acceptance of their teachings.”
Where did the act of baptism come from?
Baptism was publicly modeled by Jesus, our Savior (Mark 1:9).
It is one of the oldest and most important biblical “ordinances,” or religious rituals. It’s meant to publicly demonstrate one’s faith. The act of baptism is what people do when they accept Jesus as their Savior and want to make a public declaration of faith.
The manner in which Adventists practice baptism is firmly rooted in the New Testament. And though there are some differences in the method of baptism and how it’s understood, it is universally practiced among Christians.
Jesus—as our example—was baptized at the start of His ministry on Earth.
He went down to the Jordan river to be baptized by John the Baptist, the man who had been preparing the way for His arrival (Matthew 3:3).
John first resisted baptizing Jesus because he believed that Jesus should be baptizing him. But Jesus answered:
“Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15, NKJV).
What did that mean, to “fulfill all righteousness?”
Jesus came to Earth to be our living sacrifice, and part of that included living a perfect, sinless life as our example.
Jesus’ baptism served as a public demonstration of His faith in His Father, and also of His death and His resurrection. Since He was living our life and paying our price, He went through the baptism we are to go through as well.
So John baptized Jesus in the river. Then the Holy Spirit came down from Heaven in the form of a dove. And God’s voice was also heard saying:
“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, NKJV).
All three persons of the Godhead were present at the baptism of Jesus.
And this fact is so important that later in His life, when Jesus gave His followers what is known as the Great Commission, He said:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NKJV).
This means that as His disciples or followers preached the gospel to the whole world, they were to baptize new believers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus singled out this rite that held special significance at the commencement of the Christian journey.
What does baptism mean?
In essence, baptism is a symbolic reenactment of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Just as Christ died and was buried, the new Christian is buried under the water of baptism. Then, just as Christ rose from the grave, we rise from the water—a symbol of our new life in Christ.
It’s as simple as that. Paul says:
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4, NKJV).
These verses pretty much sums up the process of salvation.
During baptism, we go under the water, which is a symbol of our death in Christ. It is the symbolic death to our previous life of sin, rebellion, and rejection of God and His law.
This also symbolizes our acceptance of God’s gift and His acceptance of us to His family, despite our past life of sin.
That past life of sin has died and been buried underwater, so to speak.
Paul, in that same chapter, later explains:
“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old [person] was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:5-6, NKJV).
Notice, the old person is the person we were before we were baptized—before we were “born again” (John 3:3). We’ve been “crucified with Him,” meaning we have died with Him to our old self and our old ways.
But baptism is not just going under the water.
When we come up out of the water, we are cleansed and our new life in Christ begins. Just like verse 4 said:
“Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Not only has our old person died, we are now new people in Jesus, a new creation even (2 Corinthians 5:17). Having been born again, the Christian now lives a new life in Christ.
The church is filled with stories of people who have been baptized, had their lives transformed by Christ, and who now live to serve as testimonies to the reality of the gospel.
As stated in the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, “Christians die to sin and are raised up in their baptism; in this way they demonstrate their acceptance of God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Through Him, Christians receive the ability to die daily to sin and to rise to the newness of life through obedience to God.”1
Why do Adventists believe in baptism by immersion?
Adventists seek to follow the New Testament teaching about the practice and meaning of baptism as precisely as possible.
The Greek word translated “to baptize” comes from the root bapto, which means “to dip in or under.” This word clearly gives the idea of immersion, which explains why many Christians, Adventists included, believe that sprinkling isn’t a biblical teaching. Instead, the idea from the New Testament is that a person is completely immersed under the water.
For instance, the Bible says that John the Baptist baptized in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5) and in “Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there” (John 3:23, NKJV). This text is important because for immersion, John needed “much water.”
Notice also what Mark wrote about Jesus’ baptism:
“It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove” (Mark 1:9, 10; Matthew 3:16, NKJV).
The book of Acts gives another example of baptism by immersion.
There was an Ethiopian eunuch who being a follower of the Jewish faith (Acts 8:27), was convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah.
“Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:36-39, NKJV).
So they both “went down into the water,” and both “came up out of the water,” which again implies an immersive baptism.
Where did the idea of infant baptism (“sprinkling”) come from?
While it was meant to care of the souls of beloved babies, the practice of “sprinkling,” or ceremonially placing drops of water on the head of an infant, originated from a custom of the early church—not in biblical history.
At that time in the world, there was a high infant mortality rate. Since they believed baptism washed away sins, babies were baptized soon after birth.
Immersing an infant’s head underwater was risky, but some denominations did it this carefully using a “baptismal font” deep enough for a quick dip.
Other groups used a ceremonial practice of sprinkling holy water on the babies’ heads.2
If a baby was not baptized this way and died, many people were concerned that the soul of the baby would go to hell or to purgatory.
What needs to be understood about this situation is that baptism isn’t what saves a person. It’s what a saved person does to make his or her faith public.
Baptism comes only after a person first accepts that Jesus Christ died to offer us the gift of salvation.
What do Adventists teach about the necessity of baptism?
Adventists do not believe in salvation by works or by baptism.
Though we are not saved by baptism, it is an important outward expression before humans and before God. It demonstrates our faith that already saved us, even before baptism.
It’s not as if there is something magical or supernatural about the water that justifies a person before God and then cleanses them from their sin in a literal sense.
To use a loose analogy, think of a high school or college graduation ceremony.
It is a recognition of a person’s completion of their course requirements. The ceremony itself is a public recognition of what has already taken place. The ceremony is not what created their achievement but is a symbol of it.
When we have accepted Christ, and have been justified by faith—which then leads to a new life with Him—our baptism is an expression of what we have already experienced.
And this is precisely why baptizing babies by sprinkling isn’t biblical, because the baby has yet to make that choice to follow God. Instead, someone is baptized when he or she is old enough to make a conscious choice for Christ.
What it means to be baptized today
The most crucial part of baptism is first, the belief in God. It’s this belief that eventually leads to baptism. The Bible makes that part explicitly clear:
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16, NKJV)
“So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household’” (Acts 16:31, NKJV)
When we love God so much that we wish to follow Him wherever He leads, it only makes sense to commemorate this decision with a meaningful ceremony.
Similar to how weddings celebrate the union of people pledging their lives to one another, or how birthday parties celebrate another year of human life, baptism celebrates one of the greatest joys we can fathom—that Jesus died for us, cleansed us of our sins, and rose again so that we may also inherit eternal life with Him.
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, NKJV).
Notice how these verses say that belief comes first, then baptism. Belief is what saves, not baptism. While that the Bible teaches the practice of baptism is important, it is not a means of salvation. Salvation is by faith alone.
It is after accepting the Gospel—through faith—that believers can choose to make this public declaration of faith by having an immersive baptism blessed by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Then, those believers rise up from the water as new persons in Christ.
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 Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology; (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2000.) p. 586.
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