In our Church culture we tend to delay baptism for far too long. I personally was baptized 5 months after my conversion. I have seen as long as a few years after one getting saved that they are finally baptized. Churches have a tendency to hold “Baptism Classes” for believers new and seasoned. Those classes, spanning a few week period, go over the doctrine of baptism in order to assure the baptizees know why they are going through with it. After completing this long course, the believers then set a baptism date a few Sundays away. I have seen discipleship material, which is otherwise excellent, with weekly lessons about the basics of the faith, and the last chapter is on baptism. At the end of the chapter is a section to set a date for your baptism. I remember regarding one Bible College (a Baptist one!) that, within their Statement of Faith, under “Baptism” it stated that one should wait until they show fruit, just to make sure their conversion is genuine.
May I say boldly that this is not the way it is supposed to be. In the New Testament baptism was performed immediately after one was saved. There was no probation period. There was no “Bi-Monthly Baptism Service”. The natural bend was not to doubt one’s conversion until they show enough fruit to prove they are genuinely saved. Rather, it is a mandate that all who are saved be baptized. Let us survey the book of Acts and see what the practice of the apostles was. Let us glean all we can from these accounts, and revolutionize the way our churches go about obeying this command.
Baptism commanded in Acts 2
Within Peter’s initial sermon in Acts 2 to the people of Jerusalem is the call, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). There, the timing of baptism is placed at essentially the same time as your conversion. Of course, we do not believe that baptism causes forgiveness of sins (for why then did Jesus not baptize [John 4:2], nor Paul baptize many [1 Cor. 1:14-17]?). That would be an affront to Peter and the other apostles’ gospel of justification by faith alone. However, there is a connection throughout the New Testament captured in the theme of “baptism for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4). It is helpful to clarify that in those texts it is not baptism that leads to forgiveness, but that their repenting and forgiveness leads them to be baptized. If nothing else, from this text we must at least conclude that nobody said, “Oh, I will definitely repent, but please, Peter, allow me to wait a few months before my baptism.” We must also glean that baptism is commanded for all, for that is the tone carried in these words. And we must see that repentance, forgiveness, and baptism are all meshed into one action. This text also says that “all those who had received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). All of them were baptized. Also, it does not say, “All were baptized at some point“, for the text specifically places the time of their conversion and baptism as “that day”.
Nothing prevented the Ethiopian Eunuch from being baptized (Acts 8)
The account of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch sheds light on our discussion (Acts 8). We know the eunuch was baptized that same day, for it says, “As they went along the road they came to some water” (Acts 8:36, emphasis mine). Another practical application to glean from the account is the answer to the Eunuch’s question, “What prevents me from being baptized?” (v. 36). Now, there is question concerning whether Peter’s answer recorded in verse 37 is authentic (in the original manuscripts), but either way the answer for our current inquiry remains the same. In either case, the answer is that nothing prevents him, so long as he believes! There was no probation period; no extra criteria to check off. There is one more thing to glean from this text concerning the practice of baptism– a controversial one. Namely, that the eunuch was not baptized publicly. You see, traditionally baptism is seen as a public profession of one’s union with Christ in His death and resurrection. However, our eunuch brother did not wait until the next church service to be baptized. Rather, here the immediacy of the act is more important than the publicity thereof. Perhaps a new standard could be that if you lead somebody to Christ in our house, take them to the backyard pool, and call your pastor, but if one is saved at an actual church service or event, then of course fill the baptismal and perform it publicly.
Ananias didn’t allow Paul to delay his baptism (Acts 9)
When Saul saw the vision of the Lord in Acts 9, he was blinded (Acts 9:8). We are told that he was blind for 3 days (Acts 9:9). It was when Ananias showed up that he regained his sight (Acts 9:17-18). It was then that he was baptized (Acts 9:19). Here, the believer was not baptized immediately. We could take one of two paths for why this was so. First, it could be that God makes exceptions for those physically unable to be baptized. Or second, which is preferable, there was no Christian nearby to baptize him. The “men who traveled with him” (Acts 9:7) clearly were not believers, for they were joining him to persecute the church. And so, God sent a messenger to Saul to commission and to baptize him. In a parallel passage where Paul recites his testimony, Ananias says to Paul, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized,” (Acts 22:16). He was to be baptized without any hesitation.
Peter ordered Cornelius to be baptized (Acts 10)
Cornelius and his family were baptized the same day they heard the Word from Peter (Acts 10). The text says that “he ordered them” to be baptized (Acts 10:48). This is nothing optional that we can put off until we feel ready. Even if we are to stretch the time and say that they did not follow that command immediately, but put it off, it could only be “a few days” after their conversion (10:48), for that is how long they stayed at his house.
The jailer was baptized the night of his conversion (Acts 16)
In Acts 16 we read of the conversion of the jailer. The conversation wherein Paul and Silas lead him and his family to the Lord happened that same night. It seems very unlikely that between “he fell down before Paul and Silas,” (Acts 16:29) and “after he brought them out” (Acts 16:30) is a long period of more than a day. Why, with such trauma and fear, would the jailer wait to discover how to be saved? The time between the doors of the jail opening (Acts 16:26) and the preaching was enough for him to gather his family to hear (Acts 16:32). Then, “he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized” (Acts 16:33, emphasis mine). There is no break in the narrative between the family hearing the word and the family being baptized. Otherwise, we would have to say he waited days to clean their wounds and house them, for the text also places those activities in the same time frame.
The disciples of John’s first baptism didn’t count (Acts 19)
There is much debate over whether or not the disciples of John in Acts 19:1-7 were already saved or not. Which side one takes does have implications concerning the timing of baptism, for they may have been saved for years. I particularly hold that they were not saved until Paul spoke with them, for otherwise we would have to conclude that everybody John the Baptist baptized needs to be re-baptized again once they hear that the One they hoped for was Jesus. Whichever side we hold, clearly the timing of their baptism was upon hearing the truth: “When they heard this, they were baptized” (Acts 19:5).
On a side note, this also gives us a clue as for the procedure for those who were baptized as babies and get saved later on, or for one who is baptized thinking they’re saved, but gets truly saved at a later point. Usually the tendency is to settle for their pre-conversion baptism. However, in this passage we see that the baptism they had received before Christ was not legitimate, and they needed to be re-baptized. Common sense will bring us to this conclusion also, for if our pre-conversion baptism was not Christ’s baptism, then what was it?
Conclusion: Baptism is always immediately after conversion
So also is the testimony in Acts 8:12: “But when they believed…they were being baptized.” The testimony concerning Lydia and her household is not specific concerning the time lapse (Acts 16:14-15), although most likely it was instant. The Corinthians “were believing and being baptized” almost simultaneously (Acts 18:8).
I know that upon reading this many will accuse me of being unwise, or of not looking into the practical applications of such a view. Perhaps you could bring up many stories of people who were baptized after showing zeal, but that fire died out and proved untrue. I have heard all of these arguments, and they do seem wise at first glance. However, nothing can stand up against the weight of the many passages of Scripture discussed above. It is a choice between our wisdom and God’s command.
The most convincing argument for the other side is the distance between our 21st Century American culture and Bible times. Back then, even the Gentile jailer and Ethiopian eunuch had a grasp on baptism, whereas today an average American may have no clue what they are doing. We certainly do not want people pressured into their baptism, or to feel that it plays a role in their salvation, etc. However, may I ask whether or not a 4 to 6 week course is really necessary for somebody to understand what they are doing? Does it follow the pattern in the New Testament to let a new convert “wait until they’re ready” to be baptized? It does not take much explaining for them to get at least the basics. It could even be a couple sentence chat on the walk down to the river.
If you are a Christian and have not been baptized, I encourage you to get it done. Our Lord and the apostles whom He commissioned command it. If your sins truly have been forgiven and you are made a new man because of Christ’s work, then may you, with joy, show your identification with Him. It is imperative.