The Ordinances – Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches practice seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, last rites (anointing the sick), matrimony, and holy order (ordination). The New Testament gives us two which we are commanded to observe: water baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). They are Jesus-initiated and Jesus-commanded. Some Primitive Baptists add a third: foot washing (John 13). These acts do not provide grace to its participants. They rather bear witness to Christ’s grace.
The Lord commissioned His people to do three things (Matt. 28:19-20): to make disciples of all nations, to baptize gospel believers, and to teach them to observe the instructions he gave his Apostles, now found in the New Testament. The Great Commission and the practice of the early churches (Acts 2:41; 8:38; 10:46-47; 18:8) show that water baptism is an ordinance to be obeyed by all believers who are physically able to comply. It involves obedience to the Lord’s command.
Baptism’s Meaning – The background of baptism lies in the Jewish mikveh (washings), especially for converts, and in the baptism of John the Baptizer, but Christ gave baptism new meaning.
1. IDENTIFY WITH CHRIST – The central idea of believers’ baptism is identification with Christ because we are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27) and identify with his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:4). Acts 2:41 makes the sequence clear: receiving the Word, baptism, being added to the church. Therefore the proper subjects of baptism are believers who can affirm their faith in Christ.
2. IDENTIFY WITH THE CHURCH – Acts 2:41 also indicates that baptism led to church membership. Baptism was the doorway to church membership. Just as Spirit baptism at conversion places one in the universal church, so water baptism places one in the local church. Baptism is only valid when performed as a believer, thus Baptists have required those who join their churches from denominations that practice baptism other than immersion to receive believer’s baptism as a requirement for membership. Some Baptists even require baptism by immersion in a Baptist church only (sometimes called alien immersion). Baptists believe that baptism by immersion is a clear command of Christ, not just an interpretation of Scripture. This is an example of why denominations are good things. Spiritual unity is maintained without surrendering one’s own convictions. There are secondary issues, yes, but it is okay to have secondary issues.
3. No Baptismal Regeneration – Believer’s baptism means that we deny all baptismal regeneration -- that one's baptism has any value in their salvation. Baptism does not and cannot save a person. Baptism has no mystical power to accomplish anything – it only testifies to what has already happened – salvation. The thief on the cross is enough to show that baptism is not necessary for salvation.