Baptism-Believer's Wedding Ceremony

With thanks to LaGard Smith

 
By Paul Robison

In 1 Timothy 4:1-3, Paul tells Timothy: "Now the Spirit expressly says that in the later times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth."  This passage shows that some teachers are going to depart from teaching the Gospel or sound doctrine.  Their doctrine will be the lies of saying that Christians should not marry and that certain foods should not be eaten. 

Timothy is to instruct the brethren about these matters.  It is always painful when we must talk about false doctrines which are being promoted by those who claim to be our own brethren.  Today, there is a segment in our brotherhood who would have us to believe that baptism is no longer a necessity for salvation nor is it a key for determining who is saved.  They preach that discipleship is process involving many events, and members in denominational groups should be accepted as brothers and sisters when they just believe in Jesus.  They may be baptized during the process of their discipleship, but it doesn't really matter anymore if they are or not.  So some preachers are making remarks like these: "I was saved years after I was baptized", and "I became a Christian well after [being baptized]" (Smith, Who Is).  Brethren, those who are preaching in this manner have departed from the faith and are not preaching the truth!  Has their preaching had an impact upon our fellowship?  One brother wrote this in 1997: “Never before in the history of the restoration movement has so dramatic a change occurred in so short a time with such little opposition.  Who would have guessed that so many among the churches of Christ would abandon their distinctive understanding of baptism or welcome as fellow Christians all those whose focus is on Jesus regardless of whether they have been baptized? ... It is increasingly clear that achieving unity with others has become a crusade among a new generation with the churches of Christ, and with it has come a willingness to sacrifice clear doctrinal teaching on the matter of baptism" (Ibid). 

So why are these advocates of innovation wanting to call baptism a process?  Well, you see, if baptism is no longer a defining event, then you can enlarge your fellowship with all those who just believe in Jesus and have never been baptized themselves.   Isn't it saddening that the desire of some in our brotherhood has caused them to put seeking the praise of men above seeking the praise of God?  They are wanting to take the broad way that leads to destruction rather than staying with the narrow way that leads to life.
 
In the next two lessons, we want to look at baptism.  In today's lesson, a comparison is going to be made in order to help us see the importance of baptism as an event, and not a process.  Then, in the next lesson, the far-reaching purposes of baptism are going to be underscored.
 
Now let's look at three passages from the Old Testament.  The first is Ruth 3:9 where Ruth basically proposes to Boaz with these words: "Take your maidservant under you wing, for you are a close relative."  Now look at Ezekiel 16:8 where we read: "'When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness.  Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,' says the Lord God."  Did you catch the similarity in wording about coming under one's wing?  Who is doing the proposing here?  It's God, isn't it?  And who is the bride here?  It's Israel, the Jewish people, isn't it?  Now when did God "marry" the Jewish people?  The text says when God swore an oath to the Jews and entered into a covenant with them.  Now when did God do that? 
Was there a particular moment when their "wedding" took place?  If you'll look at Exodus 19, you will find when the wedding day occurred.  It took place at Mt. Sinai when God came down and spoke the words of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites.  Note what God says in 19:5: "Now therefore, if you keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."  Now, has anything similar taken place in the New Testament for Christians?  Was there a defining moment when those who were pagans living in the kingdom of Satan became children of God who now live in the kingdom of Christ?  Notice what Paul writes 2 Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy.  For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ."  Yes, Paul says that a wedding has taken place between the members in Corinth and Christ.  "If we are individually and collectively the bride of Christ, it is reasonable to ask: 'When did we become the bride, and through what ceremony?  In what way have we pledged our love and commitment to Christ, and He to us?  By what act of covenant have we joined our lives to His?' ... In marriage, the husband and wife form a perfect complement, two persons united as one—in body, in spirit, and in purpose.  In much the same way, Christ takes the church as His bride ...” (Smith, Baptism).  But when does the wedding ceremony take place?  Now notice what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body,  being many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether salves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit."  "Paul tells us clearly [here] that our union in one body with Christ takes place individually, when we are baptized by the power of the Spirit. ... In the wedding ceremony of baptism, we not only become united with Christ in His body, but we also submit to His spiritual leadership.  As the bride of Christ, we make a covenant to love, to honor, and to submit [to Him]" (Ibid.).  This comparison of one's baptism to a wedding ceremony stimulates many other ideas.  It certainly shows us that baptism is an event, and not a process.  In fact, it is a very symbolic, transforming, and defining event.  The apostle Paul says that it is at that moment that one crucifies his or her old sinful life with Christ, one receives freedom from sin in order to be raised like Christ, and a person becomes a new creation (Romans 6:4-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17)!  It is like an engaged woman who takes on a new name after saying her vows.  Let's explore this comparison a little further and see what other ideas might be developed.  Some of these ideas come from a good book which some of you may have already read (F. LaGard Smith's Baptism: The Believer's Wedding Ceremony Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1993).
 
If a wedding is to be legal, some authority registered with the state will be performing the ceremony.  His signature is also necessary for the marriage license.  At baptism, the minister is God.  To answer a question concerning divorce raised by the Pharisees, Jesus gave this response in Matthew 19:4-6: "Have you not read that He made them at the beginning 'male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”  Now notice how the apostle Paul uses this same passage in Ephesians 5:30-32: “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'  This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”  Just as it is God is the unseen guest who joins together the husband and wife at their wedding, so likewise, He joins Christ and the obedient person together during their wedding ceremony at baptism!  In fact, in this wedding ceremony, we see a repetition of Gospel taking place all over again.  Romans 6:3-4 states: “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.”  We are very close to Christ in this wedding ceremony as His own death, burial, and resurrection associated with an earthly tomb are all now seen once again in an obedient person's death, burial, and resurrection associated with a watery tomb!  Just as Christ was raised by God to have a new form of existence, so the same thing happens to the obedient person who allows himself or herself to be immersed!  God is a very active minister in the wedding as He joins together and raises together this bride to Christ!
 
Other believers, disciples, or Christians make up the audience or witnesses.  A minister will often begin a wedding ceremony with words similar to these: "We are gathered together in the presence of God and these witnesses to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony."  The wedding ceremony is a public affair, whether there are only two witnesses or 200.  The presence of witnesses adds legitimacy to the relationship and solemnity to the occasion.  Likewise, the wedding ceremony of baptism is a public affair, and the members watching this event adds credibility and dignity to it as well.  They are witnessing a great transformation.  Colossians 2:11-13 describes what is happening: "In Him, you were also circumcised without the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.  And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made alive together with Him, having forgiven all your trespasses."  During this wedding ceremony, the witnesses see freedom from sin's slavery and forgiveness of all past transgressions!  So disciples make up the witnesses at this wedding ceremony!
The best man is repentance.  You recall another question that is often asked during the wedding ceremony: "If anyone in this assembly knows any just cause why this marriage should not be performed, let him speak now or forever hold his peace."  "If one is not qualified, he or she is not ready to be solemnized in a ceremony that memorializes his or her commitment" (Smith, Baptism).  "In the time of Christ, the 'friend of the bridegroom' made all the necessary arrangements for the wedding on behalf of the bridegroom.  He was to make certain that everything was ready for the ceremony.  If there were any problems, he was to resolve them beforehand.  In much the same way, repentance identifies problems that stand in the way of one's relationship with Christ and promotes any needed personal changes. ... [When we are] repenting, we take measure of our lives and admit that we are lacking.  Repentance is a time of spiritual reflection that calls to be painfully honest and see the need to straighten our lives. ... Repentance is the willingness to let Christ fill our emptiness and lead us in new directions.  Without this compliant attitude, we will never enjoy God's salvation. ...  This penitent attitude and willingness to be transformed is the core of our baptism.  It prepares the way for the salvation to come" (Ibid.).  The best man, who makes preparations for the ceremony and who qualifies the obedient person for it as well, is repentance.
 
The maid of honor is confession.   As the maid of honor assists the bride, so confession also helps the obedient person.  "... [T]he first Christians accompanied the act of baptism with actual spoken confessions of their faith in Christ [as God's Son].  Apparently, it was done in very much the same fashion as the vows made by a wedding couple.  Paul seems to refer to these public confessions when he reminds Timothy of his pledge of commitment to Christ in 1 Timothy 6:12: 'Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses'" (Smith, Baptism).  Timothy probably affirmed his faith with words similar to those of the Ethiopian official found in Acts 8, who confessed right before his baptism in verse 37: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  Confession is the maid of honor that adds her part to the wedding ceremony of baptism.
 
The groom is Christ.  Jesus calls Himself the bridegroom in Matthew 9:15. In Revelation 19:7, the apostle John heard a great multitude saying: “'Alleluia!  For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!  Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”  This is describing a heavenly scene when ALL of the saints will be united to Christ, but this same unification takes place on earth when each obedient person comes to Christ.  The apostle Paul once met a group of men in the city of Ephesus.  They had been baptized by John the Baptist into his name.  Notice what Paul tells them and what they did in verse 4ff: “Then Paul said, 'John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people, that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.'  When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  Jesus is indeed the bridegroom who deeply loves His bride, each of the members who wear His name.
 
The bride is a believing adult.  Like repentance and confession, belief in Christ is also a prerequisite to baptism.  “What couple does not believe in each other's love, care, and support when they stand before the minister? 
A wedding ceremony without a couple's belief in each other would just be going through the motions, just pretending to get married.  Likewise, baptism, without belief in Jesus, is nothing more than what happens at the local fair's dunking booth!  "This is why it makes sense for Jesus to say: 'He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned' (Mark 16:16), without referring a second time to baptism.  If a person doesn't believe, it isn't necessary to add the extra words 'and is not baptized'” (Smith, Baptism).  If one looks at all the examples of conversion in the book of Acts, one will discover that no infants were ever baptized.  Only adult men and women who had the capacity to accept or reject Jesus as the Lord of their lives were those who experienced the wedding ceremony of baptism.  Some people say that we really don't need to be baptized, but we just need to accept Jesus into our hearts.  When one reasons this way, however, they have let their own personal feelings replace the wedding ceremonies that we find in these examples in Acts.  All of the conversions there have literal physical water involved.  Check it out for yourself, and you will discover that Jews, Samaritans, Corinthians, Philippians, an Ethiopian official, Saul, Lydia, Crispus, and Cornelius all experienced transformation at the wedding ceremony of baptism!  So the bride is a believing adult.
 
The ring is the Holy Spirit.  “In earlier times, when the bride was considered a property interest, the ring give by the husband was a token of his loving 'possession' of the bride” (Smith, Baptism).  Perhaps we can say that the seal of possession corresponds to the role of the wedding ring.  In fact, many ancient seals were attached to rings.  Now look at 2 Corinthians 1:21-22: "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee."  The Christian's seal of possession is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given.  But when did God give His Spirit and when was it received?  Listen to how the apostle Peter responds in Acts 2:38: "'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  At the wedding ceremony of baptism, the ring of the Holy Spirit is presented to seal the relationship.  "It is Spirit who causes us to be aware of our sin and our need for forgiveness.  It is the Spirit who points us to Jesus Christ as the way.  And it is the Spirit who gives us the assurance that we are accepted. ... [Our] salvation is the work of the Spirit reconciling us to God.  Faith and baptism are our loving response to what the Spirit has already done for us" (Ibid.).  So the ring is the Holy Spirit.
 
The vows are the pledge of a good conscience.  "The most important commitment anyone will ever make is the commitment of one's life to become a follower or disciple of Christ.  And that total submission to Him is expressed as pledge in the wedding ceremony of baptism.  The apostle Peter talks about that pledge in comparing the floodwaters that saved Noah with the act of baptism in 1 Peter 3:21: "There is an antitype [to the flood mentioned in the previous verse] which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer [or “pledge” in some versions] of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  "Baptism, as a wedding pledge of a good conscience towards God, is the outward, open, tangible, and public expression of one's acceptance of Christ's offer of love and spiritual union.  [We also pledge our love and commitment to Him.] ... This commitment must not be entered into lightly.  No vow—especially one of faithfulness to Christ alone—should be made without prayerful consideration of the potential implications.  [Just as in marriage, one's relationship with Christ will have both its good times and its sufferings to endure. ... As a public act of commitment, the wedding ceremony of baptism will bolster your inner resolve and, in times of weakness, it will provide a tangible reference point from which to draw strength.] ... In the wedding ceremony of baptism, we tie our destiny to Jesus—[wherever that may lead us]" (Smith, Baptism).  The vows are the pledge of a good conscience.
 
The new name is that “Name above all names” (Philippians 2:9).  In a wedding, the minister will often say something like this: "It is my pleasure to introduce to you, for the first time, Mr. And Mrs.  John Smith."  "And with that happy introduction, the bride will have taken the name of her husband, recognizing thereby his spiritual leadership in their newly-formed relationship.  Similarly, in the wedding ceremony of baptism, we also take the groom's name—the name of Christ—and recognize His spiritual lordship over our lives" (Ibid.).  The apostle Paul told the brethren in Galatia: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).”  "As Christians we are honored to wear [the most exalted name (Philippians 2:9)]--the name of the One Who brought the universe into existence, Who now loves and sustains us, and Who will one day be all mankind's Judge" (Smith, Baptism).  The new name is that of Jesus!
 
Only after the wedding are we truly a family.  Question: If a couple was living together without having a wedding ceremony, would they have God’s approval for the relationship?  Most reasonable Christians would rightly answer: "No, they'd be committing fornication!"  Now to those advocates that we mentioned earlier in our introduction, we ask this question and make this observation: "If we cringe at the thought that simply living together would be acceptable in God's sight, why aren't we concerned that there are believers who have never participated in the wedding ceremony of baptism?  They may be 'living together' with Christ, but they are not yet completely united with Him.  Of course, the [comparison about] 'living together' is not precisely parallel, because there is nothing immoral about being simply a believer in Christ.  In fact, one's devotion to Christ is greatly desirable.  Nevertheless, the [comparison] is biblical to the extent that it shows the need for compliance with all of God's commands before receiving the full benefits of the relationship" (Ibid.).  Only after the wedding are we truly a family!
 
"And now why are you waiting?  Arise and be baptized, calling on the name of the Lord!"  These instructions were given to Saul in Acts 22:16. 
Your spiritual wedding ceremony of baptism can happen right now!  If you have repented and are ready to commit your life to Jesus, to say before this audience: "I believe that He is God's Son and I want to be joined to Him for better or for worse," then don't hesitate to make those sacred vows right now.  Let's have a wedding celebration of salvation, and you will be the bride!