Baptism is a very special moment on the journey of faith. It is a moment when God's presence and blessing meets us, and it is a moment when we make our personal commitment of faith in Jesus as Lord.
Normally baptism takes place by full immersion in water as part of a public act of worship. It signifies the end of our old life and of being born again to new life in Christ. It speaks of repentance and cleansing, of being united with Christ in his death and resurrection, and of witnessing to the call of God upon our lives. As the Apostle Paul says, 'We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.' (Romans 6:3,4)
Baptism is also about receiving God's Spirit for service in the church and in the world. It is often accompanied by the laying on of hands as a sign of commissioning and by being received into membership of the church.
The vast majority of Christian churches affirm baptism as a moment when we receive God's gift and respond in faith, but not all practice believer's baptism. Many baptise those who are too young to make their own response of commitment to Christian discipleship, and so parents make promises on their behalf that are later 'confirmed' by the person themselves when they are of an age to do so.
Many Baptists will want to welcome and affirm those who have a different story to tell of how they have been baptised and come to faith, while still declaring our conviction that believers' baptism is the pattern that is set out for us in scripture.
There are many reasons why believers choose to be baptised:
Jesus set an example: Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). Therefore, to be baptised is to be obedient to the path set out by Jesus.
Jesus commands us: In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus says, 'All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.'
The early church practised it: On the Day of Pentecost, Peter tells the people to 'Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit' (Acts 2:37-38). There are other examples of baptism throughout the book of Acts which suggests believer's baptism was an integral part of early church life.
To be baptised is a way of opening ourselves to God's blessing and of expressing our commitment to lives as disciples of Christ.
When a person decides to be baptised, they will normally have a period of preparation during which the church (usually in the person of the minister) will help them understand more about the Christian faith and the meaning of baptism. This usually takes place in the weeks before baptism.
A baptism in a Baptist church is nearly always by full immersion. A Baptist church often has a baptismal pool at the front of the church that is usually hidden under the floor, with steps going down into it. Before the baptismal service, the pool is uncovered and is filled with warm water. Churches that do not have a baptismal pool may hire an inflatable birthing pool or use a local swimming pool or even use a river or the sea, if close by.
At the service itself, any being baptised will often give a testimony to the congregation on how they became a Christian and why they have chosen to be baptised. Then, immediately before baptism, they will be asked basic questions of commitment, including an acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
A minister normally baptises. He or she will hold the person being baptised, placing one hand on their back and the other on their chest. They will then say the words, 'I baptise you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit', and plunge the person being baptised backwards so that they are fully immersed in the water, before raising them back up to standing position. They then leave the water.
The person baptised will often be welcomed into church membership at communion in the same service or at the next opportunity.