I come from a credo-baptist tradition and we pride ourselves on “doing baptism the Bible way.” But there is a wee problem: . . . we don’t. You see, as good evangelicals we have a view of Christian initiation as simply a matter of faith in Christ and repentance. If you turn to God and “ask Jesus into your heart” then you are a Christian. So we are then a little unsure what to do about baptism. It cannot be about becoming a Christian because we only baptise those who are, in our theology, already Christians.
So what we do is that we say that baptism is an outward symbol of what God has already done in converting us. As such it is primarily an act of witness and testimony. Thus the tradition has grown up that a key part of the rite of baptism is the person getting baptized offering a testimony of what God has done in their lives. Baptism is all about giving testimony — in word and act — to what God has done for us.
The great irony of this modern baptistic evangelical approach to baptism is that it is only a shadow of the NT theology and practice. It may not be completely unbiblical but it is certainly sub-biblical. In the NT baptism is very much about being initiated into Christ, about conversion, about becoming a Christian. It is, to use later language and conceptualizing, a sacrament — a means of grace. I think the NT churches would have found the idea of unbaptized Christians — something evangelicals usually take for granted — an odd one, perhaps even incomprehensible.
The problem is that much evangelical theology simply makes baptism unnecessary (and this applies to many evangelicals in paedo-baptist traditions too — evangelical Anglicans, for instance, are so terrified of baptismal regeneration that they often water down NT theology too). We do it because Jesus told us to but for many of us, in our heart of hearts, we consider it an optional extra. After all, the important stuff is repentance and faith and while baptism offers testimony to God’s work in our lives we hardly need to get batised to do that.
A plus point of this sub-biblical evangelical approach is that it allows evangelicals to work well together across denominational divides without falling out over side-issues (like baptism!!!).
The minus point is that an impoverished theology and praxis is rarely a recipe for living the Christian life.
I am not calling for credo-baptism here — I suspect that a good biblical-theological case can be made for both credo- and paedo-baptism (and I myself and becoming an Anglican) — but I am suggesting that evangelicals of both persuasions do need to do some serious rethinking of the meaning and place of baptism.