Baptism and Worship

How do you think about water baptism? Do you think about it as an act of worship? Baptism, along with the Lord’s Supper, is one of two actions that our Savior himself ordained that the church practice permanently until his return. That’s pretty significant.

For the past two years our pastoral team has been studying the importance of these two sacraments in the life of the church. We’ve realized that we haven’t been explaining or practicing them in a way that sufficiently communicates their rich biblical meaning and importance. We share communion once a month as a church and offer baptism at least quarterly, but usually on a Sunday afternoon or at a retreat.

So this past Sunday, Josh Harris, our senior pastor, taught on baptism. He explained that a sacrament is both a symbol and a seal. As a symbol, it stands for something else, just as a wedding band symbolizes the life long commitment a husband and wife make before God and others. But baptism is also a seal, physically reinforcing the reality it represents, similar to the way a handshake reinforces a sentiment of good will and encouragement. Baptism seals our union by faith with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Water baptism doesn’t save anyone, but it is the biblical sign that a person’s sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus, and that we’ve been united with Christ in his death and resurrection ( 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rom. 6:3-4 ). It also seals that fact that we’ve begun a new life in Christ ( 2 Cor. 5:17 ). In view of its significance, we’ll be making changes in our practice of baptism that strengthen these biblical convictions. One of the most evident is starting to include water baptisms regularly in our Sunday meetings, potentially even twice a month.

We’ll be building a baptismal into the floor of the stage in the near future. But since that wasn’t ready yet, we used this large inflatable blue pool. Unsightly, but functional.


In both of our two meetings we baptized ten individuals, for a total of twenty. Before they were baptized, each person expressed, at times through tears, their trust in Christ’s atoning work and a desire to obey him. Two people in each meeting shared a lengthier version on video. Here’s the order of the morning:

What a Savior (Devon Kauflin)
How Great You Are (Will Pavone)
Here I Am to Worship (Tim Hughes)

Song: Jesus, Thank You (Pat Sczebel)
Five Baptisms
Song: Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear) (Graham Kendrick)
Five Baptisms
Song: As Long as I Have Breath (Mark Altrogge)

As we watched baptisms right in the middle of the Sunday meeting, I was struck by several things. First, you couldn’t miss the connection between a person being baptized into Christ and being baptized into his Body. This wasn’t a bunch friends baptizing each other in a pool. This was a serious commitment, made possible by the grace of God, to live life together with the church of Jesus Christ. Second, it reinforced the importance of water baptism to everyone present. Third, it was a biblical way to preach the Gospel. Fourth, there was an almost palpable joy that filled the room as we were reminded that Jesus Christ continues to reconcile men and women to God through his substitutionary death and triumphant resurrection.

The highlight of the morning (and there were many), came as the last man stepped up to be baptized. It was Josh’s father-in-law, Milt. Josh and his wife, Shannon, have been praying for his salvation for ten years. Milt shared that he had managed to make it through sixty years without believing in God. But this past April, God led him to the foot of the cross. He shared that although his life has been filled with regret, he is now filled with the joy of knowing his sins have been completely forgiven through the sacrifice of his Savior. Here’s Josh (along with Robin Boisvert), baptizing his father-in-law.

Afterwards, I thought the roof was going to come off as we sang:

How do I thank You, oh Lord
For taking my place on the cross
And how do I thank You, oh Lord
For all of Your mercy and kindness
For calling me to You
For letting me hear You
For opening my heart to the Gospel.

There’s nothing “magical” about dunking someone in water. But when done in faith and in obedience to God’s Word, it helps us remember that we worship the matchless Savior who really does change lives.

16 Responses to Baptism and Worship

  1. Matthew Westerholm August 7, 2007 at 2:49 PM #

    Beautiful, Bob.

    Baptism is such a beautiful (and biblical) picture of salvation . . . It’s one of the best things that the gathered church can do. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. zach nielsen August 7, 2007 at 3:48 PM #


    Would you care to comment on the use of video for testimonies before getting dunked? My church is thinking through this issue right now. Thanks!


  3. Zach Nielsen August 7, 2007 at 3:49 PM #

    Oh yeah, great to see you listening to some Keith! He got an extra measure of common grace than us “normal” guys who play piano. I praise God for his music.

  4. Bob Kauflin August 7, 2007 at 5:21 PM #


    Using videos during baptisms was an idea we got from Andy Stanley’s church. It was very effective. Some of the advantages:

    1. It made transitions smoother. People were getting into the water as their video was ending.
    2. We were able to put together clear, compelling testimonies that were also personal.
    3. Having a few longer testimonies made us appreciate the significance of everyone’s profession. Nothing seemed rote or routine.

    By the way, Milt ended up reading his testimony next to the pool. That was effective, too.

    Hope that’s helpful.

  5. Drew Scott August 7, 2007 at 5:48 PM #

    We’ve used baptism videos for a couple of years – I’ll share some thoughts to see if they help.

    We love them – they allow the new believer to think through responses, allows us to ask more questions, avoids the awkwardness of the wet moment in the spotlight, and allows us to make some assurance that their story will be presented well (without the “ums” and “can I say that a different way?” comments).

    When we film the interviews, we ask questions that draw out the whole gospel, how the person came to receive the gospel, what baptism means, and how the church can pray for them. We edit out the questions so it looks like a person simply telling their story.

    The videos have drastically enhanced the corporate worship aspect of baptisms, as our folks can both get to know their new family member and revisit their own baptism (much like watching a wedding).

  6. Bob Kauflin August 7, 2007 at 8:17 PM #


    Excellent thoughts. Thanks for sharing them. Your comments show how we can use technology to draw attention to, rather than overshadow, the Gospel and the Word.

  7. Tyler August 8, 2007 at 10:45 AM #

    We also use an inflatable for our baptism, though ours resembles more of a hot tub. In Omaha, where sacramentalism is rampant, it is a great reminder that there is nothing holy about the water. It comes from the Missouri (River) and is in an inglorious container. This is in stark contrast to what many have grown up learning and is thus poignant for the believer and often leads to questions from the unbelieving in attendance.

    Thanks for the variety of your posts and I echo some of your other readers, we long for your book, but long for more posts as well when you finish with this project.

  8. Helen Lowe August 8, 2007 at 2:40 PM #

    Thanks Bob for the excellent post..I have never been to such a God-exalting, Christ centered baptism. It made me so incredibly thankful for salvation and the body of Christ. I was wondering if those of us who went to the first service would be able to read the testimony of those who were baptized at the 2nd service.
    Thanks for your leadership at CLC!

  9. Matt Mason August 8, 2007 at 3:18 PM #

    Great stuff! Thanks for posting. I’m downloading Josh’s message right now. I’m curious as to whether you all had a primary book that you read through as you studied the topic? I’ve just started to read through Believer’s Baptism, edited by Schreiner and Wright. It has been a very good read so far but I’m interested to find out if you all found something else that was especially helpful in thinking this through. Thanks again!

  10. Billy Chia August 9, 2007 at 2:14 AM #


    I got baptized this weekend.

    I like the inflate-a-pool.

  11. Stephen Altrogge August 9, 2007 at 10:01 AM #


    This was an outstanding post. I plan on forwarding this to my dad to get his thoughts on how we might implement something similar.


  12. Brendt August 9, 2007 at 3:02 PM #

    I like the pool, too. It says that not only is obedience better than sacrifice (like Scripture tells us), but it’s also better than aesthetics.

    I’m also tickled pink for Josh about his father-in-law.

    Not in any way decrying your decision to have an “in-house” baptistry and observe the sacrament in Sunday service. But I think it’s moreso an issue that you guys got the right idea about the sacrament first, and THEN got the baptistry. Lots of churches with “in-house” baptistries have the same disconnect as “a bunch friends baptizing each other in a pool”.

  13. Matthew Westerholm August 10, 2007 at 9:50 AM #

    Our church uses a twist on video testimonies. Because we have multiple services (and locations, for that matter), we will often use a recap video so that our whole church can see how the Lord is working. You can see it here.

  14. Won August 10, 2007 at 10:49 AM #

    bob! how are you? once again, thank you for an invaluable year at the PC…

    also, “potentially even twice a month” on sundays?! that is great. please pray for City Church as we strive to grow in a biblical understanding of the ordinances/sacraments and obediently applying them to our church more faithfully.

  15. Amanda August 11, 2007 at 11:17 PM #

    What a beautiful post relating baptism & worship! In all honesty, I’ve never thought of it this way, but looking back on my own baptism (which wasn’t all that long ago, actually), I see how it truly was an act of worship.

    Something I’ve always wanted to do as a group is go out to a nearby river & have all celebrate this as such by being baptized symbolically–like renewing our vows–& doing so as I now realize from reading your post–an act of worship, love & gratitude toward our Lord & Savior. What a beautiful thing it is & even more so how the act of it shows that we have entrusted our lives to serving, loving & worshiping Him!

  16. Brendan Beale August 15, 2007 at 1:14 PM #

    Thank you so much for your ministry- it is a great encouragement to me. I have a question that doesn’t directly pertain to this topic, but it’s been something I’ve been wondering about, and I’d love it if you could address it at some point.

    My question is this: what place should the worship of the Holy Spirit have in a corporate setting? I have noticed that many songs (“Glory To” by Sovereign Grace, for example) directly praise the Father and the Son, but leave the Holy Spirit out. I understand that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to glorify Jesus Christ (John 16:14), but since He is equal in glory with the Father and the Son, it seems that we should be including Him for a more authentic worship of the Trinity. As a worship leader, I’ve been particularly bothered by this (I wrote a third verse to “Glory To” to make up for it), and I wanted to know your thoughts on the topic.

    Thanks and God bless,
    Brendan Beale

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