Cecil J. “C. J.” Sharp was one of Christian Standard’s most prolific writers over a period of several decades—from 1912 into the early 1950s. His book, New Training for Service—a 1934 revision of Herbert Moninger’s original Training for Service book—had sold more than 250,000 copies by the time of his death in 1953.
Sharp’s essay on “How to Perform a New Testament Baptism,” a portion of which we share today (and the entirety of which we are making available for free download), is a straightforward, no-nonsense screed on what to do and what not to do.
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How to Perform a New Testament Baptism
By C. J. Sharp
March 10, 1951; p. 13
Baptism is a divine and sacred ordinance. It is not a humanly appointed act or form. Jesus Christ himself said: “Teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” That which is done by the direct command of Christ . . . deserves and demands the strictest reverence and solemnity. He who looks upon it as a type of formality has never caught the first glimpse of its sacred significance and deep meaning.
Baptism is the most significant step in the life of the convert. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). . . . There can be no step more significant than being born to everlasting life. He who administers baptism, therefore, has no right to take away from, mar, nor allow to be obscured, the sacred significance of this divinely appointed act.
Baptism stands for the most tragic and the most triumphant events in the life of our Lord. The most tragic event in the life of the world was His death and burial, and the most triumphant event in all the world was His resurrection. Without these, all hope vanishes, and with them, hope has no limits except the limit of assurance. These lie at the absolute foundation of Christianity. Take these away, and there is not a claim for Christianity that can stand. Baptism, standing for these things, must be so performed as to be in keeping with the things for which it stands.
It stands for the solemn burial of the candidate. The baptistery typifies and stands for the grave of the Lord himself. “We are buried with him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). We should, therefore, teach old and young to have respect for that which stands for the grave of the Lord. . . .
Baptism signifies in the life of the candidate: burial to the old life out of Christ, and resurrection to the new life in Christ; burial to the old life without promise, and resurrection to the new life with all God’s promises; burial to the old life unforgiven, and resurrection to the new life in the kingdom; burial to the old life of disobedience and sin, and resurrection to the new life of obedience and service; burial to the old life with death as its end and the grave as its goal, and resurrection to the new life with eternal life as its reward and heaven as its goal.
There is no sermon so eloquent on the subject of Christian baptism as a properly performed baptism.
The way in which it is performed determines whether its message is made or marred. If a baptism is so carelessly or unskillfully performed as to appear to be a “ducking” instead of a solemn burial, then shall we blame the irreverent, or shall we blame ourselves. . . .
If the impression is left that it is a silly act of fanatics instead of a sacred and significant act of obedience, is it not because of failure to prepare properly the minds of the beholders?
If the impression is left that it is a foolish spectacle, disgusting, and even immodest, rather than a most beautiful and sacred act of deepest significance and piety, is it not because of carelessness?
The solution of the problems mentioned above lies in easy reach. It consists in most careful preparation—spiritual, mental, and physical—of the minister, the candidate, and the audience.
The minister must be thoroughly impressed that a baptism is a serious and sacred burial. While baptism is the fulfillment of a command, it is more than that; it is a burial. While baptism . . . is the fourth and consummating step in becoming a Christian, it is something more than merely the next necessary step. It is a solemn burial “with Christ.” The minister must not only know this, but he must ever keep it in mind. . . .
PREPARATION FOR THE PHYSICAL ACT OF BAPTISM
Regardless of the size of the church, provision should be made for convenient and decent robing facilities. . . . Robes are most advisable. One advantage is that they enable many a baptism to be performed immediately after the confession, which is better than putting the matter off for convenience. Again, they eliminate the tendency to undue display in the matter of clothing. Again, they make all candidates appear the same, and thus leave a bit of Scriptural lesson by suggestion. Again, they make it much more possible to immerse ladies without any chance of any untoward happening tending to embarrassment. Again, they make provision so that the minister may know that all are properly robed without leaving anything to the inexperience and unwisdom of the candidates. . . .
The baptistery should be so located that, as a grave for burial, it will not be tramped or stamped upon. It should be a prominent feature in every church of Christ. . . .
PREPARATION OF THE MINISTER
The minister must have an appreciation of the holiness of the task which he is about to perform. A thorough, Scriptural knowledge of the meaning, place, and significance of baptism is absolutely essential to any proper spiritual preparation. It also seems hardly possible for one to be prepared to perform an act so sacred without prayer, earnest and devout. . . .
The minister must be in perfect command of himself mentally, because the responsibility of performing the act rightly and sacredly is entirely his responsibility. It is little less than sacrilegious to do a bungling job of that which is sacred. . . .
PREPARATION OF THE CANDIDATE
Those about to be baptized should be made, so far as possible, to appreciate the deep and sacred significance of the act. . . .
Let [the candidate] get accustomed to the temperature of the water. . . . Instruct them and show them exactly how you want them to hold your wrist, how they are to handle themselves. Ask them to leave the matter entirely to you. . . . . In case of very heavy people, assure them they need have no fear of your ability to raise them up, as they weigh only twenty pounds when under the water, etc. . . .
PREPARATION OF THE AUDIENCE
The minister can usually be ready for the baptismal service before the candidates, and the time can be spent well in preparing the audience. . . Almost every audience . . . needs to be told plainly, but sweetly, that a baptism is not a spectacle, but a sacred service, a burial service, and demands the greatest reverence. . . .
THE BAPTISMAL FORMULA
While the essence of the formula is always the same, there is not a universally used formula. The following is a good form that has wide usage: “And now, upon the confession of faith in Jesus Christ, and by His authority, I baptize you, my brother, John Brown, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Many do not use the name of the candidate, but it has these advantages. . . .
THE ACT OF BAPTIZING
. . . The one general error is haste; the one instruction is “go slow.” If the minister hurries, it will tend to excite or frighten the candidate. Every move should be deliberate. The candidate is probably under the impression, since he is going to have his face under the water, that he will be without breath overlong. Very often the minister is thinking the same. Bear in mind that, even though you baptize as slowly as possible and dip the candidate deeply, yet even then the face will be under water only a fraction of the time that any one is capable of holding the breath. . . .
While there are many ways, there is no perfect manner of holding the candidate. The one point is to cause the candidate to have perfect confidence in the minister, and the minister to have perfect control of the candidate. . . .
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Sharp’s actual article is more than 3,000 words, which is more than we almost ever print these days. But even though it is 70 years old, it remains an interesting, helpful primer for those who carry out baptisms at a church. Click on the following links to download the entire two-page article.
—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard