This is a very good question. I have faced this question frequently in my years as a Pastor. Just like all aspects of Baptism we need to let the Bible speak instead of opinions or church traditions. So, is baptism optional?
We have been doing a lot of baptisms recently and have another group for next month. This means I have been doing a lot of teaching , thinking and answering questions on Baptism. I have once again been impressed with the requirement for the follower of Jesus to be baptized. The strong Biblical statement is found in Jesus words to His followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20) Many of you know this passage very well, but notice that these instructions were not optional. Jesus’ commission for His followers to make disciples (help them embrace the gospel), baptize them (a public identification with a local church) and then helping them to obey all His teaching (which would include baptism). If these words are true, then to not do something that Jesus commanded, regardless of the reason, is disobedience.
The Biblical pattern for Baptism, demonstrated at the birth of the church, is a person must first believe in Christ then they are baptized by immersion. I have heard a lot of reasons for not being scripturally baptized. I have heard doctrinal reasons like, “baptism is not for the New Testament Christian” (It is impossible to support this from the Bible). Another objection is that New Testament Baptism is “spiritual” but again while there is a spiritual baptism why did the New Testament church continue to practice baptism by immersion? I have also heard many excuses like, “I was baptized as child.” “I am afraid of the water.” “I could never get in front of people.” What I have discovered as I have explored these reasons is that most people fail to follow the Lord’s command because of fear.
This last month I had the privilege of baptizing my wife. She made a profession of faith as a young child and was baptized but felt that she truly became a follower of Jesus as a teenager. Several months ago, at a previous baptismal service, the Lord convicted her again about the Biblical order of belief first then baptism. She stated in her testimony that for years she had rationalized not needing to obey the Lord’s voice in her life because of a fear of what people would think. She was even concerned about what I would think. (I was actually excited for her obedience.) I know that she is not alone.
There are other Biblical arguments supporting the obligation for a follower of Jesus to be baptized, but I think Jesus words in Matthew 18:19-20 are the most significant. It is all a matter of obedience to your Savior. Baptism is a personal choice that you make to obey your Savior, but to the follower of Jesus it is not something that is optional.
-Pastor Joe Parkinson