It was reported on the news and all I heard was that the pop star turned bad boy, Justin Bieber, was baptized this weekend in the bathroom of a megachurch’s building in New York City. As has often been the case, this event was surrounded by a sea of controversy involving the 20-year-old singer. The “pastor” who baptized him said that the act was preceded by a month of intense Bible study. Bieber sought baptism for cleansing of sin following the release of a racist-filled 5-year-old video featuring the young man. I am not contending in the least that Bieber’s baptism fulfilled the biblical requirements or that he is now, in the New Testament sense, “born again.”
However, it provides a great opportunity to ask what elements must be present in a baptism that does meet New Testament requirements. First, it must be predicated upon knowledge. One must understand the significance of the one baptism (cf. Eph. 4:4). Practically speaking, one must either do the personal study or have someone teach what the Bible says about the place of baptism in God’s plan.
Second, baptism must be preceded by sorrow for sin and a desire to have sins washed away. Sorrow for sin is a part of repentance, which is a change of the mind that results in a change of action (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 2 Co. 7:10). Repentance is more than sorrow for sin, but it includes such.
Third, baptism must be by immersion to follow the teaching and examples of the New Testament. We read of baptism as a burial in water (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 2:12). We see the Ethiopian go down into the water and come up out of it (Acts 8:38). In the New Testament, baptism took place where there was “much water” (John 3:23).
Though lacking complete knowledge of Lentz’s Hillsong Church, where Bieber was baptized, there is enough on their website to identify them as thoroughly erroneous in their teaching regarding salvation, worship, and various doctrinal matters (women’s role, instrumental music, tongue speaking, omission of baptism as part of what must be done to have forgiveness). However, it is possible that Bieber and anyone else we would deem spiritual wrecks—which we all are to some degree and in various ways—can be taught as they were in the first century and become what they then became. May we be searching for those who desire to follow Jesus, making disciples of, baptizing, and teaching them (cf. Mat. 28:19-20).