In the New Testament, new Christians were often baptized immediately after confessing Jesus as Lord. Should churches continue this practice today? Two issues need addressed. First, can new believers be baptized immediately? The biblical answer is a definite yes.
Three thousand believers were baptized on the same day they believed when the church began at Pentecost (Acts 2:41). The Ethiopian with Philip was baptized the same day he believed (Acts 8:26–38). Paul (then Saul) was baptized about three days after experiencing Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Acts 16:15 shows a woman baptized the same day she believed. Acts 16:33 notes the Philippian jailer and his family were baptized the night they believed. The first 3,000 people added to the church were baptized (Acts 2:41), and Jesus commanded His followers to baptize other disciples (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is clearly something expected of every Christian, whether or not they are baptized immediately.
The second issue to address, however, is whether a new believer is required to be baptized immediately. Some churches argue against spontaneous baptisms due to past examples of people being baptized without a true understanding of the meaning of salvation. To prevent confusion, these churches offer a class or other instructional time to help each person understand these issues prior to baptism.
Historically, during the third and fourth centuries the theology of baptism continued to shift in church practice. Originally, church instruction took place after baptism. However, as different heresies started to confront the church, believers were increasingly given specific instructions before being baptized. By the fourth and fifth centuries, several weeks were required to teach catechism before baptism. Because no direct command is given in Scripture regarding the length of time required between a person’s confession of faith and his baptism, there is freedom for each church and its leaders to develop the best practice for their particular congregation.
Though there is no requirement regarding immediate baptism, there seems to be a clear emphasis on closely associating a person’s confession of faith and baptism. Therefore, a church would do well to keep the space of time between a person’s confession of faith and baptism as short as possible. Further, many churches do not allow a person to partake in communion, become an official church member, or other important aspects of church life until after baptism. These factors further add to the importance of holding baptisms for new believers in a timely manner.