Though baptism is an act of obedience, that is not its primary function. It is, says Brian Russell, 'essentially a sacrament of grace ... a sacrament of divine initiative, not of human activity'. It signifies the union of the believer with Christ, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, all of which stem from God's grace and mercy towards undeserving sinners, and seals to us these blessings of the new covenant. Baptism also commits believers to a new way of living. It is both a funeral ceremony in which the old way of life dominated by rebellion against God is buried once and for all, and an enlisting to live under God's rule in fellowship with God's people. It is, therefore, a richly meaningful act that continues to challenge Christians to walk in newness of life all their days. Brian Russell contends that baptism is for professed believers and not for infants, that it is not an option but a necessity, and that it should be by immersion in water and not by any other mode. He also insists that baptism is inseparably linked with membership in a particular local church. Yet though he has to engage in controversy with those who would differ from him, his approach is pastoral rather than polemical, for he urges us to 'improve' our baptism -'not by repeating it, but by regularly recalling the event so that we might enter into its reality afresh and renew our faith, hope, love, joy and obedience to Christ'. Born in South Africa, Brian Russell has pastored several Baptist churches in his native land, in Zimbabwe and in Virginia, U.S.A. where he now lives in retirement. This was his first book.
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