The question of water baptism has historically been a very divisive issue in the church. And although people are (as far as I know) no longer murdered or threatened over this, it is still a problematic area.
One view is that the OT practice of infant circumcision is to be continued in the NT church in the form of infant water baptism. Others attempt to attach this ritual to salvation in some way. Still others, while acknowledging water baptism to be merely symbolic, nonetheless demand it as the new believer’s “first act of obedience”. But is water baptism commanded for the church at all, and if so, when and for whom?
First of all, the most glaring problem with equating circumcision with baptism is that circumcision only applied to males. Another problem with it is that Paul wrote extensively and passionately against the continuance of circumcision as a required ritual for the church; would he not say the same about baptism for the same purpose?
Second, those who believe water baptism is a necessary part of salvation cannot support their view without ignoring a large amount of scripture. Clearly, salvation is a gift which is inherently not earnable, in whole or in part; otherwise it would not be a gift at all. Paul was grateful he hadn’t baptized many people, a strange statement indeed if baptism were necessary for salvation. And baptism is conspicuously absent in any Biblical statement about who is not saved.
Third, churches today that view water baptism as merely a symbolic act demand the performance of this ritual as a condition of church membership, and refusal to submit to it is seen as stubborn disobedience to God. But the concept of church membership as it exists today was unknown in the first century and untaught in the NT epistles. It was simply a matter of fellowship, being one in spirit and part of one body. The qualification for inclusion in this body was salvation and obedience to the apostles’ teaching (i.e., the NT).
Churches usually require “member” status for the purpose of having a vote in church decisions and being permitted to teach or serve the local church in some official capacity. The un-baptized believer’s spiritual maturity is not even considered, since he is not a “member”. But the NT makes no mention of any such contrived membership and, even more significantly, does not speak of the need to discipline any believer for refusal to be baptized. So how can refusal to submit to water baptism be disobedient to God if he never commanded it? Where is the Biblical mandate for demanding water baptism and excluding believers from the fellowship for failure to be baptized?
The only public declaration the Bible requires of a believer for salvation is to acknowledge Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9). This is the only public act for which refusal to obey would be disobedience to God. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is accomplished at the moment a person is saved and is therefore the only baptism we need. This effectively renders moot the issue of infant baptism, since water baptism is unnecessary for anyone to enter heaven.