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  1. 1. BAPTISM What Can We Agree On? D own through history, the CONTENTS rite of water baptism has been widely regarded as a symbolic entry into the A Time For Clarity . . . . . 2 church. Some baptize infants, Baptism Foreshadowed and others baptize people only In The Old Testament . . . 5 after their confession of belief. Baptism As Some see baptism as essential Practiced By John . . . . . . 8 for salvation, but others see it Baptism As as far less important than being Practiced By Christ spiritually immersed into Christ. And The Apostles . . . . . 14 Then there is the mode of Baptism As baptism. Some sprinkle, some Practiced Throughout pour, and some immerse. Some Church History. . . . . . . 22 baptize in the name of the What Is The Father, Son, and Spirit, while Point Of Baptism? . . . . 25 others do so in Jesus’ name only. Does Baptism Still Because of these many Matter Today? . . . . . . . . 32 differences, pastor-teacher Bill Crowder takes a look in the following pages at the story and meaning of baptism, and what we can all agree on. Martin R. De Haan II Managing Editor: David Sper Cover Photo & Design:Terry Bidgood Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.All rights reserved. © 2008 RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, Michigan Printed in USA
  2. 2. A TIME FOR 2.8 million in 2004. But the CLARITY total number of baptisms by immersion in water . . . I n the April 12, 2006, has hovered from around issue of USA Today, I 175,000 to 200,000 yearly.” read that “statistics find With these trends in Americans slowly drifting view, the article’s writer away from the ancient asked, “If baptism is the baptismal ritual.” The article door into a faith, where contends that a major did all those people go?” Baptist denomination “has Yes, where did all the seen its rate of baptism fall people go? Apparently about 35% from 1972 to fewer are going into the 1985.” Then the article waters of baptism. It’s a went on to say that “the rate growing reality in the stalled for the next 20 years, world of Christendom that even though Baptists are baptism is both ignored pledged to heed the Bible’s and misunderstood—a ‘great commission’ in misunderstanding that Matthew 28:19-20: I can personally relate to. ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, A FOG OF baptizing them in the name CONFUSION of the Father, the Son, and I was born into a family the Holy Spirit, and teaching that attended a church that them to obey everything that practiced infant baptism. As I have commanded you.’ ” a result, I was sprinkled as USA Today added that a baby. At age 12, following another large denomination extended catechism classes, grew “from nearly 1.8 I was re-sprinkled as million in 1980 to nearly confirmation of that earlier 2 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  3. 3. sprinkling. After high school, of immersion—did not result however, I found myself in my life being changed. wandering aimlessly both When I was in my personally and spiritually. twenties, after I at last heard A well-meaning friend a clear explanation of what encouraged me to become a it means to enter the family Christian as the solution for of God, I received Christ as the drifting that was marking my Lord and Savior. After trusting Christ, I was told that, once again, I needed It’s a growing to be baptized. But this time reality in the world it was as a public testimony of my profession of faith in of Christendom that Christ. So, I was baptized baptism is both by immersion yet again. ignored and I look back over those events with very mixed misunderstood. emotions. After two sprinklings and two out my life. I assumed that, immersions, believe given my church upbringing, me when I say that I I was already a Christian. understand people’s He explained, however, that confusion on the matter I needed to come to church of water baptism, what it with him and talk to the represents, and what it pastor after the service. I accomplishes. I’m pretty did. The pastor’s counsel? sure many other folks have “In 2 weeks we will baptize a story similar to mine in you, and you will be a which the matter of baptism Christian.” Unfortunately, is surrounded by a thick fog that event of baptism—one of confusion. 3 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  4. 4. AN IMPORTANT words lift up baptism as an DISCUSSION important matter that needs Some might say that to be carefully thought baptism is insignificant— through and discussed. an ancient ritual without But where do we begin? any modern relevance. But I disagree. The level Jesus Himself of confusion surrounding the subject merely amplifies made baptism the need for a careful an issue. understanding of the issue, if for no other reason than Perhaps the best that Jesus Himself made it place to start is by trying an issue: to reconstruct the setting in When He had been which Jesus’ audience heard baptized, Jesus came what He said about baptism. up immediately from the Though the events of the water; and behold, the Gospels are recorded in heavens were opened to the New Testament, Jesus’ Him, and He saw the audience was made up of Spirit of God descending people who were still living like a dove and alighting in a period of Old Testament upon Him (Mt. 3:16). culture and national law. [Jesus said], “Go Therefore, we must therefore and make begin with what people disciples of all the nations, understood baptism to mean baptizing them in the in their time if we are to name of the Father and grasp the framework in of the Son and of the which they would have Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). heard and understood Jesus’ Yes, Christ’s example and command to baptize. 4 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  5. 5. BAPTISM THE PICTURE OF FORESHADOWED CIRCUMCISION From the time of Abram, IN THE OLD circumcision was a physical TESTAMENT sign of a chosen people’s W illiam covenant relationship with Shakespeare, God (Gen. 17:11). Although in The Tempest other nations also practiced (Act 2, Scene 1), wisely circumcision, the rite took said, “What is past is on a special meaning for the prologue.” He was Jewish people. At the very extolling the value of least, it showed that God seeing the events and had a right to order even the practices of yesterday most intimate and personal as the seeds of today. areas of their lives. This is especially helpful Some believe that, in a in wrestling with the similar way, baptism later issue of baptism. became a sign of a New From a first-century Covenant for followers of Jewish point of view, Christ. many Bible scholars believe It must be understood, that two practices prepared however, that these two the way for baptism and pictures (circumcision and help to explain its nature baptism) are not exact and purpose. One was equivalents. Circumcision the practice of the mikvah was to be performed only (the ceremonial bath), on males. Baptism is not and the other was gender-specific. the rite of circumcision, In addition, circumcision which we will consider was done on male infants first. on the eighth day after their 5 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  6. 6. birth. Baptism, as described As we toured this in the New Testament, was ancient community, one a public profession of of the places we examined personal faith in Christ. was an ancient mikvah. Circumcision was a mark In their purification of national identity. New ceremonies, the Jews Testament baptism was a would descend a set of sign of entrance into the seven steps into the water, international body of Christ. then exit by a different set Because of these of steps. This signified that distinctions, the most we the sins of which they had can safely say is that been cleansed had been circumcision foreshadowed left behind in the waters. the significance of baptism. It was a strategic part It’s also important to of the community life see how water baptism was of the Essenes. practiced in Jewish culture Today within Judaism, prior to its New Testament the purification ceremony meaning. of the mikvah (immersion in a ritual bath) is still THE PRACTICE practiced. Online OF THE MIKVAH encyclopedia Wikipedia While I was on a trip to says this of the mikvah: Israel, our study group Its main use nowadays spent several hours at is by Jewish women to Qumran. An archaeological achieve ritual purity dig is underway there to after menstruation or unearth the life and culture childbirth, by Jewish men of the Essene sect, a to achieve ritual purity, conservative, ascetic Jewish as part of a traditional group in the first century. procedure for conversion 6 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  7. 7. to Judaism, and (in some Wikipedia further cases) for utensils used states: for eating and cooking. The Hebrew word This ancient practice of mikvah also means ceremonial cleansing is also “hope.” The prophet used as a rite of spiritual Jeremiah repeatedly conversion. According to refers to this dual Rabbi Maurice Lamm in meaning in using rain, Becoming A Jew: living water, and the Immersion, tevillah, mikvah itself as a is the common core symbol of hope in component of every and from God (see [traditional] Jewish Jer. 14:22; 17:13). conversion process, Above all, the mikvah for male and female, expressed the hope that adult and child, the provider God would ignoramus and scholar. care for and meet the It is sine qua non, and needs of His people. a conversion ceremony For the first-century without immersion is Jewish community, all unacceptable to the of these ideas could traditional religious have converged in their community and simply understanding of baptism. not Jewish in character. New Testament followers of In addition to the Christ would eventually mikvah’s use for ceremonial conclude that when it came cleansing and conversion, to baptism, what was past a metaphorical use of the was simply a prologue. word links the mikvah to From a Christian point of the aspirations and hopes view, one era was coming of Judaism. to an end. 7 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  8. 8. BAPTISM AS Bridge personalities PRACTICED become human transition points at critical times in BY JOHN history—and John the T hroughout history, Baptizer was one of the there are individuals most strategic “bridge who have bridged personalities” in the Bible. one era to another. These transitional personalities BRIDGING FROM lived in times of drastic OLD TESTAMENT TO change and were often NEW TESTAMENT part of the reason for the John the Baptizer was change itself. a prophetic voice in the In the 1960s, the Beatles wilderness who had been had that kind of influence, raised according to strict bridging the conservative Nazirite law (Lk. 1:15; Num. days of the “Ozzie and 6:1-21). His message was an Harriet” 1950s to the uncompromising, radical call turmoil-filled 1970s of for personal and national Vietnam and Watergate. repentance. Their music drew young At the same time, people into radically different John was the emissary ways of thinking, helping to and forerunner of the long- feed the whitewater rapids of awaited Messiah King. His change that were being felt calling was to announce in the culture. The Beatles the arrival of the One who not only reflected that would bring grace not only season of change, they also to the nation of Israel but to contributed to it, building a citizens of the whole world. bridge from yesterday to In this transitional role, tomorrow. John stood on the platform 8 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  9. 9. of his own national and and of their readiness to cultural heritage—even welcome Him when He as he announced the appeared. The baptism arrival of a radically new itself startled, and was day. His use of baptism intended to startle, as a point of identification them. They were for the kingdom, therefore, familiar enough with must be seen in this light. the baptism of proselytes Notice how John himself from heathenism; but explained his baptismal this baptism of Jews ministry: themselves was quite I indeed baptize you with new and strange to them. water unto repentance, John’s baptism but He who is coming would have been to after me is mightier than his countrymen both I, whose sandals I am not understandable and worthy to carry. He will mysterious. With the history baptize you with the Holy of the mikvah bath, they Spirit and fire (Mt. 3:11). would have seen in John’s What significance did baptism all that was John intend for his baptism, pictured in the mikvah— and how did it relate to his spiritual cleansing, message of repentance? conversion, and, perhaps The Jamieson, Fausset, And most of all, spiritual hope. Brown Bible Commentary The unsettling mystery says: of John’s baptism, however, This baptism was at once was signaled in his words a public seal of their felt that the One who followed need of deliverance from him would baptize them sin, of their expectation “with the Holy Spirit and of the coming Deliverer, fire.” With these words he 9 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  10. 10. showed a nation that his of baptism. It was not mission went beyond the merely about ritual—it moment, beyond the ritual, was about anticipation. and beyond the waters of A Public Confession baptism. It pointed them Then Jerusalem, all to the coming of their long- Judea, and all the region predicted Messiah. around the Jordan went out to him and were A POWERFUL baptized by him in the MESSAGE Jordan, confessing their John’s baptism expressed the sins (vv.5-6). hopes of prior generations— John’s baptism was and even more. Matthew 3 an occasion for public helps us to understand the confession of personal and scope of John’s message national sin. Those who and his baptism: stepped into the waters with A Messianic him showed their willingness Announcement to prepare themselves In those days John the spiritually for the coming Baptist came preaching in of their King. the wilderness of Judea, A Call For Change and saying, “Repent, for Therefore bear fruits the kingdom of heaven is worthy of repentance at hand!” (Mt. 3:1-2). (v.8). The any-moment John’s message of the appearance of the long- kingdom and the King awaited Messiah and reflected a personal kingdom of God was to be readiness not only for a new both the motivator and the day but for new ways. His aspiration of the people as baptism signaled the need they submitted to the waters for a spiritual revolution. 10 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  11. 11. That’s why John’s of John (Acts 18:25). baptism created such a [Paul] said to them, stir—it called people to a “Into what then were you transformation of life, and baptized?” So they said, marked them out as those “Into John’s baptism.” committed to such change. Then Paul said, “John To that end, Mark described indeed baptized with a the people’s response to that baptism of repentance, call: saying to the people that Then all the land of Judea, they should believe on and those from Jerusalem, Him who would come went out to him and were after him, that is, on all baptized by him in the Christ Jesus” (19:3-4). Jordan River, confessing Perhaps nearly their sins (Mk. 1:5). 3 decades later, these The launching point individuals were still living of spiritual development out the commitments and for many in the first century decisions made in the came from John’s baptism Jordan River with John. in the waters of the Jordan River. It was a beginning JOHN’S BAPTISM that some of them continued OF JESUS to embrace decades later. Because John’s baptism is Notice: linked to confession of sin, [Apollos] had been one of the surprising events instructed in the way of the New Testament is that of the Lord; and being Jesus asked John to baptize fervent in spirit, he spoke Him. Matthew tells us: and taught accurately the Then Jesus came from things of the Lord, though Galilee to John at the he knew only the baptism Jordan to be baptized 11 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  12. 12. by him. And John tried coming to John for baptism. to prevent Him, saying, But why would Jesus “I need to be baptized submit to this “baptism of by You, and are You repentance”? Historically, coming to me?” But conservative Bible teachers Jesus answered and have explained that Jesus’ said to him, “Permit it baptism was not an to be so now, for thus it acknowledgment of is fitting for us to fulfill all personal wrongdoing but righteousness.” Then he an act by which He showed allowed Him. When He His willingness to identify had been baptized, Jesus with those He came to save. came up immediately from Within this view, Jesus’ the water; and behold, the humility gave the Father heavens were opened to in heaven an opportunity Him, and He saw the to declare that Jesus was Spirit of God descending unique among those who like a dove and alighting asked John to baptize them. upon Him. And suddenly Recent studies have a voice came from heaven, offered additional insight. saying, “This is My Robert L. Webb, for beloved Son, in whom instance, sees John’s I am well pleased” baptism as having national (Mt. 3:13-17). implications for Israel. He The voice from heaven suggests that John’s baptism is important. Together with was signaling the need for a John’s own declaration of radical national change in Jesus’ greatness (Jn. 1:29- view of the coming of God’s 36), the voice from heaven Messiah. Then he adds: separates Jesus from If this is so, then John everyone else who was was calling for the people 12 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  13. 13. to respond to who they If Webb is right, then were as a nation, not Jesus stepped into the really who they were Jordan River with John as individuals. Of course, to join his generation in it was individuals who a recognition of the need had to respond, and for national repentance. many could respond out His submission to John’s of a personal sense of baptism, then, showed responsibility for Israel’s His own commitment to state. But equally, many personally do something of those in Israel who about the sins of the would be considered faithful could respond Jesus’ submission out of a belief in and desire for John’s to John’s baptism reconstituted Israel. showed His own Thus, without having to commitment to speculate about Jesus’ personal state of mind, personally do we can conclude that something about Jesus did indeed the sins of the participate in John’s baptism, and it was nation—a for Him a baptism of commitment repentance. Jesus was He fulfilled . . . acknowledging Israel’s sin and need to turn around, on the cross. and He was committing Himself to do what He nation—a commitment could to bring this about He fulfilled for Jew and ( Gentile alike on the cross. 13 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  14. 14. Regardless of where we BAPTISM AS land on the issue of defining the scope of John’s baptism, PRACTICED BY however, one thing is CHRIST AND indisputable. As the voice THE APOSTLES I from heaven confirmed, n the days after John’s Jesus did not ask John ministry, Jesus and to baptize Him as an His apostles included admission of personal baptism in their own public sin but rather to stand ministries. As we seek to with John in anticipation understand the meaning of great spiritual change. of baptism for ourselves, it’s Looking back, we can important for us to follow now see that, in fulfillment the unfolding story of what of John’s message, this was it meant to them. a time of spiritual transition from law to grace, from the CHRIST’S USE Old to the New, from the OF BAPTISM sacrifices of priests to the Jesus’ Practice Of sacrifice of the Christ. Baptism. After His baptism John’s ministry bridged the by John, Jesus, through His eras of God’s work, leading disciples, baptized those from the Old Testament who came to Him: understanding of the need After these things Jesus for forgiveness—whether and His disciples came national or personal—to into the land of Judea, the New Testament focus and there He remained on spiritual cleansing and with them and baptized personal wholeness for (Jn. 3:22; see 4:2). individuals, and perhaps, While we might eventually, even the nation. speculate that Christ, 14 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  15. 15. like John, baptized in witness, that I said, anticipation of the need “I am not the Christ,” for personal and national but, “I have been sent repentance, no details are before Him.” He who given about His baptismal has the bride is the message or methods. bridegroom; but the friend Nevertheless, it was such of the bridegroom, who a significant part of His early stands and hears him, ministry, that some of the rejoices greatly because followers of John were so of the bridegroom’s voice. disturbed and threatened Therefore this joy of by Jesus’ practice of baptism mine is fulfilled. He that they called it to the must increase, but I must prophet’s attention: decrease (vv.27-30). They came to John and Jesus’ Picture Of said to him, “Rabbi, Baptism. Jesus did He who was with you not just practice baptism, beyond the Jordan, to however. He used the word whom you have testified— picture of baptism and the behold, He is baptizing, principle behind it when and all are coming to dealing with a problem Him!” (v.26). among His followers. John’s response was a Two of His disciples beautiful expression of the (James and John) sent their change of heart he was mother to Jesus to request asking of the nation. He that, in the kingdom, they be replied: allowed to sit on either side A man can receive of Christ the King. It was nothing unless it has been an audacious request that given to him from heaven. outraged the other disciples. You yourselves bear me In dealing with the question, 15 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  16. 16. however, Christ did not them to think about whether speak in terms of their they could embrace that audacity—He spoke in baptism. What was it? terms of the broader According to Bible scholar spiritual meaning behind William Hendriksen: the physical act of baptism. The word “to be Jesus said to them, baptized” is probably “You do not know what used here in the you ask. Are you able figurative sense of “to be to drink the cup that I overwhelmed” by agony. drink, and be baptized Jesus must be plunged with the baptism that I into distress (The Gospel am baptized with?” Of Mark, p.412). (Mk. 10:38). Could they be fully and Here it is clear that completely involved with Christ was using baptism, Him in His suffering? along with the cup, as Certainly not. In fact, of the a picture of being fully two brothers, James did not involved and immersed even stand with Christ at in what awaited Him. The the cross—let alone allow cup points to Christ’s words himself to be “overwhelmed at the Last Supper in which by agony.” In reality, they He took in His hand the were making a promise that cup and told His men could not withstand the test that His very life-blood was of being “baptized” into going to be “shed for many the consequences of that for the remission of sins” promise. (Mt. 26:28). Jesus’ Command To He then told them Baptize. Interestingly, as about a coming “immersion” Jesus’ personal baptism He would face—challenging began His earthly ministry, 16 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  17. 17. some of His final commands the Father and of the Son include the challenge to His and of the Holy Spirit.” followers to baptize and be Pastor James M. Boice baptized: said this of the baptism Go therefore and make Christ called for in this disciples of all the nations, commission: baptizing them in the This does not mean that name of the Father and of empty rites or ceremonies the Son and of the Holy are to take the place of Spirit (Mt. 28:19). a vital relationship with Christ. Rather, first, “Go therefore and at some point one’s commitment to Jesus make disciples of as Savior and Lord all the nations, must become public, for baptizing them in baptism is a public act (it is a declaration before the name of the the world that a person Father and of the intends to follow Jesus); Son and of the and, second, the person is uniting with the Holy Spirit.” church, which is Christ’s —Jesus (Mt. 28:19) visible body. This is both natural and necessary. As part of Christ’s If a person is truly Great Commission to converted, he or she His followers, Jesus regarded will want to join with baptism as being part of the other similarly converted discipling process. He told people (The Gospel Of His disciples to baptize Matthew, Volume 2, converts in the “name of pp.648-649). 17 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  18. 18. THE APOSTLES’ the external mark of USE OF BAPTISM identification for those who When Christ ascended into had committed their lives heaven from the Mount of to Christ. The imagery of Olives (Acts 1), He left cleansing from the mikvah behind a cadre of followers and the transformational call who were committed to the pictured in John’s baptism message of the cross. But were foundational to the they were also committed to baptismal practices of the obeying Christ’s instruction fledgling church. about baptism. Verse 38, however, raises Baptism In The a huge question. What does Book Of Acts. In the it mean to be baptized “for early church, new believers the remission of sins”? And were baptized. This practice what are the implications of began on the Day of that statement on salvation Pentecost: by grace through faith? Peter said to them, There’s no question “Repent, and let every one that Peter linked repentance of you be baptized in the and conversion, and then name of Jesus Christ for the linked baptism to both. remission of sins; and you The question that has been shall receive the gift of the debated for centuries is how Holy Spirit.” . . . Then those three relate to one those who gladly received another. his word were baptized; While there continues to and that day about three be much disagreement about thousand souls were added Peter’s intended meaning in to them (Acts 2:38,41). Acts 2:38, Bible scholar On the day the church George Ladd gives us some was born, baptism became helpful thinking: 18 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  19. 19. Baptism would be the every case it seems to have public evidence of [a] been the outward public repentant spirit . . . The response of those who reception of the Holy looked to Christ and His Spirit is not dependent rescue as the source of their upon baptism, but it forgiveness and new life. follows baptism which is Baptism In Paul’s an outward and visible Letters. More than sign of a penitent spirit. any other apostle, Paul In the early church, presented his perspectives converts were baptized on baptism when he wrote without delay. So about this practice in his being baptized and own public ministry. receiving the Spirit were Paul’s Own View Of practically simultaneous Ministry. While recognizing (The Wycliffe Bible the important spiritual Commentary, p.1128). significance of baptism, Others have pointed out Paul apparently did not that when Peter said, “Let make baptism a priority of every one of you be baptized his own public ministry. We in the name of Jesus Christ see this in his letter to the for the remission of sins,” Corinthians, where he asked the word for can refer to those who had developed being baptized “with a view an unhealthy identification toward” the forgiveness that with their own leaders: comes through Christ. Is Christ divided? Was The record of the early Paul crucified for you? Or church’s practice of baptism were you baptized in the continues throughout the name of Paul? I thank book of Acts (8:36; 10:47-48; God that I baptized none 16:15; 18:8; 19:5), and in of you except Crispus and 19 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  20. 20. Gaius, lest anyone should free—and have all been say that I had baptized made to drink into one in my own name. Yes, Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). I also baptized the Here Paul sees baptism household of Stephanas. as more than a public rite Besides, I do not know involving water. If he was whether I baptized any referring to water baptism other (1 Cor. 1:13-16). at all in this passage, he was Paul baptized only a few referring to a baptism that people himself. Apparently, physically and publicly he did not want to confuse illustrated how the Spirit the grace and salvation of of God has placed us into God with the physical act the body of Christ. His of baptism. His priority was focus was not about being preaching the gospel, not immersed in water or in the baptizing new believers Spirit. Rather, his focus was (v.17). on the fact that we come At the very least, this into relationship with one shows us that Paul did not another by the same Spirit as view baptism as a work we place our faith in Christ. necessary for salvation. He Paul’s Teaching On saw it as an act of obedience “Baptism Into Christ.” for the redeemed, not as a Or do you not know that part of the redemptive as many of us as were transaction. baptized into Christ Jesus Paul’s Words On were baptized into His “Spirit Baptism.” death? (Rom. 6:3). For by one Spirit we For as many of you were all baptized into one as were baptized into body—whether Jews or Christ have put on Greeks, whether slaves or Christ (Gal. 3:27). 20 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  21. 21. When Paul wrote to thought about baptism the Corinthians about when he wrote: Spirit baptism, he was Otherwise, what will they clearly speaking of the do who are baptized for believer being placed into the dead, if the dead do one body—the body of not rise at all? Why then Christ. In a similar way, are they baptized for the in his letter to the Galatians dead? (1 Cor. 15:29). he referred to being baptized This statement has been “into Christ.” Here Paul was taken by some to imply that not primarily speaking of we can be baptized not only being identified with Christ as an expression of our own in the eyes of men. Instead, faith but also in behalf of he was emphasizing that those who have already in God’s eyes those who died. have been “baptized In reality, however, Paul into Christ” actually didn’t tell us what he was died with Christ when referring to when he spoke He became our substitute of baptism for the dead. So in His death. it’s dangerous to build a Paul’s Statement On theological position on such Baptism For The Dead. an obscure passage. While Paul wrote to clarify Because Paul made the the nature of what it meant comment while emphasizing to be immersed and washed the importance of a future “in Christ,” sometimes he resurrection of the dead, made statements that are it’s likely that he was difficult to understand in referring to a pagan practice our own day and culture. to illustrate belief in an For instance, Paul raised afterlife, without intending an interesting and confusing to affirm the practice itself. 21 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  22. 22. BAPTISM AS accommodate the nuances PRACTICED of the different groups. This resulted in three basic THROUGHOUT modes of baptism: CHURCH HISTORY BAPTISM BY IMMERSION I have already shared Baptism by immersion is my own story of being practiced in a variety of sprinkled twice and ways, but all with one immersed twice. In each significant common thread— case, I was baptized by the person being baptized is sincere individuals who placed into the water, then believed in both the brought out again. importance of baptism and Adherents of immersion in the significance of how point to the fact that in its and why it was performed. original language, the word These practices, however, baptize means literally “to have come down to us place into.” Additionally, through the filters of church they declare that immersion history. The New Testament is the mode of baptism that itself doesn’t give explicit most completely portrays the details on the process or story of our salvation. They technique that is to be used explain that being placed in baptizing. As a result, into the water pictures our when the church splintered death and burial with Christ, and divided into sects and just as coming up out of denominations over the the water illustrates our centuries, the practice and resurrection with Him to purpose of baptism was a new life and relationship repeatedly reinvented to with God. 22 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  23. 23. BAPTISM BY among those that practice POURING infant baptism. For support In pouring, those being of this position, some see baptized stand in water evidence in Isaiah 52:13-15, (often a natural setting of a which reads: creek, pond, or river), and Behold, My Servant shall have water poured over their deal prudently; He shall heads. Here the picture is be exalted and extolled one of being washed and and be very high. Just as cleansed by the Spirit and many were astonished at work of Christ on our behalf. you, so His visage was Excavations of ancient marred more than any baptistries and the artwork man, and His form more of third-century Christian than the sons of men; so catacombs show early shall He sprinkle many Christians being baptized nations. Kings shall shut in just that way. Many today their mouths at Him; for hold this archaeological what had not been told evidence as the definitive them they shall see, and reason for practicing what they had not heard baptism by pouring. they shall consider. Baptism by sprinkling BAPTISM BY is also used in parts of the SPRINKLING world where lack of water Sprinkling seems to have is a critical issue. the most recent history. It appears to have originated BAPTISMAL following the apostolic VARIATIONS era and continues The differences in baptismal today in many Christian practices go beyond the denominations, especially mode of baptism, however. 23 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  24. 24. In some traditions, warm baptistic in tradition and water is preferred to cold conviction. I practiced water (or vice versa); in baptism by immersion, others, the water must be however, not because I moving. In some practices, pastored baptistic churches. the baptismal candidate Rather, I pastored baptistic wears a robe; in others, churches because I felt they are required to wear that immersion is the mode regular street clothes. Some that best pictures baptism of these practices have to according to the New do with practical concerns Testament descriptions. (such as modesty), while others seem more connected Out of a genuine to convenience than conviction. desire to be There seems to be thoroughly biblical, no end to the nuances and we could find intricacies of method, yet quite often each group ourselves becoming implicitly or explicitly slaves to the “letter believes that they are of the law” while following the New Testament pattern. potentially missing Admittedly, I have also the “spirit of the followed a similar pattern of law” in our practice conviction. Over a period of more than 20 years, I served of baptism. as a pastor in three different churches in three different But I must say that while regions of the United States. I still hold that view, I do All of those churches were not believe that all followers 24 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  25. 25. of Christ must be held burial, and resurrection to the standard of my so that he becomes one own convictions. My of Christ’s faithful. Most fear is that out of a genuine Christian groups practice desire to be thoroughly some form of literal biblical, we could find water-based baptism and ourselves becoming slaves agree that it is important, to the “letter of the law” yet strongly disagree with while potentially missing other groups regarding the “spirit of the law” in any or all of several our practice of baptism. aspects of baptism, So then, what would be such as: “the spirit of the law”? • form of the baptism • recipients of baptism WHAT IS • meaning/effects of the act of baptism THE POINT However, a few OF BAPTISM? Christian groups assert T he online that water-based baptism encyclopedia has been supplanted AllExperts gives by the promised baptism us an interesting analysis of the Holy Spirit, and of the current Christian water baptism was perspective on baptism: unnecessarily carried Today, water baptism is over from the early most readily identified Jewish Christian practice. with Christianity, where it I find this to be a good symbolizes the cleansing summary of the present (remission) of sins, and state of Christendom the union of the believer when it comes to our with Christ in His death, modern approach to the 25 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  26. 26. ancient practice of baptism. we are to practice the Lord’s If nothing else, it helps us Table, but the meaning of to see that there is a need the bread and cup of that for both personal integrity celebration is to proclaim and shared grace in the the Lord’s death until He way we practice or do not returns (1 Cor. 11:23-26). practice baptism. Likewise, Jesus used a Regardless of our series of “I am” statements view, it should be clear to make word pictures of that baptism has a rich the various aspects of His history and is tied to the coming: a door (picturing truths of our life in Christ. the way to the Father), living water (that which satisfies), A PICTURE and the bread of life (that IS WORTH A which feeds our deepest THOUSAND needs), to name just a few. WORDS This use of a word Without question, few picture also applies to our books are as committed understanding of baptism. to using picture and imagery We need to understand the as the Bible. From Jesus’ words, but we must also see use of parables to the the picture that was being vast array of metaphor and painted by those words. imagery, the Bible is without question a book of pictures. WHAT For that reason, we often BAPTISM MEANS find ourselves not asking, In the New Testament, “What does the Bible say?” Koine Greek (the universal but “What does the Bible language of the day) was mean by what it says?” For used to communicate the example, the Bible says that truths of the gospel. It is 26 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  27. 27. helpful to notice that baptizo Notice that while the was the word from which we defined mode is seen as get the term baptize. immersion, the point of the definition is that baptism “Those who is clearly a declaration of faith by someone who has gladly received already trusted Christ. In his word were the New Testament, this is baptized; and that the critical point in every case. For example: day about three Those who gladly received thousand souls his word were baptized; were added and that day about three thousand souls were to them.” added to them (Acts 2:41). —Acts 2:41 When they believed Philip as he preached the Strong’s Exhaustive things concerning the Concordance gives this kingdom of God and the definition of baptizo: name of Jesus Christ, both A rite of immersion in men and women were water as commanded baptized. . . . Now as they by Christ, by which one went down the road, they after confessing his sins came to some water. And and professing his faith the eunuch said, “See, in Christ, having been here is water. What born again by the Holy hinders me from being Spirit unto a new life, baptized?” Then Philip identifies publicly with said, “If you believe with the fellowship of Christ all your heart, you may.” and the church. And he answered and 27 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  28. 28. said, “I believe that Jesus conveniences of indoor Christ is the Son of God.” baptistries, baptisms almost So he commanded the always occurred outside. chariot to stand still. Today we still speak of And both Philip and the baptism as being a public eunuch went down into declaration of faith in Christ. the water, and he baptized In many ways, though, our him (Acts 8:12,36-38). practice is less public and Repeatedly, the book of more of a private declaration Acts indicates that, above all given within the family else, baptism is the public of faith. In either case, act by which individuals however, baptism is a way declare their personal of proclaiming our personal confidence in the saving faith to others. work of Christ. Though the Admittedly, baptism is New Testament does not not the only way of making give us clear procedures for a public declaration of faith. baptism, it does give us clear Church membership, understanding of what the catechism, confirmation, picture of baptism means. and a variety of other denominational variations WHAT THE PICTURE on the theme are used as OF BAPTISM MEANS “virtual equivalents” that So what is actually being can fulfill the need for a displayed or pictured when public declaration. a follower of Christ submits What we can all agree to baptism? on is that Jesus asked us Public Declaration to declare our faith publicly. Of Faith. I find it We see this clearly when He interesting that in the early said, “Whoever confesses church, lacking the modern Me before men, him I will 28 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  29. 29. also confess before My A Heart Of Father who is in heaven” Personal Trust. We (Mt. 10:32). have already seen that Portrayal Of The Christ instructed His Gospel. In 1 Corinthians disciples to baptize those 15:3-4, Paul wrote: who embrace Him by faith I delivered to you first (Mt. 28:19-20). When of all that which I also we submit to baptism as received: that Christ died believers, we are following a for our sins according to custom that for 2,000 years the Scriptures, and that has set Christians apart. It’s He was buried, and that a simple yet profound act by He rose again the third which we declare to Christ day according to the and to the world that we Scriptures. have given ourselves to the In a sense, when One who loved us and gave combined with the Lord’s Himself for us. Table, baptism helps to Identification present a rich picture of the With Resurrection. message that was delivered In the traditions where to Paul and has been immersion is practiced, this handed down to us. In is graphically seen. Notice the elements of the Lord’s what we find in the apostle Supper we have a visual Peter’s first New Testament reminder of how Christ died letter: for our sins. In baptism, There is also an antitype especially with immersion, which now saves us— Christ’s burial and baptism (not the removal resurrection is pictured of the filth of the flesh, when new life is declared but the answer of a good in the child of God. conscience toward God), 29 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  30. 30. through the resurrection disability issues. In my own of Jesus Christ, who has experience, I have seen gone into heaven and is cases where individuals in at the right hand of God, wheelchairs were carried— angels and authorities sometimes wheelchair and and powers having been all—into the baptistry so the made subject to Him new follower of Christ could (1 Pet. 3:21-22). be baptized. But this pastor In baptism, we identify wisely asked, “Is that with and proclaim our necessary?” He was confidence in the truth wondering whether the of Christ’s resurrection. It’s method was as important a powerful demonstration of as the heart. I think he was what Christ has done for us wise to remember that the in conquering death, hell, point of baptism is to be a and the grave for all who public identification with come to Him by faith. Christ that needs to be practiced with consideration A TEST CASE for those who choose to A friend of mine pastors declare their faith in Jesus. a church that practices After careful and baptism by immersion. prayerful consideration, Recently, however, friends this pastor and his who attend his church told leadership team agreed that me of a baptismal service the importance of the heart that was, for them, very and spirit surpassed the unusual. importance of the mode. The A man had come to result was that a baptism by Christ and had asked to sprinkling took place in a be baptized. But he had church that was committed significant health and to baptism by immersion. 30 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  31. 31. Some would see this that this same application as compromise. I saw it as of wisdom can also give us refreshing. It seems to be counsel in considering our a wise and appropriate differences in the area of application of Paul’s ancient baptism. We have seen that words of instruction to the baptism is not an issue that Roman church: Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his Baptism is own master he stands or not an issue falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God that determines is able to make him eternity. It’s an stand. One person esteems act of public one day above another; another esteems every faith and trust day alike. Let each be in Christ— fully convinced in his an outward own mind (Rom. 14:4-5). Paul wrote those symbol of an words in a day when inner change. there probably was agreement about the practice of baptism. But determines eternity. It’s some had become involved an act of public faith in divisive debates about and trust in Christ—an whether followers of Christ outward symbol of an should participate in the inner change. We can holy days and festivals celebrate that intent if of ancient Israel. we will “let each be fully I have become convinced convinced in his own mind.” 31 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  32. 32. DOES BAPTISM been baptized since your STILL MATTER conversion, I encourage you to talk with your pastor or a TODAY? spiritual mentor and discuss T oday, the practice this important issue. Christ of baptism has often was baptized with suffering become disconnected and death for us. Now we from its ancient intent. are given the privilege of Nevertheless, the responding to His gift principle and truth behind with our own personal baptism still matters for declaration of faith. many reasons. Perhaps most specifically, it matters because, as in the first “Those who gladly century, if we accept Christ received his word as our personal Savior and were baptized.” Lord, we are called upon to —Acts 2:41 declare our personal faith. It’s more than a duty or an act of obedience, it’s an The book of Acts opportunity to declare our declares that on the Day gratitude for the love and of Pentecost, “Those who grace of Christ. gladly received his word If you have trusted Jesus were baptized” (2:41). as your own Savior, baptism You can join them gives you an opportunity to in this joyful act of tell others that your life has obedience, identification, been changed. You can say and proclamation of Christ’s of Christ, “I am His and He salvation. Yes, the real is mine.” meaning and message of If you have not baptism still matters today. 32 © 2008 RBC Ministries
  33. 33. More than 200 different booklets available FREE CATALOG! Visit us on the Web or write for your copy of the Discovery Series Resource catalog today. USA: PO Box 2222, Grand Rapids, MI 49501-2222 Canada: Box 1622, Windsor, ON N9A 6Z7