|For many, many years baptism has been a focal point of inquiry, of
theological discussion, of study ... and even of controversy. While almost all churches
within the realm of "Christendom" do practice baptism, there have been wide
differences concerning questions like why? who? what?
In recent years a number of denominational church leaders and writers have raised the question of baptism as it is practiced within their churches. Some are wondering aloud (or in print) if their traditional teachings and practices indeed conform to the New Testament's teaching concerning baptism.
In the light of this renewed interest in the study of this great theme, let us investigate the subject together briefly.
One of the traditional points of difference has been the action of baptism. Churches practice sprinkling, pouring and immersion for baptism. And the New Testament will help us to determine if all of these "modes" are indeed baptism. Or it will tell us which of them is the baptism of the New Testament.
Firstly, the element of baptism is water. In Acts 8:38 we are told, and they went down both into the water .. and he baptized him." From John 3:23 we learn that John the Baptist was baptizing---in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there...---We may infer, then, that baptism as it was practiced in the first century required much water.
Secondly, in two New Testament texts baptism is said to be a burial. In Romans 6:4 the Bible says, '7herefore we are buried with him by baptism into death.. " And in Colossians 2:12 a person is said to be -buried with him in baptism-.
Keeping in mind the apparent need of much water and that baptism is likened to a burial, which "mode" of baptism is the practice of the New Testament? Is the sprinkling or pouring of water a burial? Is an immersion in water a burial? Of course, you can immediately see that the New Testament practice was and is that of immersion.
Thirdly, the word "baptism" is from an ancient Greek word which means to immerse. In a standard Greek-English lexicon there is this definition given of "baptisma": "A word peculiar to the New Testament and ecclesiastical writings, immersion, submersion" (A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament, J. H. Thayer, D.D., Zondervan, 1969). Actually, the word baptism is a Greek word which has been "Anglicized", and it should retain its first century usage even in the twentieth century! In his book called Turning to God Dr. William Barclay (a prominent, contemporary scholar) says of baptism in the New Testament and the first century, -Baptism was not by sprinkling, but by immersion."
Baptism, as it is taught in the New Testament, is an immersion in water. And if we are to place any worth in the authority of the Bible, we must continue to teach and practice baptism by immersion!
Another question which has plagued the study of baptism is the question, ---Who should be baptized?" Some have said that infants should be baptized. Others have maintained that only penitent believers may be scripturally baptized.
Now, a careful study of the New Testament simply does not supply a single example of infant baptism nor a single text in support of this practice. It is often "reasoned" that the -household baptisms in the book of Acts (for example, Acts 16:14,15) would imply that infants were included in baptism. However, a "household" does not necessarily imply the presence of children. Indeed, many are the households without children!
On the other hand, we find in the New Testament some prerequisites to baptism which do necessarily imply a person of some considerable age! In Mark 16:16 we are told, 'We that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. " Prerequisite to baptism is personal belief. In Acts 2:38 we may read, "Repent, and be baptized...--Prerequisite to baptism is personal penitence for one's sins. In Acts 8:36,37 a man asks, "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" The response was, ---If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. " And the man replied, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" The simple necessity of these mental processes requires that only a person old enough to believe, repent and confess is old enough to be baptized!
The baptism of infants simply does not conform to the teaching and pattern of the New Testament.
It is so often taught that baptism is not really necessary and is only a symbol of something which has already happened. Baptism (so viewed) is just an "optional extra" in the religious "experience".
However, the scriptures will again help us to determine the necessity of baptism in the process of conversion. Consider carefully these texts:
1. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 1616a) Plainly, both belief and baptism are involved in one's salvation
2. 'Then Peter said unto them Repent, and he baptized every one of you ... for the remission of sins..---(Acts 2:38). Remission of sins is the great thing to be gained. And both repentance and baptism are required if one is to receive that remission of sins!
3. "And now why tarriest thou arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the calling on the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Note here the joining of baptism with washing away of sins. Baptism certainly appears to be necessary in relationship to our being rid of the guilt of sin!
4. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father even so we also should walk in the newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Romans 6:4,5). This text identifies baptism as a likeness to the burial of Christ. It then very plainly says that if (note that "if") we have been buried together with Christ (how else other than in baptism?) we shall be in the likeness of His. resurrection. Such a conditional statement has a necessarily implied converse side. Thus, if we have not been planted together with Christ in baptism, we shall not be in the likeness of His resurrection. Baptism is the place of union with the life giving death of Jesus.
5. "For as many of as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27). Baptism is the point of entry into Christ. Obviously, there is no spiritual life possible out of Christ. Thus, if it is in baptism that we are admitted to Christ, baptism is essential to our conversion.
6. "The like figure where unto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 3:21). Scripture could hardly be more plain. Baptism and our salvation are inseparably linked. Thus, baptism is absolutely necessary in conversion.
No matter how the world may have minimized the importance and role of baptism, we cannot deny the plain and simple teaching of God's word. Baptism is profoundly the place and time of pardon; the place and time when sins are remitted; the place and time when one enters new life in Christ; the place and time when one enters the condition described by the word "saved".
It is truly time for us to examine carefully traditional teachings and practices which concern baptism. And we must make that investigation with a determination to conform to the New Testament pattern for this great ordinance. Baptism is important to and for you. Do study the subject prayer fully.