Baptism

The Bible recognizes baptism for adults and by immersion. No other kind of bap­tism has the sanction of the One who com­manded us to baptize. Christ Himself was baptized by immersion, and He left us an example that we should follow His steps.

Evangelist, Nile Union

BAPTISM is almost universally practiced among Christians today. The papal church holds baptism to be one of its seven sacraments— baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders (ordina­tions), and matrimony. Protestants usually acknowledge two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's Supper (some practice the or­dinance of foot washing in connection with the latter).

Baptism as practiced by different Chris­tian bodies today varies both with refer­ence to subjects and to modes. Some churches consider the proper subjects for baptism to be adults who profess faith in Christ and who have a personal Christian experience. Others administer this ordi­nance to infants.

There are three modes of baptism prac­ticed by the different churches today. They are immersion, or dipping; aspersion, or sprinkling; and affusion, or pouring. Most Christian Protestant churches baptize the candidate with water (as the administrator pronounces the formula that declares it to be "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost") but do not accompany the baptism with various forms and ceremonies such as are widely prac­ticed in the Roman and Oriental churches. Some churches baptize by immersing three times, others by sprinkling three times. Some immerse only once, others sprinkle only once. Some baptize the candi­date forward, others backward. Some churches have additional ceremonies, such as breathing upon the baptized person, anointing the candidate with oil, giving him milk and honey, putting a little salt in his mouth, and touching his nostrils and ears. Some give the candidate a name in baptism and clothe him with a white robe after baptism.

Since the tenth century the Church of Rome has followed the custom of baptizing bells. They sometimes substitute the term "benediction" for "baptism," but the rite itself is practically identical with that of baptism, even to the use of the consecra­tion formula "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." They sometimes give a name to the bell at baptism, and also a kind of sponsorship, as by godfathers and godmothers.

From all this we can readily see that the ordinance of baptism has been adulterated by different Christian communities since apostolic times. Christ could not have taught so many varied forms of the rite of baptism. To distinguish truth from error a seeker after the truth is bound to con­sult the Bible—God's written word.

What the Bible Teaches About Baptism

From the study of the Bible four im­portant facts are concluded:

1. That the ordinance of baptism is or­dained by Christ to be a perpetual and universal rite. It was practiced by the apos­tles after Christ's ascension. This is taught in the following scriptures:

Matthew 28:19—"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

Acts 2:38-41—"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. . . . Then they that gladly received his word were baptized."

Mark 16:16—"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that be­lieveth not shall be damned."

2. That immersion is the only mode of baptism taught in the Bible and the one practiced in the primitive church. This is evidenced from:

a. The meaning of the Greek verb baptizo, "to baptize," which means "to im­merse."

b. The language employed in the Scrip­tures with reference to baptism: The In­spired Record says that John baptized "in Jordan" (Matt. 3:6); that Jesus after His baptism "went up straightway out of the water" (verse 16); and that the Ethio­pian eunuch and Philip "went down both into the water" for baptism (Acts 8:38).

c. The fact that baptism by immersion symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrec­tion of Christ. The other modes of bap­tism, sprinkling and pouring, vacate the ordinance of its meaning and render the significance of the rite senseless. Only im­mersion, submersion, and emergence can rightly symbolize the death, burial, and res­urrection of Christ:

Romans 6:3, 4—"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 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 new­ness of life."

Colossians 2:12—"Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead."

d. The indisputable fact that the primi­tive church practiced immersion as the mode of baptism as evidenced from the testimony of church history, the erection of baptistries in the early Christian churches, and the continual practice of the Greek and Coptic churches up to the pres­ent day. (See Chambers' Encyclopaedia, vol. 1, p. 676, 1885 edition.)

3. That the subjects of baptism are adults, not infants, who have previously been made disciples and who have had a complete change of heart and manifested belief in Jesus Christ as their personal Sav­iour; that there is no mysterious efficacy in the rite of baptism itself. Baptism cannot effect repentance in the individual; rather, the step is taken because of the repentance that has already taken place in the life of the believer. This is evidenced from the following facts:

a. The command of Christ is to baptize those who have first been made disciples:

Matthew 28:19—"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

Acts 2:41—"Then they that gladly re­ceived his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."

b. The Scriptures contain no express or implied command for infant baptism; nei­ther is there any clear example of baptism having been administered to infants. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that the disciples baptized adults, "men and women," who had previously repented:

Acts 2:37, 38—"Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apos­tles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins."

Acts 8:12—"But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women."

Acts 18:8—"And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corin­thians hearing believed, and were bap­tized."

4. That baptism is merely a physical act symbolizing a spiritual change that has al­ready taken place in the life of the believer prior to his baptism. Baptism is a visible ordinance taken as a sign of an inward state of grace already enjoyed. Baptism does not eifect the change but is taken as a sign of the change. This renders infant baptism unscriptural:

Acts 10:47—"Can any man forbid wa­ter, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?"

Mark 16:16—"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that be­lieveth not shall be damned."

The Mode, Subjects, and Meaning of Baptism

From the points here considered we con­clude the following facts:

1. That baptism is an ordinance insti­tuted by Christ and practiced by the apos­tles (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38).

2. That the Biblical mode of baptism is that of immersion, the only mode that can symbolize the death, burial, and resurrec­tion of Christ. Other modes vacate the or­dinance of its meaning and are not Bibli­cal (Rom. 6:3, 4; Matt. 3:6, 16; Acts 8:38).

3. That people who received the Holy Spirit were later baptized, thus proving

that there is no efficacy in the rite itself but that it is practiced as an outward sign of an inward belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the salvation of the believer (Acts 10:47; Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:19).

4. That adults who have been taught and who have had a change of heart by ac­cepting the substitutionary work of Christ in their behalf are the proper subjects of baptism (Matt. 28:19; 3:2, 3, 6; Acts 2:37, 38; 8:12; 18:8).

Unscriptural Practices

In spite of the clear teaching of the Bible with reference to baptism we find two main errors practiced by different Chris­tian communities today. These are bap­tism by sprinkling, or pouring, and infant baptism. These two practices do not have behind them the authority of either Christ or His apostles, but were introduced into the church after the days of the apostles. The church has no right to change an ex­press command of Christ, for the church is simply an executive and not a legislative body. No church can change God's com­mandments or ordinances. This is not the prerogative of the church, neither indeed can it be. The authority of the church, however, is to be found in the execution of the commandments of Christ, not in their abrogation or substitution. It is the work of the church not to change God's commands to suit the inclinations of the people but rather to change the people in order to conform to the commands of God. This work the church does by the power of the Holy Spirit that is given to it. The Spirit, however, teaches no new doctrines, because of the fact that God is unchange­able and does not "alter the thing that is gone out of" His lips, and because the Bible emphasizes that the Spirit does "not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak" (Ps. 89:34; John 16:13; see Mai. 3:6).

Pouring or sprinkling cannot give the pictorial expression of the believer's faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Only total immersion in water, which was the universal practice during the early Christian centuries, can give that picture. No Christian community has the right to change the Biblical mode of bap­tism from immersion to sprinkling or pour­ing. In so doing they make void the ordi­nance of its meaning and pervert and dese­crate the command of Christ Himself.

In substituting infant baptism for adult baptism the command of Christ was abro­gated. Membership in the church then came by heredity and not by conversion. Anybody in spite of his own will can thus become a member in the church. This made the church merge into the world. Baptizing a crying, resisting infant, before it has the opportunity of personally ac­cepting the substitutionary work of Christ, renders the rite ridiculous and meaning­less. It also gives rise to the superstitious be­lief that there is a magical efficacy in the water. No wonder the Catholic Church baptizes bells and rosaries, and in some countries people bring cats, caged birds, rabbits, donkeys, and pigs to be baptized by the priest!

Because the Biblical command that re­quires repentance before baptism was abro-gated, absurd analogies and reasons are given in defense of infant baptism. Some claim that baptism took the place of cir­cumcision. But they forget three facts. First, that circumcision was a national rite under a theocratic government. It was not a religious rite. Second, that John the Bap­tist, Peter, and the apostles baptized Jew­ish Christians who had been circumcised, thus showing conclusively that baptism did not replace circumcision. And third, that while circumcision had been a national rite for males only, baptism is for males and females. The Scriptures say that Philip baptized "both men and women" (Acts 8:12).

Others in defense of infant baptism claim that baptism is to wash away the original sin! Of such we inquire how can one repent of the original sin? If the Bible requires repentance before baptism, then can that repentance be for the original sin? Indeed, no person can repent of the original sin—a sin for which he is not re­sponsible.

The Bible says nothing about baptism washing away original sin, but rather that baptism is a symbol of the washing away of one's own sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5).

Still others defend infant baptism on the sheer conjecture that there may have been infants in the households of Stephanas, Lydia, and the jailer that were baptized by Paul. This, however, remains a conjecture, and conjectures are poor foundations for belief. The facts of the case are that 1 Co­rinthians 16:15 seems to show that the whole family of Stephanas were adults and not infants.

It is most surprising that churches that claim to believe in justification by faith and not by works go contrary to their own beliefs by baptizing infants. Once baptism is separated from the faith of the individ­ual, the ordinance is perverted and church membership becomes dependent upon works that call for outward manipulations that are apart from faith. Indeed the bap­tism of infants no more makes the infants Christians than placing them on thrones would make them kings or queens. If in­fant baptism does anything at all, it only gives a superstitious confidence to the par­ents in an outward rite as possessing a spir­itual efficacy. It makes them believe that church membership is a matter of hered­ity. Inconsistent as it does appear, there is not one Christian community that believes in hereditary priesthood as was the case in Judaism, but some by practice seem to show their belief in hereditary church membership. Only today a mother told me, "I baptized my son as a babe in case when he grows up he may lose his way and be­come an atheist. As it is now, I am sure he is a Christian regardless of what he may turn out to be." If this is not justification by works, then what is?

Neander says: "Infant baptism was es­tablished neither by Christ nor by his apos­tles. Even in latter times Tertullian op­posed it, the North African church hold­ing to the old practice."—Kitto, Cyclopae­dia, 1:287.

The Bible recognizes baptism for adults and by immersion. No other kind of bap­tism has the sanction of the One who com­manded us to baptize. Christ Himself was baptized by immersion, and He left us an example that we should follow His steps.

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Evangelist, Nile Union

March 1962

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