Chapter 13 - Baptism

The observance of ordinances in the New Testament church rests upon their institution by Christ and upon the last commission he gave to his apostles: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19-20). In this text ordinances are expressly commanded, and their observance is to be perpetuated “unto the end of the world.”
Some religious teachers oppose the observance of all ordinances, referring to Colossians 2:14 as proof that these were abolished at the death of Christ. But the text really shows that the abolished ordinances were those which belonged to the Mosaic law, for they are stated to be meats, drinks, holy days, new moons, and sabbaths (vss. 16-17). These were the “carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation” (Heb. 9:10). “But Christ being come” (vs. 11), the reformation was brought in; the Mosaic institutions met their antitypes and thus were abolished through Christ’s death; and the New Testament house, or church, of God, with its ordinances and institutions, succeeded.
This commission authorizing ministers to baptize was given after the death of Christ, and was consistently obeyed by the Apostles afterwards, as the Book of Acts abundantly shows. Some have affirmed that Paul did not believe in the ordinances, and therefore was quite indifferent to the subject at Corinth (see I Cor. 1:13-17), and that he baptized Crispus and Gaius and the household of Stephanus merely because they required it of him. But the inspired record shows that when Paul raised up this congregation “many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). Now, if Paul himself did not do much of this baptizing, he had others do it, which shows his attitude toward baptism. Furthermore, he wrote to this same congregation, “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread,” referring to the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, as the context shows (I Cor. 11:23-28). Paul was not an antiordinance preacher.
It must also be borne in mind that Paul did not receive the gospel from those who were apostles before him, but by direct revelation from God, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. (See Gal. 1:11-12, 15-17.) Where, then, did Paul get his authority to baptize and to observe the Lord’s Supper? Not from the Apostles, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ—“for I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you” (I Cor. 11:23). This proves positively that these ordinances were not abolished at the cross, for the Apostle was not even converted at the time of the crucifixion. Furthermore, the ordinances were not intended for the Jewish Christians only, because, as some assume, they loved ordinances so well; for Paul was specially commissioned to preach among the Gentiles (Acts 26:15-18).

A Believer’s Baptism

The last commission of Christ, as recorded by Mark, is: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). These words clearly limit the subjects of baptism to those who are capable of hearing and believing the gospel, and this standard was invariably maintained by the Apostles in their ministry. No children were baptized, only persons who believed—“men and women” (Acts 8:12).
The practice of giving a so-called baptism to young children originated in an apostate church. It is nowhere taught in the Bible, either by a single text or by a single example. Nor is infant baptism mentioned in any book until near the close of the second century, and then it was introduced as a result of two errors that were being taught: (1) That infants are totally depraved and therefore guilty and lost; (2) That baptism itself regenerates from sin. When men believed these two false doctrines, they baptized infants as the only means of removing their depravity and preventing their going to hell in case of death.
There is no valid reason for the observance of this infant rite. The often repeated statement that the Apostles must have baptized infants, because they sometimes baptized households, has no weight; for there is no proof in a single instance that there were infants in these households. Furthermore, in most cases, the context itself shows that believers only were baptized. For examples, see the records concerning the household of Cornelius (Acts 10) and the household of the jailer (16:31-34). Baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (I Pet. 3:21), but conscience is not operative in infants.
Nor does this rite of infant baptism decrease in any sense the parental obligation to endeavor to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” No good can possibly come to infants by this unscriptural rite; on the contrary, an incalculable amount of harm results. One writer urges infant baptism in order that the children “should never be allowed to believe that they were naturally aliens from the household of faith.” This is the very harm that comes through infant baptism; for at this very day millions who were baptized (?) in infancy believe that they have always been the children of God, though they have never been “born again” and are really in a lost condition.
It is not the so-called act of baptism itself that is so harmful; it is the accompanying belief that those so baptized are Christians from their infancy. This belief is especially strong in the East, where all baptized people (irrespective of moral character) are called Christians, and those who have not had the rite are, by the so-called Christians, generally termed heathen. The doctrine of Christ is that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” When saved from their sins they should then be “baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).

Conditioned on Repentance

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching … and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand .… Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:1-2, 5-6). Not only did John teach that the people should repent and then be baptized, but he actually required repentance of them, refusing to baptize them if they did not repent (vss. 7-8). We read in another place that “the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him” (Luke 7:30). Because of their unwillingness to meet the required conditions for baptism, it is said that they “rejected the counsel of God.” And so it is with all antiordinance people; by rejecting Bible baptism they are rejecting God’s Word.
In his Pentecostal sermon Peter taught the same truth concerning the necessity of repentance first and baptism afterwards: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you” (Acts 2:38). Unless the heart is brought into the right attitude through repentance, the simple act of baptism amounts to nothing, even though performed in the Bible manner and by a true minister of God. Simon the sorcerer, at Samaria, was baptized with the other believers; yet when Peter and John came down, the unregenerate condition of the man’s heart was revealed. His baptism in water, even though performed by Philip, a man “filled with the Holy Ghost,” did not take away from his heart the love of pre-eminence, which had possessed him in the past.  Peter said to him plainly, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God” (8:21).

Baptism as a Burial

The mode of baptism has been a much-debated subject. But consideration of a few Scripture passages should be sufficient to show that immersion is the Bible mode of baptism. In fact, almost without exception, theologians admit the validity of immersion; the chief controversy has arisen over the effort on the part of many to prove that sprinkling or pouring may be substituted for it.
All scholars admit that “to immerse” is the plain English equivalent of the Greek word baptizo. “Sprinkle” and “pour” are not equivalent to “immerse,” as the lexicons testify. Three words in the Greek language are equivalent respectively to the three English words “immerse,” “sprinkle,” and “pour.” Now, whenever the Bible speaks of baptism as a literal Christian rite, it always employs the Greek word that is the equivalent of the English word “immersion.” If the Bible writers, using Greek, desired to convey the idea of “pour,” why did they not use the Greek word that signifies “pour,” instead of the word that signifies “immerse”? or use a word for “sprinkle” if they meant “sprinkle”? The reason is evident: they said what they meant, and, I may add, meant what they said.
This distinction is so clear that wherever the literal Christian rite is spoken of one can substitute “immerse” or “immersion” without in any degree changing the meaning; whereas, in many cases if we substitute “sprinkle” or “pour” the passage is made ridiculous. (See, e.g., Acts 8:36-39; Col. 2:12.) There is no mention of sprinkling or pouring for baptism until near the close of the second century, when it was introduced in case of sickness and was not regarded as regular. Furthermore, all the facts and circumstances concerning baptism recorded in the New Testament harmonize with the mode of immersion, but not on any other supposition.
The great historians, as Neander, Mosheim, Wall, Weiss, Ewald, Geikie, Edersheim, De Pressense, Conybeare, Stanley, Schaff, and many others, testify that immersion was the primitive practice. This was also affirmed by the great reformers.
Baptism is a ceremonial representation of the burial and resurrection of our Lord; therefore, only immersion is appropriate. In fact, the individual believer symbolically follows Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. First he dies the death to sin, is “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20); then he is “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” (Col. 2:12). Baptism thus becomes to the individual an outward sign of an inward work. First we are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (vs. 11); then we are “buried with him in baptism.”
The same idea is alluded to in that remarkable passage in Romans 6:2, 4: “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? … 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.”
Christ was buried in baptism. John was baptizing “in Jordan” (Mark 1:5). “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.… And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13, 16-17). Jesus evidently went down into the Jordan in order to be baptized, for after his baptism, he “went up straightway out of the water.” Here we have the highest authority for immersion in water, which is thus known to be Heaven’s plan: (1) Jesus himself, the Son of God, set the example (that of itself should be sufficient); (2) the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, bore witness by appearing visibly in the form of a dove and lighting upon Christ; (3) the Father declared in audible tones, “I am well pleased.”
In order to fulfill the Word of God perfectly and secure a valid baptism the candidate must observe the following:
1. He must know or hear the gospel (Mark 16:15).
2. He must repent of his sins and believe the gospel, the doing of which will bring about his salvation (Acts 3:19; 16:31; 2:38).
3. He must find a minister of God who is ready to baptize him. (See Acts 8:36-37.)
4. Preacher and candidate must go to a place where there is “much water” (John 3:23).
5. Then he must follow the example of Christ in his baptism (Matt. 3:16), by going down “into the water.” (See Acts 8:38).
6. Then he must be “buried  … in baptism.”
7. The candidate can then “come up out of the water” (Acts 8:39).
8. Then, having obeyed the Word and followed his Lord, he can go “on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).
Reader, have you met the required conditions and been baptized in this Bible way? If not, you have not been baptized at all; nothing short of this constitutes scriptural, valid baptism.

Single immersion

From the formula given by Jesus—“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19)—some have inferred that a threefold action is necessary—one immersion in the name of the Father, one in the name of the Son, and one in the name of the Holy Ghost. In the Acts of the Apostles this threefold formula is never mentioned; the people were simply baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ,” or “in the name of the Lord,” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5), which shows that the Apostles did not understand that it was necessary to perform a triple action. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one; therefore one action is sufficient.
Furthermore, the object and design of baptism preclude the idea of repetition. It is the outward sign of an inward work, representing our salvation from sin. Now, this salvation is represented as the work of God (II Tim. 1:8-9), as the work of Christ (Matt. 1:21), and as the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5); yet it is a single act, and, therefore, can be appropriately represented only by a single immersion in the threefold name, just as truly as the single conversion is the work of the divine Trinity. If we were converted three times, once by each person of the Trinity, then triune immersion in three separate names would properly represent it. So also the symbolic reference baptism bears to the burial, and resurrection of Christ necessitates the single action. Christ was buried once and raised once; and we are “buried with him once in baptism” and “are risen once with him” to “walk in newness of life.”

Baptism as a Purifying Ordinance

To the Jewish mind baptism appealed very strongly as a purifying ordinance. The Jews had long been accustomed to “divers washings” of a ceremonial nature, and on this account were led to regard baptism in a similar light. Therefore, when John came baptizing in Enon near Salim, presenting a new cleansing ceremony, straightway “there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying” (John 3:23-25).
The Apostles also presented the subject in the light of a purifying ordinance. Peter said to the penitent Jews, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). The language implies that baptism, as well as repentance, is for the remission of sins. So also Ananias said to Saul, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (22:16).
The Jews were accustomed to the idea of double cleansing—actual and ceremonial. By consulting Leviticus 14:2-7, where the law concerning the cleansing of the leper is given, the reader will see that the actual healing of the leper is one thing and that his ceremonial “cleansing” is another thing. This double cleansing was recognized by Christ; for when he granted a leper perfect healing (the actual work), he said to him, “Go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the ceremonial gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them” (Matt. 8:4).
Now, baptism as a purifying ordinance does not cleanse the soul from sin actually, but ceremonially, being “a testimony unto them”—the people. It is the outward sign of an inward work of grace. We are “dead to sin,” “therefore buried with him by baptism” (Rom. 6:2, 4). The actual cleansing of the soul from sinful elements cannot be effected by literal water; it is “the blood of Christ” that is able to “purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). Yea, “he hath washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Rev. 1:5). “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7).
Peter also shows the figurative nature of baptismal cleansing, or salvation. (See I Pet. 3:20-21.) Baptism is not our actual salvation, but our figurative one; it is not the actual “putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” How do we obtain this good conscience? The blood of Christ purifies our conscience (Heb. 9:14). Therefore we have blood cleansing first, and ceremonial, or water, cleansing afterwards, as the “answer of a good conscience toward God.”

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