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In this file I will be presenting a close look at an ordinance of the Church--Baptism. In order to properly worship our Savior we need to be sure that we fully understand this area, and use it as it was intended to be used in the Church. I have divided our study into six areas: origin, significance, mode, efficacy, subjects and application.
A. ORIGIN OF BAPTISM
Ritual baptism is as old as the Law. The Old Testament is full of instances of ceremonial purifications, which were a type of baptism. It was considered a symbol of divine cleansing (Ezek 36:25). This type of baptism continued right into the New Testament with the baptism of John and Jewish proselyte baptism. Christian baptism, however, was not simply a continuation of these but was a different baptism performed at the command of Christ. (Acts 19:3 ff.) The other baptisms were for the most part commanded by God as an outward act of cleansing, however, true cleansing was impossible with water. True cleansing could only come from the shed Blood of Christ on Calvary. Even John's baptism was to cleanse the Jews to prepare them to receive the true cleansing of Jesus Christ. The origin of Christian baptism is found in the person of Jesus Christ. It is because of and through Him that the Christian can participate in complete cleansing through salvation by faith in Christ. Jesus Himself was baptized to complete all righteousness. It is important to note that when Christ was baptized, He was already perfectly clean (never had, nor could sin). In the same way the Christian is Baptized after Salvation by Faith, to visibly illustrate the perfect cleansing that had already taken place within.
B. SIGNIFICANCE OF BAPTISM
Baptism is an outward picture representing the inward purification from the guilt of sin. As stated earlier this removal of the guilt and the responsibility for sin is a result of cleansing, not by water, but by the Blood of Christ. This removal of sin by the Blood of Jesus is the Good News of the New Testament. So we can say that baptism reflects the meaning of the gospel and the salvation it brings. Another way to say this is that baptism is an identification with Christ. In Acts 2:38 we are instructed to, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ..."(NIV). The contemporary Greek usage of the phrase, "in the name of" was a technical term of commerce meaning "to the account" of someone, signifying ownership. In many countries of the world today, the rite of Christian baptism is highly significant, because it is a sign that the person has made his final surrender to Christ--no more "sitting on the fence." This person has become a Christian and often this is the point where persecution begins. The impact of identification with Christ in our country is slowly becoming more pronounced as true Christianity becomes more distinct from the ways of our society. In Cols 2:12 we are given the clearest statement of the significance of baptism, "...having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead." (NIV). Baptism is associating ourselves with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an outward sign of what has already taken place on the inside by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
C. MODE OF BAPTISM
The mode of baptism is one of the most highly debated issues of baptism. The three different modes that are presented are: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. I personally believe that immersion is the correct mode because it more clearly fits the meaning (see B above) of baptism in the "death and burial." However, it should never be a point of division among Christians. We should fellowship with anyone who clearly has accepted Jesus by faith and faith alone. However, we need to look at the support for immersion in two main areas: Word study and early church practice. The word "Baptize" is found in the New Testament and the Septuagint (Greek text of the first five books of the Old Testament). In 2Kings 5:14 we find Naaman baptizing himself seven times in the Jordan, and the word used means "to dip or the be moist with." In Leviticus 11:32, the Greek word "bapto" translates, "to refer to immersion," as the articles concerned are put into water. But there are other uses of this word in the Old Testament where it is not specifically speaking of immersion (Lev 14:6,51; Ruth 2:14). In the New Testament we find much the same evidence, for we find the normal meaning of the word "baptize" to mean: to dip repeatedly, to immerge, submerge, dip, dip oneself, wash, to dip in or under. But we do find cases where baptism is referring to a washing of something less than full immersion (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38). However, we can easily see that the normal use of the word is to immerse. But for further evidence we need to refer to its use in the context. In Mark 1:9-10 we observe Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was "coming up out of the water.." (NIV). Also, another example is in Acts 8:38-39, "Look here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?...then both Phillip and the eunuch went down into the water and Phillip baptized him. When they came up out of the water..." (NIV).
Thus we find immersion as the implied mode of baptism in the early church of the Scriptures. We also find that in the history of the early church, after the closing of the Scriptures, that baptism by immersion is the accepted mode. In the Didache (c. A.D. 100) implied clearly is the fact that immersion is the normal mode of baptism. It must be mentioned that in very special circumstances pouring was also accepted. Immersion however, continued to be the common practice until about the thirteenth century.
D. EFFICACY OF BAPTISM
As was stated before, the symbolism of baptism is mainly the association of oneself with the salvation of Jesus Christ. But we need to ask the question, does baptism have any effect at all on the person being baptized? Is there anything that results from the rite of baptism? This question is quickly answered by many false leaders who say that baptism in some way brings salvation. The Mormons, for example, believe that water baptism (by their own apostle) is a definite requirement for salvation. The Roman Catholic Church holds to the lie that baptism removes the stain of original sin. They have held this false notion for many years, even claiming that an infant who dies without having been baptized, would not go to Heaven (nor Hell) but to a place called "Limbo" (someplace like Heaven but without the presence of Our Lord). The Scriptures are abundantly clear on this point, that baptism has no effect whatever on salvation. There are over two hundred verses in Scripture that state that salvation is by faith and by faith alone. But while baptism is not a part of salvation, it is commanded by Christ. Our gracious Lord and Savior would never ask us to do anything that would harm us, but only require those things that would benefit us.
Baptism produces nothing except the blessing of being obedient to Christ. I cannot help but notice that Scripture many times state that we are to, "repent and be baptized." (Acts 2:38). Since we know that it is strictly by faith and faith alone that we are saved, it follows then that the second part of the command (be baptized) is our first command from Our Lord to the new Christian. It reminds me of a person who joins the army and is given his first command by the General as a test of the willingness of the new recruit to obey orders. In the case of Christ, I believe that He realizes that new believers need to go "public" with their new faith. So many times we have allowed and encouraged (sometimes by our silence) new Christians to "put off" being baptized until later. We teach them to obey other commands of Christ but not His first one! Because God honors those who honor Him, I believe that when a person submits to baptism there is a special blessing bestowed on him that is not available in any other act of Christian worship.
E. SUBJECTS OF BAPTISM
Who may be baptized? The big controversy in this area is the subject of infant baptism. Most fundamentalists say that only those who have a personal relationship to Christ should be baptized. This of course implies that the person has made some sort of a free will commitment to Jesus by faith. Therefore, one could conclude that no infants could or should be baptized. An infant cannot be a believer. Too many salvation passages speak of free will decisions on the part of the believer. For example, "...if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord you will be saved." (Romans 10:9). This verse leaves all infants out. The Word of God says one is to repent and be baptized in order to be saved; thus only those who have repented in their hearts and accepted the forgiveness of Christ can be eligible for water baptism. Thus since repentance, believing and confessing Christ are impossible for infants they are ineligible for baptism.
F. APPLICATION OF BAPTISM
When we take the basic requirements for baptism as discussed above and try to apply them on the local church level we find a wide application.
1. The requirement for baptism should be included in the presentation of the gospel message. It is a rare occasion when someone tells an unbeliever that they must repent and be baptized. We often times overly state the requirement to believe and to put our faith in Jesus but fail to advise them of the very first command that Jesus will make of the new believer--baptism! Baptism is really a test which causes them to "count the cost." In order to be saved one needs a humble heart that is willing to yield all to Christ, being ready to do whatever He will ask of them. The inclusion of the post-salvation requirement for baptism tests the heart of the person contemplating making a decision for Christ. If the person wants to "Accept Jesus as His Lord and Savior," but does not want to yield to baptism, then his heart is not ready to obey the commands of Christ.
2. Because of the unique blessing of being obedient to the first command of Christ, we should be sure that the new believer is baptized as soon as possible. If we delay his baptism, then he is cheated from an early blessing from God that he will need during this critical period following salvation when many changes and adjustments are being made in his life as a new believer. At times churches have believed that the new convert must have a broad understanding of Christian Doctrine before being baptized. This is not really true. All they really need is to have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior.
3. The mode of baptism I would use is immersion and would prefer that the baptism be a service of its own. This is one of the greatest opportunities to witness for Christ before many unbelievers. In our country, being baptized is looked upon by most as another official ceremony such as marriage. Many unbelieving families and friends will come to a baptismal service and the church should "make the most of the opportunity," and build the whole service around the theme of dying to self and living for Christ.
4. Lastly, we must encourage the new converts to give their personal testimonies of their salvation. What powerful testimonies new believers can give because it is still fresh in their minds and in their family's too. For the person who would have objections to speaking before a crowd, the pastor could assist him by asking questions he could answer, avoiding the ones which could be answered by a "yes" or a "no."
Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt 28:19-20). Let us go and baptize in a manner that is in accordance to the command and wishes of our Savior, bringing Him glory forever.