Reading : Galatians 3
There are three aspects to that which we will have to consider:
1. What do we mean by ‘baptism’ in practical terms – what do we think we have to do, to be baptised?
2. What do we mean in spiritual terms, what does baptism signify – what does it mean?
3. Why might it be an important practice?
The importance and essential nature of baptism will be understood as a result of us considering these issues.
Before we tackle that in detail let us just reflect upon what people generally mean when baptism is talked about. What response would we get if we asked people in the street (nominal Christians and those who had some more definite religious persuasion)? I might think it’s essential for salvation, a first principle issue, but do others, others who call themselves Christians, do they see it similarly?
I know those of the Roman Catholic persuasion would feel that baptism is an essential matter; they would probably refer to it by the term ‘christening’. They would insist that it is a requirement for life after death. An example might help us understand. They would, for example, feel that a baby born with little expectation of survival should be baptised or christened straight away. Any risk of an early death of a baby would trigger an early visit by a priest. Baptism of the infant would be seen as an essential precursor to the administering what they would call the last rites (the last rites can’t be successfully given to those not christened obviously). It is felt by RC’s and other traditionalist churches, that baptism has some special recognition by God such that the child’s soul would not be sent to the place of condemnation of the godless, but should find repose in heavenly arms. It is therefore perceived as a right, with some definite response by God. You do it – God is bound to respond. If you baptise a child, God will save it. I’m uncomfortable with that presumption, that christening a seemingly blameless child would in effect force God to save its soul, but that is what some would think.
Others church members of the less traditional wing, would probably look at it rather differently. Based upon their perception of how they think the deity should act or behave. They would suggest that God would clearly want to make sure all innocent people would be found a place of reward at death, despite not having actually submitted to the physical act of baptism. The sort of loving God that He is, although He might prefer people to be baptised or christened, He would hardly insist upon it. Saving the soul would overcome the requirement.
I, personally, don’t like that presumption either.
Most churches and church members would say baptism is important, but not essential. The Roman Church would take it a stage further and say it was essential for acceptance into a heavenly afterlife. Conversely, they would say, if you are not baptised you are condemned to a place called Hell, for eternity.
It is important to get some clarity here. God is not the author of confusion.
So let us go back to our three issues that we said we needed to consider. The answer to these issues will inform us of the importance and essential nature of baptism. Along the way we will see what it is, what it means and what it does for a human being. We will see how God views baptism, how He perceives it to be essential, we will see why God really does not permit us any flexibility in applying it.
How can we be so arrogant and claim to have the answers to this? Well, we have analysed these issues and have come up with answers. See II Timothy Chapter 3 v 16.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2Ti 3:16)
We can be sure what baptism is because we’ve studied God’s word the Bible, which we respect as entirely His word and have identified God’s mind on the matter. We’ve not applied man’s thinking. We’ve just looked at God’s written record, set aside sentimental issues, and found out – based upon what He has told us in the Bible. We believe we have identified God’s mind on the matter.
So what is the physical act of baptism?
Well the Bible tells us exactly what the process is. It is a process of actually going down into water, usually with someone else who acts as the baptiser. It is a total, complete, immersion into water. The word ‘baptise’ comes from a Greek word ‘baptiso’ which is used for describing a ship that sinks or for the dyeing of cloth. That reinforces the idea of submerging or plunging in water.
Look at these following references:-
John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (Joh 3:23)
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; (Mat 3:13-16) – (note Jesus came up)
And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Act 8:36, 38-39)
There should be nothing new in these verses, but what might come as a surprise is that there is no example of baptism being anything less that what is described. In other words splashing or sprinkling by water is just not referred to. I conclude from this that it was not in God’s mind that baptism should consist of merely sprinkling. Splashing with water just doesn’t feature, anywhere.
Theologians would actually agree. Splashing or sprinkling with water, as a substitute for baptism is not a practice referred to in the Bible. I think that’s important. It would seem to me that if we felt it necessary to change what the Bible gives as examples, we would have to have some very strong reasons.
Through all my researches I can find none. The strongest reason put forward is that in the western climate immersion in water can be uncomfortable. If babies or infirmed are submerged there’s a risk of fatality. But that leads us to another striking thing about the Biblical examples of baptism. We never see the practice of baptising infants referred to in the Bible. People have tried to suggest there might have been when the term ‘household’ is used in cases where the gospel is preached and a person and his household are baptised, but that’s an inference that the word ‘household’ always included children – in fact there is a suggestion that it doesn’t include children. So it’s a weak argument and I think it is a retrospective assertion, an argument to justify an already accepted practice. People look for reasons to justify infant baptism.
The sprinkling of infants was a gradual development of the early church. Very soon after the apostles had passed of the scene, people started corrupting the beliefs of Christianity. The church started also to make exceptions for those adults who were sick or close to death. Baptism was suspended in those cases. It also paradoxically practiced, for a while, the postponement of baptism, until the deathbed. The water used was believed to have spiritual properties that somehow would cleanse all past sins, so leaving baptism to the last minute meant you had little chance of sinning after baptism! That soon became unpopular because too many people died untimely deaths and missed the chance to get baptised altogether.
Probably as a response to the need to initiate children of believers into the church, it was then argued that a youngster of six could be baptised based upon ‘suffer the little children to come unto me’ it was not until the fifth century that infant baptism by sprinkling was commonly used.
The life of Mary Queen of Scot’s provides us a curious example of how things had developed from a simple submersion in water by an adult believer as taught in the Bible through a rather unusual, though entirely reasonable plea, at the christening of her son James VI of Scotland (James I of England). On 17th December 1566, she (Mary Queen of Scot’s) attended little James’ christening, James was christened according to Catholic rites, but Mary refused to let the priest spit in the child’s mouth as was the custom. An interesting, rather unhygienic addition seems to militate somewhat the argument that full submersion was a potential health risk in colder climates! Fortunately that development in the practice of infant baptism no longer remains as a feature of christening today.
So how can we summarise the physical practice of baptism? What can we state is the physical practice of baptism outlined in the Bible?
1. The Bible talks of simple immersion in water as the act of baptism only.
2. The Bible indicates baptism is an act that involves adults, not children.
Men have modified virtually every aspect of this simple act, argued about who can be, when they can be, how they can be and even added spitting into mouths of babies!
When we start to look at the significance and meaning of baptism it becomes abundantly clear why the baptism described in the Bible is as it is and how man’s modifications work against what God requires.
But why is all this important? In Hebrews Chapter 6 verse 1 and 2 it is considered a first principle subject and if the description of baptism is the way we should do it then many millions of people have been deluded into thinking they have salvation when they have not!
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Heb 6:1-2)
So what does baptism signify – what does it mean from a religious perspective?
If you read John chapter 4 v 22 to some it is a shocking verse. It may be a surprise to many Christians that Jesus might say such strident words. . Why did he say it?
You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. (Joh 4:22)
Well the promise of salvation was first made to Abraham and his seed or descendants
Turn to our introductory reading Galatians chapter 3. Did you notice those verses 8 and 9? Most people think the Gospel is a New Testament topic yet it is found a fundamental teaching in the Old Testament, in fact it goes back to the time of Abraham.
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Gal 3:8-9)
To be “of faithful Abraham” is vitally important – see vss. 22-29
But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:22-29)
Baptism is ‘into Christ’ not into a named religion, and is based on faith in Jesus Christ. By being baptised into Christ we have ‘put on Christ’ that is, we have espoused ourselves to Christ, we are joined to him and his family… Once we’ve done that we have become one in Christ Jesus. It is not important what our ethnic and gender origins are. ‘If we are Christ’s then are we Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promises’. The gospel preached to Abraham.
So a whole cascade of spiritual issues occurs when we are baptised.
Baptism is an acknowledgement that we believe in and have faith in Christ. That we have heard the gospel and seek the promises that it offers us.
Can you see now why we have no examples of babies being baptised or even very young people? Belief comes first, baptism follows as an open acknowledgement of a desire to ‘put on’ Christ and to live a Christ like life after baptism and find forgiveness of our past sins which are buried in the waters which in effect symbolises the death of Jesus and emerging to a newness of life Romans 6.vs 4
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:4)
Look at the following verses: –
Acts 22 v 12-16 – The washing away of sins.
“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ (Act 22:12-16)
Romans 6 v 3-5
v3 – baptised into Jesus death
v4 – buried with him by baptism.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom 6:3-5)
So the act of going down into water is like being buried, which makes sense – sprinkling wouldn’t have the same meaning would it?
But of course Jesus rose from the dead as well. This is why full baptismal immersion in water is such a good symbol. We come up out of the water to a new life in Christ. Note verses 4-10
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (Rom 6:4-10)
What the apostle is saying is: – Baptism is a symbol of what happened to Christ. He was dead and was buried and then he rose to a new life. Therefore that symbol of baptism is how we put on this aspect of Christ. We are buried with him in the water, but are raised to a new life when we come up out of the water. If we are in symbol raised with him, we should spend the rest of our mortal life behaving as if we had a new life. Verses 11-12
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. (Rom 6:11-12)
Though we will, in the fullness of time die, we are alive to God and will be raised in the future. That is why we refer to believers who die as being asleep. It implies a temporary halt awaiting a revitalised body at the resurrection, when Christ returns to this earth.
Now can you accept the point I was making earlier. Once we’ve seen the practical aspects of baptism and considered the spiritual aspects we see why the examples of baptism in the Bible involve total immersion in water because it is such a perfect symbol of the burial and resurrection of Christ. We see why only adults need to be involved, because it requires faith and a belief and an understanding of what we are doing. It also requires a commitment to go forward after baptism, striving to live a Christ-like life.
We have also seen the effects of changing what God has put on record in the Bible.
Once the church pushed into the background the belief in eternal life being a life on this earth for faithful baptised believers, raised at Christ’s second coming; then they substituted this strange notion of good church members going to heaven and the bad going to hell. That meant that babies born to Christian parents needed some protection from going to hell, so they made them into honorary Christians to prevent them ending up in hell. Because this involved babies a few days old they couldn’t really be put under water recklessly, so sprinkling became more acceptable. Nevertheless it is a travesty of what God wanted and what He records in His word.
Does it matter? Is infant sprinkling something that God shrugs His shoulders at? Well I don’t believe so. I can’t conceive of a reason why He should. The requirement and practice of baptism (that Paul and first century believers and even the Son of God himself submitted to), is hardly onerous. It is certainly not described as optional nor is it cloaked in confusion as to how it should be practiced and why.
But lest you are left thinking it is really not that important, just reflect on some who down through history did think it was important. Faithful believers of the fifth century and later who would not accept this new church teaching. In rejecting it they brought down upon themselves the wrath of the church. They weren’t just excommunicated – they had to flee – they suffered persecution and death for their belief
Of course those were the dark ages of church history, but sadly the persecutors prevailed. Only a few groups of believers today understand and practice the baptism, described in the scriptures. The rest follow the crowd.
Baptism is important. It is essential for salvation.
Those simple and very clear words of Jesus just sum it up for me –
“He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved. He that believeth not, shall be condemned”.