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About Doctrines



In its simplest form, baptism might be thought of as a washing. This picture comes from the directions given to Moses in the wilderness. One of the pieces of furniture for the Tabernacle was to be a brass laver or basin (Exod 30:17-21). The priests who served in the Tabernacle would wash before entering. They removed the "dirt of the world" before entering into God's house.

The ministry of John the Baptist involved a call to repentance. John used baptism as an outward means of demonstrating this repentance.

Luke 3:3
And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins

At issue for the modern church is the question of exactly what "to baptize" means in the biblical setting, especially for some groups who promote immersion as the only form of baptism. Two Greek words are translated as "baptize" in the English. One, baptio, carries a meaning of plunging or immersing, perhaps, even sinking. The other, baptizo becomes our English word "baptize" by transliteration, that is a carrying across from one language to another the letter structure. In the Greek, this word carries multiple meanings.

In classical Greek, baptizo means a change of identity by any means. An example is that baptizo is used of dying a cloth or changing a cucumber into a pickle. The emphasis is on changing.

It is easy to move from these root meanings to the idea of washing. It appears the Jews had picked up the concept of baptizing Gentile converts well before the time of Christ, although there is some uncertainty in this. The picture would be one of washing the "uncleanness" away, a ritual purification. First Corinthians 10:2 seems to support the concept of a pre-Christian date to this rite.

1 Corinthians 10:2
all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

This carries a concept of identification. The idea of baptism being a means of identification helps to explain verses such as Mark 16:16, John 1:12, and Revelation 3:20.

Mark 16:16
16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
John 1:12
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
Revelation 3:20
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

As we see from Luke 3:3 and the parallel and supporting passages about John's ministry, the concepts of the washing were not foreign to John's audience. What John added was the emphasis on repentance. This message of repentance is immediately picked up by Jesus at the commencement of His public ministry.

Mark 1:14-15
14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

Jesus Himself submitted to John's baptism. Why the sinless God-man would do this is debatable, but the clearest reason is to identify Himself with the ministry of John and with the true people of God and as the Messiah. Mark 1:10-11 shows God the Father assuring Jesus (and John?) of the truth of Jesus' earthly ministry. Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1 are the background for God's Words from heaven. In as much as Jesus views John's ministry to be "from heaven," identifying Himself with is an act of "righteousness" (Matt 3:15; 21:25). This provides the revelation to Israel that Jesus is the Messiah.

John 1:31
I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.?"

Jesus Himself appears not to have baptized. This is supported by John's prophecy about the Lamb of God, for the Baptizer reported the baptism of Jesus would be not of water but of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 3:11
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Without dissecting the meaning of this baptism, we should note that this verse along supports the concept that Paul':s discourse in chapter 6 is a figurative use of baptism.

If Jesus did not baptize, did He direct the church to baptize? Or is baptism a carryover from Judaism?

The direct support for baptism within the church comes from Acts. Along with Peter's invitation at Pentecost (Acts 2:38), Luke records fifteen baptisms in the history of the early church. The writings of Paul, Peter, and John make it clear the church was to baptize on the authority of Jesus. This authority is stated in Matthew 28:19:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

A major emphasis of the New Testament baptism is the expectation of needing to be baptized as a response to the acceptance of the Gospel. This ritual is the means of identifying with Jesus. Baptism is a sign of this identification, not a transaction that, in and of itself, adds to one's salvation. This brings forth the richness of Paul's pictures.

The preferred method of referring to baptism is as an "ordinance." The church prior to the Reformation had adopted seven sacraments. These include baptism, the Lord's Supper, marriage, . To separate itself from this ritual, the Reformation church referred to baptism and the Lord's Supper as ordinances rather than sacraments. The Reformation church does not recognize any other ordinances or sacraments beyond these two. The reason for this is that only baptism and the Lord's Supper may be traced to the authority of Jesus. Christ speaks to these two elements, but to none of the others as being part of any ritual of the Church.

Paul's writings carry this picture of baptism -- a washing away of sin (Titus 3:5). The Apostle essentially describes the church as being made a virgin bride "by the washing of water with the Word" (1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:26). While the precise relation of water, Word, and Spirit is uncertain, they reflect the unified elements of the Christian experience. The act of baptism clearly represents a full commitment of being in Christ. Paul preaches that while the act of baptism cannot be undone, it must be sustained through one's walk as a Christian (Rom 6:11-12; 8:5-8; Gal 5:16-25; Phil 2:1-4; Col 3:5-6).

The Romans 6:3 looks to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the empowerment of the believer as a child of God. This baptism is based upon an identification of one as a believer or a member of Christ's body. Other passages that reflect a similar thought include:

1 Corinthians 12:13
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
Ephesians 4:5
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;

If you are looking for a different example of the concept of identification, consider the picture of the bride as our identification with Christ. Both the bride and baptism are used to serve as a means of identifying one with Jesus.

Ephesians 5:22-23
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.

One last comment on baptism. I have saved this until the end. Do you have to be immersed to be baptized?

First, be clear that one is saved by justification by faith through grace. Baptism has nothing to do with it.

Second, baptism is, therefore, a means of publicly demonstrating this conversion. It is a public means of identification with Jesus.

Third, the Greek word could mean "to wash" as opposed to "to immerse." The picture is one of washing away the old self (dying with Christ), and being made clean (rising with Christ).

Fourth, the picture is not as strong when one is not immersed, but the public identification is still present. Christianity does not operate on ritual but by faith (For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Cor 5:7).

Fifth, while baptism is commanded and directed, it is not a requirement for either salvation or entrance into heaven (And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise Luke 23:43).

So, it is possible to be baptized without being immersed. I believe the early church baptized by immersion, but even when we read about John the Baptist, this is still an inference based upon the meaning of the Greek. We overlay pictures upon this word to match what we believe is its meaning. John could have led people into the river, then cupped water in his hand and poured it over people's heads. The Words of God the Father could have been spoken as Jesus waded from the river after being baptized.

The real requirement for baptism is salvation. Those who "automatically" baptize infants or young adults as part of a confirmation process misunderstand the nature and purpose of the ordinance. These rituals are just that, rituals of dedication, not of identification with Jesus.

Scriptures from the NKJV




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