The Church Part 8: Baptism

Baptism is the first of two ordnances (also called “sacraments”) that were ordained by Christ the second of which is the Lord’s Supper (also called Communion).  Between denominations there is much disagreement on the meaning and the mode of baptism due to many different factors.

Mode and Meaning of Baptism

Baptism is the practice of immersing an individual under a body of water as a public profession of faith that pictures their regeneration and ushers them in as members of the local church community.

  1. Βαπτιζω means “to cause someone to have an extraordinary experience akin to an initiatory water-rite, to plunge, baptize[1] both inside and outside the Bible though it can also refer to a “wash ceremonially for purpose of purification, wash, purify, of a broad range of repeated ritual washing rooted in Israelite tradition.”[2]
  2. There are several places in the NT where “immerse” seems to be the meaning of baptize.
    1. (Mk 1:5) -And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
    2. (Mk 1:10) -And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
    3. (Jn 3:23) -John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized
    4. (Ac 8:36–39) -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.
  3. Baptism is symbolic of our union with Christ. The Bible tells us that baptism pictures Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, all of which require immersion.
    1. (Ro 6:3–4) -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.
    2. (Col 2:11–12) -In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
  4. Baptism as immersion also is symbolic of the judgment on Christ.
    1. (1 Pe 3:20–21) -because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
    2. Water coming over someone is a picture of judgment (Gen. 7:6-24, Ex. 14:26-29, and Jonah 1:7-16) and in Baptism, (according to 1 Pe 3:21) we picture Christ taking the judgment that we deserve.
  5. The washing away of sins is only part of what baptism pictures and is better pictured in believers by immersion underwater.
    1. (Ac 22:16) -And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Who Can be Baptized?

Baptism should be given to those who understand the gospel and have made a believable outward profession of faith with genuine repentance of sin. It is unavoidable that some will make false professions of faith but this is where church discipline comes in at a later date.

  1. (Ac 2:41) -So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
  2. (Ac 8:12) -But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
  3. (Ac 10:44–46) -While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared,
  4. (Ac 10:47–48) -“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
  5. (Ac 16:14–15) -One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
  6. (Ac 16:32–33) -And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

When we look at the NT, it seems clear that baptism is a symbol of beginning the Christian life and an outward commitment to Christ.

  1. (Ga 3:27) -For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
  2. (Ro 6:3–4) -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.
  3. (Col 2:12) -having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

None of these verses seem to makes sense if children in the congregation were baptized.“Those who argue for infant baptism at this point resort to what seems to the present author to be vague language about infants being adopted ‘into the covenant’ or ‘into the covenant community,’ but the New Testament does not speak that way about baptism. Rather, it says that all of those who have been baptized have been buried with Christ, have been raised with him, and have put on Christ.”[4]

Salvation in Baptism?

The Romans Catholic Church says that baptism should be given to infants and is necessary for salvation because it causes regeneration (new birth). To the Catholic Church, baptism, along with its other sacraments, are means of saving grace.

  1. “Baptism is the Sacrament in which man being washed with water in the name of the Three Divine Persons is spiritually reborn.[5]
  2. Furthermore, “Every validly baptized person, even one baptized outside the Catholic Church, becomes a member of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”.[6]
  3. “If anyone says that the sacraments of the new law do not contain the grace which they signify, or that they do not confer that grace on those who place no obstacles in its way, as though they are only outward signs of grace or justice received through faith and certain marks of Christian profession, whereby among men believers are distinguished from unbelievers, let him be anathema.[7]

The big distinctions between Protestants and Catholics have to do with the basic issue of salvation and the gospel itself. The reformation was largely focused on this vital issue.  The reformers proclaimed a salvation that depends on faith alone, not on faith plus works. If baptism is necessary for salvation as the Catholic Church teaches, that means salvation is based on faith plus works.  Therefore, the protestant disagreement on baptism comes largely down to the issue of soteriology (salvation) more so than the practical outworking of biblical texts relating to baptism.

  1. (Ga 3:10) -For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
  2. (Ga 5:4) -You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
  • (Ga 1:6) -I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

What about John 3:5?

John 3:5 -Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Some argue that this text refers to baptism, but this argument does not hold water.  Jesus is talking to Nicodemus before he departed from the earth meaning that Christian baptism was not yet established as it is today. If this text were referring to baptism, this would contradicts witness of the rest of the scriptures that make clear that salvation is by grace through faith (Rom. 3:20,22, 25, 28, Eph. 2:5, 8-9).  Furthermore- If salvation was necessary for salvation and causes regeneration, then the early church in Acts would have emphasized the need for baptism just as much as the need to repent and believe, but they rather see it as a call for the Christian after they repent and beleave.

  • (Ac 8:36) -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?” Baptism seems important here, but not necessary for salvation.

Here is a better explanation of John 3 that takes the context into account. Jesus here is referring here to Ezek. 36:25-27

  • (Eze 36:25–27) -I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness’s, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

The water in the text is referring to the washing of regeneration, not the washing of christening. Jesus is referring to Ezekiel 36 which is referring to regeneration, not baptism. This explains why Jesus then responds to Nicodemus who does not understand, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (Jn 3:10). Furthermore, immediately after this text we read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Notice it does not say that whoever is baptized shall have everlasting life, but whoever believes. Here are some more important texts.

  1. (Tt 3:5) -he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
    • Once again the water here is not talking about baptism but “by the washing of regeneration”.
  2. (1 Pe 3:21) -Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
    • In this text it says “Baptism…now saves you”, but it specifies, that baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the body” (in other words it does not remove sin), but rather it is “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

Thank you for reading this article.  Feel free to post comments and question, just make sure they are respectful and sincere.

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 165). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 164). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology 971.

[5] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma Trans. By Patrick Lynch, ed. By James Bastible, 4th ed. (Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books, 1960).

[6] Ibid 355

[7] Counsel of Trent, Canons on the Sacraments in General (1547) Canon 6

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