The Baptism Question

baptism-sk.jpgIn spiritual conversations with friends and family members one question has been asked of me more than any other. Being aware that discussions of baptism have occasionally led to fractured friendships and falling-outs with family members, I’ve tried to steer clear of conflict when discussing this topic. Still, there is little doubt in my mind that I’ve bungled more than a few of my responses. I truly regret this.

But, when a friend or family member calls you up and says, “What do you teach about baptism?”, it would not be right to dodge the question, even if it means risking a rift in your relationship by responding candidly. This is why I try to remember to begin my response by stating that what I teach is really not the issue. I appreciate the fact that someone has sufficient confidence in me as a student of the Scriptures to ask what I teach, but the real question for all of us to consider is “What do the Scriptures say about this topic?”

This is where the challenge arises. Numerous books pertaining to the subject of baptism have been written. My library has many volumes looming large on the shelves. This abundance of writings on baptism illustrates an important point. Concepts concerning baptism are many and varied, consisting of confusing contradictions and resulting in a relatively simple matter being made complex. Consequently, traditions, creedal statements, and personal prejudices often take precedence over the Scriptures. Because this is the case, I would like to suggest that we think about this topic afresh by reflecting on a series of questions.

What is baptism?

Many “baptisms” are mentioned in the Bible. Because it is usually at the center of the discussions I have had, we are focusing here on the baptism that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20 & Mark 16:15-16). The baptism which the Apostle Paul speaks of as the “one baptism” expressive of the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3-4). The one baptism, which by definition and demonstration means: to dip, plunge, submerge, or immerse (Matthew 3:13ff; Acts 8:36ff). The one that the New Testament reveals to be a physical act with spiritual significance—a burial in water, which (when prompted by faith in the working of God) unites a person with Christ in the likeness of His death (Acts 8:36-39; Romans 6:1-7; & Colossians 2:11-12). This is the one baptism which the Apostle Peter likened to the great flood of Noah’s day, saying: “And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge (or response) of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:21).

Why should a person be baptized?

First, because it is commanded by Christ (Matthew 28:19); and loving obedience to Christ is essential (John 14:15 and Hebrews 5:8-9). Furthermore, baptism is an outward expression of an inward faith as is exemplified by thousands of early believers (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12; 8:38: 10:48; 16:15; 16:31-33; 18:8; 22:16; and Romans 6:17-18). Moreover, a believer’s baptism is the point and place in which she or he is enters into Christ where redemption and forgiveness of sins is experienced (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27 and Ephesians 1:7). The Apostle Paul explains that when a person is united with Jesus like this in His death through baptism, the old sinful self is crucified with Him, so that the body of sin might be done away with (Romans 6:5-7). Just as 2 Corinthians 5:17 confirms: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Baptism is, also, the God-given point of entry into the body of Christ, the church (John 3:3,5; Acts 2:38, 41, 47; Colossians 1:13; and 1 Corinthians 12:13). Thus, if one is a believer who desires to be delivered by God from the power and penalty of sin—rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son—she or he should be baptized.

Who should be baptized?

Looking at the biblical examples mentioned above, several distinguishing factors emerge. Those who were baptized were cut to the heart by the realization of personal sinfulness and determined to turn away from their wickedness. They believed that Christ made atonement for sin through His blood shed on the cross and that salvation is found in no one else. They understood that baptism was not a mere right of passage or ritual to be observed, but a public act of sincere faith in the working of God’s saving grace. They were, of their own will and volition, responding as Christ had said they should to the preaching of the Good News. They believed. They were baptized; and they were saved (Mark 16:15-16)! Thus, those who realize they are separated from God by sin and are willing to turn away from a sinful lifestyle and trust in God’s power to save, should be baptized.

The greatest proponent of Bible baptism is a man once known as Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as Paul, the apostle of Christ to the Gentiles. He was a radical persecutor of the Lord’s church, but became the greatest missionary the church has ever known. The pivotal point in his life (as spoken from his own lips and recorded by the inspired historian Luke) was when, after sharing the Good News with him, Ananias asked him, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name,” (Acts 22:16). Bible baptism is the immersion in water of a penitent believer in order that, by God’s grace, his or her sins might be washed away through the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. Have you experienced this? If not, what are you waiting for?

© Bill Williams
March 31, 2007

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About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
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18 Responses to The Baptism Question

  1. Stan says:

    Hey Bill, Great article! Very refreshing.The greek work for baptize as you know is baptizo which literally means to dip, sink, immerse. 🙂
    Thanks & God bless!

  2. Stan says:

    sorry typo.
    Was meaning to say greek word instead of work.

  3. Greg England says:

    Good to see you back in print! However, I’m glad you took advantage of a sabbatical … shows wisdom in your youthful years!

  4. Kathy says:

    Welcome home, Bill! You sound refreshed and eager to begin this next phase of your spiritual journey. You are infectious in your eagerness to witness God’s truthes to all of us. Bless you for that dedication and identification with our God and Savior!!

    Baptism! It’s always been a bit of a puzzle to me why mankind resists baptism so vehemently in light of Jesus’ final words to the soon to be apostles – in light of Saul’s first command from Annanias, et al. But there it is. I often wonder if there truly is deep belief in and acceptance of Jesus by these doubters. I pray to be wrong. But I continue to question; can we truly be followers of Jesus if we are not willing to be obedient to Him and His commandments, including baptism?

    As you mention in this wonderful entry, baptism is a multi-faceted rite. It includes faith, obedience, acceptance, grace, forgiveness, rebirth, to mention just a few of its facets. And as you ask, if one hasn’t been baptized – what are you waiting for?

    Great post, Bill and you are warmly welcomed back to blogland!!

  5. Dee Andrews says:

    I have several good friends and even close family members, but one couple in particular, who are Methodists and they, of course, do not believe in nor have they been immersed in baptism. They sprinkle.

    I have had a good many talks with my friend, who I grew up with, and he has very strong opinions on the matter and pretty much (I think) would refuse to even discuss the topic other than in passing. So I’m at a loss myself in knowing how to reach people like this who are strong in their faith but who have not been baptized as I understand we should be from my studies of the Bible.

    I haven’t lost any friends or caused ruptures with any family members and I don’t intend to. All I know to do is to pray about it all and leave it up to God. I deeply believe that we should be immersed in baptism as adult believers, but don’t know how to convince other very strong Christians of different beliefs that they may need to do some more study on the subject.

    Any advice anyone?!

    Dee

  6. Mark Wilson says:

    Baptism was a pivotal moment in my walk. It is for so many people.

  7. Matt Dabbs says:

    We also get into interesting situations when people come forward asking for baptism who we don’t never/never met/have never been at our congregation and we wonder what is the best thing to do when we haven’t been able to sit down with them and talk. We also get into discussions of age of accountability and all of that. I often wonder what the implications were of passages like Acts 16:15 when whole households were baptized. I am not pushing for infant baptism or anything and the only specific accounts of individuals we have are adults. But I do wonder how that looked in the first century. All we can go by is what we know and where people are at when they come wanting to be made right with God.

  8. Steve says:

    Have you seen Oak Hills little position paper on this topic? I emailed it to you as a PDF file. I think it is a well written, easy to understand treatise on baptism.

    I have found that most views of baptism are based on the church culture that one grows up in. I have yet to find a church that does not believe in the Bible command to be baptized; however, the mode and manner of baptism are widely debated.

    That’s why salvation by grace through faith is such a foundational principle for every follower of Christ whatever their tribe may be. In the end my relationship to God is based on his love for me and his grace extended to me no matter how flawed my theological understandings might be. From a human perspective the fruits of the Spirit remain our ultimate guide for spiritual growth and maturity once a person commits to following Christ.

    Peace.

  9. Neva Cooper says:

    Bill
    So glad to see you back. Baptism doesn’t get enough teaching. Sometimes we are guilty of only teaching its necessity and then once we have our new convert, we go onto something else. It is important to really know and understand baptism. Thank you for this post.
    Peace and prayers, brother
    Neva

    How is your mother in laws sister? I have been praying for her and the entire family.
    n

  10. Dave says:

    As a baptised believer I can identify with what Mark says above. My baptism, nearly three years after my spiritual awakening, was a huge step in my relationship with Christ.
    Bless you Bill.

  11. cwinwc says:

    The photo reminded me of two things:
    1. Our pool at Camp.
    2. An incident that happened at our week of Camp that involved a local preacher and baptism. Several years ago we had an incident where someone was baptized in our camp pool. This preacher (who no longer attends our week) came up to me later and said the teen needed to be re-baptized. When I inquired as to why he said, “She didn’t go all the way under.”

    I’m interested to hear comments from you and our fellow bloggers as to how you would handle this situation. I’ll try to comment back and let you know what I ended up doing.

  12. Kathy says:

    cwinwc

    I’d ignore it. [or, as the old story goes, cut off the piece of hair that didn’t get wet. lol]

    Good grief, when will we ever accept what is written that baptism “…is not the washing away of the filth of the body, but is the answer to a good conscience toward God.” It is the ACT not the WATER that does the job – it is the HOLY SPIRIT not the WATER that is at work in the rite of Baptism. Sorry, but I really do get very frustrated with the controlling instincts of some of our fellowship. Why can’t we just let God do His miracles and get on with living a baptized life.

    Baptism is NOT a one-shot happening, it marks the beginning of our, again as said before, baptized life in Jesus.

  13. Handled with tact and grace.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  14. O Seasnain says:

    I must say that I agree with Kathy in that it is a waste of time to argue as to whether or not someone is “saved” if they just sprinkle. We should be focusing on Anakainos – Renewal, as Jesus illustrated in Matthew 9 (wine skins) and Paul talked about frequently (renewal of the mind… – Romans 12 and many others). We should regularly renovate ourselves to be the vessels of the spirit, and to overflow the will of God upon the lost; that would be better time spent than arguing over which one(s) of us were not dunked.

  15. Kathy says:

    O Seasnain

    Thanks for your comment re mine, but do let me clear up what seems to be a misconception of my POV. I firmly and completely believe we should and all must be baptized – one simple reason among many others, it is commanded by the Christ Himself and I firmly believe if we cannot begin our walk with Him in obedience in the matter of baptism, I’d question whether we’re really accepting Him and are His.

    What I rather weakly was trying to convey is that rather than be zeroed in on whether in immersional (sic) baptism did every inch of skin and skein of hair get wet, we should be rejoicing in the renewing of the spirit and cleansing by Jesus blood as we obey Him in immersion baptism.

    Mine was a response to the situation presented by cwinwc, Having had the chains of legalism’s tiresome details unlocked in my life, I really get rather put out with this type of minutae that some of our brethren insist on imposing on others. Rather than worrying about a strand of hair or an elbow that didn’t get under the water, we should be joyful in the Spirit’s work through the obedience of going down into the water and being baptized. It is a matter of the heart and decision of the mind at work, not the baptizer’s efficiency or lack of. 😉

    I do agree that we should be focusing on renewal and sanctification once baptized. 🙂

  16. cwinwc says:

    A little late with my response but here goes:
    I tried without success to convince this preacher that this young lady was now in the Kingdom despite the fact that her little toe wasn’t immersed. I asked him what he was going to do if I did not act on his belief which was the young lady needed to be “re-baptized.” He told me he would go to her and “study” with her to show she was still in a “lost state.”

    At the time, I felt my hand was forced so I went to the camper that night, took her aside, and explained to her why some in the camp felt she was still lost. I gave her my opinion (which was she didn’t need to be re-baptized) and the preacher’s opinion. I told her the decision was up to her and I would abide and defend either choice. She decided to be re-baptized later that night with just a few friends present.

    I must admit that I felt about as low as I’ve ever felt at Camp. It took me a while to get over that incident and I did not invite this particular preacher back to our week of camp.

    If I had to do it all over again I believe I would have asked this preacher to go home if he could not abide by the wishes of the camp directors. At the time I wanted to show this legalist that I was opened minded enough to hear what he had to say. Now that I’m a few years older I would have to say that it has been my experience that legalists do not respect “open-mindedness” or a willing to give in to them. It only makes them even more bold and demanding.

  17. Kathy says:

    “Now that I’m a few years older I would have to say that it has been my experience that legalists do not respect “open-mindedness” or a willing to give in to them. It only makes them even more bold and demanding.”

    I fear you are right on target! Sad. Sad for them and how much they are starving themselves, spiritually, and sad for us that think differently. We are being starved of intimate fellowship with many that truly love their LORD, but are blind to the deeper meanings of freedom in Christ.

    How does the saying go? “There are none so blind as those that will not see.” Sad.

  18. ROD WILLETT says:

    Thoughtful comments! I think baptism is like the Holy Spirit–don’t just give me a little; I want it all!

    Thanks for stopping by, Rod. I really like your attitude! Hope you will come back often

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