|Baptism - A Confusing Doctrine One of the most
misunderstood doctrines of the Church is baptism. Denominations are
known by their method of baptism; the same English word, baptism, is
used to mean christening of babies, sprinkling, and immersion. No wonder
people are confused when they are asked, "Have you been baptized?"
The various denominations have widely conflicting views regarding the
meaning and significance of baptism. Some teach that there is
sacramental power in baptism--that is, that baptism is the means by
which salvation is actually applied to one's soul. If that is true, then
one is not really saved until he has been baptized. The logical outcome
of that doctrine is the need for infant baptism and last rites.
Others teach that baptism actually washes away one's sins. This means
that your sins cannot be forgiven totally until you have been baptized
by the church.
Other groups teach that baptism is the ceremony which one must go
through before membership into the church is granted. They may, or may
not, believe that baptism is necessary for salvation.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe that baptism
is an ancient religious act with no modern significance or need. Some
churches go even further teaching that baptism is actually wrong because
it is a return to works for salvation.
With all of these sincere and yet opposite teachings, how can one know
what a new believer should do about baptism? At LIFE Fellowship, we have
people who have come from many denominations (Baptists, Presbyterians,
Methodists, , Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc.) How do we
decide which for of baptism to accept?
LIFE Fellowship has but one standard for faith and conduct--the Bible.
We do not have to comply with a denominational concept. So let's go to
the Bible and see what it says about baptism.
The Purpose of Baptism --Mark 1:1-11
Our word, baptism, comes from the Greek word baptizo, which
literally means, "to dip" or "to immerse." In Mark 7:4 there is a
passage dealing with ceremonial washing of the hands and eating
utensils; the Greek for "cleansing" and "washing" is from our word,
baptizo. Luke 11:38 is a similar example.
The purpose of this ceremony was to symbolize one's clean standing
before the Lord. Jesus condemned the Pharisees in Luke 11 for being more
concerned with ceremonial cleansing than having a pure heart.
Mark 1:4 says, "John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a
baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Does this, and similar passages
teach that one must be baptized to have his sins forgiven? The word
translated "for" in "for the forgiveness of sins" is the Greek word,
eis. It means "the basis or ground," not "the purpose or aim." John
did not baptize for the purpose of having sins forgiven, but because
forgiveness had happened as a result of repentance.
As an example of this use of the word eis in another location,
look at Matthew 12:41, "the men of Ninevah...repented at (eis,
because of) the preaching of Jonah." In Matthew 3:11, John says, "I
baptize you with water for (eis, as a result of) repentance."
Genuine repentance is the requirement for forgiveness of sin. 1 John 1:9
says, "If we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just to forgive our
sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness." Simply put, baptism
is not required for salvation or forgiveness of sins.
Then, Why Be Baptized?
- To publicly identify with Christ
In Matthew 3:15, Jesus said of baptism, "...in this way it is
fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Jesus did not need to
be baptized; He had never sinned. But He was identifying with us and
our need for salvation. In the same way, we need to be willing to
identify with Him. Baptism is one of the most beautiful pictures of
what Jesus does in one's life when he becomes a Christian. It is an
ideal opportunity for witnessing to family and friends about your
new faith. It is surprising how unbelievers are open to attending a
baptism of a friend or relative.
- To Obey Christ's Command
Matthew 28:19 says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy
Spirit." As a new believer, it is important for you to be obedient
to the Lord in everything. Though baptism will not save you, it is
important for obedience and testimony. Have you been saying to the
Lord, "I will obey you in all things...except baptism?"
What is the Right Method of Baptism? Sprinkling?
In the Bible, the word for "sprinkle" is rhantizo; it is never
used in connection with the ordinance or ceremony of baptism. There is
no Biblical basis for the practice of sprinkling.
From the beginning of the early church, baptism meant total immersion in
water. The Greek word baptizo was used to signify the dyeing of a
garment or drawing out water from a bucket by dipping a cup or dipper
into the water.
The Roman Catholic church practiced immersion until the year 1311 when
the Council of Ravenna substituted sprinkling as their method of
Quotes from theologians of various denominational backgrounds will show
that baptism has always meant immersion:
Episcopal scholar, J. B. Lightfoot: "Baptism is the grave of the old man
and the birth of the new. As he sinks beneath the baptismal waters, the
believer buries there all his corrupt affections and past sins; he
emerges thence, and rises regenerate, to new hope in new life." (We do
not endorse his theology; we quote him only to show that Episcopalian
theologians understood baptism to mean immersion.)
Presbyterian founder, John Calvin: "Here (Acts 8:38) we see how baptism
was administered among the ancients; for they immersed the whole body in
Marcus Dods, Scottish Presbyterian scholar: "To use coined language, his
old man is dead and buried in the water, and he rises from this
cleansing grave a new man. The full significance of the rite would have
been lost had immersion not been practiced."
Methodist, John Wesley: (On Romans 6) "We are buried with him, alluding
to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion."
A. S. Peake (British Methodist scholar): "The rite of baptism in which
the person baptized was first buried beneath the water, and then raised
from it, typified to Paul the burial and resurrection of the believer
Lutheran founder, Martin Luther: "The word 'baptize' is a Greek word. It
may be rendered 'immersion' as when we plunge something in water that it
may be entirely covered with water--and though that custom is now
abolished among the generality (even children are not immersed entirely
but only have a little water poured on them) nevertheless, they ought to
be completely immersed and immediately drawn out, for the etymology of
the word requires it."
The Meaning of Baptism - Romans 6:1-6
Going into the water in baptism is symbolic of the believer's
death to sin (v.3 "all of us who have been baptized into Christ
Jesus have been baptized into His death"). This is a sign of the true
repentance for sin that a genuine believer has experienced. Verse 11
says, "Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ
Jesus." One who is dead can no longer be tempted by sin; our new nature
(Romans 7) is not. As we submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit in
everything, we can be controlled by our new nature and have victory over
sin. Going into the water is a picture of our choice to abandon the old
lifestyle of sin and guilt.
Actually being under the water is spoken of in verse 4 as being
"buried with Him through baptism." This pictures the permanence of our
decision to reject the old life of sin. It speaks of commitment
to our new life in Christ.
Coming back up out of the water is a beautiful illustration of
our new life in Christ (v. 4, 5): "As Christ was raised from the dead
through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of
life, for if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His
death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection."
Baptism, Then, Is An Object Lesson
It pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It also
illustrates our identification with Him and our decision to die to sin,
be buried, and be raised to walk in a new way. Further, baptism is a
glorious picture of how Jesus death, burial, and resurrection have
literally washed away the record of our sins because the Father has
blotted out our sins with the blood of Christ. That is, He has applied
Christ's sinless record to us to legally declare us righteous.
Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
Some churches teach that the water baptism is essential for
salvation. They use verses like Acts 22:16 to support their doctrine:
"Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name."
There are translations which make the meaning more clear: Williams'
Translation, "Get up and be baptized and wash away your sins by calling
on His name," and the Berkeley Translation, "Rise; be baptized, and
calling on His name, be cleansed of your sins."
If Paul Believed that it was essential to be baptized in order to be
saved, wouldn't he have been certain to see that all of his converts
were baptized? Yet, in 1 Corinthians 1:14, Paul says, "I thank God that
I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say
you were baptized into my name... (v. 17) for Christ did not send me to
baptize, but to preach to gospel..."
Peter makes it clear that baptism is not the vehicle for salvation: 1
Peter 3:21, "corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the
removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good
conscience--through the resurrection of Christ..."
It is not the act of baptism that saves, but the repentance and faith in
the finished work of Christ that saves. Baptism is merely the outward
sign of that transaction.
Will Not Being Baptized Keep A Person Out Of Heaven?
If so, then Christ was mistaken when He promised the thief on the
cross that he would be saved (though he was not baptized), Luke 23:43.
Belief that salvation is dependent upon baptism is an error to the
heresy condemned in Galatians 2:16-21.
Salvation is based solely upon faith in Jesus Christ--not in any work we
add to that faith (Rom. 10:9-13, 1 Peter 2:24)
The Position of LIFE Fellowship
Baptism is important as a testimony and a step of obedience to the
Lord, but baptism has no saving power or merit. We encourage you, if you
have accepted Christ as your Savior, to obey Him by being baptized at
the very next baptismal service we conduct. Pray about what God would
have you do. If you have any questions, feel free to call us at