Thursday, December 30, 2010

Disciples Need to Be Baptized. Necessity of Water Baptism

Baptism is far more than an initiatory rite into church membership
by Roy E K

To the one who is seeking to know what baptism is all about and how it is related to discipleship, this article will answer some vital questions.


Baptism is, perhaps, one of the most confusing doctrines in Christendom today.  Over the years
A New believer witnessing her Lord in the waters of baptism.

its meaning and importance have been blurred through the traditions of men.  Church councils have been called to discuss it—in fact; whole denominations have been formed over the question as to its meaning and mode.  It seems that each church teaches something different about this important New Testament ordinance.  It is easily recognized by everyone that baptism finds it roots in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  He said:  “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them” (Matt. 28:29).  The full meaning of the act itself however, is seldom recognized.

In order to fully understand this church ordinance, it is essential to consider first the meaning of the term.  It is noteworthy that the Greek Orthodox Church which existed simultaneously with what later became the Roman Catholic Church, has always practiced baptism by immersion.  Martin Luther stated, “Baptism is baptismos in Greek, and mersio in Latin, and it means to plunge something completely into the water so that the water covers it” (Works, Vol. 25, p.29).  Every statement of scripture and detailed description related to this practice in the statement of scripture and detailed description related to this practice in the New Testament reveals that the act was always by immersion.  Significantly, proselyte baptism practiced by the Jews in the inter-testimental period was by self-imposed immersion.  John, the Baptizer (as he was called by his contemporaries) was the first man to immerse another; hence his name.  It was by this method that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan at the age of 30.  In the seven different usages of the term in the Bible, each occurrence of the word either demands or allows the translation “immerse.”

Baptism Has Meaning.

Baptism is a witness to the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Rom.6:4-6).  By this voluntary act, the born again Christian is publicly demonstrating his faith in Christ.  He is declaring his intention to renounce sin and serve the Saviour.  He is proving that he has “chosen sides” with God.  Because of the close relationship between “Holy Spirit baptism” whereby the Christian is placed into the spiritual Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12), and water baptism, it can be said there is indeed only “one baptism (Eph. 4:5).  The one links believers eternally with Christ and His death and resurrection, while the other graphically and beautifully portrays this spiritual relationship.  One is invisible and nonexperiential, while the other, its natural counterpart, is visible and can be experienced.  For this reason alone, every Christian should be baptized.  If he has been truly saved, he bears witness to his immersion into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit by this outward and symbolic ordinance.

Baptism does not save anyone.  It does not “wash away our sins.”   It has no power whatever to remove guilt.  It is not a “means of grace.”   In fact, one cannot even be baptized for the same reason Jesus was.  Believers “follow the Lord in baptism” only as they obey His command.

The believer realizes that he has died with Christ and, as far as God is concerned, he not only has been “planted together in the likeness of [Christ’s] death” (Rom. 6:5) but also has received new life—the resurrection awareness of an actual death to one’s old unregenerate self, and to the resurrection of a new life in Christ.  When this great fact is realized the believer will “let not sin therefore reign in [his] mortal body, that [he] should obey it in the lusts thereof” (Rom. 6:12).    This is present tense salvation or “sanctification.”  Baptism is, therefore, far more than an initiatory rite into church membership.  It is rather a vital experience that should have a life time effect in godly living.  This partially explains the great emphasis placed upon this act in the New Testament.

Interestingly, baptism, like the new birth, is a “once in-a-life time” experience.  There are only two instances in the Bible where anyone was ever reimmersed.  The eight chapter of the Book of the Acts records the Ethiopian treasurer’s confession of faith and subsequent baptism in water.  This man, a proselyte to the Jewish faith, had already experienced baptism by self imposed immersion as a convert to Judaism.  Now as a convert to Christ, he was baptized by Philip at an oasis in the desert, upon his confession of faith in the Saviour (Acts 8:37, 38), Baptism in this case, as always in the Bible, followed conversion.  The next interesting even took place in Ephesus when 12 men got their doctrine straightened out concerning the differences between  John’s baptism and believer’s baptism in this age (Acts 19:1-5).  These isolated believers had not heard of the dispensational change that took place on the Day of Pentecost.  Therefore, they knew only the baptism which was anticipatory of the coming Messiah and His Kingdom.   By this means John had gathered together a believing remnant of Jews who had thus identified themselves with his proclamation:  “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt.3:2).  However, in the passing of time, Christ had come, but He was rejected and crucified, and by His sacrificial death and resurrection He became the Saviour of the world.  With the change in Christ’s ministry there came about a change in the meaning of baptism.  Acts 19 proves that John’s baptism is not the same as believer’s baptism today.  It also suggests that correct understanding of doctrine is essential for correct practice.   For when these men heard of Christ’s completed work at Calvary for them and of the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell, seal, fill and baptize them in to the Body of Christ, they “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”  (v.5).  Now, once truly saved, they were never baptized again.

Baptism reminds the believer, therefore, of the eternal nature of his salvation.  While he participates in the Lord’s Supper again and again to commemorate His death, he is normally baptized but once and that because one can only be born once into God’s family.  In like manner, a person can only be placed once into the Body of Christ.  Believers are also sealed just once by His Spirit (Eph. 1:13).  Therefore, we are to be immersed once in water as a reminder of our eternal relationship to Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:28).  Baptism pictures that.

Necessity of Water Baptism

There are several important reasons why every Christian should be baptized.

First, it is the commandment of Jesus in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19, 20).  He Himself asked, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”  (Luke 6:46).  To claim the lordship of Christ and not submit to baptism is not pleasing to the Lord.  James reminds us that “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

Second, there were no recorded exceptions in the New Testament area.  All were baptized upon their conversion.  When Peter led Cornelius to a saving faith in Christ, he immediately commanded him and his believing family “to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48).  Where did Peter receive this authority?  It was in the same Great Commission which believers are to follow today.  Baptism is necessary for the local church to demonstrate a vital testimony.  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are church ordinances and their observances witness to the spiritual and corporate nature of its fellowship. Just as water baptism pictures the believer’s baptism by the Sprit, so the local church pictures the Body of Christ.  In each case the one is visible display of an invisible reality.  The unity of the Body of Christ is, therefore, witnessed to by this ordinance as believers identify themselves with the local church through baptism.  The process of discipleship as given in the Great Commission is teaching, baptizing and observing continually all that Jesus commanded.  (Matt. 28:19, 20).

Urgency of Baptism

Since baptism is not an optional practice, the natural question arises, How soon after conversion should a person be baptized?  Every convert referred to in the Bible was baptized on the same day he was saved, or as soon as possible.  Several were baptized at midnight (Acts 16:33)!  Soon after Lydia was converted, she was baptized (v. 15).  Even the Ethiopian eunuch did not wait until he arrived home to be immersed.  Instead, he asked for baptism, and received it, way out of the middle of the desert!  (Acts 8: 36-38).  The one perquisite for baptism is, “Are you saved?”

Baptism is necessary to a confession of obedience by the Christian.  It is not dependent upon Christian growth, nor does it produce growth.  It has to do with an act, and that act is the receiving of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.  At the exact moment a person believes in Christ as his personal Saviour, he is “born again” (John 3:3) and is placed into the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13).  He immediately bears the name “Christian” and is eternally a member of the family of God.  God has provided this ordinance whereby every Christian can bear witness to this wonderful transaction—and that testimony is baptism.

Since baptism also reveals one’s commitment to Christ and his declared separation from the sin and the world, it is a testimony that should not be delayed.  What about you? Are you saved?  If you are, then the next step for you is believer’s baptism.  The Blood of the Acts describes the Christians at Samaria:  “When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).  In such an act both the church and the Christian are strengthened, and the commandment of the Lord is obeyed. CL

Picture Credit:
Br. P Immanuel, Manager Mission, Back to the Bible, Secunderabad, India.