|Posted on 14 August, 2014 at 10:05||comments (0)|
WHAT ABOUT BAPTISM?
Many of my best childhood memories involve two small waterways. The first was the narrow, twisting creek that formed the border on two sides of our small property, and the second was Big Sand Creek, into which our smaller creek fed. Many wonderful summer days were spent on those creeks, fishing for whatever we could catch, swimming when we could find a pool deep enough, or just exploring.
But some of my fondest memories were of afternoon baptizing’s, back before we had indoor baptisteries. People would manoeuver down the path to Big Sand Creek, where the baptizing’s would take place under the old one-lane concrete bridge. I remember the day my mother was baptized in those gently flowing, crystal clear waters. Then, later, my dad was baptized there. I might have been baptized there also, except that it was already dark when, at age twelve, I stepped forward to make the “good confession” that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God!” (I Timothy 6:12). I am reminded of the Ethiopian eunuch who said to Philip the evangelist, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Whether the eunuch was pointing at a pool of water or at one of several flowing streams (“wadis”) in that area, there was obviously sufficient water for him to be immersed. So, following his confession of faith in Christ, the eunuch was immersed in water by Philip (Acts 8:37-39).
Today, it would be difficult to find a denomination that did not practice baptism in some form and for some reason. Some believe that infants should be baptized while others believe that only those who are able to make the decision may be baptized. Many believe that the form of baptism is not important and that baptism is only a “visible sign” that a person is a Christian, having really nothing to do with salvation. Others believe that baptism is an essential act of obedience required of everyone who believes. Regardless of denominational preference, nearly every church member will have been “baptized.”
Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Churches (Russian, Greek, etc.) teach that baptism is a “sacrament” which by itself confers forgiveness. Believing that from birth, every person bears the guilt of Adam’s sin (“Original Sin”), they “baptize” babies for forgiveness of sin. Some Protestant churches have continued the practice of infant baptism, although they no longer believe in “Original Sin,” and “baptism” is regarded as necessary for church membership, but not necessary for salvation.
Because of the confusing practices regarding baptism, it is important to consult the Bible for what we teach concerning it. So, what about baptism? What is baptism? Who should be baptized? Why should one be baptized?
First, the word “baptism” is not really a translation of the Greek word “baptismos.” This word, as used in the Greek New Testament, simply meant “immersion,” and still means “immersion” in modern Greek usage. For this reason, the Greek Orthodox Church, although continuing the medieval tradition of baby baptism, practices total immersion. The English word baptism, however, has acquired a number of meanings over the centuries, but these acquired meanings must not be allowed to determine what God intended the word to mean. English dictionaries, while often showing the derivation of words, always give the current meanings of words. For the correct New Testament meaning of “baptism” one must consult a dictionary which gives the ancient meanings.
Second, New Testament examples of baptism show that this was an act of obedience associated with “belief” and “faith.” Peter “ordered” [“commanded” KJV] believers “to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 10:48). That is why Jesus said that “he who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). And that is why Luke recorded that “many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized“ (Acts 18:8). Nowhere in Scripture is it recorded that anyone who did not believe in Christ was baptized. Belief in Christ was necessary, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is…” (Hebrews 11:6). Paul wrote, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14). In every case recorded in Acts, baptism swiftly followed belief, often “that day” (Acts 2:41), “that very hour of the night,” or “immediately” (Acts 16:33).
Third, baptism alone, by itself, is not “for the forgiveness of sins.” Peter commanded his hearers who believed: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). In this passage, baptism is joined to repentance and to faith. Although faith is not mentioned in the context, it should be obvious to any honest seeker that those who asked the question, “Men and brothers, what shall we do?” had been convinced by Peter that Jesus was the Christ. There is no example in Scripture of the baptism of any unbeliever. And there is no example in Scripture of the baptism of any young child or infant.
Fourth, baptism is not a “work” of merit any more than is faith or repentance. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is “by grace” through faith, “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In the same way that Abraham’s immediate obedience to God’s command to sacrifice Isaac was not a meritorious action (Romans 4:1-3), neither is it a work of merit to obey Christ’s command to be immersed “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). In both cases, it is one’s faith that is “credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
Even Saul of Tarsus, the future Apostle Paul, was baptized as soon as possible after learning that it was God’s will (Acts 9:17-19). Paul later described how Ananias told him, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Did Paul, who clearly taught salvation “by grace through faith,” do an act of merit when he was baptized? Of course not! Did baptism “wash away” Paul’s sins? No! The blood of Christ “washed” away Paul’s sins, sanctifying and justifying him, as it must do with us (I Corinthians 6:11). Was Paul saved before he was baptized? If he was, he was saved before his sins were forgiven!
So, what about baptism? Unimportant? Important, but not necessary? These questions become irrelevant when we just do as Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).
Donald R. Taylor