Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taking a Stand for New Testament Baptism

What is baptism, and why is it important to the Christian faith? Two rites define the Christian faith more than any other: baptism and communion. From the beginning of the Christian church baptism has been seen as essential to all other church privileges, including participation in communion. But the practice of baptism has changed through the centuries.
Jesus commanded baptism for his followers when he said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt 28: 19 NASB). The word order here is significant. The primary verb in this text is "make disciples," and what follows explains, in part, how to do that. The first step in becoming a disciple is baptism. Verse twenty adds that the church is to teach "them to observe all that I commanded you."
So, back to the original question, what is baptism? Baptism, by definition, is immersion. The Greek word, baptizo, signifies dipping, plunging, or immersing something in a liquid (Friberg's Lexicon, 4491). Christ commanded his followers to be baptized in accordance with a particular pattern, "in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit." Regardless of what you call it, any other ritual substituted for this is simply not New Testament Christian baptism.
But, it is often argued that the Church, through the magisterium, has the authority to alter the commands of Christ. Is this true? Can this be supported biblically?
If the Church does not have the authority to alter the practice of baptism, then is baptism a "first order" practice? Is it something on which our fellowship with other professing Christians should be based, especially as it relates to communion? These are the questions that will be explored in tomorrow's blog.


  1. I has always thought that sprinkling was adopted because it was too cold to immerse in Europe during the winter

  2. You use the term "New Testament Baptism." Is there another type of baptism that was practiced before John showed up at the Jordan River, or was he the the first to baptize? In other words, is there an "Old Testament Baptism?"

    BTW, I'm still not convinced that the method of Christian baptism -- whether it be by immersion or some other way -- is as important as you seem to think it is. I have never thought this issue was something important enough to draw a line in the sand over. It so, why didn't someone like Paul or Peter make a big deal out of it?

  3. Let me respond to both in one response. Sprinkling became the norm in Europe during outbreaks of the plague. Immersion of infants continued to be practiced in England until at least the fourteenth century, and the Russian Orthodox Church doesn't hesitate to immerse an infant in the heart of a Siberian winter. The Orthodox Churches have always practiced immersion, even of infants, and that regardless of temperature.

    The Jews practiced various forms of baptism, as did certain Gentile religions before John the Baptist came along (see G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament for a very detailed treatment of the issue).

    Paul and Peter didn't make a big issue of the mode because it wasn't an issue. Immersion was all they knew. That John's baptism was something different from Christian baptism is evidenced by the fact that a group of John's followers were re-baptized by Paul as recorded in the Book of Acts (Acts 19: 3--5).

    The earliest reference to something other than immersion is in the Didache, which dates to the very late first century or early second century, and then it is allowed only as an emergency measure where there is not adequate water available (Didache 7:3). But even here, the clear preference is for immersion, and that in cold, running water.

    Now, having said that, the issue here is not one of salvation but of church fellowship. The church throughout history has never allowed persons judged to be unbaptized to receive communion or enjoy other benefits of church membership. From a NT perspective, only those baptized by immersion in profession of faith in Christ are truly baptized, and so in the view of many Baptists throughout the centuries, only these are allowed to receive the Lord's Supper and enjoy the benefits of church membership.

  4. Wow, I imagine running into the Messenger Boy out here!!!!!

  5. Baptist History Guy wrote...

    "From a NT perspective, only those baptized by immersion in profession of faith in Christ are truly baptized, and so in the view of many Baptists throughout the centuries, only these are allowed to receive the Lord's Supper and enjoy the benefits of church membership."

    I'm sorry, but based on the multiple NT accounts of the way Jesus acted and interacted with people, I just can't see Him excluding someone from fellowship because they didn't follow some rules made up by religious leaders. Can you? Denying fellowship and/or the Lord's Supper simply because someone was sprinkled instead of dunked appears to me to be acting *exactly* like the Pharisees of the 1st Century.

    To me, it's shameful, vulgar, and goes against everything I understand about Jesus as He is presented in Scripture. Just the thought of it makes me a little angry and actually a bit nauseous.

    P.S. JJ, I found this blog from a link on your blog. :)

  6. It must be remembered that sharing in communion, or the Lord's Supper, as a Christian rite, represents not only our union with Christ but our union with one another in faith and practice, and this requires a certain degree of doctrinal and practical unity. That centers on the practice of church membership, which comes back to the issue of baptism (see 1 Corinthians 10 and Eph 4: 4).

    It is not a question of whether to associate with someone but a question of who do you share the Lord's Supper with? I would never attempt to receive communion in a Catholic Church. I would not be permitted to do so based on Catholic Canon Law, and I respect that. Furthermore, I have no wish to receive the Lord's Supper in a communion where I have a fundamental disagreement over the nature of the gospel or the nature of the church.

    But that doesn't mean I can't associate with Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc. It doesn't mean I can't recognize them as being, in the broadest sense of the word, Christian, either. And it certainly doesn't preclude my association with unbelievers. But baptism and the Lord's Supper are meant to draw a line of demarcation between believers and unbelievers as surely as the blood on the door posts and lintels separated the Israelites from the Egyptians.

  7. Personally, I truly appreciate the beauty and meaning behind an entire congregation receiving the Lord's Supper together, but I believe we've made it too much a ritual. I don't have the historical facts behind all this, perhaps you do, but I somehow doubt Jesus intended the act of remembering Him to be a litmus test for fellowship -- whether we are meeting in a Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Baptist congregation.

    I have to respectfully disagree with your idea that baptism is a line of demarcation between Christians. It just doesn't align with how I see Jesus described and quoted in the Bible.

  8. As a Baptist I have to say that baptism is the dividing line between the church and the world, and from a NT perspective, if you're not baptized by immersion in profession of faith in Christ, then you're not baptized at all. You haven't shown obedience to Christ's first outward command of discipleship. That's why Baptists, for the most part, have barred pedobaptists from receiving communion in Baptist congregations. It was not to say, "You're not saved" but to say "You've not been obedient to the biblical rules of church fellowship. You're not one with us in doctrine and practice." It is a matter of church discipline.

    I know that such a view is not popular with pedobaptists. It never has been. Baptists do not hold this position out of bigotry or ill will toward pedobaptists, but out of a sincere commitment to follow the rule of Scripture and explicit command of Christ over the precepts of men.

    In fact, Baptists historically have argued that it would be unloving on their part not to try to prove to others that genuine love for God expresses itself in obedience to all of Christ's commands, beginning with the command to be baptized.

  9. "As a Baptist I have to say that baptism is the dividing line between the church and the world, and from a NT perspective, if you're not baptized by immersion in profession of faith in Christ, then you're not baptized at all."

    I'll make some observations for you to consider, then I'll let you have the last word. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who is still looking at things from a perspective of coming out the WOF/Charismatic/Prophetic movement and all the false and divisive doctrine that goes with it.

    1. The above sounds like something I would expect to hear from the Pharisees of the 1st Century and I find it silly.

    2. You're saying that if I haven't been immersed (which I have) then I'm of the world. That just doesn't make sense at all. Why did Jesus say to the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in Paradise? (I'm sure you have some kind of way to rationalize this, that's why I've avoided bringing it up.)

    3. If it's truly a matter of church discipline, then I think it is safe to say that all of us has fallen short in areas other than baptism and using your rationale, nobody is "one in doctrine." To me your doctrine of baptism is not church discipline, it is a contributing factor to perpetuating division within the Body of Christ. Baptists who hold to this doctrine should repent and ask for God's forgiveness.

  10. Well, what I've tried to do is offer solid biblical support for what I've written. I don't believe that what I've written is (1) Pharisaical or (2) "my view" but the teaching of the New Testament on the matter. This is a position that has been defended for at least four hundred years on biblical evidence by Baptist writers. Throughout the history of the church unbaptized persons have never been allowed access to the Lord's Table.

    The question is not one of whether to allow unbaptized persons communion. The question is, what qualifies as baptism? Baptists have always firmly grounded their definition of baptism in the meaning of the Greek word and the practice of the first century churches as shown in the New Testament. Biblically, baptism is the external mark that separates the believer from the world. It is the point where a person takes a stand and says "My allegiance is to Christ above all else."

    The matter of the thief on the cross is a non starter. He could not be baptized. This is what the church has historically referred to as "baptism by blood". There have been cases throughout history when persons faced imminent death, often for desiring baptism, and were deprived of the opportunity of water baptism because of martyrdom. These were said to receive the "baptism by blood". The thief on the cross became the scriptural justification for this concept.

    So if I, and other Baptists like me, need to repent for holding this view of baptism in relation to the Lord's supper, then as I see it, so do the biblical writers. Perhaps it is those who've set aside the example and command of Christ for a human innovation who need to repent.