I realise my blog has been all over the place lately. First doldrums, then silence, then a strange Georgette Heyer voice (sorry – had to get that out of my system) and now a somewhat controversial Biblical topic. But this theme has been dully nudging me for weeks, so I thought I’d address it.
To most Christian denominations, baptism means anointing a baby with holy water, thereby confirming their membership in the church and in heaven. This practice came about in the Middle Ages when people – babies – were dying en masse due to the Plague. Panicked parents wanted to make sure their children would go to heaven, so they had the church anoint them, and the practice remained.
On the flip side, most evangelical and charismatic denominations have full out under-the-water baptisms for their children and adults – sometimes wearing white, but always completely underneath the water. Most of them state that baptism seals a salvation that came in the moment they believed and prayed Jesus into their hearts.
From examining and re-examining the scriptures over the years, I can’t see that either of these practices are supported by the Bible. However, I don’t wish to be controversial. You, too, dear reader, have a Bible and are also led by the Spirit in your quest to seek God. So let me just share the studies we do in our church concerning baptism – which anyone could figure out themselves with a concordance – and then let you draw your own conclusions.
Yes, baptism means to be fully put under water. The greek word used in the New Testament baptizo means to submerge – to be immersed. And baptism is intricately connected to our salvation, as it’s at the moment of being submerged that our faith comes into play and we receive salvation. We’ll take a look at that in a minute.
I didn’t find it difficult to accept the idea of getting baptised when I was studying the Bible, as I had been reading a lot on my own and the scriptures on baptism made perfect sense to me. My only issue with baptism was that it would mean I couldn’t slink my way into the Kingdom of Heaven – discreetly having faith on the side, but living a normal life to everyone else. I would have to become . . . a fanatic, thereby sinking below reproach in my own eyes.
That was well over 18 years ago, and after my zeal without knowledge phase, I’d hardly call myself a fanatic. In fact, I could probably be much less “comfortable” for Christ. All in all, however, I can say that I am changed.
So shall we start?
John 3:1-7: Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”
As an interesting aside, Nicodemus, despite his fear (shame?) at being associated with Jesus – to the point where he had to come search him out in the middle of the night – did later become a Christian. But though he started with flattery, Jesus knew better and got to the heart of the matter – the heart of what Nicodemus was seeking.
You want to know how to get into the kingdom of God.
And Jesus’ answer? You have to be born again. So the term “born-again Christian” is actually redundant. The very name “Christian” implies that someone has been born again. And this is done through water and spirit.
In the next scripture, Peter is addressing the crowds at the Pentecost. This occurred after Jesus was resurrected, and all the disciples were speaking in a language they had not previously known. In that way the whole crowd could understand what they were saying, each in his own language. Many of these people in the crowd had also been in Jerusalem for Passover, and had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, so their responsibility was very fresh in their minds.
Acts 2:36-41: ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The people asked him what they should do – they who were responsible for Jesus’ death. And his answer to them is the same as his answer to us when he said “your children and all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” We are to repent (that’s a study in and of itself) and be baptised in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. In baptism we receive forgiveness for our sins, and we receive the Holy Spirit.
Romans 6:3-4 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Paul is speaking here, and this is probably my favourite scripture in this study because of the little drawing my friend made for me to illustrate it when I was studying the Bible. Here, I’ve made one for you, however poorly done. 🙂
Here is Jesus. He died to our sins on the cross, was buried in the tomb, and then the Holy Spirit resurrected him, both in the spiritual sense, but also in the physical sense. He was not a ghost after the resurrection – he was flesh and blood.
And now this is us. We die to our sins by repenting. We’re buried in the waters of baptism and the Holy Spirit raises us to a new life. In this way, we participate in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection in a way that is both symbolic and concrete – in the same way that taking communion is both symbolic and concrete.
Colossians 2:11-12 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Baptism is our circumcision – a circumcision of the heart done by Jesus when we imitate his death, burial and resurrection, having been buried with him in baptism. Faith does play an integral role in our salvation, as our baptism means nothing if we have no faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to give us eternal life.
This is why we cannot baptise children, who neither have sins to repent of, nor a faith that lets them know they need to be baptised for the forgiveness of sins. The children are already going to heaven, and according to Jesus’ parable, serve as a role model for us on how to get there.
Faith is just as crucial a part to salvation as baptism is. If that were not so, we could just walk along the poolsides of our town, shoving unsuspecting people in the water saying, “Be baptised in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins” and they would be saved.
But without faith, these people will not be saved – they will just be wet. And mad.
1 Peter 3:19-22 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience towards God.It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Our baptism saves us, not by the removal of dirt, but by the pledge of a clear conscience towards God. Repentance is necessary before baptism; otherwise you have not died to your sins. Confession of your sins is useful because then you are really entering the baptismal waters with a clean confession and a pledge of good conscience.
God knew what he was doing in this baptism thing. In the same way men lay their hands on Jesus to nail him to the cross, others lay their hands on us to put us under the water. One led to death – or so it seemed – the other leads to eternal life.
This is a complete study, and therefore a bit long (if rushed). But let’s just take a look at one more. Galatians 3:26-29 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Baptism is our shield. We are in contact with Jesus’ blood when we’re buried in baptism, and it becomes our cloak. When a Mighty God, perfect in holiness, looks at us, he does not see our sins. He sees Jesus’ cleansing blood instead, washing the sins of the past and even the sins of the present. God, himself, breached the gap between his holiness and our sin.
Now, of course there are no formulas in faith. If my years as a Christian have taught me anything, it’s that the minute I think I’ve captured God and put him in a box of rules, he shows me how differently he thinks. I need only mention the parable of the prodigal son, or the workers who were paid the same wage – whether they worked all day or just one hour – to illustrate my point. A loving and omniscient God is perfectly able to save whomever he wants – baptism or no baptism. I believe that truly.
But I wouldn’t rely on that hope for myself – that he will save me according to what seems logical to me and not what I read in the Bible. And I wouldn’t teach it to people who ask how to become a Christian. The scriptures are too clear in my mind to argue on that point, and I know that God equates our love for him to our willingness to obey his Word (John 15).
So that’s the little study on baptism. If you’re interested, there are other related scriptures that you can find by looking up “baptism” in the concordance. And then, if you feel like it in the comments, we can talk!