Tag Archives: baptism

Does the Bible Prescribe a Mode of Baptism?

The answer to this question is hinted at by the Greek word translated in the Bible as “baptize“: baptizo. This Greek term means “to dip or immerse.” Judging from the word pictures of Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12, the original mode of baptism in the apostolic church probably was immersion.

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. ( Romans 6:4-6 NKJV)

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. ( Colossians 2:11-12 NKJV)

Undeniably, the spiritual meaning of baptism as described in these passages is best illustrated by the symbolism of immersion. This is acknowledged by prominent, non-Baptist theologians 1 and church historians. 2

If I wasn’t baptized by immersion, do I need to be re-baptized?

We believe that the biblical standard is adult believer’s baptism by immersion. Adult believer’s baptism by immersion is an important symbolic act of identification with Christ. However, because salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, it is not absolutely necessary that you be baptized as an adult. Neither is it absolutely necessary that you be baptized by immersion. (See the ATQ article, Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?).

In the final analysis, you must follow your own conscience in this matter. Most couples living in a common-law marriage, after becoming followers of Christ, desire to profess their commitment to each other in a public ceremony in spite of the fact that they could be considered already “legally” married. Similarly, many people decide that they should willingly demonstrate their symbolic union with Christ through baptism by immersion ( Acts 9:18-19; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:1-11 ) even if they have already been baptized as a child or by another mode of baptism.

  1. Even though he was a Reformed theologian, in a tradition that practices infant baptism, Karl Barth wrote:

    “The Greek word baptizo and the German word Taufen (from Tiefe, “depth”) originally and properly describe the process by which a man or an object is completely immersed in water and then withdrawn from it again. Primitive baptism carried out in this manner had its mode, exactly like the circumcision of the Old Testament, the character of a direct threat to life, succeeded immediately by the corresponding deliverance and preservation, the raising from baptism. One can hardly deny that baptism carried out as immersion—as it was in the West until well on into the Middle Ages—showed what was represented in far more expressive fashion than did the affusion which later became customary, especially when this affusion was reduced from a real wetting to a sprinkling and eventually in practice to a mere moistening with as little water as possible . . . . Is the last word on the matter to be, that facility of administration , health, and propriety are important reasons for doing otherwise [i.e., for administering baptism in other than its original form]? Baptism vividly symbolizes our identification with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection” (Teaching, pp. 9-10). Back To Article

  2. “As to the method of baptism, it is probably that the original form was by immersion, complete or partial. That is implied in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12. Pictures in the catacombs would seem to indicate that the submersion was not always complete. The fullest early evidence is that of the Teaching:

    Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water upon the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

    “Affusion was therefore a recognized form of baptism. Cyprian cordially upheld it. Immersion continued the prevailing practice till the late Middle Ages in the West; in the East it so remains. The Teaching and Justin show that fasting and an expression of belief, together with an agreement to live the Christian life, were necessary prerequisites.

    “By the time of Tertullian, an elaborate ritual had developed. The ceremony began with the formal renunciation by the candidate of the devil and all his works. Then followed the threefold immersion. On coming from the fount, the newly baptized tasted a mixture of milk and honey, in symbolism of his condition as a new-born babe in Christ. Too, that succeeded anointing with oil and the laying on of the hands of the baptizer in token of the reception of the Holy Spirit.” (Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, p. 96). Back To Article

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What Happens to Infants and Young Children Who Die?

Although the concept of “the age of accountability” had its beginnings early in the history of the Christian church, the Scriptures do not use this terminology. Neither does the Bible contain substantial allusions to the eternal state of babies or young children who die before they are old enough to make a conscious decision for or against Christ.

People have always been concerned about the salvation of children who die before they are old enough to clearly understand the gospel. Unfortunately, the conclusion reached by many in the early church was that infants who die without the sacrament of baptism are destined for hell—or limbo. This belief was based upon a mistaken view of baptism.

This view persisted into the Reformation. Catholics, Lutherans, and others continued to believe that infants who weren’t baptized would be condemned to hell. 1This is a tragic distortion of biblical teaching. It is a credit to the clear thinking of John Calvin that he found such a doctrine reprehensible:

“I do not doubt that the infants whom the Lord gathers together from this life are regenerated by a secret operation of the Holy Spirit.” (Amsterdam edition of Calvin’s works, 8:522).

“I everywhere teach that no one can be justly condemned and perish except on account of actual sin; and to say that the countless mortals taken from life while yet infants are precipitated from their mothers’ arms into eternal death is a blasphemy to be universally detested.” (Institutes, Book 4, p.335).

Although infants are not capable of conscious sin in the same way as someone older ( Isaiah 7:15-16; Matthew 18:3-4 ), they have inherited natures that are contaminated by sin and in need of transformation and salvation ( Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3 ). Yet, because of their dependency, trust, and innocence, Jesus not only offers young children as models for the manner in which adult sinners need to be converted, He views them in a unique way:

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”( Matthew 18:10 ).

“Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”( Matthew 18:14 ).

Further, the Scriptures clearly indicate that God does not punish children for the offenses of their fathers ( Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20 ).

Therefore, we believe that those who die as infants or young children are given the gift of salvation. They aren’t given this gift because they are without sin; they, too, have inherited Adam’s curse. They are given salvation based solely on God’s grace, through the sacrificial atonement of Christ on their behalf.

“Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” ( Romans 5:18-19 ).

Infants had nothing to do with the fact that they were heirs of Adam’s sinful nature. Therefore, it stands to reason that they can be given the gift of salvation without having consciously accepted it. Only rejection of Christ’s love on their behalf—something that cannot occur until they reach the age that conscious sin is possible—can result in their loss of Christ’s gift.

  1. Norman Fox, The Unfolding of Baptist Doctrine, 24 “Not only the Roman Catholics believed in the damnation of infants. The Lutherans, in the Augsburg Confession, condemn the Baptists for affirming that children are saved without baptism; damnant Anabaptistas qui . . . affirmant pueros sine baptismo salvos fieri” [“they damn the Anabaptists who . . . affirm that children are saved without baptism”] and the favorite poet of Presbyterian Scotland [Robert Burns], in his Tam O Shanter, names among objects from hell, Twa spanlang, wee, unchristened bairns. The Westminster Confession, in declaring that elect infants dying in infancy are saved, implies that non elect infants dying in infancy are lost. This was certainly taught by some of the framers of that creed. (Christian Theology, Augustus Strong) Back To Article
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Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

While baptism is an important act of obedience, it isn’t necessary for salvation. The only requirement for salvation is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ ( John 1:12-13; 3:16-18; 6:28-29 ; Ephesians 2:8-9 ). In the first century, baptism always followed immediately as the first step of obedience, so much so that it is often mentioned alongside of faith as part of the “package” that brought a person into the body of Christ ( Matthew 28:19 ; Mark 16:16 ; Acts 2:38 ). However, passages like John 1:12-13 , Romans 3:21-31, 4:1-12, 5:1 , and Ephesians 2:8-9 make it clear that it is God’s grace through faith alone that bring salvation.

The misunderstanding by those who teach that baptism is necessary for salvation stems in part from a failure to recognize that the New Testament was written by people who were familiar enough with baptism to understand that it was the normal means of expressing conversion. In that context, early Christians would be less likely than ourselves to misunderstand the symbolism in the apostle Paul’s words:

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

He could use the expressions “baptized into Christ,” “baptized into His death,” and “buried with Him through baptism into death” with the confidence that his readers would realize that he was using the language of symbolism. Obviously baptism doesn’t cause us to die physically with Christ or to be buried in the tomb where His body was placed. It expresses our desire to live a victorious Christian life and symbolizes our identification with Jesus Christ through faith, by which we share in the benefits of all He did for us.

We recognize symbolism, for example, in the wedding ring. A ring doesn’t physically cause unending love and devotion, it symbolizes these qualities. Likewise, wearing a gold band doesn’t make the wearer a faithful spouse. Its symbolism is an outward expression of an inward reality and can be a helpful reminder of fidelity.

Verse after verse in the Scriptures, both in the Old and New Testaments, clearly affirm salvation by grace through faith alone. Abraham, David, Moses, Daniel, and a host of Old Testament people were never baptized and yet are heroes of the faith, heirs of salvation. The dying thief who repented was promised companionship with Jesus in Paradise even though he died without baptism ( Luke 23:43 ). If we interpret the few passages that seem to make baptism a requirement for salvation in the light of the hundreds that declare salvation is by faith alone and the many that clearly make baptism a symbol, we will find them in perfect harmony with the great body of biblical truth.

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