Note: If you find that you are having difficulty reading the on-line reproduction of this dissertation, please Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will Email you a single-space version of the original .doc file, and you can print it out for yourself. May God bless your study! –Pastor Dan
A BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL EXAMINATION
OF HOLY BAPTISM
IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
by The Rev. Daniel K. Schroeder
a thesis submitted to fulfill the requirements
for the degree of:
Doctor of Philosophy
in Biblical Studies
A BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL EXAMINATION
OF HOLY BAPTISM
IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
I hereby declare that this submission is my own work and that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, it contains no material previously published or written by another person, nor material which to a substantial extent has been accepted for the award of any other degree or diploma of any university, college, or other institute of higher learning, except where due acknowledgment has been made within the body of the thesis.
Notwithstanding individual, personal, church related, or other non-commercial use, no other reproduction of the entire thesis or portions thereof shall be permitted without written consent from the author.
Rev. Daniel K. Schroeder
July 2010 Anno Domini
Copyright 2010, The Rev. Daniel K. Schroeder
1120 South 11th Street
Lincoln, NE 68502-1216
All rights reserved
APPRECIATION IS EXTENDED TO THE FOLLOWING INDIVIDUALS
FOR THEIR ASSISTANCE IN THIS THESIS:
Peer review and critique:
The Rev. David White, Deshler NE
The Rev. Myron Meyer, Lincoln NE
Proof-reading and editing:
Mrs. Cathy Zabrocki, Seward NE
The topic of baptism in the Christian Church has been debated throughout history. Questions have arisen as to the definition of baptism, the proper method of baptism, who should be baptized, and what baptism actually means and accomplishes.
It is the intent of this essayist to examine various key Biblical doctrines that are related to baptism, the Biblical teachings directly regarding baptism itself, and various non-Biblical and extra-Biblical teachings held by various Christian bodies and individuals.
The primary literary document used as a basis for this thesis is the Holy Bible itself. Theologians from a variety of backgrounds have also been consulted and appropriately cited. The doctrinal bias of the essayist is Confessional Lutheran, so the examination of non-Lutheran theologians and scholars has been of great value in understanding the different positions and hermeneutical principles that individuals have adopted over the years.
The conclusion of this research is that the practice of baptism in Christianity since the time of the Apostles has varied in non-essential areas; but in essence the position held to by the Lutheran theologians is consistent with the theology of Scripture and the practice as adopted by the early Christian Church. The ideas and practices introduced by later Christians and sects either contradict clear Biblical teachings, or require that something be added to which the Bible never even alludes.
It is the goal of this essayist that those who read this document will be edified by it, and strengthened in their faith. Baptism is a blessing, a gift given to the Church by Christ himself. Therefore a correct understanding is essential for the Christian to appreciate what a treasure they have at their disposal.
SOLA DEO GLORIA
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
Cover Page. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i
Title Page, Testimonial, and Copyright Information. . . .ii
Abstract. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iii
Table of Contents. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iv
Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Biblical Foundation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
Original Sin. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Jesus Christ. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Conversion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11
How God Works. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
The Sacraments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Baptism and Baptize, Defined. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20
The Blessings and Power of Baptism. . . . . . . . . . . .25
The Baptism of Adult Converts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
The Baptism of Infants and Children. . . . . . . . . . . 31
The Rejection of Infant Baptism. . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
The Death of a Child and the Necessity of Baptism. . . . 49
Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51
Bibliography and Endnotes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
Appendix I: A Bible Study on Baptism. . . . . . . . . . .56
Appendix II: Denominational Statements on Baptism. . . . 61
Out of the many issues that separate Christians today, the topic of baptism is one that tends to divide and polarize people into two basic groups. On one end of the spectrum, there are those who contend that the only proper form of baptism is by total immersion in water, and that such a baptism is for those who can make a conscious choice to do so (sometimes called a “believer’s” baptism). On the other end, there are those who maintain that the amount of water or the method by which it is applied is of little consequence, and that such a baptism is inclusive for people of all ages. Associated with these two groups are the teachings regarding the importance of baptism, and what baptism accomplishes for the recipient.
There is a third school of thought that has dispensed with water baptism altogether, sometimes referred to as “non-sacramentalists.” However only a small minority of Christian groups hold to this teaching; therefore, they will receive but casual mention in the body of this essay. The conclusions drawn as a result of examining the aforementioned two schools of thought should be adequate to address questions or concerns arising from this doctrine.
We will, therefore, examine the particular Biblical directives regarding baptism, and draw conclusions accordingly. Biblical directives will be examined according to sound hermeneutical principles, which include supporting exegetical and isagogical analysis. It must be understood at the outset that the doctrine of baptism directs us back into the pages of Holy Scripture; therefore, it alone must serve as the final authority regarding this topic.
There are a number of basic Biblical teachings that are foundational to the understanding of the doctrine of baptism. These foundational doctrines will not receive the comprehensive in-depth analysis they deserve if they were study topics in and of themselves. Rather, they will be expounded upon to the point necessary to establish them as Biblical truth, and as a result demonstrate their importance to baptism’s fundamental teaching and practice.
II. BIBLICAL FOUNDATION
In Jesus’ high priestly prayer recorded in John 17:17, he says: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” In simple terms, Jesus attests to the reliability, authenticity, and infallibility of Holy Scripture. But there still remains some debate amongst Biblical scholars as to the exact definition of “truth” when applied to the Bible.
Some people use a subjective definition, whereby “truth” exists according to one’s own personal decision; i.e. what may be true for one person might not be true for another. Such a person will often attest that a variety of conflicting teachings will all be valid, because they contend that it’s a matter of individual interpretation. They may have personal convictions about a particular teaching, but will hesitate to call anything “wrong,” even when there is strong Biblical evidence supporting such a conclusion. Some have even gone so far as to say that something in the Bible may be true, but may not necessarily be a fact. However, truth and fact are synonymous with each other, and cannot be considered oxymoronic.
The Bible itself tells us how it is to be regarded. In 2 Timothy 3:14-17 Paul writes the following words to his young understudy Timothy:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The New International Version of the Bible translates the Greek word “theopneustos” very literally as “God-breathed,” pictured as the movement of air emitting from God. The Bible is the very Word of God coming out of his mouth with his breath. Could such words contain anything less than truth and fact?
It’s with this in mind that we confirm that God’s Word recorded for us in the Bible is infallible objective truth. Regardless of what people may think of God, or how seriously they regard his written Word, truth always stands on its own. For example, if somebody says that “red” means “green” to them, it is of little consequence; “red” will always remain “red” regardless of how vehemently somebody might argue to the contrary–especially in traffic court!
The next matter to be considered is the subject of “interpretation.” People have frequently used the argument: “you have your interpretation of the Bible, and I have mine,” especially when clear Biblical teaching contradicts their own logic or preconceived notions.
In his second general Epistle, Peter writes in chapter 1 verses 19-21:
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Scripture must be allowed to interpret itself, thereby effectively negating the argument of “your interpretation, my interpretation.” The words, teachings, and concepts are God’s, and not of human origin or device. Even though God used human beings to record the Bible, we have to be assured that there is nothing recorded in Scripture that God didn’t want to be there, nor was anything eliminated that God had intended to be there.
Considering this, we are obligated to interpret the words of Scripture exactly as they stand, using the standard and accepted meanings of the words. This is what we would call a “literal” interpretation of the Bible. Furthermore, such a literal interpretation must always take into consideration the context in which something is written. If something is metaphorical or symbolic, the context will bear this out.
The final matter to be considered is the subject of adding to, or subtracting from what the Bible says. There are very serious warnings regarding this. At the very conclusion of the Bible in Revelation 22:18-19 we read:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
Some might contend that this applies only to the book of Revelation; however other such warnings in the Bible would indicate that God is just as serious about the remainder of the Bible as he is about Revelation.
In the Old Testament, God gives the following instructions in Deuteronomy 4:2:
“Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”
And in Deuteronomy 12:32: “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”
And in Jeremiah 26:2b the Lord says: “Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word.”
Finally, Jesus has some very stern words about those who mix the teachings of their own device with what God has decreed. He quotes the prophet Isaiah when he speaks to the Pharisees in Matthew 15:6-9:
“…Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”
Carrying this thought a bit further, Paul also quotes Isaiah in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 1 verses 19-25:
“For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
It is important to establish the proper Biblical foundation in order to rightfully examine a doctrine as fundamental as baptism. In summary, the Bible is God’s objective truth and not human opinion, the Bible is without error or contradiction, God means what he says, and the Bible cannot be changed according to the caprice of human will and logic.
III. ORIGINAL SIN.
The opening chapters of the book of Genesis describe mankind’s fall into sin, sometimes simply referred to as “the fall.” It was man’s act of disobedience that brought sin into the world. Man listened to the voice of the serpent (Satan), and followed him instead of God. As a result of this, man brought imperfection into the world God originally created as good. Once this happened, perfection was completely lost. Whatever attempt man tried to restore this on his own was, and forever will be, futile–something like trying to unscramble an egg.
One of the first tenets of Reformed Calvinism is “total depravity.” This is described as follows:
“…The effect of the fall upon man is that sin has extended to every part of his personality–his thinking, his emotions, and his will….The unregenerate (unsaved) man is dead in his sins (Romans 5:12). Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel (Mark 4:11f). This is why Total Depravity has also been called “Total Inability.” The man without a knowledge of God will never come to this knowledge without God’s making him alive through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5).1
In Romans, chapter 3, the Apostle Paul deals with the universal and permeating nature of original sin. Verses 9-24 read as follows:
“9What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. 13Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. ‘The poison of vipers is on their lips. 14Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. 15Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and misery mark their ways, 17and the way of peace they do not know. 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.’ 19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
In this section, Paul’s explanation contains numerous Old Testament Biblical references, viz.: Psalm 14:1-3; Psalm 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 5:9; Psalm 140:3; Psalm 10:7; Isaiah 59:7,8; and Psalm 36:1. In addition to this, numerous other Biblical passages speak of original sin and are hereby cited for the sake of reference: Romans 7:18; Genesis 6:5; Mark 7:21-22; Romans 8:7 & 22; Romans 5:12; John 3:6; Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 4:22-24; Ephesians 2:1. If we couple the Biblical references with even the most casual observation of the world around us, we cannot dispute the existence of original sin.
Genesis 1:27 describes mankind being created in God’s image (Latin: imagio Dei): “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Some people have opined that this image involves such things as: reason, free-will, or the ability to love.
Upon further study, however, we realize that these attributes are superficial when compared to the real reason. Ephesians 4:22-24 says:
“22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Prominent nineteenth century Scottish Presbyterian theologian, George Smeaton gives the following commentary about the divine image:
“The image of God, in which Adam was created, was replaced by the entire corruption of man’s nature (John 3:6). His understanding had been furnished with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator and of spiritual things; his heart and will had been upright; all his affections had been pure; and the whole man holy: but, revolting from God by the temptation of the devil, the opposite of all that image of God became his doleful heritage; and his posterity derive corruption from their progenitor, not by imitation, but by the propagation of a vicious nature, which is incapable of any saving good. It is prone to evil, and dead in sin. It is not denied that there still linger in man since the Fall some glimmerings of natural light, some knowledge of God and of the difference between good and evil, and some regard for virtue and good order in society. But it is all too evident that, without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, men are neither able nor willing to return to God, or to reform their natural corruption.”2
Noted Lutheran theologian C.F.W. Walther also makes some good observations in a sermon based upon Ephesians 4:22-28:
“According to God’s Word, the image of God consisted in things which no man any longer brings into the world. It was a reflection of divine glory. Man’s reason was filled and saturated with a pure light, in which man perceived clearly and without error his Creator and His will, the essence of all creatures and of himself…. Where is this blessed state now? It has disappeared. Man, who bore God’s image in himself when first created, now bears at his coming into the world the image of Satan, namely error, sin, misery, and death. Now our reason is by nature darkened, our will by nature turned away from God, our heart alienated from the life which is from God, our body full of unclean lusts and desires, our conscience full of unrest, doubt, fear, and mistrust of God, our life surrounded by misery and death.”3
When describing original sin, the Bible leaves no room for excluding anybody. For example, Romans 3:23 says “ALL have sinned…;” and further in verse 10: “There is NO ONE righteous, NOT EVEN ONE.” (Emphasis added) To eliminate any human being from what God has plainly included would completely change the fallen nature of humanity and humanity’s need for a Saviour.
But does this include children, even little babies? The aforementioned verses would definitely include them, even if they have no cognizant understanding of it. Psalm 51:5 gives further evidence of this: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
Eighteenth century theologian Christopher Ness writes the following commentary regarding the original sin of infants:
“Infants are no innocents, being born with original sin, the first sheet wherein they are wrapped is woven of sin, shame, blood, and filth (Ezekiel 16:4, etc.). They are said to sin as they were in the loins of Adam, just as Levi is said to pay tithes to Melchizedek, even in the loins of his forefather Abraham (Hebrews 7:9-10); otherwise infants would not die, for death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23; and the reign of death is procured be the reign of sin, which hath reigned over all mankind except Christ. All are sinners, infected with the guilt and filth of sin; the rot (according to the vulgar saying) over-runs the whole flock. Hence David reflects upon original sin as the cause of all his actual, saying, Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Thus man’s malady begind [began] betimes [early], even in our conception; this subtle serpent sowed his tares very early, so that we are all “born in sin” (John 9:34).”4 [bracketed words added]
The Bible definitely teaches the doctrine of original sin by which the image of God has been lost. Everybody, regardless of age, from conception to death, bears the guilt of original sin. Because the Bible teaches that infants are sinful, they are in need of salvation.
IV. JESUS CHRIST.
The central figure in, and the main focus of, the Christian Church is Jesus Christ. For the individual Christian, everything is built upon their individual faith in Jesus. He is God’s true and only-begotten Son, begotten from eternity, and the second person of the Trinity. Over two-thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit impregnated the Virgin Mary, and God’s Son became fully human as well as fully God. He was given the name of Jesus, because he would save the people from their sins (cf. Matthew 1:21).
The ministry of Jesus Christ and his purpose for coming to this earth is best described in a very well-known Bible passage recorded in John 3:16-17:
“16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” [King James Version.]
To further explain this, we turn to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 21: “21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus Christ was fully human; but since he was also fully God, he had no sin. This combination was necessary for Jesus to pay the price for the world’s sin. Even though he had no sin, he bore the punishment for the world’s sin. In so doing, he satisfied God’s perfect justice.
What Jesus has done becomes a reality for a person through faith alone. Through faith, a person exchanges their sinfulness for Christ’s righteousness–a concept sometimes referred to as “God’s Great Exchange.” On that final judgment day, true believers in Jesus Christ will be judged according to Christ’s righteousness, and not their sinfulness. Hebrews 8:12 reiterates the words recorded by Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament: “For I [God] will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
From what the Bible tells us, it is clearly evident that there is no salvation apart from faith in Christ. In John 14:6 Jesus says, “…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Therefore, we must conclude that only those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and accept him through faith will be saved. Any other way devised by human logic and rhetoric will not work.
If a person thinks that they can obtain heaven by just being a “good person,” God speaks the following through the prophet Isaiah, chapter 64, verse 6: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
If a person thinks that being a devout follower of any religion is just as good as being a Christian, the Prophet Elijah shows the foolishness of this line of thinking. In 1 Kings 18, we read about this in dramatic detail. To summarize: God’s prophet Elijah is standing up to the prophets of Baal. The conclusion of this is that the Lord God heard Elijah’s prayers and answered him; but all the efforts of the heathen prophets of Baal proved futile.
Faith alone in Jesus Christ is what saves a person. When Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi, they have the following dialogue with the jailer recorded in Acts 16:30-31: “30He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household.'” And when writing to the Romans, Paul says in chapter 10 verse 9: “9That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
In order to inherit heaven in the life to come, a person needs to have a personal saving faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Christianity is exclusive. Isaiah 45:21b says: “And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me.” The Bible makes it very clear that eternity in heaven cannot be obtained in any other way except through faith in Christ.
In general, conversion (which includes repentance) deals with the doctrine regarding how an individual changes from being an unsaved person heading down the path leading to perdition into a person saved from eternal perdition with the guarantee of an eternity in heaven. Within the scope of true Biblical Christianity, there is really no dispute that this does in fact happen. The person who is described as being “saved” has indeed been saved from something, which according to the Bible is understood to include eternal death, damnation, hell, and Satan. This is the standpoint taken by this essayist.
A brief mention should be made about those who believe that there is no hell, and that everybody will attain heaven after death in one form or another. Some of the more liberal branches of Christianity, along with the Universalists and Deists (amongst others) hold to this idea. In their way of thinking, hell exists only in ancient lore and myth, and is there basically to “scare” people to faith. However, the Bible is very clear in this matter; therefore, this essayist will not belabor the point, other than to mention that such an alternative view is Biblically wrong. The Bible clearly teaches a literal heaven and hell (cf. Luke 16:19-31, et al). This is important when studying the doctrine of Baptism, and how that relates to conversion.
In explaining the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, Dr. Martin Luther has this to say about conversion to the Christian faith and the work of the Holy Spirit:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He daily and richly forgives me and all believers all our sins, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will grant me and all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”5
We have previously established humanity’s total depravity because of original sin. Because of this spiritual blindness, humans have a complete inability to understand Christian doctrine or to come to faith in Jesus Christ on their own. Sinful human beings cannot make their own decision on behalf of a holy God. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:14:
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
So when a person comes to faith, it is completely and totally a work of the Holy Spirit. Conversion is a work of God himself, and not a product of human intellect and will. The following Biblical references speak to this issue:
2 Corinthians 4:4-6: “4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
2 Corinthians 12:3: “3Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.
1 Peter 2:9: “9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Ephesians 2:4-9: “4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9not by works, so that no one can boast.”
There exists a teaching that has been handed down through the ages called “synergism.” The word “synergism” is comprised of two Greek words: “sun” which means “together or with,” and “ergw” which means “work.” When applied in a theological sense, this term is used to refer to those who believe that humans have some part in their own salvation in one form or another. Different forms of synergism have their own peculiar twists and turns; however, it all leads back to salvation being an act of cooperation between God and humanity, and not an act of God alone.
Synergism can be traced all the way back to the third century to the time of Arius of Alexandria and his contemporaries. This continued on through Pelagius in the fifth century, and expounded upon in detail by Erasmus in the sixteenth century. In studying this issue, the protestant essayist Fook Meng Chiah has this to say:
“The idea here is that when [man] accepts Christ as offered in the gospel, he receives salvation by his own decision. As such, salvation is his work. Christ could not have entered his life if he had not chosen Him. The sinner must initiate the act and cooperate with the saving grace freely offered to him. As such, salvation is first and foremost man’s work!…Wesleyan Arminianism, like Erasmus, insists on a prevailing grace. Grace must first work in the sinner’s heart before the sinner can be enabled to get a grip on saving grace. But like Erasmus, Wesleyan theology insists also that man after the fall is able to desire the good and choose salvation…. It is not hard to see that Erasmus’ doctrine is the basis for modern decisionism in mass evangelism. Both center in the autonomy of man. Both highlight the fact that man must do something in order to be saved. Both view salvation as a cooperation between God and man. Both see in Christ’s death only a possibility of salvation, not a vicarious and efficacious accomplishment of salvation.”6
Synergism in any form does not square with what the Bible clearly teaches. However, the effect of sin on human nature leads people to want to take personal credit for something God has done. People will boast as to how they “found” Jesus, how they invited him into their heart, and how they have taken charge of their life by making their own personal decision. Taken to its logical conclusion, this is nothing but sinful pride taking its place in the limelight, which brings glory to the person instead of to God alone.
Orthodox theologians have correctly identified synergism as heresy down through the ages. Refuting synergism is an important step in correctly understanding the Biblical doctrine of baptism. Essayist Chiah concludes his work with the following statement:
“But the gospel of grace affirms the opposite. God first acts, then man reacts. This reaction is a positive response, a necessary response, and a response that results in conversion. This is because the grace that comes to the sinner is a grace that actively and powerfully converts and transforms. This is the gospel that Luther says the Bible teaches.”7
Because of the sinful human state, the reason and intellect of human free-will is incapable of choosing God. So the question remains, what then is the capability of human free-will? We certainly have free-will in what Dr. Luther calls the “lesser things,” e.g. what clothes we put on in the morning, what we eat for dinner, whether we drive a Ford or a Chevy, etc. However, from what the Bible tells us, our only free choice in the “higher (spiritual) things” is the ability to reject God’s grace, and choose our own path to perdition.
Some followers of Calvinism teach a system of “once saved, always saved,” and can never fall away. Other Calvinists will not go quite this far, but will still contend that if a person is one of the “elect,” they are always one of the “elect,” and therefore can never fall from faith. However, when we examine the Bible, this Calvinistic idea does not agree. There are numerous warnings about falling away from the faith, whereby a person can exclude themselves from God’s grace given in Christ Jesus. We consider the following Bible references:
Hebrews 3:12-13: “ 12See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Hebrews 2:1-3: “ 1We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.”
1 Corinthians 10:12-13: [Paul using Israel’s history as an example] “11These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
God warns us in the Bible about pride and over-confidence, and that we are to take caution about falling away from the faith. Paul himself, along with others, had struggles with remaining faithful, so his warnings are timely and practical. Thankfully, we have a God who continues to receive us and forgive us with his boundless mercy and grace.
Finally, in John, chapter 10, verses 27-30, Jesus gives the believer some comfort and assurance when it comes to remaining in the faith. He says:
“27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.”
The picture of the Christian being nestled in the protecting hand of God is a secure place for every believer. However, we need to see that hand as wide-open, and not a clenched fist. God will protect a believer as long as they remain in his care, but a person has the ability to walk right out of that hand and away from God. Therefore, Paul’s warning as previously stated is well in place: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12).”
VI. HOW GOD WORKS.
One of God’s attributes is that he is omnipotent. And as such, he can basically work in any way he wishes. Throughout history, God has manifested himself in various ways. He spoke to Moses in a burning bush. He spoke from the clouds at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration. He spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus. And in grand fashion, he spoke to John by means of a vision in Revelation. So how does he communicate with us today? Hebrews 1:1-2 says,
“1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”
When God speaks, it is important for us to recognize that voice as being God’s; and since it is God’s voice speaking, we need to be assured that the words are true. The only way we can be certain of that is to know that our source is reliable.
In today’s world, things aren’t much different in this regard than they were in the past. People have made various claims that God has spoken to them in one way or another; however, their testimony is not trustworthy. The only way we can be certain is to go to the place where we know God speaks reliably and clearly; and that place is the Holy Scripture itself. In John 17:17 Jesus says: “17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
One theologian makes the following observations with regard to Dr. Martin Luther’s thoughts on this matter:
“Speaking against the Enthusiasts Luther insists that one cannot have the Spirit of God who does not have the visible, external Word; [quoting Luther] ‘For it will surely not be a good spirit but the wretched devil from hell. The Holy Spirit has embodied His wisdom and counsel and all mysteries of the Word and revealed them in Scripture and so no one needs to excuse himself or look and search for anything else.’…In all his many writings against the Enthusiasts, as he insists that the Holy Spirit always works His blessings and salvation through the Word, Luther is thinking ordinarily of the preached Word, as based upon the Scriptures. This fact is made clear in the Smalcald Articles (III, VIII. 3f.) where he extols the external spoken Word, averring that God gives no one His Spirit or grace except through it. The external Word comes before the Spirit is given. Luther rejects the Schwaermer and Munzer who boast that they possess the Spirit without and before the Word and thus interpret and distort the Scriptures and the spoken Word according to their pleasure.”8
While we recognize the omnipotence of God the Holy Spirit and his ability to work in any way he so chooses, we need to know with absolute certainty where the Holy Spirit can be found. Even though the Holy Spirit actively works in the believer, a person cannot expect the Holy Spirit to come into his or her life without a reliable means. When people seek the Holy Spirit apart from the means God has provided, they are able to fashion him in whatever way suits them. However, God says in Malachi 3:6a: “I the LORD do not change…”
The Bible itself testifies that it is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 4:12 says,
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul writes:
“15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
And finally in Romans 10:17 Paul writes:
“17So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” [King James Version.]
We can be assured that not only is the Bible factual and true, but it is also the way the Holy Spirit works. Through the Word of God, we become convicted of our sin; but most importantly we come to know our Saviour Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit works the faith in our hearts through the Word by which we accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour; and we accept him by faith alone without any work, decision, or merit of our own.
When we go to the Bible, we are told that the Word not only works by itself, but also when it is connected with the water of Holy Baptism, and with the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Our main concern is of course with the former, viz. the doctrine of Holy Baptism.
VII. THE SACRAMENTS.
The word “sacrament” is a term that cannot be found in the Bible. However, the term is applied to various Biblical truths and teachings as a matter of identification in much the same way as the term “Trinity” is used to identify the God-head.
Lutherans and several other protestant denominations use the word “sacrament” in a narrow sense. To define the word itself, “sacrament” is from the Latin word “sacramentum” which strictly defined means “sacred act.” It should also be mentioned that “sacrament” and “sacrifice” are often confused with each other. It must be clearly understood that the two terms are opposite: a sacrifice describes something precious a person gives to God, while a sacrament describes something precious that God gives to us.
In classic Lutheran theology, the following Latin formula is applied to describe the basic nature of a sacrament: Accedit verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum, which translates into “Add the word to the element and it becomes a sacrament.” The Roman Catholic Church does not use this definition; instead they apply a much broader definition which include (besides Baptism and Holy Communion) other church rites and ordinances such as ordination, marriage, confirmation, confession/absolution, and last rites (extreme unction). None of these rites or ordinances fit the Latin definition stated previously.
Having understood the basic nature of a sacrament, we need to now look at what a sacrament actually is and does. For this, there are three general rules that must apply:
1) It has to be something that Christ himself instituted for people to do;
2) It has to include an earthly element (as described previously); and
3) It has to confer a Gospel blessing.
Baptism and Holy Communion are the only two things that fit all of the accepted definitions of a sacrament.
Dr. Edward Koehler, a prominent Lutheran Dogmatician has this to say about the sacraments:
“The power of the sacraments is none other than that of the gospel. The sacraments assure to us the grace of God, offer to us the forgiveness of sins, and work or strengthen in us the faith by which we accept these heavenly gifts. The difference is this, that in the sacraments God deals with us individually and personally, and that his promise is connected with external means, water in baptism, and the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. The power, however, lies not in these external elements, but solely and exclusively in the Word of promise connected therewith.”10
To bring all this together, Word and Sacrament are collectively known as the “Means of Grace.” This is the way God confers spiritual blessings to his people. When we speak of God’s grace, this refers to his undeserved love he pours out on his people. Therefore, the Means of Grace are the ways that God’s grace, viz. forgiveness of sins and eternal life, is offered and given to us. The Holy Spirit works through the Means of Grace, and we can be assured that this is the way God has guaranteed that he will come to us. This is of great assurance to the Christian.
VIII. BAPTISM AND BAPTIZE, DEFINED.
In this section, there are two Greek words upon which we will focus: “baptismos” (masculine nominative singular), the noun form of the word, translated “baptism;” and “baptizow” (present active indicative), the verb form of the word, translated “baptize” or “baptise.” Even though different forms of the word do appear in sentence structure according to the correct part-of-speech paradigm, they are ultimately connected to either “baptismos” or “baptizw.”
In defining these words, one of the best places to start is the Bible itself. Mark, chapter 7, verses 1-3, read as follows:
“1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles [and couches]).”
Even though this section doesn’t speak directly about a Christian baptism per se, it does show that a type of baptism existed amongst the tradition of the Jewish Elders. If we examine verse 3, the word translated as “ceremonial washing” is the word, “nipsowntai” in Greek, which according to common usage refers to washing only a part of the body (louein is used when bathing the whole body). Verse 4, then, continues on to explain what this “ceremonial washing” is. The first instance of the word translated as “wash” is the Greek word “baptizontai,” and the second such instance is the Greek word “baptismous.” Therefore, “baptize” and “wash” are used interchangeably by Biblical translators, even though “baptize” tends to have a more narrow definition.
From the context of this passage, however, we must understand that baptism is a type of ceremonial washing; and when a person or object is baptized, then they (or it) have been the recipients of this washing. As a result, the common definitions of “baptize” are: wash, immerse, dip, pour, or sprinkle. In theological circles, we can say that a baptism is the usage of water in a ceremonial washing according to what God has directed. There is no indicator or mandatum Dei (command of God) as to the amount of water used or to the method of application.
The Biblical reference from Mark 7 also gives us a practical perspective. In Jewish ceremonial usage, numerous things were “baptized,” e.g. hands, cups, pitchers, and kettles. Those items could indeed be totally immersed without too much difficulty, although there may be some question as to how much of the hand would have to be wet to be clean, according to Jewish tradition.
The words that concern us now are at the end of the list, viz. “kai klinown” which is translated “and (dining) couches” by most translators, or “and tables” according to the King James Version of the Bible. There is some speculation amongst Biblical textual experts as to whether or not the words “kai klinown” are actually part of the original text. The Textus Receptus Greek text of the New Testament, from which the King James version of the Bible is translated, along with several others has included it; others simply footnote it.
Taking this from a purely grammatical standpoint, it would be safe to say that it is proper to connect the word “baptize” with the washing of articles of furniture. Therefore, it would be highly impractical, if not impossible at times, for a dining couch (or table) to be located at, or transported to a place where there would be enough water to completely submerge it, and enough manpower to carry out this task.
A good example of the water used for this type of ceremonial washing comes from John, chapter 2, the account of Jesus’ miracle at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, where he turned the water into wine. Verse 6 reads: “6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.“ The total immersion of articles of furniture would be impossible in stone jar containers of this size holding such a limited quantity of water.
Hebrews, chapter 9, also refers to the ceremonial washings (baptismois) according to the Old Testament Jewish rituals. If we examine Numbers, chapter 19, where these baptisms are explained in detail, verse 7 speaks of baptism by complete immersion, while verses 13, 18, and 19 speak of baptism by sprinkling.
In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 Paul makes the following reference to Israel’s history:
“1For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2They were all baptized (ebaptizanto) into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”
Comparing this to the two Old Testament passages to which Paul is referring, we read first in Exodus 13:21:
“21By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”
Then we go to Exodus 14:22 where we read:
“22…and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”
Neither of these references give us any indication that the Israelites were somehow immersed in either the cloud or the sea.
Even though there is sufficient Biblical evidence to conclude a broad definition of baptism, there are those who purport that the only proper baptism is by total immersion. Supporters of this school of thought use several Bible passages to support this theory:
“As Jesus was coming up out of the water…” (Mark 1:10). Those holding to an “immersion only” concept of baptism conclude that since Jesus was “coming up out of the water” that he must have been fully immersed. (The same rationale is used when Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40). However, this passage says nothing about how far Jesus was actually IN the water or how much of his body was covered. “Coming up out of the water” can also be said of the person who was in the water only ankle deep, walking back up on shore.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism…” (Romans 6:4). Those holding to an “immersion only” concept of baptism conclude that this “burial” in baptism means to be “buried in the water” or completely immersed. However, if this passage is understood in this manner, then the next two words “into death” must also be understood in the same way, thereby making the only legitimate form of baptism by immersing and drowning. Even a cursory study of this section of Romans shows that this refers to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection; and our share in that through faith as Christians.
“Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water [much water, KJV], and people were constantly coming to be baptized” (John 3:23). Those holding to an “immersion only” concept of baptism assert that the reason there had to be plenty of water was so that the people could be immersed. However, in order to properly understand this passage, we need to examine several Greek words used in this verse and understand their historical significance.
The location John gives is Aenon near Salim. Aenon is simply a transliterated Greek word “ainown” which means, “spring.” Then the Greek words translated “much water” or “plenty of water” are “udata polla” which actually means “many waters.”
There have been various theories as to exactly where this place of “many springs” was, but a common consensus amongst many places it in an area in close proximity to the west bank of the Jordan River. The “many springs” would have formed streams or brooks that emptied into the Jordan.
Even though this is not conclusive proof, we still have to consider the strong possibility that John chose the fresh, spring-fed waters in these shallow streams or brooks to baptize people utilizing a method other than complete immersion. The nearby Jordan river would have been the place that had sufficient water for baptism by immersion; the shallow streams and brooks would have had water which at the most would have only been a foot or so deep.
Notwithstanding this, we have to consider the almost constant flow of people coming to be baptized. There would had to have been a sufficient amount of available water, irrespective of the method of baptism used. The terms “many waters,” “much water,” or “plenty of water” are not concrete enough terms to be used as proof that baptism must only be by total immersion.
Scripture in NO PLACE dictates how much or how little the amount of water that needs to be used for a legitimate baptism. If water is applied in some manner to a person according to the command of Jesus (Matthew 28:19), then it is indeed a legitimate and valid baptism, which would also include, but not be limited to baptism by total immersion.
Even if Jesus WAS completely immersed when he was baptized (and it is not known for sure whether he was or wasn’t), it would be descriptive, and not prescriptive. Just because somebody might have been immersed when they were baptized doesn’t automatically conclude that other methods of application aren’t just as Scriptural and legitimate. It is wrong to bind someone’s conscience with regard to a particular method of baptism when Scripture makes no distinction. In Colossians 2:16-18 Paul writes:
“16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.”
Apart from the pages of Scripture, we also have empirical evidence regarding the method of baptism. In the Didache, an early historical church writing from around the middle of the first century, we read the following directive in chapter 7:
“Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”
This gives us an indication that baptism existed in forms other than complete immersion. Christians do not hold that the Didache is an authoritative source on an equal par with Scripture, but it does shed some light on baptismal practices in the early post-Biblical era.
Paintings and artwork are another form of empirical evidence. Just outside of Rome are the catacombs, where the early Christians took refuge from their adversaries. There they left a legacy in the form of pictures and drawings. The Catacomb of Saint Callisto predates the second century. In a section of this catacomb known as the “Chapel of Sacraments” in area 3, there is a painting of an adult baptizing a child by applying water to the child’s head.
All things considered, the Biblical usage of the words “baptism (baptismos)” and “baptize (baptizw)” cannot be restricted to an “immersion only” definition. Application of any amount of water according to the formula Jesus gives in Matthew 28:19-20 should be considered a legitimate and valid baptism.
IX. THE BLESSINGS AND POWER OF BAPTISM.
“Luther attached great importance to his baptism. When the Devil assailed him, he would answer, ‘I am baptized.'”9
In a question-and-answer type of format, Dr. Martin Luther addresses Holy Baptism in his Small Catechism. In a very precise and clear manner, he explains this important Biblical doctrine that meant so much to him:
“What is Baptism? Baptism is not simply water, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command, and connected with God’s Word.”
“What benefits does Baptism confer? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe what the words and promises of God declare.”
“How can water do such great things? It is not water indeed that does it, but the Word of God, which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God, the water is simply water, and no baptism; but with the Word of God, it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost; as St. Paul says, Titus iii. 5-8: ‘According to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ This is a faithful saying.”
“What does such Baptizing with water signify? It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily sorrow and repentance, be drowned and die, with all sins and evil lusts; and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity for ever.”11
Although Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism cannot be elevated to the position of the Bible, nevertheless we recognize his faithful, thorough, and practical, but yet humble approach to Biblical doctrine. Luther worked diligently to bring the Church back to the Bible, and to relieve consciences that had been bound by man-made rules and customs. Therefore Luther presented Baptism using the precise language and teaching of Scripture, and exposed the heresies of human reason and logic. Since Jesus had instituted baptism as a blessing for Christians, and attached a mandate that it was to be carried out in the Church, Luther was as serious about it as Jesus and the Apostles were.
So what does God have to say about the blessings and power of baptism? Here we go to the Bible where we discover what the directives are, and what it meant for the early Christians.
Acts 2:14-39: This is the text of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Of special interest are the words of verses 38-39:
38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, 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. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
At this point, our main focus in this section is what baptism does, and not so much about who was being baptized. That part of it will be dealt with later on.
The words here are quite clear. “…You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is one of the key blessings of baptism; and from the context, we have no choice but to take this passage literally. It’s been contended that a person needs to repent first; however we must understand that repentance is a part of conversion. Repentance here is defined by a person’s being turned away from Satan and turned toward Christ. Because of humanity’s total depravity, the only way this can happen is by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The words of verse 39 are also quite clear. Peter tells those assembled that: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.” This is the assurance that what has been promised will be good for all people for all time, and not just those who were assembled there in front of Peter. Baptism is something that will be practiced amongst the Christians until Christ’s return. God will continue to call people to faith through the Holy Spirit; and through that same Holy Spirit, he will keep people strong in the faith. Through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit will always be found, just as God has promised.
Mention should also be made to the reference in verse 38 that talks about being baptized “…in the name of Jesus Christ….” To properly understand this, we need to go back to the actual command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19: “…baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” When people are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, they are therefore to be baptized according to the formula he prescribed.
Acts 22:16: “16And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”
Ananias wastes no time in speaking these words to the Apostle Paul at the time of his conversion. The literal sense of these words cannot be mistaken; the result of baptism is the washing away of sins. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, Paul has now begun his covenant relationship with Jesus; and as such, he is a partaker of all the blessings of his grace. This formed the very foundation for his ministry.
Romans 6:3-4: “3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We 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.”
Through baptism, our relationship with Jesus Christ means that we share in all the spiritual blessings he has won for us by his sinless life, his sacrificial death on the cross, and his victory over death and the grave by his physical resurrection from the dead. Because of this, our sins have been put to death, and Christ’s righteousness becomes ours through faith alone. Hebrews, chapter 2, verses 14-15, further explains:
“14Since the children have flesh and blood, he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil- 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
Mark 16:15-16: “15He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'”
Believing, baptizing, and salvation are all connected in this verse. Furthermore, we contend that since Jesus instituted and commanded baptism, it is therefore necessary that it be done. However, we also recognize that there will be instances where baptism cannot be done for one reason or another. Koehler writes the following in this regard:
“While faith, being the only means by which we can accept the grace of God, is absolutely necessary for salvation, baptism is not absolutely necessary, because it is not the only means through which this grace is offered to us…. He, who cannot be baptized, but believes the Gospel, will be saved…. It is unbelief that damns. Faith can exist with the lack of baptism, or of the proper understanding of the necessity and benefit of baptism, but it cannot exist with the contempt of baptism. He who rejects baptism, rejects what baptism offers (cf. Luke 7:30: “30But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.”12 (Underscore and text of Luke 7:30 added.)
1 Peter 3:20b-21: “In it [Noah’s ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”
In this section, Peter reiterates the saving power of baptism. But what about the “good conscience toward God?” The only way a person can have a good conscience toward God, is when sin’s pollution has been washed away after having been converted by the power of the Holy Spirit. An unregenerate human being under sin’s total depravity cannot obtain a good conscience in any other way. Being thus understood, baptism will produce the good conscience before God of which Peter speaks.
Galatians 3:26-27: “ 26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
Baptism creates a personal relationship with Christ through faith. This is further evidence that the Holy Spirit works faith through baptism.
Titus 3:4-7: “4But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
The “washing of rebirth” or “washing of regeneration (KJV)” is a direct reference Paul makes to a Christian baptism. The “renewal by the Holy Spirit” is directly and inseparably connected with this. The result of the work of the Holy Spirit through baptism is faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Through faith alone in Christ, people are justified by God’s grace, and therefore are heirs to the promise of an eternity in heaven as members of the family of God.
Ephesians 5:25b-27: “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
This is part of an exhortation that Paul addresses to husbands and wives, where the husband’s relationship to the wife is compared to Christ’s relationship to the Church. The cleansing power of baptism is expressed, whereby sins are forgiven and the Church (i.e. all true believers in Christ) will now be justified. This gospel promise is possible because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice for sin that led to his crucifixion and death. Baptism has its cleansing power only when it is connected with God’s Word and used according to Christ’s command. Therefore, the only valid baptism is when water is applied as Jesus says, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Matthew 28:19).
We can therefore conclude that when administered properly, Holy Baptism is a type of conduit where the Holy Spirit comes directly to the recipient. As it has been pointed out previously, the Holy Spirit is necessary for a sinful human being to repent and come to faith in Christ. The role that baptism plays in the grand scheme of things will be further explained in the next two sections.
X. THE BAPTISM OF ADULT CONVERTS.
The fact that adult converts were baptized following their profession of faith is not generally disputed amongst Biblical scholars and theologians. Biblical accounts such as Acts 2:38 (believers baptized at Pentecost), Acts 22:16 (Paul’s baptism by Ananias), Acts 8:26-40 (Philip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch), Acts 10:47-48 (Peter baptizes the household of Cornelius), and Acts 16:29-34 (Paul and Silas baptize the household of the Philippian jailer), make the practice of baptizing adults following their conversion (sometimes called a “believer’s baptism”) abundantly clear.
The process is simple: adult converts are those who can hear and understand the message of the Gospel through the written and spoken Word of God. God the Holy Spirit works through the Word to convert them and bring them to faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour. They are then Baptized as a response of their faith. The formula of teaching first and then Baptizing is applied. The dogmatician Dr. Edward Koehler writes in this regard:
“From [the Bible] we learn that adults were first instructed; hence we do likewise. These people are not converted or made disciples by Baptism; they are such by faith in Christ, which they confess before their Baptism (cf. Acts 8:37). In their case Baptism confirms upon them the grace of God, and strengthens them in their faith, even as the Lord’s Supper does.”13
Even though the recipients are adults, the method of baptism does not change. Water still must be applied as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19:
“19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
XI. THE BAPTISM OF INFANTS AND CHILDREN.
Notwithstanding the issue regarding the method of baptism, one of the most fervently contested issues is over the baptism of infants and children. Those who are opposed to it usually make a common sense appeal, in that since infants and small children are unable to cognitively verbalize any presence of faith, they should not be baptized until they are able to do so.
It is therefore imperative that the two schools of thought, viz. baptism of adults and children vs. baptism of only those who can verbally confess their faith, be submitted to the litmus test of Holy Scripture. It needs to be clearly understood that God is serious about baptism, who needs it, and who should receive it.
Section III of this thesis deals with the topic of original sin in great detail. Therefore, a review of this section (p. 5 ff) would be in order at this point to reacquaint and reaffirm for the reader as to the presence of original sin in infants and children.
To briefly reiterate some of the key passages of Scripture in this regard, the essayist calls attention to the following Bible verses to keep in mind:
Psalm 51:5: “5Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
People will sometimes contend that King David was speaking figuratively in this section. However, there is nothing anywhere in Scripture to back this up, other than a faulty human bias. Therefore, we are constrained to look at this passage literally and conclude that original sin is present in every human being from the time of conception. To think otherwise is to basically assume the same position that the “pro-choice” movement has taken with regard to abortion, which contends that children aren’t really human beings when they’re inside the womb. This deplorable logic would provide the only possible explanation as to why an unborn child might not be guilty of original sin.
Romans 3:22b-23: “…There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
This is but a very small piece of a much larger section in which the Apostle Paul deals with original sin. Again we are constrained to look at this passage literally, and conclude that God means exactly what he says, viz. that the word “all” would include human beings at any stage of life.
Job 14: 1 & 4: “1Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. 4Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!”
These Bible verses have not been previously presented and examined in the body of this thesis until now. Job is keenly aware of his sinful nature that he has inherited from his parents, which has been passed down through the generations. Through Job, God has left no doubt as to the human impossibility of bringing something pure from something that is impure (literally, “corrupt”). Commentator Adam Clarke states:
“This verse is thus rendered by the Chaldee: ‘Who will produce a clean thing from man, who is polluted with sins, except God, who is one?’ By Coverdale thus: [sic] ‘Who can make it cleane, that commeth of an uncleane thinge? No body.’ The text refers to man’s original and corrupt nature. Every man that is born into the world comes into it in a corrupt or sinful state. This is called original sin; and is derived from fallen Adam, who is the stock, to the utmost ramifications of the human family. Not one human spirit is born into the world without this corruption of nature. All are impure and unholy; and from this principle of depravity all transgression is produced; and from this corruption of nature, God alone can save.”14
God’s Word uses various terms with regard to both original sin and Baptism. Terms such as: “all nations, all, every one, entire household, etc.” mean just what they say. God in the Bible makes no attempt whatsoever to exclude anybody regardless of age in any of the terms he uses. All of humanity is sinful, and all of humanity needs the salvation that can come only through Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, human reason has intervened. People have placed exclusions on the all-inclusive terms God has used in Scripture. In effect, this adds something to the Bible that just isn’t there. God makes very good use of exclusive terms when they need to be used.
In John 13:18 Jesus says: “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen.”
In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
In Matthew 19:21 Jesus says: “…Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.”
In 2 Thessalonians 3:2 Paul writes: “And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.”
These are but a few sundry examples of how God has employed exclusive terms. Suffice it to say that when God wants to exclude someone or something in the Bible, he says so in clear and unmistakable terms. There can be no room for human guesswork; therefore, we can conclude that when God uses language that includes everybody and leaves nobody out, he means exactly what he says.
Critics of infant baptism frequently appeal to the fact that infants and children aren’t specifically mentioned as being included in “households” or part of “all nations,” even though the Biblical terminology is all-inclusive. Koehler has this to say:
“Infants are to be baptized, because they certainly are included in “all nations.” As little as they can be excluded from the term “nation,” so little dare we exclude them from Baptism….”
“The fact that children are not specifically mentioned in the Bible need not surprise us, for according to Jewish authorities it was a common practice to baptize proselytes and their children when they embraced the religion of Israel. As the Jews–men, women, and children–were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor. 10:1-2), so they held that any proselyte, whether he be man, woman, or child, must also be baptized. ‘So in all ages when an Ethnic is willing to enter into the covenant…he must be circumcised, and baptized, and bring a sacrifice; or, if it be a woman, be baptized and bring a sacrifice’ (Maimonides, Isuri Bia, c. XIII and XIV). The Mishna of both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud speaks of children being made proselytes. ‘They are wont to baptize such a proselyte in infancy upon the profession of the House of Judgment’ (Gemara Babylon). (Cf., “The History of Infant Baptism,” by W. Wall).
We need not examine the authority on which such baptism was based; the point here is that it seems to have been an established custom among the Jews to baptize also the children of proselytes.–If Christ did not want His Baptism to be administered unto children, we should certainly expect a definite statement to that effect. But there is no text in the Bible which bars children from Baptism.”15 (Emphasis by author)
From all indications, the baptism of infants by the early Church followed in the steps of a tradition originally established by the Jews. Therefore, according to Jewish culture, a Christian baptism would have been expected to include infants and children; furthermore it would have seemed particularly odd to the early Christians (especially with a Jewish background) if infants and children had not been included.
The next item to be addressed is the faith of an infant or child. Can an infant actually believe and have a saving faith? Once again, we go to the Scriptures for the answer.
Psalm 22:9-10: “9Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. 10From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”
This describes a faith that has existed from a very early age. This does not describe a generic or nebulous type of faith “in something,” but identifies a personal relationship with the one true God.
2 Timothy 3:15: “15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
The Apostle Paul is reminding his understudy Timothy about the core beginning of his faith, which began at infancy.
It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “infancy” is “brephous” which is the word for “baby,” specifically one toddler age and below. In comparison, the Greek word used for children who are of an older age is “paidion,” which is used elsewhere in Scripture.
From this verse, we can conclude that Timothy had a saving faith from the time he was an infant in arms. From that early time in his life, he knew Jesus Christ as his Saviour. The Holy Spirit worked in the heart of even somebody that young.
Mark 9:42: “ 42And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.”
This is a continuing thought from verse 38 where Jesus uses a little child as an example of a child-like faith. Again, this shows that children can and do have faith, specifically a faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus uses himself as the specific object of faith when he says “little ones who believe in me.”
Luke 1:44: “44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
We certainly realize that this is a special instance, but it is still worth mentioning. Mary has just told her cousin Elizabeth that she is pregnant with Jesus. Elizabeth, who is already pregnant with John the Baptist responds with the words above. Not only is John the Baptist a viable human being in the womb, but he also displays a level of cognizance. Even though John the Baptist had a special mission and ministry set out for him, he was still a normal human baby of human origin.
Luke 18:15-17: “15People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'”
In this example, we see that people brought babies (brephay) to Jesus, and Jesus responds with the importance of believers having the faith of a child (paidia) using the babies brought to him as an example. The fact that the two terms are used interchangeably in this example brings us to the conclusion that babies and children are both capable of having a saving faith.
People have used the rationale that if these children were sinful, Jesus would never have used them as an example of faith. Some have even opined that he would not have called them to himself if they were sinful.
If we look at Matthew 8, a Roman Centurion (a sinful person) asks Jesus to heal his daughter. In verse 10 Jesus says of the Centurion: “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” In a similar sense, we read about the Canaanite woman (another sinful person) in Matthew 15 who had a daughter who was demon-possessed. Jesus tells her in verse 28, “Woman, you have great faith!” And in Mark, chapter 2, we read this about Jesus (whom the Pharisees criticized) in verse 15: “15While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”
If Jesus would not have used children as an example of faith if they were sinful, why then would he praise the faith of two sinful people like the Centurion or the Canaanite woman? And if Jesus didn’t want sinners to come to him, why did he go out of his way to eat with the tax collectors and ‘sinners,’ who were the dregs of society? To think that Jesus would have rejected children on these grounds is absolutely ludicrous!
John 3:5-8: “5Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'”
The necessity of being born of the water and the Spirit cannot be understated. The only way this can happen with an infant or child is through Holy Baptism, which we have already determined is a means through which the Holy Spirit operates. In this dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus points out the futility of human observation and logic when it comes to the way the Holy Spirit works. Just as it is impossible for a human being to harness the wind, so it is with the Holy Spirit. God will work through the means he has promised to create faith in the heart of a person, regardless of age.
To conclude this section, Koehler states:
“The objection that little children cannot believe and that, therefore, Baptism does not benefit them, is not valid, since Christ definitely tells us that children do believe (Matthew 18:6), and we learn that the Holy Ghost works faith in them through this washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). It is the Spirit of God who works faith in both, adults and children. It is not for us to question how little children can believe, but to accept what the Scriptures say. Conversion is a miracle of God whether it be in the case of a child or of an adult.”16
XII. THE REJECTION OF INFANT BAPTISM.
Various instances of this topic have been previously addressed, however there are specific teachings that need to be examined in this section. These teachings generally typify people known as the Anabaptists, a sect of Christianity that arose in the 17th-18th centuries.
A. A person needs to reach an “age of accountability” so they can make the decision to be baptized. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture that speaks of such an age, or that Baptism was ever denied until such an age had been reached. In attempting to justify this teaching, one commentator makes the following observation regarding Romans, chapter 7:
“As Paul expounded these spectacular spiritual realities, he imparted a significant truth regarding the innocence of children, i.e., their non-depraved status. Paul stated: ‘For apart from the law sin was dead’ (Romans 7:8). He meant that prior to him becoming subject to the law, he was not guilty of any sin. He continued: ‘I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died’ (Romans 7:9). When was Paul ‘alive once without the law’? The only time in a person’s life when he or she is spiritually alive in the absence of law is before he or she is a responsible, accountable adult. A person is not subject to the law of God until he or she is mature enough to understand and to be responsible for behavior. Here is the ‘age of accountability’ to which so many have made reference over the years. Paul was saying that at the time he was a child he was ‘alive,’ i.e., spiritually safe. But when he reached adulthood, and had to face the law’s assessment of his adult decision-making, sin ‘revived,’ i.e., it sprang into existence in his life (see Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 53), ‘began to live and flourish’ (Alford, 1852, 2:380), and he ‘died,’ i.e., he became spiritually dead in sin. This ‘age of accountability’ is not pinpointed in Scripture as a specific age-for obvious reasons: it naturally differs from person to person since it depends upon a variety of social and environmental factors. Children mature at different rates and ages as their spirits are fashioned, shaped, and molded by parents, teachers, and life’s experiences.”17 (Emphasis by author).
The Apostle Paul at no time ever even alluded to a period in his life where he was without sin and innocent before God. In fact, Paul would most likely be shocked to think that anybody could construe his words to even hint at such a notion. Even considering just the Epistle to the Romans, we find such thoughts contradictory to what Paul writes elsewhere (e.g. Romans 3:23, Romans 6, etc.).
Apart from Romans, Paul writes the following words to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:13-16):
“13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
Considering this, the purported “time of innocence” was nothing more than Paul’s period of “ignorance and unbelief” as he explains to Timothy. We must understand that Paul was schooled as a Pharisee, and as such he had their pietistic and self-righteous mindset. In Acts 23:6 we read:
“Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.'” And in Matthew 23:23 Jesus says: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Paul’s knowledge of the law following his conversion convicted him of his sin, whereas before as a self-righteous Pharisee, he thought himself to be righteous and holy. In Romans 3:21-24 Paul states:
“21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
There is really no clear Bible passage to support the “age of accountability” theory. To insert this teaching into Scripture is to add something to it, in the same sense that the Pharisees made human traditions and regulations official teachings of the church. Because of this, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah in Matthew 15:8-9:
“8These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
B. Children are in a “suspended state of salvation” until they reach the age of accountability. This flows along the same lines of what was mentioned in the previous section. Apart from the flawed hermeneutics of Romans 7 as it has already been explained, there is nothing in the entirety of Scripture that uses this terminology, or even suggests that this doctrine is valid.
C. Children are “innocent,” and therefore have no need of the forgiveness of sins. Much has already been written about the topic of original sin (cf. Section III, p. 5ff of this document). We need to be reminded of the all-inclusive language God has used in Scripture when describing original sin, e.g. Romans 3:12b, 19 & 23:
“…there is no one who does good, not even one. 19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
There is nothing that even hints that infants and children are somehow exempt from this. Unless God states otherwise in his Word, this all-inclusive language needs to be read and understood literally. Even infants and children are part of the whole world that will be held accountable to God.
From an empirical perspective, any parent will quickly tell you that they never have had to teach their children to misbehave. They are quite capable of accomplishing this on their own volition. If children were “innocent” and “sinless” as some have contended, this would not be the case. Every child would act in a sinless manner until they came to a point where they made the conscious choice to sin, and were thus accountable for it.
D. A person needs to repent before they are Baptized. This is based upon the words of Acts 2:38 which is near the conclusion of Peter’s Pentecost sermon: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you….” Peter was speaking to adults who were cut to the heart by the words he was preaching. The context here is the prime consideration. In this case, as is the case for every adult convert, repentance and faith have come before Baptism (cf. Section X, pp. 30-31 of this document). Just because infants and children aren’t specifically mentioned in this section doesn’t negate the fact that they are still in need of baptism.
E. A person needs to make a conscious decision on their own to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. If faith were indeed something that human beings generated completely on their own, there might be some validity to this statement. However, in the doctrine of conversion as it has been previously discussed (cf. Section V, pp. 11-16 of this document), a saving faith is God-generated, and not a product of human will and cognition.
It’s at this point that a comparison needs to be made between the Old Testament rite of circumcision, and the New Testament sacrament of baptism. Genesis 17:9-14 explains circumcision in detail:
“9Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner-those who are not your offspring. 13Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.'”
In Colossians 2:10-14, the Apostle Paul makes the connection between circumcision and baptism:
“10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made youalive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”
Critics have frequently objected to baptism being compared with circumcision. The following quote illustrates this objection:
“To argue in support of infant baptism because Paul paralleled spiritual circumcision and water baptism in his letter to the church at Colosse is to err. One cannot assume that a Bible writer approves of other points of comparison when only one point of comparison is made…. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he merely stated that when they became Christians they were ‘circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh’ (2:11). Paul mentioned circumcision, but only to make the point that when the Colossians obeyed the Gospel, they circumcised themselves spiritually. …Truly, infant baptism cannot logically be defended using Colossians 2:11-12. Simply because Paul used the word circumcision in a spiritual sense to illustrate the time when non-Christians ‘put off’ sin and become Christians (at the point of baptism-Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27) does not make babies candidates for baptism. Moreover, Paul was clear that the Colossians ‘circumcised with the circumcision made without hands’ were conscious of both sin and God; babies, however, are aware of neither.”18 (Emphasis by author).
The Apostle Paul does not contend that circumcision and baptism have to agree in lock-step fashion on every point (e.g. only boys were circumcised, while both boys and girls are candidates for infant baptism). Because of this, we cannot automatically discard the literal comparison between circumcision and baptism. There are obvious differences between the two. Good hermeneutical principles compel us to allow Scripture to interpret itself, and to allow Scripture to speak for itself without the intervention of a complicated interpretation to support faulty theology.
One excellent comparison between circumcision and baptism is the age at which circumcision occurred. It happened when the child was eight days old, far too young for them to have any outward part or display a visible decision in the process. We know that the nature of children has not changed throughout the generations. They could not make any outward choice to be a part of the old covenant, any more than an infant of today can make an outward choice to be baptized and be a part of the new covenant.
One other objection that is made deals with circumcision and baptism existing simultaneously. Consider the following quotation:
“If ‘baptism replaced circumcision’ as some allege, people who already were circumcised according to the law could not be baptized. As J.W. Shepherd stated: ‘If the one came in the place of the other, the two could not exist at the same time in the same person. But all the Jews that had been circumcised on believing in Christ were baptized’ (1929, p. 17). It was God’s will that the Jews, who heard John the Baptist, Jesus, and/or one of His disciples, be baptized regardless of their circumcision (Luke 7:30; John 3:22-24; 4:1-2). If baptism replaced circumcision, how could they both be in effect at the same time, among the same people, and under the same covenant (Brents, 1874, pp. 345-347)?”19
We need to understand that there was a period of transition from Old Testament Judaism to New Testament Christianity. Those who had been circumcised under the old covenant would also have been baptized under the new covenant. It is sheer folly to think that a foreskin could somehow be restored before a person would be eligible for Christian baptism. So of course the two would have existed simultaneously, and some would have received both (like the Apostle Paul). This, however, does not negate the necessity of baptism, nor does it mean that infants are not fit candidates to receive baptism.
In the Church at Galatia, Paul experienced the problem of those who were Christians according to the new covenant, but who at the same time still demanded circumcision according to the Old Testament law. Even though circumcision and baptism existed concurrently for a period of time, it could not continue in that fashion within the body of the Christian Church. Galatians 5:2-6; 11-12 states the following:
“2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. 11Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”
The point is clear, and the language of the Bible leaves no room for doubt. The New Testament Christian Church practices baptism in much the same way as the Old Testament Jews practiced circumcision. Therefore, we must embrace the hermeneutical principle that Scripture must be allowed to interpret itself, and that the clear words of Scripture must be understood literally.
F. People who have died can be baptized by proxy. This is a doctrine that exists (to the best of this essayist’s knowledge) only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (i.e. Mormons). This teaching comes about from an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:29 where Paul writes:
“29Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?”
At the outset, we have to consider the context in which this verse was spoken. Paul had to deal with a group of people who were in denial of the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine supported by the Jewish Sadducees. Paul is addressing the physical resurrection from the dead, and not baptism in particular. He only uses baptism for the dead for illustrative purposes.
We don’t know exactly what was going on to give rise to this illustration. It has been supposed that there were those amongst the Corinthians who both denied the resurrection, and at the same time practiced a type of baptism by proxy on behalf of the dead. Even though this is the most sensible explanation, we still can’t be absolutely sure this was the case.
Paul’s argument is simple. In effect, he’s asking why, if they deny the resurrection of the dead would they turn around and be baptized for them? What possible good would it do? This is not a Pauline endorsement of baptizing the dead. Rather, the inconsistency of their belief system had to be exposed.
In general, we know that a person’s lifetime on this earth is their time of grace. This is the time that a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, and enjoys a personal relationship with him. Once a person has died, their time of grace has come to an end. Their judgment is sure and permanent. It’s either heaven or hell, and there are no u-turns after death.
This is an accepted truth amongst almost all Christians of today. Paul’s mention of the dead being baptized is therefore descriptive, and definitely not prescriptive.
G. If baptism has the power to save, why don’t we just fly over the whole world with an airplane filled with water and baptize everybody? Here we must look at Jesus’ directive concerning baptism. We are to go out into the world with the purpose to make disciples of everybody in the entire world. To accomplish this, we are to do two things: baptize and teach. The order in which these two things happen vary depending on the circumstances. In the case of infants and young children, we baptize first with the promise that they be instructed in the Christian faith. In the case of older children and adults, we instruct them in the Christian faith first, and then baptize them.
This should in no way be construed to diminish the power and blessings of baptism. However, when we baptize without any instruction either before or after, we are only carrying out half of the command Jesus has given to us.
In medieval culture, we read the historical accounts of how people were forced to be baptized, or otherwise lose their lives. This is not only improper, but creates the illusion that being in an intimate relationship with Jesus is more like the result of a shotgun wedding.
The gracious invitation of Jesus cannot be forced upon anyone. Therefore, it would not be proper to baptize someone against their will, or do so with the knowledge that Christian instruction will not follow.
H. Infant baptism leads people to believe that once they have been baptized, they will automatically go to heaven irrespective of what they do or believe. This is simply not true; and if somebody believes it, they are in error. The fifth point of Calvinism teaches “perseverance of the saints” which basically means that once a person is saved (or is one of the “elect”), they can never fall from grace. The Bible doesn’t agree with this at all (cf. Section V, pp. 11-16 of this document with special attention to pp. 15-16).
A baptized person can indeed reject God’s grace if they so choose. Even though a person has been baptized as an infant, and has therefore received the gift of the Holy Spirit which created faith within them, a person has the ability to defy God and go their own direction, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. We have the freedom to say “no” to God on our own; however, we have no power to say “yes” to God apart from the working of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, if a person lives as a heathen but believes he or she is still saved because they’ve been baptized, they need to pay special attention to the words Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “12So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
In order to summarize many of the anti-Biblical doctrines some are teaching regarding baptism, here listed are some key passages of Scripture along with an explanation of how they have been perverted according to human logic. (Note: This essayist does not claim the following as an original idea. However with the amount of editing and re-working that has taken place, the result differs substantially from the original content.)20
The Bible says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16).
The Bible doesn’t mean: Whoever believes and is saved should be baptized by immersion as a sign of outward obedience. The method of baptism is the important thing.
The Bible says: “Repent and be baptized, 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.” (Acts 2:38)
The Bible doesn’t mean: Be baptized because you have invited Jesus into your life and you have asked him to forgive your sins. Then work yourself into an emotional frenzy with the hope you’ll have a “spiritual” experience.
The Bible says: “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.'” (John 3:5)
The Bible doesn’t mean: Baptism has nothing to do with being born of “the Spirit.” This “birth of water” refers to the amniotic fluid expelled during natural childbirth (a position taken by some opponents of infant baptism).
The Bible says: “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.” (Romans 6:4)
The Bible doesn’t mean: We were therefore buried with him by being buried [immersed] in water. (In this context however, when the next two words “into death” are added to that, baptism would have to be by drowning).
The Bible says: “4There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called- 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:4-6)
The Bible doesn’t mean: There are various baptisms, such as a water baptism and a spirit baptism.
The Bible says: “20…who disobeyed 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, 21and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:20-21). Note: Look at the verse above carefully. It teaches the water of Noah’s flood is a symbol of baptism–and baptism saves us. The “it” in the phrase “it saves you” is referring to baptism; so this verse actually states two times that baptism saves us!
The Bible doesn’t mean: Baptism does not save you–baptism is merely a symbolic act of outward obedience. God cannot work faith, forgiveness of sins, or create a good conscience through baptism.
The Bible says: “…having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col. 2:12)
The Bible doesn’t mean: Baptism is a human work, and the Holy Spirit is not in any way connected with it.
The Bible says: “26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal. 3:26-27)
The Bible doesn’t mean: Baptism does not create faith by which a person (especially an infant) comes to believe in Jesus Christ.
The Bible says: “19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
The Bible doesn’t mean: Therefore go and concoct a “dedication ceremony” to replace infant baptism; and then make disciples of all nations, by telling them to pray for Jesus to come into their life, and teach them that they must speak “in tongues” in order to be a true Christian.
The Bible says: “36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 37 Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:36-39)
The Bible doesn’t mean: Because the eunuch went down and came up out of the water, he must have been totally immersed. Therefore it wasn’t the water connected with Word of God that was important, but the amount of water and the method by which it was applied.20
XIII. THE DEATH OF A CHILD AND THE NECESSITY OF BAPTISM.
The absolute heart-break of the death of a child is something that no parent, grandparent, sibling, or other family member should have to endure. But we have to be realistic about it, because we know it happens. And when it does, those who grieve need comfort and assurance from God’s Word.
The death of an infant or child is a brutal reminder that they are indeed sinful. If children were innocent of sin or in a suspended state of salvation, then they wouldn’t die. But such is not the case, as the Apostle Paul points out in Romans 5:12-14 where he writes regarding temporal, or earthly death:
“12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned- 13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.”
The greatest comfort for those who grieve is the knowledge that a child is in the arms of Jesus, and that he has taken them safely home. By its very nature, Baptism gives this assurance, because the child has been given a saving faith by the power of the Holy Spirit through the waters of baptism, and has become a part of the family of God. No amount of complicated human logic or theological jargon can replace this one very simple truth.
This, however, gives rise to another question: can a person be saved if they are not baptized? The simple answer is “yes,” however, it is a “qualified yes.” This holds true for both children and adults. And it should be stressed that this is the exception, and not the rule.
We start with the words of Jesus in Mark 16:16: “16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Therefore, we must conclude that the absence of baptism isn’t the thing that condemns, but unbelief. So, if for some reason somebody cannot be baptized, but believes in Jesus Christ as their Saviour, they will indeed be saved. The thief on the cross who came to faith would fall into this category (cf. Luke 23:43). Koehler states:
“Faith can exist with the lack of baptism, or of the proper understanding of the necessity and the benefit of baptism, but it cannot exist with the contempt of baptism. He who rejects baptism, rejects what baptism offers (Luke 7:30): “But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.”21 (Biblical text added.)
We know that adults and older children are able to come to faith through the reading and hearing of God’s Word. But what about infants and young children? Can they be saved without receiving baptism? Koehler provides us with a clear and concise answer:
“With regard to unbaptized children we have reason to assume that, as in the Old Testament, the girls were received into the covenant without circumcision, so God has a way to save infants of Christian parents if they die before it is possible to baptize them. We do not dare to assume this with regard to the children of unbelievers; here we are in the realm of the unsearchable judgments of God.”22
One key thing to remember in this regard, is that God has bound us to baptism. He has not bound himself to it. If he deems it necessary, he has the power to create a saving faith in ways he has not disclosed to us. We simply have to trust in the sufficiency of the grace of God, and trust that he will act according to it should he decide to take the life of an infant or child.
There does come a point when we simply don’t have the answers to all of the questions we might have about the “how’s” and “why’s” of the way God acts. However when we consider the answers we are able to ascertain from the Bible, we are directed to the wisdom and judgment of God himself. Isaiah 55:9 records a direct quotation from God:
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
To conclude this section, we must remember that baptism is necessary, for the simple fact that Jesus himself instituted it. Then he issued the command that we make disciples by baptizing all nations, a command that excludes nobody, regardless of their age. Exceptions will occur from time-to-time; and when they do, we need to recognize them as such, and not be tempted to turn the exception into the rule.
The practice of baptizing all people from infancy to adulthood has been in existence since the time of the Apostolic Church. Justin Martyr, an early Church father who lived from 100-166 A.D. was himself baptized as an infant, and he whole-heartedly supported the practice. He writes:
“Then we bring them to some place where there is water, and they are regenerated by the same regeneration by which we were regenerated; for they are washed with water in the name of God the Father and Lord of all things, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. For Christ says: ‘Unless you are regenerated, you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.'”22 [Note: “Regeneration” is synonymous with “born again” or “born from above.”]
From a Biblical perspective, the practice of baptizing people of all ages is consistent with what the Bible says. Words do not need to be altered or twisted to make them say something they don’t. If the words of the Bible are taken literally, we can fully appreciate the power and blessings of baptism, and be assured that people of all ages can receive this wonderful gift of God.
Furthermore, we also have discovered that a baptism is valid regardless of the amount of water that is used, or how much of the body is involved. The important thing is God’s Word that is connected with the water. God can work through any amount of water, because it is his Word that makes baptism what it is.
On the other hand, those who contend for a “believers only” baptism have to either alter or ignore various sections of the Bible, some very key parts at that.
Those who say that children are innocent or sinless have to deny original sin to make that work. To do that is tantamount to calling God a liar (cf. 1 John 1:10). Those who say that children are in a suspended state of salvation and are automatically saved have to believe that salvation is possible apart from faith in Christ.
It is the hope and prayer of this essayist that Christians will remain faithful to the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have our marching orders to bring the gospel to all creatures. We are to make disciples of everybody, regardless of age. We are to do this in two ways: by baptizing them according to the directions Jesus gives (in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit), and by faithfully teaching them God’s Word. For infants and children, we baptize them as soon after birth as we can. The onus is put on the parents and sponsors to bring them up in the faith. For adults, we baptize them after their conversion. Through their baptism, they gain strength for their faith, strength to live a Christian life, and the assurance that they are indeed a child of God.
Through faithful study of his Word, God is able to reveal the blessings and true meaning of baptism to those who are lost in erroneous theology. God’s gift of baptism is something the Church will always treasure; therefore, we need to appreciate it for all its truth, glory, and beauty.
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
To be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her,
And for her life he died. Amen.23
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND ENDNOTES:
Unless otherwise indicated, all Biblical references are from “The Holy Bible, New International Version” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
1Barlow, Jonathon: “The Five Points of Calvinism,” Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, 1996-2009, http://www.reformed.org/calvinism/.
2Smeaton, George: “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit,” (Great Britain: Banner, reprinted 1958), pp. 17-18.
3Walther, Dr. C.F.W.: “The Daily Renewing of the Christian in the Image of God,” a sermon on Ephesians 4:2-28 for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, 1841 http://www.cfwwalther.com.
4Ness, Christopher: “Divine Legacy,” (London: Printed by T.S. and sold by T. Parkhurst and J. Robinson, 1700) p. 383.
5Loehe, Pastor Wilhelm, translated by Dr. Edward T. Horn: “Questions and Answers to the Six Parts of the Small Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther,” (Columbia, SC: W. J. Duffie, 1893; reprinted Decatur, IL: The Johann Gerhard Institute, 1996) p. 21.
6Cheah, Fook Ming: “A Review of Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation,” (Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, November 1995) http://www.prca.org.
8Preus, Dr. Robert D.: “Luther: Word, Doctrine, and Confession,” (Ft. Wayne, IN, Concordia Theological Seminary, January 21, 1993) p. 1 http://www.confessionallutherans.org.
9Bainton, Roland H.: “Here I Stand: A Life Of Martin Luther,” (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1950) p. 367.
10Koehler, Dr. Edward W.A.: “A Summary of Christian Doctrine,” (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1939, reprint 1971) p. 200.
11Loehe, ibid. pp. 25-26.
12Koehler, ibid. p. 211.
13ibid. p. 206.
14Clarke, Adam: “Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Whole Bible,” (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, reprinted August 1977) http://www.godrules.net/library/clarke/clarkejob14.htm.
15Koehler, ibid. pp. 208-209.
16Koehler, ibid. pp. 207-208.
17Miller, Dave Ph.D.: “The Age of Accountability,” (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 2003) http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2256.
18Lyons, Eric M.Min.: “Does Baptism Replace Circumcision?”, (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 2003) http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2287.
20Edited, and adapted from: “Some common traditions of men vs. the Word of God,” http://www.bebaptized.org/, June 14, 2006, author unknown. Courtesy reference only
21Koehler, ibid. p. 211.
22Koehler, ibid. p. 209
23Stone, Samuel John, 1839-1900 “The Church’s One Foundation” stanza 1, in the public domain.
A BIBLE STUDY ON BAPTISM
by Rev. Daniel K. Schroeder
I. Some fundamental Christian truths:
A. Original sin. When sin first entered into the world, it infected the whole human race from that time on. Human nature is naturally sinful. Since man was created in God’s image (righteous and holy), this image has been lost through the fall into sin. Romans 3:23; Romans 7:18; Genesis 6:5; Mark 7:21-22; Romans 8:7 & 22; Romans 5:12; John 3:6; Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 4:22-24; Ephesians 2:1.
B. Jesus Christ. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour can be saved. Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9; John 3:15-17.
C. Conversion. Conversion is a work of God himself, and not a decision of man himself. 2 Corinthians 4:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 2:4-9; 1 Peter 2:9.
D. How God works. God the Holy Spirit works through the Word. John 17:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:15.
II. Baptism is a sacrament (Latin “sacramentum” meaning “sacred act”).
This is merely ecclesiastical terminology used to describe a Biblical truth.
Three things are necessary to be called a sacrament in Lutheran theology:
A. Something instituted or established by Christ for Christians to do.
B. Something that includes an earthly element.
C. Something that confers a Gospel blessing.
Baptism is not merely an ordinance or rite of the church (such as a wedding, funeral, confirmation, etc.).
III. Baptism (Greek: baptismos) and baptize (Greek: baptidzo)-the meaning of the word.
The ceremonial use and/or application of water in various ways: wash, immerse, pour, or sprinkle. Mark 1:8; Mark 7:3-4.
Baptize does not mean to immerse ONLY at the exclusion of the other common definitions. Those who contend that the only proper Baptism is by immersion frequently use two passages of Scripture as “proof passages:”
“As Jesus was coming up out of the water…” (Mark 1:10). They conclude that since Jesus was “coming up out of the water” that he must have been fully immersed. However, this passage says nothing about how far Jesus was actually IN the water or how much of his body was covered. “Coming up out of the water” can be said of the person who was in the water only ankle deep, walking back up on shore.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism…” (Romans 6:4). They conclude that this “burial” in Baptism means to be “buried in the water” or completely immersed. If this passage is understood in this manner, then the next two words “into death” must also be understood in the same way, thereby making the only legitimate form of Baptism by immersing and drowning. Even a cursory study of this section of Romans shows that this section refers to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection; and our share in that.
Scripture in NO PLACE dictates how much or how little the amount of water which needs to be used for a legitimate Baptism. If water is applied in some manner to the person according to the directive of Scripture (Matthew 28:19), then it is indeed a legitimate and valid Baptism. Even if Jesus WAS completely immersed when he was Baptized (and we don’t know that), it doesn’t mean that other methods of application aren’t just as Scriptural and legitimate. It is wrong to bind someone’s conscience with regard to a particular method of Baptism when Scripture makes no distinction (Colossians 2:16-18).
HISTORY: If we were to visit the catacombs under the city of Rome where the early Christians dwelt because of persecution in the first several centuries of Christianity, there are drawings of people being Baptized by pouring.
HISTORY: The demand for Baptism by immersion only doesn’t come to light until the Anabaptists appeared on the scene sometime in the 16-17th Century.
QUOTE: “It is strange that those who make so much of the method of Baptism should make so little of its content.”
IV. The blessings and power of Baptism.
Baptism is water used according to God’s command and connected with his Word; otherwise it would be just plain water. Scripture teaches that several important things are received through Baptism, namely:
A. The gift of the Holy Spirit.
B. The forgiveness of sins.
C. Deliverance from death and the devil.
D. Eternal salvation.
Acts 2:14-39; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3 (cf. Hebrews 2:14-15); Mark 16:16; 2 Peter 3:20b-22; Galatians 3:26-67; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 5:25-26.
V. The Baptism of adult converts.
Adult converts are those who can hear and understand the message of the Gospel through the written and spoken Word of God. God the Holy Spirit works through the Word to convert them and bring them to faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour. They are then Baptized as a response of their faith. The formula of teaching first and then Baptizing is applied. Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Acts 8:26-40; Acts 16:29-34.
VI. The Baptism of infants.
God’s Word uses various terms with regard to both original sin and Baptism. Terms such as: “all nations, all, every one, entire household, etc.” mean just what they say. God in the Bible makes no attempt whatsoever to exclude anybody regardless of age in any of the terms he uses.
Christian parents will first seek the blessings of Baptism for their children; and then as they grow in years, they will faithfully attend to their instruction in the Christian faith. At Baptism, parents and sponsors attest to the faith in which the child will be raised. It is wrong to assume that Baptism is a one-way ticket to heaven regardless of a person’s faith later in life, thereby making Christian instruction and a Christian life unnecessary. The blessings of Baptism can be rejected by a person in the same manner as a person would reject the message of the Word.
A. An infant is sinful. Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; Job 14:4.
B. An infant can have faith. Psalm 22:9-10; 2 Timothy 3:15; Mark 9:42; Luke 1:44; Luke 18:15-17; John 3:8.
Baptism creates a personal saving faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour in an infant. Infants are in need of the blessings Baptism confers.
VII. The rejection of infant Baptism.
Various Christian groups and denominations reject infant Baptism for various reasons. Here are some of the common reasons given by them for doing this:
A. A person needs to reach an “age of accountability” so they can make the decision to be baptized. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture which speaks of such an age, or that Baptism was ever denied until such an age had been reached. To insert this teaching into Scripture is to add something to it. Matthew 15:9; Revelation 22:18.
B. Children are in a “suspended state of salvation” until they reach the age of accountability. Again, Scripture makes no reference to such a teaching.
C. Children are “innocent,” and therefore have no need of the forgiveness of sins. Scripture teaches otherwise (see “Original Sin” as stated previously).
D. A person needs to repent before they are Baptized. This is based upon the words of Acts 2:38 which is near the conclusion of Peter’s Pentecost sermon: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you….” Peter was speaking to adults who were cut to the heart by the words he was preaching. The context here is the prime consideration. In this case, as is the case for every adult convert, repentance and faith come before Baptism.
E. Absence of Baptism doesn’t condemn a person; unbelief is the thing that condemns. This comes from Mark 16:16 and is a correct statement. We must realize however that Baptism is a vehicle of the Holy Spirit and is a faith creating thing in the heart of an infant. For a person to reject Baptism is a statement of unbelief, and therefore condemns.
In summary: To reject infant Baptism also rejects some very fundamental doctrines taught in Scripture. The “innocence” of children denies the doctrine of original sin (has anybody ever had to teach their children to misbehave?). To say that children are in some sort of “suspended state of salvation” denies that a personal faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation. And to assert that a person must reach an “age of accountability” so they can make a “decision” regarding their faith, takes the whole process of conversion out of the hands of God and makes it a work of man.
VIII. The death of a child.
The very fact that children suffer illnesses and die, give clear testimony that they are under the curse of original sin. If children were sinless, this would not happen.
So what happens if a child dies before he or she can be Baptized? What happens in the case of a still-birth?
This is an area where Scripture is completely silent. We do know, however, that God has bound US to Baptism; but he has NOT bound HIMSELF to it. If God chooses to take the life of a child prior to Baptism, we have to trust entirely in his grace, mercy, and providence in doing so. Since anti-Baptism statements are statements of unbelief, we would contend that it isn’t the absence of Baptism which would condemn, but the despising of it.
DENOMINATIONAL STATEMENTS ON BAPTISM
The material in this appendix was not assembled by this essayist. It was published as an appendix to another person’s essay. Because of its timely nature, this essayist felt that it would be a valuable tool for reference and comparison, so it is included here for the convenience of easy access. Apart from some minor editing, it appears here in much the same form as it did in the original essay, which is so credited in the endnotes.1
Southern Baptist Convention
VII. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.2
United Methodist Church
Article XVII-Of Baptism
Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth. The Baptism of young children is to be retained in the Church.3
Article VI-The Sacraments
We believe the Sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christian’s profession and of God’s love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening, strengthening and confirming our faith in him. Two Sacraments are ordained by Christ our Lord, namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
We believe Baptism signifies entrance into the household of faith, and is a symbol of repentance and inner cleansing from sin, a representation of the new birth in Christ Jesus and a mark of Christian discipleship. We believe children are under the atonement of Christ and as heirs of the Kingdom of God are acceptable subjects for Christian Baptism. Children of believing parents through Baptism become the special responsibility of the Church. They should be nurtured and led to personal acceptance of Christ, and by profession of faith confirm their Baptism.4
Schleitheim Confession (Anabaptist Confession from 1527)
Article I. Notice concerning baptism.
Baptism shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and the amendment of life and [who] believe truly that their sins are taken away through Christ, and to all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with Him in death, so that they might rise with Him; to all those who with such an understanding themselves desire and request it from us; hereby is excluded all infant baptism, the greatest and first abomination of the pope. For this you have the reasons and the testimony of the writings and the practice of the apostles (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:6; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:36; Acts 16:31-33; 19:4). We wish simply yet resolutely and with assurance to hold to the same.5
Presbyterian Church, USA
Book of Confessions CHAPTER XX-Of Holy Baptism (excerpts)
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BAPTIZED …Baptism, therefore, calls to mind and renews the great favor God has shown to the race of mortal men. For we are all born in the pollution of sin and are the children of wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy, freely cleanses us from our sins by the blood of his Son, and in him adopts us to be his sons, and by a holy covenant joins us to himself, and enriches us with various gifts, that we might live a new life. All these things are assured by baptism. For inwardly we are regenerated, purified, and renewed by God through the Holy Spirit; and outwardly we receive the assurance of the greatest gifts in the water, by which also those great benefits are represented, and, as it were, set before our eyes to be beheld.
WE ARE BAPTIZED WITH WATER. And therefore we are baptized, that is, washed or sprinkled with visible water. For the water washes dirt away, and cools and refreshes hot and tired bodies. And the grace of God performs these things for souls, and does so invisibly or spiritually.
THE OBLIGATION OF BAPTISM. Moreover, God also separates us from all strange religions and peoples by the symbol of baptism, and consecrates us to himself as his property. We, therefore, confess our faith when we are baptized, and obligate ourselves to God for obedience, mortification of the flesh, and newness of life. Hence, we are enlisted in the holy military service of Christ that all our life long we should fight against the world, Satan, and our own flesh. Moreover, we are baptized into one body of the Church, that with all members of the Church we might beautifully concur in the one religion and in mutual services.
ANABAPTISTS. We condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that newborn infants of the faithful are to be baptized. For according to evangelical teaching, of such is the Kingdom of God, and they are in the covenant of God. Why, then, should the sign of God’s covenant not be given to them? Why should those who belong to God and are in his Church not be initiated by holy baptism? We condemn also the Anabaptists in the rest of their peculiar doctrines which they hold contrary to the Word of God. We, therefore, are not Anabaptists and have nothing in common with them.6
Westminster Confession of Faith
(A Reformed document from 1646, also subscribed to by the Presbyterian Church, USA)
Chapter XXVIII (Of Baptism)
I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his in-grafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.
II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called there unto.
III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.
IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.
V. Although it is a great sin to condemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto if, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.
VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.
VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.7
Non-Denominational Church Samples
[There are] many non-denominational or community or Bible churches [that] have no serious theology of baptism. Since baptism has been a divisive issue among different denominations, and a foundational belief of many of these churches is the ability to disagree, many make no official statement on baptism….The following three give you a taste of what is out there.
(A major non-denominational church in Brookfield, WI)
We believe water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances to be observed by the Church during this age. They are, however, not to be regarded as means of salvation or prerequisites for church membership. (This church shall practice believers baptism by immersion.)8
New Life Church
(Colorado Springs, CO-a member of the National Association of Evangelicals)
Water Baptism: Following faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the new convert is commanded by the Word of God to be baptized in water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (see Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38).9
Willow Creek Community Church
(A community church standard in Barrington, IL, led by Pastor Bill Hybels)
Statement on Baptism: While recognizing the right for other churches to practice infant Baptism if it conforms to their theologies, the congregation of Willow Creek Community Church understands Scripture to teach that only professing believers qualify for Baptism. Scriptural teaching on Baptism may be summarized as follows:
1. Baptism is an act of obedience to the command of Christ, fulfilled by individuals who have submitted themselves to His sovereignty.
2. Baptism symbolizes the spiritual cleansing through divine forgiveness and the newness of life experienced by believers by virtue of their identification with Christ in His death and resurrection.
3. Baptism provides an opportunity for believers to make a formal profession of their faith before the church.
4. As a biblical rite of initiation into the body of Christ, Baptism of believers may be considered a prerequisite for joining the membership of the church.
Although the old covenant practice of infant circumcision is sometimes given as a rationale for infant Baptism, the biblical definition of the functions of circumcision and Baptism shows that those two institutions fulfilled different purposes in their respective covenants. The equation is never made in the Bible between the circumcision of male infants, in the old covenant, and the Baptism of born-again believers, much less of infants, in the new covenant. However, Willow Creek Community Church encourages Christian parents to present their children for the ceremony of dedication, whereby God’s blessing is formally invoked upon the children, and the parents publicly commit themselves to raise the children in accordance with the teachings of Scripture.
Because the symbolism of Baptism requires a more adult level of cognitive and developmental readiness, the Elders require that children be at least 12 years old to be baptized. Proverbs 20:25 issues a significant caution against the danger of making a vow before adequate knowledge, forethought, and reflection have been given. In an effort to prevent young people from making a premature commitment that they may not fully understand, this minimum age has been established.
Baptism recognizes and celebrates the redemptive life change that is continually occurring within our church. The Elders encourage new believers and believers, that have not yet participated in adult Baptism, the opportunity to be baptized by immersion on stage. The Elders’ position is that Baptism by immersion paints the truest picture of “dying to sin and arising to Christ and new life.” The Elders strongly encourage those choosing to be baptized to participate by immersion. We do recognize, however, that some individuals may request Baptism by sprinkling on the stage because of a strong personal preference, particularly those based on a compelling physical reason or disability. In these cases, the Elders ask that a brief explanation be given on the registration form.
A Word Concerning Infant Baptism
If the purpose of Baptism is to publicly identify a believer in Jesus Christ, you may well be asking yourself, “What was the significance of my Baptism as a baby?” In the Bible, we find parents bringing their children to Jesus. He held them and prayed for them and told us to welcome them. But He did not baptize them, and He did not tell anyone else to baptize them. Baptism is for those who have made a personal decision to trust Christ alone for their salvation.
If you were baptized as a child, it was the intent of your parents that you would one day be a follower of Christ. Your Baptism as an adult can be viewed as the fulfillment of your parents’ wishes. It in no way repudiates the Baptism you received as a child.10
APPENDIX II ENDNOTES.
1Bortulin, John (Plymouth, NE): “Truth and Lies about Baptism: An Examination of the First Three Questions in Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism (With a Cursory Look at Modern Day False Teachings).” A theological paper presented to: The Pastor-Teacher-Delegate Conference of the Southern Conference of the Nebraska District [of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod], St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Broken Bow, NE, January 28-29, 2008, pp. 17-20 http://www.wlsessays.net/files/BortulinBaptism.pdf.
3http://archives.umc.org/interior.aso?otid=1&mid=1651, From The Book of Discipline of The UMC-2004.
4http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=1655 From The Book of Discipline of The UMC-2004.
8Elmbrook Church “Statement of Faith,” http://www.elmbrook.org/articlelink.asi?iid=389.