What is scriptural baptism?
Baptism, one of the two church ordinances, had its beginning with John the Baptist who was authorized by God to "prepare . . . the way of the Lord" (Matt. 3:1-3) as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 40:3).
(1) Scriptural subject (child of God -- believer)
(2) Scriptural authority (authorized by God)
(3) Scriptural mode (baptizo: immerse, dip, plunge)(4) Scriptural motive (fulfil all righteousness)
2. SCRIPTURAL SUBJECT FOR BAPTISM
The Scriptures teach that one must be a "believer" of the gospel of Christ before baptism (Acts 8). When Philip taught the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus, in Acts 8:35-37:
"Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God."
A believer -- like the Ethiopian eunuch -- is a child of God (born of God) by the grace of God through faith (Eph. 2:8-9; John 5:24) and, therefore, a scriptural subject for baptism.
3. HOW DOES ONE BECOME A BELIEVER?
First, it is necessary to hear the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus "according to the scriptures" (I Cor. 15:1-5; Rom 10:8-15).
One may believe and have everlasting life -- or refuse to believe and face the wrath of God.
John 3:36 (KJV):
"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."
One truly believing this gospel will be willing -- even anxious -- to follow the example and command of Jesus to be baptized in the likeness of His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:4-5).
4. IS INFANT BAPTISM SCRIPTURAL?
Since the Scriptures teach that a scriptural subject for baptism must be a believer, it follows that so-called "baptism" of an infant, incapable of believing (or, for that matter, of an adult who is not a believer), does not qualify as scriptural baptism. For this reason, one who is scripturally authorized to baptize would refuse to baptize an infant or unbelieving adult.
It should be noted that such a person (a "baptized" infant or unbelieving adult) who later becomes a believer does not have scriptural baptism since, according to the Scriptures (Acts 8:37), belief MUST precede baptism.
5. SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY FOR BAPTISM
Who has scriptural authority to baptize?
John the Baptist, as mentioned previously, was the first person authorized by God to baptize, the purpose being: (1) to prepare a people for Jesus to establish His church during His personal ministry on earth (John 1:23; Luke 1:76-79; Luke 3:7-8; Acts 1:21-22); and (2) to manifest (prove) Jesus to Israel as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29-31).
6. WHO HAS SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY TO BAPTIZE TODAY?
John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. After his death and the death of the disciples of his day, who had the authority to baptize? And who has the authority to baptize today?
As soon as Jesus heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee where He went into the synagogue at Nazareth and read from the book of Isaiah (Isa. 61:1-2).
Luke 4:18-21 (KJV):
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
. . . And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears."
Matt. 4:17-19 (KJV):
"From that time [after John was imprisoned] Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Thus Jesus began His calling of baptized believers into His service. Note, however, Jesus did not baptize during His earthly ministry but His disciples did (John 4:1-2).
After establishing His church during His earthly ministry, Jesus was crucified (Matt. 27:35) and rose from the dead (Mark 16:6).
Forty days after His resurrection, just before ascending into heaven, Jesus said:
Matt. 28:19-20 (KJV):
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
Luke 24:49 (KJV):
"And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high."
Acts 1:5 (KJV):
"For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence."
These words were spoken by Jesus to His disciples, a group of baptized believers, covenanted together for the purpose of carrying out His worldwide commission. Obeying His command, they waited at Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Ghost, which they received on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:8; Acts 2:1-4).
This (the Holy Spirit) was the promised power that would enable them to carry out the "Great Commission" (Matt. 28:18-20).
Such a group of baptized believers is a "church" (ekklesia: that which is called out; i.e., a called out assembly). Therefore, the Great Commission was given to the church that Jesus called out (established) during His earthly ministry.
It was only to His church that Jesus gave the authority to teach (make disciples) . . . to baptize . . . and to teach these baptized believers to observe His commands (Matt. 28:19-20) -- and it is only His churches today that have this authority.
Any baptism that is administered by any person or group other than one of the Lord's churches cannot be scriptural baptism because scriptural authority is lacking.
7. SCRIPTURAL MODE OF BAPTISM
The Word of God teaches that baptism pictures to the world Christ's death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:4-6; Col. 2:12).
Only in baptism by immersion can His death, burial, and resurrection be pictured, signifying the death to sin, burial, and the rising to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).
It was for the purpose of immersion, no doubt, that it was necessary to baptize where there was "much water" (John 3:23) -- enough for a burial.
If Jesus had set the example of baptism by sprinkling or pouring instead of by immersion, it would not have been necessary for Him to come up out of the water (Matt. 3:16) for He could have been baptized without going down into the water.
No doubt the Ethiopian eunuch had enough water with him in his chariot for sprinkling -- but it was not until they reached a body of water that he asked for baptism (Acts 8:36).
Even more important, perhaps, than these evidences of immersion as the scriptural mode of baptism is the fact that the word "baptize" was not translated into the English language but was transliterated from the original "baptizo".
To translate "baptizo", it would have been necessary to render it as "immerse, dip, plunge" -- not "sprinkle" or "pour".
Many, with a good conscience, equate it thus:
"SPRINKLE = BAPTIZE"
"POUR = BAPTIZE"
Yet all would agree that it would be impossible to say:
"SPRINKLE = IMMERSE"
"POUR = DIP"
If the original word, "baptizo", meant to immerse, there is no other scriptural mode of baptism than immersion.
Modern dictionaries recognize the common use of "baptism" to include "sprinkling" or "pouring"; however, even these reference sources show that the word comes from the Greek word meaning "to dip in water".
Encyclopedias recognize that the baptism administered by John the Baptist and the early church was by immersion.
8. SCRIPTURAL MOTIVE FOR BAPTISM
Why be baptized? Jesus said:
John 14:15 (KJV):
"If ye love me, keep my commandments."
One of His commandments was that believers (disciples) were to be baptized (Matt. 28:19-20).
Those who love Him -- those who "gladly receive His Word" -- are baptized (Acts 2:41).
Those who reject His Word refuse to be baptized (Luke 7:30).
Noah and his family were safe in the ark (a type of Christ), shut in by God before the waters of the flood were upon the earth -- but it was the waters of the flood that separated them from the wicked world (Gen. 7).
If they had not been safely sealed within the ark by God, the same waters that separated them from the wicked world would have drowned Noah and his family.
In like manner, one must be "in Christ", sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; Acts 10:47-48), before baptism which sets apart (identifies) the believer from the unbelieving world.
Baptism is not for the purpose of obtaining salvation (becoming a child of God) but it manifests to the world that the believer is a child of God by faith in Christ.
Mark 16:16 (KJV):
"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
Although this Scripture is not found in the two most ancient manuscripts, it verifies the New Testament doctrine that condemnation is determined by rejecting (not believing) the gospel of Christ.
John 3:18 (KJV):
"He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
Jesus' baptism manifested (proved) to Israel that He was the Lamb of God.
The flood waters of Noah's day manifested (proved) the safety of those within the ark (type of Christ).
Likewise, baptism manifests (proves) the believer's faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and fulfils all righteousness: "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God" (I Pet. 3:21).
9. BAPTISM: ESSENTIAL TO SALVATION?
Baptism is not essential to obtain salvation. Baptism has no saving power.
The apostle Paul declared:
I Cor. 1:17 (KJV):
"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel."
Paul also stated:
I Cor. 15:1-2 (KJV):
"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain."
Indeed, scriptural baptism requires a scriptural subject -- one who is already saved by faith in Christ.
Note the order of events in Acts 10 when those at the home of Cornelius were saved. First, they heard the preaching of the Word -- the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus -- and "that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." Those who heard and believed the Word (Acts 11:17) were obviously saved at that point, having "received the Holy Ghost" (Acts 10:47) -- and were, therefore, scriptural subjects for baptism.
Before baptism, Cornelius had heard the word, received the Holy Spirit, and had magnified God.
Rom. 8:9 (KJV):
"Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
The determining factor of the point of salvation is receiving the Holy Spirit. Those having the Holy Spirit are children of God; those not having the Holy Spirit are not the children of God. Cornelius was, therefore, a child of God (having received the Holy Spirit) before and without baptism.
This order of salvation before baptism is verified by the apostle Paul when the Philippian jailor asked:
Acts 16:30-31 (KJV):
". . . Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house."
But Paul, in teaching the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:32-34), and Peter, in teaching the household of Cornelius (Acts 10), did not stop at the point of salvation. They went on to teach the Word of the Lord -- including the command to be baptized.
Although not essential to obtain salvation, baptism is essential for:
(1) Obedience (Matt. 28:19-20; John 14:15).
(2) A good conscience toward God (I Pet. 3:21).(3) Membership in the Lord's church -- the bride of Christ (Acts 2:41-47).(Church: called out assembly of baptized believers)
Jesus, the Son of God, traveled all the way "from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan" (Mark 1:9) in order to be baptized by the one God had authorized to baptize -- scriptural authority.
Jesus was baptized by immersion -- scriptural mode.
Jesus publicly acknowledged that the purpose of His baptism was to "fulfil all righteousness" -- scriptural motive.
This baptism was accepted by God the Father ("This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"), the Son ("Suffer it to be so now"), and the Holy Spirit ("Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him") (Matt. 3:13-17).
Following the example and admonition of Jesus, "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (I John 2:6) -- and to be baptized as He was baptized.
Like the Pharisees and lawyers (Luke 7:30), those refusing to be baptized are rejecting the counsel of God.
Until a professed believer is willing to submit to scriptural baptism, there is scriptural reason to doubt that person's profession.
Ask yourself these questions:
(1) Am I a child of God -- according to the Scriptures?(2) If I am a child of God, do I have baptism that is acceptable to God -- according to the Scriptures?
Even though one may be saved ("born again"), it is impossible without scriptural baptism to have a good conscience toward God.
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