The Truth... What is it?





Baptism

Romans 6:3-5......BAPTISM...There are three biblically true Christian baptisms of a Jesus believer:


The rite or sacrament of baptism is performed by humans of a church with an individual and is their "birthday" into the church. "Baptism" is a topic whose understanding divides the Christian body to my great distress! Keeping the various Biblical baptisms straight is confusing: there is (1) Jewish baptism which John the Baptist performed & the disciples underwent (the disciples had the incoming of the Holy Spirit later). Then there is (2) the unique baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17) which was not for cleansing or remission of sin (it was a baptism of identification with humans). And, seemingly like a dove, the Holy Spirit dscended onto Jesus in an identification manner. (3) There is the all-important Holy Spirit spiritual baptism of true believers for the past 2000 years by Jesus (Matthew 3:11) since His ascension. This can happen with or without the "sanction" of the organized church. This incoming & indwelling of the Holy Spirit within that new believer causes entry into The Kingdom of God and the Universal Body of believers (the Church Universal). And finally, there is (4) the church-administered water baptism of the past 2000 years, powerfully setting the person apart as a member of a church body...a member of the Faith (I'm not sure whether or not this, alone, results in the incoming and indwelling of the Holy Spirit). This setting aside of the person by those who are sinners saved by Grace is thought to confer some favor by God until that new believer is at a point of confirmation of his/her belief in Jesus. This water baptism is either at the request of other believers or the request of the new believer and agreement of the baptized members present.

Jesus' blood was shed on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for the remission/forgiveness (Matthew 26:28) of all sin for all mankind. I have not yet found clear evidence that Christian literal water baptism (the church sacrament; the church ordinance) performed by humans...though sacredly (sacramentally) symbolizing things that underpin eternal salvation...adds to Jesus' shed blood to cause any further forgiveness (remission) of sin.

When the word "baptism" is used in the church arena, most Americans would think of Christian "water baptism", the rite or sacrament of one joining the Christian church & being set aside from The World for entry into membership in the Universal Church (the Body of Christ) in the earthly component of eternity & the Kingdom of God. Holy Spirit baptism, however, is the "real deal" (see below). And God, speaking through Paul, assures us that there is just one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6) needed (the Holy Spirit baptism, I'd contend).

As to the world-wide 1000s of local bodies of believers constituting the "Christian church", baptism is a topic seen through cultural, traditional, and theological lenses of many different colors and textures. Just 30 years after Jesus' death, Paul confronted controversy about baptism (the works...not by grace alone...proxy baptism of the living for those who died not having been water-baptized [1 Corinthians 15:29-32]). The Bible does not contain a statement that baptismal waters are a magical liquid conferring eternal salvation (I Peter 3:20-21 does not indicate that water baptism saves). Therefore, it seems to me that water baptism is not an eternal-life "insurance policy". The Bible never says that Jesus, Himself, ever baptized people with water (in fact John 4:2 explicitly says that Jesus did not, Himself, baptize)! Yet baptism...Holy Spirit baptism (being sealed by the Spirit...having "saving belief")...defines the true Jesus believer. But, water baptism is a critical, sacred act of the church, necessary (John 3:5) by command of Jesus but apparently not absolutely "legally " necessary for eternal salvation (thief on the Cross; a Holy Spirit sealed believer who dies before water baptism). I interpret that John 3:5 refers...water and Spirit...to either the Word of God or human birth (water) and the "born again" birth via the Holy Spirit (that is, no demons or spirits of other types may enter the Kingdom). So, there is mystery within the aggregate of info to follow. Biblical "baptism" is like a prism with at least three facets & without clearly mandated distinctions as to timing and mechanics/modes.

 

  1. Spiritual (Holy Spirit) baptism: The crucially important one, and the one I believe is indicated in Matthew 3:11, Mark 16:16, and John 1:33 is Holy Spirit baptism administered by Jesus: the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (also referred to in John 1:32-34 and I Corinthians 12:13) which is triggered by Jesus (Luke 3:16). In view of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit was "filled" into various people of Old Testament times as God saw fit.  It is most often triggered if, & immediately when, the new believer becomes converted by faith...comes to "saving belief"...to being a true believer by truly asking/obtaining Christ to be his/her earthly & eternal Lord and savior & acknowledging the substitutionary sacrifice Jesus made for him/her on the cross ("credobaptism"..."credo = "I believe"). It is said that (1) the gift of the Holy Spirit is given in the church's sacramental process & (2) that gift "unwrapped" to "indwell" at the moment of "belief". At that moment of "belief", the Holy Spirit eternally thereafter indwells that believer who is then instantly part of the earthly "Church Universal" (of indwelt believers in Jesus Christ) and, therefore, part of THE (possibly larger) Kingdom of God. I'm told that Mark 16:10 translates that Jesus was pierced (entered into) by the dove (Holy Spirit) when baptized by John the Baptist. After the Resurrection of Jesus on that first Sunday, He "breathed" the Holy Spirit on the Disciples as they hid in terror. Fifty days after the Passover Sabbath at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was put onto all of those followers gathered into the congregation. The incoming of the Holy Spirit to indwell gives the believer something (a "salvation") that worldly humans can't have: the availability of an internal, eternal, personal, irreversable, divine power source. So, we have to view Mark 16:16 as a doctrine of assurance and not limitation (water baptism is a human ritual...human works...but we are actually saved by grace alone [Mark 10:26-27]). If the person has not previously obtained the gift of the Holy Spirit by sacramental water baptism, Jesus triggers/sends the Holy Spirit into a person to indwell right away...triggered at that point that Jesus "makes you His"...your "coming to saving belief". This baptism causes the new believer to be spiritually declared purified & transformed into a new creation (regenerated)...a new (spiritual) birth ("BORN AGAIN"). This is the moment of conversion from (a) being divinely "elected" and "drawn" (and possibly even set aside) to (b) being reborn (born again). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit thereby places the believer into the position of being "in Christ", "sealed by the Spirit", cleansed by declaration & identification with Jesus. The coming in of the Holy Spirit is a divine mystery about which we are given some...but not all...information (see below about Samaria and also about The Elect). And, as the incoming of the Spirit into Jesus immediately sent Him into His ministry, so does Its incoming send each of us into our ministry...whatever it might be! This indwelling of the Spirit confers an advantage to the believer while living that part of "eternity" which is on earth.

    In exceptional historical times (the apostles on the day of Pentecost, above, followed by about 3000 who believed and were baptized Acts 2:1-4, & 41) and in even modern times (
    George Foreman), God sends the Holy Spirit into people to execute spiritual baptism though they never asked for it or professed belief as above. God can do as He pleases!

    No one but God knows when this new birth has truly occurred. It might occur alone/privately, prior to believer's water baptism, after believer's water baptism, years later, or in relation to a church "confirmation" (affirmation of infant baptism) process. Some Christian churches (for example, Quakers) do not perform water baptism, believing that spiritual (Holy Spirit) baptism is all that is required. This spiritual baptism leaves the new believer uncomfortable with the old life to the point that life changes begin in that person. And...if there has been enough elapsed time since the event...you can be pretty sure of your Holy Spirit baptism if you know that your life has changed, especially when you sense that you are able to reflect the "fruits of the Holy Spirit" (love, etc.). THEN, this newborn individual is ready to obey the two commands of Jesus and equipped to follow His direction to go forth and share the Gospel and baptize (Matthew 28:19-20). Yes, when you help another come to belief in Jesus by faith, you are part (a baptizer?) of the baptism of that person! If you have doubts as to whether you have become indwelt with the Spirit, talk with a beleiver you trust, a/your pastor, or get into prayer and pray your uncertainties to God and profess your belief in Jesus and ask for this aspect of eternal salvation...do it again and again until you "know". Spiritual baptism lasts from the first moment on earth and on throughout eternity!
  2. Experiential baptism: Talking to a huge crowd and His disciples, Jesus began to tell about how His first coming to earth wasn't to bring peace on earth (though He would bring peace into the hearts of individual believers). It was to bring division as those who stood for Him would be opposed by those who arose against Him (Luke 12:49-51). This turmoil would represent an immersion into a Way of life...a "baptism"...for Him and for His followers. Jesus would experientially be baptized through His atoning death, burial, and resurrection. For the follower, this type of baptism has to do with the struggle (Romans 7:7-25) he/she will undergo following a decision to get serious about living the Christian life...walking The Walk & following The Way...believing in and following Jesus. This baptism process lasts from the moment of conversion until the earthly death of that believer (but it is also part of the experience of your soul and lasts, as such, on into eternity as a part of your personal history.
  3. Water baptism: And there is the Christian sacrament & church ordinance of water baptism which is the sacred function of each local Christian church & is variously done to adults & infants. It is commanded by Jesus (John 3:5; Matthew 28:19) and later affirmed by Peter (Acts 2:38-39). If done after an age-of-reason decision for Jesus as a public identification (upon public profession of faith, Acts 2:41) of one thought to be a "Holy Spirit born again believer" in Jesus Christ of Nazareth...male or female, it is a "Christian believer's ritual water baptism". If performed on an age-of-reason adult who simply thinks they are joining the church, or who otherwise really has not had the incoming of the Holy Spirit (including such as an incapable-of- reasoning retarded or brain-damaged non-child), it is a "Christian ritual water baptism". If performed on an infant or before-the-age-of-reason child, it is a "Christian ritual water baptism". It is intended to publicly "mark" people of the covenant (separating them from those who just understand & know a lot about Jesus...have a lot of "head knowledge" about Jesus)...later to be "confirmed", ratified, by their public confession of belief at "confirmation" at around age 12-14. But according to Peter, the gift of the spirit is given (not earned; a human has no "right" to it), no matter the age or the mental intent or status of the one baptized (see spiritual baptism, above).

    Many consider this water baptism to be...as a sort of parallel with circumcision (the sign of the old covenant between God & Abraham)...a sign to society of the person being now in the new covenant in Jesus. Old Testament circumcision was for males only and commanded by God to be done at age 8 days (Genesis 17:12)...as an infant. While this might sound crude & disrespectful, one might more casually think of Christian ritual water baptism as a sacred "initiation rite" into the "club". This ritual water baptism, done after a true decision at "an age of reason,"  is often referred to as "believer's baptism". It often happens that a person undergoes what the pastor and congregation THINK is a "believer's baptism"; but, the one who gets wet is not actually & truly born again of the Spirit. Water baptism is usually performed in a sacred manner and is, therefore, "sacramental". When folks in Samaria wanted to follow Jesus, they were baptized into His name; but the Holy Spirit came in later (Acts 8:14-17) after the laying on of hands by the Apostles.
    [
    what is the Gospel?] [what is a true Christian?]

Infant baptism ("pedobaptism") is a new-covenantal "marking" of a new "believer-family member" by the believers...the "faith family" and possibly even "set aside"..."marked"...by the Holy Spirit (but I do not think there is an indwelling by the Holy Spirit). Circumcision was/is an infant old-covenantal marking of a new "believer-family member" by the believers...the "faith family". It seems to have been mandated when Peter commanded new converts be baptized, "And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children" ( Acts 2:38-39). Baptism by the Spirit to "indwell" happens with a believing heart that trusts in God's Word as to Jesus, and the water-baptized infant is considered to be "borrowing" that believing heart from believer parents (I am at a loss for the Scriptural support for this). For those who believe in the doctrine of "the office of the keys" (based on John 20:23), the clergyman may cause a touching/marking of the infant's life by the Holy Spirit. It is the acknowledgement of God for the sake of the infant & the bringing  of a new life...suckling ones (from infancy to age 12)...to Jesus (Mark 10:13-16 & Luke 18:15-17). I think that infant baptism is a variant of the sacrament of ritual water baptism...not a "believer's baptism"...in which the family & church make a public identification of the infant as a member of a Christian family and do so in behalf of the infant. It is a  parallel to Jewish infant circumcision...see above. In a way, both the parents & the local church body come together and symbolically place this infant...this "lump of clay"...onto the Potter's wheel (Holy Spirit baptism, above, actually places the "clay" on the real Potter's wheel), giving the child and its future over to God in the name of Jesus & with the commitment of the family toward a Christian raising of the child.

In that this identification places the believer into the church status of being clean before God, it resembles the Jewish water purification (an "ablution"...a ceremonial cleansing) which was by immersion in ritual bath pools called mikva'ot (singular, mikveh), pools filled with living water delivered by God (from rain or springs...not drawn water from wells). An early directive (author unknown) to new Christian churches and heads of families (the Didache...about AD 100) also prefers "living water". But infant baptism has a variety of meanings, depending on the type of Christian church it is done in.

Since ancient times (and until America), the usual culture of any nation has been that church (religion) and state (government) are one and the same. And there was nearly zero tolerance for differences...the people had to be the same. It was impossible to believe that you could have a society of diverse beliefs and yet have national cohesion. Exclusion was prevalent (exclusiveness is a strong general feature of human nature, by the way).

Jesus (Christianity) presented a radical departure from this way of thinking in that he commanded love toward God & toward everyone (inclusiveness). But in 312 AD, the governmental miss-use of Christianity accelerated with the "conversion" (?) of the emperor, Constantine, to Christianity. He saw it as the best religion to use for the advancement of his Roman empire. He called the Council of Nicea in order to unify Christian doctrine. Christianity became the official religion of Rome at his death. The Vikings also used Christianity to unify their people.

Christian infant ritual water baptism, by historical review, was first noted in North Africa between 100-200AD. However, it is also implied in Acts 16:31-33 (the baptizing of the jailer "and all his family"). Then, Roman empire leaders wove infant baptism into the Church of Rome procedures because (?) it would have the political effect of uniting the upcoming generations immediately into Christianity...born into Christianity...continuing and solidifying the religious AND "state" unity of the Empire. Non-Christians were killed. Certain Christians objected to infant baptism and were killed. But, from the religious viewpoint over the past 2000 years, efforts at early-age weaving of the children into a "family and community of Christian fellowship and faith" are highly important.

(4) But Jesus himself was baptized between age 12 & 30, not an infant: He was baptized by John the Baptist no sooner than the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1). His was unique & a nearly simultaneous (1) water baptism by immersion followed immediately (2) by something similar to...but different (because the triune God is all 3, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit)..."spiritual baptism" (Matthew 3:13-17) with the annointing of the Holy Spirit...the fullness of the 3 in one happened. In the baptism, (3) John The Baptist introduced Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:34). With that, two of John's disciples left John the Baptist to become the first two disciples of Jesus (Andrew and one other; and Andrew testifies to his own brother, Simon, who then presents himself to Jesus. Jesus renames him Peter.). So, immediately following His baptism, (4) the are 3 disciples...soon to be twelve. The baptism of Jesus is entirely unique in human history: baptismal Divine identification with humanity (the lowest "stoop" of identification possible)!

 From the first century church forward, there have been those groups who dissented from the practices of the church in Rome...baptism being one of the points of dissension (but, since nonconformist views were intolerable in those days...really only being "tolerable" in some countries since about 1950...those folks were among groups labeled as "heretics"). A bit prior to the Protestant Reformation (some 1500 years after Jesus), sufficient concern coalesced about infant baptism (alone) erroneously causing the baptized person to believe that he/she was a true-believing, eternally saved Christian granted eternal salvation on the basis of baptism alone. Yet, that person had never made a very personal, totally free-will decision for Jesus...no "coming to belief"...or public profession of faith in their belief in Jesus. Remember, the Christian's justification for his salvation is based solely on his true faith in the saving grace of Jesus [see, here, how a person comes to this point]. 

Those later objecting to their infant baptism and requiring an age-of- reason water re-baptism  were the Anabaptists. The official governments/churches (remember, they were one and the same) had them killed off by the thousands. The Protestant Reformation of 1520 AD began the separation of church and state on a more massive scale (saving the church from state-types of corruption). Today, various Christian churches & denominations continue infant baptism:

  1. as the way to eternal salvation (a sacramental ritual inducing the gift [and indwelling ?] of the Holy Spirit?...where is the scriptural support for this?) vs.,
  2. as a sign of God's new covenant through Jesus vs.,
  3. as a deference to long tradition to be later confirmed at an age-of-reason "confirmation" process with declaration of faith (and, if true belief, incoming of the Holy Spirit) at an age of reason, vs.,
  4. as some type of dedication or step into Christianity with an age-of-reason baptism later vs.,
  5. a "means of grace" instilling spiritual rebirth & sanctification vs.,
  6. as a sacramental covenantal baptism later to be followed by a serious and official confirmation process with declaration of faith (and, if true belief, incoming of the Holy Spirit) at an age of reason.

So, some practicing infant baptism subsequently pinpoint official age-of-reason-and-choice entry into Christianity as being done at Confirmation (the process of affirming/confirming one's infant baptism before the church & declaring one's belief & status as a believer). Confirmation tends to be a serious (up-to-a-year-or-two-long) study of doctrines/tenets and aspects of Christian faith and of that particular Christian church or protestant denomination...it hopes to guarantee exposure to The Truth. If a confirmand truly "comes to belief" during the confirmation process, the Holy Spirit baptism occurs. Some other denominations are concerned that an organized, scheduled, and appointed profession of faith (some denominations call this "profession of faith" a "confession" of faith & belief) at Confirmation may not be a real, personal, "free will" choice. Many Christians in denominations who practice spontaneous age-of-reason profession of faith, followed by water baptism, are concerned as to whether many of those so christened truly chose Jesus and truly have faith in Him (or simply bowed to parental, family, or church peer pressure or the emotion of the moment). Except for my concerns as to how grace comes to those who are mentally incompetent, it seems to me that under any church process, a person can seem to believe and get water baptized, though there has been no incoming of the Holy Spirit because of lack of true belief. It is essentially impossible for churches and denominations worldwide to agree to drop long-held modes, beliefs, and traditions and come to a common, unified agreement about baptism.

As to infants being non-participants & unable to know, also remember the Passover night in Egypt. All ate of the Passover meal (Exodus 12:1-11); and, if the blood was not properly on the door, the eldest male (of any age) would die (Exodus 12:12-13). Infant circumcision has already been mentioned. So, what a family does or does not do may impact an infant. Therefore, why NOT attend spiritually as a church to infants? Besides, Jesus declared His special interest in children (Matthew 18:4). It is a fact that the New Testament never has scriptural direction for infant baptism but indirectly says to do so in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19. On the other hand, whether a person is a true believer, truly "born again in Christ," is a fact only known for sure by God (the person in question being the only human who can know enough about himself/herself to probably know the truth). And salvation does not depend on ANY ritual...it must not depend on any human thing other than a person truly "coming to belief" (or, can it even depend on that...Mark 10:26-27)! So what is the point of Christian water baptism?

Jesus was uniquely baptized beyond the age of 12 (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9), and Jesus commanded that his believers be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20)...hence, the sacramental (sacred) attention to this in the Christian church. John 5:24 would seem to indicate that "belief" saves...that "belief" plus "Christian ritual water baptism" is not required for eternal salvation. Ritual water believer's baptism publicly symbolizes:

  1. Relating to the Covenantal God...the "new covenant" in Jesus...His death washing all persons clean for remission/forgiveness of sin (but see effective vs. efficient);
  2. Historical Christianity...his death, burial, and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-4);
  3. Experiential Christianity...the new believer, through the incoming and indwelling Holy Spirit power, dies to the old sin life, buries the old sin life, and he/she is raised to live a new life in Christ (Romans 6:1-6)...being a new creation, born again;
  4. Prophetic Christianity...the hope and assurance of your own resurrection from the grave of your own physical death and burial (I Corinthians 15:10-23).

Additionally, ritual water believer's baptism is the pattern of the New Testament church as detailed many places in the book of Acts (such as Acts 2:41). Ritual water believer's baptism is the sinner's conventional and customary public identification with Jesus Christ to his/her new brothers and sisters in the body of believers. Can an infant understand this? Matthew 18:14 [note] already assures us that God is not willing for any child to be lost; and ritual water baptism does not confer eternal security. Ritual water baptism is symbolic and customary; and it is an ordinance of the church representing/celebrating (1) the believer's death to the fundamental control of sin and (2) resurrection to a life now fundamentally identified with Christ. Jesus underwent his own water baptism, not for personal sin...He was sinless...but to identify with us sinners. As noted in Matthew 3:16, the water baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist was immediately followed by something symbolic of His spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit as Jesus "...went up out of the water."

Our Greece-born friend notes that, in that Greek Orthodox Church in Greece, a child is baptized from several weeks of age to about 2 years. That day of their baptism is their "naming day"...the devout give no official name or haircuts until the day of their baptism. They don't celebrate a birthday; they celebrate their "naming day".

It is Baptist doctrine and custom that baptism be by the total immersion mode ("as Jesus was baptized") and that such baptism is required in order to be a voting member in the Baptist congregation of a local, organized body of believers. Quakers don't baptize at all.

As to mode (dunked vs. sprinkled vs. etc.) of water baptism, please remember that the sacred act is "ritual water believer's baptism"; the mode is not by any specific and sacred commandment in the Bible. Do we take attention away from the love and grace of God when we worry (even worse, fight & bicker) over details which can only be inferred from scripture (and do we become too legalistic as we argue?)?

As you can imagine, church statistics throughout the world as to the number of Christian baptisms performed only refer to the number of people who got wet with water...they do not reflect numbers of Holy Spirit baptisms! But God...the only keeper of TRUE baptismal statistics...knows the truth! Baptism is another area of Christianity containing mystery and, therefore, grounds for disagreement between churches & denominations. [what's so unique about Christ & Christianity?][back to simple baptism outline]

 

 

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[posted June 1998; latest adjustments 12 June 2014]