Is baptism relevant in the age of Cyberspace? The ancient ritual of water baptism seems irrelevant to many. Should we dismiss it as an antiquated ceremony to be relegated to a primitive church. Does God require baptism today? Should we follow the many in rejecting this biblical practice? How can you know whether any such custom is just a carryover of an old-fashioned, human idea, or really what Jesus Christ instructs us to practice today?

Is Baptism a Required Step?

The most direct passages concerning water baptism is found in Acts 2:36-42. In his inspired sermon on the day of the first Pentecost, the Apostle Peter indicted his listeners for their part in the death of the Messiah. Many were cut to the heart with guilt. They asked: ” …what shall we do?” (verse 37). What do you do when you, individually, come to recognize as this first century group of people did that you have been rebelling against God?

Notice the answer to their question: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins-law breaking; and you shall receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit’” (verse 38, RSV). But the very next step, as stated in Acts 2:38, is water baptism. Baptism is clearly a required step in God’s plan for you as an individual. Why is it a vital step in achieving personal entrance into the Kingdom of God?

The Symbolic Meaning of Baptism

A great deal of symbolism surrounds the subject of baptism. We need to understand this to know exactly why God requires baptism.

1. How did Jesus Christ condemn law breaking? Rom. 8:3-4; Heb. 4:15. Why did He die? I Cor. 15:3.

2. Is baptism symbolic of one’s death, burial and resurrection? Col. 2:12-13; Rom. 6:2-6. Also read the subsequent verses of Romans 6 up to and including verse 13.

COMMENT: Baptism, pictures the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It also pictures our death and burial and rising up to begin living a true Christian life. We now reckon ourselves as dead, so far as law breaking is concerned, but alive through God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:11). After baptism and the “laying on of hands” Christ begins to “live” within us by means of God’s Spirit (Rom. 8:9-10). God’s Spirit enables us to resist Satan’s influence which leads us into breaking the law, and to go on to obey God’s spiritual laws (verse13).

John’s Baptism

Just before the coming of Christ, and the subsequent arrival of God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost, God commissioned John to baptism for repentance. Let’s understand what that was, and exactly why it was instituted.

1. Was John clearly a prophet ? Luke 1:63, 76; Matt. 11:9-11.

2. For whose ministry was John sent to proclaim and prepare the way? Luke 1:76; Matt. 3:1-3; 11:10.

3. Did John baptize with water? John 1:26, 31-33. Who sent John and gave him authority to baptize? Luke 3:2-3; Matt. 21:23-27.

COMMENT: John was commissioned by God to baptize in water. Baptism at that time, as it is today, was an outward sign of inward repentance. And it pictured being washed and cleansed from past transgressions. After Christ’s sacrifice, baptism took on even greater symbolic meaning (Rom. 6:3-6; Col. 2:12-13).

4. What did John preached? Mark 1:4-5; Matt. 3:11. What was the specific purpose for his message? Luke 1:77.

COMMENT: John’s inspired message was baptism for repentance. It was exactly what it implied. Those John baptized had responded to his preaching. They were actually forgiven as were those God called in Old Testament times. But those John baptized did not yet receive God’s Spirit because it was not made available until after Christ’s resurrection (John 7:38-39).

The account in Luke 1:77 clearly states that John was sent “To give knowledge of forgiveness for lawbreaking.” He came on the scene, preparing the people for Jesus Christ’s coming.

A New Testament Command

Let’s learn exactly what Jesus Christ commands us today concerning water baptism.

1. Did Jesus set an example to show us that we should live as He did? I Pet. 2:21; I John 2:6. Was He baptized? Matt. 3:13-16.

COMMENT: Even though Jesus had no sins to repent of, He was baptized, setting an example for us to follow.

2. After His resurrection, Jesus told His twelve apostles who formed the foundation of His one and only Church from that time to this day what they were to preach to the world. Did He plainly command them to baptize? Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16. What, exactly, were they to”believe”? Mark 1:14-15; Acts 8:12.

3. What was Peter’s command on the Day of Pentecost? Acts 2:38.

4. Do we find that the repentant were always baptized? Acts 2:41; 8:5, 12.

5. About ten years after Peter preached his first inspired sermon to the Jewish people in Jerusalem, God sent him to preach to the Gentiles. He was sent to the house of Cornelius,(Acts 10). Peter taught God’s entire plan to Cornelius and his family (verses 33-43). What did they receive even as they were hearing this—before being baptized? Verses 44-45. Was this a special sign from God? Acts 11:17-18.

COMMENT: God made an exception in this instance. Repentant believers ordinarily must be baptized first before they can receive God’s Spirit (Acts 2:38). But since Cornelius and his family were the first Gentiles to be called, God gave them His Spirit before baptism as a special sign to prove to Peter and the other apostles that He had also opened his plan to non Israelite nations.

6. What did Peter then immediately command should be done with Cornelius and his family? Acts 10:47-48.

COMMENT: Peter, following Christ’s instructions (Matt. 28:19-20), had Cornelius and others in his family baptized! Obviously baptism is very important to God— otherwise He would not have made it an absolute command.

The Correct Method

The religious world today is in great confusion regarding methods of baptism. Some “baptize” by sprinkling, and others by pouring water over the heads of new converts. Some don’t baptize at all. What is the correct method of baptism—or are they all correct?

It is interesting to note that the word “sprinkle” occurs only a few times in the New Testament, and always in connection with the blood of Christ—but never referring to baptism. The word “pouring” is also mentioned several times in the New Testament—but not once as a form of baptism!

Notice what the New Catholic Encyclopedia says regarding baptism: “It is evident that baptism in the early church was by immersion. …Baptism took place by immersion is evidenced by Paul’s presenting it as “being buried with Christ [Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12]” (pages 56, 58). The older version of the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that “The most ancient form usually employed was unquestionably immersion…in the Latin Church immersion seems to have prevailed until the twelfth century” (article, “Baptism”).

In the year 1155, Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Baptism may be given not only by immersion, but also by effusion of water, or sprinkling with it. But it is the safer way to baptize by immersion, because that is the most common custom” (quoted by Wall, History of Infant Baptism, Vol II, pp. 391-393).

Also Brenner—after a full investigation of the administration of baptism through the centuries—wrote: “Thirteen hundred years was baptism generally and regularly an immersion by the person under the water, and only in extraordinary cases, a sprinkling or pouring with water; the latter moreover, was disputed—nay even forbidden” (Brenner, Catholic History, p. 306).

But pouring and sprinkling were beginning to grow common in the 14th century, gradually prevailing in the Western Church. It is quite plain that they were late innovations of men which had become the custom in the Catholic Church. The word “baptize” is not an English word. It is a Greek word. And the New Testament was written in the Greek language. In translating the Bible into English, the translators left this word untranslated. Literally, in the Greek, the word is baptizo.

The definition is “immerse.” It means to “plunge into” or “put into.” It does not mean “to sprinkle” or “to pour.” The Greek word for “sprinkle” is rantizo and “to pour” is cheo. God inspired only the use of the word baptizo, meaning to immerse, when referring to baptism. Therefore, sprinkling or pouring are not forms of baptism. Immersion— being placed completely down under water—is. Only total immersion can properly symbolize death and burial; sprinkling or pouring are not symbols of a burial by any stretch of the imagination!

Let’s notice what the Bible itself teaches concerning the proper mode or method of baptism.

1. Why was John baptizing in Aenon near Jerusalem? John 3:23.

COMMENT: John would have needed only a cupful of water to sprinkle, or a pitcher full to pour—but baptizing requires “much water.”

2. How does the baptism of Christ prove that He was immersed? Matt. 3:16.

COMMENT: Jesus had to be put down into the water, for He “went up straight way out of the water….” He could not have come “up…out” of a sprinkle or a pour!

3. When Philip baptized, did they both go into the water? Acts 8:38.

COMMENT: There was no purpose whatever for Philip to actually go into the water, except for the reason there was no other way he could plunge the man into the river. Had sprinkling or pouring been the proper method of baptism, Philip would have needed only to bend over and scoop up the water in his hands. The above biblical evidence clearly shows that immersion—being placed completely under water—was the only method of baptism practiced by the original Church of God.

Other Kinds of Immersion!

Water baptism is an outward sign of inward repentance. It demonstrates to God our willingness to put away permanently his or her old way of life and walk in His new way of life. Its meaning is strictly symbolic in the sense that water baptism itself has no mystical or magic effects on the person who is immersed. Its only physical effect is to get the person thoroughly wet! Nor is God’s Spirit given by water baptism. Surprisingly, there are several other distinct “baptisms” or immersions mentioned in the Bible. Let’s understand what they are:

1. Did John the Baptist speak of another Christian baptism? Matt. 3:11.

COMMENT: John had just been warning the hypocritical religionists to demonstrate some fruits, or results of their alleged repentance (verses 5-8). Notice again what he said: “I baptize [immerse] you with water for repentance, but he [Jesus] who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize [immerse] you with the Holy Spirit and [immerse you] with fire” (verse 11, RSV). Here John referred to two other kinds of immersion—neither of them in water. First let’s understand the “baptism of God’s Spirit.”

2. Did Jesus promise His disciples the “baptism” of God’s Spirit? Acts 1:4-5. When did His Spirits finally come? Acts 2:1-4.

COMMENT: On that day of Pentecost, fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus’ prophecy of John the Baptist was fulfilled. God began His Church on earth then by placing God’s Spirit in the minds of His disciples.

3. Is God’s Church actually the “body” of Christ? I Cor. 12:12-14, 27; Col. 1:18.

4. How do we become members of that body—the true Church? Can we join it? Or must we be put “into” it by God’s Spirit? I Cor. 12:13.

COMMENT: Notice that this scripture does not say we are baptized in God’s Spirit—but by it. The receiving of God’s Spirit in our minds actually puts us into the spiritual body of Christ which is His Church!

So just being physically baptized in water does not put you into God’s church. You must be put into the Church by receiving God’s Spirit.

In Romans 8:9 Paul tells us plainly that God’s Spirit- his way of thinking, comes into our minds.

Each member of Christ’s “body” (I Cor. 12:27) is joined to the other by the common bond of God’s Spirit residing in them. We are then put “into” His body—the Church of God.

The Scriptures plainly show that it is the receiving of God’s Spirit which automatically —immerses, “baptizes,” or puts us—”into” the Church of God. This immersion into the Church is termed by the Scriptures, “the baptism with,” “the baptism by,” or “the baptism of God’s Holy Spirit.”

5. Another “baptism” referred to in the Scriptures and directly connected with the baptism of God’s Spirit, is mentioned in Matthew 28:19. Exactly what does this verse say?

COMMENT: The key expression in verse 19 is the phrase “in the name of.” In Greek it is eis to onoma, an expression nowhere else used in the New Testament. Contemporary literature in Greek from that time period has been found with this expression and shows its full meaning: “The phrase… refers to payments made to the account of any one’ …. The usage is of interest in connection with Mt.28:19, meaning ‘baptized into the possession of the Father, etc.’” (J. Mouton and G. Mulligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, cp. 451).

We learned of our receiving God’s Spirit following baptism (Rom. 8:14; I John 3:1), finally to become His born children at the resurrection or being changed if alive at Jesus Christ’s return. At present, the spiritual Family of God consists only of the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. God’s Spirit is the nature and power of the God Family—not a “third person” as some have assumed.

6. But what about the “baptism with fire”? Turn back to Matthew the third chapter. Exactly what did John prophesy concerning “baptism with fire”? Matt. 3:11.

COMMENT: The whole population came in great crowds to see John—mostly out of curiosity. But John was speaking in particular to the unrepentant religionists, as well as those who did repent. Notice carefully that some of those to whom John spoke—the repentant—were to be baptized with God’s Spirit later.

But the others present—among them many hypocritical, unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees—were going to be baptized with fire. They would be burned up as chaff (verse 12) if they did not repent. One other important point: the baptism of fire is not associated, as some say, with the “cloven tongues like as [flames] of fire” which sat upon each of the disciples (Acts 2:3). This was a special sign of the first outpouring and receipt of God’s Spirit that was given only at the very beginning of the New Testament Church.

Baptized By Christ’s Authority

Should a person be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ”? Exactly what does this phrase mean? Let’s notice the simple biblical explanation.

1. Did Jesus baptize more disciples than John? John 3:22; 4:1. But did He actually perform the baptisms Himself? John 4:2. Then who did the baptizing? Same verse.

COMMENT: Jesus did not actually do the physical work of baptizing these people. He had His disciples do it for Him—in His stead.

2. Did the apostles baptize repentant believers in Christ’s name? Acts 2:37-38, 41.

COMMENT: The inspired Greek expression for “in the name of” means “by the authority of.” If you do anything in the name of another, you do it with or by that person’s authority—by his express permission. Jesus’ disciples did the baptizing “in Jesus’ name”—that is, in His stead, for Him, by His authority—and that was considered just the same as if Jesus had actually done it Himself.

3. Are God’s ministers today commanded to do all things in the name of Christ? Cool. 3:17.

COMMENT: Baptism, when performed by ministers of God’s Church, is therefore always done “in the name of Jesus Christ”—that is, by His authority.

The “Laying On of Hands”

1. Why did Peter and John lay their hands on repentant persons in Samaria following their baptism in water? Acts 8:14-17. Also notice verses 18-23.

COMMENT: Note that even though the people had been previously baptized in water, they did not yet have God’s Spirit. This plainly shows that His Spirit is not given immediately at or by water baptism.

The “laying on of hands” (Herb. 6:2) is the key that solves this. God’s Spirit is given to a person by prayer and the laying on of hands by God’s ministry following baptism. Notice the sequence: first repentance; then water baptism; next the laying on of hands; then the receipt of God’s Spirit as a result of the laying on of hands. And as we just learned, the receiving of God’s Spirit “immerses” or “plunges” the person into the Church, the spiritual body of Christ

Salvation Without Baptism?

Since water baptism is commanded by God, what about the "thief"? Was he saved without being baptized? What about those unable to be baptized?

1. Does baptism itself save us? Rom. 5:10.

COMMENT: Baptism in water is not what saves us, although it is a commanded step in God’s Plan.

2. What did the thief ask Christ? Luke 23:42. What was Jesus’ reply? Verse 43.

COMMENT: Some have assumed from this verse that Jesus promised the thief that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. Nothing could be further from the truth! Consider the context of this verse. Remember the thief had asked: “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom” (verse 42). The plain fact is that Jesus has not yet come into His Kingdom.

Concerning Luke 23:43 early Greek manuscripts did not contain punctuation. It would have been possible to show the proper phraseology by the use of the Greek word for “that” (dhoti); however, Luke did not insert the relative pronoun, and the word “today” could be taken either with the first part of the sentence “Truly, I say to you today” or with the last part “today you will be with me in Paradise”. Either one is grammatically possible.

The Old Syria translation (often dated about 200 AD) clearly says, “I say to you today.” Some manuscripts of the Coptic translation also have this reading, as do the Greek writers Aeschylus and Hemophilia.

The thief obviously was unable to be baptized. Since baptism is not the thing which saves us, or gives us eternal life, he did not lose his chance because of circumstances beyond his control. God makes allowances for such extremely rare cases. But God commands water baptism for all who are able. If a person deliberately ignores, rejects, defies or refuses this biblical command, this would be an act of disobedience to God.

We need not worry about the thief, or anyone unable to be baptized. We do need to be very much concerned, about obeying God’s plain command when we are able.

How Long Should You Wait?

Many put off baptism. They feel they are too old, too weak- or they feel they are “not ready” yet spiritually. Some even think they must be perfect before being baptized. But how could a person be “perfect” before he receives God’s Spirit, which helps us to become perfect? Then there are those who hesitate to request baptism because they do not feel they “know enough.” This fear is usually unfounded.

Sincere repentance and belief are the only prior conditions for baptism given in the Bible! The 3,000 people who were baptized on that day of Pentecost in Acts 2 were not all Bible scholars. They undoubtedly, for the most part, knew only the basics and perhaps not even that much. But they readily accepted the Word of God (Acts 2:41); they were not in doubt; they were sincerely and deeply repentant (verse 37).

One simply cannot expect to “know it all” when he is baptized. The truth is, none of these excuses is acceptable in God’s sight. If a person knows that God commands baptism, knows that he should be baptized, and his conscience convicts him—then he should be baptized as soon as possible. Notice several examples from the Bible:

1. When the Ethiopian came to understand Christ, did he hesitate about being baptized? Did he put it off? Acts 8:35-38.

2. When Paul learned that Christ is the Son of God who he had been persecuting, did he procrastinate about being baptized? Acts 9:1-18, especially verse 18.

COMMENT: Neither of these men put off water baptism. They saw their own personal need. They knew they needed and did not have God’s Spirit. Therefore, as soon as was possible, they were baptized.

How Old Should You Be?

Baptism should be done as the result of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. Only one who can truly “count the cost” (Luke 14:28-30), should consider baptism. Generally speaking, only mature adults should be baptized. Even older children have not reached maturity and stability. It is only at adulthood that the average person is sufficiently mature to comprehend the real significance of baptism. Only then do many seem capable of making a meaningful commitment.

Experience shows that many who are baptized prematurely abandon their commitment at a later time. Of course this is not always the case. A number of young people have been baptized and have been remarkably faithful. Some present the argument that the infants and older children of Cornelia’s household were baptized (Acts 10). This is merely an argument. The Scriptures nowhere indicate whether or not Cornelia’s “household” included children under adult age.

Those baptized in Cornelia’s house must have been mature enough to understand to truly repent and believe. It is highly unlikely that young children in the household would have been baptized. The same explanation applies to the baptism of the Philippi an jailer’s “household” (Acts 16:31-33).

Jesus set us the example of what we should do regarding infants and young children. But it did not include baptism! There is no record of Jesus ever having commanded baptism for children, nor is there any biblical record of the early New Testament Church having performed such baptisms. Nowhere in the Bible is there an example or command for this common practice of our day.

The Bible shows Jesus merely laid His hands upon and pronounced blessings on little children (Matt. 19:13; Mark 10:13-16). Today, the ministers of God’s Church follow His example by asking God’s blessing and protection on the little children of its membership.

Re-baptism in the New Testament

Have you already been baptized? If so, was it done the way God commands? Had you really repented? Did you know what repentance is? Did you come to feel deeply broken up over your past way of life which was contrary to God’s way as it is revealed in the Bible?

Remember the example of Apollo’s, during the early days of the first century church? (Be sure to read (Acts 18:24 through 19:6.) When the Apostle Paul came to question the people who had been taught and instructed by Apollo’s, he found that there was a key ingredient missing in their lives. Paul not only found that these people hadn’t received God’s Spirit, but they didn’t even know what it was.

Apollos himself needed further instruction. He received it from a dedicated couple in the Church of God named Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:26). He was an enthusiastic and eloquent speaker whose zeal at first exceeded his understanding. He repeated certain things he had heard concerning Jesus Christ and John the Baptist and about the message they preached.

He convinced many of that same message who were then baptized as a result of hearing it. And, of course, those individuals to whom Apollos preached needed further instruction, which they received from Paul, after which they were all immediately re-baptized. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you may need to consider re-baptism.

No matter what your previous religious history has been, don’t worry about it. Start afresh! Don’t delay in receiving and putting the power of God’s Spirit to work in your life. Then you will be able to look forward to the day when God will transform you into a Spirit Being.

Where to Get Help

There are Minister’s of the True Church of God in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the British Isles, Ireland, Western and Northwester Europe and other nations. Who will advise and counsel with you about baptism, and help you in any way they can? They won’t try to pressure you into anything, but they will assist you in any way possible. Remember, you have a most merciful and compassionate heavenly Father. He is literally filled with the spirit of forgiveness (Ps. 86:5). He is eager and anxious to forgive everyone who repents.

God’s ministers, though not perfect, mirror a portion of God’s character in this very important respect. The ministers of God’s Church are friendly, and concerned.

All in this Work want only to serve and count it a privilege to be able to provide this service and it is free. In the Meantime… Remember, God wants us all to grow in grace and knowledge (II Pet. 3:18). One way to grow is by a careful study of the inspired written Word of God. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

Take time to study further even if you are busy. Think about the down to earth, solid, specific points which God outlines in His written Word. Be sure you thoroughly comprehend the depths of real repentance.

Summary, A. C. Study. Free Library Copy

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