Study on Baptism
Special Study on Baptism
By Jeff White
Special thanks to information written by Jack Cottrell, Professor of Theology at Cincinnatti Christian Seminary
When we go through a comprehensive study on baptism we want to ask ourselves what is the purpose of baptism? Who should be baptized? And how should we be baptized? So in this study want to try to answer these questions.
I. The Meaning of Baptism
The meaning of baptism is one of the most important issues to understand because when we answer this question two other questions naturally follow. It is very important because it has been a bone of contention ever since the 16th century Reformation, and because this issue is one of the distinguishing doctrines of the Conservative churches of the Restoration Movement. The heart of the issue is whether baptism has a crucial role in salvation. Is it something a sinner does on his way to becoming a Christian or is it something a Christian does as an act of obedience once he is already saved? The Bible is very clear. Every New Testament passage dealing with the baptism has as its purpose the salvation of sinners. The various aspects of salvation are described as being bestowed on the believing, repentant sinner in the act of baptism. This is the consistent and exclusive message of the New Testament; no other purpose is mentioned or even hinted at.
A. Salvation as a Double Cure
To understand the connection of baptism with salvation we have to first understand the nature of the sinful predicament from which we need saving, and also the nature of sal-vation that delivers us from it. Jack Cottrell’s analogy of “double trouble and the double cure” as the way we look at how we are saved is a very useful illustration. The idea of double trouble means that sin has 2 distinct effects on a person. 1) It makes him guilty. Guilt is a legal problem; it stems from the fact that sin is the transgression of God’s laws. I Jn 3:4 says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” Being guilty means that you are required to pay the penalty attached to the law which in this case is an eternity in hell. Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. 2) Sin makes him sinful. It affects the person’s nature; it makes him depraved, spiritually sick. It warps your sensitivity to right and wrong. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” And the ultimate result of spiritual sickness is death. Eph 2:1 says we were dead in our transgressions and sin. These 2 problems are related but are very different. Guilt is external to the individual. It is a legal matter and is not based on whether a person feels guilty or not. If he has sinned he stands guilty and condemned before God without Christ. It is God’s standards that matter, not our own emotions. Guilt is external. But spiritual sickness corrupts the sinner’s inner being, it saps spiritual strength, and traps him in the grip of sin.
Salvation answers both of these. The song, “Rock of Ages,” says, “Be of sin the double cure, save me from its guilt and power,” or as some hymn books say, “save from wrath and make me pure,” essentially the same thing. God’s solution to guilt is the redeeming blood of Christ, through which He paid the price we owed by being lawbreakers. When the blood of Christ is applied to the penitent sinner, his guilt and condemnation are washed away; otherwise known as justification, forgiveness, remission of sins. On the other side, God’s cure for the sinner’s sick nature is the gift of the HS, whose life-giving presence renews and regenerates the sin sick heart and breaks the death grip of sin on the soul. The terms the bible uses for this are New Birth, New Creation, Being Made alive, resurrection, regeneration, renewal, and circumcision without hands. Following this initial act of spiritual resurrection, the HS dwells within the saved person as a source of spiritual strength and continuing satisfaction. So in the double cure of salvation God takes away the sinner’s guilt through Christ’s blood and renews his heart through the life-giving power of the HS.
B. Baptism and the Double Cure
As we’ve said, the Bible consistently relates baptism and the salvation of sinners. Almost everyone agrees that they are related at least in some sense. Some say it is only in a symbolic sense, that baptism is a physical symbol of the spiritual reality of salvation… the outward sign of inward grace. Others see a psychological connection in that it affects the mental state of the candidate, confirming a deeper assurance of the salvation that God has already bestowed on him. Finally, some say that it is a causal connection, saying that baptism causes one to be saved, that whoever is baptized is saved, regardless of a proper knowledge of Christ and faith in Him. This is baptismal regeneration. But the Bible clearly teaches in Col 2:12 that baptism alone is not enough just as faith alone is not enough. “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.” I reject the causal view altogether. The symbolic and psychological views have some truth to them, but they do not go far enough. Baptism is symbolic, picturing Jesus death and resurrection, but it also expresses the reality of what happens to the sinner. Baptism is the burial of the old man and the resurrection of the new man as Romans 6:4 says. And of course, it does have a strong psychological function of assurance that God will do what He says he will do. It provides us with a definite point in time at which we know objectively that we are saved. Subjective approaches as Calvinism and other faith only doctrines do not provide that assurance.
So we want to look at what the Bible says as it relates baptism to salvation. There are two key verses that give great evidence to it (Acts 2:38 and Col 2:12) Acts 2:38 is Peter’s response to the audience who had just been confronted with the fact that they had just killed the Messiah. And they asked what shall we do? They realized that they had God’s bulls eye on their chest and wanted Him to forgive them. So Peter said to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins and the gift of the HS. So the verse specifically says that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (the first part of the double cure). A key word in this verse is the word translated “for.” Some interpret that word to mean “because of” with a backward look to something that has already happened. There are two problems with that. 1) Why would they have asked the question “What shall we do?” if they weren’t worried? 2) The word translated “for” is eis and is never translated in the sense of a backward look. It always means to move from one place “into or unto” another. Peter says baptism is for the purpose of bringing about the forgiveness of sins. In fact, the original version of the NIV had it right on when they translated it, “Repent and be baptized so that your sins may be forgiven.” Baptism has the second sense of the double cure as well as it is the point at which the HS takes up residence in the New Christian raising the spiritually dead sinner to a new state of spiritual life. So the new life, the spiritual life, begins when the sinner is born again in the waters of baptism.
The second Scripture is Col 2:12 which says we were buried with Him just as Romans 6:4 also says and adds that we were specifically buried into His death. That means that we receive all the saving benefits of Christ’s death on the cross; we come into contact with His justifying blood and thus receive forgiveness of sins. Secondly, we are raised up with Him, resurrected by the HS into the New Life, born again. Col 2:12-13 is one of the most powerful passages proving salvation - by grace - through faith - at baptism; not before, but in baptism God works the double cure of justification and sanctification for the double trouble of guilt and corruption caused by our own sin.
We said the New Testament is united in the message relating baptism with salvation. Romans 6:3-5 says that it unites us with the death and resurrection of Christ. Acts 22:16 says it washes away our sins and is the way the alien sinner calls on the name of the Lord. Titus 3:5 says baptism is the washing of regeneration. It is the time when the Spirit washes, regenerates and renews us. Mt 28:18-20 says we are baptized into the name of the trinity, carrying the idea of authority, but it also the concept of ownership. Jack Cottrell in his book “Power from upon High,” says, “In the Greek world the phrase (into the name of) was used specifically as an accounting term for the entry of an item into the list of one’s owned assets. Thus the phrase means that in accepting God’s salvation a person becomes the “property” equally of the Father, the Son and the Spirit and surrenders to their shared lordship. Other Scriptures are Gal 3:27 that says that all who are baptized into Christ are clothed with Christ. What does that say of the unbaptized? I Cor 12:13 says we are baptized into (eis) the body of Christ. Two other verses say that the result of baptism is salvation. Mk 16:16 says whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. I Pet 3:21 says Baptism now saves you. So it is the clear teaching of the New Teatament that baptism and salvation are linked as the point at which a sinner is cleansed of his sins and the new birth into life in Christ begins.
II. Subjects of Baptism
All agree that adults who have reached the age of accountability are proper subjects for baptism. But some baptize babies for salvation because their doctrine of original sin says they inherit the double trouble of sinfulness and guilt from Adam and Eve. So they recognize that baptism is for salvation, but they include babies as proper subjects. Others baptize babies because they believe that the children of Christian parents are automatically a part of the church, the covenant community, and equate baptism with OT circumcision. So they are essentially born into a covenant relationship with God and their baptism is the sign of the covenant.
But I believe that infants should not be baptized. First, baptism is for the remission of sin. Sin is a personal thing that you commit. It is not inherited. Babies are not saved or lost. They are safe. Secondly, entering into the New Testament covenant is something a person decides to do. Hebrews 8:10-11 says “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” In the Old Testament covenant, one entered it as a baby and then was taught about God and covenant responsibility. In the New Testament covenant you are taught about God, Christ’s atoning work, and Christian responsibility and then enter the covenant through baptism. Babies are not a proper subject for baptism.
III. Mode of baptism
Finally, how should baptism be done. Some pour, some sprinkle. At Faith Christian, we immerse. Is anything acceptable or are some right and some wrong? The word translated “baptize” is the Greek word, baptizo, and means to plunge, dip or immerse. It has the idea of dipping a piece of cloth in dye. Martin Luther said, “The act of baptism is immersion in water from which it derives its name.” Symbolism requires it. When we go to a graveside service do we go there expecting the workers after we leave to sprinkle a little bit of dirt on the coffin? No. The grave is completely covered with dirt. The NT says that baptism is a burial, so the symbolism plus the original meaning of the word prove that baptism is valid only of it is done by immersion.