Baptism was an essential feature of the first century apostolic message of Christian discipleship. Immersion in water was an ancient rite of
Jewish cleansing performed by both men and women who were aware of their “uncleanness.” The Jewish law commanded such ritual cleansing, which had very little to do with dirt on the body but an act of legal obedience in order to be right with God; to come into the temple and to offer sacrifice. For instance, the law commanded that anyone who was free from a disease would need inspected by the priests and then needed to cleanse themselves to be “ceremonially” clean; gaining access to God again through the temple worship.
Leviticaus14: 8 “The person to be cleansed must wash their clothes, shave off all their hair and bathe with water; then they will be ceremonially clean. After this they may come into the camp, but they must stay outside their tent for seven days. 9 On the seventh day they must shave off all their hair; they must shave their head, their beard, their eyebrows and the rest of their hair. They must wash their clothes and bathe themselves with water, and they will be clean.
Baptism was practiced by John the cousin of Jesus in preparing the Jewish people to receive their king; the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Later, Jesus’ disciples took up baptism, a ritual of entrance into the kingdom of God.
The Pharisees rejected John’s baptism as well as Jesus’ teaching and as we know both were murdered by “the teachers of the Law.” On one occasion, It was on the issue of baptism that Jesus challenged these “teachers”.
Matt. 21: 23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
Quite clearly the great commission of Jesus sent the apostles to proclaim the establishment of the kingdom of heaven here on earth, by teaching Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They were to preach and baptize new disciples, then teach them all that Christ had commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). Throughout the book of the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke an eyewitness of the early preaching of the disciples of Christ, baptism was a part of the plan for preaching about Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. Peter preached that through baptism sins would be forgiven (Acts 2:37-40). Philip preached to an Ethiopian who was a convert to Judaism. In preaching “Jesus” to him, it became clear to the Ethiopian that baptism was a crossroads to becoming a disciple of the risen Messiah, exclaiming, “Here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Philip answered, “You can if you believe.” They both went down into the water and the man was baptized into Jesus Christ (Acts 8:30-40).
The Book of Acts is filled with such accounts. Through baptism the Gentile nations had access to become the chosen people of God (Acts 10:30-48). Peter himself said, …“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” (Acts 10:47-48). Imagine- so instrumental was this ritual of immersion in water that Peter “ordered” that these be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Many other passages testify to the fact that immersion in water was the mode by which penitent believers appealed to God for a clear conscious (1 Peter 3:21-25). People became united with Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-6). Baptism mirrored the rebirth of human beings from a life leading to death to a life leading to eternity. Of itself, immersion in water was never
considered salvation. But combined with the understanding that “Jesus is Lord” and that sins could be forgiven, the early disciples submitted to baptism and were placed into the New Covenant of God; free of sin, cleansed of shame and liberated from the condemnation of God’s perfect law. Jesus used the well known Jewish act of ritual cleansing to mark the point of salvation from sin for any who would receive Him. Baptism became a hallmark of entering the new life in Christ. This was so clearly taught, that Peter could remind the early Christians that if they refused to grow in faith and virtue, then they had obviously forgotten that they were cleansed from their “old sins”. A clear reference to immersion in water (2 Peter 1:8-10).
Today this simple act of submission to the authority of Christ has been supplanted by manmade rituals of sprinkling, and pouring of water. These changes to the simplicity of the New Testament revelation are a catastrophic rebellion of Jesus’ great commission. Paul taught the churches not to go beyond the things that were written (1 Cor. 4:6). Jesus said, as you will recall, that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Today, infants are sprinkled or immersed in water to save them from sins they have not committed. Only later, around the age of 12, are those same children driven into “confirmation”; a point at which they are supposed to accept their baptism as sufficient for membership in their respective denomination.
Infant baptism (by immersion) was debated long after the last inspired writers had laid their pens to rest. Debates may have taken place as early at 130A.D. This is 60 years after the final book of the Bible was penned. Not until the writings of Ireneus around 177 A.D. in his work, “Against Heresies” was infant immersion documented. By this time, the church had departed from the fundamentals of the Apostles directions on church organization, the nature of communion, the priesthood of all believers and had begun to develop a clergy; a system unknown to those who had established the teachings of the New Covenant of Christ.
By whose authority have these things been added to the teachings of the Bible? No such tradition can be found in the scriptures and clearly, Christianity is a taught lifestyle, not something into which people are born. Today baptism is one of those topics that is discussed behind closed doors by the leaders of the various sects of Christianity. To speak out otherwise causes great consternation and confusion among believers; such is the importance of its role in salvation and the delicacy of its political correctness. While the teachings of the Apostles give leniency to many modes of worship, eating of foods, drinking of wine and choice of apparel, baptism was understood by Jews to be a whole body washing and Christ chose this most Jewish of rituals to be the mode of entrance into his Kingdom.
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the
Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3: 5-6).
Immersion is the meaning of the Greek word baptizo. To question the meaning and to change the mode of this simple ritual is as dangerous as questioning the Son-ship of Christ. If you don’t believe He is the Son of God, it doesn’t matter if you’re baptized or not. If you don’t believe that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, it does not matter if you believe that Jesus is the Christ or not. Even the demons believe Jesus is the Christ and they tremble. They don’t obey, but they tremble (James 2:19)!
As for the change from immersion to sprinkling the date is well known. The “clergy” changed this Bible teaching for human traditions and they freely admit it. Following the history books, we find:
“Baptism took place by immersion in ancient times.” (New Interpretation of the Mass, p. 120).
“Catholics admit that immersion brings out more fully the meaning of the sacrament, and that for twelve centuries it was the common practice.” (Question Box, p. 240).
“Baptism used to be given by placing the person to be baptized completely in the water: it was done in this way in the Catholic Church for 1200 years.” (Adult Catechism, pp. 56-57).
“The church at one time practiced immersion. This was up to the thirteenth century. The Council of Ravenna, in 1311, changed the form from immersion to pouring.” (Our Faith and the Facts, p. 399).
By this time, if you are a pastor, priest, or preacher you are most likely cringing at my words. Many of your church’s teachings and traditions and especially uninspired arguments are coming to mind to counter these facts of history.
Most of all, many are thinking that salvation is of grace not of works. Some put baptism low on the rung of the issues in Christian living. I think we can agree that it is not by works of the LAW that a man is justified before God (Galatians 2:15-17). I think we can agree that no work of man brings salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10). However, if Jesus ordered believers be baptized in His name for the forgiveness of sin we must ask, is baptism a work of men or is it the operation of God? Can a man boast that his immersion was his doing? Or is this immersion the way that God works for our salvation? Realize this, not a single soul questioned immersion as recorded in the Bible. Baptism was a common religious practice and was understood to be a spiritual renewal. They were convicted of sin because they accepted the purpose of Christ’s death. This humbled them to the point of contrition. They repented of sins. They confessed the Christ. They were baptized in His name. They went on their way with Joy.
What has your church taught on the subject? Does it agree with the revelation of God? Who is in charge of your salvation; your priest or pastor? On the other hand, will you be held accountable for your own life?
Romans 14:12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (Romans14:11-13)
Hebrews 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
If Christianity cannot agree on this simple act of obedience to Christ, or agree on its mode, or its meaning or its purpose, how can we expect the world to believe anything else we have to say about the Savior or the Way, the Truth and the Life that He brought to us? I cannot imagine a faith built on falsehoods and half-truths. This is religion, not life!