March 11, 2015
(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)
A criticism of our pastor has recently arisen in the Baptist church to which I belong. One regular attendee has been spreading his displeasure about what the pastor allegedly said in a sermon – that “If you are not baptized, you are going to hell!” First, let me be clear that our pastor did not say this – and he does not believe this! Apparently, the offended attendee (not a member) heard wrong! What was said in the sermon – and in more than one sermon, by the way – was that baptism is a matter of obedience, and you cannot be an obedient Christian if you have not been baptized!
What is the scriptural basis for such a statement? One main scripture is from Jesus’ lips, recorded in Matthew 28:18 through 20:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and
make disciples of the all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have
commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
There are other scriptural instructions and examples concerning baptism (see Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 2:38, 41; 8:12, 16; 8:36-38; 9:18; 10:47, 48; 16:14, 15; 16:31-33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16; Romans 6:3, 4; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12).
Let’s look first of all at something that has divided Christiandom for centuries – the interpretation of just what is baptism. Many major denominations, both Protestant and Catholic, hold that baptizing infants is the proper thing to do. Baptists – for 42 years I have been an American Baptist pastor – generally believe in and practice adult baptism, or what is referred to as believer’s baptism. What do the scriptures say?
• The Greek word for baptize is bap-tid’-zo, and literally translated it means (according to Strong’s A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament) “to make whelmed (i.e. fully wet); used only (in the New Testament) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Christian baptism….” The prime verb of bap-tid’-zo is bap’-to meaning, “to whelm, i.e. cover wholly with a fluid….” Hence to baptize means to immerse!
• The only waters of baptism that are identified in the New Testament are mentioned in John 3:23. That place is about 25 miles south of the Sea of Galilee where John the Baptist was baptizing later in his ministry: “…in Aenon near Salem, because there was much water there.” The words “much water” imply immersion.
• Considering believer’s baptism mentioned above, saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ should always precede baptism! On the day of Pentecost, the Jews who attentively listened to Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2:14 through 36), cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? ” (Acts 2:37).
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the
name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift
of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).
It is also written in Acts 2:41 of those Pentecost believers: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized….”
Saul (the Apostle Paul) experienced the same order of faith and baptism. He was saved on the Damascus Road when the glorified Christ appeared to him in a special vision (see Acts 9:1 through 9). But three days later, after Ananias prayed for him, it says in Acts 9:18, “…and he arose and was baptized.”
Other New Testament personalities experienced this same order – the Samaritans who responded in faith to Philip’s ministry (Acts 8:5-12); the Roman centurian Cornelius and his family and friends (Acts 10:24 through 48); the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16:30 through 34); Crispus and many other Corinthians (Acts 18:8); and the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:4 and 5).
But Jesus had previously instructed His followers to observe that very order of baptism following saving faith in Matthew 28:19: “Go…and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Again in Mark 16:15 and 16 the Lord said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved….”
Those who practice believer’s baptism ask advocates of infant baptism, “How can an infant understand the gospel? How can such a one have saving faith in Jesus Christ?”
We have not dealt with the question raised at the beginning of this blog – is baptism necessary for salvation? We will examine this in due time – after we look in our next blog at what support there is for infant baptism.