Statement of the Problem

When you read the title of this booklet and saw the word “baptism,” did you immediately think about water? If so, your response is like that of the vast majority of people with whom I have discussed this subject. It is also what I myself believed for many years of my Christian life. But the question I eventually came to ask was why the word “baptize,” which actually means “to dip” or “to immerse,” has become almost solely associated with water, when, biblically speaking, there are other “liquid” alternatives to be considered?

Discovering the answer to that question will help us solve a three-pronged problem that has for centuries caused great division among dedicated and well-meaning Christians. It will also show us what is the “one baptism” prescribed for the Church, as per Ephesians 4:5. Here is the first part of the problem: Most Christians have been taught, and thus believe, that the ritual of baptism in or with water is relevant for them today. Beliefs about the importance of water baptism range from an optional, but highly recommended, symbolic significance, all the way to an absolute necessity for salvation. This booklet will show from Scripture that this is not the case.

The fact that most Christians throughout the centuries have equated baptism with water is very understandable. As we will see, water baptism was prescribed under the Mosaic Law. Jesus himself was baptized, and many early Christians practiced water baptism during the first years of the Church. But do the Church Epistles, that section of Scripture specifically addressed to believers living in the Church Administration, which began on the Day of Pentecost and will end with the “Rapture,” call for this practice? That is one question we will answer in this booklet. [1]

The second part of the problem (caused by the first): Christians cannot agree upon, and have even literally warred over, the issues related to water baptism, such as: The meaning of baptism; whether or not baptism actually brings about forgiveness of one’s sins by God; the qualifications and age of those to be baptized; who can administer baptism; the method of baptism (dipping, dunking, or sprinkling); formulas in the baptismal procedure; and pre-baptismal instruction. Through the centuries, disagreements about these issues have often been so intense and violent that the world has wondered how people who are supposedly commanded by God to love one another could be so violently opposed to another’s interpretation of Scripture. In modern times, the controversy has been toned down, but there are still denominations teaching not only that their particular understanding of baptism is the right one, but also that adherence to it is a requirement for salvation, or at least membership in their church.

The third, and most practical, part of the problem is that those who argue for water baptism in any form are arguing for something far less than the awesome spiritual reality of holy spirit baptism for which Jesus Christ lived and died to make available to all people today. It is as if they are striving to relate to the shadow of a person rather than to the person himself. In this booklet, we will see that arguments about water baptism could have been avoided altogether, because we will show from Scripture that for Christians, baptism is not actually about water, but something much deeper and far more practically beneficial. [2]

The old, ceremonial, outer washing in water prescribed in the Mosaic Law for Israel pointed toward, and has now been superseded by, the new, actual, inner cleansing in holy spirit (the divine nature of God). The old water baptism could not, and still cannot, change the heart of a man, but the spirit of the Holy God can revolutionize a person from the inside out and enable him to be like Jesus Christ, his true baptizer. Baptism in water was one of the Old Testament “shadows” cast by the approaching light of Christ. Bringing into reality that greater cleansing, which water baptism only symbolized, required Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the gift of holy spirit. The Good News is that he did it all—for you and me!

Not having been taught this great truth has relegated too many Christians to living in the aforementioned shadow rather than stepping into the light of Christ’s accomplishment on their behalf. My goal in this booklet is to enlighten such dear saints in the hope that they will appropriate unto themselves all the treasures contained in the gift of holy spirit that Jesus died to make available to each and every believer. Jesus said that knowing the truth makes one free, which means that any erroneous teaching or misunderstanding of the Bible, when believed and practiced, leads to a diminished quality of one’s life. This holds true for the subject of baptism. Millions of precious Christians have gone to their graves (some no doubt worn out by arguing about baptism) without ever even hearing the truth of God’s Word regarding what each and every Christian is endowed with at the moment of his new birth.

It is important to acknowledge the power of ritual and ceremony in people’s lives, because this is a key element in the practice of water baptism. In the Old Testament, God-prescribed rituals played a big role in the lives of Jewish people as a way of worshipping God, and for good reason. Old Testament believers did not have the spirit of God within them, and thus were living from the “outside in,” so to speak. Because of that, God mandated ceremonial rituals in order to help them stay focused on Him. Many people today are drawn to religious rituals because it is something in the senses realm that they can do and know that they did it according to a prescribed standard. This gives them a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Regarding water baptism, however, the question is who prescribed it for whom?

With the coming of the gift of holy spirit and the corresponding start of the Christian Church in Acts 2, each and every believer was equipped with the divine nature of God. By internalizing the standard of God’s Word, each Christian from then on can live from the “inside out” as the spirit of God energizes his renewed mind. Because both water baptism and circumcision were part of the Mosaic Law, we will see the parallel between them that God draws in order to show us that neither avails the Christian of anything more than what he received from God at the moment of his new birth. Baptism in water is not prohibited by God today, and it has been very significant for many who have viewed it as a public declaration of their commitment to Christ. I understand that, but it simply is not necessary, and its practice opens up the possibility of needless division in the Body of Christ.

Water baptism is one of the oldest and most cherished Christian traditions, and my challenging its relevance to believers today may seem to you akin to jeopardizing a family heirloom. If you are a Christian of orthodox persuasion and an advocate of the practice of water baptism, please hear my heart. I completely understand why you believe as you do, because I once believed the same thing. I ask only that you consider what I set forth herein from Scripture, which is the only valid standard for separating truth from error. You may find that what I set before you is true, and therefore more spiritually invigorating and liberating than the position you now hold, and that it also opens up greater possibilities for more powerful Christian living.

Endnotes

[1] The “Church Epistles” are Paul’s letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. They contain the majority of the “all truth” of which Jesus spoke prophetically in John 16:13, that is, all the truth that we as Christians today need to know in order to live as God wants us to live. Properly understanding what are referred to in the Bible as “administrations,” that is, distinguishing between the different ways that God dealt with people through the ages, is the key to understanding baptism. Scripture tells us that throughout the history of mankind, there have been only three groups of people (“Jews, Gentiles, or the Church of God” [i.e., Christians] – 1 Cor. 10:32 – KJV). If we do not understand which parts of Scripture are written specifically for which of these groups, the Bible will contradict itself.
[2] Biblically, a “Christian” is one who has confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord and believed that God raised him from the dead, as per Romans 10:9. The person is then saved by being “born again of incorruptible seed” (1 Pet. 1:23—KJV) and is part of the Church of the Body of Christ that began on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2.

2 comments

  1. I appreciate this commentary. Something important here folks need to understand.

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