What Is Scriptural Baptism?

Roy Key
Maywood, Illinois

This question can be settled only on the basis of an examination of the Scriptures. Those who love the Lord will want to know the truth. When they know it, they will want to obey it.

John's Baptism

1. John's baptism is that which we first meet in the Bible. It was the predecessor of Christian baptism. "In those days came John the baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' " (Matt. 3:1, 2). It was this baptism that Jesus submitted to, that His disciples underwent, and that they went o u t preaching a n d administering. "There went out to him (John) Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matt. 3:5, 6).

2. The fact that the multitudes were baptized "unto repentance," that they were baptized "confessing their sins," that John first refused to baptize Jesus because he thought him to be without sin (Matt. 3:13, 14), shows conclusively that baptism indicated a break with the past and the inauguration of a new relationship, one that befitted the Kingdom. Actually, the baptism of Jesus not only symbolized repentance, it had the meaning and value of repentance. It was a baptism of "repentance unto the remission of sins" (Mark 1:_-, 5). This does not mean that baptism was the result of repentance. In a sense it was, and if the people had not been in the process of repentance, they would not have submitted to it. But baptism was not the fruit which John preached (Matt. 3:7-10; Lk. 3:7-14). It was the decisive act of penitence which, turning from the self-centered past to the God centered future, began a new life, a life in which penitence was the determining factor. This "change of mind" was the very thing which constituted the newness of the new life subjectively.

Since the mind was made new, the relation to God became new, and God honored it by wiping out the past.

3. The Scriptures settle the matter; John's baptism was "for the remission of sins." Yet, we have not seen the picture as clearly as we ought until we see that it was not simply "baptism for the remission of sins," but a "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." While some able commentators say that "remission of sins" probably should go with "baptism," it seems better to let it stay right where it is in our text, connected to "repentance." This, however, is no comfort to those who teach baptism "because of" remission of sins, for so long as baptism expressed or meant repentance, it looked forward and not backward to forgiveness. Under no circumstances could John's baptism be legitimately construed to be a "baptism because of remission of sins."

4. Baptism in itself meant nothing. it had no value. But in the light of John's message and its impact upon the hearts of the hearers, it meant repentance. And that is precisely the value that it had. For this reason the rejection of it was actually the rejection of God and His counsel. The RSV renders Luke 7:29, 30 as follows, "When they heard this all the people and the tax collectors justified God. having been baptized with the baptism of John; but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him." God's purpose for them was that they, too, repent, "be changed in mind," and be prepared for the Kingdom-relation. In rejecting baptism, they refused "the new mind" and the new relation. They refused God!

5. That John's baptism had the value of repentance was its glory, but is was also its death sentence. The very nature which made it possible to serve as preparatory for the coming Kingdom made it impossible for it to be permanent. Redolent with meaning as it was, it still did not mean enough. A few relation based only on a "change of mind" in man and "pardon" with God is not enough. The Kingdom-relation is more than penitence and pardon. It embraces power.

6. Therefore, John pointed people away from himself to the coming Christ, away from his baptism to that which Christ would administer (Matt. 3:11). When Jesus talked to Nicodemus He made a momentous addition to the phrase "born of water" when He joined to it "and the Spirit" (John 3:5). Here baptism becomes complete and entire. Its meaning unfolds; the bud becomes a f ull blossom. Baptism grows in meaning from penitence and pardon to Power. From a new mind and a new leaf it flows out into a new Life. To sins removed comes Spirit received, and to forgiveness there is added Fellowship.

The Limitation of John's Baptism

1. The limitation of John's baptism is pointed up in Acts 19:1-7. All recognize this fact, but not all recognize that here the great contrast between Christian and pre-Christian baptism is disclosed. One is for remission of sins; the other is for remission of sins and "the gift of the Holy Spirit." That Paul laid hands on these Ephesians and conferred special gifts in no way disputes this truth * Not all Christians received these spectacular "gifts," but all did receive the "Gift" (Acts 2:38, 39; 1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19; Eph. 1:13, 14; 3:16-20).

2. It is not correct to call "remission of sins" "the design of baptism." as is so often done. In Acts 2 -.30 "the gift of the Holy Spirit" is just as definitely promised by the Spirit through Peter as is "remission of sins." Too many, like the Ephesians, are still preaching the baptism of John. All that keeps it firom being John's baptism is that it is administered in the name of the Trinity, but there seems to be little real understanding of the meaning of what is repeated. When the words spoken at baptism include "for remission of sins" and at the same time omit "and the gift of the Holy Spirit," they reveal how definitely our understanding of baptism and our emphasis upon its purpose have been determined by what other religious people teach, and not simply by what the Bible teaches.

3. Many religious people do deny that baptism is "for remission of sins," and we must constantly teach the truth upon the matter. I will criticize this unscriptural doctrine of "baptism because of remission" later. But right now I want to underscore an important truth, we should not let this erroneous view so color our own view that we lose the truly distinctive value of Christian baptism! We must not deny or, neglect the one thing that makes Christian baptism Christian and keeps it from being a modern version of John's baptism.

The Purpose of Baptism

1. Baptism "into Christ is for "salvation" (Mark 16:16), and this is much more than "pardon" or "remission.91 Every released convict learns swiftly what a difference there is between "par(ton" and "new life," or rehabilitation. Pardon alone is so ineffective that many of these men fail to be saved from crime and from prison. Soon they are back. In one of our greatest hymns we sing,

Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.

2. It is a poor salvation that pulls a man from the flood and leaves him upon some uninhabited and inaccessible ledge. He is saved from death, but that is all. The words "eternal life" contain in them what is meant by "salvation" in its richest sense. The phrase "in Christ" suggests this relation where there is not merely pardon, but life. Then there is not simply sins blotted out, but the saving Friendship of Christ given. Through faith His Holy Spirit actually comes to be our inward Guest. Here is the double cure, saved not only from the "guilt" of sin, but now finding a new law (power) in our bodies choking out the old law of sin within (Rom. 7:21-8:17), we are saved f rom the "power" of sin. By the Holy Spirit we are now being made more

and more into the likeness of the Lord (II Cor. 3:16). In our baptisr there is formed a union with Christ which is so real that we are transfigured (Rom. 6). The rest of our lives is but a realizing of what was initiated there, a living out in fact of what became true in principle.

3. Therefore, it would be truer to say that baptism has as its design "union with Christ . . . eternal life," "salvation," or one of the terms which suggests all the wondrous blessings which are ours "in Christ." While none of these is possible without "remission," it is not true to say that the real meaning of baptism is "remission." Its real meaning is Christ drawing us all together in one and raised for us. Christ coming to live within us in His Holy Spirit. Christ making us over into His own likeness. CHRIST. Christ dying for us, buried, great Family. And since Christ is the revelation of both the Father and the Spirit, Christian baptism means to us who believe precisely what the baptismal formula declares: FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT. We are submerged into this "Strong Name." And God's Family grows a little bigger.

Truth Magazine I:6, pp. 4-5, 16
March 1957