What Is Scriptural Baptism? (No. 2)

Roy Key
Maywood, Ill.

1. We have shown already that Scriptural Christian baptism is and was baptism "into Christ" (Rom. 6:3-14; Gal. 3:26-29). Union with Christ held within its very nature "remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Christian baptism was for "salvation" (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), and this was never merely remission of sins or pardon. It included Christ's Presence and His Power. Since Jesus Christ is God, to be baptized into Him, into His Name (Acts 2:38), is to be baptized "into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19).

2. Let us now ask How do modern doctrines of baptism fit into this Scriptural view? Lack of space and information make it impossible to consider every current view in the religious world. But we can look at some of the more prominent doctrines.

3. (1) One of the oldest views, coming down through Catholicism, is that men, are born into the world with the original guilt of Adam's sin upon them, that it is baptism that rightly performed removes this deadly taint, that any delay may prove fatal, and that all infants should be immediately baptized. While this doctrine of "Original guilt" is a perversion of the true doctrine of the "Fall," we pass that by to come immediately to infant baptism. It is a practice utterly foreign to all that we have seen in the New Testament on baptism. For the infant it cannot mean "repentance," since the infant is incapable of the experience. it can neither accept nor reject Christ as Atonement. It cannot comprehend the Gospel message nor so much as pay attention to the story of Jesus. What can faith mean to one who knows not its own mother, nor even that it is a self? that cannot so much as focus its eyes upon, its own hands and feet?

4. After we have stressed the faith of parents, their decision, and their dedication, the fact remains that for the infant, baptism cannot mean what it meant to those who accepted it in New Testament times. It cannot mean trust. It cannot mean self-identification. It cannot even mean an attempted purchase or effort to climb up to God by one's own effort. 'The recent attempt of some church leaders acquainted with child psychology to emphasize the permanent effects of childhood experiences, even pre-natal experience, is but a modern effort to bolster up a doctrine and practice without Scriptural precedent. Let us admit the impact upon life of all experience. It is problematical whether the emotional stress and shock of the baptismal experience would be more harmful than helpful. However, regardless of the significance baptism might hold for the infant, it could not be what God has intended that it shall be and what it was to those who first received it.

5. Many who practice infant baptism admit what we have said, but declare that God has ordained baptism to take away sins when it is properly performed, when the right words said by the right person are accompanied by the right action. This view is known as "baptismal regeneration." Baptism itself does the regenerating. This view completely ignores the fact that baptism is not magic but faith. It ignores the true nature of regeneration and how it is brought about. It holds that if the baby were asleep and the priest drunk, the action would be just as efficacious.

6. The entire stress of the New Testament is that baptism means something-that it has the value or meaning of repentance, of faith, of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit of the death of one being and the resurrection of a new, that it is "an appeal to God for a clear conscience" (I Pet. 3:21 RSV), that the baptized are to "consider (themselves) dead unto sin, and alive to God" (Rom. 6:11), -- this entire stress is ignored.

7. (2) Along with infant baptism has gone the practice of sprinkling or pouring, also stemming from the Romanists. This practice is probably better for the child, bringing about less shock and emotional disturbance, for neither sprinkling nor immersion can have Scriptural meaning for the child. We ask, therefore ' if sprinkling is Scriptural baptism for the adult? Here we must admit that because the adult mind has the marvelous power of catching meaning, attributing it to certain externals, even to reinterpreting experiences so as to read new meaning into them, that sprinkling can be and is spiritually significant. Yet, the fact remains that it is not immersion, and baptism is. The very word means an "overwhelming" or "submerging."

8. But let us inquire how sprinkling fits the Scriptural view of baptism. What does sprinkling say with regard to repentance, faith, commitment-intrust, burial and resurrection, coming into Christ, being clothed upon with His Spirit, etc.? A careful consideration, of the question leads to this conclusion, wherever sprinkling attempts to speak these great truths, it speaks them haltingly and in part, and before some of them it remains dumb. It does speak in broken accents of cleansing, for under the Law there was a cleansing by the sprinkling of blood, and the Hebrew writer can use the figurative expression "hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" (10:22). In a measure it can speak of repentance and faith. But had it been adequate, why would John have gone to the Jordan and called all men to immersion?

9. Is it not obvious, without any argument, that immersion speaks louder, more clearly, more radically, and with greater finality? The Jews, accustomed to their purification rites, needed something so radical as to shake them to the bottom of their souls, something to bring home to their hearts their dire need and the radical nature of the change and new life held out. There was a rite reserved for aliens coming to be Jews, proselytes moving from without to within. For others to submit to this rite was a confession that they were by nature outside the Kingdom, needing both cleansing and renewing before they were fit to enter. It was humiliating. It is still humiliating to confess oneself a sinner and throw oneself upon God for mercy.

10. But when we come right down to it, what does sprinkling say of burial and the resurrection of a new creature? Here it is voiceless. It has no tongue to speak these truths. What can it say about being clothed upon, by Christ Jesus and His Holy Spirit? It dare not say much, or it will bespeak a partial and scanty clothing. The practice is a watered-down, anemic attempt to speak the Gospel message. It cannot declare the radical nature of either sin or redemption.

11. Of course, many who practice sprinkling regard the rite as purely outward and symbolic. They do not see it as the expression of what is inwardly transpiring. They do not regard it as God's gracious means for making the self-identification with Christ in faith. They see it as the picture of something that has already happened. Then, it does not appear quite so imperative to keep the Biblical picture completely intact.

12. (3) We are now led to another view, one that holds baptism to be "be. cause of remission of sins," the first act of an obedient Christian to put him into the church. Great numbers of peo-_ ple reject sprinkling and cling tenaciously to immersion who accept this point of view. Only recently I discussed this matter until the wee hours with some very intelligent and zealous Baptists. They were tremendously concerned that baptism not be made an instrument of merit or the purchase price of salvation. I assured them that I was as concerned about this matter as they and that I was quite certain the Apostle Paul was as passionately concerned as any of us that nothing be made to compete with Jesus Christ as the only Atonement and ground of our redemption. I tried earnestly to show that the New Testament concept was neither that baptism was a work of merit nor the first act of a Christian to put him into the church. I argued that there are no Christians outside the Church, that the same Spirit who leads us to put on Christ in baptism makes us part of the great Fellowship of His people. Even the term "Christ" when made equivalent with the "Body" stands for a corporate Reality.

13. Besides all this, the Bible simply and plainly teaches baptism "in order to" remission of sins. I asked how it was they could look those passages in the face and reinterpret them in so conflicting a manner. The preacher, who knew the Greek from seminary training, did not deny that "for" (eis) had a forward look in it, but he said that Peter's sermon on Pentecost must be interpreted in the light of the teaching of Paul. Paul's letters were earlier than Acts and the Gospel accounts. I affirmed that there is no need to see any disparity between them. Paul taught baptism to "put on Christ," for union with Him, for a new lif e. How does that differ from Peter's teaching on Pentecost? The reply was that Paul spoke not of water baptism, but the term was employed figuratively to describe the great spiritual results of faith. I admitted that our faith-union with the Lord is the result pointed to, but contended that there is no real reason to make Paul's words rule out the ordinance of Christian baptism when it fits perfectly and when it makes his preaching agree with that of other New Testament preachers. Why try to interpret Paul so that he will conflict with them?

14. Of course, to do anything else would be to surrender the doctrine that baptism is "because of remission of sins." It would be to give up the postBiblical view that baptism is to symbolize what has already taken place in the new birth. It would be to heal the divorce between baptism and the new birth. It would be to rejoin in holy wedlock the new birth and church membership. It would have meant that these people had to surrender their denominational view for the Scriptural one. They were impressed, but not convinced. However, seed were sown. They will have to be rooted out, or else they will germinate.

(Please Notice Review - Page 10)
Truth Magazine I:7, pp. 8-9, 18-19
April 1957