By O.C. Birdwell, Jr.
The attitude one has toward New Testament teaching on the subject of baptism is directly related to his understanding of scriptural authority. Does the New Testament contain the complete and final revelation of God to man? If it does, what it teaches on the subject of baptism is final and authoritative. If the New Testament is not authoritative, cannot be understood, or cannot be understood by all alike, then we have no objective revelation from God on baptism, or any other subject. The study of baptism is approached by this writer holding the belief that whatever the New Testament says is the complete and final word of the Holy Spirit of God. If the reader shares this belief, we can determine what is the action and purpose of baptism, along with just who it is that is to be baptized.
The Need For A Study of This Subject
One recently wrote the following: “I believe the Bible is contained in the word of God.” Along with whatever he meant by that statement, he said that the word of God “is the Christ,” “is in the preaching of the prophets and of the apostles,” “is recorded in scripture … .. is available in nature,” and is “in me” (Mark Berrier, Restoration Review, Vol. 28, No. 3). The article in which Berrier makes the above statement seems to discredit the New Testament as the complete revelation of Jesus Christ. In this, and other such teaching, there is a veiled (with some it is quite clear) concept that God tells us what to do and what not to do apart from New Testament Scripture. When the above statement from Restoration Review is carefully examined one will find that Berrier does not confine the revelation of God’s word to the Bible. Nature may show the being of God and the heavens declare His glory, but nature does not speak one single word to us about what God wants done. All people have the evidence of nature, and the heavens, yet, we are to go and preach the gospel that they might be saved. The word of Christ should dwell in me (Col. 3:16), but it only does so as I study the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15), learn of Jesus (Matt. 11:29), and abide in His word (John 8:31). God does not give every individual additional revelation, illumination, or guidance not found in the Bible. Yes, Christ is the Word, but we know Him only through His revealed New Testament. We have heard much about “having a personal relationship with Jesus.” Those who preach this the most never tell us how it is to be done. The only way the Bible speaks of a relationship with Christ is in His body which is the church (Eph. 1:22,23), and letting His word abide within and guide to the extent that we may have the “mind of Christ.” This brings us right back to the need for learning and doing what the New Testament teaches.
How does all this relate to our stated subject? In this simple way. Those who affirm that God speaks to them through nature, in a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, or with some “still small voice,” usually reject New Testament baptism. Seldom do they affirm that baptism had anything to do with their alleged salvation.
Some who question the New Testament revelation, find within it deep dark secrets. They believe they are guided by something other than the New Testament and begin to complain that they are misunderstood by those who still believe the New Testament. They begin to feel that somehow, someway God will save all sincere people who believe Jesus is the Christ and live the best they know how. Hence, they become a little fuzzy on a number of subjects, including baptism. As with the tax laws of our land, they believe Jesus’ teaching of baptism is full of loop-holes. They find acceptable the uniformed recipient of infant sprinkling, the one who believes he was saved by faith alone and was baptized only to show that he was already saved, and even the pious unimmersed.
Just a few pages later in the same issue of Restoration Review which affirmed that God’s revelation to man is not confined to the Scriptures, one wrote, “No New Testament passage explicitly defines baptism as immersion. That is its etymology, but etymology does not prove later usage. The evidence for immersion is certainly strong enough to justify our own practice. Is it really strong enough to rule out the practice of other Christians whose Greek scholars have a different view? ” (Ed Fudge, Restoration Review, Vol. 28, No. 3) Brother Fudge now believes God has given three orders for salvation. He says one is “Believe/forgiveness of sins and receive the Holy Spirit/be baptized. ” He no longer can harmonize Acts chapters 2, 8, and 10, and see in the three, one order. He sees three different orders of conversion, and says, “The biblical pattern is diverse on this point.”
This position on baptism by Fudge may be a little too much for some who teach “unity in diversity” to presently accept. Their position, however, will slowly but surely lead them to his conclusion. It is the natural and logical consequence of a false position on the grace of God. If God extends His grace in a direct way and accepts one based solely on his obedience to the extent of knowledge, then any design, action and purpose of baptism is acceptable. That is, if the person is sincere. We reject such a position.
What Is New Testament Baptism?
The New Testament baptism that needs restoring is not the baptism of John the Baptist. Neither is it the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John’s teaching and baptism pointed to Christ and ceased when people began to be baptized in the name of Christ. People at Ephesus who had received John’s baptism were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:5). The baptism of the Holy Spirit was received by both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews received it when the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:4); the Gentiles received a like gift at the house of Cornelius (Acts 11 & 12; 15:8; 11:17). This completes the New Testament record of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
When Paul said there is “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5), he did not have in mind the baptism of John or Holy Spirit baptism. When he wrote these words, both of those baptisms were history. Note also that he did not say there had never been but one baptism. He said there is presently one baptism. The remaining baptism was that commanded by Jesus in the great commission. Jesus told the apostles to go teach all nations, “baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Mark’s record says, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15-16). This baptism could be administered by man. It was not, therefore, Holy Spirit baptism. It was first preached by Peter and the other apostles on Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. Many of those who heard the gospel that was preached on that occasion cried out, “What shall we do?” They were told, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:38). About three thousand were baptized.
The baptism commanded by Jesus, preached by Peter and 0 her disciples during the first and succeeding centuries, and obeyed by those who were “pricked in the heart,” is the baptism that should be restored and preached today. As we shall show, it is a baptism in water unto the remission of sins.
The Action Of Baptism
The Greek verb baptizo is defined by Thayer as meaning “to dip, immerge, submerge.” Instead of the word “baptize” the word “immerse” is used in some translations. This shows that translators and Greek scholars understand baptism to be immersion.
New Testament accounts clearly show that baptism was immersion. When the eunuch was baptized, “they both went
own into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him . . . they came up out of the water. . . ” (Acts 2:38-39). There was a going down into the water and a coming up out of the water. This is required for immersion. I is not required for sprinkling.
The figure of the burial and resurrection of Christ that is presented in baptism requires a burial. This is precisely how Paul presented baptism. He says, “We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death. . . ” (Rom. 6:4). In Colossians we read, “. . . Having been buried with him in baptism. . . ” (Col. 2:12). Paul said, “We were buried … through baptism.” His baptism, along with that of the Romans, was immersion. Ananias told him to “arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins. . . ” (Acts 22:16). In obedience to this command, according to his statement, he was buried in baptism. The action of baptism is very clear to those who wish to see.
The Subject Of Baptism
Who is to be baptized? Jesus said, “Go . . . make disciples of all nations, baptizing them. . . ” (Matt. 28:19). Jesus is saying that the people of all nations are to be baptized. After the church was established, Philip preached the gospel in Samaria and baptized both men and women (Acts 8:12). Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. . . ” (Mk. 16:16). The men and women Philip baptized “believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.” Those who were baptized on Pentecost heard Peter’s sermon, “were pricked in their heart,” and said, “what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) They were told, “repent ye and be baptized . . . unto the remission of your sins. . . ” (v. 38).
It is clear from these passages that the men and women of all nations who hear the gospel, believe it, and repent of their sins, may be baptized. The belief held in the heart should be confessed with the mouth (Rom. 10:10).
In none of the accounts of conversion found in the book of Acts do we have infants being baptized. They cannot believe the gospel or confess their faith in Christ. They have no sins of which to repent. They, therefore, are not subjects of baptism. The practice of baptizing children needs to cease. It is done without New Testament authority.
Having to wrestle with the questions and the emotional struggles that come up when this subject is discussed is not new. Much of it comes from past practices and human tradition connected with baptism. The problem increases when there is an improper attitude toward Bible authority. In the early 19th century the motto, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak, where the Bible is silent we are silent,” was presented. The motto is basically a rephrasing of 1 Peter 4:11. The principle is not new to those who through the years have labored to restore New Testament teaching and practice. The motto, however, when presented, brought an immediate response because of the practice of infant baptism. Andrew Munro said, “If we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end of infant baptism.” To this the answer was given, “Of course if infant baptism be not found in the scriptures we can have nothing to do with it” (Search For the Ancient Order, Vol. I).
The Purpose of Baptism
Why is one to be baptized? Is it because his sins have already been forgiven? The Bible does not so teach. Saul was told, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:16). Peter said baptism is “unto” remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Belief and baptism stand before salvation. Repentance and baptism are in order to obtain remission of sins.
Almost one hundred years ago, J.W. Shepherd edited a book called Handbook on Baptism. The book is out of print, but it would be a worthwhile investment if one could obtain it from a used book dealer at a reasonable cost. It contains nearly 500 pages of testimony from well-known scholars dealing with the action, subject, and design of baptism. The following is from Henry Thayer in a letter to the author dated May 5, 1893:
I accept the rendering of the revised version “unto the remission of your sins” (the eis expressing the end aimed at and secured by “repentance and baptism’ just previously enjoined).
Scholar after scholar reaches the same conclusion as Mr. Thayer. The purpose of repentance and baptism is to secure for the alien the remission of sins. This is not, however, the teaching of most of the well-known denominational churches and preachers of our day. While some do not baptize infants and insist that baptism is immersion, they have changed the purpose of baptism. They falsely affirm that baptism follows remission of sins and confirms a salvation already obtained by faith only. If this is your doctrine, my friend, you need to restore New Testament baptism.
Often a preacher will take a position that there is no need for one to understand anything about baptism except that it is to obey God. Surely all that one does in religion must be done to obey God. We obey God when we eat the Lord’s Supper. Yet, there must be more known than this for it to be properly observed. On Pentecost, people asked, “What shall we do?” They were told to be baptized “unto remission of your sins.” Peter did not say, “Be baptized to obey God.” Saul was told to “be baptized and wash away your sins.” He was not told to be baptized to obey God. It is almost inconceivable for a gospel preacher to baptize one who has not been informed to the point that he understands that baptism is unto remission of sins. Philip preached unto the Samaritans concerning the kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus told Nicodemus that the new birth of water and the Spirit was in order to enter the kingdom. Would too much be expected if one were asked to know about the name of Jesus Christ, His kingdom (the church), and that his baptism is for remission of sins? This is what Jesus and inspired men taught the people. Let us not do less.
It might be suspected that argument against any specific knowledge before baptism is not because of any New Testament teaching, but rather to justify the acceptance of any person regardless of when, how, or why he was baptized. This is another example of the “obey to the degree of your knowledge, and God will take care of the rest” doctrine. It, however, is not New Testament doctrine.
As evidenced by quotations in this article, there are some religious journals, editors, preachers, and writers trying to undermine New Testament dependability and authority. They have few answers but many questions that are designed to create doubt in the hearts and minds of men and women even on the subject of baptism. This should tell us that there must be more firm and forthright preaching and teaching on first principle subjects such as baptism. Brethren, let us get back to “book, chapter, and verse” preaching. Let us have the determined resolution expressed by Peter in the following statement:
Wherefore I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and are established in the truth which is with you. And I think it right, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance (2 Pet. 1:12-13).
Guardian of Truth XXX: 11, pp. 335-337
June 5, 1986