Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST009/9 Christian Baptism


Christian Baptism.

(b) Christian Baptism.

Baptism is "the application of water to a person, as a sacrament or a religious ceremony, by which he is initiated into the visible Church ofChrist". Pope defines it as "the rite ordained by our Lord to be the signof admission into the Church, and the seal of union with Himself and participation in the blessings of the Christian covenant." It was instituted by our Lord by His definite command (Matt.28:19), and by His own example.

It was a Christian ordinance from the start. It was apparently indispensable, as there seems to be no recorded case without it, apart from that of the thief crucified with our Lord. This is no absolute proof of its indispensability, however, as the argument from omission is never irrefutable. It has been very much abused and has been the subject of a great deal of controversy and difference of opinion. 

The arguments in connection with its subjects and mode must therefore be considered.
As we have seen there seems to be no recorded conversion in the New Testament where baptism did not take place and from very early times great importance was attached to the rite. It soon, however, began to take on a rather unfortunate slant.

Because it was so closely connected with regeneration, and because it was very early universally made the sign of acceptance into the Christian church, it came to be thought of as the actual instrument of regeneration. For instance, the pseudo-epistle of Barnabas
written about A.D.120 says "we descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up bearing fruit in our heart". 

Also Hermas (about 140 A.D.) writes, "They descend into the water dead, they arise alivez1. But generally speaking limitations were attached by the more important of the early Fathers, e.g. J tin Martyr, Clement, Origen, Tertullian, and Cyprian. For example Origen says, "He who has ceased from his sins receives remission in baptism. 

But if anyone comes to the fount still harbouring sin, he obtains no remission of his sins". (In.Luc.Homm.Y m). Thus a penuiness of faith was required and also they did not all hold that baptism was essential to regeneration. Tertullian declares, "The washing is a sealing of faith, which faith is begun and is commended by the faith of repentance. We are not washed in order that we may cease sinning, but because we have ceased, since in the heart we have been bathed already".(Be Poenit.VI). 

By the time of the Nicene and Post Nicene periods the idea universally prevailed that the divine life dwelt in the corporate body of the church, and could be transmitted to its members only through the instrumentality of its sacraments. Baptism, therefore, as the rite of initiation took on added importance, and came to be regarded as essential to salvation." ( Wiley vol.Ill p.165). 

Ambrose, writing on John 3:5, says, "None can ascend into the kingdom of heaven except by the sacrament of baptism; indeed it excepts none, neither in:cant nor him that is prevented by any necessity". Thus early in the history of the church baptism came to
be identified with the remission of sins and with regeneration and remained so, except for reactionary roups, until the Reformation.

It is not necessary to do more than mention briefly the various ideas concerning baptism which have been held from the time of the deformation.The Roman Catholic Church and many other members of the Episcopalian Churches hold that the actual performance of the baptismal rite effects the entrance of the child or adult into the Kingdom of Cod and in itself produces remission of sins and regeneration. 

The Lutheran Church holds that baptism is essential to salvation but states that personal faith and a right state of heart are necessary also. In the case of children there seems to be variation between the efficacy resting upon a faith given to the child and that resting upon the faith of the sponsors. 

Many evangelical Episcopalians would say the same. The Reformed Church affirms that salvation is not dependent upon baptism or any external work. Though there is a measure of spiritual power in the rite, it is still but the outward sign of an inward work performed by the Holy Spirit. All the above would baptize infants as would also the Presbyterians. The Baptists, the Christian Brethren, the Pentecostal movements, and some others maintain that baptism is only for adults who can and have exercised personal faith, and that the only valid mode is immersion.

From the Scriptural point of view it seems quite clear that baptism was ordained by our Lord, was the normal sacrament for acceptance into the Christian Church, and was generally expected to take place. The main Scripture references are the actual baptism of Christ Himself and Christ's own words in Matthew 28:19. 

In addition to this there are the various references to baptism in the Acts of the Apostles. This does not mean, however, that baptism is essential to salvation or that there is any supernatural power in the sacrament. The words in John's Gospel which seem to imply this (ch.3:5), do not necessarily do so. 

Christ is not making any reference to baptism, and it is therefore rather forced to bring it in. The word "water" can easily refer to the cleansing power of the baptism, or it has been suggested that it may refer merely to human birth, the baby in the womb being surrounded by a watery substance and being born out of this.

When, however, we consider the mode of baptism and the type of person who is eligible for baptism we find there is no general agreement and the Scriptures have been interpreted in different ways. These two points must therefore be discussed further.

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