Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST009/10 The Mode of Baptism


The Mode of Baptism

(i) The Mode of Baptism.

As has been mentioned above many Christian bodies do not insist on immersion for baptism but consider sprinkling or pouring to be quite sufficient. The Baptists, Brethren and others insist that true
baptism should be by immersion. It is doubtful if any would deny that immersion is a valid mode but they would deny that it is the only valid mode. It seems best to state briefly the arguments for and against immersion being the only valid mode.

Arguments for Immersion.

(1) The meaning of the word  (baptizo).

The word is connected with a shorter word (bapto) and both words originally meant "to dip" and from this came the meanings "to dye" or "to imbue". Wiley in his "Christian Theology" seems to be a little off the mark here. He states that classical writers use the word in the sense of "moisten", "tinge" or "sprinkle". 

This does not seem to be the case. All the meanings seem to include the idea of being plunged or engulfed. The words are used of a sinking ship or a person engulfed in trouble or sorrow. The meaning "dye" or "imbue" is due to the fact that the object must be plunged or dipped in the substance. 

The only use with any kind of difference is that of ceremonial washing of cups and hands. This was often done by holding the hands under pouring water, but even so the idea is that the hands are completely covered by the water.

(2) The inference from the baptisms by John the Baptist and Philip.

In both cases the record seems to imply that Jesus and the Ethiopian eunuch were immersed. In both cases it says that they came up out of the water and in the case of the eunuch that they also went down into the water. It should be pointed out, however, that immersion is not the essential inference from these records. Exactly the same phrases would have been used if they had gone down into the river or lake and had the water poured over them.

(3) The inference from Romans chapter six.

The words "buried with Him by baptism into death" seem to imply immersion. It is true that the apostle is probably not speaking of water baptism but of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but this does not alter the fact that he is obviously thinking of baptism as the type, and the best type for his purpose is clearly immersion.

(4) The normal custom of the Jews.

Baptism was quite common among the Jews for proselytes and was normally by immersion.

Arguments against Immnersion.

(1) The baptisms in the house of Cornelius and of the Philippian jailer.

It seems difficult to imagine a tank or pond large enough in these houses or in the jail to make immersion possible in the true sense of the word. It is not, though, beyond the realms of possibility.

(2) The baptisms by John the Baptist and on the Day of Pentecost.

The very large numbers beptized on these two occasions make it hard to believe that they were all immersed.

(3) The baptism of Jesus and the Ethiopian eunuch.

As was mentioned above the phrases used could be taken in a different way from that, meaning immersion. The Greek prepositions in the time of the New Testament were losing some of their strong original force.

(4) Other methods used.

It does seem that other modes were used very early, though proof in either direction is not easy.

(5) Impossible situations.

The other modes mentioned above were used in connection with the sick or dying. There are clearly situations which arise where a person could not be baptized by immersion, not only because of the condition of the person but also because of conditions around, e.g. lack of water and other reasons. 

If there are some occasions where pouring or sprinkling may be necessary and allowable, then immersion cannot be dogmatically asserted to be always the only valid method. It seems therefore, that immersion is the best type of the experience entered into, that it was the cosmon method in the early church. It is difficult to maintain, however, that it is always the only valid rite. The essence of the rite does, though, seem to he in the fact of its being public.

(ii) The Subjects of Baptism.

The next point at issue is the question as to who are the subjects for baptism. It is clear enough from the New Testament that in the early days of the church men and women were baptized on confession of faith and the rite was therefore always administered to adults.

It is maintained though, that there are three instances where children were probably baptized. An investigation of these instances shows that only two are really valid and these are not sufficiently strong to make them by any means proof cases. The first is the case of the Philippian jailer. Here the record says, "they spake the word of the Lord to him with all that were in his house, he was baptized, he and all his, immediately". 

The inference is that the "all that were in his house" were those who had heard the word and believed as the jailer was told to do. These were the ones who were baptized and children were not necessarily included even if they were there. 

The other instances occur in 1 Cor.1:16 and Acts 16:15. In each case we read of a "household" being baptized. The word "household" refers to all in the house including servants. The word would be used whether there were children in the house or not and there is no proof whatsoever that there were actually children in these households.

It is quite certain, though, that infant baptism did commence early in the history of the church and by the end of the second century, or before, was general practice. It is still the practice of many churches and only the Baptists, the Christian Brethren, the Pentecostal Churches and some other smaller denominations stand against it. 

It is necessary, therefore, to give a summary of the argument for the rite of infant baptism. It is based, first, on the fact of Christ's blessing little children and saying of such is the kingdom of heaven". The other basis lies in likening baptism to circumcision in the Abrahamic and Jewish covenant.

It is said that just as every Jewish child had to be circuzcized to enable him to share in the blessings of the covenant which God made with them through Abraham, in the same way children should be baptized to make them partakers of the new covenant. There seem, however, to be one or two fallacies in this argument. The old covenant was a national one not an individual one, and I think I am right in saying that no child could become a proselyte and be circumcized.

It was only for those in the nation. We do not become members of the new spiritual kingdom by birth but by new birth, and that only comes through faith. There is another weakness; and I think also it is true that all the family was present at the Passover and entered into it even when they did not fully appreciate its meaning. 

Then, if baptism takes the place of circumcision, surely the Lord's Supper takes the place of the Passover. On this basis we should allow children to partake of the Lord's Supper. It is only fair to say that some do, but few evangelicals would do so, if any.

Apart from the fact that it does not appear to be Scriptural, the dangers arising from infant baptism are too great to make it wise. The step from infant baptism to baptismal regeneration is far easier than that from adult baptism to baptismal regeneration.


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