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Baptism FAQ


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BAPTISM FAQ

Index

Preface

The topic of baptism has had volumes written about it and to attempt to address it in a simple paper is certainly doomed to fall far short both in terms of breadth and depth. So, treat it as a summary or overview.

Context

Jesus the Christ radically revolutionized and simplified the way believers were to live in worship and respect for the Lord God Creator. He made it clear that He Himself was God incarnate: God who became human in order to physically exhibit and declare the plan of God for all humanity. He became one with us that we might become one with Him. During the first part of human history, those who worshiped God thought of God as external. The good news Jesus proclaimed was that it had always been God's intent to dwell WITHIN human beings and us within Him. [Colossians 1:26] The fulfillment of that concept is the answer to a prayer Jesus offered during his time on earth. [John 17:21-23]

What is the basic language definition of baptism?

The Hebrew Old Testament does not use the word.

The New Testament, written in Greek, uses two words: "Baptisma" [noun] and "Baptizo" [verb].

The street language during the time of Christ would use this word to describe a piece of cloth that had been dyed. Fabric placed into a vat of dye would emerge a different color and be termed "baptized." Literally it was placed together with the dye in order to be identified with the color of the dye.

At other times, baptism would describe a sunken ship, once sailing and identified with the wind, now submerged and identified with the water.

Additionally, the term "baptism" also meant to be overwhelmed. In fact, "overwhelmed" was its most common definition in the Greek speaking world. We still use the idea in English in expressions like, "I am immersed in work" and "I'm up-to-here in email".

These aspects can be summarized as "a placing together in such an overwhelming (radical?) way that we are identified with what we are placed in".

Vines says: Baptism; consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence (from bapto, "to dip"), is used
(a) of John's "baptism,"
(b) of Christian "baptism," see B. below;
(c) of the overwhelming afflictions and judgments to which the Lord voluntarily submitted on the cross, e.g., Luke 12:50;
(d) of the sufferings His followers would experience, not of a vicarious character, but in fellowship with the sufferings of their Master. Some mss. have the word in Mat 20:22,23; it is used in Mar 10:38,39, with this meaning.

What are the biblical references?

Moses

The Israelites escaping Egypt were placed together with Moses to be identified with deliverance.

Levitical priests

While not called baptism, the ceremonial washing and anointing of the levitical priests were a means of identification with God and His service. These aspects are reflected in John's baptism of Jesus.

John's baptism

John baptized individuals in water as a ceremony that would publicly identify them with their sins and need for repentance.

John's baptism of Jesus

John argued with Jesus when Jesus asked to be baptized. John, knowing Jesus was without sin, was confused why Jesus would request John's baptism of repentance. However, upon Jesus' insistence, all who witnessed the ceremony heard and saw that Jesus was identified with his Father [voice] and identified with the Spirit of God [descending "like" a dove].

Jesus' crucifixion

This was Jesus' identification with all of our sins (talk about overwhelming) through death.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit

John prophesied that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16) and Paul writes that we were baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). In these verses, the Spirit is described as the agent of baptism and interestingly, what we are identified with is the body (the Church) with Jesus as the head and other believers as the members. 1 Peter 3:21 clarifies that the ceremony of washing is not the significant part.

What is the history of baptism since the biblical accounts?

This is a large topic (too big for this humble paper) and the reader is directed to examine [XXXX] for further reference. [clean up]

What is the significance of baptism today? (concept vs. ceremony)

A crucial part of understanding baptism is to differentiate between the CONCEPT of baptism and the CEREMONY of baptism. Ephesians 4:4-6 anchors the concept of baptism by mentioning seven "exclusives" in God's reality: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. Notice that there is only ONE baptism. This is the one baptism that has not been mentioned until now, and is indelibly documented in 1 Corinthians 12:13, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

In this verse, 1 Cor. 12:13, three of the exclusives from Ephesians 4:4-6 are mentioned. It is obvious that the One Spirit places us together with One Lord in order to be identified with His Body [One Body]. This is the essence of baptism the one and only baptism that qualifies one for eternal acceptance in heaven. It was a spiritual transaction that you may not have been aware of, that moment you reached out to God and he reached into you and placed His Spirit within you! The verse states emphatically that ALL true believers have experienced this act of God. This is the spiritually true CONCEPT of baptism.

It is customary worldwide for a bride to wear an object or mark that identifies her as a bride. In our culture the wedding ring given at the ceremony is a symbol for all to see and know of her relationship. That ring is a symbol of a much higher value and truth than the ring itself. A bride is married [baptized] or placed into a relationship and remains married with or without her ring. Similarly, when we were placed into a relationship with our Lord God, Jesus the Christ, we experienced the spiritual marriage of that relationship.

Subsequently, believers elect to experience a public ceremony of baptism as a symbol of that relationship. It is a way to express the reality of your relationship with your Lord. You might say it is your ring to display to the world. It is also your affirmation of the faithful relationship you agreed to and became one with your lover, the Lord Jesus Christ. [clean up]

We believe that the higher calling of God is to belong to the Body of Christ, referred to in the scriptures as THE Church, classless and international. There is no need to offer or require formal organizational membership. The Christian's obligation is to follow Jesus as one's personal Lord. The leadership of a particular church's organization does not usurp God's authority or the authority Jesus left for us, which is recorded in the scriptures.

What are some other beliefs and practices regarding baptism which are held today?

The most widely held belief that diverges from the one mentioned previously is that the ceremony of baptism is actually the means by which the concept of baptism is realized. For example, in the Roman Catholic church the ceremony is required in order to be unified with Christ in heaven. Anyone who does not go through the ceremony is not saved. It follows that infant baptism is acceptible since any parent would want to baptize their child as soon as possible in order to guarantee salvation.

The argument for this belief is based on a comparison with Jewish circumcision. God ordained this for male children as a way to identify them with Himself. The difficulty with this argument is that Paul goes to great lengths to argue that the ceremony of circumcision was of no value and that what God required was a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit (Romans 2:29).

See "The New Unger's Bible Dictionary" for a more detailed description.

What is the ceremony of baptism?

While the vital aspect of baptism is the concept of baptism by the Holy Spirit, there is still a place for the ceremony and that is the topic of this section which discusses the who, what, how and when of the ceremony.

Who should be baptized?

Anyone who confesses Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Who should baptize?

The Bible does not specificly lay down any requirement but the New Testament examples all describe an official who performs the ceremony (John, Jesus, his disciples). Given this, someone in a position of leadership or authority in the church (an elder or pastor) is recommended.

When should baptism take place?

The ceremony of baptism follows from the concept of baptism. Once the concept is realized, the ceremony symbolizes it. In fact, the cermony might be the first act of practically realizing the concept.

How should the ceremony of baptism be performed?

We recommend a public ceremony presided over by a pastor or elder, consisting of full immersion in water (a pool, a lake, a river, the ocean) and accompanied by a confession of faith. However, the specific form of the ceremony does not make it more or less valid.

What about infant baptism?

Since an infant cannot choose to make Jesus his Lord, he is not able to realize the concept of baptism and so there is no impetus for the ceremony of infant baptism. There is value in a ceremony of infant dedication but this is not baptism.

What about immersion vs. sprinkling?

The ceremony is no more or less valid due to its particular method. However, a more radical ceremony such as full immersion is more in keeping with the "overwhelming" aspect of baptism than just a few drops of water sprinkled on the head.