By Elder Harold Hunt
Baptism by immersion in water, upon a profession of faith in Christ Jesus, is the manner God requires in which for his obedient children to publicly profess their faith in him. He created us, chose us to salvation by his own amazing grace, prepared a home for us in eternal heaven, and quickened us by his Spirit, and he has a right to expect us to profess faith in him publicly. Baptism by immersion in water is the manner he requires for that public profession.
Not only does he require baptism of his children; he has set baptism as the boundary line between gospel obedience and disobedience. When Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ,” Acts 2:38, he was not giving an invitation; and we make a mistake when call it an invitation. He was telling them what they must do in order to follow Christ in gospel obedience. The call to be baptized is not an invitation; it is a commandment.
A person may be baptized and still not be obedient to God’s commandments; but nobody can be obedient to his commandments without being baptized.
Nothing to do with eternal salvation
Water baptism has nothing to do with eternal salvation; the failure to be baptized will not interfere with God’s purpose to save his redeemed, and to house them with him in eternal heaven; but it has everything to do with our gospel obedience, and our enjoyment of the blessings of God in this life. In order to enjoy those benefits that are available to the child of God in gospel obedience a person must be baptized in water. Once a person is taught his duty with regard to baptism, his failure to be baptized is simply rebellion against God’s command, and no one can expect to enjoy the blessings of God while he is in a state of rebellion.
The language is clear and to the point: we are commanded to be baptized. Notice that when Christ referred to the baptism of John he uses John’s baptism to draw a clear and distinct boundary line between those who justified God, and those who rejected the counsel of God against themselves, and he shows that boundary line to be water baptism.
Luke 7:29-30, “And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” He does not leave us an option; we are commanded to be baptized.
They justified God
Notice that they “justified God” by being baptized. To justify signifies to declare to be just; that is, by being baptized, they declared that God is just in all he says and does. He is just in delivering us from our sins, and he is just in requiring us to indicate our hope in him by being baptized.
The opposite of justify is condemn. If we justify God by being baptized, it follows that we condemn him by refusing to be baptized. You cannot acknowledge the one without the other.
By being baptized we declare that God is just in all he says and does; he is just in what he requires of us. By refusing to be baptized we declare that he is unjust; especially, we indicate that he is unjust in requiring us to be baptized. We indicate that he has no right to make such a demand.
Indeed, baptism in water has nothing to do with our eternal salvation, but it is, nonetheless, a serious matter for any person who has a hope of heaven to refuse to be baptized.
Qualifications for Baptism
On the one hand, the commandment is “Repent and be baptized every one of you.” On the other hand, there are some qualifications for baptism. Not everybody is a proper subject for baptism.
Unbelievers are not to be baptized. The Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip, What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Acts 8:36. There are some things that do hinder baptism, and when those hindrances are in the way, the minister cannot proceed with the baptism. Philip answered, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest,” (Acts 8:37). If a person clearly does not have faith in Christ and his redemptive work on behalf of his people, he is not to be baptized. It is by baptism that a person publicly professes faith in Christ, and gains membership in the church. The church is an assembly of baptized believers. It is not an assembly of unbelievers. No assembly could claim to be a church if it was made up of unbelievers. It might be a social club; but it is not a church.
Infants are not to be baptized. This same text is the death knell to infant baptism. Philip says clearly enough, “If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest.” In other words, one who does not believe cannot be baptized, and little babies are not capable of believing. They may come to believe later, and that will be soon enough to baptize them, but until that day the Bible is clear enough; they cannot be baptized.
Those who show no signs of repentance are not to be baptized. Or to put it another way, those who have too high an opinion of themselves cannot be baptized. That may sound like a harsh statement to make, but again, that is the Bible pattern. When those proud, arrogant Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist to be baptized, John refused, and he refused in no uncertain terms. He called them a generation of vipers, a family of snakes Matthew 3:7, and told them that in order for him to baptize them they must bring forth fruits meet for repentance (Matthew 3:8). It is penitent believers who are to be baptized; and proud, arrogant, self-righteous individuals are not really believers, no matter how much they may protest to the contrary. A self righteous attitude indicates that one has not seen himself for the sinner he is, nor the Lord for the Savior he is. One who has seen something of his own unworthiness is filled with self loathing, and he falls humbly before the feet of Jesus. He presents himself for baptism in humble submission to the command of his Lord. He does not request baptism as something he has the right to demand.
Again, there are those whose lives, or whose living conditions, prevent them from being baptized. I Corinthians 6:9-10, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, no adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
It is by being baptized upon a public profession of faith in Christ that a person gains membership in the Lord’s church. In this passage Paul provides a list of those who cannot have membership in the Lord’s church—those who cannot be baptized.
There is repentance available for any sin a person can repent of and turn from, and Paul shows in the next verse that some of the members of the church at Corinth had, indeed, been guilty of some of those sins, and had turned from them; but so long as they were in those conditions, or were involved in those kinds of conduct, they could not inherit the kingdom of God. “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11)
We have no right to complain about those requirements the Lord has laid down for membership in the church. It is his church and he has the right to say who will be its members.
The Mode of Baptism
Baptize is a transliteration of the Greek word Baptizo (baptizo). By transliterate we mean the word was not translated; it was simply transposed into the English language by putting English letters in place of their Greek equivalents. The final o (omicron) in the Greek was exchanged for the English letter e. The Greek word is baptizo and that word came from bapto (bapto). It means to plunge, to dip, to immerse.
Baptism is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is also a symbol of the death to sin—and to the law—of the child of God, and of his resurrection to walk in newness of life with his Lord. If to baptize means to plunge, dip, or immerse, then baptism must be a plunging, dipping, or immersing. Baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in order to be a clear symbol it must involve a symbolic burial. Romans 6:4, “Therefore we are buried (literally, completely buried) with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Any form that does not involve the complete immersing of the body in water does not constitute a burying; it does not constitute baptism.
A very clear symbol
Baptism by immersion in water is a very clear symbol. When a person is baptized, he closes his eyes, folds his hands over his chest, momentarily ceases to breathe, becomes completely passive, yields himself into the hands of the minister, is lowered beneath the surface of the water, is then raised up from the water, usually shakes his head, opens his eyes, and again begins to breathe and manifest signs of life. It is impossible for human ingenuity to devise a clearer symbol of death, burial, and resurrection than God has provided for us in baptism by immersion in water.
John the Baptist was the first to baptize, and he baptized by immersion in water. John 3:23, “And John also was baptizing in Enon near to Salim, because there was much water there.” It does not take much water to sprinkle a few drops on somebody’s head, but it takes a lot of water to immerse him. John baptized in the river of Jordan, because it takes a lot of water to baptize somebody. It takes a lot of water to bury them. Mark 1:4-5, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” He baptized them in the river, that is, he plunged them in the river—he immersed them.
Authority to Baptize
Baptism is Christ’s ordinance. It belongs to him, and he calls, appoints, and sends out those whom he will have to administer it. They were first, baptized, and ordained, and then sent out. John 15:16, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” That was the pattern when the Lord called his own disciples, and the pattern is the same today. In order for any minister to have authority to baptize he must be (1) called by the Lord to preach, and (2) ordained under the authority of the church. Acts 13:2-3, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” Notice that the Holy Ghost says I have called them. The ordination was performed by the presbytery, under the authority of the church, and by the direction of the Holy Spirit, but the calling was from God. If a man has not been called of God to preach the gospel, he is not to be ordained, and he has no authority to baptize.
The Symbolism of Marriage in Baptism
Baptism is the ceremony by which the Lord’s people, the bride of Christ, are married to the Lord. We were by nature married to the Law, but Christ has fulfilled every requirement of the law on our behalf, and the law cannot require anything more of us.
The law required perfect obedience, and on our behalf he provided perfect obedience. The Law called for the death of sinners, and in our room and stead he died. When Christ died and went to the grave on our behalf, every requirement of the law went there with him.
By his suffering and death we are dead to the Law, and the Law is dead to us. Romans 7:4, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the Law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him that is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
The marriage ceremony states that the union is binding until death do us part. Now that Christ has suffered and died in order to satisfy every demand of the law, our first husband, the Law, is now dead. Our first husband being now dead, we are free to be married to another—to Christ.
Question: In baptism, does the subject become married to Christ, or does he actually become married to the church. Answer: Both. The Bible expresses it both ways.
Isaiah 62:5, “For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.”
The text in Romans talks about our being married “to him that is raised from the dead,” in other words married to Christ. The text in Isaiah talks about our being married to the virgin bride of Christ, the church. Christ is the bridegroom; the church is his bride. As the young man, the subject of baptism, is married to the church, he becomes a part of the bride of Christ—hence married to him.
Alien Baptism and Rebaptism
The question is often asked, “If I have been baptized before, why must I be baptized again in order to join your church?” Answer: If your husband dies and you take a new husband, you need a new marriage ceremony. If you have become dead to the law as it is taught by the denominational churches, and made alive to the gospel as it is taught by the true church, it is your place to be married to Christ in baptism.
Matthew 20:19-20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
The only people who are authorized to baptize are those whom God has first called to preach, and who are teaching what he taught. The baptism any man administers is only as good as the doctrine he teaches. If any person whom God has not called to preach, or who does not preach what Christ preached, does go about to administer baptism, he has no authority to do so. He is a free lance operator— he is operating on his own. He, and perhaps his church, have simply set up for themselves. No church can claim to be Christ’s church which does not teach as he taught, and no minister can claim to be administering Christ’s baptism at the same time he opposes Christ’s doctrine. He may get people wet, but he cannot baptize them. He is somewhat akin to the printer, who decides to begin printing one hundred dollar bills. The product may look very much like the real thing, but the man had no authority to print them: they are counterfeit.
An assembly may look very much like a New Testament church, but if it does not advocate those principles taught in the Scriptures, it is not the Lord’s church, and any baptism administered under its authority is invalid baptism—alien baptism—and no New Testament Church can honor that baptism. hlh