Before you roll your eyes and say, “Oh great! Another Christian Church guy getting on his soapbox about baptism!” let me just point out that this is the first article on this blog that deals exclusively with this topic. Also, in my defense, it does us all some good to review the basic doctrines of our faith. It seems that the baptism issue comes and goes in cycles for me. I will have seasons where I haven’t seriously discussed its doctrinal significance with someone in several weeks and then within a week I find myself debating with Christ-followers from other denominations in e-mails, internet forums and real life all within a week. That being the case this week I found myself thinking how convenient it would be to be able to point someone to a document or article that articulates what I believe about baptism and why I view it is a necessary step in the salvation process.
Before we dive in (no pun intended) let me just say that when I say baptism, I am referring to the immersion of a repentant believer into water. The details of why I believe this fall outside of the scope of what I want to say here (in other words, it’s dry and boring too complicated to give it a proper treatment now.) Now that you know what mode of baptism I believe is Scriptural, let’s answer the question, “Why Baptism?”
I have three simple reasons for teaching baptism as an essential step in the plan of salvation. I know there are those who will disagree, but my prayer is that you read each reason thoroughly and prayerfully consider what is revealed. At the end I will give one final appeal for considering baptism. You ready? Here we go!
Reason #1: Christ Commanded It
Imagine the closing scene of a movie. The hero is about to ride off into the sunset, but it’s a bittersweet goodbye. This hero is leaving and his closest friends will not see him again this side of heaven. The music becomes soft and mournful as the hero turns to address his followers. What will he say? It must be monumentally important, for these are the last words his loved ones will hear from him. You find yourself on the edge of your seat as you lean forward in anticipation of what he will say. This is precisely where the disciple found themselves as Jesus prepared to ascend into Heaven. Jesus’ words? “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Okay, turn off the computer and go back to work. The Lord Jesus commanded baptism and that’s all we need to hear on the subject. What? Not enough? That’s a shame. Jesus Himself commanded us to include baptism in the disciple-making process (Matthew 28:19-20), and He also said that he who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16). As some of His last words before leaving earth, these commands carry some authority. In fact, they carry all the “authority in heaven and earth.” To me the debate surrounding baptism has always been more of a ‘Lordship’ issue than it is a ‘Doctrinal’ issue. If Christ is our Lord, we should obey Him. Can’t you hear Him pleading, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). But let’s take this even deeper. Baptism is not merely a lordship issue, it’s a love issue. I have had many passionate discussions about baptism with many passionate people. People whom I know love God and the things of God. So if you claim to love Jesus, but still want to deny the importance of baptism (even in the light of Jesus’ commands concerning the matter) then I must confront you with Jesus’ own words, “If you love me you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:15) No one who claims to love Jesus can blithely set aside His commands on any matter, including baptism.
Reason #2: The Apostles Taught It
If baptism was a marginal teaching of Jesus, then we could expect it to be marginalized by the apostles. But that is simply not the case. You can’t get two full chapters into the book of Acts (the New Testament history of the Church) before you hear the bold voice of Peter belting out the first invitation, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, for the forgiveness of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Three thousand would respond to that invitation and were immersed that very day. As you scour the book of Acts you find numerous baptisms and commands to be baptized:
- Samaritans are baptized (Acts 8)
- Simon the Sorcerer is baptized (Acts 8)
- The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8)
- Saul/Paul’s baptism (Acts 9)
- Peter commands Cornelius and his household to be baptized (Acts 10)
- Lydia and her household are baptized (Acts 16)
- So was the Philippian Jailer (Acts 16)
- Converts in Corinth were baptized (Acts 18)
- And so were converts in Ephesus (Acts 19)
But the baptism talk doesn’t end with Acts. It continues throughout the Epistles (the writings of the Apostles) as the Apostles continue to teach it. Just a condensed look at what these followers of Jesus had to say about baptism should convince us of its vital role:
- Baptism frees us to walk in a newness of life (Romans 6)
- When we are baptized into Christ we are robed in His righteousness (Galatians 3:27)
- Baptism unites all believers with a common birth (Ephesians 4:5)
- Baptism associates us with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Colossians 2:12)
- Baptism saves us (I Peter 3:21)
The New Testament is anything but silent on the issue of baptism. Why? Because the Apostles obeyed their Lord Jesus Christ out of love and carried out His command to baptize, and they taught that commandment to the earliest converts to Christianity.
Reason #3: The Church Practiced It
Exhibit A: The book of Acts. Just a glance at the list above shows that baptism was practiced and not merely taught in the first century church. In fact, you cannot find an instance in Acts of someone converting to Christianity and not being baptized immediately. This precedent did not stop there however.
Exhibit B: The early church- For the first two centuries of church history there was an amazing unity concerning the doctrine of baptism. All the earliest church fathers agreed that baptism was to be done by immersion and was an essential step in the salvation process. The only possible exception is The Didache, a late-first century document that never denies the importance of baptism but does allow for pouring, but only in extreme circumstances when there was not enough water available for full immersion. Even as the church progressed into the third and fourth centuries, while the method of baptism began to be debated, its necessity never was. If those closest to the apostles viewed baptism as essential and practiced it, who are we to pretend we are somehow more ‘enlightened’ than they? The fact is the early church set a precedent for us to follow, and in keeping with the command of Christ and the teaching of the Apostles, we would do well to keep that precedent.
A Final Appeal
I realize that not everyone will be convinced. I also realize that for many, admitting they need to be immersed for the forgiveness of sins means admitting that loved ones who have passed away were not, even though they loved Jesus deeply. Let me encourage you with this advice. First, God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. He will judge, not me, not you. Second, regardless of what decisions your loved ones made, that does not change what is true. I stand behind the truth of Scripture when it comes to the subject of baptism, and I would be a poor steward of the Word of God if I did not teach that truth correctly. Our responsibility as Christians is to know the truth and conform to it.
So while you may ask, “Why Baptism?” I will counter with “Why not baptism?” Read through the Scriptures listed in this article. You will find the following benefits of baptism:
- Forgiveness of sin
- Gift of the Holy Spirit
- Freedom to walk in the newness of life
- A participation in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection
- Unity with the Body of Christ
- Being clothed with Christ’s righteousness
- A clean conscience
If you claim to be a Christian, can you honestly say you do not desire these things? These are all precious gems found in the treasure box of baptism. Why baptism? Why not?
 Long story short- the Greek word baptizo can only be defined as to ‘plunge, dip or immerse’ and history shows us that baptism by immersion was the practice of the early Church for the first two centuries of her existence.
Hey Dave, Thanks for the article. It did bring up a question in my mind. When did the debate about whether baptism was necessary or not begin?
Great question Tommy. There are some teachers here and there that began to dispute it’s necessity in the 5th and 6th centuries and forward. But these were largely condemned as heretics and they never gained any traction. This all changed with the Reformation. Luther’s proclamation “Sola Scriptura. Sola Gratia. Sola Fidei.” (through scripture alone, through grace alone, through faith alone) gained popularity and many of his followers took this to the extreme that ‘faith only’ groups believe in today (even though Luther’s early writings indicate that he viewed baptism as essential). While Luther was doing that in Germany, another group of scholars in Switzerland led by John Calvin began to follow his systematic theology as taught in his Institutes of Religion where he rightly condemns attempting being saved by works, but incorrectly categorizes baptism as one such work. But again Calvin seemed to have mixed feelings on this topic as his writings at time recognize the importance of baptism, but he never elevates it to an essential part of salvation. While I do not want to diminish what the leaders of the Reformation did in breaking away from the tyranny of Catholicism, they took the pendulum from one extreme of sacraments and works and swung it to the other extreme of zero sacraments and faith only.
Wonderful, insightful, clear, concise, and SO TRUE!! I love to witness to people about Jesus, and always ask them if they have been immersed into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins! You brought out more ideas that I can use in my witnessing! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this! I really stopped and pondered that statement that it is a LORDSHIP issue. You are SO RIGHT on that- I just had not thought of it like that before. We cannot get to heaven unless we have “contacted” or been “washed in the blood of Jesus”- baptism is where we meet Him and He “washes us from our sins in His own blood.” Rev. 1: 5. “He that is dead is freed from sin.” Romans 6: 7
Another interesting point to make is the reason why the “thief on the cross” was not required to be baptized– 1 Peter 3: 21 says that ” baptism now saves you… by the RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ…” Jesus had not died and been raised from the dead yet when the thief was on the cross. Baptism is a “picture” of the DEATH, BURIAL,and
RESURRECTION of Jesus– that is also alluded to in Romans 6: 4.
May The Lord BLESS you as you hold forth the WHOLE GOSPEL!!