Doctrine of Baptism


Baptism is very controversial. It is as controversial as the New Testament is controversial. The Doctrine of Baptism separates Christian churches and denominations. Let us set aside doctrine for the moment. What does the Bible says about baptism. Over the years, my understanding of Baptism has changed. Perhaps yours has also. I would like to believer that our understandings have changed because we have been led by the Spirit. A frozen doctrine almost precludes us from being open to the Spirit, but it is the Spirit which leads unto all truth.

What did baptism mean to the Jews. It was a way of allowing Gentiles to join the Jewish faith, They were considered heathen, but if they acknowledged that they were sinners who needed God’s mercy and forgiveness, then baptism offered them entrance into the faith and practice of Judaism. To require a Jewish member of the faith to go through the same procedure was unheard of, but that was the ministry of John the Baptist:

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.   (Matthew 3:4-6)

Why should a Jewish person be baptized? John’s answer is significant:

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.   (Matthew 3:7-10)

John is saying that no one has status. Birth right, heritage, church affiliation, and the like had very little to do with baptism in John’s thinking. Everyone must stand before God and be cleansed so that God may transform them and empower them to produce good fruit. Let us assume that this is true for us today, regardless of church affiliation. Perhaps we need to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into the truth about this matter. John’s theology was not dismissed by Jesus. We see Jesus setting the example for us by going through baptism himself:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”   (Matthew 3:13-17)

Now let us examine another baptism about which John speaks:

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”   (Luke 3:15-17)

Jesus has a baptism that follows John’s. This baptism is one that Jesus must first go through Himself. We first hear about specifics concerning this baptism when certain of disciples vie for special position in the Kingdom of God. Jesus gives this answer:

And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”(Mark 10:37-40)

Jesus’ baptism was suffering and the cross. He alludes to this with the Samaritan woman at the well when she questions Jesus why He would ask her to give Him a drink. Jesus replies:

 “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”   (John 4:10-14

The living water would be the result of the cross. John’s Gospel gives further explanation here:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit,[m] because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John7:37-39

Jesus’ glorification to which John’s Gospel is referring is the cross. The Apostle Paul explains how we must go through a similar baptism of Jesus by going through our own cross:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.   (Romans 6:3-5)

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.   (Galatians 2:19-20)

Should not God’s working of baptism happen all at once? Surely it can, but not always. Let us examine this sequence in the Book of Acts:

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — altogether there were about twelve of them.   (Acts 19:1-7)

Why so many baptisms. I thought there was only one:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.   (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Yes, there is one baptism just as God is One. God is the One who baptizes. His baptism is a lifelong experience, not a one-time ticket punching event. Did not John say that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The fire of God will burn out the dross in us:

 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”   (Matthew 3:12)

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”   (Mark 9:49-50

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.   (1 Corinthians 3:12-14)

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