Is water baptism necessary for salvation? Does it matter how it is done or who performs it? Are there any preconditions to baptism? Does the Bible sanction infant baptism?
MODERN "churchianity" is hopelessly, and typically, divided on the question of baptism. Accepted methods include sprinkling, immersion and even squirting with a fire hose! Some denominations do not regard baptism as essential to salvation. The Eastern Orthodox Church practices triple immersion while others merely sprinkle with a few droplets of water. At least one major denomination requires the candidate for baptism to wait until the age of eight — yet others will only perform the rite on adults. To a number of churches, infant baptism is perfectly acceptable, if not required. Why should such doctrinal division exist on such a fundamental question? If all Christians would follow Christ and the Bible He inspired instead of holding to mere human traditions, the fog would rapidly clear. The Maker's Instruction Book — the Bible — is not vague on this crucial question. Ephesians 4:4-5 instructs: "There is one body [one true Church), and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith [body of beliefs), ONE BAPTISM." There is, then, only one acceptable method of baptism. And there is a very important reason why this is so!
What Baptism Pictures
The English term "baptism" is derived from a Greek word baptizo. Its meaning reveals much about why there is only one acceptable method. Baptizo means to "immerse" or "submerge" in water or any other substance. In contemporary non-Christian literature of the apostles' day, the word was used to mean "plunge," "sink" or "overwhelm." (See A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich.) Being logical, God selected this particular Greek word since it so vividly depicts the symbolic meaning of the rite of baptism. To immerse is to bury in water — which is exactly what baptism represents — a burial. Notice it in Romans 6:4: "Therefore we are 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." In baptism, the old you — the way you were — is symbolically buried. You emerge from the watery baptismal grave a new person in Christ. Your whole way of life is now changed. You have a different sense of direction in life. It is now your intention to serve God instead of Satan the devil and his way of life (Rom. 6:6, 16-18). This is why mere sprinkling is not enough for the rite of baptism. To sprinkle could not symbolize the purpose of baptism!
More Proof for Immersion
During the Renaissance Period, it was popular for artists to depict the supposed baptism of Jesus by showing a man standing ankle- or knee-deep in a river (allegedly the Jordan) while another poured a miniscule amount of water from a seashell on his head! Stop and think about it. Why stand far out into a river if all that was necessary to "baptize" was a seashell full of water? (And how did he find a SEAshell by the Jordan River?) Of course, these artists based their paintings on mere human tradition and not on the Word of God.
Editor's Note: Actually full immersion was generally practiced until the late 1200's. In the year 1155, Thomas Aquinas wrote: "Baptism may be given not only by immersion, but also by effusion of water, or sprinkling with it. But it is the safer way to baptize by immersion, because that is the most common custom" (quoted by Wall, His Baptism, Vol. II, pp. 391-393). Also Brenner — after a full investigation of the administration of baptism through the centuries — wrote: "Thirteen hundred years was baptism generally and regularly an immersion by the person under the water, and only in extraordinary cases a sprinkling or pouring with water; the latter [sprinkling or pouring} moreover, was disputed — nay, even forbidden" (Brenner, Catholic History, p. 306).
Now let's look at the Biblical account of Christ's baptism: "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.... And Jesus, when he was baptized [immersed], went up straightway out of the water" (Matt. 3:13, 16). Notice! Jesus Himself must have been totally in — submerged under — the water in order to have come up out of it! Further proof of immersion as the proper mode of baptism as opposed to mere sprinkling is found in John 3:23: "And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized." Notice that much water was necessary for baptism! The water had to be of sufficient depth to completely cover the candidate for baptism as a symbolic burial. It should be plain that the Bible teaches total submersion as the only correct method of baptism. Any other method is merely man-made tradition and is contrary to the inspired Word of God!
Three Kinds of Immersion
Water baptism is an outward sign of inward repentance. It demonstrates to God your willingness to shelve permanently your old way of life and walk in His new way of life. Its meaning is strictly symbolic. Water baptism itself has no mystical or magical effects on the person who is immersed. Its only physical effect is to get the person thoroughly wet! Nor is the Holy Spirit given by water baptism. Surprisingly, a real Christian must experience two baptisms or immersions! John the Baptist spoke of the second Christian baptism. He had just been warning the hypocritical Sadducees to demonstrate some fruits, or results, of their alleged repentance. He then explained that: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize [immerse] you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire" (Matt.3:11). Here John referred to two other kinds of immersion — neither of them in water. One of them is with the Holy Spirit and another with or in fire! What did he mean? The very next verse (12) explains the baptism with fire. John stated that Jesus would ultimately burn up the spiritual chaff of humanity with unquenchable fire. This refers to the final punishment of the wicked. The baptism of fire is not associated, as some say, with the "cloven tongues like as [flames] of fire, and it sat upon each of them" (Acts 2:3). This was a special sign of the receipt of the Holy Spirit given on only this one occasion. But what about that second baptism of true Christians — that of the Holy Spirit? This is explained in 1 Corinthians 12:13: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized [immersed] into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." Notice — the scripture does not say we are baptized in the Holy Spirit — but by it! That is, the receiving of the Holy Spirit in our minds as a begettal puts us into the spiritual body of Christ, which is His Church!
The Laying on of Hands
The Holy Spirit is given following water baptism (picturing one's repentance from sin) after, and as a result of, having the minister's hands laid on him with prayer. Notice this in the eighth chapter of Acts. Here we have the account of Simon Magus (actual beginner of the false "New Testament" religion) seeking the power and office of apostleship (verse 19). "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus)" (Acts 8:14-16). Notice that even though the people had experienced water baptism they did not yet have the Holy Spirit! This plainly shows that the Holy Spirit is not given at or by water baptism. But how and when is it given? The next verse (17) explains: "THEN LAID THEY THEIR HANDS ON THEM, AND THEY RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT." Here we find that the Holy Spirit — God's power and His mind — is given to a person by the laying on of hands following baptism. Note also Acts 19:6 in this regard. Following the rite or ordinance of baptism and after prayer, the minister lays hands on the baptized person and God grants His Holy Spirit as a begettal. This immerses or plunges the person into the Church, which is the spiritual body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13). And that is the true baptism of the Holy Spirit!
Who May Be Baptized?
God does not discriminate against any race or status in society. The opportunity to be a Christian is open to all who are willing to obey God. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Of course, that does not mean there are no races in the Church, any more than it means there are no sexes! If this verse meant the Church is to do away with all the varied racial groups which God created, it would also by extension mean the end of sexes, which in turn would mean the end of the human race! God obviously intended that there be distinct sexes. But all should be included in the body of, Christ with no distinction made spiritually in that regard. Yet many are afraid to request baptism they do not feel they "know enough." This fear is usually unfounded. In order to be baptized is it necessary to know all the books of the Bible in their inspired order, the acrostic Psalms in the Old Testament, the background of all the minor prophets, and have a complete understanding of the political situation in the cities Paul traveled? Of course not! The one basic prerequisite for baptism given in God's Word is repentance (Acts 2 :38). What we repent of is sin, which is the violation of any of God's laws (I John 3:4). The only way you are going to know what laws to repent of breaking is to look into the Word of God — the Bible! And even that would be a waste of time unless you had first proved to yourself that there is a God! As Paul said, "...For he that cometh to God must believe that he is..." (Heb. 11:6). It should be obvious that the 3000 people who were baptized on the day of Pentecost in 31 A. D. were not all Bible scholars! They undoubtedly knew only the basics. But what they knew, they KNEW! They readily accepted the Word of God (Acts 2:41). They were not in doubt. They felt a deep, sincere repentance, as we find in Acts 2:37. "Now when they heard this [the account of how they also were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ], they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Did Peter then take the opportunity to offer them a six-month course in the traditions of the elders? Or did he advise them to go into a long systematic study of all the doctrines of the Bible? Not at all! He simply instructed them to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Then they would receive the Holy Spirit, which would lead them into more and more truth (John 16:13), and then they would grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:l8). That growth continues as long as the person lives! One cannot be expected to know it all at the beginning. But as long as a person continues to study daily and accept the Bible teaching on various subjects, God will continue to bless that person. The Bereans had the right approach. "These [the Jews of Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:ll). They had a positive attitude toward Bible study. As God's ministers expounded more truth to them, they diligently checked the scriptures and confirmed the truth of their words. As a result: "... Therefore many of them believed" (verse 12). This is all God expects of any Christian. It is merely a matter of growing in the faith of Jesus Christ. It is a case of overcoming and developing spiritually. But you have to start somewhere!
Many professing Christians have been baptized. But there was no real change in their lives — they had NOT really REPENTED. For those of you who have been baptized in the past, or have had a "religious experience," the puzzling question often arises: "What should I do? Should I be re-baptized?" Others, having never been baptized, have come to realize the absolute necessity of it as a requirement toward salvation. But, whatever your category, you may need to counsel with a true minister of God. The Worldwide Church of God has ministers in all parts of the United States and many other parts of the world. They are ready to counsel with you personally — to answer your questions — and to baptize any who are ready for it. As a result of this Work, the lives of thousands have been, and are being, dramatically changed! The fruits of conversion are being borne in the many lives of those who have been baptized by the ministers of this Work. So, if you have deeply repented and sincerely want to be baptized, or if you are just desirous of discussing these vital subjects with a qualified and dedicated servant of God, please write and let us know. Of course, these men will NOT call on you unless you request it. But, if you of your own volition do desire a private appointment, feel free to write and request such a visit. That's what these men are there for.