Did you know that John the Baptist temporarily forbade Jesus Christ from being baptized? But does any man — be he minister, prophet or layman — have the right to deny a truly repentant sinner the ordinance of water baptism? Even before His ministry began, Jesus Christ journeyed to the Jordan River for the express purpose of being baptized in water. Matthew, the former tax collector, records this surprising account: "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him" (Matt. 3:13). His request was politely turned down! "But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" (Verse 14.)
Jesus could have said: "Okay John, you're right, let me baptize you instead. After all, I've never sinned. But you have and you need to be cleaned up by me personally." But Christ didn't say that. Notice what He did say: "... Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness" (verse 15). Jesus of Nazareth actually called the ordinance of baptism — a form ritual if you please — an act of righteousness!
There is no biblical record of Jesus baptizing John. In fact, the Bible indicates that Jesus never personally baptized a single person. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, had this to say about the subject: "When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples) ..." (John 4:1-2). Apparently Jesus immersed no one! However, Peter, John, James, Andrew and the others did it by His authority and in His name. Their baptisms were every bit as valid as if Jesus had personally performed them!
People sometimes attribute a great deal of importance to the particular personality performing the baptismal ceremony, but the Bible itself attaches little importance to the human instrument.
New Testament Commands. After Jesus' resurrection to eternal life, commandments concerning water baptism are among His final instructions to His disciples: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: 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 [Greek, age]" (Matt. 28:19- 20). Some would say that Jesus was exclusively instructing His personal disciples that He trained as a human being. They would deny any modern application. But the context of the scripture indicates otherwise. Jesus Christ said He would be with His Church even to the end of the age. And He knew His personal disciples would die before His second coming (see John 21:18-19 and the parable of the pounds in Luke 19).
Although some scholars question the textual validity of all but the first eight verses of Mark 16, its instructions are even more explicit: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned [or judged] " (Mark 16:15-16).
Acts 2:38 is one of the most basic texts in all of the Bible. The Worldwide Church of God has previously published a series of articles thoroughly explaining each phrase of this vital verse. Read Peter's clear-cut instructions to a group of bewildered, conscience-stricken sinners: "Repent, and be baptized everyone of you...." Notice that no one there was to be excluded from either repentance or baptism.
About 3000 people were obedient to the apostle: " Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (verse 41). The Church was beginning to grow very rapidly. It will become apparent as we proceed through early church history that every single convert was baptized in water. Notice Acts 8:12: "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women [not children]." These were Gentiles, not Jewish converts.
Word reached the Jerusalem Church that Philip had brought the gospel to Samaria. The Elders then sent Peter and John to follow up Philip's preaching (verse 14). These two apostles prayed that the Samaritan converts would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 15). "Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (verse 17). The laying on of hands is an important adjunct to the baptismal ceremony. It is normally done immediately after water baptism.
Means to an End. Baptism is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. It is a prior requirement to receiving the Holy Spirit of God — without which we can never attain eternal life (see Rom. 8:9-11). Paul's conversion illustrates the point. Recall that he was struck blind on a trip to Damascus. God sent a dedicated church member to heal him. Notice the two ritualistic forms observed in the account: "And Ananias... entered into the house; and putting his hands on him [the laying on of hands] said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus... hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately there fell from his eyes... scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized" (Acts 9:17 -18). Note the companion account in Acts 22:16: "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins...."
Baptism symbolically washes away the sins of the repentant sinner, making his body a fit vessel for the Holy Spirit.
Baptism Imperative. In spite of the fact that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, Peter was chosen of God to be the first apostle to take the gospel to non-Jewish nations. He was sent to the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. While Peter was bringing them a very strong sermon, "the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word" (Acts 10:44). These Gentiles were given the gift of the Holy Spirit without being baptized first.
This was not unprecedented. There is no biblical record that the eleven apostles who initially received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost were ever baptized prior to that event either (see Acts 2). Of course, it is certainly possible John the Baptist may have baptized some or all of them (see John 1:32- 40).
Normally repentance, baptism and the laying on of hands precede the receipt of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:38; 8:12-18; 19:1-6). But the very first pouring out of that Spirit on both the Israelites and the Gentiles occasioned the only two apparent exceptions revealed in the New Testament documents.
Still Peter insisted on water baptism! Continue: "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:47- 48).
Anyone who is physically able to be baptized should definitely be willing to undergo the ceremony. It goes without saying that the thief on the cross simply was not able to come down from the cross to be baptized. God provides for such rare exceptions. A terminally ill cancer patient might be a modern example. The doctor may advise that immersion in water might be critically hazardous to the patient's health. In such a case the minister might lay his hands on such a person, and God, in all likelihood, would honor the minister's request by giving the sick one the gift of His Holy Spirit.
But does this mean that a minister may indiscriminately waive the ordinance of baptism for any repentant sinner? Decidedly not! The New Testament instructions and examples are clear! No minister, in contradiction to the many plain scriptures on the subject, may dole out any " carte blanche " permissions for able-bodied persons not to be baptized.
Water baptism is imperative — a vital link in the chain of events in becoming a real Christian. Baptism symbolically cleanses and purifies the repentant sinner from his past sins.
Private Counsel and Publications. Ministers of the Worldwide Church of God both teach and practice the biblical doctrine of water baptism. They are available for counsel around the world (see box on page 29 for the details). Also available are our free booklets All About Water Baptism and What Is a Real Christian? These two publications clarify many common misconceptions concerning water baptism. Please request both booklets by return mail. Addresses are at the end of the staff box on the inside front cover.
Baptism By Immersion? John the Baptist set an example of the Christian ceremonial form of total immersion in water: "John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there..." (John 3:23). Whether he learned this rite from Jewish baptizers in the Palestinian area or from direct revelation is an open question. What is clear is that Jesus endorsed John's method of total immersion.
"Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.... And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water..." (Matt. 3:13-16).
As many other New Testament examples affirm, the only valid form of baptism is total immersion in a symbolic watery grave. Only a complete submerging could properly picture the death of the "old" man (Rom. 6:3-6).
Actually, full immersion was generally practiced until the late 1200s A.D. In the year 1155, theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote: "Baptism may be given not only by immersion, but also by affusion 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).
Further: "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).
Even today some few denominations still teach baptism by immersion. Any other method is merely man-made tradition and contrary to the inspired New Testament teaching.