SUCH an ancient ritual as water baptism seems passé in the Western world. Today's sophisticated brands of society religions no longer require baptismal rites — especially those entailing total immersion in water. Most people dismiss water baptism as an antiquated ceremony to be relegated to a primitive, medieval church.
But can we afford to cashier this biblical custom without a hearing? The purpose of this article is to briefly examine the scriptural revelation's teaching — beginning with the man who instituted New Testament baptismal ceremonies.
John the Baptist John the Baptist prepared the way for the first coming of Jesus Christ (John 1:23; Luke 1:17).
But today this rugged and rustic individual would probably be looked upon as a prime candidate for the proverbial funny farm. His contemporaries accused him of being demon possessed because of his unconventional behavior. He habitually resorted to the wilderness of Judaea — subsisting on locusts and wild honey. He was a nondrinker — never touched a drop of hard liquor in his life. He never even performed a miracle.
Yet Jesus said of John: "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist..." (Matt. 11:11). A very singular compliment indeed!
John was named after his profession. Little wonder! He was among the first to literally baptize with water.
The Apostle John (no relation) documents the details: "John [the Baptist] answered them, saying, I baptize with water" (John 1:26). "... Therefore am I come baptizing with water" (verse 31 ). "... But he that sent me to baptize with water" (verse 33). "John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there..." (John 3:23).
But Why Water? The foregoing biblical passages make it plain that John employed abundant amounts of water while performing baptismal ceremonies.
But why use water? And why even baptize period? And for that matter, what possible need could there be for such first-century religious rituals in modern-day Christian life?
To begin with, this earth is simply filled with what is chemically known as H2O. Not so with the universe. Surprisingly, "... In the universe as a whole, liquid water of any kind - sweet or salt — is an exotic rarity ..." (Lincoln Barnett, "The Miracle of the Sea," Life, February 9, 1953, p. 58).
However, a gracious God made water one of the most plentiful and widely distributed substances on the face of the earth. It is nature's most perfect cleansing agent.
Biblical revelation, therefore, symbolizes water as a spiritual cleanser. Ananias charged Paul: "... Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins..." (Acts 22:16). Christ cleanses the Church "with the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26). God cleansed the earth of universal sin by a universal flood of waters (Gen. 7).
Peter wrote of Noah's Flood: "... Eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us... by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 3:20-21).
Baptism Is Symbolic Water baptism is figuratively symbolic of death and the resurrection. Paul further explains: "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:3-6).
The baptismal ceremony is crucial to true Christian salvation. It profoundly pictures the repentant sinner's willingness to bury his old self in water; then, rising up out of the water completely cleansed from past sins, to begin to live a totally different life — pleasing to God.
The children of Israel symbolically acted out this experience in the Red Sea. Paul wrote: "... All our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (I Cor. 10:1-2).
A Brief History of Baptism Biblical revelation fixes the fact that baptism continued from John's ministry to Christ's ministry — and then through the time of Paul and the twelve apostles.
John baptized Jesus (Matt. 3:16). "... Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John" (John 4:1). Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:36-39). Peter baptized the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10:47). And Paul baptized Crispus and Gaius (I Cor. 1:14).
But, should the Church sanction this deeply symbolic ceremony today?
Baptism Necessary Today? Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to baptize repentant persons throughout all ages: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway[s], even unto the end of the world... " (Matt. 28:19-20). And again, "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" (Mark 16:15-16).
Christ's clear injunctions are plain. Water baptism is imperative — a vital link in the Christian chain of events. Peter said: "Repent, and be baptized ... and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]" (Acts 2:38). Water baptism symbolically cleanses and purifies the repentant sinner from his past sins.
Are you willing to study the subject further? If so, read our two free Ambassador College publications titled All About Water Baptism and What Is a Real Christian? These two attractively printed booklets clarify many common misconceptions concerning water baptism.