Chapter 26: Christian Baptism

Christ instituted baptism after the resurrection. (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16) He charged His disciples to baptize those who were made disciples “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” that is, into special relationship with the triune God. While He did not intend to prescribe a formula, the Church chose the words of the institution, when it felt the need of one. The present formula was in use before the beginning of the second century. Protestants regard a baptism legitimate, which is administered by a duly accredited minister and in the name of the triune God, while Roman Catholics, who regard baptism as absolutely necessary unto salvation, permit its administration, in case the life of a child is in danger, also to others than priests, particularly to midwives.

1. THE PROPER MODE OF BAPTISM. Baptists not only maintain that the proper mode of baptism is by immersion, but even assert that immersion belongs to the very essence of baptism. Baptism applied in any other way is not baptism at all. They hold that the fundamental idea of baptism is that of being buried and rising again with Christ, Romans 6:3-6; Colossians 2:12, and that this is symbolically indicated only by immersion. But Scripture clearly represents purification as the essential thing in the symbolism of baptism. (Ezekiel 36:25; John 3:25-26; Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:21)  And this can be symbolized by sprinkling or pouring as well as by immersion. (Leviticus 14:7; Numbers 8:7; Ezekiel 36:25; Hebrews 9:19-22; 10:22)

Consequently the mode of baptism is quite immaterial: it may be administered by immersion, but also by pouring or sprinkling. But the Baptists have another argument, namely, that the New Testament warrants only baptism by immersion. However, they fail to prove their point. Jesus did not prescribe a certain mode of baptism, and the Bible never stresses any particular mode. The word (BAPTIZO) employed by Jesus does not necessarily mean ‘to immerse,’ but may also mean ‘to purify by washing.’ There is not a single case of baptism mentioned in the New Testament of which we are sure that it was baptism by immersion. It is very unlikely that the multitudes who flocked to John the Baptist and the three thousand who believed on the day of Pentecost were baptized in that way. Neither is it likely that this mode was applied in the cases mentioned in Acts 9:18; 10:47; 16:33-34.

2. THE PROPER SUBJECTS OF BAPTISM. There are two classes to whom baptism is applied, namely, adults and infants.

a. ADULT BAPTISM. Baptism is intended for believers and their seed. In the words of the institution Jesus undoubtedly had in mind primarily the baptism of adults, for it was only with these that the disciples could begin in their missionary labors. His instruction implies that baptism had to be preceded by a profession of faith. (Mark 16:16)  On the day of Pentecost those that received the word of Peter were baptized. (Acts 2:41; 8:37; 16:31-34)  The Church should require a profession of faith of all adults seeking baptism. When such a profession is made, this is accepted by the Church at its face value, unless there are good reasons to doubt its sincerity.

b. INFANT BAPTISM. Baptists deny the right of infant baptism, since children cannot exercise faith, and since the New Testament contains no command to baptize children and does not record a single instance of such baptism. Yet this does not prove it unbiblical.

(1) THE SCRIPTURAL BASIS FOR INFANT BAPTISM. Infant baptism is not based on a single passage of Scripture, but on a series of considerations. The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant, though it also had a national aspect. (Romans 4:16-18; Galatians 3:8-9, 14)  This covenant is still in force and is essentially the same as the “new covenant” of the present dispensation. (Romans 4:13-18; Galatians 3:15-18; Hebrews 6:13-18)  Children shared in the blessings of the covenant, received the sign of circumcision, and were reckoned as part of the congregation if Israel. (2 Chronicles 20:13; Joel 2:16)  In the New Testament, baptism is substituted for circumcision as the sign and seal of entrance into the covenant. (Acts 2:39; Colossians 2:11-12)  The “new covenant” is represented in Scripture as more gracious than the old (Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:11); and therefore, could hardly exclude children. This is also unlikely in view of such passages as Matthew 19:14; Acts 2:39; 1 Corinthians 7:14. Moreover, whole households were baptized and it is unlikely that these contained no children (Acts 16:15; 16:33; 1 Corinthians 1:16)

(2) THE GROUND AND OPERATION OF INFANT BAPTISM. In Reformed circles some hold that children are baptized on the ground of a presumptive regeneration, that is, on the assumption (not the assurance), that they are regenerated. Others take the position that they are baptized on the ground of the all-comprehensive covenant promise of God, which also includes the promise of regeneration. This view deserves preference. The covenant promise affords the only certain and objective ground for the baptism of infants. But if the question is raised, how infant baptism can function as a means of grace to strengthen spiritual life, the answer is that it can at the very moment of its administration strengthen the regenerate life, if already present in the child, and can strengthen faith later on when the significance of baptism is more clearly understood. Its operation is not necessarily limited to the very moment of its administration.



Passages bearing on:


“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19)

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)


‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ (Acts 22:16)

Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21)

c. The substitution of baptism for circumcision:

and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

d. The permanent application of the covenant of Abraham:

For this reason it is by faith, in order that [it may be] in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (Romans 4:16)

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:29)

e. The inclusion of children in the New Testament church:

But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

“For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:39)

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14)


For Further Study:

a. Do the following passages prove that the disciples did not use the trinitarian formula in baptism?

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 8:16)

And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. (Acts 10:48)

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:5)

b. How does the spiritual meaning of baptism compare with that of circumcision?

“Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.” (Jeremiah 4:4)

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ (Acts 22:16)

c. Can you prove that circumcision was abolished in the New Testament?

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)

But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. (Galatians 2:3)

Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. (Galatians 5:2-3)

Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.  For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. (Galatians 6:12-13)


Questions for Review

1. When did Christ institute baptism?
2. What is the meaning of baptism into the name of someone?
3. Were the words of Christ intended as a formula?
4. What do Baptists regard as the essential thing in the symbolism of baptism?
5. What is the essential thing in it?
6. Did Christ prescribe a certain mode of baptism?
7. Can the necessity of immersion be proved from Scripture?
8. Who are the proper administrators of baptism? What is Rome’s view?
9. What is the condition of adult baptism?
10. How can infant baptism be proved from Scripture?
11. What views are there as to the ground of infant baptism?
12. Which should be preferred, and why?
13. How can infant baptism be a means of grace?

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