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Division In The Church - Baptism

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Division In The Church



As we read the ordinances set down by God to the children of Israel we find that they are precise and complete. Any Israelite who needed to understand the exact ingredients and procedure for a meat offering need only look at the second chapter of Leviticus. There could be no argument because God's Word was plain. This is perhaps the reason why there is so much of a difference of opinion by believers concerning baptism. There is no precise procedure given for baptism in any scripture. Each church baptizes in the way that they feel exemplifies the meaning baptism has for them. Since there are diverse references to the meaning of baptism in the Word of God there are diverse ways of baptizing. Some of the ways that baptism is seen today are as follows:

Single Immersion:

Regular Baptist Press: "We believe that Christian baptism is the single immersion of a believer in water to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem our identification with the crucified, buried, and risen Savior, through Whom we died to sin and rose to a new life;........"

Triune Immersion:

Grace Brethren: "Ordinances: the Christian should observe the ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, which are (1) baptism of believers by triune immersion (Matt. 28:19)"

Sprinkling or pouring also acceptable:

United Methodist The Sacrament of Baptism "This Sacrament may be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion."

Presbyterian: The Westminster Confession Of Faith, 1647: Cap.XXVIII "Of Baptism": Paragraph III "Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.

    It is interesting that of all of the statements I received I found no church which believed only in sprinkling or pouring, but all that advocated this administration felt that sprinkling or pouring was an acceptable alternative to immersion.

    Throughout history the application of this ordinance has caused problems among brothers in Christ. This is apparent to any student of the Word as soon as he or she sees "baptize" in the scriptures. Baptize is as we all know a transliterated word. There are at least two possibilities for this. Either the early translators of the scripture did not wish to cause division because of the translation and therefore transliterated it in order to keep peace in the church or they may have felt that the physical application of the word (immersion) did not fully explain the spiritual meaning of the word. In one tract that was given to me concerning this ordinance the writer said "If baptize means immerse, then we can insert the word "immerse" wherever we find "baptize" and it will not spoil the meaning, but make complete sense. Try it on every passage of Scripture in the New Testament relating to baptism and you will find it works everywhere; there is not a single exception."

    Accepting this challenge I found I had to disagree with this statement. There are scriptures in the New Testament in which if "immerse" is used it would destroy the meaning of the passage. The first is found in Matt. 3:11 "..... he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." To use "immerse" would lend confusion to this passage, the disciples were never immersed in the Holy Ghost they were "inwardly filled" with the Holy Ghost (com. Acts 1:5 with Acts 2:4) and they were never immersed in fire but the fire sat upon each of them (Acts 2:3). Another passage is found in I Cor. 10:1-2, "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that our fathers were all under the cloud and passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." If we insert "immersion" in this passage we would be lead to understand that all of the children of Israel were immersed in the cloud and immersed in the sea. However we know from the scriptures that the cloud and the waters did not even touch them. The cloud and the waters, in this passage, cut them off or sanctified them from the Egyptians, showing us how we as believers are sanctified or cut off from the powers of sin and death when we are saved. Still another is I Pet. 3:20 - 21 "Which sometimes were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Noah and his family were never immersed in the flood, they floated on top of the flood. The flood sanctified them by destroying the corruption in the earth, likewise Christ at his resurrection sanctifies us because he destroyed once and forever the power of sin and of death.

    So far as this student can see there are many aspects of baptism which the physical meaning of "immerse" does not define. Our spiritual "sanctification", "filling", being "cut off" are all seen in this one word "baptize". Many believers are convinced in their lives that immersion is the proper way for them to show the action which has taken place in their lives at salvation, I am one of them, but does this mean I am more holy than another brother who believes that being anointed by water, as the priests of the Old Testament were anointed and set apart for service, is the desire they have to show forth the work Christ did in their hearts at salvation? Certainly not!

    I have heard many ministers preach on baptism, but never once have I heard a message in which immersion was defended because of the spiritual significance the action implied in their lives. The attempt was always to defend a supposed physical action in the scriptures. Much importance was place on such phrases as "up straightway out of the water", which unfortunately gives no indication as to the method. If it does then both Philip and the eunuch were immersed according to Acts 8:3 8 - 39. Likewise I have heard those who advocate sprinkling, make the claim that on the day of Pentecost immersion as we know it would have taken more than a day with 3000 people involved because of the lack of water in that area. In both cases the results drawn are only personal interpretations applied to God's Word. A sort of grasping at straws to build a monument of doctrine.

    If we were looking for a method that was more holy ceremoniously speaking, in the present day, we would have to eliminate immersion. Many has been the time when a pastor has lost the grip on a larger candidate who came out of the water sputtering and spitting to the laughter of those in attendance. The reason I say present day is that the spirit of humility and fear seems to be sadly lacking in many of the congregations of this day and age. What was once a solemn and holy ordinance pointing to our death, burial and resurrection in Christ has, in many cases, turned into a necessary evil which must be entered into in order to join a church.

    So far as history is concerned we see many different claims made.

In Dean Stanley's "Christian Institutions" (1881) He tells us "Baptism was not only a bath, but a plunge- an entire submersion in the deep water, a leap as into the rolling sea or the rushing river, where for the moment the waves close over the bather's head, and he emerges again as from a momentary grave; or it was the shock of a shower bath- the rush of water passed over the whole person from capacious vessels, so as to wrap the recipient as within the veil of a splashing cataract . This is the part of the ceremony on which the Apostles laid so much stress. It was to them like a burial of the former self and the rising up again of the new self."

In Philip Shaff's "History of the Christian Church" Volume II we read, "This act of turning from sin and turning to God, or of repentance and faith, on the part of the candidate, was followed by an appropriate prayer of the minister, and then by the baptism itself into the triune name, with three successive immersions in which the deacons and deaconesses assisted. The immersion consisted in thrice dipping the head of the candidate who stood nude in the water. Single immersion seems to have been introduced by Eunomius about 360, but was condemned on pain of degradation, yet it reappeared afterwards in Spain, and Pope Gregory I, declared both forms valid, the triune immersion as setting forth the Trinity, the single immersion as unity of the Godhead. Baptism by pouring water from a shell or vessel or from the hand on the head of the candidate very early occurs also and was probably considered equivalent to immersion."

According to "The Teaching of the Apostles" A manuscript which, because of internal evidence of language and subject matter, is thought to have been written in Paul's day, says the following, translated by J.B. Lightfoot in his book "The Apostolic Fathers". "But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able; and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before."

    Through these statements it is easy to see that the early church placed most of the emphasis on the spiritual action and were lenient, to a point, concerning the physical representation. It is a shame that many brothers in the church today cannot do likewise, for the Word of God is explicit concerning the spiritual meaning of the ordinance while it seems somewhat vague on the mode.

Romans 6:3-5 "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 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."

Col.2:11 - 12 "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. Buried with him in baptism, wherein ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead."

Perhaps we haven't paid close enough heed to Heb.6:1 - 2, "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permit."

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