Vol. 8, No. 8
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From the 2nd century after Christ there has been a great deal of discussion on the subject of baptism. Various debates took place down through the ages, regarding whether or not the action of baptism could be changed, and finally that body that we today know as the Roman Catholic Church substituted the use of sprinkling and pouring water, which they first referred to as "clinical baptism," which was administered to dying people who were too ill to be taken to a baptistry or stream to be immersed into Christ.
Several months ago this student was called upon to baptize a dying man in the therapy pool of a local Catholic medical center. When the penitent believer came up out of the water, a young man who was Catholic said, "That is the most awesome thing I have ever seen in my life." A nun, a chaplain in the same medical center replied, "That is the way it was always done in the apostolic church." The young man replied, "Why was it ever changed?" With a slight shrug of her shoulders the nun replied, "The church believes she has the right to make such changes." Anecdotal evidence, so say logicians, is not evidence. Yet this anecdote shows clearly that there are those in 21century America who are perfectly aware that what they call the "mode" of baptism has been changed since the days of the apostles of Christ.
With the coming of the great Reformation came other long and detailed arguments over the so-called "mode" of baptism with most of the reformers accepting the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, from which they departed, regarding the action of baptism. Some, reformers known as "Anabaptists" insisted that baptism was immersion. Due to that they further insisted that many of the Protestants who joined with them be "rebaptized," thus the name "Anabaptists." From the time of the Anabaptists, the debate over the action, design and purpose of baptism, from a biblical point of view, has been debated almost ceaselessly. So, what is the truth regarding the action (mode) of baptism? If we accept as truth that which is found in the New Testament, we have the answer to our question.
Let us define baptize, which is not an English word, but an anglicized Greek word. The Greek word has only one letter different from the English spelling-the word is baptizo. It is a verb meaning, to dip, to plunge, to overwhelm in water. When the Greeks saw a ship sink into the depths of the sea, they said it was "baptized." Consequently, from the definition of the word as it was used in its original language, we know the word means to immerse. Not only so, there are texts in our English Bibles in which the term is defined by the word "buried." Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 are two such passages. All understand the word "buried." It means to be enclosed in the earth, in a tomb or in a cave. If baptism is a burial, then one who experiences it must be "enclosed" in water as a corpse is enclosed in the earth, a tomb or a cave.
There is yet another way that we know that baptism is an immersion in water. When we die to sin, are buried in water and rise to walk in newness of life, we are reenacting or setting forth anew the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the major thrusts of the Paul's argument regarding baptism in Romans 6:3-6. Christ was crucified which resulted in his death. He was removed from the cross and buried in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea from which he arose to a new life on the third day. Paul told the Romans that their old man (the sinful man) was crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be done away. In that crucifixion, they too died to sin. Christ was buried, so the penitent believers were led into the waters where they too were buried. Christ was resurrected a new man, and the Roman Christians were likewise resurrected from the waters, new persons to walk in newness of life. The convert to Christ is overwhelmed in water as Christ was overwhelmed by the grave.
In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, Paul spoke of the incident that took place during the Exodus when God protected the Israelites allowing them to pass through the Red Sea. On that occasion they were surrounded by water on both sides and covered with a cloud above so they could not so much as be seen by the pursuing armies of Pharaoh. Paul wrote, "Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…" Since these people were totally surrounded by the water and the cloud-they were baptized (overwhelmed) in the cloud and the sea! Who can doubt that New Testament baptism is an immersion? On the strength of such evidence, it must be granted.