|Volume 20 Number 4 April 2018||
The religious world is misinformed about the practice of baptism. There are some who believe the method of baptism does not matter. Those who deny that there is a scriptural method to be employed argue that one can be sprinkled, have water poured on his or her head or be immersed; many people declare that it is simply a matter of choice. The Bible does not leave the method of baptism open for our personal interpretation and judgment. The word translated “baptize” in our English translations means to dip, plunge or immerse. Paul described baptism in the New Testament as a burial (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12). When the Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized, it is said that both he and Philip went down into the water and both came out of the water. This would be unnecessary if water was simply going to be sprinkled or poured on his head (Acts 8:38-39). When John was baptizing in Aenon, it is said he chose this location because there was much water there (John 3:23).
Still, there are those who believe baptism plays no part in whether a person is saved. Individuals who advocate this view of baptism claim that one is saved at the point of belief or verbal confession and may be baptized later, but they say baptism has no bearing whatsoever on one’s salvation. The New Testament contradicts this view of baptism. Jesus said those who believe and are baptized are saved (Mark 16:16). It is at the point of baptism that sins are washed away (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Jesus told Nicodemus that unless one is born again of water and spirit, there would be no chance of entering the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Peter said that baptism saves (1 Peter 3:21). So, the belief that baptism can be divorced from the salvation process or that belief alone is enough is not biblical. However, with all the Bible says about baptism and the importance it places on this culminating act in the salvation process, there are some who should not be baptized. There are at least three groups of individuals who should not be baptized.
The word “impenitent” means failing to have feelings of shame or regret about one’s actions or attitudes. The Bible calls for us to be penitent or to repent. There is godly sorrow, and then there is worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow produces repentance when we view our sins through the lenses of God’s Word and want to turn away from those things. Worldly sorrow involves temporary grief. People may be sad that they were caught doing the wrong thing, but this person has no real desire to change. A prerequisite to baptism is a penitent heart. Peter told those present on Pentecost that they needed to both repent and to be baptized to receive the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
Those who see baptism as some ticket to punch or a “get out of hell free card” without having a penitent heart should not be baptized. Anyone who is being immersed simply to please a spouse or to jump on the bandwagon at a camp or a retreat should reevaluate his or her motives. Baptism is serious business and should not be trifled with. God wants all of humanity to repent and to come to a knowledge of the truth that leads to conversion, but those unwilling to repent should not be baptized (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
Being baptized without repenting is like spraying on cologne or perfume without taking a shower; it does no good and does not solve the real problem. Jews who heard the Gospel were told to repent and turn, and we are told the same today (Acts 3:19). Baptism washes away sins, but only for those who repent. If a person is not willing to repent, he or she should not be baptized.
The Catholic Church not only practices sprinkling as a mode of baptism, but it also “baptizes” infants. Both of these practices are erroneous. Baptism is for those who understand what sin is, have the ability to repent and are old enough to comprehend the Gospel message. The false doctrine that is promoted by many in the denominational world of inherited sin or total hereditary depravity is refuted by Ezekiel 18:18-20. We do not inherit Adam’s sins or anyone else’s. Adam introduced sin into the world, but sin is brought into each individual’s life by his or her own doing (Romans 5:12; James 1:13-16).
Children who have not yet reached the age or the stage of accountability should not be baptized. Just because a child mentally grasps what the Bible says and can regurgitate facts does not mean he or she is a candidate for baptism. One must not only understand the Gospel and what it means to repent, but the one responding to the Gospel must also know and appreciate the high call of sacrifice the Christian life demands (Luke 9:23). This is not to say someone who wants to be baptized must know everything that the Bible teaches on every subject. If this were true no one would ever be baptized. Yet, we should not try to make biblical minimalists out of those preparing to enter the kingdom of God. Children should be told that God loves them and should be instructed concerning His Word early on, but there need not be any rush to baptize someone who has no sins that need to be washed away.
This principle of being unaccountable expands to those with mental handicaps and other similar conditions. Jesus welcomed the children to come to Him and said we must become innocent like them in order to see the kingdom (Matthew 18:3-4; 19:14). Some may be thinking: “What exactly is the age of accountability?” No one can say for certain. Levels of maturity differ from child to child, but those preparing to baptize a young child should go over what the Bible says and be sure to the best of one’s ability that the child is ready and is doing this on his or her own. If the child is not accountable, he or she is safe and should not be baptized.
Those who have already been saved and have had their sins washed away in baptism will still sin occasionally (1 John 1:8, 10). However, one does not need to be baptized again simply because sin has occurred. There is only one baptism according to Paul (Ephesians 4:5). The blood that cleansed at baptism is just as powerful to cleanse post-baptism for those who confess sins and walk in the light (1 John 1:7, 9). Sometimes a person questions his or her own baptism, and an individual may believe that he or she needs to be baptized again after having gained more knowledge. I believe if someone has questions about his or her baptism and one’s conscience is troubled, we should not hesitate to baptize to put doubt to rest and to be sure. Nevertheless, if we teach people the way God deals with sin both before and after baptism, we might reduce the number of people desiring to be baptized a second time.
Simon the Sorcerer was taught the Gospel by Philip in Samaria and was baptized for the forgiveness of his sins (Acts 8:12-13). A short time after this, Simon fell into sin and was rebuked by the apostles. He was not told that his initial response was insincere and that he should be re-baptized. Peter told Simon to repent and to pray (Acts 8:22). This is what all Christians should do when sin occurs, repent and pray, and God will forgive just like He does at baptism (Hebrews 8:12). One is only scripturally baptized once. If the first baptism is doubted, then one should be baptized scripturally for the right reasons, and that is the one baptism which Scripture describes. Those who are in a saved relationship with God through His Son should not be baptized, but should repent when they sin, confess that sin to God and strive to walk in the light, trusting God to cleanse continually.
Baptism is important; one cannot be saved without it. Still, if a sinner will not repent, then baptism will do no good. If the person desiring to be baptized is unaccountable, the baptism should not take place. If one is already saved, baptism serves no purpose. Jesus sent His disciples to teach and then to baptize. Let us do the same, in that order (Matthew 28:18-20).