TO BAPTIZE OR NOT TO BAPTIZE
by, James Andrew McCullen
There is only one scripture that deals directly with the subject some call rebaptism. Paul did baptize some disciples although they had been immersed. They could have argued that they had the same baptism as Jesus and if it were good enough for Him, it certainly ought to be acceptable for them. Please note this scripture:
Acts 19:1-5 1. "And it came about that while Apollos
was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus,
and found some disciples,
2. and he said to them, `Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' and they said to him, `No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.'
3. and he said, `Into what then were you baptized?' And they said, `Into John's baptism.' 4. And Paul said, `John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus,' 5. And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."
Some say these folks were not saved. That is a possible interpretation and baptism must come after salvation to be scriptural. But the text doesn't ask, have you been saved, or do you believe, but ". . . did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed." Please take careful note of their answer as they say, " . . . no, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." You must note the question is not, did you believe, but have you received the Holy Spirit. Also, Paul expected this to have taken place, ". . .when" . . .they believed.
Among those who say these men were not saved, some are dogmatic about it. However, I find such a scholar as A. T. Robertson making this observation about Paul baptizing these men. "Clearly Paul felt they had received a poor baptism with no knowledge of the Holy Spirit. They had been dipped in other words, but they had not grasped the significance of the ordinance." (Word Studies, Vol. III, p. 312). Note as A. T. Robertson speaks further to the issue of baptizing these disciples. "Paul had them baptized, not so much again, as really baptized this time, in the name or on the authority of the Lord Jesus, as he had himself commanded (Matt. 28:19) . . . "(Ibid. p. 313)
I base my interpretation on the words of this text. They had believed but they had not been baptized in the formula of the Great Commission. That is, "in the name of (or the Authority of) the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit . . . ". (Matt. 28:19) This formula is an important part of what makes up scriptural baptism.
At this point I must admit to a personal predisposition. I believe every word of scripture is very important. Therefore, I believe much can be drawn out of the phrase Paul asked, " . . . Into what then were you baptized?" We can deduct from these words that a person is baptized into something when he/she is baptized. This is in addition to the picture symbolized in immersion where we are baptized into Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.
Baptism is the initiatory rite into the Christian faith and into a local fellowship of believers. Acts 2:41 states, "So then, those who had received His word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls." To what, were they added? Into what, were they baptized? Were they baptized just into Christ? It has been said, "In practical terms this membership of the body of Christ must mean membership of some local manifestation of his body in the church." (Billy Graham, Peace With God P. 176).
Look at Acts 2:42, "and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Commenting on these verses, Dr. W. A. Criswell says: "In this passage one sees the pattern which became normative for Christianity: People heard and received the Word of God, they followed this with confession and public baptism, . . ." (The Criswell Study Bible, page 1279). Note the phrase "they were continuing in the apostles teaching." This is the formula of the Great Commission, 1. Make disciples (v.41 a received the Word), 2. Baptizing them (v.41 b were baptized) 3. Teaching them to observe (v.42 a devoting themselves to the apostles teaching.)
John Murray, a professor at a Presbyterian seminary said, "Baptism is the sign and seal of membership in the church . . . According to our Lord's institution in the great commission, baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is an integral part of the process of discipeling the nations and is, therefore, an essential mark of discipleship. Baptism is not an addendum to discipleship but that by which discipleship is consummated . . . Since discipleship is not consummated without baptism we must regard baptism as an indispensable mark of the church. "Christian Baptism, p. 45). He further makes this statement about baptism and the church, ". . . it signifies and seals a spiritual fact or relationship, namely, union with Christ and membership in his body the church." (IBID. p.86)
Let me propose a question. Would Paul today accept baptism from all sources? I will suggest a few for consideration. The United Pentecostal Church doesn't believe in the Trinity. Several do not immerse as a symbol, but as an act of dedication? Some groups insist salvation is not complete until one is baptized and that being born again means being baptized. Still others make the new believer postpone baptism until they are sanctified or have some kind of a second work of grace. The writer doesn't believe Paul would recognize any of these doctrinal positions as qualifying for scriptural baptism.
Into what were you baptized? Were you baptized into a New Testament Church? That is a church whose doctrines agree with the teachings of the New Testament. Recently, I asked several Southern Baptist ministers the following question. "Would it be correct to say at least 90% of Southern Baptist pastors agree that when a person is baptized, he/she is baptized into a local church? Although my survey is not scientific, every pastor has at this time said, "Yes."
Would you accept as your pastor, in a Baptist church a man who had been ordained in another denomination, say the Christian, the Methodist, or Presbyterian Church? I think 99.44% would say no, our minister should be ordained by Baptists. Most would say ordained by Southern Baptists. Would we then be consistent to accept the baptism of these churches, if we wouldn't accept their ordination?
Ordination is definitely related to doctrine, but so is baptism. A person is baptized into a group or fellowship. A local church is involved. You may ask the question where does it say these disciples were baptized into a church. That is a good question and the answer involves an understanding of Paul's ministry and missionary journeys.
Paul desired to start new work rather than minister where someone else began a church. "And thus, I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation;" Rom. 15:20. I also think it is interesting to note in verses like Acts 16:5, that the church is strengthened and increased.
In Acts 20:17, Elders are appointed for the church. If Paul didn't establish churches and baptize people into them how could he go back and strengthen them? Notice the remarks of the following commentators.
"A New Testament Church of the Lord Jesus Christ
is a local body of baptized believers . . . " (Hobbs, p.74, Baptist
Faith & Message.) Hobbs further says, "Baptism is not necessary
for being in the kingdom of God or the church in general. But is necessary
for fellowship in the local church. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite
to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."
"Baptism is the sign, common to all the Christian churches of membership in the church." (Emil Brunner, p.53, The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith and the Consummation III.)
"Theologically, baptism may be defined as an act of association or identification with someone, some group, some message, . . . Christian baptism means identification with the message of the Gospel, the person of the Savior and the group of believers." (Ryrie, p.422, Basic Theology)
"In the New Testament we have no account of any being members of churches except such as were considered to be truly regenerated believers and had actually submitted to the rite of baptism. Now the Baptist churches insist as one of their fundamental principles that only truly regenerated believers in Christ, after having been properly baptized on profession of their faith in the Lord, should be received as members of the church." (Stevens, p.310, Doctrines of the Christian Religion)
"Due to the many factors involved there is considerable
differences of opinion relative to the agent, or administrator, of the
rite of baptism . . . What is the answer? It seems to be twofold . . .
First the administrator of baptism should be an immersed believer. He himself
should believe and should have signified that belief by immersion. Otherwise,
his conduction of this important rite would be a
mockery. It is a church ordinance, . . . Baptism is not only the means of signifying one's belief in Christ but also of identifying one's self with a particular community of believers. This was true in New Testament times and is equally true today. It is not an individual act; it is a church act, and as such must be administered by the church." (IBID., pp.336-337)
"For Baptist, baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The candidate for baptism must be one who confesses that he is a sinner saved by grace and who has experienced the new birth through his personal acceptance of Christ to be his Savior. He is one who has confessed his faith to the church and has been received for baptism by vote of the members . . . The New Testament clearly shows who should constitute the membership of a local church. It should be composed only of regenerated, baptized believers. Jesus declared, "Ye must be born again"; (Cox, pp.54-55, We Southern Baptists)
"A church is made up of believers-baptized believers. A believer is one who has been converted, . . . No person is qualified for church membership who has not had this conversion experience . . . The New Testament makes it very clear that the first act beyond confession is baptism. Baptism then is reserved for believers." (Graves, pp.6-7, The Nature and Functions of the Church.)
"The ordinances of the church are two--baptism and the Lord's Supper. They are called ordinances because they were ordained by Christ to be observed by the church. They are rites observed by the authority of Christ to the church." (Tribble, p.99, Our Doctrines)
"There are two church ordinances--baptism and the Lord's Supper. For their loyalty to the World of God in observing these ordinances, Baptists have been misunderstood and criticized. They have accepted these ordinances as church ordinances, to be administered by the church, and to be observed in accord with the teachings of the New Testament." (Turner, p.75, Our Baptist Heritage)
"Baptism is a necessary qualification for church membership. This is shown in Paul's argument in Romans 6:1 ff. in which he argues on the assumption that all Christians have been baptized. This statement would be accepted with practical unanimity among all Christian denominations." (Conner, pp.261-262, Christian Doctrine).
It is possible that you have noted there is not an explicit verse of scripture that says you can't be baptized without being a member of the church. The position of most Southern Baptists is a deduction from scripture. Mullins has a very helpful comment addressing this very matter.
"There is no express command by Christ to organize churches, but only a declaration of his own purpose to build His church. In like manner, baptism is not declared formally to be a condition of church membership, but only as a duty universally binding upon penitent believers. Yet, the Apostles organized churches everywhere they preached and, without fail, believers who became members were baptized. In short, the "open membership" plea, so far as it is based on the absence of an express command of Scripture regarding baptism and church membership would, on the same general ground, abolish the church itself." (Mullins, p.120, The Baptist Faith)
A final quote from Herschel Hobbs, as he shares
the bare essentials for New Testament baptism for a Baptist Church. He
says it takes: A proper mode and a proper meaning. The mode is immersion
in water and emerging from water, a burial and a resurrection. The meaning
is symbolic of death, burial, and resurrection.
If the mode be changed, the meaning is lost. If the meaning is changed, the mode loses its significance. Hence, there is the widespread practice of Baptists in rejecting as New Testament baptism that which changes either the mode or the meaning . . . It is an initiatory symbolic ordinance and is to be administered `in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.' (Matt. 28:19, RSV)." (Hobbs, p. 84, What Baptists Believe)
If a person is immersed to get his/her salvation it doesn't have a proper meaning. If a church believes one would loose their salvation if they could be baptized and don't; they have changed the meaning to that of keeping ones salvation rather than displaying it. If one is immersed to deepen one's salvation, it doesn't have a proper meaning. So who's baptism would the
Apostle Paul accept? He didn't accept that of the disciples he found along the upper coast of Ephesus. Do you really believe he would accept the baptisms of churches with heretical doctrine today? The writer does not believe he would.
A few years ago Dr. Dale Moody was not rehired as a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At this time he was under a year to year contract. The reason it was not renewed directly related to his belief in the possibility of a believer losing his/her salvation. He did not teach the Baptist distinctive of eternal security for the child of God. The trustees dismissed him for this belief we call heresy. Why then accept the baptism of a group that teaches doctrine we will not tolerate in our seminaries?
Many Southern Baptists hold an opinion that not all immersions are done by a proper authority. Several so called churches immerse but do not do it for the proper meaning. Several would not call an organization with false doctrine a New Testament Church. The church is the authority and only a New Testament faith can really qualify a church as being a New Testament Church.
Therefore, some are required to be properly baptized. This practice has been since the second century. James Emery White stated, ". . . as early as the second century the church in Asia Minor placed great importance on the individual who performed the baptism, refusing to recognize the validity of what was known as `heretical' baptism . . . *
Some of our forefathers were greatly persecuted because of their stand related to baptism. On one occasion a minister was dunked until he died because he believed in and practiced baptism by immersion. Dr. Ray Roberts former Executive Secretary of Baptist work in Ohio told me "some seem more interested in joining (the doctrine of) prospective members than taking a stand and saying you may join us in our stand." Do we know where we stand and why?
Some call those who hold this view "Landmarkism." I am not a Landmarker; I am a Southern Baptist who believes in standing for the doctrine of the local church. Further Landmarkers do not receive any baptism without the authority of a Baptist church. I believe the doctrine must be the same; the name may not include the title Baptist. Landmarkers do not believe in associations I am and have always been active in the association. I am presently a trustee on a seminary board and Landmarkers oppose boards and agencies from a convention.
I believe what I believe because of my doctrine of the church. My early Christian background, college, and seminary training deepen these convictions. Once I wrote Dr. Roy Edgeman concerning a remark he made in the book he wrote titled THE DOCTRINES BAPTIST BELIEVE. He wrote me back and said "I thoroughly agree with your statement ' there is a significant difference in churches who have a rather open policy related to baptism and those who have a rather closed policy related to baptism.' "
Let me suggest you Identify some Baptist Church you say has liberal tendencies. Check on their baptismal policy. I will be surprised if they do not have a very open policy on Baptism.
Today it seems some are questioning the scriptural validity of this more traditional stand. It is the writer's personal opinion that we have not gained in our spiritual ability to interpret scripture. The great leaders of our faith placed us on a solid biblical foundation. We do not know more than they about interpretation of truth. We will be blessed if we ". . . contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3)
* James Emery White Search Journal, Winter,