Many of us have been to numerous baptisms (christenings) throughout our lifetimes. We have all heard the ritual of the priest or the minister as they utter a few words about baptism before finally baptizing the infant. However, how many of us really pay attention to the ceremony? Or, how many of us know or even care to know the significance of this act? The Catholic Church and some Protestant churches view baptism as a sacrament. A sacrament is a religious act done in order to earn merit or favor with God. These churches believe the sacrament of baptism washes away sin (in the case of the infant, original sin is washed away). However the Bible clearly teaches that there isn’t any ritual or sacrament that can take away sin. Hebrews 10:11 says, “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”
Notice what the verse says:
A priest can offer sacrifices or perform rituals on a daily basis yet these things will never take away sin!
There are many who will have their infant baptized simply out of fear. They are afraid if their child suddenly dies that they will end up in limbo. However, this act of baptism is useless, and in some ways is offensive to God, as it downplays the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. Verse 12 of the Hebrews 10 passage states, “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God”
It is the one time sacrifice of Christ on the cross that can take away sin. To try to add to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross with a sacrament like baptism, is to say to God that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross wasn’t sufficient enough to take away sins. Notice the passage states that Christ “sat down at the right hand of God” after making the sacrifice. When someone sits down that means they are finished. In other words, there isn’t anything that can be added to the sacrifice of Christ.
If baptism isn’t a sacrament, then what is it?
Many Bible believing Christians view baptism as an ordinance. An ordinance is an instruction given by God to the church, which is to be practiced by the church, and carries some spiritual significance.
What is the spiritual significance of baptism? I believe the best way to answer that question is by understanding the mode of baptism. The Bible teaches the mode of baptism is by immersion, or by laying a person backwards into water, and then lifting them into a standing position. This is a picture of what takes place at salvation (when a person trusts Christ as their personal Lord and Savior) as we are to die to our old life (lay backwards into the water) and then are to walk in newness of life (be lifted out of the water into an upright position).
This mode is consistent with Romans 6:4 which states,
“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 also should walk in newness of life.”
Is baptizing infants wrong?
Yes, it is wrong, as Biblically speaking there isn’t any scriptural evidence that infants are to be baptized. In Acts 8:36 we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch asking Phillip the evangelist what hindered or prevented him from being baptized. Phillips response was, “If you believe with all your heart, you may (Vs 37).” In verse 12 of the same chapter, we see the same principle as men and women are baptized after they believe. Infants are hardly capable of making decisions about baptism, God, or life in general.
How about you? Have you ever been baptized by immersion?
What is preventing you from being baptized? Perhaps you’re like the Ethiopian Eunuch, and first need to become a believer. You must believe with “all your heart” that Christ died on the cross for your sins, that He rose from the dead, and that the only way for you to have your sins forgiven is to put all your trust in Christ to get you into heaven. Remember Rom 6:4 teaches us that when a person does this they will “walk in newness of life.”
If you are a believer then you must realize that baptism is not an option, but is a commandment. In Matt 28:19-20 the Lord Jesus states, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
When we read through the book of Acts, we see the early church understood baptism as a commandment, and practiced this ordinance (Acts 2:41; 8:36; 10:47-48). In fact, we read in three of the gospels (Mark, Luke, and John) that the Lord Jesus Himself was even baptized by John the Baptist.
Does my baptism as an infant count?
To be quite frank, no, I don’t believe it does. First of all, we just saw that a person is to be baptized after becoming a Christian. Secondly, scholarship, history, and Biblical revelation point to the fact that immersion is the only acceptable mode of baptism.
Scholarship teaches us that the word baptism in the original language means to immerse. According to nearly all Greek lexicons (including Grimm’s Lexicon which is the head of all Greek lexicography in both Europe and America) it means to dip repeatedly, to immerse, submerge.
The Greek word for sprinkling is rantizo, and is used four times in the New Testament. Not in any of the four cases is this word used for baptism. If baptism is supposed to be by sprinkling then surely this would have been the word used to refer to baptism.
Historically speaking, although there are a good number in Christendom who practice sprinkling as the mode of baptism, this was not always the case. The mode of immersion was practiced by the early church for the first 200 years. Sprinkling was first used as a mode of baptism by a man named Novatian at around 250 AD who seemingly was sick, and incapable of baptism by immersion. Despite rare exceptions like this, immersion was the primary mode of Baptism up until about 1300 AD.
However, the best support for baptism by immersion is found in the Scriptures. In Acts 8:38 while Phillip was baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch, they went down into the water, and came up out of the water. Why would they need to go into the water or come out of the water if Phillip was only sprinkling the Eunuch with water?
In John 3:23, we read of John the Baptist baptizing people because there was much water. Again, why would John the Baptist need much water if he thought the proper mode of baptism was via sprinkling?
In conclusion, we see there is a lot of erroneous teaching concerning baptism. The Bible clears up this confusion, and teaches that baptism is an ordinance, and therefore should be practiced by the church. Those who trusted Christ as Savior should be baptized by immersion as an act of obedience to the Lord, and as a testimony to what has taken place in their lives.