By Mike Ivey
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism” -Ephesians 4:5
Occasionally someone asks why Primitive Baptist rebaptize people who come to us from other faiths. This is a valid question that deserves to be answered with a clear explanation. A simple answer is: God’s word indicates rebaptism was practiced by the early church. Paul rebaptized the people he met in Ephesus who knew only John’s baptism. “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:4-5) Why did Paul rebaptized these people? The answer has to do with two requirements for baptism that relate to the message of the gospel and baptismal authority 1. Proper baptism occurs in response to conviction that is produced in believers when they hear the one true gospel. 2. The ordinance of baptism was given to the Church by Christ; and is administered by men in the church who are ordained by unbroken, successive generations of laying on of hands that began with Christ ordaining his Apostles. (Mark 3:14)
Evidently, the twelve who Paul rebaptized previously submitted to baptism based on an incomplete and thereby erroneous gospel. It also appears they were baptized by one who assumed authority based on John’s ministry, rather than the charge to baptize that originated with Christ.
The narrative of the events which culminated with Paul rebaptizing the saints he met in Ephesus begins in Acts 18:24-26 with a description of Apollos’ arrival and activity in that city. “And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” This passage explains how Jews in Ephesus came to know about John’s baptism. They learned about it from Apollos, who taught in the synagogue how John’s message and baptism were in keeping with scriptural teachings and prophecies contained in the Old Testament.
Apollos’ message, while containing good news, was not the true gospel inasmuch as it was incomplete. This is indicated by the reaction of Aquila and Priscilla when they heard his teaching. They “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines “perfectly” as “greater accuracy, more precision” The phrase “knowing only the baptism of John” suggests Apollos’ understanding of scripture was limited to what he knew with respect to John’s baptism and, by inference, John’s message. If this is so, Apollos’ teaching amounted to an incomplete gospel based on interpretations of Old Testament prophecy that were framed by his understanding of the message and activities of John the Baptist; but lacked accurate teachings about the salvation of sinners by the finished work of Christ Jesus.
Certainly, there was nothing wrong with John’s ministry, message and baptism. He was God’s messenger who said and did what God instructed. (Mark 1:2-8) But his calling and ministry were unique. God’s word compares John to the Prophet Isaiah, as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness.” (Matthew 3:3) The entire focus of John’s ministry was to prepare people to be disciples of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 3:3, Luke 1:17) He did this by announcing the arrival of the Messiah in His kingdom and calling on sinners to repent and be baptized. (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:1-4)
John 1:36-37 provides a snapshot of the practical purpose of John’s ministry. “And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1:36-37) John identified Jesus as the Christ, pointed his followers toward the Savior, and they became Jesus’ disciples.
As God’s Isaiah-like New Testament prophet John knew his own ministry would diminish and finally end as Jesus’ public ministry began and increased to never end. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30); and “ Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:7)
The true significance of the good news of John’s message could not be understood apart from the teachings and finished work of Jesus Christ. His message did not and could not, in light of John’s death, present a Messiah who had finished the work He came to do. Nor did it even explain how Jesus would save sinners. It announced God’s intention to save, but stopped short of pronouncing it accomplished by Christ’s finished work.
The conclusion of John’s ministry ended his authority to baptize. However the authority to baptize did not end with John. It continued by the authority of Christ when He gave this ordinance to His church. By a continuous succession, as indicated in the ordinations of preachers by laying on of hands, it will continue until the Savior returns.
Apollos knew only John’s baptism. From which we infer he lacked details and understanding of the person and finished work of Christ Jesus. This left Apollos with an imprecise and incomplete message concerning God’s purpose to save. This was not the same gospel preached in the New Testament Church to which Aquila and Priscilla belonged.
This brings us to Acts 19 and the account of Paul rebaptizing the twelve people at Ephesus. Like Apollos, they knew only about John’s baptism. “And it came to pass that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.” (Acts 19:3) The fact these people had never heard of the Holy Ghost strongly suggests they had never heard the one true Gospel. Furthermore, it is likely they were taught John’s baptism by someone other than John, since he preached Jesus would baptize with the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 3:11)
Scripture does not state who baptized these individuals; but, it is unlikely they were baptized by John. Ephesus is more than a thousand miles from Jordan River where John baptized. Also, more than 25 years had passed since John’s death. It has been suggested Apollos baptized them; but this is not stated in scripture. Regardless of who baptized them, scripture plainly indicates prior to Paul preaching the true gospel to them, they did not know who Jesus is and what he accomplished. “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:4-5)
What is clear is the twelve Ephesians, who knew only John’s baptism, were rebaptized by Paul. They were rebaptized because their prior baptism was based on an incomplete and thereby inaccurate explanation of God’s redemption of sinners. Also, inasmuch as the message they previously heard was incomplete, it is apparent whoever baptized them lacked New Testament Church authority to baptize, which was passed down from Christ to His church through the Apostles.
Acts Chapter 19 establishes the indisputable fact that rebaptism was practiced by the early church and also provides some insight into its practice. However, a more thorough examination of what the scriptures teach regarding water baptism is needed to better understand why Primitive Baptist churches rebaptize people who come to us from other faiths. God’s Word reveals several topics that when considered together form the doctrine of water baptism. They also shed light on why the New Testament Church practices rebaptism. They include: One Baptism, Figure or Symbolism of Baptism, What Baptism Accomplishes, Proper Method of Baptism, Proper Authority to Baptize, and Proper Candidates for Baptism.
In Ephesians Chapter 4 the Apostle Paul states there is one baptism. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4-6) However, several baptisms are mentioned in the scriptures. For instance, God’s word mentions baptism of the Holy Ghost (Mark 1:8), of fire (Matthew 3:11), in the cloud (I Corinthians 10:2), of persecution and death (Matthew 20:22). The fact that many baptisms are mentioned in scripture suggests Paul’s assertion “there is one baptism” is contextually limited. In this epistle, for the sake of the specific argument Paul is making, only one meaning for baptism applies. Context suggests Paul had water baptism in mind. The epistle is written to church members. The portion considered provides grounds to an assertion they are to maintain unity of the Spirit in the church. Verses 4-6 indicate they are in fact unified in body (the local church), Spirit (by whom all are quickened), one hope (of resurrection from the dead at the second coming of Christ), one Lord (the procurer, possessor and head of the body, which is Christ Jesus), one faith (one true gospel, which was delivered once for all time to the saints per Jude 1:3). There is one baptism (pertaining to those who through water baptism have joined themselves to the local body, the church, in response to the one Spirit’s calling to one hope in one Lord of whom there is but one true gospel account.) The reasoning of Paul’s statement connects all these “ones” together. There can be but one baptism because there is but one faith; and there is but one faith because there is but one Lord.
The gospel (one faith) is the accurate account of the person and work of Christ Jesus who saved “his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) As we have mentioned, there can be but one true gospel because there is but one Lord (Christ Jesus). There being but one Christ who performed the work of redemption one time, there can be only one accurate explanation, one true gospel of His person and work. Paul rebuked the Galatians for adding to the gospel, which he characterized as a perverted gospel that is not another true gospel. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7) The phrase “removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” indicates the person and work of Christ are inseparable. Changing the work of Christ moved them away in doctrine from the true person of Christ Jesus to a de facto identity that is not found in the true gospel.
Changing the doctrines of grace, (the Galatians added circumcision as a necessary work in order to be saved) necessarily alters believers’ perceptions of the person of Christ. Misconception of the work of Christ results in inaccurate understanding of His person. Another gospel that misrepresents the work of Christ cannot accurately depict His person. Jesus Christ is portrayed to believers in many descriptions and narratives in God’s word that depict His values and deeds; all of which point toward and must be considered in the context of the reason for His incarnation. All the details God’s word reveals concerning Christ are designed to provide accurate information, instruction, and insight into the primary reason for His appearing, which was to go to Calvary to complete the work of saving His people from their sins.
Another way of saying this is that one cannot be reasonably informed as to the qualities of the person Christ Jesus apart from accurate understanding of why He came to Earth in human form and what He accomplished at Calvary. The way we understand this is by hearing, reading, and meditating on accounts and explanations of Him that together are the gospel. Another gospel that is perverted by altering the effect of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is not the true gospel. Therefore, it is incapable of providing believers with an accurate depiction of Christ Jesus as the object of faith. While in part it may have a portion of correct information about Jesus, it is not sufficient to provide the same measure of assurance and comfort that comes from understanding the doctrines of grace and practical godliness presented by the one faith, which is the true gospel.
Another negative consequence of believing a perverted gospel is that absence of a true depiction of the person of Christ as the object of faith makes it impossible to have the one true baptism. This is because baptism is a figure that symbolizes His death on the cross and what it accomplished. Simply stated: Wrong gospel = wrong Lord; and, wrong Lord = wrong baptism.
Error as to what Jesus accomplished alters the meaning and motive for baptism. For instance, one who believes Jesus’ sacrifice only procured the offer of salvation to those who will accept it do not truly believe the work of the cross is a finished work that attained eternal redemption. This is so, because according to this line of reasoning, one cannot be saved unless he chooses to believe and accept the offer of salvation procured by Christ. This construct of Jesus makes an individuals’ own will the determining factor for his being saved.
Furthermore, in essence it changes Christ’s sacrifice from an offering for our sins He made to God to an offer of salvation He makes to sinners. Yet scripture plainly indicates Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins to God alone and that God accepted the offering. (See Ephesians 5:2, Hebrews 9:14, 10:10-14) Such error alters the motive for baptism. Getting saved, or else acquiring proof one is saved is a primary motivation for being baptized for those who believe Christ’s work merely makes salvation available, that the sinner is not saved until he accepts the offer of salvation.
Some believe baptism is an element of quickening; that it is part of the process of the new birth by which the sinner is born again. Others assert baptism has no regenerative qualities, but is never-the-less an essential component that accompanies salvation. They teach all who are saved hear the gospel, believe savingly and are baptized. These schemes diminish the work of Christ as the sole procurer of eternal salvation for all those the Father gave Him. They add a work by man to the work of Christ as a necessary element of redemption. Far from teaching that eternal redemption is a finished work of Christ, they present Jesus’ effort as incomplete until man adds something more.
Thus, baptism according to this form of perverted gospel does not depict the sacrifice of Christ made to God to “save his people from their sins” as a finished work. Rather, it misinforms God’s children that Christ did all He could do, which did not accomplish salvation for anyone despite His death, burial and resurrection. So now it is up to the sinner who, by baptism and/or other means must finish the work of redemption which Jesus merely started at Calvary.
In contrast, the one true baptism represents Christ’s sacrifice as a finished work, as indicated by God having raised Him from the dead. Likewise, one being raised out of the watery grave of baptism depicts Christ’s victorious resurrection, which defeated death and the grave for all for whom He gave His life. As such, baptism is a response to the fact that one is saved and not a means initiated by the sinner to get saved, or even a certain assurance one is saved. True baptism depicts the certainty of salvation by the sacrifice of Christ to God as the sin offering for all the Father gave him. His resurrection is evidence the Father accepted the sacrifice. His acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice indicates the Savior in fact procured salvation by His blood for all for whom He died.
Symbolism and Figure of Baptism
The Apostle Paul asserts baptism in symbol acknowledges inclusion in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Roman letter he states: “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 also should walk in newness of life.” (Roman 6:3-4) Paul made a similar reference to baptism as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:29: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” The phrase “baptized for the dead” refers to Christ’s death. Paul’s reasoning is one who does not believe in the resurrection of the dead has no reason to be baptized, since baptism depicts not just the death of Christ, but also his resurrection.
Baptism symbolizes voluntary submission to God’s will by surrendering one’s life to godly pursuits and worship. Christ voluntarily submitted to the will of the Father by surrendering His life as a sacrifice for our sins when He died, was buried and then arose by the power of God. (Acts 17:21, Romans 4:24, 8:11, 1 Corinthians 15:15) Christ implied He surrendered His life by stating no man had the ability to take His life, but that He would lay it down. “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
In like figure of Christ’s death, baptism indicates believers’ submission to God’s will pertaining to the walk of life by surrendering themselves to a symbolic death. It designates willing submission to God based on one’s belief in the fact of Christ’s death and covenant participation in what His death accomplished. This is indicated by immersion into water (the watery grave) and symbolic resurrection by extraction from the water by the power of another. In the case of baptism, we are raised from the water by the administrator of baptism to engage in a new and voluntary walk in accordance to God’s will as prescribed by scripture. In Romans 6:4, Paul called this walking in “newness of life.”
I Peter 3:18-21 identifies baptism as figurative saving. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering 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.” This passage is difficult to understand unless we realize Peter mentions two specific categories of salvation.
The first category is eternal salvation. Mention of Christ’s suffering and death alludes to redemption by the atoning blood of Christ. He then cites another salvation that also saves us now; “baptism doth now also save us.” The words “now also” indicate this salvation is in addition to eternal salvation and it exists in present time. It is a present time salvation that exists in addition to eternal salvation. It is a salvation that in figure is like the salvation Noah experienced by water in the flood. It involves temporal deliverance by the mercy of God that is based on faithful obedience. In addition to this being a providential salvation that occurs during the lives of believers, a time salvation, it is also conditional. That is, in order to receive this salvation one must do something. This is implied in Peter’s comparison of baptism in figure to Noahs’ experience in the flood.
Baptism itself does not save. Rather, being baptized as a faithful action indicates one’s faith in Christ, repentance from sin, and commitment to serve the Lord. Together, these give believers access to daily deliverances, present time salvations, from God. Peter’s reference to baptism as “the like figure” to the water of the flood having saved Noah suggests the two have similar characteristics. That is, whatever principles and qualities of salvation Noah experienced from water, Peter asserts may also be found in baptism. Water saved Noah in two ways.
Because Noah obeyed God, the water which destroyed the wicked delivered Noah. God instructed Noah to build the ark and take refuge there. When the flood came the ark floated in the water thereby preserving him and his family. They were saved in the flood because for decades Noah faithfully obeyed God’s instructions to build the ark. Obedience to His instructions was a necessary condition God placed on Noah in order for him to be saved in the flood. Noah was eternally saved by grace before the flood. The Lord loved Noah before telling him to build the ark. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8). From this we understand that God’s love was not based on Noah’s obedience. However, Noah’s obedience was necessary in order that he be saved in the flood. The experience of being saved in the flood, confirmed to Noah that God loved him. So, Noah was saved by water through faith in God. He was saved from destruction and also saved to affirmation of God’s love.
Similarly, “in like figure,” baptism, or more specifically the commitment to faith in Christ, repentance and godliness that baptism affirms now saves the child of God. He is delivered from personal guilt and even God’s temporal judgments against sinners by having answered God in reaction to the “good conscience” received in the new birth. And as long as he pursues efforts to walk godly by faith in Christ and repent from sin when he slips he can experience this temporal salvation. John the Baptist implied that baptism has these saving qualities when he warned of God’s wrath against sin that would soon occur. (Matthew 3:7) The “wrath to come” prophesied by John is pronounced by Jesus in Matthew 23:37-39. It is the judgment of God’s wrath against Israel for rejecting and crucifying the Savior.
The water of the flood also saved Noah from many of the influences and effects of the wicked generation in which he lived. Forewarned of God’s judgment to destroy humanity in the flood because of mans’ wickedness, Noah and his family spent their days building the ark rather than engaging in evil doing. The influence of God’s message of judgment diminished the influence that evil doers might otherwise have had on Noah. Simply put, rather than thinking and doing evil like everyone else, Noah busied himself with the godly task of building the ark while waiting for God’s judgment against sin. Furthermore, the flood, in large measure, purged evil doers from the lives of Noah and his family. (Evil was not completely purged inasmuch as Noah and his family were still sinners by nature.) The commitment to faith in Christ, repentance from sinning, and a godly walk that is represented in water baptism can have a similar effect in the lives of believers. Like Noah, we too receive instructions from God as to how and with whom we should spend our time while awaiting Christ’s second coming and God’s final judgment against sin. We are encouraged to busy ourselves studying God’s word (Acts 17:10-11), to always pray (Ephesians 6:18), to minister to others’ needs (Hebrews 6:10), to attend church and generally surround ourselves with like-minded believers (Hebrews 10:25); in general, to be zealous of all good works (Titus 2:4). Furthermore, we are to avoid corrupt lifestyles, knowing they undermine godly habits (I Corinthians 15:33) and avoid entanglement and liaison with the ungodly (II Corinthians 6:14-18). These instructions provide focus and purpose that Paul identifies as a vocation, a whole life, lifetime orientation and walk that is worthy behavior for believers (Ephesians 4:1-3). They provide believers with access to a now, or time salvation that can deliver them from the corrupting influences of sin and the negative emotional impact from the harm it inflicts.
What Baptism Accomplishes
Water baptism is the answer of a good conscience toward God. “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.” (I Peter 3:21) Specifically, Peter asserts baptism is THE answer of a good conscience; which by inference suggests there is no other acceptable answer. The phrase “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” implies baptism has no redemptive power, neither as an instrument nor an agency of regeneration. Simply stated, baptism does not wash away sins.
The fact that baptism is an answer, or response, indicates it is preceded by something that has the effect of posing a question. Two things must be in place in order to produce the question to which baptism is the answer. The new birth, God’s work of grace in the heart must first occur because it produces the good conscience. (Romans 9:1, I Timothy 1:5, 3:9, Titus 1:15) The new birth renovates one’s conscience making it sensitive to God. It functions as a witness in keeping with His will. (Romans 2:13-15) The gospel is also needed to form the question which baptism answers. After a person is born again, hearing the gospel message serves to frame this question in one’s mind. The question is: What shall I do?
Acts 2:37 provides evidence those who responded to Peter’s message were born again children of God, who upon hearing the gospel felt they needed to respond with action. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” The phrase “pricked in their hearts” indicates these people were already born again when Peter preached the gospel to them. It is consistent with language found in Ezekiel where God depicts His work of grace as replacing a hard and unfeeling heart with a feeling heart. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. “(Ezekiel 36:26-27) Similar language in Hebrew 10:15-17 also likens regeneration to a work in the heart. “Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” (See also Romans 2:29, 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 3:3, 4:6, Galatians 4:6, Hebrews 8:10, 10:16,22)
In Romans 2:14-15 Paul indicates the work of regeneration in the heart extends to one’s conscience. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” The text indicates an effect of regeneration is the conscience also bears witness to the law God written in the heart. Furthermore, thoughts that accuse or else excuse in reaction to the witness of conscience to the law of God written in the heart explain why those who were pricked in their hearts asked what they needed to do.
Thayer’s defines “pricked” as: 1) to prick, pierce ;2) metaph. to pain the mind sharply, agitate it vehemently; 2a) esp. of the emotion of sorrow. Upon hearing the true gospel those who were “pricked in their hearts” experienced pain and sorrow when they learned Jesus, who was recently crucified, is in fact the Son of God. They sorrowed over His suffering and death; and also for their own sins, which offended God and required Jesus’ sacrifice. Their minds were stirred by the conviction they must do something because Jesus had died for their sins.
Pricking in the heart depicts a mental reaction to the impact of spiritual insights that occur when the gospel message is affirmed by the law of God written in one’s heart. It produces conviction to do something. “What shall we do?” (Acts 3:37) The good conscience directs thoughts that accuse (disapprove) of indifference to the gospel and excuse (approve) thoughts that seek to know what to do and then do it. The good conscience responded to Peter’s call to repent and be baptized with excusing (approving) thoughts as to the need to be baptized. Water baptism is the conclusive response of the good conscience of unbaptized believers in reaction to the gospel.
Another accomplishment of water baptism is it adds members to the local church. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41) And again, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:47)
Statements made by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians Chapter 1 support an assertion that baptism adds to the church. The epistle is addressed “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” (v. 2) This statement informs us the letter is addressed to members of a church composed of born again people. Further down in the chapter Paul indicates division in the church prevents them from being “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (v. 10) He goes on to identify the nature of the contention as having to do with pride regarding who baptized them. “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (v. 12) When Paul’s statements are considered together we understand the membership of this church consisted of people who were baptized. With this understanding we may infer baptism and church membership go hand-in-hand, that baptism adds to church membership.
As we have previously discussed, water baptism accomplishes temporal deliverance akin to the saving of Noah and his family. At Pentecost Peter preached about a similar deliverance that is received by believers who by water baptism commit themselves to faith in Christ, repentance from sinning, and doing God’s will. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:38-42) Peter’s exhortation alludes to daily deliverance based on a faithful and godly walk believers commit to when they are baptized.
There are three principle manifestations of daily saving that believers can experience when by baptism they commit their lives to the Lord. One is assurance of eternal life. Baptized believers receive a salvation of daily assurance of their hope of eternal life by living according to God’s will; the details of which are learned by hearing the gospel preached, studying God’s word.
Next, by obeying the Lord believers can avoid much suffering from chastening and His punitive judgments. Pending punitive judgment is inferred from the statement: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Remember, Jesus had already pronounced a judgment of desolation against Jerusalem when Peter preached this message.
A third way in which believers can experience a temporal salvation is that church membership by baptism provides them fellowship with others who are leading godly lives. This supplies them with the prayers and support of the saints, plus many good examples of godliness. Active church membership serves to encourage them to follow the Lord; which, in turn saves them from evil influences that might otherwise tempt them to commit sin. Providing membership in His church is one way God responds to His children’s pleas from the model prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13)
Proper Method of Baptism
God’s word makes a strong case that immersion of the candidate is the proper method of water baptism. In addition to baptism by immersion, proper baptism is in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, as Jesus commanded.
Baptism by Immersion: As previously discussed, baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Immersion is the most appropriate application of the symbol inasmuch as it involves being plunged into water (figure of Christ’s death), submersion under the water (figure of His burial), and arising from the water, (figure of Him being raised from the dead). The language of scripture together with several texts strongly implies baptism by immersion was practiced by John, the Apostles and the first century church.
Some form of the word baptize occurs ninety-seven times in the New Testament. The frequency of its appearance attests to its importance as church doctrine. But the word itself is also doctrinally significant. Baptize and baptism are Greek words that were transferred untranslated into the English language by the translators of the Bible. Easton’s Bible Dictionary states, “The words “baptize” and “baptism” are simply Greek words transferred into English. This was necessarily done by the translators of the Scriptures, for no literal translation could properly express all that is implied in them.”
According to Thayer’s Greek/English Lexicon of the New Testament the word baptize conveys three thoughts: 1. to dip repeatedly, submerge, immerse; 2. to cleanse by dipping, to wash, to make clean with water; 3. metaphorically to overwhelm. All three ideas are incorporated into the rite of water baptism as a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Water baptism literally involves immersion as a symbol of death. It conveys a sense of unity with Christ, whose blood cleanses sinners from their sins. It signifies an overwhelming commitment to God that should frame the person’s priorities.
The translators brought the Greek word into the English language untranslated to retain its entire meaning. Deviation from the meaning of this word, wholly transferred as it was from Greek into English, makes the word baptize inaccurate and unnecessary in describing the rite. This being so, a gospel that does not present Christ as having accomplished the work of saving His people from their sins by His death, burial and resurrection does not encompass the whole meaning of the word; and any ritual that accompanies it cannot be accurately referred to as baptism. In addition, the ritual of sprinkling cannot accurately be called baptism according to the authority of scripture because it does not include immersion. Also, immersing unbelievers is not baptism because they lack an intense/overwhelming desire to serve God. For the same reason immersing candidates who submit because they are coerced, intimidated or shamed into submission is not baptism.
The testimony of scripture concerning water baptism is wholly consistent with immersion as the meaning of the word. John the Baptist required a large supply of water in order to perform baptisms. “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. “ (John 3:23) The Savior went into the river Jordan to be baptized and afterward came up out of the water. “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.” (Mark 1:9-10) The Ethiopian Eunuch went down into and then came up out of water when he was baptized. “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:38-39)
Romans 6:4 states “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death.” Burial involves a body being laid into the ground and covered. Likewise, baptism by immersion involves a person being laid down into water, with which he is covered. Colossians 2:12 indicates baptism is a figure of Christ’s resurrection. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him…” Being raised in Baptism symbolizes Christ’s resurrection. It expresses conviction of our being included in the covenant of redemption, by which we hope for the resurrection of our bodies from the dead at Christ’s second coming. Resurrection of the body is signified by water baptism in that after being immersed the candidate is raised up out the water. When considered together these texts leave little doubt that the method of baptizing practiced by the first century church was immersion in water.
Baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost: The Savior sent the Apostles to preach His word in all the world, AND TO BAPTIZE. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19) They were instructed to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son Christ Jesus, and of the Holy Ghost.” From this we understand the proper form of baptism includes invoking the name of the Trinity.
Specific mention of each in the godhead in baptism is important to believers in several ways. It attests belief in the trinity of God (I John 5:7-8, Ephesians 4:4-6). It acknowledges the roll and office work of each in the trinity in accomplishing redemption (II Corinthians 5:19, Romans 8:11, Galatians 4:6). It serves to affirm the believer’s commitment to receive instruction and leadership, and to obey God in His triune Being of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. (I Corinthians 11:1, I Thessalonians 4:9, Romans 8:14, Ephesians 1:17, Colossians 3:16-17).
Acts 2:38 reads, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” This text is sometimes cited to suggest the Apostles observed the spirit of Jesus’ command but did not literally follow it. From this misconception some conclude it is unnecessary for administrators of baptism to specifically mention the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost when performing the rite of water baptism. This notion, however, is based on a misinterpretation of the text.
Peter’s response addresses a question as to what believers should do in answer to the gospel. It is not a description of the rite of baptism. In other words it does not describe what Peter and the other Apostles actually said when they baptized believers. Rather, it explains the authority and power by which believers are commanded to be baptized. Peter similarly commanded baptism in Acts10:48 where he more generally cited “the Lord” as authority. “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” In both instances the phrase “in the name of” depicts the authority by which baptism rightfully is commanded; but, neither instance actually describes what the administrator should say when he baptizes. (The phrase “for the remission of sins” in Acts 2:38 is included to associate baptism by the authority of Christ to the finished work of redemption he accomplished. As previously discussed, the person and work of Christ are inseparable. This principle is particularly important with regards to baptism inasmuch as the rite symbolically mimics Christ’s death, burial and resurrection by which He redeemed us.)
Proper Authority to Baptize
Did Christ give the ordinance of baptism to his church, or did He give it to the ministry? The answer to this question is important because God designated baptism to be His children’s response of conscience when they hear the gospel and believe (I Peter 3:21) and it is the means God designed for adding members to the church. If the authority to baptize was given wholly to ministers, then they may exercise it without approval or even oversight from the church. If it rests with the church, then ministers baptize by the authority and consent of the church.
As previously discussed, a principle purpose of baptism is to add members to the church. (Acts 2:47) The church alone has authority to receive members. This fact supports the position that baptizing authority resides in the church. If it resided with the ministry then ministers would be responsible for adding members to the church and could do so without church consent. In other words, instead of a church having authority to receive members, a minister would have authority to impose his will on the church to receive whomever he baptized. This leads to an obvious problem. If preachers controlled church membership then by extension they would control the church, since their authority to baptize would allow them to grant or else deny membership. This situation is even more complicated when we consider that the Church at Corinth had members who were baptized by preachers who themselves were not members there (I Corinthians 1:12). Therefore, if preachers have sole authority over the ordinance of baptism and baptism adds members to a church, they are free to baptize and add members into any local church without that church’s consent.
The account of Peter baptizing Cornelius and other Gentiles gathered in his house supports the position that Christ gave the ordinance of baptism to His church. Peter took brethren, presumably church members, with him to Cornelius’ house. “Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.” (Acts 10:23) Furthermore, Peter requested consent from them before baptizing the Gentile believers. “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.” (Acts 10:44-48)
In addition to seeking permission from the brethren who came with him, he sought agreement from the membership of the church at Jerusalem when the question arose whether Peter should have baptized the Gentiles. (Acts 11 1:17) The Jerusalem Church accepted Peter’s work after he cited the presence of the Holy Ghost with the Gentiles as the basis by which he requested permission from the brethren who accompanied him to baptize Cornelius and other Gentile believers. “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:17-18) Simply stated, Peter sought and received consent from church members who were with him before he baptized Cornelius and others. He also sought and received approval from the greater body of Jerusalem Church after the fact.
The account of Peter baptizing Cornelius indicates how he understood Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 28:19. His behavior gives credence to the principle that Jesus gave the ordinance of baptism to His church. At the time, Peter was ideally situated to understand to whom the Lord gave the authority to baptize. He was present when Jesus commanded the Apostles to baptize. (Matthew 28:16-19) Seeking consent from the brethren to baptize Cornelius and later seeking approval from the church indicates that even as an Apostle, Peter understood Jesus gave the authority of the ordinance of baptism to His church. Peter’s behavior strongly suggests he understood Jesus’ instruction to mean ministers of the gospel, including Apostles, perform the ordinance of baptism by consent of the church.
Paul’s first epistle to the Church at Corinth supports an assertion that baptismal authority resides with the local church. In Chapter 11 Paul stated he gave the ordinances to the church. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” (I Corinthians 11:1-2) This text shows Paul delivered the authority of the ordinances (Baptism and Communion) to the local church. Scripture is silent as to the specific instance when this occurred, but it is likely the authority of the ordinances were conveyed when Corinth Church was established (Acts 18:1-17).
As an Apostle, Paul possessed the authority to administer the ordinance of baptism based upon Christ’s instruction to the Apostles in Matthew 28:19. His mention of passing it to the local church is consistent with Peter’s understanding of Jerusalem Church having authority as to whom he baptized, as previously discussed. It suggests that Peter and Paul understood Jesus’ instruction to mean Apostles were responsible for conveying the authority of the ordinance of baptism to local churches as they were constituted.
The account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is sometimes cited to support the notion that once ordained ministers may baptize at large, apart from local church consent. However, this argument fails to consider the focus of the narrative. It also violates a principle of logical argument.
The account of Acts 8:26-39 concerning Philip and the Ethiopian presents several points that relate to the work of evangelism. They include:
The Lord selects and directs evangelists. Acts 8: 26-29
Evangelists are sent to teach Christ Jesus to born again children of God. V. 35
Part of the teaching includes instruction regarding the need to be baptized. V. 36
It also presents certain qualifications a candidate must have to receive baptism:
He must believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. V. 37
He must request baptism. Vs. 36, 38
Baptism is by immersion. Vs. 38-39 “and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water….”
The fact that church membership is not mentioned does not imply the Ethiopian did not become a church member. Neither does it imply Philip was baptizing apart from church authority and consent. The narrative says nothing on either of these points. Logically, an argument from silence is no argument. Therefore, silence in Acts chapter 8:26-39 on these points cannot reasonably suggest they did or did not apply.
However, evidence is found elsewhere to suggest two principles of the doctrine of baptism are: 1. Authority for baptism resides with the church; and, 2. Baptism results in church membership. To these points we refer back to explanations already presented of Acts 2:47, Acts 10:10-48 , Acts 11:1-18, 1 Corinthians 1: 10-31, 11:1-2 These passages associate baptism with church membership and/or authority to baptize residing with the local church. In the absence of scriptural evidence that specifically allows for exceptions, one can infer both of these principles generally apply. Furthermore, Philip was a member of Jerusalem Church (Acts 6:5), which membership would later consent to the baptism of Gentiles by Peter. Therefore it can be reasonably inferred that Philip acted in accordance with both principles when he baptized the Ethiopian.
In addition to the passages just cited, we have a record elsewhere in scripture indicating the church approved of Philip’s baptizing work. It can be inferred from Acts 8:5-17 that Philip baptized the Samarians under the authority of Jerusalem Church. Mention of Peter and John traveling from Jerusalem to Samaria to lay hands on those whom Philip had baptized suggests the church approved of his labors there. (Acts 8:14-15) The account of Philip baptizing in Samaria immediately precedes the narrative of Philip and the Ethiopian. The order and proximity of the two accounts supports the suggestion that in both episodes Philip baptized by authority from Jerusalem Church.
Every instance of baptizing recorded in scripture indicates the ordinance was administered by a preacher of the gospel. The first example of a preacher baptizing is John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-6). Peter preached and baptized (Acts 2:14-41, 10:34-48), as did Ananias (Acts 22:12-16), so also did Paul (Acts 16:13-15, 16:30-33, 18:8, 19:4-7, I Corinthians 1:14-17) and Philip preached and baptized (Acts 8:12, 8:35-38). However, this does not explain how men who came after the Apostles are qualified to baptize.
In his first letter to the Church at Corinth the Apostle Paul wrote, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” (I Corinthians 1:17) Paul’s statement distinguishes his call to preach from his responsibility to baptize. According to Paul, Jesus sent him to preach the gospel but did not send him to baptize. In other words, Paul preached based upon a call he received from God. However, he did not receive a similar call to baptize. Yet Paul did baptize. If his prerogative to baptize did not come as the result of a calling from God then who gave it to Paul? The only logical answer is he performed baptism by consent of the church.
Review of Paul’s ministry supports an assertion that he was given prerogative to baptize from Antioch church when he was ordained. The account of Paul and Barnabas being ordained is found in Acts 13:1-3 “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” The text indicates the Holy Ghost called Paul and Barnabas to preach. The church acknowledged the two men were called of God to preach by ordaining them.
Scripture reveals Paul preached with power and in demonstration of the Spirit of God before he was ordained. He began preaching almost immediately after Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road. When Paul went to Jerusalem Barnabas told the Apostles “how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:27) While at Jerusalem Paul “spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians.” (Verse 29) He also spent an entire year at Antioch teaching disciples before he was ordained. Paul’s statement recorded in I Corinthians 1:17 together with his preaching the gospel before he was ordained by a church is evidence his gift and calling to preach was not the result of Antioch Church ordaining him; it came from God. Paul confirmed as much in his testimony to King Agrippa. (Acts 26:15-18) In contrast, there is no record in scripture that proves Paul baptized anyone before he was ordained by Antioch Church. Yet, scripture provides several accounts of him baptizing after he was ordained.
Ordaining elders (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5) by means of laying on of hands (Acts 13:3, 1 Timothy 4:14, 5:22 ) by a presbytery is the means God gave His church to recognize a man’s call to preach and also to assign the privilege and duty of administrating the ordinances including, communion and baptizing believers. Beginning with the Apostles in Jerusalem, the ordination service has included laying hands on the candidate.
This ceremony signifies the passage of the doctrines and administration of ordinances of the church through successive generations. In II Timothy 2:2 Paul revealed the principle of church succession by passing along the true faith and practice of the church to others. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” By presenting a scene that includes five generations Paul teaches us that the faith and practice of Christ’s church is continuously passed forward by succession. Jesus gave the true gospel to Paul, who gave it to Timothy, who was instructed to commit it to faithful men. Faithful men would pass in on by teaching others.
Proper Candidate for Baptism
Who may properly receive baptism and membership in Christ’s Church? Several scriptural accounts indicate proper candidates for baptism possess the following characteristics:
Show evidence of the new birth
Believe Jesus is Christ
Show fruits of repentance
Confess to be a sinner saved by grace
Agree to pursue a Godly walk
Desire membership in Christ’s Church
Willingly receive baptism
1. Show evidence of the new birth: This qualification for baptism seems obvious. Why would anyone want to be baptized and join the church unless he was born again? Actually, scripture indicates Satan and his cohorts infiltrated the early church and continue to do so. In Revelations 2:13 the Savior stated He knew where Satan sat in the church in Pergamos. In the concluding remarks of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against evil false prophets who seek to harm the church. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) Paul cautioned the Church at Corinth against deceitful workers who are actually false apostles and ministers. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (II Corinthians 11:13-15) Paul also wrote of “false brethren” who desired to impose the bondage of physical circumcision in the church. “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Galatians 2:4).
These several passages indicate Satan greatly desires to infiltrate the church and is sometimes successful. His purpose is to undermine believers’ faith, destroy the peace and happiness of the brethren and generally wreak havoc among the saints of God. The wicked do not simply happen upon a church and decide they want to join. These texts indicate they join with the purpose of harming God’s people. This fact makes it all-the-more important that churches look for evidence of the presence of God’s grace through new birth in those who present themselves for baptism.
The remaining qualifications, when considered under the guiding influence of the Spirit of God provide reasonable assurance a person is born again and a proper subject for baptism.
2. Believe Jesus is Christ: The strongest argument for believers’ baptism is that everyone who received baptism by the Apostles and Elders were believers. The account of Philip and the man of Ethiopia is one such example. When he requested baptism Philip stipulated he had to believe in Jesus Christ before he could be baptized. “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Acts 8:37-38) Two fundamental doctrinal points are contained in the Etheopian’s response. First, he believed Jesus of Nazareth is God Son, the promised Christ; and, 2. God’s Son is Himself God. These two points present Christ Jesus as the object of faith in the believer. All other doctrinal teachings begin with and proceed from the reality that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
The account of Peter preaching on Pentecost provides another example of believers’ baptism. Peter preached that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and those who believed were baptized. (Acts 2:22-41) A third example is when Philip preached Jesus to the Samarians. They heard and believed the message that Jesus is Christ before receiving baptism by Philip. (Acts 8:12) Peter baptized believers in Christ at Cornelius’ house. (Acts 10:36-48) Lydia believed the true gospel before she was baptized. (Acts 16:14-15) Paul also determined the Philippian jailer and his household believed Jesus is Christ before baptizing them. (Acts 16:30-33) Paul practiced believers’ baptism at Ephesus. (Act 19:4-5) It is a fact that every account in scripture of water baptism indicates only those who believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God were baptized.
Sometimes the baptisms of Lydia’s household and the household of the Philippian jailer are cited in an effort to refute the teaching that only willing believers are qualified candidates for baptism. This position is usually presented to defend the unscriptural practice of baptizing unbelieving infants and also to justify the bizarre practice of proxy-baptizing for people who are dead and buried. Proponents assert that it is reasonable to presume the composition of both households included unbelieving infants. This line of reasoning is logically invalid. It relies on the logical fallacy of argument from silence. No mention of children appears in either account. Silence as to the presence of children and them being baptized neither prove nor disprove infants or otherwise unwilling unbelievers were baptized. Furthermore, in contrast to this unfounded speculation, every account of the performance of baptism found in scripture is accompanied by specific indications that candidates believed in Jesus Christ before they were baptized (excluding the special circumstances of John baptizing). Given this fact, it is readily apparent that believing “Jesus Christ is the Son of God” is a required qualification of candidates for baptism.
3. Show fruits of repentance: Repentance is a significant subject in itself, one that cannot be conveniently addressed at this time. However, since it is a requirement for candidates to receive baptism it is important to understand a few things about true repentance and also how it is manifest by believers. John the Baptist and Peter specifically indicated repentance is a necessary qualification in those who desire baptism. (Matthew 3:8-9, Acts 2:38, 3:19)
Thayer’s Greek/English Lexicon defines repent as: 1) to change one’s mind, i.e. to repent; 2) to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins. From this we understand repentance produces a changed attitude toward sin. Furthermore, inasmuch as sin is a constant battle for every child of God, repentance is not a onetime event. Jesus taught as much in the model prayer; which instructs us to include the penitential plea “forgive us our sins” in our daily prayers. (Luke 11:4) Repentance is to be a daily, even multiple-times-a-day experience. As often as we sin we are to repent. (Luke 17:3-4, Romans 2:4, II Corinthians 7:9,Revelations 2:5 , 16, 22, 3:19)
Godly sorrow contributes to the changed attitude that accompanies repentance. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.: (2 Corinthians 7:10) The phrase “not to be repented of” suggests true repentance has more than a casual or transient effect on a believers attitude toward sin. Also the passage indicates repentance is a product of profound sorrow.
Godly sorrow is intense regret, shame and sadness that occur when we consider our sins from the perspective of a righteous and holy God. He hates sin, yet is confronted with and offened by every sin committed by those He loves. It is the sorrow of God seeing His children sinfully inflict great harm on themselves and others and knowing the pain they feel. It is the sense of betrayal God has when those He loves and for whom He gave His Son to suffer and die succumb to sin’s allure by lust, covetousness and even idolatry. It is His sadness from knowing the lies we tell, our every hateful thought, and all our wicked ways. When we consider our sins from God’s perspective it produces profound sorrow and regret and an intense desire to be forgiven and change our ways.
True repentance produces changed behavior. Having preached Jesus Christ to them, Peter admonished his audience to “Repent ye therefore and be converted.” (Acts 3:19) Thayer’s definition of converted in this text is: to turn back, to reform. The phrase “be converted” signifies a changed walk, a turnabout in behavior that is an effect of true repentance. Repentance results in conversion. Another way of stating this is evidence of true repentance is one changing from sinful to godly behavior.
This is what John the Baptist required from the Sadducees and Pharisees before he would baptize them. He insisted they show evidence of true repentance in their lives; that, they “Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance.” It is important to keep in mind the context of John’s admonition. A survey of the gospels reveals Jesus was highly critical of the Sadducees and Pharisees both in terms of the harshness of his criticisms and its frequency. Both sects had great influence, which they used to hinder the Jewish people from properly worshiping God. In Matthew 23 the Savior detailed the sins against God performed by the Pharisees, which they did under the pretense of encouraging proper worship. Sometimes in coalition and at other times separately, the Pharisees and Sadducees opposed Jesus. (Matthew 16:1-6, 22:23, 22:34-35) John requiring they prove they were truly penitent before he would baptize them was because, in general they opposed God.
This stands in contrast to the evidence of repentance required by Peter and the Apostles on Pentecost. Peter preached Jesus Christ the Son of God and called on the people to repent and be baptized. Those who gladly received the gospel were baptized. In this instance, gladly receiving the gospel was sufficient evidence of repentance to be baptized. This is supported by the account of the general decorum of the saints at Jerusalem afterward. (Acts 2:42-47)
4. Confess to be a sinner saved by grace: Under the influence of John’s gospel that heralded the Lamb of God who would take away sin, penitent saints readily confessed they were sinners and were baptized. “And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mark 1:5) An effect of being born again is profound realization of the wickedness of our sins. Furthermore, receiving the gospel shines light on our sins as the cause of Christ’s suffering and death. But the gospel also proclaims salvation of sinners by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Such news convicts believers for their sins, and at the same time causes them to rejoice in the hope of eternal life by the sacrifice of a crucified Savior. (Acts 19:18-20)
Confession of sins need not be a public litany of lurid details of one’s transgressions. However, it can be appropriate to cite specific trespasses when asking others to pray for us. This is particularly so when we seek to repent and receive forgiveness for public offenses. In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican the latter confessed his sins to God with the simple phrase, “me a sinner.” “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)
Jesus used this parable to condemn self-justification. The standard of righteousness is Christ Jesus. The perfect example is His suffering and death on the cross. Jesus said of the Publican “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) The publican humbly confessed his sins and pleaded for mercy from the heavenly Father. God declared him righteous in response to the man’s faithful and humble prayer. The declaration of righteousness from God is experienced in the court of one’s own conscience as justification by faith by those who seek God’s forgiveness by penitently confessing their sins.
Beginning with confession of our sins when baptized, saints may continually experience comfort and solace by confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness. The phrase “And forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4) in Jesus’ model prayer indicates we should continually confess our sins and seek forgiveness from God. Moreover, John teaches God is faithful to forgive sins we confess to him. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John1:9) An effect of God forgiving our sins is removal of the conviction of sin, which is expressed in our thoughts as a guilty, or accusing conscience. Guilt is replaced by thoughts of gratitude, relief and a resolve to be more faithful to our forgiving Lord in our daily walk. In this way, we are “cleansed from all unrighteousness.”
The Epistle of James teaches we are to confess our sins one to another so we may also pray for one another. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16) Notice, James identified those who confess their faults also as the righteous for whom God answers prayers. Penitent confession, far from working condemnation and despair in His children, produces resolve to walk more closely with God. The petitions of faithful brothers and sisters in Christ comfort and encourage those who confess their faults and entreat the saints to pray for them.
5. Agree to pursue a Godly walk: The Church at Jerusalem provides an example of how the commitment to walk according to God’s will accompanies baptism. “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
In the Roman Letter Paul reveals a godly walk is a duty of those who are baptized. “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.” (Romans 6:4) He goes on to characterize “walking in newness of life” as not serving sin. “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:5-6) Paul carried this line of reasoning to its logical outcome, that as Christ died for our sins and arose and now lives to God, so also should we who are in Christ pursue lives that are not governed by sinful inclinations. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” (Romans6:11-12)
Paul exhorted baptized believers to “walk worthy” of God. (Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10, I Thessalonians 2:12) In his letter to the Ephesian church he noted members should conduct themselves in a manner that was suitable to their calling in Christ. “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,” (Ephesians 4:1) He indicated the worthy walk includes being meek, lowly, longsuffering and forbearing. “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (V. 2) The purpose Paul assigned to fitly walking is peaceful fellowship among church members who are bound together by their common unity with the Holy Spirit. “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (V. 3)
In the Philippian letter Paul described his own effort to pursue a godly walk. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 3:12) Thayer’s defines the word press as: to run swiftly to catch some person or thing; to press on: fig. of one who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal. Paul’s reference to a race is a metaphor for the orientation of the Christian walk. Albert Barne’s provides this explanation of the metaphor: “The “mark” means, properly, the object set up at a distance at which one looks or aims; and hence the goal, or post which was set up at the end of a race-course, and which was to be reached in order that the prize might be won. Here it means that which is at the end of the Christian race — in heaven.”Barne’s Notes a Commentary of the New Testament.
In one sense, the Christian walk presents a paradox. Paul’s use of “press toward” as a metaphor conveys the notion that Christian discipleship is a race to be swiftly run. Yet the Apostle’s instruction in the letter to the Hebrews notes the need to run patiently. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1)
The paradox is solved when we understand that the ultimate goal of Christians is “to meet the Lord in the air” (I Thessalonians 4:17) when our bodies are raised from the dead and reuntied with our spirits/souls. This is the conclusion of our race inasmuch as “we shall ever be with the Lord.” Yet, there is a challenging service to God we must patiently perform by walking every day in “paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalms 23:3) Paul characterized his experience of swiftly running to God while at the same time running with patience as being “in a strait betwixt two.” “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:23-24) He desired to immediately finish his race so he could “be with the Lord.” At the same time, he sought to faithfully serve the Lord in his daily walk, which required he patiently remain and labor in God’s kingdom. So he ran his race swiftly, but with patience.
It is the same for all who through the rite of water baptism commit themselves to the Lord. Our desire is to be with Jesus, which is better than our present circumstance. Yet, in order to obey God through faithful service in his kingdom we remain here. Thus, we learn what it means to “press toward.” We swiftly run life’s race “toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:15) At the same time we run our daily race with patience by “ever looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our fath. (Hebrews 12:2) The patient race of the swift runner is manifest by a daily godly walk.
6. Desire membership in Christ’s Church: Proper candidates understand baptism includes membership in a local church. Part of their motivation to be baptized is a desire to participate in church covenant with other believers who together form a local body of Christ’s church. Acts Chapter 2 teaches that a touchstone relationship exists between baptism and church membership, that all who are baptized are church members. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”__________ “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Acts 2:41-47. The context of the whole passage clearly demonstrates that baptism is the proper method for believers to initially become church members.
Paul’s First Epistle the the Church at Corinth indicates baptism and church membership go hand-in-hand. The letter is addressed “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth” (I Corinthians 1:1) Addressing a problem in that church, he wrote; “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” He continued by criticizing the members for placing undo importance on who baptized them. (Vs. 12-13) From his description of the situation we understand the people Paul criticized were all baptized members of Corinth Church
Baptism is the initial method for acquiring church membership, but not the only method. Members in good standing and with proper cause may transfer their membership from one church to another of the same faith and order. An example of a reason for transferring membership is if one moved his residence and now lives nearer a sister church. Transfer of membership is accomplished by formal communication between sister churches who agree in doctrine and church order. It is accomplished by the membership of church the person wishes to join (church A) voting to receive the individual upon receipt of a letter dismissing his membership from the church where he is presently a member (church B). When church B receives the letter requesting dismissal and transfer the membership votes to either grant or deny the request. (A reason the request might be denied is if the member wishing the transfer has done something that requires church discipline.) Upon receiving the letter of dismissal from church B, the person’s membership is transferred to church A and they are added to the membership roll. Another method by which churches receive members is by relation. This method applies to those who were members of a church that has disbanded. A disbanded church is unable to grant letters of dismissal. Therefore, a person who had membership in a local church of the same faith and order that has disbanded may be received by relation. And finally, excluded members who repent and seek to have their membership reinstated can be received by restoration by the church that excluded them. If the excluding church has disbanded a sister church may receive them by relation and restoration.
7. Willingly receive baptism: Every person who receives baptism must be a willing candidate. Proper candidates are those who request baptism after joyfully receiving the gospel. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41) This account of how the saints at Jerusalem were baptized after having first gladly received the gospel established a precedent for proper baptism. Similar accounts are found elsewhere in God’s word. The Ethiopian Eunuch gladly received gospel and requested baptism. (Acts 8:35-39) After he was baptized “he went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:39) Ananias preached Jesus to Saul, after which, the scales fell from his eyes and he was willingly baptized. (Acts 9:17-18) Cornelius and others gathered with him heard the gospel from Peter, gladly received it (as indicated by them receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost) and were baptized. (Acts 10:34-48). Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and the twelve brethren at Ephesus all heard the gospel and willingly were baptized.
From the consistent pattern in scripture that only the willing received baptism we understand: 1. Baptism must never be forced on a person; and 2. those who have never heard, or are otherwise ignorant of the gospel are not proper candidates for baptism.
Baptism must never be forced on a person, neither by coercion nor sentimental persuasion. Sadly, through the ages coercion has been routinely employed by religious entities who claim authority from Christ. As we have shown, God’s word does not give a single example of people being forced to receive baptism. Neither is there found anywhere in scripture a principle that instructs or to any degree permits baptizing people against their will. Nowhere in scripture is it shown that a person was threatened with physical harm if they refused baptism. Neither was anyone ever threatened with eternal torment in hell if they refused to be baptized. In fact, scripture shows John refused some who came to him for baptism. (Matthew 3:7-8)
Sentimental arguments designed to persuade people to be baptized are also unscriptural. When John refused to baptize the Sadducees and Pharisees he specifically rejected them citing their lineage back to Abraham as criteria for baptism. (Matthew 3:9) Family connections do not qualify a person as a candidate for baptism. Nowhere in scripture is it taught that infants of believing parents may rightly be baptized. Neither is there an instance found in God’s word in which people joined the church to assure they would be with loved ones in heaven; nor that they should be baptized because loved one’s now in heaven want it for them. In the narrative of Lazaus and the rich man Jesus specifically rejected sentimental persuasion as a tactic to gain obedience to God. (Luke 16:27-31) Furthermore, Jesus is never depicted in scripture as pleading to those for whom He died to accept His invitation for salvation and be baptized. These all are unscriptural arguments that employ the logical fallacy of pathos (sentimental persuasion) as a tactic to stir up human emotions and thereby entice people to get baptized.
This study of baptism began by citing Ephesians 4:5. We followed with an explanation of Paul rebaptizing the twelve brethren at Ephesus who knew only John’s baptism. They were rebaptized because there is but “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” When the Ephesians told Paul they had never heard of the Holy Ghost, the Apostle realized they were also ignorant of Jesus Christ. According to John’s gospel, knowing the Holy Ghost proceeds from having knowledge of Christ. John declared “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)
On Pentecost, in consequence of Christ’s finished work of atonement, John’s prophecy was fulfilled. When Peter preached Jesus Christ, the Son of God who atoned for our sins, believers experienced baptism of the Holy Ghost. The baptism was manifest as cloven tongues like fire, which fell upon them. (Acts 2:2-4) They began to hear the gospel, everyone in his own language. By hearing and believing the gospel they received the gift of (from) the Holy Ghost. He “pricked their hearts” from which they rejoiced in the knowledge they were saved from their sins by the blood of Christ. Such joy of knowing God’s love for them dissolved the sense of condemnation from their sins they first felt after being born again and prompted them to say, “men and brethren what shall we do.” (Acts 2:37)
The Ephesians had not similarly received this gift from the Holy Ghost and even confessed they were ignorant of His existence. From this, Paul realized they did not know the person of Christ Jesus, nor the truth of his finished work of saving the elect family of God from their sins by His atoning blood. They were yet looking for the Messiah. Salvation for them, far from being a finished work, was a future prospect that would occur when the Messiah, yet unknown to them, did finally appear. Baptized in ignorance of the Savior Christ Jesus, and embracing only the potential for salvation their baptisms did not qualify as the one baptism; which, is based on the one faith that accurately depicts the one Lord. Having a concept of faith that was based on the prospect of salvation by a future Messiah, their baptism did not and could not represent the finished work of Christ by His death, burial and resurrection.
This is also why Primitive Baptists practice rebaptism of saints who have been previously baptized by churches of other faiths. Faiths which teach “another gospel” are not “the faith once delivered.” This is evident from the message their gospel delivers. Instead of presenting the true gospel that affirms Jesus saved every person the Father gave to Him so that none are lost, other faiths preach the prospect of the Messiah saving. Their message is, “Jesus did all he could on the cross to save you from your sins, but He cannot save you by Himself. You must accept His offer of salvation and believe He is your Savior in order for Christ to be able to save you.” Wrong gospel = Wrong Lord; Wrong Lord = Wrong Baptism.
Having said all this, it is important to note that Paul said nothing critical of the Ephesians previous baptism. He simply presented the true Jesus to them and offered them opportunity to receive the one baptism, revealed in the one faith, the object of which is the One Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. People who come from other faiths to join Primitive Baptist churches should not have their previous baptisms belittled or disparaged. Like the Ephesians, they did the best they could with the information they had at the time. They were baptized because they loved the Lord and wished to better serve Him. These are noble motives. As a preacher from my childhood often said; “You don’t have to tear down a man’s house to get him to move. Just show him a beautiful mansion. Tell him it has already been paid for and belongs to him. He’ll move in on his own.”