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THE TRUTH ON BAPTISM
CHRISTIAN people are in agreement in understanding that the New Testament teaches baptism, although there is a great diversity and confusion of thought respecting its mode and significance.
The great falling away from the faith, alluded to by the apostles in the New Testament, had gained such headway by the second century that very superstitious views respecting baptism had gained control in the nominal church by that time. Water baptism was supposed not only to bring the subject into relationship with God by canceling past sins, but also to bring to him certain graces or favors from God as a member of the Church of Christ which could not otherwise be secured. Hence, at that early day, not only did believers seek baptism for themselves, but also for their children; and because infants could neither believe nor enter into covenant promises for themselves, an arrangement was made by which other than the parents might become sponsors for such children--"spiritual parents." They solemnly promised that the children should believe in the Lord and walk in his ways, and obligated themselves to see to their religious training. These were called godfathers and godmothers.
The foregoing perversions of baptism were held for over 1200 years before the organization of the various Protestant denominations of today. Doubtless there were some of the Lord's people who saw matters in a somewhat clearer light, but we may reasonably say that they were extremely few, and that practically no record of them and of their divergence of view comes down to us through the pages of history. It is not surprising that Protestants of the 15th and 16th centuries, having inherited these traditions and participated in them, would be considerably under their influence, and that while divesting themselves of much of the extreme ceremony they maintained the same general views and customs. Even today otherwise intelligent people have a superstitious fear respecting what might be the everlasting future of their children dying in infancy without having been baptized--hence, without having received remission of sins, and without having been inducted into membership in the Church. In harmony with these superstitions, we find that although every effort is made in all denominations to keep all power, privilege and authority in the hands of the clergy and out of the hands of the laity, nevertheless, it is very generally admitted that in extreme cases, where an infant is not expected to live, and where the services of a clergyman cannot be secured in time, any person may perform a baptism service--the thought being that no risk is to be taken in respect to the child's eternal welfare.
The Jewish ritual contained various formulas respecting the cleansing of vessels and washing and sprinkling of unclean persons, etc., but nothing respecting baptism (baptizo, immersion) such as John preached in the end of the Jewish age. John's baptism was for Jews only, who were already recognized as typically cleansed by the Atonement-day sin offerings. To these John's baptism signified repentance from recognized sin, violations of the Law Covenant, and a typical cleansing from them--a return to a condition of righteousness of heart or desire. Jews thus repenting of sin and symbolically cleansed, or washed, were counted as restored to a condition of harmony with God, previously enjoyed under their Law Covenant. The motive back of John's preaching and baptizing was a preparation of the people for the Kingdom of God and for a revelation of Messiah, which John's preaching declared to be imminent, and for which the people would need to be in a condition of heart-readiness if they would receive an appropriate blessing.
Hence, John did not baptize his believers into Christ, but merely unto repentance, bringing them back to a condition of harmony with Moses, etc., in which condition, as natural branches in the olive tree (`Rom. 11:16-21`) they would not need ingrafting into Christ, for Christ would to them take the place of Moses, who for the time merely typified Christ. Let it be remembered, too, that this, called "John's baptism" and said to be unto repentance and remission of sins, and "washing away of sin," was not applicable to any except Jews--because Gentiles, not being baptized into Moses, and not being of the typical house of servants at any time, could not by repentance of sin come back to a condition which they had never occupied. Gentiles who believed into Christ must, therefore, be inducted into his house of sons in a different manner. They, as the Apostle explains, were the wild olive branches, "by nature children of wrath," strangers, aliens, foreigners from the commonwealth of Israel. No amount of repentance and reformation would make these strangers and aliens members of the typical house of servants, to whom alone would come the privilege of passing by faith in Christ from the house of servants into the antitypical house of sons.
Baptism into Christ's Death
"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.
"For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection." `Rom. 6:3-5`
These verses are very generally used to prove all the various doctrines of baptism, but quoted especially by our brethren who recognize baptism as signifying immersion in water. Let it be clearly noticed, however, that the Apostle makes not one word of reference to water baptism. Water baptism is merely a symbol, or picture of the real baptism; and the Apostle, in these verses explains, from various standpoints, the true, the essential baptism, without which no one can be considered a member of the body, or Church of Christ, while all who receive this baptism, of whatever name or place, color or sex, are to be counted as members of the Ecclesia, members of the New Creation.
But let us inquire particularly what was the process by which we came into membership in Christ Jesus. The Apostle answers the question in his next statement, "So many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death." Not a word about our being baptized into him by being baptized into water. No, no! How evident it is that if we were baptized a thousand times in water it would not bring us into membership in the body of Christ! But, accepting the Apostle's statement, we realize that our union with Christ, our membership in his Church or Ecclesia, whose names are written in heaven, dated from the time that we were baptized into his death. But, when and how were we baptized into the Lord's death? We answer that this baptism into death with the Lord, this overwhelming, or burial of ourselves, our flesh, which resulted in our incorporation by him as members of his body, as New Creatures, took place at the moment when we made the full surrender of our wills to him--consecrating our all, to follow and obey him, even unto death.
Having thus laid all the stress, as the Apostle does, upon the true baptism, we turn to the symbol of it, the water baptism, and inquire, first, Is the symbol proper or necessary to those who have the real baptism? Second, If so, which is the proper symbol?
That the inspired apostles so understood their commission and ours is evident from all their teachings. They first taught the people respecting the grace of God in the work of redemption, encouraging them to believe unto justification of life. They thus urged upon them a full consecration of heart, saying, "I beseech you, brethren [no longer sinners, but tentatively justified through faith in Christ, and, hence, designated members of the "household of faith," or "brethren"], by the mercies of God [a share of which you have already received in your justification], that ye present your bodies living sacrifices, holy [justified], acceptable to God, your reasonable service." This was the invitation to consecrate, or sacrifice, or be "baptized into his death." So many as heard the word gladly, in the proper condition of heart, appreciatively, were baptized--not only really baptized in their consecration vow, but also symbolically baptized in water, as an outward testimony of this.
Notice the following testimonies that baptism was the custom of all the apostles--not merely with the Jews, but also with the Gentiles. We read of the people of Samaria, "When they believed Philip...they were baptized, both men and women [not children]." (`Acts 8:12`) The Ethiopian eunuch converted by the preaching of Philip was also baptized in water. (`Acts 8:35-38`) After Peter had preached to Cornelius and his household, "The holy Spirit fell on all them that heard [appreciated] the word [no infants, therefore], ...and he commanded them to be baptized." (`Acts 10:44-48`) Again we read, "Many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized." (`Acts 18:8`) Again we read, "Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshiped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened to give heed unto the things spoken by Paul....She was baptized and her household." (`Acts 16:14,15`) The Philippian jailer, when he had believed, was baptized by Paul and Silas in the prison. (`Acts 16:33`) Again, we read, "I baptized also the household of Stephanus." `1 Cor. 1:16`
In the light of these plain declarations of Scripture respecting the precepts and practice of the Lord and the apostles, it would be a bold man indeed who would declare that symbolical or water baptism is not taught in the Scriptures; or that it was taught as applicable only to the Jews; or that it was intended only as an introductory work. On the contrary, it has been both taught and practiced from the beginning of the age to the present time, even though with varying forms and ceremonies, and with more or less incorrect conception of its meaning, confounding the symbol and losing sight of the real baptism. It is surely with good reason that all Christian people respect water baptism as of divine institution. If any are still inclined to controvert this question, we have no quarrel with them, but believe that if such an one is honest and has performed in his heart the true baptism of his will into the will of the Lord--if he has become dead to self, and to the world, and alive toward God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, God will reveal even this matter also unto him in due season. `Phil. 3:15`
Meantime, we shall rejoice with such that they have found the real baptism, and become participators in it, and we congratulate them upon the truth that it is far better to see and enjoy the real baptism while blind to the symbol, than it would be to see the symbol and be blind to the reality. In view of this, however strongly we favor the symbolical baptism, we could not base Christian fellowship upon it, but only upon the real baptism into death with Christ. All, therefore, who confess the Lord as their Redeemer, and confess a full consecration of heart and life to him, we accept as brethren in Christ Jesus, members of the Ecclesia, whose names are written in heaven--New Creatures in Christ, whether by birth Jews or Gentiles, bond or free, male or female, baptized with water or not baptized with water.
The Apostle's testimony is, that there is "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." (`Eph. 4:4-6`) It follows that as there is only one proper baptism so there can be but one proper symbol to it; and Christian people in general are agreed that immersion in water corresponds most closely to the meaning of the Scriptural language.