Calvary Road Baptist Church

“BAPTISM: ITS MODE, SUBJECTS, AND AUTHORITY”

 The famed “Metropolitan Tabernacle,” known to many as “Spurgeon’s Tabernacle,” was opened in London on March 18, 1861, and dedicatory services extended into April as church members and London residents united in praising God for His blessings! On April 2 a public meeting was held for the Baptist brethren of London, and on April 3 Spurgeon greeted the general public of the various denominations from the city as they attended a service to rejoice in the goodness of God to the church pastored by Spurgeon. This is surely evidence that Baptists have never claimed a monopoly on truth. Tragically, however, in the twentieth century, Baptists have seemingly lost their realization of historical continuity, and we do well to ask the question, “Who are the Baptists?”

Consider the words of greeting of Spurgeon on April 2, 1861, as he welcomed the area Baptist brethren to the new building. He said:

 We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men.[1]

 

Baptist historians vary widely in their views on Baptist beginnings. Martyr flames have consumed volumes of priceless diaries and records that would be a great treasure in our day. Religious suppression caused many ancients of Baptist views either to desist from writing or to make notes in such an abbreviated way that they alone could decipher the meaning. It seems to the present authors that confident identification is not possible in tracing the name “Baptist” all the way back to our Lord, but we concur with Spurgeon’s statement that Baptist principles, though traveling underground for a period, are clearly seen, and our derivations come not from some comparatively modern-day movement, but are rooted principally in the imperishable church which has Jesus Christ for its foundation. We do not claim exclusivity of truth, but we would do well to acknowledge with joy the continuity of biblical principles among us to this day.[2]

To that end, this evening’s message from God’s Word will focus on the ordinance of baptism, and will show why the Baptist view of baptism is the scriptural view. The message will be simple, treating the mode of baptism, the subjects of baptism, and concluding with the authority to baptize:

First, THE MODE OF BAPTISM

 Different Christian denominations perform the rite of baptism in three distinct ways. For some the mode of baptism is sprinkling. Others baptize by affusion, with affusion referring to pouring water on the subject of baptism. A third way, which I will show to be the scriptural mode, is baptism by complete immersion in water. Immersion in water of the baptismal candidate in order to baptize is the only correct mode, and is therefore demanded, for three reasons:

First, baptism by immersion is demanded by the Greek words employed throughout the New Testament. The primary New Testament verb used to describe the act of baptism is baptizo. It is agreed in many lexicons that baptizo is the intensive form of bapto, which itself means to dip or to dye. Most Greek lexicons define baptizo as “to dip; to immerse.” Baptizo is used in secular Greek to describe the sinking (immersion by dipping) of ships, to be drowned in water, to be overwhelmed or flooded with fear, or to dye. The main idea is to dip, to be dipped or immersed, or to be put into union with or covered by some substance (i.e., by dyeing). The nouns baptismos or baptisma (translated baptism and washing respectively) describe the event of the verb baptizo.[3] “Baptizo in the whole history of the Greek language has but one meaning. It not only signifies to dip or immerse, but it never has any other meaning.”[4] Thus, the meanings and usage of the Greek words used with reference to baptism are straightforward, uncomplicated, and incontestable.

Next, baptism by immersion is demanded by the literal use of the Greek word employed throughout the New Testament. When Mark’s gospel informs us “John did baptize in the wilderness,” Mark 1.4, it means that John the Baptist immersed people at his wilderness location at the southern end of the Jordan River. When it goes on in verse 5 to say that they “were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins,” it means John immersed people. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, what do you think the word baptized means when we read, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water,” Matthew 3.16? The reason John took his subjects into the water was to immerse them. It makes no sense to take someone hip deep in river water only to sprinkle their heads or pour a bit of water on their heads. Only immersion makes any sense. Acts 2.41: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized.” If you think Jerusalem was in short supply of pools in which to immerse the 3,000 who were saved on the day of Pentecost, you are mistaken. The one thing they were not short of in Jerusalem was pools of water in which to immerse folks. Throughout the New Testament, whenever literal baptizing is referred to immersion in water is being performed, be it in pools scattered throughout Jerusalem, the Jordan River, or at a nearby stream or a desert oasis.

This is not to say that there are not some non-literal uses of the word baptism in the New Testament, though such non-literal uses of the word are very clearly indicated by the context. Matthew 3.11 contains a non-literal use of the word, when John the Baptist says of Jesus, “he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” This is clearly non-literal, cannot possibly refer to immersion in water, but does refer to immersion in the influence of the Holy Spirit, showing the literal meaning of the word baptize underlies the figurative use of the word. I have not the time to point out every place in the New Testament where baptism is referred to in a figurative sense, but another passage of significance is First Corinthians 10.2: “And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Here the children of Israel are referred to as being baptized unto Moses when the Shekinah glory of God and the parted waters of the Red Sea surrounded them. Again, for this verse to have meaning the figurative use of the word baptize must be predicated on the word literally referring to immersion. Finally, there is Matthew 10.22, where Jesus asks, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” It is clear from the context of Christ’s passion that this use of the word baptism is not literal, but deeply symbolic of Christ’s suffering. However, the profound implications of Christ’s words are dependent upon the word baptism literally referring to immersion so that its symbolic use in this context can be understood to be immersion in or being overwhelmed by great suffering. We could go on for hours, but the evidence would lead to the same conclusion, that the word baptism always refers to immersion in water, and that even when the word is not used in its literal sense to describe someone being immersed, any symbolic use of the word requires that the underlying literal meaning be understood to be immersion. Thus, those who baptize by sprinkling or by affusion do so without scriptural grounds for their practice, regardless of their good intentions or motives.

 Next, THE SUBJECTS OF BAPTISM

 A firestorm of religious controversy erupts concerning the mode of baptism, despite the clear scriptural evidence and the historical evidence that establishes immersion to be the mode of baptism for centuries after the Christian era began. Tragically, while more and more denominations are bowing to the overwhelming evidence showing immersion to be the proper mode of baptism, there is great slippage among the Baptists when the issue of the proper subjects of baptism arises.

This is not the place for me to crusade on behalf of certainty when it comes to ensuring that candidates for baptism be genuinely saved. However, I will provide evidence to show that the subjects of baptism in the New Testament were thought at the time of their baptism to be genuinely converted. It belongs in another sermon for me to explain how one properly goes about ascertaining the spiritual condition of a professing Christian to determine his qualification for believer baptism.

Three glimpses at the proper subjects of baptism:

First, we consider John the Baptist’s subjects for baptism. Matthew 3.1-6 shows that John the Baptist preached the gospel and baptized those who had repented of their sins:

 1      In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

2      And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

3      For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

4      And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

5      Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

6      And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

 If there is any confusion about John’s requirements of repentance before baptism, his warnings to the religious hypocrites who came to him for baptism should put the matter to rest. Mark 3.7-8:

 7      But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8      Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.

To restate the passage for clarification, John the Baptist demanded fruit as evidence that a person had truly repented before he would baptize him, “fruits meet for repentance.” For John the Baptist, it was conversion first and baptism subsequent to conversion.

Next, we consider the Savior’s subjects for baptism. John 4.1-2 reveals that Jesus did not personally baptize anyone, but committed that task to His disciples:

 1      When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,

2      (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

That said, no one would argue that Christ’s disciples baptized only those who their Master deemed appropriately qualified, as evidenced by the fact that the sequence preserved in verse 1 shows that someone was first made a disciple and then baptized, with the order of those events never being reversed. Thus, no matter whom Jesus was dealing with in the gospel accounts of His interactions with sinners, no evidence exists of any sinner being baptized prior to Jesus bringing him to repentance and faith. The sequence is always the same as it was for John the Baptist, repentance followed by baptism, conversion followed by baptism, baptism only of one who is reasonably thought to be a believer.

Third, the apostles’ subjects for baptism. On the Day of Pentecost, notice what Peter declares to the thousands who were convicted of their sins by his anointed preaching, Acts 2.38: “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.” Repentance first, baptism subsequent to repentance. Subsequent to the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached yet again, his words recorded in Acts 3.19: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” Notice that Peter urged repentance, yet made no mention of baptism. Obviously, baptism would have to be subsequent to conversion. Jumping ahead to the ministry of the Apostle Paul, notice his dealings with the jailor in the city of Philippi, Acts 16.30-33:

 30     And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

31     And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

32     And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

33     And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

Unless you have a very low opinion of the apostles of Jesus Christ, you will accept that they were consistent in their pattern of administering baptism to those who had repented, those converted to Jesus Christ. This is the basis for Baptist’s referring to the ordinance as believer baptism, the baptism only of those credibly thought to be believers in Jesus Christ. Are we always correct in our determination of a person’s spiritual condition? No, sad to say. It is clear that the Corinthian fornicator was not truly converted, yet he had to have been baptized to be a member of the Corinthian church.[5] The same unfortunate occurrence took place in Acts 8.9-25, with the exposure of Simon the magician as an unbeliever who had made a profession of faith and was baptized, only to later be discovered a lost man. The lesson to learn from the New Testament, considering the subjects of John’s baptism, the subjects of Jesus Christ’s baptism at the hands of His disciples, and the subjects of the apostle’s baptism or those taught by the apostles, is that only those who were thought at the time to be credible candidates for believer baptism were immersed. Why is this so important? Turn to Romans 6.1-6, where we see that the whole point of the believer in Jesus Christ being immersed in water is to picture and publicly portray the believer’s salvation from his sins by faith in Jesus Christ:

 1      What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

2      God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

3      Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

4      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.

5      For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

6      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.

 Finally THE AUTHORITY TO BAPTIZE

 If you are in agreement with this message to this point, you are a Baptist in belief, if not in practice. Until the 20th century, none but Baptists immersed, though more and more denominations are surrendering to that long held Baptist position. If you are in agreement that only believers, or those reasonably thought to be believers, should be considered qualified candidates for immersion in obedience to Christ’s command, then you are once more Baptist in belief, if not in actual practice, since historically only Baptists have demanded that baptism be reserved for believers only, with the ideal being a regenerate church membership. With respect to this third point, the authority to baptize, it too is a scriptural truth that is held only by Baptists (and not too many of them anymore, sad to say).

In Matthew 28.18-20, we find one of the Great Commissions of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, it is the most complete of the Great Commissions recorded in scripture:

 18     And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19     Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20     Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 It is clear from the events recorded in the Book of Acts that this Commission was embraced as authoritative by the apostles of Jesus Christ. As they traveled from place to place preaching the gospel, they baptized converts and organized churches. Thus, the authority to baptize is clearly an authority delegated to apostles by Jesus Christ, who not only oversaw them baptizing during His earthly ministry, but authorized them to continue baptizing after His glorious ascension to His Father’s right hand on high.

However, what about the authority to baptize after the passing of the apostles of Jesus Christ? Did such authority exist? Mention is made in Acts 13.1 of a church in Antioch. However, a church is a congregation of believers who administer the church ordinances of baptism and the communion of the Lord’s Supper. Thus, since the church at Antioch was started before the arrival of the Apostle Paul on the scene, it is reasonable to conclude that the authority to administer baptism to believers was delegated by the apostles in Jerusalem, by means of the man they dispatched to Antioch (Barnabas), to the church at Antioch. As well, when Paul set out on his missionary journeys, first with Barnabas and with others later, they established churches, ordained elders, and then moved on to establish churches in other communities. Notice Paul’s inspired comments to the Corinthian church in First Corinthians 1.12-17:

 12     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.

13     Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

14     I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;

15     Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

16     And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.

17     For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

 If Paul shied away from baptizing people to avoid some wearing Paul’s baptism as a badge of distinction, how were those baptized whom did Paul not baptize? They were baptized by the authority of the church that had been established. This only makes sense, in light of the fact that in the case of church discipline it is only the church that has the authority to remove a member (Matthew 18.17-18), as it is only the church that has the authority to baptize someone into church membership.

What this means is that while Jesus Christ delegated authority to baptize to apostles, and also to congregations by means of the apostles, there is no authority granted to individuals to baptized converts to Christ except as they are duly authorized by the church they are a part of. I baptized a woman last Sunday, but I did so as authorized by Calvary Road Baptist Church. Should church discipline ever be necessary with her, it would be required that the congregation deal with whatever issue called for it, not me as an isolated individual. In like manner, I recently baptized two others as the authorized delegate of Calvary Road Baptist Church. This is because the Great Commission does not authorize individual action to make disciples by going, by baptizing, and by teaching all things whatsoever Christ commanded. Rather, it authorizes apostles and congregations.

 Baptism is one of the two ordinances the Lord Jesus Christ gave to His church, ordinances that congregations such as ours are authorized to administer, to protect, and to guard from misuse. Addressing the issue of the mode of baptism, I have shown that baptism is always and can only be the immersion in water of the subject. Nothing but immersion is baptism because baptism means immersion and nothing else. As you do not dunk by sprinkling, so you cannot baptize in any other way than by immersing.

Addressing the subjects of baptism, it is clear from the example of John the Baptist, from the example of Jesus Christ as administered by His apostles, and from the example of His apostles after His ascension to glory, that baptism is a rite that is reserved for believers only. Practically speaking, we sometimes mistake false professions for real conversions, but our conviction is that baptism is only rightly administered to someone who knows Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. The baptism of someone who is not genuinely converted is meaningless, with church discipline being given so that at least some of those improperly baptized can be removed from church membership for sufficient cause.

Which brings us to the authority to baptize. Living in so individualistic a society as 21st century America, it is understandable that many people have great difficulty seeing themselves as part of a greater whole. All the more difficult in view of the fact that in the war we fight in our soldiers of the cross wear no uniforms (though we should be careful to not always dress the way those in the world around us dress) and are subjected to no coercion to force compliance of the individual to the church body. It is entirely a matter of one’s free will.

That said, the Lord Jesus Christ granted the congregation astonishing authority. What we bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what we loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven, Matthew 18.18. As well, we as a church are authorized by Jesus Christ, Himself, to make disciples of men by seeing them converted to Jesus, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and then teaching them to observe all things Christ has commanded. Only our church, and churches like our church, are authorized to perform this task. Baptism is profoundly important in this regard as the means by which we show the world whose profession of faith in Christ we accept as true, and as the means whereby we bring those who are outside in.

When it all comes down to it, I can only really pastor those who are in. The church can only really protect and nurture those who are in. Our goal in evangelism is to get people saved, and baptized that they might be in, where we can then train them. And our authority to represent Jesus Christ, to preach the gospel in His name, and to baptize in obedience to His command, is owing to the fact that we are in this church, and in churches like this one.



[1] C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (1861; reprint ed., Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1969), 7:225.

[2] David L. Cummins and E. Wayne Thompson, This Day In Baptist History, (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1993), pages 135-135

[3] Fred Malone, The Baptism Of Disciples Alone, (Cape Coral, Florida: Founders Press, 2003), page 224.

[4] Alexander Carson, Baptism: Its Mode And Subjects, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1853 reprint), page 19.

[5] 1 Corinthians 5.5



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org