Monday, 3 February 2014

Fallacy Number 3: Baptism must be by immersion or dipping

The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 significantly alters and reduces its sections on “God’s Covenant”, “Sacraments” (renamed Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and “Baptism” (Chapters 7, 28 and 29). Despite being based upon the Westminster Confession of Faith, the theological fabric is amended at the very points which are central to comprehending a covenantal view of theology, the sacraments and baptism. In short, the baptist theological DNA on baptism has been changed. This explains why a covenantal approach that encompasses the Old and New Testaments of the Bible is unnatural to a NT-only baptistic view, because such changes to their Reformed confession are necessary in order to uphold believer’s baptism. The DNA of its theological system has to be amended to accommodate this revised sacrament.

This same Confession insists that there is only one mode which is valid for baptism. It is asserted that: “Immersion, that is to say, the dipping of the believer in water, is essential for the due administration of this ordinance.” There are two proof texts given which are Matthew 3:16 and John 3:23. However, do these texts substantiate that immersion is essential for the due administration of this ordinance? The stakes are high. If the subscribers of this Confession are correct, then millions of professing Christians, both now, and over two millennia, have been misled, and the validity of their baptism may well be questioned.

Both proof texts refer to the baptism of Jesus which was John’s baptism of repentance and not Christian baptism instituted by the Saviour. A common fallacy is an appeal to infer “immersion” when Scripture records “he went up from the water” (Matt. 3:16). This is reading into the text what is not there. Similarly, “immersion” is not taught in John 3:23 where the Bible records that “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there”. Water must be used in baptism, but the whole of the NT is silent concerning the specific mode of baptism to be used, either as immersion, pouring or sprinkling. To insist on baptism by immersion only is an ecclesial aberration and it potentially wounds the conscience of Christians without biblical warrant.

However, being aware of this insufficient exegetical footing, the plea is made by some, from the meaning of the Greek word “baptise” (baptizō). Proponents of this view insist that it is to be understood exclusively as “to immerse, plunge or dip”. Greek scholars concur that this meaning is included, but the context of each usage of this word in the NT does not fit such a constrained straight-jacket of meaning (Mark 7:4; Col. 2:12; Heb. 6:2; 9:10). Frederick Danker responsibly includes the idea of “ritual or ceremonial washing”.19 John Owen refuses to yield to this singular insistence of dipping. He writes: “I must say, and will make it good, that no honest man who understands the Greek tongue can deny the word to signify ‘to wash’, as well as ‘to dip’.” Owen prefers the rendering “to wash” and this has implications of cleansing which is spiritually significant. The waters of baptism speak of the shed blood of Christ and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Eph. 1:7; Titus 3:5–6; Heb. 12:24).

Additionally, it is necessary to demonstrate that Romans 6:4 is insufficient proof of the necessity for immersion to be the only mode to correspond to baptism. Paul writes “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). John Murray expounds this passage: “Paul in Romans 6 speaks of being baptised into Jesus’ death (v. 3), of being planted together with him in the likeness of his death (v. 5), and of being crucified with him (v. 6; cf. Gal. 2:20). It is apparent that immersion and emergence do not resemble these.” Therefore, the WCF is affirmed: “Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary: but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person” (28:3). Dipping is not excluded, but it is not exclusively necessary for Christian baptism.


M. Wahrlich said...
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M. Wahrlich said...

Why does John 3:23 record that there was "plentiful" water there? If John had baptized by sprinkling or pouring couldn't he have done this at any well using a bucket?

Kevin Bidwell said...

Marius, I always like questions on the blog because if one person asks, then others are likely to be asking a similar question. Here are a few brief comments for consideration.

1. In Matthew 3:5 we learn that many came from Jerusalem and all Judea and they were baptised in the River Jordan while confessing their sins. A river clearly has plenty of water and water would be needed in plenty for large numbers.

2. When we make the link with ceremonial washing then it may have been some form of ceremonial washing, which would have needed a fair amount of water; we do not know except it was in the River Jordan.

3. There is a difference between writing that is descriptive and then what is prescriptive. In Acts Chapter 2 it is described that Christian's shared all things in common but this is not prescriptive for all time. When we do not carefully and responsibly make the distinction it can cause problems for people in the church. Plentiful water is descriptive not prescriptive for all time.

4. Why not use a well? This would be socially and economically unwise. Firstly, how could women draw water for their families if it was crowded by perhaps hundreds of people. Besides men and women did not mix in such a situation. To block the well would have been bad practice.

5. I am sure that you know this, but we are still discussing John's baptism of repentance which is not the Christian baptism authorised by Jesus. Water is needed for Christian baptism but the mode is never specified.


Kevin B