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The Mode of Baptism

Some may wonder why there is so much contention between Baptist and Presbyterians over how one is baptized. Baptist generally believe that immersion is the only valid mode of baptism, while Presbyterians generally believe that the mode itself is unimportant. But the implications of the Baptist view are far reaching. Dabney sums up well the feelings of many Presbyterians:

"All parties are agreed, that baptism is the initiatory rite which gives membership in the visible Church of Christ. The great commission was: Go ye, and disciple all nations, baptizing them into the Trinity. Baptism recognizes and constitutes the outward discipleship. Least of all, can any Immersionist dispute this ground. Now, if all other forms of baptism than immersion are not only irregular, but null and void, all unimmersed persons are out of the visible Church. But if each and every member of a paedobaptist visible Church is thus unchurched: of course the whole body is unchurched. All paedobaptist societies, then, are guilty of an intrusive error, when they pretend to the character of a visible Church of Christ. Consequently, they can have no ministry; and this for several reasons. Surely no valid office can exist in an association whose claim to be an ecclesiastical commonwealth is utterly invalid. When the temple is non-existent, there can be no actual pillars to that temple. How can an unauthorized herd of unbaptized persons, to whom Christ concedes no church authority, confer any valid office? Again: it is preposterous that a man should receive and hold office in a commonwealth where he himself has no citizenship; but this unimmersed paedobaptist minister, so-called, is no member of any visible Church. There are no real ministers in the world, except the Immersionist preachers! The pretensions of all others, therefore, to act as ministers, and to administer the sacraments, are sinful intrusions. It is hard to see how any intelligent and conscientious Immersionist can do any act, which countenances or sanctions this profane intrusion. They should not allow any weak inclinations of fraternity and peace to sway their consciences in this point of high principle. They are bound, then, not only to practice close communion, but to refuse all ministerial recognition and communion to these intruders. The sacraments cannot go beyond the pale of the visible Church. Hence, the same stern denunciations ought to be hurled at the Lord's Supper in paedobaptist societies, and at all their prayers and preachings in public, as at the iniquity of "baby-sprinkling." The enlightened Immersionist should treat all these societies, just as he does that ' Synagogue of Satan,' the Papal Church: there may be many good, misguided believers in them; but no church character, ministry, nor sacraments whatever.

But let the student now look at the enormity of this conclusion. Here are bodies of ministers adorned by the Lord with as many gifts and graces as any Immersionists; actually doing the largest part of all that is done on earth, to win the world to its divine Master. Here are four-fifths of Protestant Christendom, exhibiting as many of the solid fruits of grace as any body of men in the world, doing nearly all that is done for man's redemption, and sending up to heaven a constant harvest of ransomed souls. Yet are they not churches or ministers, at all: Why? Only because they have not used quite enough water in the outward form of an ordinance! What greater outrage on common sense, Christian charity, and the spirituality of Christ's visible Church was ever committed by the bigotry of prelacy or popery? The just mind replies to such a dogma, not only with a firm negative, but with the righteous indignation of an "incredulus odi." When we remember, that this extreme high-churchism is enacted by a sect, which calls itself eminently spiritual, free and Protestant, the solecism becomes more repulsive. Only a part of the Immersionists have the nerve to assert this consequence. But their dogma involves it; and it is justly pressed on all." (Dabney, Systematic Theology, P. 774-775).

The following is a defense of the Presbyterian view on the mode of baptism.

The Mode of Baptism

from A. A. Hodge's Outlines of Theology

10. What is the design of baptism?

Its design is --
1st. Primarily, to signify, seal, and convey to those to whom they belong the benefits of the covenant of grace. Thus --
(1.) It symbolizes "the washing of regeneration," "the renewing of the Holy Ghost," which unites the believer to Christ, and so makes him a participant in Christ's life and all other benefits. -- 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Titus 3:5. (2.) Christ herein visibly seals his promises to those who receive it with faith, and invests them with the grace promised.

2d. Its design was, secondarily, as springing from the former,
(1) to be a visible sign of our covenant to be the Lord's, i. e., to accept his salvation, and to consecrate ourselves to his service.
(2.) And, hence, to be a badge of our public profession, our separation from the world, and our initiation into the visible church. As a badge it marks us as belonging to the Lord, and consequently (a) distinguishes us from the world, (b) symbolizes our union with our fellow-Christians.-- 1 Cor. xii. 13.

11. What is the emblematic import of baptism?

In every sacrament there is a visible sign representing an invisible grace. The sign represents the grace in virtue of Christ's authoritatively appointing it thereto, but the selection by Christ of the particular sign is founded on its fitness as a natural emblem of the grace which he appoints it to represent. Thus in the Lord's supper the bread broken by the officiating minister, and the wine poured out, are natural emblems of the body of Christ broken, and his blood shed as a sacrifice for our sins. And in like manner in the sacrament of baptism the application of water to the person of the recipient is a natural emblem of the "washing of regeneration." -- Titus 3:5. Hence we are said to be "born of water and of the Spirit," John 3:5, i. e., regenerated by the Holy Spirit, of which new birth baptism with water is the emblem; and to be baptized "by one Spirit into one body," i. e., the spiritual body of Christ; and to be "baptized into Christ," so as "to have put on Christ," Gal. 3:27; and to be "baptized into his death," and to be "buried with him in baptism... so that we should walk with him in newness of life," Rom. 6:3, 4, because the sacrament of baptism is the emblem of that spiritual regeneration which unites us both federally and spiritually to Christ, so that we have part with him both in his life and in his death, and as he died unto sin as a sacrifice, so we die unto sin in its ceasing to be the controlling principle of our natures; and as he rose again in the resumption of his natural life, we rise to the possession and exercise of a new spiritual life.

Baptist interpreters, on the other hand, insist that the Bible teaches that the outward sign in this sacrament, being the immersion of the whole body in water, is an emblem both of purification and of our death, burial, and resurrection with Christ. Dr. Carson. says, p. 881, "The immersion of the whole body is essential to baptism, not because nothing but immersion can be an emblem of purification, but because immersion is the thing commanded, and because that, without immersion, there is no emblem of death, burial, and resurrection, which are in the emblem equally with purification." He founds his assumption that the outward sign in the sacrament of baptism was designed to be an emblem of the death, burial, and resurrection of the believer in union with Christ, upon Rom. 6:3, 4, and Col. 2:12.

We object to this interpretation --

1st. In neither of these passages does Paul say that our baptism in water is an emblem of our burial with Christ. He is evidently speaking of that spiritual baptism of which water baptism is the emblem; by which spiritual baptism we are caused to die unto sin, and live unto holiness, in which death and new life we are conformed unto the death and resurrection of Christ. We are said to be "baptized into Christ," which is the work of the Spirit, not "into the name of Christ," which is the phrase always used when speaking of ritual baptism.-- Matt 28:19; Acts 2:38; 19:5.


2d. To be "baptized into his death" is a phrase perfectly analogous to baptism "into repentance," Matt. 3:11, and "into remission of sins," Mark 1:4, and "into one body," I Cor. !2:13, i. e., in order that, or to the effect that, we participate in the benefits of his death.

3d. The Baptist interpretation involves an utter confusion in reference to the emblem. Do they mean that the outward sign of immersion is an emblem of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, or of the spiritual death, burial, and resurrection of the believer? But the point of comparison in the passages themselves is plainly "not between our baptism and the burial and resurrection of Christ, but between our death to sin and rising to holiness, and the death and resurrection of the Redeemer."

4th. Baptists agree with us that baptism with water is an emblem of spiritual purification, i. e., regeneration, but insist that it is also an emblem (in the mode of immersion) of the death of the believer to sin and his new life of holiness.-- Dr. Carson, p. 148. But what is the distinction between regeneration and a death unto sin, and life unto holiness?

5th. Baptists agree with us that water baptism is an emblem of purification. But surely it is impossible that the same action should at the same time be an emblem of a washing, and of a burial and a resurrection. One idea may be associated with the other in consequence of their spiritual relations, but it is impossible that the same visible sign should be emblematical of both.

6th. Our union with Christ through the Spirit, and the spiritual consequences thereof, are illustrated in Scripture by many various figures, e. g., the substitution of a heart of flesh for a heart of stone, Ezek. 36:26; the building of a house, Eph. 2:22; the engrafting of a limb into a vine, John 15:5; the putting off of filthy garments, and the putting on of clean, Eph. 4:22 -- 24; as a spiritual death, burial, and. resurrection, and as a being planted in the likeness of his death, Rom. 6:3 -- 5; as the application of a cleansing element to the body, Ezek. 36:25. Now baptism with water represents all these, because it is an emblem of spiritual regeneration, of which all of these are analogical illustrations. Hence we are said to be "baptized into one body," 1 Cor. 12:13, and by baptism to "have put on Christ," Gal. iii. 27. Yet it would be absurd to regard water baptism as a literal emblem of all these, and our Baptist brethren have no scriptural warrant for assuming that the outward sign in this sacrament is an emblem of the one analogy more than of the other.-- See Dr. Armstrong's "Doctrine of Baptisms," Part II., Chap. ii.

12. What are the words which, in the original language of Scripture, are used to convey the command to baptize?

The primary word [bapto] occurs four times in the New Testament (Luke 16:24; John 13:26; Rev. 19:18), but never in connection with the subject of Christian baptism. Its classical meaning was, 1st, to dip; 2d, to dye; 3d, to wash by dipping or pouring.

The word baptizo, in form, though not in usage, the frequentative of bapto, occurs seventy-six times in the New Testament, and is the word used by the Holy Ghost to convey the command to baptize. Its classical meaning was, (1) dip, submerge, sink; (2) to wet thoroughly; (3) to pour upon, to drench; (4) to overwhelm. Besides these, we have the nouns of the same root and usage, baptisma occurring twenty-two times, translated baptism, and baptismos occurring four times, translated baptism, Heb. 6:2, and washing, Mark. 7:4, 8; Heb. 9:10. The only question with which we are concerned, however, is as to the scriptural usage of these words. It is an important and universally recognized principle, that the biblical and classical usage of the same word is often very different. This effect, is to be traced to the influence of three general causes:

1st. The principal classics of the language were composed in the Attic dialect. But the general language used by the Greek-speaking world at the Christian era was the "common, or Hellenic dialect of the later Greek," resulting from the fusion of the different dialects previously existing.

2d. The language of the writers of the New Testament was again greatly modified by the fact that their vernacular was a form of the Hebrew language (Syro-Chaldaic); that their constant use of the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures had largely influenced their usage of the Greek language, especially in the department of religious thought and expression; and that, in the very act of composing the New Testament Scriptures, they were engaged in the statement of religious ideas, and in the inauguration of religious institutions which had their types and symbols in the ancient dispensation, as revealed in the sacred language of the Hebrew Scriptures.

3d. The New Testament writings are a revelation of new ideas and relations, and hence the words and phrases through which these new thoughts are conveyed must be greatly modified in respect to their former etymological sense and heathen usage, and "for the full depth and compass of meaning belonging to them in their new application we must look to the New Testament itself, comparing one passage with another, and viewing the language used in the light of the great things which it brings to our apprehension."

As examples of this contrast between the scriptural and classical usage of a word, observe, angel; presbyter or elder; church; or kingdom of God, or of heaven,  regeneration, grace, etc., etc.

13. What is the position of the Baptist churches as to the meaning of the Scriptural word baptizo, and by what arguments do they seek to prove that immersion is the only valid mode of baptism?

"That it always signifies to dip, never expressing any thing but mode." --"Carson on Baptism," p. 55. He confesses: "I have ALL the lexicographers and commentators against me." Baptists insist, therefore, upon always translating the words baptizo and baptisma by the words immerse and immersion.

They argue that immersion is the only valid mode of baptism -- 1st. From the constant meaning of the word baptizo.
2d. From the symbolical import of the rite, as emblematic of burial and resurrection.
3d. From the practice of the apostles.
4th. From history of the early church.

14. What is the position occupied upon this point by all other Christians?

1st. It is an established principle of scriptural usage that the names and attributes of the things signified by sacramental signs are attributed to the signs, and on the other hand that the name of the sign is used to designate the grace signified. Thus, Gen. 17:11, 13, the name of covenant is given to circumcision; Matt. 26:26 -- 28, Christ called the bread his body, and the wine his blood; Titus 3:5, baptism is called the washing of regeneration. Thus also the words BAPTIZE and BAPTISMAL are often used to designate that work of the Holy Ghost in regeneration, which the sign, or water baptism, signifies.-- Matt. 3:1; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Deut. 30:6. It follows consequently that these words are often used in a spiritual sense.

2d. These words when relating to ritual baptism, or the sign representing the thing signified, imply the application of water in the name of the Trinity, as an emblem of purification or spiritual regeneration, and never, in their scriptural usage, signify any thing whatever as to the mode in which the water is applied.

The precise question in debate is to be stated thus. Baptists insist that Christ's command to baptize is a command to "immerse." All other Christians hold that it is a command to "wash with water" as a symbol of spiritual purification.

I have answered, under Question 11, above, the second Baptist argument, as stated under Question 13. Their first and third arguments, as there stated, I will proceed to answer now.

15. How may it be proved from their scriptural usage that the words baptizo and baptisma do not signify immersion, but washing to EFFECT PURIFICATION, without any reference to mode?

1st. The word occurs four times in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, in three of which instances it refers to baptism with water. 2 Kings 5:14 -- The prophet told Naaman to "wash and be clean," and "he baptized himself in Jordan, and he was clean." Eccle. 34:25 --" He that baptizeth himself after the touching of a dead body." This purification according to the law was accomplished by sprinkling, the water of separation.-- Num. 19:. 9, 13, 20. Judith 12:7, Judith "baptized herself in the camp at a fountain of water." Bathing was not performed among those nations by immersion; and the circumstances in which Judith was placed increase the improbability in her case. It was a purification, for she "baptized herself," and "so came in clean."

2d. The question agitated between some of John's disciples and the Jews, John 3:22 -- 30, and 4:1 -- 3, concerning baptism, is called a question concerning purification.

3d. Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:1 -- 5; Luke 11:37-39. The word baptizo is here used (1) for the customary washing of the hands before meals, which was designed to purify, and was habitually performed by pouring water upon them, 2 Kings 3:1; (2) it is interchanged with the word nipto, which always signifies a partial washing; (3) its effect is declared to be to purify. (4) the baptized or washed hands are opposed to the unclean, (koinais).

4th. Mark 7:4, 8, "Baptism of pots and cups, brazen vessels, and of tables," couches upon which Jews reclined at their meals, large enough to accommodate several persons at once. The object of these baptisms was purification, and the mode could not, have been immersion in the case of the tables, couches, etc.

5th. Heb. 9:10, Paul says the first tabernacle "stood only in meats, and drinks, and divers baptisms." In verses 18, 19, 21, he specifies some of these "divers baptisms" or washings, "For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh," and "Moses sprinkled both the book and all the people, and the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry." -- Dr. Armstrongs's "Doc. of Bapt.," Part I.

16. What argument in, favor of this view of the subject may be drawn from what is said of baptism with the Holy Ghost?

Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:26,33; Acts 1:5; 11:16; 1 Cor.12:13.

If the word baptizo only means to immerse, it would be incapable of the figurative use to which, in these passages, it is actually subjected. But if, as we claim, it signifies to purify, to cleanse, then water baptism, as a washing, though never as an immersion, may fitly represent the cleansing work of the Holy Ghost. See next Question.

17. What argument may be drawn from the fact that the blessings symbolized by baptism are said to be applied by sprinkling and pouring?

The gift of the Holy Ghost was the grace signified.-- Acts 2:1 -- 4, 32, 33; 10:44 -- 48; 11:15, 16. The fire which did not immerse them, but appeared as cloven tongues, and "sat upon each one of them," was the sign of that grace. Jesus was himself the baptizer, who now fulfilled the prediction of John the Baptist that he should baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. This gift of the Holy Ghost is set forth in such terms as "came from heaven," "poured out," "shed forth," "fell on them."

These very blessings were predicted in the Old. Testament by similar language.-- Is. 44:3; 52:15; Ezek. 36:25 -- 27; Joel 2:28, 29. Hence we argue that if these spiritual blessings were predicted in the Old Testament by means of these figures of sprinkling and pouring, and if in the New Testament they were symbolically set forth under the same form, they may, of course, be symbolized by the church now by the same emblematical actions.

18. What argument may be drawn from the mode of purification adopted under the Old Testament?

The rites of purification prescribed by the Levitical law were in no case commanded to be performed by immersion in the case of persons. Washing and bathing is prescribed, but there is no indication given by the words used, or otherwise, that these were performed by immersion, which was not the usual mode of bathing practiced in those countries. The hands and feet of the priests, whenever they appeared to minister before the Lord, were washed, Ex.30:18 -- 21, and their personal ablutions were performed at the brazen laver, 2 Chron. 4:6, from which the water poured forth through spouts or cocks.-- l Kings 7:27 -- 39. On the other hand, purification was freely ordered to be effected by sprinkling of blood, ashes, or water.-- Lev. 8:30; 14:7 and 51; Ex. 24:5 -- 8; Num. 8:6, 7; Heb. 9:12 -- 22. Now, as Christian baptism is a purification, and as it was instituted among the Jews, familiar with the Jewish forms of purification, it follows that a knowledge of those forms must throw much light upon the essential nature and proper mode of the Christian rite.

19. How may if be shown from 1 Cor. 10:1, 2, and from 1 Pet. 3:20, 21, that to baptize does not mean to immerse?

1 Cor. 10:1, 2. The Israelites are said to have been "baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." -- Compare Ex. 14:19 -- 31. The Israelites were baptized, yet went over dry land. The Egyptians were immersed, yet not baptized. Dr. Carson, p. 418, says, Moses "got a dry dip."

1 Pet. 3:20, 21. Peter declares that baptism is the antitype of the salvation of the eight souls in the ark. Yet their salvation consisted in their not being immersed.

20. What argument as to the proper mode of baptism is to be drawn from the record of the baptisms performed by John?

1st. John's baptism was not the Christian sacrament, but a rite of purification administered by a Jew upon Jews, under Jewish law. From this we infer (1) that it was not performed by immersion, since the Levitical purification of persons was not performed in that way; yet (2) that he needed for his purpose either a running stream as Jordan, or much water as at Aenon (or the springs), because under that law whatsoever an unclean person touched previous to his purification became unclean, Num. 19:21, 22, with the exception of a "fountain or pit in which is plenty of water," Lev. 11:36, which he could not find in the desert in which he preached. After the gospel dispensation was introduced we hear nothing of the apostles baptizing in rivers, or needing "much water" for that purpose.

2d. In no single instance is it stated in the record that John baptized by immersion. All the language employed applies just as naturally and as accurately to a baptism performed by affusion (the subject standing partly in the water, the baptizer pouring water upon the person with his hand). The phrases "baptized in Jordan," "coming out of the water," would have been as accurately applied in the one case as in the other. That John's baptism was more probably performed by affusion appears (1) from the fact that it was a purification performed by a Jewish prophet upon Jews, and that Jewish washings were performed by affusion. The custom was general then, and has continued to this day. (2.) This mode better accords with the vast multitudes baptized by one man.-- Matt. 3:5, 6; Mark 1:5; Luke 3:3 -- 21. (3.) The very earliest works of Christian art extant represent the baptism of Christ by John as having been performed by affusion.

21. What evidence is afforded by the instances of Christian baptism recorded in the New Testament?

1st. It has been abundantly shown above that the command to baptize is a command to purify by washing with water, and it hence follows that even if it could be shown that the apostles baptized by immersion, that fact would not prove that particular mode of washing to be essential to the validity of the ordinance, unless it can be proved also that, according to the analogies of gospel institutions, the mere mode of obeying a command is made as essential as the thing itself. But the reverse is notoriously the fact. The church was organized on certain general principles, and the public worship of the gospel ordained, but the details as to the manner of accomplishing those ends are not prescribed. Christ instituted the Lord's supper at night, reclining on a couch, and with unleavened bread. Yet in none of these respects is the "mode" essential.

2d. But, in fact, there is not one instance in which the record makes it even probable that the apostles baptized by immersion, and in the great majority of instances it is rendered in the last degree improbable:

(1.) The baptism of the eunuch by Philip, Acts 8:26 -- 39, is the only instance which even by appearance favors immersion. But observe (a) the language used by Luke, even as rendered in our version, applies just as naturally to baptism performed by affusion as by immersion. (b.) The Greek prepositions, eis, here translated into, and ek, here translated out of, are in innumerable instances used to express motion, toward, unto, and from.-- Acts 26:14; 27:34, 40. They probably descended from the chariot to the brink of the water. Philip is also said to have "descended to" and to have "ascended from the water," but surely he was not also immersed. (c.) The very passage of Isaiah, which the eunuch was reading, Isa. 52:15, declared that the Messiah, in whom he believed, should "sprinkle many nations." (d.) Luke says the place was "a desert," and no body of water sufficient for immersion can be discovered on that road. (2.) Every other instance of Christian baptism recorded in the Scriptures bears evidence positively against immersion. (a.) The baptism of three thousand in Jerusalem on one occasion on the day of Pentecost.-- Acts 2:38 -- 41. (b.) The baptism of Paul.-- Acts 9:17, 18; 22:12 -- 16. Ananias said to him "standing up, be baptized," and, "standing up, he was baptized." (c.) The baptism of Cornelius.-- Acts 10:44 -- 48. (d.) The baptism of the jailor, at Philippi.-- Acts 16:32 -- 34. In all these instances baptism was administered on the spot, wherever the convert received the gospel. Nothing is said of rivers, or much water, but vast multitudes at a time, and individuals and families were baptized in their houses, or in prisons, wherever they happened to be at the moment.

No advocate of sprinkling can, in consistency with his own fundamental principles or with the historical usages of the Christian Church, outlaw immersion. The opposition of most churches to immersion arises from the narrow and arrogant claims of the Baptists, and from their false views with respect to the emblematic import of baptism, making it a "burying" instead of a "washing"; against THIS we mean to protest.

Texts Scanned and Edited by Michael Bremmer
(revised 09.07.01)

For a comprehensive examination of the mode of baptism see William the Baptist

 



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