A recent writer brought up in an assembly and herself baptised has renounced her heritage by turning her back on the assembly position and condemning the way in which we baptise.  She claims that our mode of baptism was all right for warm eastern lands but is entirely unsuitable for our cold northern climate.  Needless to say she has missed the whole meaning of baptism.  As soon as we adapt the method of baptism to suit the climate or any other variable we have reduced it to an empty ritual, and all such rituals we should avoid like the plague.

The only subjects of baptism in Bible times were converts and, by implication adults, those capable of believing.  That is why it is quite proper to stress the title “Believers’ Baptism”. for the New Testament knows no other.  On the other hand it ought to be totally unnecessary to speak about “Baptism by immersion,” as the word means that anyway.  “Baptism by immersion” is therefore a good example of a redundancy in language.  The Greek word means “to dip” or “to immerse,” and various New Testament passages prove that the quantity of water used and the movements of the baptiser and baptised demand a very different mode of baptism from that used by “Western Christendom”

For a thousand years of the Christian era the standard practice, even when the wrong people were baptised, was immersion, to which practice the Greek Orthodox Church still adheres.  Roman Catholics will admit that it was during the 11th century that the practice changed.  The strange thing is that the reformers, in spite of their revolt against Rome, clung to the wrong mode of baptism.  Baptist churches date from the 17th century, but their presence did not make Wesley adopt the more scriptural practice.

But if the larger groups adhered to error, smaller groups here and there adopted the scriptural practice.  It is a blight upon our history that not all of our early brethren, in spite of their desire to return to the scriptures, adopted the plain scriptural teaching of the Word in this matter.  Darby, and some of his associates, adopted the right mode but practised it upon the wrong people - infants.  This, in spite of the statements of Luther, Calvin and Erasmus that baptism of infants was entirely unknown in the Bible.  One happy result of that awful year, 1848, was that we left this erroneous interpretation of baptism behind with Exclusivism.  The strange thing is that although there have been amongst us two translators of the Bible, neither of them has put the record straight by translating “baptise” instead of transliterating it.  Only two of the many translators of scripture have clarified the issue with a proper rendering of the word - Rotherham and Schonfield.  The latter is all the more interesting as he is a Jew with no axe to grind and with excellent equipment to understand the New Testament background.  Why didn’t Darby and Bruce do likewise?

So much for the history of the practice.  What about the all important scriptures?  It seems quite clear from “The Acts of the Apostles” that nobody was considered a Christian unless he was baptised.  This was his public announcement of his identification with Jesus Christ.  It invariably followed his conversion, in fact very soon after.  The person who waited longest, according to the record, was Saul of Tarsus, and his waiting time was only three days.  In the light of this it always seems hard to understand why certain brethren are so willing to encourage further steps in a Christian life before this highly desirable one.

The only two scriptural ordinances - baptism and the Lord’s Supper - have in common that they are vivid object lessons of the facts of our faith - the Lord’s death and resurrection.  Participation in them is surely the portion of the baptised person and demonstration of them should be the experience of the beholder.

Admittedly baptism is scarcely mentioned after the earliest New Testament epistles.  This can only mean that after the truth is demonstrated it is taken for granted.  After all it is not intended to be repeated.  As much as conversion is intended to be a once-for-all business.  Anyone who has been asked to speak frequently at baptismal services knows how difficult it is to find anything new to say.  What is required is not lengthy explanations but simple obedience.  And how often have the subjects of such obedience proved that their obedience brought happiness.  One of the last the present writer saw was of 70 and had been saved for years before she took this step.  She was radiantly happy that night!

But while baptism is a once-for-all act we must never forget it.  The baptised life that follows ought to be continuous.  After all baptism is a burial.  We all that a person who is dead and buried doesn’t frequent his old haunts nor practise his old habits.  He is dead to those.  He is expected to rise from that watery grave with a new kind of life.  This is sometimes well illustrated in certain parts of the mission field by having the newly-baptised person proceed to the other bank of the river in which they were baptised from the bank which they left to be baptised.

Baptised people don’t live as they used to.  They are dead to the old ways.  This is illustrated in the New Testament by a reference to an outstanding experience in Israel’s ancient history.  When Israel left Egypt the Red Sea cut them off from their past in Egypt.  They were now shut up to Moses’ leadership.  This is what baptism ought to do for the believer.  It severs completely from the paste, giving us a new leader until we reach the promised land.   This too is our heritage.  God still wants an unworldly people living baptised lives.


© Douglas Carr 2021