Baptism ritual

In approaching the theme of ritual baptism it is recognized that over this subject the most bitter divisions have been allowed to arise in the church—divisions and exclusions for which it is difficult to account in the light of two facts: (1) the great majority of those who are given to separations confess that there is no saving value in the ordinance and (2) all who look into it with freedom from prejudice recognize that fruitful, spiritual Christians are to be found on each side of the controversy. In a work on Systematic Theology which purports to be faithful in declaring all aspects of Biblical doctrine, the consideration of ritual baptism cannot be eliminated, though to do so would be easier and to avoid countering good men would in itself be desirable. If the history of the controversy as it has been waged in the past few generations is a fair basis on which to estimate the present and the future, an extended work on theology itself—in spite of the way it reaches into all such vast fields of inexhaustible themes—may, like friendships, Christian unity, and fellowship, be discredited and shunned for no other reason than that this one ordinance is presented in a way which is contrary to the views which another holds. In such a matter as the mode of ritual baptism and what it represents, agreement with all good men is impossible when some of them are on each side of the controversy. It is reasonable, however, that those who are quite free to publish their own views should accord the same liberty to those who disagree. Securing converts to an idea certainly is not intended in the discussion to follow. That which is sincerely believed on each side of the controversy is to be stated as nearly as can be done apart from personal prejudice. The value to the student of such a declaration may not be questioned, for, regardless of his own convictions and however they were formed, he should know precisely what others believe who hold different views, else how can he be assured that he is justified in the position he defends? A man is on weak ground when he speaks vehemently and dogmatically respecting his own belief and yet does not know or understand what, in exact terms, his opponent believes. That an individual after many years of investigation should come to the point of personal convictions on such a divisive theme as this needs no apology.

This unhappy discussion has usually centered upon the question of the mode by which ritual baptism should be administered. The immersionist (this designation though inaccurate, as will be demonstrated later, is used here by way of accommodation) is one who demands an intusposition of the whole body in water. The affusionist is one who sprinkles or pours the baptismal water. With regard to proportion in membership, the former class of Christians may claim perhaps one third and the latter two-thirds of the Protestant Church. However, the issue is not one of the mode of expressing an idea or teaching; it concerns the actual idea to be expressed. In the case of the immersionist, the object believed to lie back of the ordinance is to enact the believer's codeath, coburial, and coresurrection with Christ, and with that in view the mode he employs is to him appropriate. In the case of the affusionist, the object lying behind the ordinance is to represent the coming of the Holy Spirit into the believer's life with all the varied values of that Presence. With this in view, the mode he employs is to him appropriate. The immersionist rejects all forms of affusion simply because it does not express his understanding of the meaning of the ordinance. In like manner, the affusionist rejects the mode the immersionist employs simply because it does not express his understanding of the meaning in the ordinance. The disagreement, when centered on the mode without reference to the meaning, has been carried on in aimless and hopeless fashion. Less assertive human determination of mode and more humble and gracious consideration of the meaning in ritual baptism is greatly to be desired.

The instructed affusionist recognizes much significance in the facts that the greatest operations of the Holy Spirit are in the New Testament termed baptisms—the same word being used as is employed when referring to ritual baptism—and that the Apostle writes of "one baptism" (Eph. 4:5), not, one mode of baptism. By the affusionist this reference to "one baptism" is explained on the grounds that ritual baptism is but the outward sign or symbol of an inward reality, which reality is wrought by the Holy Spirit, and that the real and the ritual baptisms thus combine to form one baptism as substance and corresponding shadow (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27). The affusionist also believes that, as there is one unquestioned ordinance—the Lord's Supper—which represents the death of Christ, it is reasonable to expect.that there would be, not a second ordinance representing that death, but an ordinance representing the work of the Holy Spirit.

When ritual baptism is deemed to be a cleansing from defilement (cf. Acts 22:16), the immersionist contends that, in so far as baptism is a cleansing, water symbolizes the cleansing blood of Christ and that the water when applied must cover the entire body. On the other hand, the affusionist, believing that it is the blood of Christ which cleanseth from all sin and that His blood must be applied by the Holy Spirit, understands ritual baptism to be related thus to the work of the Holy Spirit. The affusionist observes that all ceremonial cleansings prescribed in the Old Testament were accomplished by sprinkling, pouring, or laving, but not by intusposition.

The immersionist relates ritual baptism to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection and on the ground of the fact that the believer is said to have been baptized into Christ's death, burial, and resurrection according to Romans 6:1-10 and Colossians 2:11-13. It is believed by the immersionist that, on the strength of these passages, the candidate for ritual baptism should enact the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as a recognition of the relation which these hold to salvation, forgiveness, and justification, whereas the affusionist believes that these Scriptures cited above are related only to the ground of sanctification, concerning which no ordinance has been prescribed. The affusionist, if instructed in the truth at all, believes that the codeath, coburial, and coresurrection referred to in these two passages have only to do with the judgment of the sin nature, that no instruction is given to enact what Christ has done but rather the believer is enjoined to "reckon" that to be achieved which Christ has wrought and to be encouraged to believe that deliverance from the power of sin is thus made possible, the Holy Spirit being free so to act for children of God.

The claim of the affusionist is that, though immersion may have been practiced from early times, it was not until the last three or four hundred years that ritual baptism was given any meaning other than as related to the Holy Spirit's work in the believer. On the basis of this, it is believed that through a misinterpretation of both Romans 6:1-10 and Colossians 2:11-13 ritual baptism came to be considered by those practicing immersion to be an independent, unrelated, and sufficient baptism in itself, thus proposing so to speak two distinct baptisms. Affusionists, it may be said, are often misunderstood because they do not stress the mode of ritual baptism. They believe that ritual baptism does not consist in the way it is done, but in the thing that is done.

So, also, those among immersionists who practice trine immersion require that the candidate be dipped face down (since Christ bowed His head in death) three times—once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Ghost. The majority of immersionists reject trine immersion as having no direct warrant in the New Testament and because they see in it an enacting three times of that which Christ did but once.

Since it is true that the meaning of ritual baptism is expressed to some degree by the mode of its administration, it is important to note that which may be intimated in the Scriptures respecting the mode. The vast majority of adherents to the church assume that the mode practiced by their denomination and to which they have been accustomed from childhood is the right and only mode. Some, however, upon reading the Authorized Version translation, which reflects the personal convictions of some of its translators, believe that the mode is there indicated in the text and this without an understanding of what the original declares. Though beyond the field of investigation on the part of those who consider only the text in English, the truth here, as in every doctrinal issue, is determined by the original. In this connection it is of interest to note that, while in every generation of recent history there have been scholarly men who believed in and practiced immersion, there have been, as pointed out by Dr. A. T. Robertson, the Greek scholar of the Southern Baptist Church, but eighteen worthy New Testament lexicographers and every one of these, being clergymen, practiced affusion in their ministry. Dr. Robertson also declares that no immersionist has ever written a New Testament lexicon; but he fails to give a reason why these eighteen men, though in their lexicons they give immersion as the primary meaning of PanriZ«, practiced affusion as he asserts they did. In seeking the answer, rather than to assume that these good men were untrue to their convictions, it would be well to look more carefully at the Greek text which they interpret and to give scope, as these men evidently did, to the more vital, secondary meaning of the word PanriZ«. This line of investigation should consider (1) the meaning of the word, (2) the Scriptures involved, (3) the prepositions employed, and (4) the baptism incidents recorded.

1. The Meaning of the Word. Continuing the discussion, as begun above under real baptism, respecting the primary and secondary meanings of the two words Pant« and PanriZ«, it is now to be emphasized that the secondary meaning of PanriZ« obtains in all instances where there is a baptism apart from a physical intusposition or envelopment. To illustrate this, Christ termed His anticipated sufferings a baptism (Matt. 20:22-23). This could not refer to the ritual baptism by John which was then long accomplished, nor to a baptism with the Spirit in which He as Son could have no part. This passage means nothing unless suffering is itself a true baptism. Hence the affusionist in his credence believes that even ritual baptism, which to him represents the work of the Holy Spirit, calls for no physical envelopment.

Again, the same technical distinction in meaning obtains between the two Greek words Pant« and PanriZ« in their primary sense as is seen between dip and immerse, which are the English equivalents. A dipping involves two actions—putting in and taking out, whereas to immerse involves but one action— putting in, and in the case of the baptism into Christ with its limitless advantages (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27) to be taken out is the one thing not desired. In the light of this it is clear that to say, as has commonly been said, that "PanriZ« means to dip and only to dip throughout all Greek literature" is erroneous and misleading when the word does not mean to dip in any Greek literature. All of this indicates the inaccuracy in use of the word immersion to represent a ritual baptism by dipping. In this same connection, it is both suggestive and instructive to consider the use of PanriZ« in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament thought to have been made by seventy scholarly men about two hundred years before Christ. The accepted meaning of this word is disclosed there. It will be found that PanriZ« translates five Hebrew words—to affright (once), to come (once), to Pierce (once), to dye (three times), and to cleanse (sixteen times). Some of these actions could not include an intusposition and none of them require it. Truth, then, must be established by more than bald, dogmatic, erroneous human assertions. The affusionist claims it cannot be proved that the mode of ritual baptism is indicated in the meaning of the word PanriZ«.

2. The Scriptures Involved. Three passages develop the doctrinal significance of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection as one achievement on His part and as a substitution for others, namely, Romans 6:1-10; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; and Colossians 2:11-13. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 clearly declares Christ's death, burial, and resurrection as a substitute for sinners that they may be saved; it is unto forgiveness and justification for them. However, in the other passages—Romans 6:1-10 and Colossians 2:11-13— Christ's death, burial, and resurrection are referred to (in Colossians His death is termed a circumcision) as a judgment of the old nature. Not apprehending the stupendous importance and meaning of Christ's death for the believer's sin nature and not realizing that this achievement by Christ calls for no re-enacting by an ordinance, some, being impressed with the meaningful words in these Scriptures (baptism, burial, and resurrection), have concluded that the mode of ritual baptism is indicated by these two passages. Over against this the affusionist, if aware of the truth at all, contends that these Scriptures, like 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, teach that which Christ has done—a thing to believe—and not a thing to be done. Cocrucifixion, codeath, coburial, and coresurrection, being wrought and accomplished for the believer, become a baptism, a dominating influence over the believer which is as immeasurable in its extent and value as infinity itself. Considering further the Scripture involved, it may be observed that much has been made of the statement in John 3:23 which reads, "And John also was baptizing in ^non near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized." When the arresting words much water are properly understood as many springs—such as would be required for the physical needs of the throngs of people and their beasts—the passage contributes nothing toward a modal ideal for ritual baptism. ^non is likely to be identified as a sloping hillside with springs of water, but no body of water available.

Thus, again, the affusionist contends that it cannot be proved from the important Scriptures involved that ritual baptism is appointed to be given by immersion.

3. The Prepositions Employed. The usual impression regarding the mode of ritual baptism which one might gain who reads only the English text of the New Testament is molded more by the prepositions that are used in the English text than by any other factor in the case. Four prepositions come up at once for consideration. The point to be developed which concerns all of serious mind is that the particular translation of these prepositions as found in the English text is not the only meaning which the same English text assigns to these words in other like instances. All familiar with the Greek text recognize that a great latitude of meaning is given to prepositions, and that usually the correct sense will be determined by the more or less obvious meaning belonging to the text in which the word is found. It should hardly be needful to state that because a certain translation appears in the English text it is not necessarily the best rendering. The prepositions to be considered are:

a. 'Ev, which has 36 possible meanings and which in Matthew 3:6 has been translated 'in Jordan' is also translated in the English Bible by the words at, on, or with 330 times, could be so translated in the text cited. The sense is somewhat changed when it is translated 'at Jordan' rather than 'in Jordan.'

b. 'Ano has 20 English meanings, and is used thus in Matthew 3:16: "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water." This preposition, here translated out of, is translated by the word from 374 times in the New Testament and could properly be so translated in Matthew 3:16, in which case the declaration would be that Jesus went up straightway from the water.

c. Eiq has 26 meanings in English and is used in Acts 8:38 for the declaration that "they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him." This preposition is translated in the New Testament 538 times by the word unto and could as accurately be so rendered here. It will be observed that going unto or into the water did not constitute the baptism, for Philip also went in with the eunuch.

d. 'Ek has 24 English meanings and is translated in Acts 8:39 thus, "And when they were come up out of the water ..." This same word is translated from 168 times in the New Testament and could as correctly have been so translated here. Thus it would read that Philip and the eunuch went down unto the water and came up from the water.

Though the immersionist depends much on the way these prepositions are translated in order to establish the mode of ritual baptism, the affusionist contends that the mode of baptism cannot be determined by the prepositions used.

4. The Incidents Recorded. First in this kind of list would be the baptism of Christ, which event has had an extended treatment as a division of Christology (Vol. V) and need not be restated here. It is often declared by those who practice immersion that the believer is to "follow Christ in baptism" assuming that Christ was baptized by immersion; but, whatever the mode employed, the believer may follow Christ in moral issues only—not in His official acts—and His baptism, being altogether unique and wholly unrelated to any feature of the Christian ritual, is official and therefore never presented in the New Testament as an example. Christ was baptized at the hands of John but not by John's baptism as such, which was unto repentance and the remission of sins. Similarly, what is termed John's baptism, since it was not accepted by the Apostle Paul—he rebaptized twelve men who had submitted to John's baptism (cf. Acts 19:1-7)— does not constitute Christian baptism. It is pointed out by the affusionist that the baptism of all three thousand converts of Pentecost by immersion is an impossibility owing to the unpreparedness of the vast throng and of those who officiated, and owing also to the lack of adequate facilities for such a stupendous undertaking. But the case of the three thousand being baptized could easily be a reference to the Spirit's baptism. So, also, it is noted by the affusionists that the Apostle Paul stood up where he was upon the arrival of Ananias (Acts 9:18) and was baptized. The case of Philip baptizing the eunuch, as has been indicated, is much varied by the interpretation given the prepositions that are used.

The affusionist claims that no mode of ritual baptism is directly taught in the New Testament, but that as sprinkling, pouring, and laving were prescribed in the Old Testament for consecration and cleansing and as the Jews of Christ's day were accustomed only to such modes, it is most probable that these modes were brought forward into the new order. Had there been a change from the Old Testament requirement to a new mode for the church, it ought to have been indicated clearly. It may be concluded, then, that the mode of ritual baptism is not determined either by the meaning of the word ^antiZ« or the Scriptures involved, the prepositions or the incidents recorded. Had these obvious facts been recognized, much of the present useless contention and separation might have been avoided.

Pedobaptism. Any consideration of the general theme of ritual baptism is not complete unless some attention is given to pedo or infant baptism. Here again there is difference of opinion and practice, but the same demarcation which divides over mode of baptism is not found at this point. Though the great majority of affusionists practice pedobaptism, some practice it and have infants baptized by dipping in water. The pedobaptism problem is not so much one of mode, then, as of baptizing infants at all. Those who reject infant baptism do so with emphasis upon the idea that ritual baptism must be restricted to believers, therefore it could not apply to children. The same company declare that they find no warrant in the New Testament for the practice. On the other hand, the very large proportion of the professing church do baptize infants and for various reasons. (1) By some who practice pedobaptism it is assumed that there is saving merit in ritual baptism, which feature of the doctrine is rejected by the great majority of Protestants administering infant baptism. (2) It is believed by a large percentage that there is some connection between the rite of circumcision as required for the Jewish child according to the Old Testament and the baptism of children according to the New Testament. In the attempt to establish and magnify its one-covenant idea, Covenant Theology has contended for this supposed relationship between the two dispensations. Israelites, however, were not partakers of their covenants on the ground of circumcision; they were born into covenant relationship to God. Therefore, it is not demonstrated that children by baptism become "children of the covenant." To be consistent, those who baptize infants because of an assumed covenant relationship should baptize only male children and only on the eighth day. (3) Others believe that since the household was included in five out of seven baptisms mentioned in the Acts infants were included. Those opposing pedobaptism claim it cannot be demonstrated that there were infants or small children in these particular households. But such as defend pedobaptism believe that it is highly probable some children were included and that the term household is not intended to represent childless homes, but the normal family with its children. (4) Instructed parents in presenting children for baptism magnify the household promises set forth in the New Testament (cf. 1 Cor. 7:12-14), believing that the promises for blessing, though not for salvation, extend to the families of God's children. It is contended that it is the right of Christian parents to assert their faith respecting the future salvation of their child by the baptism of that child. The energy with which pedobaptism is rejected often all but implies that the one who so resists holds perhaps unconsciously that ritual baptism is a saving ordinance. Whatever may or may not have been included in the records set forth in Acts, household baptism was enjoined and practiced.

In concluding this discussion of ritual baptism it may be stated that all who claim the right of private judgment in the matter of the mode of their baptism should accord the same right to others. There should be latitude enough in any assembly of believers for these variations. The sin—if such there be—of administering this ordinance in an unscriptural way could never compare with the greater sin of exclusion, separation, and the breaking of the outward manifestations of the unity of the Spirit. That believers remain in the unbroken bonds of fellowship and affection is, according to the New Testament, far more important than is the mode of ritual baptism. The world is to be impressed with the love of Christians one for the other (cf. John 13:34-35; 17:21-23). It is needless to point out that separations and contentions over a mode of baptism have little value in the eyes of the unsaved.

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