I chose to write a blog on baptism because I wanted to force myself to learn more and research this further. When I first started my research, I began to realize just how ignorant I was and, though I felt I was onto something with the few insights that I did have on the subject, I had to admit I did have some mistaken ideas. I also began to realize that this subject is a “can of worms” for many people. Churches and denominations have their lines drawn in the sand regarding baptism. Sometimes their beliefs land in agreement with Jesus and the apostles, but other times… not so much. I think also that there are some unfounded fears and superstitions regarding baptism. (see comments)
I found that the internet and Wikipedia are definitely not the place to go to research baptism if you want sound teaching (this probably goes for any important spiritual subject). The top two sites that came up in a search for baptism teaching, though well researched and presented, I believe, came to wrong conclusions.
The most important thing regarding spiritual matters, is to find out what Jesus and the apostles have to say on the subject and somehow manage to not misinterpret them. This is a huge task that I am not going to pull off (nor attempt to) in a single blog. Instead, I will share my experiences and a few thoughts and leave it at that. I am not the end all be all of spiritual truth – we have the word of God and the Holy Spirit for that.
My Experience With Baptism
I was maybe seven years old I was first “baptized” at Riverview family Bible camp. My mom asked me if I wanted to be baptized and I said yes. The pastor tried to explain baptism to me but I don’t think I understood a word of it. I probably had quite a puzzled look on my face as he explained baptism, but he baptized me anyway. I remember standing down by the river wearing the white robe with the other people about to get baptized and wishing I could go play on the water slide.
Many years later, when I was 18, my best friend Jacob was getting baptized through our church Calvary Chapel. He asked me if I would join him and I told him I’d be happy to. I had just come back to the Lord that year and I was excited about God. I was so excited about God that, as often as I could, I would go to every church service and college group that I could possibly find around Spokane Washington where I lived. I loved hearing God’s word and being around God’s people. I regularly went to Calvary Chapel and a church called Life Center, both excellent and wonderful fellowships where I sensed God was doing amazing things.
My friend Jacob and I went through a class about baptism at Calvary Chapel and then the day came for us to be baptized. The experience itself was unremarkable. A dove did not descend. I can’t say the experience changed anything for me.
I also remember something that happened at a church called Life Center about that same time. They had a big baptism service there every so often and they would encourage those who brought a person to faith in Christ to be the one to baptize them. They had pastoral staff there to guide the whole process. I had a friend named Claire who wanted me to baptize her. She wanted her sins to be washed away. So there I was, having just come back to God and to my faith, wearing a ying and yang t-shirt baptizing my friend.
A Few Thoughts on Baptism
Baptism is one of the few words in the Bible that has never been translated from the Greek into English. Baptism is from the Greek noun Βάπτισμα – baptisma. It means “to immerse”. So, I thought, why was this word transliterated instead of being translated? Why not use the word “immersed” instead of simply Englishifying this Greek word?
Up until last week I thought it was a conspiracy. I believed that the translators of Scripture didn’t translate the word just to accommodate already well established church practices. If the Greek word means “to immerse”, can you guess why the translators would hesitate to render its true meaning? Church practice for centuries was to sprinkle the foreheads, or pour water over the head, but not to fully immerse them. I am under the impression that there is a great deal of superstition around baptism as well. I believe some churches practice infant baptism thinking it best to do this as early as possible so as to save them from an eternity in hell… so they think.
Peter writes that baptism is not a matter of the removal of filth from the body (the physical act of washing) but about the spiritual reality that baptism represents. Just like the Jewish practice of circumcision represented a spiritual cleansing of the filth of the flesh – the removal of sin, so now baptism represents the death and burial of our old life and the resurrection to a new life by the Spirit of God. It truly is the spiritual reality that means something, and the physical act is pointless without this. So what significance does the physical act play?
Think about how differently certain commands of Jesus would read if this word had been translated:
“Go therefore into all the world and make followers of Christ, immersing them in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit. Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Immersing them in the name. Not immersing them in water per say, but in a name. What would this signify?
However, I could not ignore the fact that most of the instances that baptism is talked about or commanded, it is referring to the Christian rite of baptism. It seemed then to make sense then why the translators would not translate the word. If the word does in fact most often refer to the “rite” of baptism, then it may just add confusion to the subject to say immerse… unless that’s what God and the apostles actually meant to say. What do you think?
I came to see that I was not at liberty to spiritualize “baptism” into solely a mystical experience of being immersed in God. But, that the physical act also matters to God and is commanded by God. I have a lot more to learn but I’d love to hear back from you. Is there something you think I should know or am overlooking in this brief look at baptism? Leave me a comment!
- My Hitchhiking Adventure With God – Part 2 (daniellovett.wordpress.com)
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Daniel, first of all, thanks for taking time to think about and struggle with a difficult issue!
Just a few points on some of your thoughts:
1. You state: “Church practice for centuries was to sprinkle the foreheads, or pour water over the head, but not to fully immerse them.” while this could be argued we must also look to: a. history and b. current practice and teaching. a. Historically immersion in running water is the preferred method of baptism (see the Didache, an early Christian instruction manual: http://reluctant-messenger.com/didache.htm, see especially section three), with pouring and sprinkling coming as options secondary and tertiary. b. Immersion is still the preferred method of Baptism in the tradition I am in (Anglicanism), and in Orthodox churches and the Roman catholic church holds that: “Three forms of ablution have prevailed among Christians, and the Church holds them all to be valid because they fulfill the requisite signification of the baptismal laving. These forms are immersion, infusion, and aspersion.”
So whether or not the Church has practiced immersion, she holds it!
2. You also state: “There is a great deal of superstition around baptism as well. Many churches practice infant baptism thinking it best to do this as early as possible so as to save them from an eternity in hell… so they think.”
I find specific examples more helpful than generalizations. I have been in three separate traditions (Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Anglican) and none of them taught this and I don’t remember anyone telling me that they believed this. Now that is not to say that it couldn’t have been so…but actual examples make a point so much better then general assertions.
“The physical matters to God and is commanded by God.” AMEN!! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and I hope this feedback was helpful!