Baptism (1)

It is important to get hold of the significance of any doctrine and to see how it affects us. If there appears to be no real point in any doctrine then we may well wonder whether we have understood it properly. The point of this article is not therefore just to say what Scripture teaches as to the rite of baptism but its true significance.

It is helpful to see that baptism in its form of Christening has in the past, if not still is, in the minds of, some meant that the babies and others who have been the subjects of the rite become "inheritors of the kingdom of heaven", that is, they would go to heaven if they died rather than to hell. Against this there has been a reaction that virtually gives the rite very little real significance. It is said to be a testimony to the world that the person who receives it has become a Christian. This is called believer's baptism.

This article is concerned with water baptism, though there is also in Scripture the baptism of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 1:5). The three water baptisms mentioned in Scripture are baptism unto Moses: "All were baptised unto Moses in... the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2) ; the baptism of John (Acts 18:25) and baptism unto Christ Jesus (Romans 6:3). We can probably leave the baptism unto Moses except as a type of Christian baptism.

John's Baptism

John's baptism is distinct from Christian baptism and those that had only received the former had to be rebaptised (Acts 19:1-6). However, there is no doubt something for us to learn from John's baptism. John's message was: "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh" (Matthew 3:2). The result was that many went out and were baptised by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:5/6). Mark is similar: "There came John baptising in the wilderness, and preaching [the] baptism of repentance for remission of sins. And there went out to him all the district of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." (Mark 1:4/5) Then there is Luke: John came " preaching [the] baptism of repentance for [the] remission of sins" (Luke 3:3). Paul also says: "John indeed baptised [with] the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on him that was coming after him, that is, on Jesus" (Acts 19:4). There can be little doubt that those who confessed their sins while submitting to baptism had their sins remitted. Had they not in some degree accepted John's preaching it is unlikely that they would have come to him for baptism. There were those that did not (Luke 7:29/30). However, there may have been some that were physically unable to come to John for baptism. God who knows the heart would no doubt in such cases have accepted the will for the deed. The remission of sins would have shielded the repentant ones from judgement here. The deliverance sought was from the wrath to come (Luke 3:7). We must not put more into the scripture than is there. There was nothing about judgement after death in John's ministry so far as we know. It is not remarkable that John could effectively remit sins by baptising people, for the apostles were also given authority to remit or retain sins (John 20:22:23).

However, there were those who came to John who were not genuine and John spoke very severely to them, calling them: "Offspring of vipers" and telling them to produce "fruit worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:7-12). See also Luke 3:7-14.

John's ministry was essentially a call to repentance and those who repented had their sins remitted when they were baptised by John. John also required that persons should bring forth fruit that would show that the repentance was genuine and that they were not just going to John for baptism because that was what every one else appeared to be doing. John also pointed out that if persons were not genuine they would be found out when Christ came anyway (Matthew 3:11/12).

Christian Baptism

As we have shown from Scripture, Christian baptism is distinct from John's baptism. However, nothing is lost I think we can safely say, though Christian baptism goes much farther than John's baptism. John's ministry is carried forward into Christianity. For instance, John taught that persons should produce fruits worthy of repentance (Luke 3:8). Paul similarly taught that: "The nations... should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance" (Acts 26:20). Both John and Paul were concerned that the repentance of those they preached to should be genuine. Again, we have Peter saying to those who were pricked in their heart: "Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) Note: remission of sins was connected with baptism (the outward act) as well as repentance (what is within). Further, it was each one of you. The thing was not something that could be properly done in mass, even though about 3,000 souls were involved. See also Acts 22:16.

Christian baptism was instituted by Christ (see particularly Matthew 28:19; though there is a reference in Mark 16:16). Baptism was to persons, not to a creed, so that we have it to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.