Please Don’t Be Baptized!

baptism

Please Don’t Be Baptized!

Please Don’t Be Baptized!
(Until You Read This)

Please Carefully Consider the Scriptures
before You Choose to be Baptized! 

There appears to be a renewed interest in baptism these days and for this we are pleased.  Perhaps you have considered whether you or one of your loved ones should be baptized.  Maybe you have been baptized as a baby and see that this ceremony lacked your own personal response and involvement or you have discovered that this rite did not have Scriptural support.  Or perhaps you were baptized as an impulsive teenager who just went through a religious formality and now see the need for some personal commitment of response on your own part.

Why Do People Choose Baptism Today? 

A number of religious movements have contributed to this contemporary openness and interest.  Perhaps the Charismatic movement is responsible to some extent for this awakening.  Some “Neo-Pentecostal” Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others from traditionally paedobaptist (infant baptizing or sprinkling) denominations have seen the need to be immersed as adults.  Further, the so-called “Jesus Movement” of some decades ago raised an interest in the subject, especially among the young, with the result that large numbers flocked to the beaches and lakes to observe mass baptisms.  Further yet, the “Community Church” movement, that downplays denominational loyalty, has sometimes tended to encourage adult immersion.  Perhaps also the large number of unaffiliated people who profess some interest in Christ tends to encourage adult baptism or immersion.  We must not overlook the fact that most TV ministries and campus ministries generally favor adult baptism.

A number of other factors may account for this interest. With the increasing emphasis on “personal experience,” many have become dissatisfied with a ceremony that was done to them when they were babies of which they remember nothing.  They have felt the desire to experience baptism personally, of their own volition, arising from their own desire to follow the Lord.  They have come to see that they could no more be baptized on the basis of their parents’ or sponsors’ faith than they could be saved by proxy.

Another reason for this renewed interest in baptism is that some people are reading their Bibles more.  Church Bible study groups, home prayer groups, Bible discussion gatherings, and a proliferation of modern translations have interested various ones to search the Scriptures and ask revealing questions.  They have searched in vain to find infant baptism in the Bible, and have rightly concluded that its origin is not apostolic.  Several days ago I stopped at a service station to buy gasoline and handed the cashier a tract to read.  The young woman immediately asked whether I would know anything about baptizing her 6-month child.  We talked briefly, I gave her several pamphlets, and then I departed.  I returned the next night and she said that she had read part of the booklet on baptism I had left and could immediately understand that baptism was not for her baby.  Only those old enough to understand the significance of the act were qualified.

Perhaps another factor involved in this interest in baptism is that more church members are becoming disillusioned with their particular denomination. There is a continual exodus from the more liberal, mainline, mostly baby-sprinkling denominations, into the somewhat more conservative, adult-immersionist churches. Thus, membership in many Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, “United Church of Christ,” and Catholic groups is decreasing, while membership in the Baptist, “Assembly of God,” Pentecostal, Community Church, independent Bible groups, and various cults is growing. When membership is sought in these immersionist groups, “adult immersion” is part of the package they accept—whether they have much of a concept of the act itself.  Pouring or sprinkling is quite rare among those religious bodies that promote adult “baptism.”

The “Dangers” and “Problems” of Baptism  

As we earlier stated, we are pleased with certain aspects of this current trend.  Yet, in view of this movement toward adult immersion, we must sound a serious warning by clearly pointing out several potential and real dangers.  Let us discuss a number of the serious problems that prevail in the trend toward teen and adult baptism.

Personal, Saving Faith in Christ 

            One reason many are requesting adult immersion is that they recognize that the Bible seems to clearly indicate that baptism must be an expression of personal faith (not the faith of one’s parents or sponsors). This seems evident from such passages as Mark 16:15,16; Colossians 2:11; Galatians 3:26,27; Acts 8:12; 16:14-15, 31-34; 18:8.

For instance, Jesus declared, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).  He didn’t say, “He who is baptized and then believes shall be saved.”  Further, we read, “When they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12).  These passages could be multiplied, but the point is that more people are recognizing that one must believe in the Lord Jesus before they are baptized.  It is impossible for an infant to believe, thus one must be mature enough to exercise faith before he is a proper subject for baptism.  Infant baptism totally eliminates personal response and nullifies the numerous passages that speak of the inner heart attitude of the one being baptized.

The question we would raise about this point is just whether one actually has saving faith or not.  Does he simply intellectually acknowledge belief in Jesus as the Son of God—or  does he additionally fully rely upon and place all of his trust in Jesus as Savior from sin?  Does he really lay aside self-trust and commit his eternal salvation to the crucified Sin-bearer?  True faith, the faith that must precede baptism, must consist of this heart-felt committal of oneself to Jesus as Savior from sin.  The question you, or anyone else contemplating baptism, must ask is, “Do I have saving faith?” Without such faith, baptism is as meaningless for an adult as infant baptism is for a child.

Genuine Repentance and Change of Life  

A related reason that many today are requesting adult immersion is that they have recently “committed their lives to Jesus,” and are then urged to “follow Jesus in baptism.”  While it is commendable to follow Jesus in every way through life, we would question whether a large proportion of those baptized have really recognized a very vital emphasis in Scripture.  Have they actually expressed heart-felt repentance?  Have they turned away from sin, from the world, from their self-life, and turned to God and His will?

The subject of repentance is no more popular today than it was when Jesus and His disciples walked on earth and called upon men, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; Mk. 6:12). Yet Peter spoke the inspired words on Pentecost, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of yours sins” (Acts 2:38).  Baptism must be an expression of repentance.  In fact, John’s baptism was called “a baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), and baptism into Christ is also a baptism manifesting a deep inner repentance.  Repentance is not simply feeling sorry for past sins, but consists of a deep contrition over past wrongs, a change of heart regarding God and His will, a determination to lay aside all self-will, and a resolution to live wholly for Jesus.  One must lay aside those acts of sin of which he is aware and purpose to not walk in them again (cf. Acts 3:19, 26; 26:18, 20; Luke 3:8a; 1 Thess. 1:9-10).  Repentance is painful and life changing!

The questions we would ask: “Do many of those who are baptized or immersed really repent from the heart?  Do they enter upon the act of baptism carelessly or casually, without a deep consideration of their need of a change of heart and life?”  The fact that many who are immersed continue to live the same selfish, materialistic, fleshly, worldly, pleasure-loving life leads us to think that most did not really repent in the Biblical sense of the word. They may have simply gone under the water to fulfill a religious obligation but nothing significant happened.  John would say to such people: “Bring forth fruits in keeping with your repentance” (Matt. 3:8, cf. Acts 26:20).  Baptism is merely an empty water ceremony unless one dies to sin and rises to walk in newness of life as an outcome of a sincere repentance (cf. Romans 6:3-7).

Fulfillment of a Mere Commandment  

Another reason many today are requesting adult immersion is that they have seen clear statements in the Scriptures commanding baptism.  They see the requirement clearly stated in the Bible, thus they simply obey it as a legalistic requirement of the Lord.  This conception is not far different from a father who commands his son Johnny to stand on one leg for five minutes and Johnny dutifully obeys his father.  The act has no meaning, no significance, and no spiritual purpose.  It is simply a response to one in authority.

In the case of baptism, all significance or spiritual meaning is sometimes overlooked or neglected.  But Jesus doesn’t simply give baptism as a command to test our willingness to obey a meaningless act.  It is meant to have a rich and wonderful significance!  When one is baptized, he expresses his death to self and sin and is raised to walk in newness of life.  He identifies with Jesus, His death, and His resurrection (see Romans 6:3-6; Colossians 2:12-13; 3:1-2).  Baptism may, in some sense, be compared to a wedding.  A marriage ceremony is not meant to merely fulfill a civil requirement or governmental law but it has a deep and rich significance to the bride and groom who are joined together before the Lord.  It is a deeply significant—even spiritual—event, filled with love, devotion, and self-giving commitment.

Likewise, Biblical baptism was not meant to be an empty ritual, but a highly significant expression of faith-commitment.  Thus we would ask, “Does the person coming for baptism simply look upon baptism as a legalistic requirement or a work of righteousness?  Or does he have some conception of the spiritual meaning of the act?”

Understanding the Physical Act of Baptism  

A further reason why many are seeking adult baptism in our day is that most denominations that “baptize” babies actually don’t baptize at all but only sprinkle, moisten, or pour water on them.  The Greek term, baptizo (from which we derive “baptize”) actually means to immerse, to submerge, to dip, to sink or to overwhelm, as most popular Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries, and word study books will indicate.  The early church actually immersed those who came to Christ in repentance, and the practice of immersion continued for at least 1,000 years of church history until the Catholic Church pronounced that sprinkling and pouring were acceptable alternative actions, during the twelfth to fourteenth centuries.

As people have learned these facts, they have realized that when they were sprinkled or poured as a baby in a church ceremony, they were actually not baptized (immersed) in water at all!  Pouring is not baptism (immersion) any more than sitting is not running, eating is not sleeping, and walking is not riding.  While both pouring and baptism require water, only immersion requires going to the water, entering the water, being submerged in the water, rising from the water, and coming out of the water (cf. Acts 8:36-39; Matt. 3:13-16).  Furthermore, only immersion symbolizes a burial and rising that occurs in baptism (cf. Romans 6:3-6; Col. 2:11-13).

Sometimes when people realize these facts, they want to be immersed as adults.  They say that they want to be “baptized as Jesus was” (cf. Matt. 3:13-17).   This much is good, but again we must question whether they attach Biblical significance to the act.  Do they really repent of their sins (Acts 2:38), express their faith in the crucified and risen Savior (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Acts 8:12), commit their life to Jesus as Lord (Col. 2:6; Rom. 10:9), and intend to live a radically different life as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)?  Furthermore, do they really understand the spiritual blessings that are bestowed by a gracious God when one is Scripturally baptized?  Sadly, we must usually answer No.

Deficient and Faulty Understandings  

Many of the people who choose to be “baptized” as adults respond to a plea from a pulpit that challenges them, “You have been a Christian for a year now; it is time you are baptized to show you are following Jesus!”  Or they are “baptized” to become a member of a local church or denomination.  They may just want to be “baptized” to complete something they know is lacking in their life.  Some think that baptism will give them an extra power in their spiritual life.  People bring a variety of motivations to the act of baptism.  Sadly, most of these are deficient and are so far removed from Biblical teaching that the act itself cannot be considered a true baptism.  Rather, it is meaningless, empty, and consequently invalid.

Scripture is quite plain that baptism is much more important than most people realize.  Jesus said that we are baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit—that is, we enter into the possession of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).  Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).  Peter declared, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  Ananias said to the contrite and repentant Paul, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).  Peter also said, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).  As we discovered elsewhere, baptism is also related to our spiritual death and resurrection with Christ (Romans 6:3-6), our being clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), our spiritual circumcision or cutting off of “the body of the flesh” (Col. 2:11-13), and reception of other spiritual blessings that are in Christ (Eph. 1:3).

Can baptism be considered Biblical if it denies much or all of the true meaning and purpose of the act described in Scripture?  If one denies that baptism is an expression of faith and repentance (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), is it still Biblical baptism?  If one rejects baptism’s connection with the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), the washing away of sins (22:16), or salvation (1 Peter 3:21), is it still the baptism of the Bible?  If one teaches against the fact that in baptism one is dying to sin and rising to live a new life (Romans 6:3-5), is it still genuine baptism?  If one opposes the idea that in baptism one is clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27), is spiritually circumcised from the flesh (Col. 2:11-13), or is added to Christ’s body (Acts 2:38-41 with v. 47; 1 Cor. 12:13), is it still the baptism of the New Testament?  If one does not know or rejects the fact that he is to be a disciple of Christ who submits to Jesus as Lord and obeys all of the will of God (Matt. 28:18-20), is his “baptism” still true baptism?  Or if one is only poured or sprinkled rather than actually baptized (immersed), does his act somehow become genuine baptism?  These questions highlight both the need to accurately teach the subject of baptism as well as the need to make sure we have submitted to what God says about baptism rather than submit to “the commandments and teachings of men” (Col. 2:22; cf. Mark 7:5-13).

From this we can see that merely asking for adult immersion is nothing unless we understand something of the spiritual meaning, significance, and purpose of the act of baptism.  Surely we do not need to know the wide range of aspects mentioned in Scripture (for some of this will come with spiritual growth), but we would necessarily need to know something of its true significance.  One should know that being baptized means that we are coming to Christ for salvation and forgiveness through His saving death and resurrection for our sins.  Sadly, most of those who assume they are being baptized as teens and adults actually are submitting to a human doctrine and defective religious ceremony that differs markedly from the true baptism of the Scriptures.

Some people say that one needs to know nothing at all about the meaning and purpose of baptism.  They say that God will do whatever He wants to apart from any comprehension on our part.  But true Christianity does not consist of external actions, void of inner meaning!  Blessings do not flow from the mere performance of certain rites, rituals, or ceremonies, without personal response of faith.  This was the error of the Catholic ex opere operato doctrine, that grace is bestowed by the mere performance of an action, apart from an inner faith response.  It is also the basis of the false doctrine of infant baptismal regeneration that so many denominations promote.  Instead of this, God says that the person coming to baptism must make a personal response of faith and repentance, of surrender and commitment.  The believing, repentant person coming to baptism reaches out his empty hand, as it were, to receive God’s blessings bestowed by His marvelous grace.  This makes baptism deeply significant.

Evidence of Deep Significance  

In various other ways what is promoted as baptism today falls short of what the act was in New Testament times and what it should be in our own day.  For instance, sometimes baptism is postponed for a week, a month, or a year after one supposedly “commits his life to Jesus” and is “saved.”  However, in New Testament times, there is no recorded case that one ever “ate a bite, drank a drop, or slept a wink” between the time he was informed of baptism (and understood his need of baptism and the significance of the act) and the time he was baptized.  It was always done the same day or night (cf. Acts 2:38-41; 8:35-39; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 30-34; 22:16).  It was not something in addition to the conversion experience, but was considered an integral part of one’s initial response to Jesus.  It actually embodied the death and resurrection of the conversion experience!

Implications and Consequences 

of Being Wrongly Baptized 

             Lest the reader think that too much is being made of being baptized Scripturally, consider the implications and consequences of being baptized wrongly.  Suppose that a young man begins to learn something of the Lord and His word.  He may be attending a church where something of Christ is known but where much that is false is also taught.  The pastor may urge “new members” to be baptized for “it is the right thing to do.”  Convicted that he should be “baptized” into this church or denomination, he schedules an interview with the minister and within a few weeks he is “baptized” on a Sunday morning.  Is everything well?  Does this procedure seem well with you, in light of all you have learned earlier in this article?

            The reason why such a response is dangerous is because this man will falsely assume that he has been baptized, whereas he has not really obeyed the Lord in baptism as it is clearly revealed in Scripture!  He has not really become “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which [he was] committed” (Romans 6:17).  This young man may be living the same compromising, pleasure-loving, worldly life he formerly did.  Or he may still be trusting in his religious works or goodness or church membership as the basis of his acceptance with God.  Or he may hold to various false doctrines that would keep him from genuine faith in Christ Jesus.

For many reasons, this man’s “baptism” would be defective, faulty, and even invalid.  He has accepted a counterfeit of the real thing.  And sadly, the man may never learn differently.  He may never be truly baptized and become a new creation in Christ Jesus through faith in His sin-bearing sacrifice on the cross.  He may be content in his deception and not have the interest to read the Bible with an open heart to discover God’s will for himself.  He may wrongly assume that the pastor was right and never check this out in his own Bible.  This is a prime reason why we would urge you not to be baptized as it is commonly practiced in our day!

The reason we entitled this article, Please Don’t Be Baptized!, is because we want to warn you against being baptized as it is commonly done today.  Although we see an increased interest in this act in our day, we also recognize that often—even usually—it falls short of what the Lord desires.  In fact, can it really be considered genuine baptism?  Obviously, it cannot.

If baptism is not an expression of real heart-faith in Christ, it is not Biblical baptism.  If it does not arise from a clear turning from sin and self-orientation to the Savior, it is not Scriptural baptism.  If it does not express our commitment to live fully for the Lord and His will, it cannot be considered the baptism of the Bible.  If it merely reflects a denominational doctrine or is meant to be a door to a local church, it is not Biblical baptism.  If it is not part of our initial response in conversion to Christ Jesus, then it is not really what Christ expects.  Obviously, if it is not actually a baptism (immersion), but is only a pouring or sprinkling, then it is not the baptism of the Bible.  If it does not mean that the one baptized plans to live an entirely new life that is focused on Jesus and that renounces the sin, evil, pleasures, and worldliness of one’s former life, then it is not genuine Biblical baptism.

We would not want you to experience a baptism less than, more than, or different from the baptism that Christ commands of you (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38-41; etc). Thousands of people, myself included, have regretfully discovered that this is a very real possibility.  Many of us discovered later that our former “baptism” was defective, false, unscriptural, and therefore invalid.  I’ve personally needed to baptize many people who assumed that they had been baptized as babies or as teenagers or as adults but who had received a faulty religious ceremony called baptism.

You may remember also that the twelve Ephesian disciples had been immersed, had repented of their sins, and thought that they were being forgiven of their sins, but later discovered that their prior baptism was not Christian baptism, thus was invalid.  When they discovered this, they were re-immersed or baptized again, this time in the name of the Lord Jesus, into Christ and His death, so to rise to walk in newness of life as a new creature (cf. Acts 19:1-7; Luke 3:3; Romans 6:3-11; 2 Cor. 5:17).

Although we would discourage you from being baptized as it is often practiced today, we do not want to hinder you from being immersed, per se.  In fact, we would earnestly urge you to open your heart to Jesus your Savior and Lord, and experience a genuine baptism as it is pictured on the pages of your own Bible.  As Peter was calling on people to come to Christ by repenting and being baptized, he declared, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40, NIV).  Those who received his message were baptized (vv. 38-41).  This is what we would want for you.  If you have accepted a false baptism in the past, be willing to humbly renounce it and be baptized again, as the Ephesians did (Acts 19:1-6).  Be willing to renounce your previous faulty and invalid baptism, and come to Christ by being genuinely, truly, and Scripturally baptized into Him, into His death, and into His body (cf. Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12; 1 Cor. 12:13).

If we may be of help to you in this regard or provide furtherinformation, please do not hesitate to let us know.  “And now why do you delay? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His [the Lord’s] name.” (Acts 22:16).

What Does the Bible Really Say? 

 Baptism and Faith

·        “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).

·        “When they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12).

·        “Many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (Acts 18:8).

·        “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).

·        “Having been buried with Him [Christ] in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12).

Baptism and Repentance 

·        “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38; cf. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3, 5-8). 

Baptism’s Relation to the Death and Resurrection of Christ

·        “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4; cf. Col. 2:12).

Baptism and Discipleship

·        “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in [into] the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a). 

Baptism and Conversion

·        “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.  And when she and her household had been baptized . . .” (Acts 16:14-15).

·        “And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household” (Acts 16:33; cf. vv. 30-34).

·        “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ . . . and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36- 39; cf. Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 10:47; 22:16; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Richard Hollerman

 

 

Comments are closed.