Thinking of Baptism on My Baptism Anniversary

Thinking of Baptism on My Baptism Anniversary 

Thinking of Baptism

on my Baptism Anniversary

Seeking to Please the Lord and Know His Will

Each year, I proceed from January to December, quite aware of important events of my past.  Today is one of the most important anniversaries of my past.

To understand this day, I must return to my childhood in the Lutheran Church.  During all of my early years, I was raised in a devout Lutheran family.  My parents, my grandparents, and earlier ancestors were devoted members in the Lutheran Church.  One cousin did a genealogical study that went back to the 1500s in Germany, the home of Martin Luther and the place where the Lutheran movement first began.

And then it happened—something that would forever change my life, something that would alter the course of my existence, something that would eventually open the door of heaven to me!  What was it?  When I was fifteen years of age, I began to study my Bible!  This was an eye-opening experience to me, for I had had a reverence for the Bible as a book, but I didn’t really consider that the Bible has a message, the very word of the Living God, and we are to be entirely submissive to God’s Word.

Day by day, and month by month, I gave myself to a careful study of the Bible.  As I did this, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the church of my youth.  I could see numerous matters that troubled me.  It seemed evident that there was a wide gulf between what God’s Word was saying and what the Lutheran Church believed and practiced.  I recently described my search for truth and my departure from this denomination, entitling the booklet, Why I Left the Lutheran Church.  This is a much fuller description of what I learned during this significant time during the latter part of my fifteenth year and the beginning of my sixteenth year.

After studying the Scriptures for a half year, I became very convicted that I was lost in sin.  I based this on many of the truths that I was learning, but one of the primary matters of importance was that of baptism.  First, I learned that baptism needed to be prompted by faith (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 16:31-34; 18:8; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12).  Further, I discovered that in baptism, one expresses his repentance (Acts 2:38; cf. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), and this was only possible for a responsible child of sufficient age (Acts 8:12).

Because of this, I became very distressed.  I had only been “baptized” as a baby when I was fifty days of age, a fact that was verifiable with my baptismal certificate.  When this lack of genuine baptism became clear, I can recall going to the bathroom, locking the door, and going through a sort of “self-baptism” ceremony of pouring water on my head, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  It will seem very ignorant of me, perhaps even bizarre, to have done this, but it must be remembered that I was learning the truth, step by step, and a full knowledge did not come immediately.  I just tried to do what I was learning in the Bible and I sincerely wanted to obey God.

Before long, I could see in my studies that not only was baptism an act for responsible people, it was also an immersion in water.  The popular denominational practice of sprinkling and pouring could not be found in the Bible, even though much history could be adduced to support this practice.  Although the early church practiced immersion, eventually the Catholic Church accepted pouring as equal in validity, and all of the Reformers (Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists) inherited it from Catholicism and accepted it as valid.  In contrast, the Greek word, baptize, simply meant “to dip, to immerse, to submerge, to overwhelm.”  Many Bible verses showed the early Christian practice of immersion (cf. Matt. 3:6, 13-16; Acts 8:38-39; Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-13; 1 Peter 3:20-21).  Clearly, I had never been immersed in Christ’s name, thus I had never been truly baptized.

As Lutherans, we regularly saw the pastor take his position at the front of the sanctuary, take water from the baptismal font, and pour small amounts of it on the head of the baby.  We assumed that this was baptism and was acceptable to the Lord.  However, I came to see that this had no Biblical support or warrant.  Although I cannot remember at this point, it may be that I actually tried to immerse myself in the stream near the house, thinking that this might be one way to submit to God’s will in baptism.  On the other hand, as we read Scripture, it is significant that self-baptism is never mentioned.  Always, someone immersed the convert—it was done to a person—and not by a person to himself.

This, however, led to a further troubling concern to my heart.  As I studied the Scriptures, I came to see that baptism was highly important.  It was not to be taken lightly.  I came to see that one needed to believe and be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:20-21; Gal. 3:26-27).  One needed to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in order to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-41).  One needed to call on Christ’s name and be baptized to have his sins washed away (Acts 22:16).  Further, one needed to die to sins, be buried with Christ in baptism, and rise to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-5; Col. 2:11-13).  Baptism was a chief response to the gospel as it was preached (Acts 8:12, 37-38; 10:47-48; 16:14-15; 31-34).  In fact, this act was integral to the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20).

With all of this before me, I came to the realization that I was indeed lost and in need of salvation—if I expected to go to heaven.  I even came to the point of being afraid to ride in a car lest there would be a wreck and I would be cast out into eternity, unprepared to meet God.  Indeed, I became wretched in my lost and hopeless condition.

In this state of desperation, I wrote a letter to certain preachers I had been viewing on the television each Sunday afternoon.  The format of their program was simple: They simply sat at a table, with open Bibles, and answered questions that the viewers sent to them.  I learned something from them, and assumed that they would have some answer to my dilemma.  I wrote to these men and asked what I should do since I now believed that I was lost and didn’t know how to be baptized; besides this, I thought that others considered me crazy since I gave so much time and attention to solitary study of the Bible in my room.  What was I to do?

On August 23 of that year, the preachers came to my home state, from two adjoining states, and arrived in the little town where I lived.  They called on the telephone and we arranged a meeting place.  I ran to the location and met them, then sat in the back seat of their car.  They asked what they could do for me.  I immediately told them that I wanted to be baptized.  I was lost and knew that I had never been truly baptized to be saved.  Baptism stood between my lost state and what I believed would be my saved state.  The men were convinced of my sincerity and the depth of my knowledge of baptism and the whole subject of salvation.  They asked where I would like to be baptized.  I knew the woods and stream well, for the stream almost entirely surrounded our little community.  I directed them to a convenient place to park their car and we descended the cliff to the water’s edge.

I can recall the event to this very day.  About 4 PM of that summer day, we stepped into the water’s edge near a huge boulder that I had sat on from time to time during my exploration of the woods with my dog, Pal.  The one preacher stated words that reflected the Biblical purpose of baptism, then he lowered me into the water and raised me up.  I must have had a feeling of relief to finally be forgiven of my sins!  What exhilaration to finally feel saved, after mounting conviction over the previous months of study and learning!  At last a fulfillment had come!  I was saved!  I was forgiven!

We climbed the hill and entered their car.  They took me to a block away from the house and left me out so I could walk home with my wet clothes.  I entered the house, proceeded to my room, and changed into dry clothing.  That night, when Dad returned home, my parents came to my bedroom.  They asked about what I had done that afternoon, and I told them the truth.  Mother cried and my father became angry.  I know that they both were hurt and felt rejected; they also knew that I had renounced their religion which was precious to them.  This must have been hard on them—but what else could I have done, since I knew that it was much more important to love and obey God than to submit to one’s parents (Matthew 10:34-37; Acts 5:29).

That is what happened on Thursday afternoon, at about 4 PM, August 23, exactly fifty years ago, today!  It was a deeply significant point in my life, really a pivotal point, for everything before that day was Lutheran and everything after that point changed into something more Biblical.  On that day, I thought that I was forgiven of my sins, saved from sin and death, redeemed by Christ, reconciled to God, given the Holy Spirit, and made an heir of heaven.  That was the day!  That was the most important day of my life—or so I thought!

As I look back to that time, from the present perspective, I can see that I was a young and sincere boy who had come to believe that the Bible had the answers to life.  It revealed the will of God, and without that will one simply could not be saved.  I came to see that I had to submit to the Lord and to His Word, to the extent of my knowledge, and without that I would remain lost in sin, death, and under God’s righteous judgment, and could only look forward to an eternity separated from God in hell.

Sadly, I must now admit that I was so deceived.  In the immediately succeeding years, I earnestly sought to serve the Lord, yet there was compromise there as well.  I was learning but I also realized that I was alone or virtually alone in my quest.  I was the only Christian in the whole high school, or so I thought.  I was part of a little congregation with a few young people, but nearly all of them lived compromised and worldly lives.  Some of this influenced me, although I continued to read the Bible and pray daily.  I wanted to be different from those around me, but there was no encouragement from others.

As I look back at these teenage years, I can see that I was entrapped in what might be called churchianity!  Jesus Christ and Him crucified was not at all the focus of our faith (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-24; 2:2).  He was not the focus of our life (Col. 3:1-4).  He was not the center of all we said and did and preached.  We were concerned about being the one true church, and we had numerous “marks” of the true church to prove that we were that church.  We knew that Jesus died to save the church and it was imperative that we be part of the church to be saved (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:23, 25).  I believed this and attended every meeting of the local congregation that met in a nearby town.  If Jesus died for the church and saves the church and only the church, then it was important to be faithful to the church, teach the church, spread the gospel of the church to others, and never question the doctrine of the church.  The bottom line was this was a church salvation, and not really a salvation that focused on Christ Jesus.

One of the sad aspects to this was that the church that I had become a member was far from perfect, far from what I came to see in the Scriptures.  Even before my baptism, I could see certain things in Scripture but then I discovered that this church failed in even this.  I had learned that the early Christians loved their enemies; they did not kill them!  Even as I drove with them to the place of baptism, one of the preachers stated that he had been in the military!  I had also seen that the Bible teaches that we should dress modestly; the first Sunday I attended the meetings, I was dismayed to see bejeweled and immodest women members!  I had been convinced that the “church” should be separated from the world and the ways of the world; that first Sunday, I was disappointed to see a member standing on the front steps of the meeting place smoking cigarettes!

Although I was disillusioned from the very beginning, I consoled myself in the thought that there might be much hypocrisy and worldliness, but surely the church itself was Christ’s church, the body that constituted God’s family on earth.

Several years later, at age 20, I came to the end of myself and concluded that the only way to be saved was to give everything to God, without compromise, without reservation, and completely turn to the Lord.  I began to hunger for the Word of God and devoured it each day.  I memorized many portions of Scripture.  I began to write—including a little booklet that I entitled, The Abundant Life!—and I had 6,000 copies printed.  I wrote a mimeographed book of 100 pages, entitled, Know Your Bible!  I began to offer a Bible correspondence course, advertised in the newspaper.  When I lost my job because I refused to join the labor union (2 Cor. 6:14-18; Matt. 5:38-47), I was without work, but I labored incessantly with the Scriptures.

About this time, when I was required to register for the draft, I studied carefully and concluded that I could not serve in the military and hate or kill the enemy, in accordance with Christ’s teaching of love and nonresistance (Matt. 5:38-47; Luke 6:27-35; Romans 12:17-21; 13:1-7).  All of this was the beginning of my life of seeking God, without compromise, without error, and with a fervency and devotion to truth that was only reasonable in light of a great God and an eternity of either heaven or hell!

When I was drafted by the military, I entered civilian work in lieu of induction, and began working in civilian hospitals, first in Eastern Pennsylvania, and then in Eastern Ohio.  While in Pennsylvania, I was enlightened in a way that I had never been before.  At this time, I was exposed for the first time to the grace of God in the gospel of Christ, as taught by the local evangelist, and this began to touch my heart.  Later, while in Ohio, my eyes were opened even further as I learned things that I had never seen before.  I spent one year and four months in deep study, extensive reading and study, much Bible memory, and much inquiry into God’s truth as found in Scripture.

Through this reading, I came to see that salvation was not centered in baptism, per se, but it was centered in the Savior, Jesus Christ!  I came to see, as never before, that God sent His dear Son to bear our sins on the cross, then raised Him from the dead, and now offers free forgiveness to all who will come to Him through Jesus.  We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-10).  While we must obey the Lord and actively engage in good deeds, none of this was meritorious or made God indebted to us.  I had known that intellectually, but I came to see it much more clearly now.

It almost seemed that I had accepted a false gospel several years earlier, for it had been a message centering on our submission to God in the act of baptism. We were careful to not be baptized like the Catholics and Lutherans were, or as the Methodists and Pentecostals were, or like the Presbyterians or Nazarenes were, or even as the Baptists were.  With this, we found comfort in the conviction that we had received the “one baptism” of which God was the author (Eph. 4:5).  No other baptism could save.  But we had received the true baptism of Scripture—or so we thought.  Of course, we knew that we had to “hear, believe, repent, and confess” before baptism, but the emphasis was on baptism itself, for it was there that one would “contact the blood of Christ,” and thus be saved from sin.  This would assure our entrance into heaven, if we remained faithful and never fell into sin, the world, or false denominational doctrine.

As I stated above, this period of time was intense and it was also enlightening.  I was deeply grateful to God for the marvelous truths that He was graciously revealing to me.  Salvation through Jesus Christ became precious to me.  I thought of it, studied it, memorized verses dealing with it, and even wrote a new booklet detailing this message of salvation, The Truth about Your Life!  I was given the opportunity of preaching at a local congregation and spent an entire hour proclaiming the riches of God’s grace and love in Christ and His redeeming death!

I knew that my further studies about baptism, along with salvation in Christ, must be held in a delicate balance.  I didn’t want to fall into the error of thinking that baptism was a “work” that was meritorious or deserving of God’s reward.  Again and again in Scripture, we are warned against thinking that any work or deed, in itself, is meritorious or brings salvation.  Plainly, salvation is “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9; Phil. 3:9; Gal. 2:20-21).  On the other hand, I didn’t want to dismiss baptism as merely an external act that is one of many acts of obedience required of one who is already a disciple of Christ.  In fact, while in Ohio, I consulted with a Baptist preacher and spent time discussing this subject, and he simply couldn’t show that baptism was not required in Scripture.  Therefore, I wanted to maintain the delicate—but needed—balance between thinking that baptism itself saved in itself and thinking that baptism was optional and unimportant.  Truth often is between the two extremes.

While I was studying all of this, I wanted to be very aware of the dangers of learning new things.  So many people who allow their mind to explore new territory end up losing the truth that they had.  They end up in spiritual error, even error that differs radically from the Word of God.  Their last state is worse for them than the first (cf. 2 Peter 2:20-22)!  I wanted to carefully avoid this tendency.  While rejecting the false churchianity that I had been taught and formerly espoused, I wanted to maintain the importance of the body of Christ—consisting of those obedient believers who have turned to God in genuine repentance and embraced Christ by faith.

Further, in rejecting the empty shell of religion, I wanted to maintain a very careful and holy lifestyle, centered on God and His authoritative Word.  I determined to not lose any truth I had known, but only more clearly stand for God’s salvation truth that He was now revealing to me.  Often times, when people claim that they have learned something of grace, they become loose in their lifestyle, compromising in their fellowship, and careless in obeying all that God has commanded in Christ and the apostles.  I wanted to avoid this trap of the enemy!

I could see that life was not a matter of “going to church” three times a week, making sure that we participated in communion each week, avoiding denominational labels and names, or holding to various doctrines.  I had seen that the lifestyle of the church members was just like those around them.  They centered their lives on money, material things, sports, TV, entertainment, education, good times, movies, good citizenship, their employment, and so forth.  The members compromised with the same occupations, attended the same worldly secular schools, dressed in the same immodest and worldly fashions, participated in the same pleasures and entertainment, furnished their homes in the same worldly way, viewed money in the same way as their religious neighbors.

Where was Jesus Christ in all of this?  Where was the incessant call of the New Testament writers to not be conformed to the world?  Where was the insistence on a radical holiness and an all-out commitment to Jesus and the spreading of the gospel?

As I stated, this period of time in Ohio brought both disillusionment and enlightenment.   I became disillusioned with what I had been led to believe was New Testament Christianity, and I became enlightened (at least to some extent) by the further light of God that I had not seen before.

After departing from Ohio, I returned to Pennsylvania for nearly another year, and during this time I continued my studies and solidified my convictions.  As I look back from this vantage point, I can see that even then I failed to see so much and lacked clear understandings on many things.  Yet I was learning, I was changing, and I was departing from the false and accepting more of the truth.

I had determined to take a two-year journey across the country and during this time and I began to make careful preparations to fulfill this plan.  Finally, I departed on my journey.  I wanted to visit every state in the nation, and spend at least a year at some location in deep study and reflection as I made further plans for the remainder of my life.  It was on this trip that I fasted and prayed, and chose to be rebaptized.

It may seem strange for some readers to read this.  What is rebaptism?  Baptists and other adult immersionist denominations and groups will explain to baby-baptizers that when they immerse adults who had been sprinkled or poured as infants that this really is not a “re-baptism” but is the first real baptism of the person, since baby baptism is not really a Biblical baptism at all.  Infant baptism is not baptism since the New Testament only knows about a baptism of those who believe and repent.   Further, those who have only been sprinkled or poured need to be immersed in water, as Scripture teaches.  Again, this is not really a “re-baptism” since sprinkling and pouring are not really forms of Biblical baptism but only a substitute for baptism.

We could go further than this, as I discovered.  I had water poured on me as a baby, and I came to see that this was not really a Biblical baptism.  Then I was immersed with the knowledge that this was needed to become a Christian.  I assumed that I believed that Jesus was the Son of God and Savior and that I repented of my sins.

As I further studied this and considered it without a defensive stance, I could see that my baptism was not really centered on Jesus Christ, the death of Christ, and His resurrection.  I could see that my trust was more in my response of baptism than in the death of Christ when He shed His redeeming blood.  Further, it seemed that my repentance was more a repentance of my former participation in denominational ways than a humble, sincere, self-denying repentance of my own life apart from God.  I had renounced denominational error but it seemed that I had not renounced my own will, my own pride, my own self-chosen way.  In effect, it seemed that I had accepted what amounted to a denominational baptism instead of a baptism into Jesus Christ and His saving death.

Many readers will not really understand all that is implied in this explanation since they have not been involved in the religious context that I had at that time.  Perhaps there is a lot of perplexity among some of our readers and I’m sorry that it has to be that way.  (I’ve explained some of these matters in greater depth in such studies and booklets as Please Don’t Be Baptized!, The Centrality of the Savior in Biblical Baptism, A Friendly Discussion on Baptism, and others. These and many more articles on baptism may be found on my website: www.Truediscipleship.com.)

You will remember that Paul found twelve “disciples” in Ephesus who knew only the baptism of John (Acts 19:1-6).  They must have repented of their sins, for John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).  They must have connected this with the forgiveness of their sins, for this was the purpose of John’s baptism; it was “for the forgiveness of sins” (see above).  They must have been immersed in water, for this is the way John did his baptizing work at Jordan (cf. Matt. 3:1-6; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3).  But with all of this truth, Paul insisted that these baptized/immersed men be re-immersed, immersed again.

What was new about their second immersion?  (1) They were “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5).  (2) They were baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). (3) They were baptized into Jesus Christ and into His death, and rose to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-5; Col. 2:11-13).  (4) They were baptized as an expression of faith in the crucified and risen Christ (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 18:8; Gal. 3:26-27).  (5) They were baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Acts 2:41-47).  This account in Acts 19 clearly shows that sometimes one who has already been immersed needs to be immersed again—this time, a true and scriptural baptism into Christ.

I must be honest in this as I always want to be honest in my entire walk with God.  I also want to be wise and discreet.  Many years after this experience, I had further doubts and concerns lingering in my heart regarding my earlier immersion/baptism, and particularly relating to the inner repentance, trust in Christ, commitment of life, and accepting Jesus as Lord.  After much soul searching and prayer to God, I chose to be baptized yet again, concluding that God would be pleased if I purposed to “erase all doubt” about my previous response.

This is what I generally recommend to others who inquire of me the authenticity of their own baptism and express concerns and doubts about their experience.  On the one hand, we know that there is “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5) and this is not to be repeated.  On the other hand, we also know that most contemporary baptisms that we commonly see in churchianity are not valid since they fail to reflect the meaning of the New Testament teaching on baptism.  Further, we know that no one needs to understand the fifteen or twenty different aspects of baptism’s meaning—otherwise no one could be assured of his baptism!  Yet, there must be a minimum of comprehension on what true baptism signifies, otherwise it will not be a genuine New Testament baptism, thus it is invalid.

Further, we would suggest that one must separate his view of baptism from the many erroneous views and theology that is attached to many, many forms of denominational and sectarian baptism.  Surely a baptism that means something different than what the New Testament teaches must not be considered a true baptism.  In light of this, we’ve known of many people who chose to be baptized again—a rebaptism—with a correct, Biblical meaning signified in this spiritual act.  On one occasion, nearly all of the people in a small fellowship chose to be baptized (again), presumably when they learned what the Bible taught.  Tragically, in the coming months, it became apparent that they were denying the meaning of the baptism that they had accepted!

You can now understand why this day of August 23, 2008, is so very significant to me as I survey my life.  That was the event, the climactic and abrupt event, that snatched me out of the Lutheran Church with its various false doctrines and practices, and thrust me into a very different way of life.  Eventually, as I have explained, I even renounced that sadly deficient response, and pursued an entirely different way of looking at things, formed by a fuller study of the Scriptures and a mind that was open to look at things in a more spiritual way.  But it doesn’t negate that something new and good happened on that momentous day on my life.  Thursday, August 23, at 4 PM, will always be an important date in my life!

I hope that my experience, as related in this writing, will not only inform you of one area of my life, but I hope that it will stimulate your own thinking of your own life.  Is there something here for you?  Do you also need to examine your own life, belief, and experience?  Do you need to look at what you have thought was your own conversion experience, salvation event, or “born again” experience, and compare this with what God has revealed about salvation in His inspired Word?  Approach this with absolute honesty, deep sincerity, and spiritual boldness—and see where it takes you!

Richard Hollerman

August 21-23, 2008 (minor changes on November 28, 2018)

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