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Vital Church Truths
by R.J. Anderson
Chapter Three-What Constitutes Scriptural Baptism?
Before I open the discussion of Scriptural Baptism, I wish to make a few general remarks that indicate my attitude toward all Scriptural subjects. I certainly believe every Christian should be as broad on all subjects as the Scripture, but I also believe he should be as narrow as the Scripture on all subjects. Whenever we step beyond the Scriptural boundary line we have gone too far.
The Scripture teaches salvation was purchased for us by the shed blood of Christ on Calvary's cross and it becomes our personal possession when we accept Him by faith as our own personal Savior. I do not believe anyone has a right to teach otherwise. I also believe we must accept and follow the Scriptural teachings on all other doctrines and that none have the right to add to, take from, change or by any word or act indicate that they approve of such things being done. I believe it is as much the duty of the Church to adhere rigidly to the teachings of God's Word on the doctrine of baptism as any other doctrine.
No individual who is saved has the privilege of choosing whether or not he will be baptized. God's Word commands it and refusing to submit to it is nothing less than disobedience to the clear teachings of God's Word.
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). This certainly teaches the converts were to be baptized. There is much reason to doubt the salvation of those who profess to be saved and yet refuse to be baptized when they know God commands it. One of the very first fruits of salvation is the desire to do God's will.
There is not the slightest indication in the New Testament that any of the early Christians ever refused or even hesitated about the matter of baptism. We find the very opposite to be true. They were not only willing, but anxious to fulfill this command as quickly as possible. Acts 2:41 tells us they were baptized the same day they were converted. Acts 10:47-48 tells us as soon as there was evidence of salvation baptism was administered. Acts 8:36-38 tells us the eunuch desired baptism as soon as he believed and they stopped the chariot and baptized him. Acts 16:32-33 shows the jailer was baptized immediately when he believed.
However, the early Christians were in a little different position than the present day converts for then there was just one church and one mode of baptism. Today there are many churches, all claiming to be true to the Scripture and so much confusion about what really is the right mode of baptism that the present day convert may have to take time to carefully study in order to clear these things up before he is in a position to offer himself as a candidate for baptism. Every thinking individual knows that all cannot be right and every individual of integrity and conviction wants to be right.
The individual, who carefully studies these matters from a Scriptural viewpoint, rather than just taking someone's word, should certainly be commended. God's Word commends the Christians at Berea because they searched the Scripture rather than just taking man's word (Acts 17:11).
It doesn't matter what the preacher says, what mother or father says, husband, wife or friend says, it doesn't even matter what we think about it, but what the Word of God teaches is final on every subject.
Acts 2:41 shows that on the day of Pentecost about three thousand were baptized; it also refers to them as being "added to them," that is added to the group of disciples or the church. Here we see the door into the local church is Baptism. Keeping in mind the fact the church first authorizes such baptism as a prerequisite for membership. Acts 2:47 clearly teaches God adds the saved to the church so we see they were being baptized into church fellowship as fast as they were being saved. Though this verse does not mention baptism the method of adding has been stated in previous verses. We believe there is little discussion on this point as most all churches require what they call baptism as a pre-requisite for church membership.
The figurative teaching of baptism is clearly set forth in Romans 6:3-4, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we arc buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." See Colossians 2:12.
It is a real picture of the same truth the Holy Spirit proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4â€”"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."
It proclaims to the eye the fact that we have died with Christ, we are buried with Christ and our resurrection is assured in Christ. We also believe it signifies that we have died to the old life of sin, are buried in the watery grave (not buried to kill us to old life of sin, but because we have died to it) and coming up out of the watery grave typifies we have risen to walk the new or spiritual life. In this discussion we have now reached phases of the baptismal question about which there is much discussion and many differences of opinion, therefore, we would like to define and then discuss what constitutes Scriptural baptism. We are not doing this merely to attack others and tear down their arguments, but with the hope it might help some to see the clear teachings of the Scripture on this important and vital subject.
Scriptural baptism is the immersion in water of one who has accepted Christ as his Savior, this immersion having been authorized by the proper authority (the proper authority is a church that believes and practices only Scriptural baptism), and administered by the proper administrator (the proper administrator is one who has been Scripturally baptized, and believes, teaches and practices Scriptural baptism and has been authorized by a Scriptural church to administer baptism to the candidate). It is administered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
We shall spend very little time discussing the mode of baptism for we believe the Scripture is so clear on this subject every honest, unbiased mind must grant that the only Scriptural mode is immersion (Matthew 3:6; 3:16; Acts 8:36-39; Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12). The very Greek word "baptizo," from which our word baptize comes, means immerse, dip, plunge. Church history proves conclusively that immersion was the only mode used in the early church. We once heard a great preacher and teacher (who was not a Baptist), say "there is no use for anyone who claims to be either a student of history or Scripture to deny the fact, that for the first two and one-half centuries after Christ nothing was known as baptism save immersion." That statement should have fully settled the question, but he added this: "But in as much as God has used and blessed immersion proves He baptism." To the last part of that statement we reply: God uses men even though they make this error and not because of it. I believe that some men who are truly great and godly men along other lines have made this serious error and God has continued to use them but that does not put God's stamp of approval upon this error. If God could only use men who are one hundred per cent free from error, He would have no one to use. God has used some men greatly who were post-millennial in view and teaching; this too is a serious error and God did not use them because of this error but used them even though they had erroneous views on this doctrine. I could mention other doctrinal errors great and godly men have held and God used them, however, we have said enough to show that God uses men even though they do teach some error and not because of it. I certainly believe we should honor and love these men whom God uses but we do not believe we should subscribe to or practice the error they teach and practice. I believe it is the duty of every Christian to refrain from practicing and teaching error as fully as possible and try to keep others from being misled by it rather than excusing and encouraging it on the grounds that many great men of God have made this error.
I have already referred to the Scripture which points out that the only Scriptural mode of baptism is immersion. I now want to give you Scripture to show that only believers are fit subjects for baptism (Matthew 3:7-8; Acts 2:41-42; 8:36-39; 10:47; 16:31-34; 16:14-15; 8:12-13).
Even though one be immersed by proper authority and proper administrator, it is not Scriptural baptism if the candidate is unsaved. In regard to the question as to who men, who have not been baptized by has no displeasure in other modes of constitutes the proper authority to authorize the candidate's baptism, there may be some differences of opinion. I believe baptism is a Church ordinance and the Church is the custodian of it. I do not believe it is an ordinance given to every individual Christian to be practiced absolutely independent of all Church authority. It would seem that logic forces us to accept one of these two positions. I believe it is generally agreed by not only Baptist churches but most other so-called churches that baptism is a Church ordinance and the Church has a voice in the matter of baptism of all candidates. Some may invest the pastor with the power, but even in that case the church gives him his authority, or they may use some method of delegating the authority to just a few, a board, a committee, etc., yet all these methods recognize the church as the source of the authority. As Baptists, we do not believe in centralized power in pastors or any other individual, nor do we believe in delegated power placed in the hands of pastors, boards or committees. Occasionally a situation might arise where it is wise to appoint a committee for a brief period of time to perform some specific task, but even then a Church should instruct them what to do as far as possible and have a complete detailed report of what was done. There is no Scriptural authority for delegating power to a few and it is certainly unwise and unbaptistic to do so. However, I must not digress into a discussion of church government in this message and my reference to what other churches believe in regard to church authority on the question of baptism is simply to point out how the vast majority of all churches recognize the church as the authority, even though they have different methods of handling the matter. I affirm that great numbers believing and practicing a certain view does not prove it right; frequently majorities are wrong. What saith the Scriptures?
The first we read of baptism in the Scripture is where John the Baptist is baptizing converts. In Matthew 21:23-27; Mark 11:30; Luke 20:4, Jesus speaks of baptism as though it began with the ministry of John the Baptist and certainly his question implies that the source of John's authority was from God, but what I want you to note is that God did not give this authority promiscuously but to one person divinely selected.
Jesus Himself came to John for baptism, thus recognizing the Divine source of John's commission to baptize. John 3:22 to 4:3 shows that when Jesus entered upon His public ministry He authorized and had His disciples baptize, though He did not baptize (John 4:2). Nevertheless He did not just authorize every one who was saved to administer baptism. I also believe that. He gave the great commission to the church. We note He had instructed His disciples to baptize during His earthly ministry. He also gave them as a group the ordinance of the Lord's Supper in the upper room and gave them as a group the commission in Matthew 28:16-20.
Someone might argue that Acts 9:10-19 furnishes a case of baptism without the church authorizing it. That may be true and yet we are told there were a group of disciples in Damascus (Acts 9:19) and they may as a local church have authorized this baptism; however, we do know that God personally authorized it and we do not claim God makes rules so iron clad He Himself becomes a slave to them. Saul's conversion as well as his baptism was different than the average case in many respects. The case of Phillip and the eunuch in Acts 8:29-39 furnishes another case where no church authorized his baptism, but again we have a case where God sent a special man to a special task and therefore a case where God authorized the baptism. However, in Phillip's case we have a man who had been especially selected by the church as an outstanding man to be one of the seven for special duties (Acts 6:1-6).
Possibly as he developed into a mighty preacher the church may have instructed him and others, being scattered by the terrible persecution then raging, to go forth and baptize converts much as they instruct missionaries today. We do not say such was the case for this is another case of special Divine guidance and therefore Divinely authorized.
The case of Paul and Barnabas and the other early missionaries may be cited but Acts 13:1-4 shows that they were sent out both by a special Divine call and church authority, as we send forth missionaries today; therefore, the church had approved of their administering the church ordinances and establishing churches when they were sent out.
But ii there be those who insist baptism is not a church ordinance and that any saved, baptized individual has a perfect Scriptural right to administer it to any other saved individual, then we are logically forced to this position. Every saved, baptized individual has a perfect right to baptize, without any church authority, any other individual who has accepted Christ any time or place that individual is willing to be baptized. If such baptism is Scriptural no church has the right to reject it. Personally, if I had to choose between being baptized by someone who had been Scripturally baptized but had no church authority to baptize me or some one who had not been Scripturally baptized and did riot believe in the Scriptural mode or purpose I would certainly prefer to be baptized by the one who had been Scripturally baptized. Yet I wonder what would happen in the average Baptist church that accepts immersed members from other than Baptist churches, if at some service where the invitation was being given for church membership, someone would say I was on an outing with one of the members of this church a few days ago. I had accepted Christ and there was a nice stream of water there so I just had this Baptist brother baptize me and I expect to be received into this Baptist church on that baptism. I imagine someone would say, who gave him his authority? Why didn't he have you come before the church and have the church authorize your baptism? Why weren't you baptized by one whom the church authorized to administer the baptism? I expect lie would be rejected. I know he should be.
But let us change the picture a little. Suppose someone came with a letter or saying I was baptized by a man who was never Scripturally baptized, who says it doesn't make any difference what mode is used; sprinkle, pour or immerse. However, he immersed me because I insisted on it, the church that authorized my baptism holds the same views the administrator held. Some dear brother moves to receive him, who did not believe they should receive the one who had been baptized by a Baptist because the church had not authorized his baptism. I would still much prefer to have the first man in the church for he could at least plead there was some similarity between his case and the one of Phillip and the eunuch in Acts 8:26-30 and the last individual doesn't have anything in the Scripture that even resembles his case.
But another candidate comes with a letter or statement from a church that teaches immersion as the only mode of Scriptural baptism but the church also teaches baptism is essential to salvation. The one who administered it claims he had to be baptized to be saved and also claims he baptized the candidate in order to save him. The church that authorized his baptism authorized it as a part of the candidate's salvation. Yet many Baptist churches will receive such baptism as valid and Scriptural. I would still rather have the first man, the one who had been baptized by one who had been Scripturally baptized and one who was baptized as an act of obedience because he had been saved, than the one who had been baptized to complete his salvation, though I certainly would oppose receiving even the first ones.
But I would like to ask a few questions:
Could sprinkling, pouring and immersion all be Scriptural modes of baptism? Certainly not.
Is it logical to believe that a church that teaches so un-Scripturally on the doctrine of baptism, is fitted to authorize Scriptural baptism, even when they authorize immersion? Not very probable.
Is a man, who has never been Scripturally baptized and who teaches the mode of baptism makes no difference, a fit subject to administer Scriptural baptism, even though he immerse, (which he usually does only when the candidate insists)? Certainly not.
Does God ever commission a church to authorize baptism to complete the candidate's salvation? Certainly not.
Is a man who believes he had to be baptized to be saved and teaches baptism is essential to salvation Scripturally fitted to administer baptism? Certainly not.
But no doubt someone will say the candidates are not responsible for what the church that authorized their baptism believed and taught nor for what the one who administered it believed and taught. All that is necessary is that the candidate's mode and purpose be right. I am forced to differ with this statement. First, I ask this question: If the candidate had the right view of baptism both in regard to its purpose and mode, why did he receive it from a church with un-Scriptural teachings on this doctrine and at the hand of an administrator whose views were un-Scriptural on the subject? But all parties involved must be held responsible.
First, a church cannot Scripturally authorize a candidate's baptism unless he professes to have met the Scriptural requirements and there is no known evidence to the contrary. Certainly a church could not Scripturally authorize the baptism of a candidate, who did not profess to be saved or who sought baptism in order to be saved or where there was known evidence he was living a life that proved his profession of salvation untrue.
Second, an administrator can only administer Scriptural baptism to the one who professes to have met the Scriptural requirements and when there is no known evidence that proves the profession untrue. If the candidate by his profession and actions deceives the church and administrator and they act in good faith, the candidate will answer to God for this deception. The church and administrator are not responsible.
Third, a candidate does not have the privilege of accepting baptism on the authority of a church that is not Scripturally qualified to grant such authority, nor at the hands of an administrator who is not Scripturally qualified to administer baptism. Even though the church claims to meet the Scriptural requirements, and the administrator makes the same claim, where their teaching and practices on this subject are un-Scriptural, that in itself is evidence they lack the Scriptural qualifications and are unfitted to administer Scriptural baptism. Therefore, the candidate has no right to accept it from them.
A church only has a right to recognize and accept Scriptural baptism and they cannot make un-Scriptural baptism Scriptural even though they recognize and accept it. When a church does accept or recognize un-Scriptural baptism, they have done the individual, they so receive, an injustice and have shown a willingness to compromise with false doctrine.
But why will a Baptist church receive un-Scriptural baptism even though it be immersion? We list several reasons. There may be more. First, failure to understand the teachings of God's Word on the subject. Second, a willingness to disregard the teachings of God's Word on the subject. Third, a desire to get more members Scripturally or otherwise. Fourth, afraid to take a stand for fear we will offend someone or be considered narrow. But ask the average Baptist church or Baptist preacher if they are just as happy to receive members baptized by other churches as they are those baptized by Baptist churches? Many of them who follow the practice will admit they prefer Baptist baptism.
If other baptism is Scriptural it is certainly entirely right and in every respect equal to Baptist baptism and the church should receive it as whole heartedly and gladly as they receive Baptist baptism. If they receive it reluctantly that is evidence they are doubtful and they better not receive it at all.
One proof showing that many Baptist churches, who receive alien immersion, do not believe the churches from which they receive these members are on a Scriptural basis is found in the fact they will not grant letters to these churches. The very member they received on alien immersion could not get a letter to go back to the church he came from. To illustrate our point, we might say we once knew of a Baptist church that received alien immersion and had several alien immersed deacons and this deacon board recommended to the church a constitution stating they would not grant letters to churches other than Baptist. We would like to have someone explain why members should be received from the churches they would not grant letters to. If these churches are Scriptural, we should grant letters to them as readily as we receive letters from them. If they are un-Scriptural churches we should neither receive letters from them or grant letters to them.
The individual coming from another church to a Baptist church certainly should do so because he believes the Baptists are right and the church he comes from wrong, where the two hold different views or he has no just reason for changing. It is hardly possible for him to consider both churches equally right where their teachings conflict, yet it is frequently true that those who come into Baptist churches on immersion received in other churches become very angered if the pastor preaches the whole truth on baptism. You then see clearly they have changed churches but not convictions.
A Baptist church surely could not welcome into its fellowship those who do not classify it in their judgment as the only Scriptural church. A man may come into a Baptist church with the attitude it makes no difference what church one belongs to, but in that case he has no convictions and really is not a Baptist. It is almost impossible for anyone to really believe that all churches are equally Scriptural. Even though some people make statements to that effect most of them by their actions indicate they do not so believe.
May I ask this question: If anyone believes that all churches are equally Scriptural or even believes that many of them are equally Scriptural does not that very argument condemn all but the first one organized? What right do I have to start another denomination today if there are already Scriptural churches in the world. The only logical argument that any one could give for launching new denominations would be that the others are un-Scriptural.
When you study the origin of all the denominations that have sprung up since the time of Christ they all claimed they started a new movement on a Scriptural basis. Some of these are only a few hundred years old, some much less, some are now being formed and I suppose still others will be. By their actions and teachings all these imply (even though they do not actually say so) that there was no true Scriptural church in the world when they started theirs.
I believe Matthew 16:18 teaches that the church Jesus built will remain in the world until its mission is completed. I certainly do not believe that the gates of Hell have prevailed against it. Therefore, I am forced to believe there has always been a true church of Christ in this world from the day Christ started it and will be until He comes to receive it unto Himself. Certainly Baptists have a glorious history carrying them back far beyond the reformation period, therefore they are much older than any protestant church. We believe it can be and has been historically proven that there have been churches from the time of Christ that held substantially the same views that Baptists hold today. Different names have been applied to them, usually by their persecutor, just as the name Anabaptist was originally applied by their persecutors. There are many histories I might mention but I believe one will be sufficient; John T. Christians, "History of Baptists."
Again I say if all churches are equally Scriptural (though we deny that they are) certainly the only one that could prove its right to exist would be the oldest one. All the others should be censored for starting new churches, causing divisions, multiplying organizations, creating confusion and causing unnecessary waste of money in spreading the gospel because if one is as good as another, one could take care of the average field and there is no need of so much overlapping.
Logically there could be the formations of new denominations only on the basis their founders believed all others wrong and did not want fellowship with or membership in them. The very fact of their formation is a refusal to be members of the churches then existing. However, when members from these churches decide they want membership in the churches their founders refused membership in, they think these churches should receive them into their membership just as they are and be glad to get them. If they refuse many of them term them narrow, bigoted, uncharitable, non-cooperative, etc. How strange it sounds to hear those who started divisions, confusion, discord, non-cooperation and refused membership in the churches then existing take such an attitude toward them now. Who caused the division, discord, and confusion? The old or the new? Did not the founders of all new denominations treat the oldest as though membership in it was undesirable? Let us be fair and put the blame for divisions, dissensions, and confusion where it actually belongs.
Certainly this line of reasoning could lead to but one logical conclusion, if all are equally Scriptural (though again I say they are not) then the younger denominations should withdraw in favor of the oldest.
This line of reasoning would put all in the Baptist camp. Therefore, I conclude the only logical argument any church can give for organizing a new denomination would be that in their judgment there were no Scriptural churches in the world when they organized and when they take this position they are logically forced to declare all the churches existing at the time they organized were un-Scriptural, therefore, they could not believe that both their church and the Baptist churches are Scriptural churches, thus when they really become Baptists they will have reversed their opinion and believe the Baptist churches the Scriptural ones. While this line of thought is both interesting and profitable and much more could be said along this line yet at present we must not take time or space to develop it farther but return to our original line of thought.
One may come from another church into a Baptist for convenience sake because he is nearer or for business or social advantages, yet his doctrinal views remain in accord with the church he came from, in that case he is a Baptist in name only. Unless one is a Baptist by conviction he isn't a Baptist at all and it is unfair to the church for him to seek membership in it with beliefs that are unbaptistic. You can't make a Cadillac out of a Ford just by putting it into a Cadillac display room or putting the name Cadillac on it; neither can you change members of other churches to Baptists just by transferring membership to a Baptist church.
It is certainly unfair to any real Baptist church for any pastor or other members to invite or urge people into its membership who are unbaptistic in their beliefs and object to coming in the Baptistic way. It is equally unfair to the individuals, who are being invited into the Baptist fellowship, for if they are not Baptists in belief they are much better off in the church they believe is right. However, if they as a matter of conviction have decided the Baptist Churches are right, they naturally must conclude the one they are a member of is wrong. Having reached this conclusion they will no longer be satisfied with baptism received from a church lacking Scriptural authority to authorize it and by an administrator without the proper Scriptural qualifications. They will naturally desire Scriptural Baptism and come into the Baptist church in a Scriptural and baptistic way and thus be a true Baptist.
Everything is to be gained and nothing lost by a Baptist Church that dares to remain one hundred per cent true to God's Word on the baptismal question as well as all other questions. When we once begin to compromise on any doctrine there is no place to stop. So it is best to stop before you start.
To those who have made a mistake in the matter of baptism, all I know to tell you is correct that mistake as you would any other mistake by having it done in the Scriptural way. Follow the example set by those mentioned in Acts 19:1-5, even though your mistake might be different than theirs. Their method of correction was the only Scriptural method. Have it done Scripturally.
There are many who strongly criticize those Baptist churches that adhere strictly to God's Word on the question of baptism, calling them narrow, bigoted, etc. Quite often these same individuals are perfectly willing to hold membership in churches that have un-Scriptural practices on the teachings of baptism. And they will commend churches that are un-Scriptural on the subject because they are so charitable and broad. Is it possible that they really believe we should surrender the clear teachings of God's Word just in order to avoid offense to man? Is it not much worse to offend God in this or any other matter? Let us hear the words of Christ in Matthew 5:19. Here we are told that the one who broke one of the least of the commandments and taught it so among men would be called least in the kingdom of heaven or in other words he will lose his reward. It is certainly a logical conclusion to believe this rule applies to all of God's people in all ages and that all who teach, practice, encourage or approve things contrary to God's Word, shall lose at least part of their reward even though their souls are not lost.
I have written with the hope I might help some to understand some things about baptism it took me many years to clearly comprehend. Once in my early ministry I recommended receiving one who had been immersed in a church that taught sprinkling, pouring and immersion are all baptism. The more I study our Bible and church history, the more I am convinced the views expressed in this message are Scriptural and logical. I send it forth with the hope it might be helpful to some.
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