Baptism Defined By James L. Groce
WHY WE BAPTIZE IN JESUS’ NAME
The subject of water baptism has long been called a great issue and no doubt has been made such by many church leaders of the past and present. In out study of it, let us first consider its importance, or the necessity of being baptized.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WATER BAPTISM
Christian water baptism is an ordinance instituted by Jesus Christ. If it is not important in the plan of God, why did Jesus command it in Matthew 28:19? And why did Peter follow up by saying, “Be baptized every one of you,” and by commanding the Gentiles to be baptized (Acts 2:38, 10:48)? We must remember two points about the importance of water baptism. First, whatever Christ definitely established and ordained cannot be unimportant, whether we understand its significance or not. Second, Christ and the Apostles showed the importance of this ordinance by observing it. Jesus walked many miles to be baptized, though He was without sin, saying, “For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (See Matthew 3:13-16).
It is true that water itself does not contain any saving virtue, but God has chosen to include it in His plan of salvation. Peter explained, “Baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21). According to Luke 7:30, “the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized.”
THE MODE OF BAPTISM
According to the Scriptures, the proper mode of baptism is immersion. “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water” (Matthew 3:16). “And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38). “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). A corpse is not buried by placing it on top of the ground and sprinkling a little soil on it, but by covering it completely.
According to the World Book Encyclopedia, “At first all baptism was by complete immersion” (Vol. 1, pg.651). And the Catholic Encyclopedia states, “In the early centuries, all were baptized by immersion in streams, pools, and baptisteries” (Vol.2, pg. 263). Immersion was not convenient after the Catholic church instituted infant baptism; thus the mode was changed to sprinkling. (See Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol.3, pp. 365-66.)
Repentance identifies us with the death of Christ, and baptism identifies us with His burial. Coming forth from the watery grave of baptism and receiving new life in the Holy Spirit identifies us with His resurrection.
THE FORMULA FOR BAPTISM
Jesus commanded His disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). He did not command them to use these words as a formula, but He commanded them to baptize in “the name.” The word name is used here in the singular, and it is the focal point of the baptismal command. The titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost describe God’s relationships to humanity and are not the supreme, saving name described here, which is Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Jesus is the only name in which the roles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are revealed. The angel of the Lord instructed Joseph, “She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus said, “I am come in my Father’s name,” and, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, …the Father will send in my name” (John 5:43; 14:26). Thus by baptizing in the name of Jesus, we honor the Godhead. “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).