By my writing here today, I aim to destroy once and for all the dangerous heretical and pharisaically Gnostic notion that one MUST be baptized in water in order to be saved, or gain entrance into the Body of Christ!
I will not do this!
The main reason I will not do this is because I cannot! I may be able to prove beyond 'a shadow of a doubt' that baptism in water, beginning in the Old Testament priestly and sacrificial washings, was only ever a symbolic and ritual sign pointing toward the Priestly washing and Sacrificial Purification of the Body of Christ, True Adam and True Israel! I may even be able to prove to anyone with the sense to see it, that the baptism of which Jesus often spoke was not water baptism! ( Yes, the baptism of which Peter spoke WAS water baptism, but we may get to that later ) Paul spoke of 'one baptism' ( Ephesians 4:5 ). Whether this 'one baptism' was the baptism of the Holy Spirit of God, or whether it was/is baptism by immersion ( being whelmed ) in water has been in question of late, although it should not be! The very notion that any action of ours, whether done in faith or not, could ever save anybody is dangerous at best, and gnostically heretical and damnable, at worst!
Some may say that water baptism is a beautiful picture of one's entrance into communion with the Body of Christ; it surely is that, but is this baptism necessary for one to enter in to the Body of Christ? Is it necessary to go through the motion of symbolically washing in water in order for the Holy Spirit to baptize ( whelm ) one's heart? Some would say that it is, and worse yet, would wreak havoc with Scripture to prove it!
One might ask at this juncture, 'is it really all that important, whether or not one believes it is necessary to administer the sign of water baptism, and the other doesn't?' Well, yes, of course it is! To believe that one must still receive the sign of water baptism is to call God a liar! 'Whoah', you might say, 'isn't that a bit extreme?' No, it is not, and here's why! To argue for the necessity of water baptism is to say that the Spiritual ( internal ) Reality to which this Natural ( external ) Sign pointed has not yet appeared! Either that, or man really does order his Creator around like a dog!
Why do some find it necessary to lay loads like this on other men's backs? 'We are willing to bear this burden', they say, and indeed they are, but is it a burden that MUST be borne? Is it not just a leftover, continued tradition of men, one that reeks of legalism, and hearkens back to the Pharisees of Jesus' day? Did Jesus ever give a plain indication that one ( individually ) needed to be baptized in water in order to enter the Kingdom ( be saved )? Some would say yes, but it is far from plain!
Peter's 'discourse' on baptism, found in and around I Peter 3:21, has been the subject of some controversy, and remains so, I believe, to this day. Is Peter actually saying that water baptism ( itself ) saves, and even if so, was he speaking of it saving individuals? Noah was saved, with his family, through water, although not actually BY the water; they were safe and dry, INSIDE the ark! Touching on an example that I remember hearing from my childhood, Moses led the children of Israel through the Sea on dry land; they were saved THROUGH water, but not BY it, however the Egyptians WERE destroyed BY it; Moses ( a type of Christ ) parted the waters for the children of Israel, and thus saved them! Paul recounts this event in I Corinthians 10:1 & 2.
Did Paul advocate water baptism? It is likely that he did, for Paul was a good Jew, even 'a Pharisee of the Pharisees'! We must understand several things though, about his ministry; Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, not that he abandoned his own people, but his ministry was primarily to the Gentiles. Can you blame him after his own people tried to kill him so many times and rejected his message? He understood though, how that first ( covenant ) was set up; he understood that the sign of baptism was necessary to show the Gentile believers that they too had entered the Promised Land, just like those 'children' we just spoke of.
We see in the book of Acts ( 9:26-39 ) that Philip baptized ( in water ) an officer from an Ethiopian court, a Gentile believer. From this account, it is not clear why the officer thought he should be baptized upon believing, but I think it is safe to say that Philip did not suggest it. There is no indication that he did, and this would make sense, as he himself was most likely a Gentile convert.
Now, in Peter's case, as evidenced in the conversion and baptism of Cornelius, and in Peter's instructions to the assembly in Acts 2:38, water baptism was most definitely what was in mind. Again, we see here more evidence of Gentile believers being baptized, not because doing so would save them, but to show externally that they too, as Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit. Note that Peter's question was very like the question that the Ethiopian officer asked in Acts 9, as well.
Did not Jesus tell His disciples to 'go into all the world..............baptizing them................'? Well, He most certainly did, and while this 'Great Commission' was carried out in the first century ( 'you will not have gone through all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes'-Matthew 10:23 ), it is not as clear that Jesus meant for His disciples to go around baptizing in water. His words could well simply mean, 'go and overwhelm them with the Good News, of which I am the Vessel'! The Greek 'baptizo', as translated by James Strong, simply means 'to whelm'. This can be done through means of water, but just as well, and better, through 'the washing of water by the Word' ( Ephesians 5:26 )!
John indeed baptized, pretty clearly, with water! Why did John do this though? That is the question that we must ask ourselves! Why did he find it necessary to travel that far outside the city? Why that location in particular; do you think maybe he could have found a body of water closer to the city that would have done just as well? Look at the spot that he chose; the Jordan River, barrier between Jew and Gentile, if I'm not mistaken. Eastern border, anyway, of the Promised Land; John was bringing them through the Sea again, into the Promised Land, a re-baptism of sorts, urging them to 'be saved from this wicked generation'! Even so, John told them that he baptized them with water to show their repentance, but Jesus Himself, of Whom he was but the herald, would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire!
There is more that could be written here, but in fact I do not wish to bore my readers, and I have already written on the subject; you may refer to these other articles if you wish. It is my wish, indeed our wish, that you would go over this material, prayerfully, and see for yourself that this baptism by water was simply for those who lived during the transition period between the 'ages', between the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of the Son of God and His Return in Judgment on His Covenant people.
There are those who would say that when the sign of water baptism is administered, it is not just a 'sign' of the inward Reality, it is that Reality itself! This is so wrong that we can only begin to discover or relate why it is so wrong! Can we actually move the Hand of God, guaranteeing an inward change ( on His part ) by an outward action ( on our part )?
We will investigate further in our next study!
Charles Haddon Shank