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How Baptism Became Christian: Reviewing the History

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Growing up in a Baptist church, baptism was concomitant with “becoming a Christian”. If someone got saved, they were baptized quickly thereafter. If not, they were heavily questioned about the delay, (which I do not believe is very loving…we should not pressure people into faith, otherwise their house is built too hastily without a solid foundation and structure to maintain it, so to speak.) In a sense, the reason for forgoing baptism might indeed be question-worthy, that is, asking why are they so reluctant; is it because they aren’t truly ready to hand their old life over, or perhaps they do not want their faith to be publicized? Regardless, I do not believe that [physical] baptism is necessary in order to see the gates of heaven and blissfully worship Christ for all eternity after death. The New Testament discusses that salvation is a gift from God, given by God alone… no work or action we perform is going to make a difference in our salvation, we are not that powerful. Romans 11:6, for example, states, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace (English Standard Version).” Thus, the ceremonial act of baptism is not required for one to be granted eternal life; it is practiced as an expression of faith and to make that faith known to others.

Background, Historical Opinions and Biblical Support

The word used for baptism in the Bible, ßapt???, means literally “to dip,” but metaphorically, it can also mean “to overwhelm” (such as with the Holy Spirit.) According to the Dictionary of Bible Themes, baptism means “A washing with water, which symbolizes the cleansing of believers from the stain and dirt of sin through the grace of God. Jesus Christ submitted to baptism as an example to believers.” The Jewish people participated in this literal baptism by way of “proselyte” baptism, which was the “cleansing” of a new convert. This practice was to be imposed until the reformation brought by the Son of God. John the Baptist is a well-known historical figure for being a great evangelical witness and partaking in the baptizing practice. In fact, John 1:6-7 tells us specifically that he is a “man sent from God… a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” John testifies openly without fear of judgment. God sent John to gather individuals into a people group of believers, to start building the kingdom of God on earth. According to Christ, John is given this authority by being baptized by God himself, (not by man.) This is indicative that saving baptism is spiritual, not the act of being dunked or sprinkled.

John Henry Paul Reumann, author of Variety and Unity in the New testament, emphasizes the idea of “variety in unity and unity in variety.” The physical baptism of believers demonstrates publicly their identification of a group or family separate from the rest of society, despite their diverse backgrounds. According to Ronald Cottle, “In the human body, which is essentially one, there are many members and they are differentiated by their functions. So the one Body of Christ into which we were all admitted by the one baptism of the Spirit also consists of a variety of members differentiated by the diversity of their functions.” In Galatians 3:27, we read, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” This would fulfill John’s mission to gather individuals into one unified family, and be affective in the world for God.

In the early church, theologian Tertullian gave six reasons for why baptism is an important practice: to show the forgiveness of sins, to reenact the deliverance from death, to demonstrate rebirth in Christ as a clean person, to express the gift of the holy spirit, to renounce Satan and a sinful life, and finally, to identify with Christ One post reformation theologian, Huldrych Zwingli, further pursued this idea of baptism being a symbol of Christian identity. Particularly, he emphasized the distinction between “inward” and “outward” baptism. Inward baptism is of the mind and spirit and accomplished only by the Holy Spirit; it is an independent instance from physical baptism. Outward baptism is a sacrament: “an external sign by which people respond to what God has done…an initiatory sign which…pledges us to Christ….” Here he is saying that salvation has already been given; God has already done the deed, and baptism in water is just one way we respond to this glorious gift. It is one of our many ways of showing the alteration of our souls to others, and to spread the joy that comes with it. John Calvin gave two reasons for baptism: showing our faith to God, and demonstrating our faith to man, that is, “a symbol for bearing witness to man…, our confession….”

Modern Opinions and Biblical Support

Modern theologians are also showing great interest in this subject, and for good reason: it has been overall under investigated. Reverend Anthony R. Cross claims most of those identified with the Baptist denomination insist on carrying out the practice, but deny it being a sacrament, that it is instead an order from God as something we must do (Which I have seen in my church.) Yet, those who do declare it as sacramental still practice it as if it’s the ticket into heaven. He goes on to boldly state “Baptists have been strongest on the subjects and mode of baptism, but weakest on what baptism actually means.” We encourage the practice, yet we have not a solid definition of what exactly that practice is.

Christiane Zimmermann investigated into the soteriology of baptism and salvation in the book of Titus, verses 3:4-6, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior….”

We see here that this passage uses our practice of water baptism to simply paint the picture for how the real process of salvation through the Trinity works. Zimmermann says that it is through the Holy Spirit’s “bath of renewal” over us as individuals that we are rescued into a community of believers. It is the spiritual baptism that saves.

Another point made in Titus 3:4-6 is the emphasis that there is no action that humans can do to save themselves. It is solely by God’s grace alone that we are given eternal life. This is a recurring theme in the Bible. We see it in many other verses such as Ephesians 2:8-9, “…by grace you have been saved through faith. …not your own doing…so that no one may boast.” Being baptized may be an important witnessing symbol, but it is certainly nothing to hold over someone. Galatians 2:21 tells us that if there were works for us to be done on top of faith, then Christ’s death and resurrection was all in vain, absolutely pointless. If we seek justification by the law, then we are not seeking Christ (Galatians 5:4.) For, the law is made by flesh, so it is weak and tainted as flesh; it’s strength does not compare to the mighty mercy and holiness of God (Romans 8:3.) The Bible reiterates all the former points repeatedly: salvation is through the grace of God and that alone.

John W. Schoenheit point to Acts 2 (the Day of Pentecost) and the remainder of the New Testament to support the idea that salvation is one’s spirit, not in an action. He states, “By the time Paul finished the…Epistles, the revelation of Scripter was very clear…the “one baptism” for the Christian Church (Eph. 4:5) was the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” The Epistles make clear that it is faith in Christ alone, apart from baptism in water, that truly saves a person. One example of this is Acts 10, the first account of a true gentile being saved by baptism in the Holy Spirit, through Peter’s preaching. God had already accepted, manifested, and gifted the gentiles before Peter commanded water baptism. Peter says himself in 1 Peter 3:20-21 that baptism saves us, but not water baptism: “not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The final example I will be using is Luke 23:39-43, where we are given the story of the thieves crucified alongside Jesus. While one of the thieves questions Christ’s divinity, the other believes in his perfection as the Son of God. This thief acknowledges his own guilt and just treatment for his actions and also recognizes that Jesus is taking one for the team of all humanity on the cross. Because of his faith in Christ’s holiness, Christ says to him “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This criminal was saved by faith, promised an afterlife with Jesus, without being baptized in water. Christ would not have promised him paradise if it were not true.

A good analogy for this scenario is the State Farm insurance commercial in which with State Farm customer’s agent appears, providing her with money for a handbag she really wants. A woman nearby sees this and tries it herself, although she does not have State Farm. When her agent appears, he is merely an old fisherman teasing her with a single dollar on a fishing line. In this scenario, State Farm is water baptism, and the fancy handbag is the eternal afterlife. It is highly doubtful that God is going to say “Oh, you almost had it! You [gotta] be quicker than that,” while dangling heaven over our heads because (for whatever reason,) we weren’t dunked or sprinkled before death. If we have the faith to call upon God and trust in the Son, we are saved.


Referring back to Romans 11:6 in the introduction, if there were an action of any sort that we, as humans, could do to enter salvation, grace would no longer be grace. Grace would be unnecessary. Christ’s death would be unnecessary. Salvation comes through the baptism in the Holy Spirit alone. The reason physical baptism is then deemed so important still, is not to save oneself, but to spread witness to others, and perhaps lead to the saving faith of someone else. We publically identify ourselves as devote Christians, renouncing the devil in the presence of both our Godly and worldly family when we are baptized in water. It is a symbolic reminder to ourselves that we are surrendering our life of sin. It is a visual representation that we have been born again in Christ, and are given new life.

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