What is Baptism? Part 5

Over the past several weeks, we have discussed the issue of baptism, specifically the necessity of immersion as the only form which accurately reflects the meaning of the NT terminology and the symbolism of its teaching. We have dealt with several objections, namely, that the word baptize can mean things other than “to immerse,” and that the church has authorized a change in the mode. Last week, we considered the objection that the form is simply a matter of Christian liberty, and found that if such is truly the case, then there really is no reason to demand water baptism at all. There are still several objections that have been raised to immersion, and we will deal with them now.

  • It is not always feasible to immerse. Certainly some will say that in desert places or in the dead of winter, there is not enough water (or at least liquid water here in the North) to immerse a person entirely, therefore we ought to sprinkle or pour as a substitute. But we have already dealt with this objection, because we as Baptists realize that baptism is not our duty if we are providentially hindered by a severe lack of water, and no one’s eternal security is threatened by a failure to be baptized.

  • Immersion is dangerous. Some object to baptism saying that it may be dangerous if the temperature is too low or someone’s health is weakened by illness or disease. We would certainly agree that it might be too cold at times here in Wisconsin, but don’t tell the Polar Bear Club that! And when a person’s health is so precarious that baptism truly is unsafe, again, we would simply say that it is not our duty to baptize them.

  • Immersion is indecent. This objection, which is proposed by some, is almost laughable. If immersion becomes indecent, then that is to be blamed on the persons overseeing the baptism. There is simply no reason that immersion should result in any indecency or awkwardness.

  • Many good people have believed in sprinkling or pouring. This is certainly true. And in the same vein, many good people have believed in the veneration of Mary, the doctrine of transubstantiation (that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ when blessed by the priest), the practice of polygamy (i.e. Abraham, David, etc.), but this does not provide any argument in favor of those doctrines or practices. Our interest is in following the teaching of Scripture, not the example of flawed men.

  • Many able and wise men have defended sprinkling or pouring. Again, this is true, but it still doesn’t offer any support for changing the definition and form of baptism. Men who are both able and wise may still be wrong, no matter how skillfully they argue for their error. And while the Presbyterian may try to use this argument to convince the Baptist to reconsider immersion, the Roman Catholic may just as likely use it against him on the subject of church government. The Presbyterian rejects the hierarchy of the Roman church, believing it to be unscriptural, but does he not recognize that many able and wise men have defended the orders of priests, bishops, and cardinals? Just because intelligent and educated men have argued for a position, does not make their position correct.

What are we left with, then? In Immersion Essential to Christian Baptism, John Broadus offers this concluding thought:

Why, that we are compelled to think for ourselves. We may err, as so many have done; but we must not be content without the most earnest efforts to escape error that our circumstances will allow. I repeat, there is not only a right of private judgment, there is a duty of private judgment. Every man shall give account of himself unto God. And how can we square it with our consciences if we do not personally strive, in all possible ways, to find the truth in all things? There is here but one alternative. Either we have no right to be sure that anything is true, or we are bound to assure ourselves by personal inquiry. Either universal skepticism, or private judgment.

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