My Hitchhiking Adventure With God – More on Baptism

I chose to write a blog on baptism because I wanted to force myself to learn more and research this further. When I first started my research, I began to realize just how ignorant I was and, though I felt I was onto something with the few insights that I did have on the subject, I had to admit I did have some mistaken ideas. I also began to realize that this subject is a “can of worms” for many people. Churches and denominations have their lines drawn in the sand regarding baptism. Sometimes their beliefs land in agreement with Jesus and the apostles, but other times… not so much. I think also that there are some unfounded fears and superstitions regarding baptism. (see comments)

I found that the internet and Wikipedia are definitely not the place to go to research baptism if you want sound teaching (this probably goes for any important spiritual subject). The top two sites that came up in a search for baptism teaching, though well researched and presented, I believe, came to wrong conclusions.

The most important thing regarding spiritual matters, is to find out what Jesus and the apostles have to say on the subject and somehow manage to not misinterpret them. This is a huge task that I am not going to pull off (nor attempt to) in a single blog. Instead, I will share my experiences and a few thoughts and leave it at that. I am not the end all be all of spiritual truth – we have the word of God and the Holy Spirit for that.

My Experience With Baptism

I was maybe seven years old I was first “baptized” at Riverview family Bible camp. My mom asked me if I wanted to be baptized and I said yes. The pastor tried to explain baptism to me but I don’t think I understood a word of it. I probably had quite a puzzled look on my face as he explained baptism, but he baptized me anyway. I remember standing down by the river wearing the white robe with the other people about to get baptized and wishing I could go play on the water slide.

Many years later, when I was 18, my best friend Jacob was getting baptized through our church Calvary Chapel. He asked me if I would join him and I told him I’d be happy to. I had just come back to the Lord that year and I was excited about God. I was so excited about God that, as often as I could, I would go to every church service and college group that I could possibly find around Spokane Washington where I lived. I loved hearing God’s word and being around God’s people. I regularly went to Calvary Chapel and a church called Life Center, both excellent and wonderful fellowships where I sensed God was doing amazing things.

My friend Jacob and I went through a class about baptism at Calvary Chapel and then the day came for us to be baptized. The experience itself was unremarkable. A dove did not descend. I can’t say the experience changed anything for me.

I also remember something that happened at a church called Life Center about that same time. They had a big baptism service there every so often and they would encourage those who brought a person to faith in Christ to be the one to baptize them. They had pastoral staff there to guide the whole process. I had a friend named Claire who wanted me to baptize her. She wanted her sins to be washed away. So there I was, having just come back to God and to my faith, wearing a ying and yang t-shirt baptizing my friend.

A Few Thoughts on Baptism

Baptism is one of the few words in the Bible that has never been translated from the Greek into English. Baptism is from the Greek noun Βάπτισμα – baptisma. It means “to immerse”. So, I thought, why was this word transliterated instead of being translated? Why not use the word “immersed” instead of simply Englishifying this Greek word?

Up until last week I thought it was a conspiracy. I believed that the translators of Scripture didn’t translate the word just to accommodate already well established church practices. If the Greek word means “to immerse”, can you guess why the translators would hesitate to render its true meaning? Church practice for centuries was to sprinkle the foreheads, or pour water over the head, but not to fully immerse them. I am under the impression that there is a great deal of superstition around baptism as well. I believe some churches practice infant baptism thinking it best to do this as early as possible so as to save them from an eternity in hell… so they think.

Peter writes that baptism is not a matter of the removal of filth from the body (the physical act of washing) but about the spiritual reality that baptism represents. Just like the Jewish practice of circumcision represented a spiritual cleansing of the filth of the flesh – the removal of sin, so now baptism represents the death and burial of our old life and the resurrection to a new life by the Spirit of God. It truly is the spiritual reality that means something, and the physical act is pointless without this. So what significance does the physical act play?

Think about how differently certain commands of Jesus would read if this word had been translated:

“Go therefore into all the world and make followers of Christ, immersing them in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit. Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Immersing them in the name. Not immersing them in water per say, but in a name. What would this signify?

However, I could not ignore the fact that most of the instances that baptism is talked about or commanded, it is referring to the Christian rite of baptism. It seemed then to make sense then why the translators would not translate the word. If the word does in fact most often refer to the “rite” of baptism, then it may just add confusion to the subject to say immerse… unless that’s what God and the apostles actually meant to say. What do you think?

I came to see that I was not at liberty to spiritualize “baptism” into solely a mystical experience of being immersed in God. But, that the physical act also matters to God and is commanded by God. I have a lot more to learn but I’d love to hear back from you. Is there something you think I should know or am overlooking in this brief look at baptism? Leave me a comment!

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3 thoughts on “My Hitchhiking Adventure With God – More on Baptism

  1. Daniel, first of all, thanks for taking time to think about and struggle with a difficult issue!
    Just a few points on some of your thoughts:
    1. You state: “Church practice for centuries was to sprinkle the foreheads, or pour water over the head, but not to fully immerse them.” while this could be argued we must also look to: a. history and b. current practice and teaching. a. Historically immersion in running water is the preferred method of baptism (see the Didache, an early Christian instruction manual: http://reluctant-messenger.com/didache.htm, see especially section three), with pouring and sprinkling coming as options secondary and tertiary. b. Immersion is still the preferred method of Baptism in the tradition I am in (Anglicanism), and in Orthodox churches and the Roman catholic church holds that: “Three forms of ablution have prevailed among Christians, and the Church holds them all to be valid because they fulfill the requisite signification of the baptismal laving. These forms are immersion, infusion, and aspersion.”
    So whether or not the Church has practiced immersion, she holds it!
    2. You also state: “There is a great deal of superstition around baptism as well. Many churches practice infant baptism thinking it best to do this as early as possible so as to save them from an eternity in hell… so they think.”
    I find specific examples more helpful than generalizations. I have been in three separate traditions (Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Anglican) and none of them taught this and I don’t remember anyone telling me that they believed this. Now that is not to say that it couldn’t have been so…but actual examples make a point so much better then general assertions.
    “The physical matters to God and is commanded by God.” AMEN!! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and I hope this feedback was helpful!

    • Thanks Forrest,

      At first I was afraid that what I wrote in the blog had just exposed my ignorance. And then… my fears proved true. I have to admit I am very ignorant when it comes to any churches or denominations actual beliefs or practices, and all I have are impressions from the few brief encounters I’ve had with various churches and what I assumed they believed.

      I guess the part that puzzles me is how did baptism became a salvation issue? I believe that while the spiritual union symbolized by the physical act of baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation (I suppose you could call this being “born again”), is the actual physical act of baptism then a necessary part of salvation or just something that someone saved and born again does in obedience to Jesus? And why then should they balk at this act of obedience?

      Jesus said you must be born of water and the spirit to enter the kingdom of God. That conversation with Nicodemus revolved entirely around birth, so couldn’t Jesus simply be referring to the water breaking at birth? If that is the case then I’m wondering where else in Scripture would baptism (physical) be tied to salvation? It would be a big leap for me to begin to think that it is. Otherwise it becomes, in my mind, just a superstition based on fear.

      There will be a great deal of people who went under the water who won’t see the kingdom of God because they weren’t born again.

      • Daniel,

        Great blog post!

        Infant baptism IS practiced by some churches, the Catholic church being one of them. Here is an article on this, http://www.catholic.com/tracts/infant-baptism. No where does the bible teach this!

        Jesus was in the beginning of His ministry baptized, I think people misinterpret this as Jesus obviously did not need to be saved, or to confess Himself.
        Baptism is often referred to in conjunction with salvation. Passages like this one from Romans 6 are misinterpreted;

        Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ
        1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

        The symbol, baptism…becomes literal. Baptism was meant as a symbol of what occurs inwardly. Nowhere does the bible teach baptism as having a literal power to save. The above passage is describing what happens after we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, the baptism is an outward symbol, a public confession of action on our part to show we have committed ourselves to Christ.

        Many people are afraid of baptism, because of the fact that it is done in front of people, which makes them uncomfortable. Some were baptized as babies and believe that baptism is good enough. Who am I to say otherwise? Baptism is after all but a symbol of the inward transaction between us and Christ.

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