Is Baptism a Necessity?
E. A. R. Shotter, Northampton
Baptism is an ordinance which has been given to the Christian Church together with the Lord's Supper, its only other ordinance. Today material things are often so engrossing that spiritual things are apt to be glossed over or even allowed to slip. Hence the question forming the title to this paper is by no means inappropriate. To some it may appear to be an astonishing question, whilst others may only have given the matter a passing thought or no thought at all.
Let us consider what Holy Scripture has to say on this important subject, for an unbaptized believer is never contemplated in the New Testament. In the early Church, baptism was practised immediately the preaching of the Word had borne fruit in the conversion of the soul. The act of being baptized seems to have, placed the believing soul in such relationship to the religious and secular world as to bring forth their bitter hatred and enmity. Even today, in some parts of the world the same is the case. Baptism constitutes an open avowal that the person who takes the step has taken sides, as it were, with Christ.
The word itself is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo which means 'to dip'. A derivative is used of dyeing cloth, a process involving complete immersion in the dyestuff in its liquid state. Even the word for swimming-pool and bathing-place comes from the same root word. The Word of God therefore tells us that John chose a place where there was much water for the purpose of baptizing, John 3. 23. Again, when our Lord was baptized, we read in Matthew's account that He went up straightway out of the water. In the eighth chapter of the Acts, Philip and the eunuch went both of them down into the water. From these Scriptures it is clear that baptism was by immersion.
The Baptism of Jesus
In each of the four Gospels there is an allusion to the baptism of the Lord Jesus, if not a direct account of it. The most descriptive of these is found in Matthew and each succeeding Gospel has less to say of this event until in John the actual baptism is not mentioned at all although John the Baptist alludes to it following his discourse with the Pharisees' servants. Matthew writes that Jerusalem, Judaea and the region round about Jordan came to John for baptism, confessing their sins. Mark refers only to Jerusalem and Judaea, but still mentions that those who came confessed their sins. No reference is made to this by the other two writers.
Matthew observes that the Baptist's objection to the request of the Lord Jesus to be baptized by him, was met by, 'Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness'. Mark in his record uses the Greek word eis (into), indicating that Jesus was baptized into Jordan.
From these observations we may learn that confession of sin and repentance had much to do with John's baptism. Those from Jerusalem and Judaea who were steeped in religion needed to repent and be baptized just as much as those from the regions round about - none was excluded from the need to be rid of their sins and to be baptized.
We note, too, that righteousness is involved. The Lord Jesus made this plain in His request to John concerning His own baptism. God had rightly condemned sin from the very first. It was violation of the divine law; it hit squarely at the authority of God, substituting for it the wilfulness of man. How could God condone such a condition of things? It was impossible. Man was so sold under sin that he could not extricate himself from its power and thraldom even if he would. God who ever loved the sinner (though hating his sin) devised a means whereby those who had forfeited their right to sonship in the family of God - all the sons of Adam - might be brought back into family relationship with Him. In the act of baptism we acknowledge God's righteousness in judging sin; we acknowledge our own sin; and we show to angels, demons and men that the place for the sinner is in the grave - dead - for 'the wages of sin is death'.
Not only is the person to be baptized involved in this divine ordinance but the baptizer also. The Lord Jesus said, 'thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness'. That which has been acknowledged by the one is also acknowledged by the other. The two are party to the act, and as seen together in the water they both show the importance of the step, and the Tightness of the ways of God in His dealings with sin and with sinful men.
Jordan may, or may not, have borne particular significance to the Jew at this time. There is, however, teaching underlying the facts given to us which is worthy of our consideration. Jesus was baptized of John into Jordan. When the Israelites (or rather the ten-and-a-half tribes) had crossed Jordan to enter the promised land they found it a natural barrier between themselves and the nations on the East of Jordan. They were no longer concerned with the people on that side Jordan once they had crossed over. They had entered the land where their father Abraham had received the promise. Battles had to be fought to dispossess the inhabitants and redeem, as it were, the promise of God. Only the two-and-a-half tribes returned, apparently having no eye to the rich promises of God. Finding a land which they deemed more suitable, they settled with the enemies of Israel. With these neighbours, that same Jordan now proved a barrier between them and the people of God. Jordan would teach us the Deed for separation from worldly benefits when they interfere with right relationships; so also docs baptism.
In relation to the baptism of the Lord Jesus, Jordan (which means descending, flowing down, and hence river of judgment) speaks eloquently of His wonderful condescension as He stooped to bear the judgment of sin. He was baptized into Jordan physically, and in figure Jordan points on to His bearing the judgment for our sins on the cross.
In John's gospel which does not actually give an account of the baptism itself, we learn also that John's baptism was to the intent that Christ should be manifest to Israel. Already we have seen that those who were baptized confessed their sins. Now we are introduced to the Lamb of God, the bearer away of the sin of the world! No wonder He was baptized into Jordan which figuratively had received the sins of the people who had in picture been separated from them. The Sin Bearer identified Himself" (though Himself without sin) with those who recognized their need of cleansing, and He was made manifest to them where they had confessed their need.
After the Lord Jesus had been raised from the dead we find Him commissioning His own to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The Lord Jesus had been baptized into Jordan. Disciples are now to be baptized into the name of the Triune God.
Again: the Lord commanded them to baptize, and so they are identified with those being baptized as John was with the Lord Jesus at Jordan. Mark's Gospel says that 'he that be-lievcth and is baptized the same shall be saved'. It seems from this that although believing is one thing and baptism another, yet the two go hand-in-hand to confirm each other. Baptism is the outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace. The believer is saved by the grace of God; his baptism into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit publicly witnesses his movement into that family relationship with God.
This first paper will be followed by an examination of the subject in the Acts, thereby answering the question, Is Baptism a Necessity?— Eds.