The Controversial Nature of Baptism

Nana Yaw Aidoo

Having done a little survey of the religious world, I have become convinced that one of the most—if not the most—controversial issues in so-called “Christendom” is the issue of baptism. Concerning this great Biblical theme, many sermons have been preached, lectures have been delivered and debates have been organized. The whole controversy on this issue surrounds such things as the “mode” of baptism, the “subject” of baptism, the “kind” of baptism and the “design” of baptism. What could possibly be the cause of this controversy? Did God fail to communicate His will on this issue properly to men? That cannot be for God inspired the writers of the Bible to write nothing but that which we can read or understand (2 Cor. 1:13). I suggest therefore that a lack of regard for the authority of God’s word and a preference for the dictates of men is the cause of the whole controversy surrounding the issue of baptism. The one who is serious about making it to heaven, ought to ask the question—what does the Bible say about baptism?

Baptism–Its Mode

Friends, there really is nothing like a “mode” of baptism. The word baptism in the English Bible is not a translation but a transliteration of a word that means “to dip.” If the translators of the Authorized Version had translated the Greek word baptisma rather than merely transliterate it, then immersion would have been found wherever the word baptism is found in the Bible. Even if this isn’t so—although it is—we still can know the “mode” of baptism by carefully and honestly looking at what those who baptized and were baptized in the Bible did.

It is written that John the Baptizer baptized people in the Jordan River (Matt. 3:6) and “in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.” (John 3:23). That is too much water just to pour or to sprinkle on people. No one needs that much water to do those things. Just a cup of water is enough. Whatever sophistry might be conjured by “pourers” and/or “sprinklers,” is dealt with by the use of the word “because” in John 3:23. Why did John baptize people in Aenon near Salim? Because there was much water there. Much water was and is necessary in order to baptize an individual.

We also see that the Ethiopian’s baptism was one in which both he and Philip “went down into the water” (Acts 8:38) and when they were done, “they came up out of the water” (Acts 8:39). No one goes “into” and “out of” water when “pouring” or “sprinkling” water on others. Friends, it is not baptism unless it is an immersion. Little wonder the apostle Paul called baptism a “burial.” (Rom. 6:3; Col. 2:12).

Baptism–Its Subject

Jesus Christ our Lord teaches that before a person can be baptized, he must have first heard the gospel preached and procured faith as a result of the preaching (Mark 16:15-16). This necessarily rules out babies for they do not have mental faculties developed enough to understand the gospel, believe its facts, trust its promises and obey its precepts. The one who can be baptized must be old enough to understand and believe the gospel preached. The idea that “household baptisms” in the Bible means babies were baptized is borne of fallacious reasoning and contradicts the rest of the scriptures. Paul baptized “the household of Stephanas” (1 Cor. 1:16) and this “household” is said to “…have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15). Did this include babies?

Baptism–Its Kind

By the time the apostle Paul penned his epistle to the Ephesians, there was only “one baptism.” (Eph. 4:5). Some maintain this one baptism is Holy Spirit baptism. Others maintain it is water baptism. However, since there is only one baptism, it follows then that if it is Holy Spirit baptism, then it cannot be water baptism and vice versa. Whichever one it is would of necessity render the other obsolete. That being the case, it is incomprehensible how some who earnestly contend that the “one baptism” is Holy Spirit baptism, still administer “water baptism” to their converts.

If you are wondering why, in Acts the eighth chapter, the Holy Spirit sent an evangelist to a potential convert and why the evangelist after preaching Christ to this prospect, went with him into a pool of water rather than administer Holy Spirit baptism, it is because Holy Spirit baptism is not the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 and also because no human on earth has the ability to administer Holy Spirit baptism. (see Mark 1:7-8; Acts 1:4-8; 2:33).

Notice if you would that right after the apostle said there is “one baptism,” he went on to say in the very next chapter that the church is sanctified and cleansed “with the washing of water by the word.” (Eph. 5:26). The word of God is the agent of cleansing and sanctification—by the word—whereas water is the element of cleansing and sanctification—with the washing of water. There is only one baptism and it is immersion in water.

Baptism–Its Design

Why should a person be baptized? Please consider what the Bible says in this regard;

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:16).

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for (unto ASV 1901) the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).

And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:21).

If you were reading the Bible for the first time, how would you have understood these passages? Would you have understood them the way your “pastor” taught you to understand them?


If we would regard God’s word as the final authority for our faith and our practice and if we would reject the teachings of men, then the controversy on the issue of baptism would become a thing of the past. The truth on this very important issue can be arrived at as our Lord said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

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Author: Editor

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