Cled E. Wallace
Devout believers of the Bible and defenders and advocates of the New Testament order of things are often appalled at the extent to which religious errors become entrenched in the minds of the people. Ideas that have no scriptural support whatever become impregnably fortified in the minds of multitudes and make gospel evangelism a very difficult task indeed. This phenomenon challenges the attention of every gospel worker and can be met only by employing a high degree of thought and intelligence.
Just as I sat down to begin this article, I was interrupted by a telephone call and the conversation that followed may affect the entire course of this discussion. A sweet-voiced lady informed me that she had only recently arrived in this city and wanted to make arrangements to have her baby “christened.” I supposed she was looking for a Methodist, Episcopalian or Presbyterian minister, or possibly a Catholic priest, but she informed me that she was a member of the church of Christ and her baby was “fifteen months old” and had never been “christened.” She seemed distressed about the matter. Further inquiry revealed that she came from a city in Texas and the church and the preacher she mentioned are quite well known. Now, it probably would not improve the situation for me to publicize that church and excoriate that preacher for their lack of attention to doctrinal matters. I do not have enough facts in hand for all the deductions I can at the moment think of. It would be embarrassing to me if some lady who had heard me preach very many times should go off to another city and call some preacher and ask him to “christen” her baby. I know something about the preacher in this case but I would have to know more about the lady to blame him too much. It is a humbling thought to consider how little we preach really sticks in the minds of those who listen to us. People generally, even members of the church, do not read the Bible enough to get the best results from even the best preaching, and it is surprising with what facility even plain speech is misunderstood and misapplied by some who from all outward signs should know better. There is not a hint in the whole Bible about “christening” babies, no example of it, no command for it, and no inference looking that way. Nevertheless doting mothers numbering into the thousands feel that their darlings are not properly named and miss other blessings if it is not attended to. Why is this?
A casual look into the situation reveals some interesting and disconcerting facts. This and other ideas and practices belong to that large body of tradition which has grown up and found lodgment in the human mind since the New Testament was written. It is backed up by vast organizations, widespread and subtle propaganda, and is supported by concentrations of money and social appeal. It is not only respectable, it has become by force of custom in many circles, the thing to do. Many do not feel any need to go beyond this for authority. The fact that it belongs to the doctrines and commandments of men and condemned by the Lord is unknown and unthought of. To get that fact over to them is a most difficult task.
To break away from the bondage of entrenched error is difficult for the individual. It often means defiance of strong organization and a break with custom. It requires both intelligence and independence to do this, and that to a degree a large number of people do not possess. The step is obviously painful. It was so with Paul and others who became Christians in his day. A brilliant physician was asked by one of his patients: “Doctor, what church do you belong to?” The answer was: “I am a Presbyterian.” He was asked if he knew why he was a Presbyterian, if reading the Bible made him such and a few like questions. The physician replied that he had never given that angle any particular thought. His parents were Presbyterians, his associations and rearing determined his course and he had never had time or inclination to go into the theological merits of the situation. He was a Presbyterian as a matter of course. The patient requested him to read the book of Acts, to note the establishment of the church, how people became Christians and see if he could find anything there that looked like the Presbyterian denomination. The doctor promised to do so, and if he did, it must have initiated a conflict within him, the age-old conflict between truth and error. The huge religious errors that have found root in one way or another in the popular mind are not in the New Testament. The only way to uproot them is to establish in the minds of the people the authority of the New Testament in religious matters and make them acquainted with its contents.
Everybody knows how hard it is to reach a Catholic with the simple teaching of the New Testament. He is in the bondage of a system. It is as hard for him to break loose from it as it is for a Jew to become a Christian. The obstacles to be overcome, to even have him exposed to gospel teaching are near the insuperable. There is nothing extant in the way of religion that is much farther from the New Testament order than the Catholic hierarchy with its network of traditions. Take a New Testament and make an attempt to evangelize the domain of Romanism, and you will catch what I mean by the entrenched positions of religious error. It is no solution to the problem to assert that Catholics are dishonest, know they are wrong and do not want the truth. My observation is that many of them are passionately, even fanatically sincere. Error has some very effective methods of enslavement. There is a widespread “zeal for God” within the fortifications of religious error but much of it is “not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:1-2).
Protestantism as it is commonly known, in its up-to-date development, is sustained more by the authority of its organizations and customs than by an appeal to, “It is written.” The arguments commonly used in its defense are of a blanket character capable of offering covering to Romanist, Jew, and even deist. Toleration is the watchword of modern religion. Any effort to approach any citadel of error with an open New Testament is challenged by the sentries of toleration. In modern religion any man who says a man is not right in his religion when he is wrong, is “intolerant.” Intolerance is getting to be close akin to treachery. Thus another link is forged in the chain of error that binds the minds of mankind. True tolerance is a good thing and intolerance can become demoniacal, but the proper bounds of these words need to be clearly noted. When tolerance holds out the olive branch to false doctrine, it is clearly abusing its proper functions. Incidentally, some of the apostles of modern tolerance can become flamingly intolerant, when opposition begins to pinch them. Broadmindedness can sometimes express a rather sneering contempt for what it calls “narrowness.” And “narrowness” has often turned out to be the truth in the realm of religion. The seeker after truth in religion should keep a New Testament handy. It more often condemns what the world approves and approves what the world condemns than otherwise. It is a good book to know and in addition to its other virtues, it is excellent for mental hygiene.
A striking example of the entrenched position of certain errors has recently come to my attention. Some years ago a moving picture of Biblical scenes was shown on the screens of theatres throughout the country. The baptism of Jesus showed John and Jesus standing in the water about ankle deep and John was pouring a little water on the head of Jesus. A week or so ago, I glanced over a series of pictures in a daily paper illustrating the current Sunday School lesson. The text of the lesson was: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Then the picture shows John and one of the multitude standing in the stream about ankle deep and John pouring water on the head of the other. It is pure sectarian propaganda. The uncritical and the uninformed, not to mention the confirmed pedobaptist, assume that baptism was so performed by John and others in the New Testament. That one picture widely circulated makes a wider impression in favor of sprinkling and pouring for baptism than any number of books and sermons on the subject, A lot more people see the picture than would read the books or hear the sermons. Besides, it is easier to draw a plausible picture on that particular subject than it is to make a convincing argument, in view of the scarcity of material on that side of the question in the New Testament.
The picture is interesting for a number of reasons. It raises some questions. Why should John lead anybody into the water, even ankle deep to sprinkle or pour water on his head? Affusionists do not do that way today. Did John think a man had to be immersed on one end and sprinkled on the other to be truly baptized? John led them into the water all right, but more than ankle deep. He immersed them and made a complete job of it. The whole New Testament is quite clear on this particular point. Error here has made use of many devices to maintain its position.
It would be surprising, if not alarming, to some who take their practice for granted, should they carefully examine the New Testament for proof that affusion was practiced for baptism. The chief reliance is upon the text: “I baptize you with water.” Of course if the word baptize meant to sprinkle, which it does not, it could be done with water, but affusionists assume that immersion could not be done with water. The weakness of the sprinkling argument, if it can be called an argument, is the assumption that “with water means it had to be sprinkling or it could not be “with.” It is quite impressive when presented to the uninformed and thoughtless. Scholars among them are bound to know better. The American Standard version puts “in water” instead of “with water.” The word that is translated “with” in the King James version is used nine times in this same chapter. Six times it is translated “in.” “In the wilderness,” “baptized in Jordan” “whose fan is in his hand” etc. The argument based on “with” cannot mean too much to those who know this.
“With water” does not imply sprinkling or pouring as baptism, nor is it proof of immersion taken alone. There are facts and circumstances connected with baptism in the New Testament which are decisive. Baptism is a command of God, it came from heaven, and all who recognize the authority of heaven should be sure to know what it is and do it right. It is both with and in water.
John baptized “in the river Jordan.” “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway from the water.” “And straightway coming up out of the water.” “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came and were baptized” (Matt. 3:6, 16; Mark 1:10; John 1:23).
John performed the same act that the apostles’ and other Christians did as recorded in Acts. The evangelist Philip baptized the eunuch with water, and in water. What happened is rather clear. “And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more for he went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:36-39). Do these circumstances favor sprinkling or immersion?
Circumstances connected with the baptism of the jailor are interesting and informative. “And they spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And he brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God.” (Acts 16:32-34). This baptizing took place somewhere outside the jailor’s house sometime after midnight. Since they came “up into his house” after the baptizing, they must have gone down somewhere to do it. We know there was a river in the city and jails were usually built close to them and above the flood stage. Where are we to suppose Paul baptized the jailor, since he did it outside the house after midnight? Do the circumstances favor sprinkling or immersion? If they went to water, went down into it and came up out of it, they must have gone to where there was enough water to do all this. Affusion would not require it. Immersion would.
The allusions to baptism in Paul’s letter are unmistakable. They cannot be made to fit affusion at all. “Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus was baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4). “In whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, where ye were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col. 2:11-12). These Christians had all been baptized. Paul alludes to the fact. They were baptized with water. Does sprinkling fit in with Paul’s references? Affusionists have been much troubled to handle these references. Some of them have gone to the length of taking all the water out and leaving not a drop, even for sprinkling. The reason therefore is too obvious. They can do more for their practice by drawing pictures than citing texts of scripture. Consulting any Greek dictionary reveals that the word “baptize,” or rather that from which it came, means to immerse. The circumstances attending the baptism of persons in the New Testament all favor immersion. They do not favor sprinkling at all.
People who are anxious to obey the Lord, should look further for information than a misleading picture in a newspaper. If a man is not intelligent and independent enough to use his New Testament, there is not much telling where pictures and other things may lead him off to in religion in these modern days.