Cled E. Wallace
When the plain teaching of the New Testament is presented, all sorts of difficulties arise in the minds of people, and these are suggested by the character of their environment and training. Paul’s teaching on unity and the oneness of the church is shocking to one who has been taught that “one church is as good as another” and that church membership should be considered merely a matter of preference.
Winds of doctrine blow about the world in currents directed “by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error,” (Eph. 4:14 ASV), and even the taught must beware of them. A man must be rooted and established in the faith to resist them. Delightful people, cultured in general ways, can accept the most absurd delusions in religion. The sudden light of truth has a dazing effect on some of them, and when they ask questions they often betray an almost unbelievable ignorance of the simplest facts of truth.
Such questions, however, often furnish a cue to the gospel preacher and enable him to remove popular difficulties that discourage obedience to God. The problems of religion are not to be settled by human experience or a resort to human reason, but by revelation. A lack of confidence in the word of God and a tendency to substitute “I think so” for “God says so” keeps the seal of Satan freshened up on many a soul.
It is a great help to a preacher to know what people are thinking about. If they become interested enough to ask questions, he readily finds out. In a recent meeting, two very intelligent and cultured young women jointly submitted some questions. It is true that the questions do not reveal much familiarity with the New Testament teaching, but, then, be it remembered that some rather brilliant men in Athens called Paul “this babbler” and mocked at his teaching on the subject of the resurrection (Acts 17:16-32). Such questions from such a source only emphasize the importance of sticking to “first principles.” It is safe to assume that few, even of the educated, know much about the gospel. I here submit some of the questions with some suggestions and answers:
“What church lets babies ‘join’ the church?”
Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians are among popular bodies in this country who practice so-called “infant church membership.” The New Testament teaches only believer’s baptism. The command of Jesus was to teach them and baptize those who accepted the teaching (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). So it is said that “many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). “But when they believed Phillip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).
There is no command or example in the New Testament even pointing in the direction of infant baptism. The modern practice of sprinkling water on infants is wrong on two counts. The act is wrong because baptism in the New Testament is immersion, and the infant is not a proper subject. He is incapable of faith and needs no repentance, for he is not responsible, not a sinner.
The origin of the practice is interesting. Baptism was originally for the remission of sins and was so considered after the heresy of total hereditary depravity took root in religious thinking. It was thought that the depraved little fellows needed baptism to keep them from going to torment. The modern practice is just a hang-over from this ancient superstition. It is utterly without scriptural warrant. It is tragic that thousands of devout people seem willing to accept something done to them when they were babes in arms as a substitute for their personal obedience to God. Baptism is a command of God to be obeyed from a believing and trusting heart.
“Where is the Scripture (or Scriptures) that says Christ was buried in baptism?” (One says He came ‘up out of the water.’) What proof can you give that the application of water in any form can help the soul? Is baptism the main point, or is it the salvation of the soul?”
The question betrays a too common aversion toward immersion as baptism, or that baptism can possibly be a condition of remission of sins. The New Testament clearly teaches both. The fact that the term “buried” is not used in connection with the baptism of Jesus extends no assurance to the effusionist.
It is said that Jesus “was baptized of John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water…” (Mark. 1:9-10). The marginal reading is into the Jordan. The term baptized as used by Mark certainly signifies that Jesus was immersed. An appeal to any standard Greek-English dictionary shows this. It was Paul who referred to the baptism of himself and those to whom he wrote as a burial. “Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death…” (Rom. 6:4). John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, said that this referred to “the ancient custom of baptizing by immersion.” The word itself and all the circumstances of its observance point infallibly to the specific act of immersion.
Sprinkling and pouring for baptism did not arise out of any scriptural demands. By a process of reasoning, the conclusion was reached that baptism could not “help the soul,” that it was a non-essential and that changing the form of its administration could do no harm. Scriptural baptism demands immersion. The authority for sprinkling and pouring is definitely and solely human. Jesus did not command, nor did the apostles practice anything of the kind. The Lord commanded immersion. Men authorize something else or nothing. Better obey the Lord.
The salvation of the soul is certainly the main point. Jesus died “for our sins.” He is the Great Physician and certainly knows what the soul needs. His prescription is found in the New Testament. What does a man know about the soul and what it needs? To rely on human wisdom or reasoning will prove fatal. How do we know that faith can “help the soul” apart from what the Lord says about it? The Lord says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16). People on Pentecost who cried out what to do were told to repent and be baptized for remission of sins (Acts 2:38). They would not have received remission of sins had they reasoned that baptism could not “help the soul” and refused to obey the Lord. He is Lord and has authority to specify conditions upon which He can and is willing to pardon sinners.
A man who refuses to obey is a rebel, whatever his reasons may be. Naaman did not understand how water could help leprosy, but he had to dip in Jordan to be healed (2 Kings 5). The Israelites might not have understood how marching around the walls of Jericho could cause the walls to fall down (Josh. 6). They fell down by faith (Heb. 11:30). Faith in God leads to obedience. Obedience consists of doing what the Lord says. He commands baptism and promises forgiveness. We have no proof whatever “that the application of water in any form can help the soul” of an unbeliever. When his trusting, penitent heart leads a man to be baptized, he is baptized into Christ Jesus, into His death (Rom. 6:3-4). It certainly helps the soul to come into Christ. There is no proof that a man can come into Christ without being baptized.