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Searching for a
by Pastor Lars Larson, PhD
(A sermon delivered on January 25, 2008, at the First Baptist Church, Leominster, Massachusetts, USA)
Last Lord’s day we began to address matters of our faith that differentiate us as Reformed Baptists from non-Baptist Reformed groups. We dealt with the nature of the local church. In contrast to our Reformed paedobaptist friends, that is, those who baptize infants, Baptists believe that only disciples of Jesus Christ, those who have experienced new life in Jesus Christ, should be admitted to church membership. The New Testament teaches that the membership of a local church should be comprised of only those who have repented of sin and turned to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith and obedience. Paedobaptists, that is, churches that practice infant baptism, do not believe the membership of a local church should be restricted to those who are born again. They believe and teach that children of believers become members of the church through baptism. And so there is a fundamental difference in what we believe constitutes a local church.
I. The Biblical teaching respecting the mode of baptism-- immersion only
Although many churches practice baptism by the mode of sprinkling water upon the one being baptized, and some practice baptism by pouring water on the head of those baptized, the Bible neither commands nor illustrates baptism but by immersion only. Many paedobaptists have acknowledged this. John Calvin, himself a paedobaptist, who wrote some very hard things against those who practiced baptism by immersion, wrote these words:
This is a common acknowledgement among numbers of paedobaptists.
Paedobaptists resist this argument, saying that the Greek word does not mean this, but their efforts are quite futile and are commonly shown to be weak and flawed.(4) The fact is that most Greek lexicons provide as their definition of baptizo as “to dip” or “to immerse.”
Second, the record of those who were baptized as recorded in the New Testament is consistent with setting suggesting immersion as a mode, rather than sprinkling. For example, consider John the Baptist baptizing in the Jordan River. We read in John 3:22 and 23,
Why did John baptize in Aenon? “Because there was much water there.” This setting for baptism is consistent with the need to immerse his subjects. If John were baptizing by sprinkling, much water would not be necessary; he would not have needed to baptize in the Jordan River.
Now which mode of baptism is consistent with the evidence? They both went down into the water and Philip baptized him. Is this consistent with the mode of sprinkling, or even pouring? No, but rather immersion fits the setting.
Third, baptism by immersion is consistent with the believer’s union and identification with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection life. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 6:1ff,
Paul associates the mode of baptism to the believer’s union with Jesus Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection life. Which mode of baptism portrays burial and resurrection? Does sprinkling or immersion? Of course the answer is immersion. Sprinkling as a mode of baptism may convey the idea of cleansing, but not burial and resurrection. Only immersion depicts this important aspect of the faith and life of the believer. The Bible teaches baptism by immersion and immersion only.
First of all, take note that Paul speaks of circumcision and baptism in the same context. This is the only place in the Bible where the two ideas are found in relation with one another in the same passage. Based on these verses paedobaptists say that New Testament baptism is the replacement of and substitute for Old Testament circumcision. Because Israelites circumcised their sons when they were eight days old, Christians should baptize their children in infancy. But see what Paul argues respecting circumcision and baptism. He does not identify or associate circumcision with baptism, but rather physical circumcision is compared with an inward work of grace that Christ performs in the hearts of His people, a spiritual circumcision “made without hands.” Furthermore, baptism is associated with Christ’s burial, and so once again we see that the mode of immersion alone fits the association with Christ’s burial; sprinkling as a mode fails to do so.
Here Paul associates baptism with the Israelites passing through the Red Sea in the days of the Exodus. The people had the sea as walls on either side of them as the cloud was above them (cf. Exod. 14:22). This depicts the Israelites as being immersed with water along with Moses, being identified with him in this “baptism.” In the same way believers are baptized into Jesus Christ through their own immersion in baptism.
II. The Biblical teaching respecting the subjects of baptism--disciples only
Many paedobaptists have acknowledged that the Bible never directly commands or illustrates the baptism of infants by sprinkling. B. B. Warfield, a well-known and respected Reformed, but paedobaptist theologian, wrote these words,
We Baptists are often accused of not being genuinely Reformed because we reject infant baptism, and that by sprinkling. But we would argue that we are being true to one of the major principles of the reformation, Sola Scriptura. If a belief or practice is not taught, described, or illustrated in Scripture, it is not to be believed or practiced. But those who are Reformed but are paedobaptist will acknowledge that the intentional baptizing of non-disciples is never directly commanded or clearly illustrated in the New Testament, yet they say that churches are under obligation to do so. Who is it that is violating a principle of the Reformation, we, who demand Biblical evidence for the practice, or those who say it is required of us but can give no Scripture to command us to do so? As Baptists we are bound to the truth of the Scriptures alone as our rule for faith and practice.
As one once wrote, so we say,
Let us consider the Baptist arguments for the baptism of believers only. First, the Bible contains clear commands to baptize believers but no command to baptize infants. Consider these passages: Matthew 28:18f reads,
Here we see a direct and positive command of our Lord to baptize disciples, and them only. If it were the will of God for churches to baptize disciples and their children, would not our Lord have commanded it here? But there is no hint or suggestion of such a practice. We see this also in Mark 16:15f.
In this command of our Lord what is implied is that faith preceded baptism. Before we baptize, we look for faith, for evidence of faith in Jesus Christ.
John refused to baptize those until they manifested repentance from sin. Now we would acknowledge that John’s baptism preceded Christian baptism, but the same principle abides. As John refused to baptize unrepentant people, so we refuse to baptize any but those who have repented of their sins. Infants being unable to repent are not to be baptized.
III. A summary of further arguments of the Biblical teaching of baptism of disciples by immersion only
1. In the New Testament there is a clear command to baptize believers but no command to baptize infants.
2. The Scriptural order is always believe and then be baptized. Every baptism recorded in the New Testament is of this nature.
Acts 8:36-38. “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.”
Acts 10:44-48. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.”
Acts 16:15f. “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she constrained us.”
Acts 16:30-34. “And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.
Acts 18:8. “Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and they were baptized.”
3. Baptism is the initiatory rite into a believing community; the church; therefore, it should only be done to believers. (We made this argument last week, which you can see your notes.)
4. When all the passages that speak of household baptism are taken into view, two significant conclusions can be reached. One, the descriptions given of households never mention an infant and show that a household does not necessarily include infants. Two, every description of baptized households gives compelling evidence that all the baptized people exhibited personal faith before they were baptized. They were instructed, they feared God, they rejoiced, they served.
 Etymology is the study of the history of words, how their form and meaning have changed over time.
 Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived and wrote in the first century.
 Fred A. Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone (Founders Press, Cape Coral, Fl, 2007), p. 209.
 For example, consider Malone’s response to John Murray and Duane Spencer in the above book, pp. 211ff.
 Why was the word transliterated from Greek into English as “baptize” rather than “immerse”? The translators of the English Bibles believed in the practice of sprinkling and to translate the word would conflict with their convictions, so they transliterated the word rather than translated it into English.
 Warfield went on to justify the practice, nevertheless. The quote continued reads, “But the lack of this express warrant is something far short of forbidding the rite; and if the continuity of the church through all ages can be made good, the warrant for infant baptism is not to be sought in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament where the church was instituted and nothing short of an actual forbidding of it in the New Testament would warrant our omitting it now.”
 John Quincy Adams (named after the president), Baptists, Thorough Reformers (Backus Books, 1980, orig. 1876), pp. 162-165.
 Ibid., p. 162.