The importance of water baptism cannot be overstated. Yet there are very different ways and means of Christian water baptism. We have all come from different backgrounds, families, and religious traditions. These may include the baptism of infants, sprinkling the head with a few drops of holy water, or full immersion in a river, lake, swimming pool, or church baptistry pool.
Why the differences?
Some of the differences came about over time for the sake of convenience. As early as the fourth century A.D. Church leaders encouraged the use of a body of “living” or running water as the most appropriate. A lake or river would be preferred because it would be large enough to do what the definition of Baptizo means; to immerse, plunge, or submerge. However, this was not always practical in ancient times. Not everyone lived near an appropriate body of water. Just keeping water in a large tub for this purpose long ago would soon lead to algae growth and other contamination.
The importance of water baptism dictates a need to do it even if they lack of a body of water. So, church advisors conceded that sprinkling a bit of water could be done in a pinch. Making nice places in large churches to hold a bit of water for the purpose became a standard practice. The catholic church kicked it up a notch. They invented the idea of a priest praying over the water at Easter to make it really “holy.” This holy water did not always remain clean or pure. So now they just get a little water prayed for at a time, as needed. Catholics put forth the notion that only using their “holy” water would absolve sins and truly make the user sanctified.
What about infant baptism?
This Catholic ritual led to asking people to bring their infants to be cleansed of original sin in holy water. The importance of water baptism does not apply to a baby who has no awareness of what is being done. This practice is nowhere found in the Bible and is not needed or appropriate. The priest does not really make the water holy, and the water does not make a baby a follower of Jesus. Children who have not come to an age of knowing the need for redemption, are not held accountable.
Bringing a child to church to dedicate them to the Lord is indeed worthwhile. Corporate prayer over the child, and celebrating its life is important. Even more important is the parents’ commitment to providing a godly home is very beneficial. Accountability to raise their children in the reverence and love of Jesus will lead to the child being blessed with a good home. The importance of water baptism only comes into play for those who know what they are doing.
The importance of water baptism for those of age
In Scripture, the person being baptized into Christ is making a public confirmation of a conscious choice. They will become a follower of Jesus. Yet the practice of baptism in the New Testament predates the instruction to baptize into Christ. There is an important difference between the baptism John performed prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus. What are the differences? Why do we baptize, other than because the Bible instructs us to do it? Are you saved even if you have not been baptized? What vital benefits does only baptism provide to the believer?
First, let’s look at the baptism of John:
15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he was the Christ, or not; John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
The people wondered if John was the Messiah in part because of his bold preaching. Another reason is that the Jewish people believed the Messiah would baptize his believers. Therefore, John makes it clear that he is not the Messiah and only baptizes with water. The Messiah would baptize into Himself with Holy Ghost and fire. This was a prophetic word fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when Jesus provided the first immersion of believers with the Holy Ghost and fire.
Nevertheless, many repented and were baptized by John. By allowing him to be their baptizer, they were becoming identified with John as their spiritual authority. John was of a priestly Levite heritage and became their priest and spiritual leader. Jesus did not need to repent. but He did need to align his ministry with Levite priestly authority. Jesus required John to baptize Him into John’s priestly authority. That is why Jesus could silence the priestly accusers who asked by what authority Jesus spoke in the Temple.
People wanted to be baptized by Jesus as their Old Covenant leader
After entering into His years of ministry Jesus became a rabbi, a teacher who attracted followers. They did want to repent and become followers, so Jesus allowed them to be baptized by His disciples, not by him directly. They were baptized into the disciples, not into the Messiah, Christ. The baptism of repentance was all that was available until Jesus died and was raised from the dead. However, people in and around Jerusalem thought Jesus was setting himself up as a human religious leader. Jesus moved operations to a more remote location.
In the early church, the assumption that you are becoming identified with your human baptizer was hard to overcome. Apostle Paul is concerned that people are splitting up as they adhere to the different preachers who baptized them, including Paul.
1 Corinthians 1:12-15
12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; 15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
After Jesus raises from the dead, everything changes
After His resurrection, Jesus changes the symbolic meaning, significance, and importance of Baptism. To see how Jesus overcame the misunderstandings and altered the nature and the meaning of water baptism read Part 2.
Jordan River Baptism Photo by Shoresidelady1 on Unsplash