All Christian denominations, sects, and cults practice some form of this rite except the Quakers. That group does neither baptism nor communion.
It is interesting that not only does each denomination have its particular definition for baptism, but most Christians also have differing opinions on this subject.
Before exploring the rite in detail, perhaps you should review your own particular ideas about it as you have experienced baptism and what affect that event had on your own faith walk.
By looking at the beginnings of this “sacrament” in context of the Jewish Community and religious practices in Jesus time and ministry, we can get a great idea of what they actually ment to him and his followers in first century B. C. Israel. In considering Jesus’ life and ministry, we must divide it into two eras of “Before Calvary” and “After Calvary.”
It is essential to remember that before Calvary Jesus and all Jews were under the Old Covenant – the Law, the Torah, and Jewish customs. So before Jesus’ Crucifixion, all things he did and said must be understood in the context of Old Testament Judaism.
That changed after Calvary when the New Covenant became applicable. Unless this distinction is made, nothing but confusion can result – thus the endless different opinions and theological statements about baptism.
First look at BAPTISM, as it is fully explained in Matthew chapter three with special clarification in verses 11 through 17. What happened here is:
1. John is an unordained layman.
2. The condition of the baptism is repentance, not the amount of water.
3. This is the Mikveh, a ritual washing required in Judaism signifying cleansing an admitted sinner, a transgressor of the Torah, the Law.
4. The Mikveh is done with any type or washing, including pouring the water over a person and is not limited to immersion. Immersion in a body of water (such as the Jordan) is easier because there is no drawing and hauling required.
5. This is the same ritual washing used on proselytes – goyim (dirty dog pagans) converting to Judaism.
6. The word for baptism is baptizo which means to be “overwhelmed” stemming from the word ballo that defines overwhelming and it is not restricted to water. This uncoupling from water is shown in verse 11(b) where John states Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit – not with water.
7. A Jew doing this was admitting his/her Jewishness (relying on the Temple rituals and the Day of Atonement rite) was not adequate. Personal repentance is required.
8. John is emphasizing Jewishness no longer applicable when he spoke the words recorded in verses 8-10:
“Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruits is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (RSV)
9. That water baptism is neither the same as, nor the entry into, Holy Spirit baptism is shown in Acts 1:5 where Jesus separated the two. “. . . for John baptized with water, but before many days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (RSV)
10. Jesus taught the Mikveh was not useful in Matthew 23:25, 26 where he said cleaning the outside is not the same as cleaning the inside – cleaning the heart is the goal rather than washing and cleaning the body.
11. There are 36 references to baptism in the New Testament with 22 coming from Acts. In every case it must be assumed repentance is required before the water rite is given. The emphasis is always on repentance and not on magical water, or the mode by which it is applied.
12. If we think in terms of the Holy Spirit baptism in each of these instances, instead of water baptism, we know that “putting on Christ” or being baptized “in the name of Jesus” is the Holy Spirit Baptism. That is the Baptism he came to give as opposed to Mikveh - water baptism.
13. The record states that Jesus did water baptisms before Calvary when he was still under the law and the Holy Spirit baptism had not yet been given. After Calvary, the Holy Spirit baptism was the gift that gave the inner (heart) cleansing as opposed to the outer washing of the Mikveh.
14. Paul did not make an issue of water baptism (1 Cor. 1:14-19).
15. Holy Spirit baptism was the ministry of Paul and the Apostles. A great summary of the nature and differences of the two baptisms is in Acts 19:1-7. Clearly, being baptized in the name of Jesus is to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
The great commission, Jesus’ charge to us, is for Christians to offer this baptism of the Holy Spirit to the world.
So we must ask, “How did water baptism enter into Christianity as a poor substitute for the Holy spirit Baptism? Why do organized Christian systems insist water baptism is necessary for receiving salvation, and is a grace giving Sacrament?”
(A sacrament is defined as a visible act of inward grace. A genuine visible act of inward grace is not water but a new life in Christ. The outward acts of a Christian will witness to whether or not that person has really has inwardly taken on the body [nature] of Christ through a rebirth experience.)
In nominal or “worldly” Christianity it is taught and believed that the water is what is the “outward sign” and water baptism brings spiritual change and God’s acceptance. The Biblical record clearly contradicts that concept.
A minimum sign of the new inward life is being able to say, “Thank you Jesus” for one’s new life and new living faith. Outward signs should include placing Jesus and his directions as the primary goal for living. Coupled with this is the minimum understanding of, and desire to follow, Jesus’ basic, or foundational, directions. These are recorded in the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7, in the New Testament book of Matthew.
Many have experienced water baptism without any life changing result. Such is the case of the millions of Hindus who annually wash in the “holy” Ganges River with the hope and expectations that will take away all their sins. However, as Jesus taught, washing the outside will not cleanse the inside.
We need a whole new heart. We need to be born again – born of the Spirit – to have our Sin and sins forgiven in a miraculous way by being born again and baptized with “the Holy Spirit fire.”
Until we have the desire for the new heart” and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, there is no real repentance and only limited grace. The attitudes for repentance are listed in Jesus’ Beatitudes and explained in GOD 101, items 21-30.
So Jesus instructed, “Seek and you will find, ask and you will receive, knock and it will be opened to you.” You will receive as much of the Holy Spirit and desire when you “hunger and thirst” for that grace. Ask God for all he has for you. Expect the best, something more than wet hair!
For more instruction on this, read “Common Sense Christianity” and “Grace” in this LIBRARY. Let GOD 101 be your companion on your spiritual journey.