Why are churches divided over the issue of baptism? Must we be literally immersed as some people claim? What about infant baptism? Is it just wrong? Are those who are baptized by the wrong method shut out from his kingdom?
Some churches have attacked those of us who baptize by sprinkling or pouring as being heretical, apostate, and shut out of the kingdom. This sermon will correct their error.
In this sermon, we will look at 1) different baptisms that are described in the Bible, 2) whether or not immersion was always the case and the only style for Christians, 3) how baptism by fire was on the head and an immersion, and then 4) we will look at whether or not infant baptism is biblically sound.
1. How Many Baptisms
How many baptisms are there in the Bible? Mark 1:1-8 mentions a baptism of repentance, a baptism in the Jordan and a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere we read of a baptism of fire, the baptism of water, the baptism of repentance also called the baptism of John, baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is also like a washing (Acts 22:16) and a death (Romans 6:3-4). Jesus’ death on the cross is referred to as a baptism (Mark 10:38). It is tied in with spiritual circumcision (Colossians 2:11-15). Israel was baptized into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2-5). Even though we find so many baptisms described, Paul reminded the Ephesians that there is essentially only one baptism (Ephesians 4:6). All Christians are baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27).
2. Baptism is not Immersion ONLY
When people say that the word baptism means only immersion, they are ignorant of the whole truth from the Bible. The Holy Scriptures use the word in other senses. It was used to mean wash in several places (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38; Acts 22:16) and it described the passage of Israel through the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Not all washing is a dipping, though that could be argued. However, the Israelites were not literally immersed in the Red Sea, but figuratively. According to the historic account they walked through with dry feet. They were baptized into Moses without being literally dipped or immersed in the water. So, biblical use of the word baptism reveals that it can be either immersion or some other use of water such as washing or a symbolic passage via water.
3. Baptized on the Head by Fire
Bishops wear a miter hat remembering the tongues of fire resting on people’s heads at Pentecost (Acts 2). Some church fathers and John of Damascus described this as the baptism of fire predicted by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-12. That is why some churches also recognize a baptism of water on the head. If we accept that the children of Israel were baptized into Moses in a non-literal sense because they walked through dry shod, then the door is open for the word baptism to also have a non-literal meaning. Other baptisms with fire are perhaps an immersion experience. Early Christians suffered great persecution, which we call a trial by fire or baptism of fire. Also the unrepentant who choose hell over heaven will sadly be cast into a lake of fire possibly resulting in their total immersion.
4. Infant Baptism is Biblical
Does Acts 2:38 demand that only someone old enough to believe can be baptized? Are churches that baptize infants wrong? An honest look at the very next verse would reveal that children are included in the promise that accompanies baptism. Another case study is much clearer about children being included in baptism. The entire families of ancient Israel were baptized into Moses in the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). On three separate occasions in the New Testament whole households were baptized (1 Corinthians 1:16; Acts 11:13-14; Acts 16:15, 31, 33). Logic dictates a high probability that at least one of those households contained a child. Baptism also pictures circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12) a ritual performed on infants and adults. Churches that include infant baptism with confirmation of faith later in life have reasonable biblical precedent.
There is no reason for division between churches over the issue of baptism. While the word baptism literally means immerse, it is not always used literally, even in the Bible. And as far as infant baptism is concerned, there is plenty of precedence for it in adults and children being baptized to Moses, circumcision (which pictures baptism) performed on adults and children and at least three cases in the New Testament where whole households were baptized. God is big enough to allow people baptized by immersion, sprinkling or pouring into his kingdom. If we are unnecessarily divided over the issue of baptism, how many other issues that divide us are just plain silly? Many!