Reasons why baptism should be performed by immersion and not to infants or young children.

I have had several conversations with some of my Christian friends over the issue of the mode and candidates for baptism. And while this topic tends to divide us on doctrine it is nevertheless a crucial and important topic to have. As I heard one theologian put it: “when doctrine divides the worst thing to do is to say nothing.” So here are some reasons why I believe the proper mode of baptism should be immersion, and the proper candidates should be those who can believe and repent (i.e. not babies or children):

The Mode—immersion

  • The original word “baptism” comes from the Greek baptizo which literally means to “immerse” or “dip (see A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer. 2nd ed. 130).”
  • In John 3:23 we are told that John the Baptist was baptizing near Salim “because water was plentiful there.” There is no need for a large quantity of water if anything other than immersion is to be understood.
  • In Acts 8:38-39 we are told that Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch went “down into the water…and they came up out of the water.” This seems to indicate that Phillip Immersed the Eunuch, rather than sprinkling or pouring.
  • The picture baptism symbolizes in Romans 6:2-4 is one that can only make sense with immersion in view. According to Romans 6 baptism pictures a death burial and resurrection.When one is immersed into water, and comes up out of the water it pictures Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Sprinkling or pouring cannot picture these symbols.
  • In the early church the only mode of baptism was immersion (see The Emergence of the Church, Arthur G. Patzia. 240.)

The Candidate—a Repentant believer

  • Baptism is always accompanied with faith and/or repentance (e.g. Acts 2:38; Romans 6:2-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13; 1 Peter 3:21). Therefore, one would have to have the ability to place their trust in Christ and understand that they need to turn from their sin—babies and children are unable to do this.
  • Nowhere in the NT do we find children being baptized. Therefore, the silence of such examples leads one to conclude that infants are not required to be baptized.
  • Jesus says in Matthew 19:14 that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children. Thus, until they reach an age of accountability it seems appropriate to conclude that Children are under the grace of God.

First Works and Rebaptism

I listened to a preacher today preach on Revelation 2:6. In his sermon he maintained that Jesus’ phrase “do the works you did at first” referred to one having to be baptized again. Apparently this church re-baptizes individuals numerous times. The logic is as follows: (1) Revelation 2:1-5 teaches that one can lose their salvation. This is what is meant by “lost your first love.” (2) Because one has fallen from grace they are commanded to do their first works again. This is taken to mean those things that one did when they first became saved; the “process of salvation.” (3) The process of salvation is as follows: believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. (4) Therefore, one needs to be re-baptized.

Here are some fallacies I see in this deduction: First, while I maintain that one can lose their salvation (Heb 6:4-6) this doesn’t seem to be the case for the church at Ephesus. In verse 5 Jesus says that if they do not repent then he will in fact “remove their lampstand.” While the church is in danger of losing their salvation they are not yet in the position. Secondly, to say that the “first works” refers to the plan of salvation is merely an implication read into the text. There is no contextual evidence to take this phrase in this way. Thirdly, to say that “first works” refers to the plan of salvation goes against the larger biblical teaching of salvation by grace apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). To say that “first works” refers to the plan of salvation is to imply that one is saved by “works.”

What seems to be intended by “first works” is faithful Christian conduct. That is, the church of Ephesus needs to repent of the unrighteous “works” and return to the righteous “works of God. In light of this I do not see Revelation 2:5 as a text favoring the practice of re-baptism.