Christian living is impossible without the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact the whole Christian faith is founded in the fact that Jesus died for the sins of mankind and yet after three days rose from the grave. In the numerous sacraments and ordinances issued by the Church there is nothing that comes close to this foundational aspect of Christianity other than the sacrament of water baptism. This paper will look into the significance of water baptism in relation to the life, teachings, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In his last major pronouncements before he ascended into the clouds and into the heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to teach, make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the centuries since then, there is no argument that Christians should go into the ends of the earth to teach others about the Good News of the Kingdom and the details of the new covenant in the blood of Christ. There is also no argument about the need to make disciples – to bring people of all nations into a committed relationship to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But for hundreds of years, especially after the Reformation there is an ongoing and very much heated debate on how to obey the third part of the Great Commission and that is on how to go about with water baptism. Furthermore, this paper supports the argument made by a Scottish scholar named Alexander Campbell who in the middle-of-the-nineteenth century, made the following proposition, “Immersion in water into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is the one only Christian Baptism.
” This is achieved by getting an in-depth look at Campbell’s own work with regards to the subject matter; a review of what others had written about the topic; and finally consult the Scriptures and in the end let it be the verdict as to what is most probable in light of the whole Bible – whether baptism is immersion or a) sprinkling of water; b) pouring of water; or c) purifying in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Significance Before going any further it is important to establish the significance of water baptism in order to justify a more extensive foray into the topic.
There are at least three major reasons why water baptism is significant in light of Christian tradition. Aside from what was already mentioned; that there is a direct correlation between water baptism and the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, there are other reasons why the said sacrament is important. It is according to Kittel, “… the reconciling action of God … It places us objectively in Christ, the second Adam; it thus removes us from the sphere of death of the first Adam …
” It is a way to transformation, the beginning point of a new life. Furthermore, water baptism is seen in the gospels as one of the primary actions necessary after conversion. According to Stanley Grenz water baptism is a bona fide ordinance because the foundation lies in the Lord’s command as followed by the Apostolic Churches. (p. 520). Grenz also argues that water baptism is an appropriate symbol of the central aspects of the gospel story. He also adds that it provides “…
a fitting means for us to symbolize our commitment to Christ, our participation in his death and resurrection, and our anticipation of the full reception of salvation at the eschatological consummation of God’s program. ” R. Bruce Compton of the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary quotes Martin Luther who made the generalization that, “It worketh forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believes, as the Word and promise of God declares. ” Compton goes further in saying that baptism is the sign of conversion – initiation, the evidence of genuine repentance.
The latest statement made by Compton is very much significant in light of human nature. This is because there is an inherent difficulty in understanding spiritual matters. Even Scriptures are full of references to man’s inability to fully comprehend spiritual matters. In the case of salvation, forgiveness of sins, a new life in Christ, all these are alien to the flesh. Therefore, water baptism is a welcome event because it aids the carnal mind in absorbing newfound truths of his or her newfound relationship in Christ Jesus.
Aside from the general understanding of water baptism as shown above, the significance of this sacrament or practice in the Christian community is supported by the following arguments. First of all water baptism was undoubtedly practiced from the very first, there are references of such practice as early as Acts chapter 2. Secondly, water baptism is a public declaration that one is following Christ. And thirdly that water baptism is a form of a rite of passage to distinguish those who are serious in their pursuit of Christianity.
Alexander Campbell arrived at the same conclusion while studying the New Testament. Previously Campbell was an expert in the Calvinist position of the baptism of infants but a thorough study of the Gospels made him to realize, “… that the Church originally and intentionally immersed only penitent believers, able and willing to call on the name of the Lord. ” There is no space to discuss the fine points of Calvinism but suffice it to say that Campbell’s view follows closely the Christian tradition especially during the Acts of the Apostles and the first one hundred years of the Church’s existence.
Later it will be shown that this view fits nicely into the greater scheme of things. Baptizo The next thing that needs to be established is the fact the aforementioned submerging, immersion or dipping of the Christian should be done in water. This is very important because it has a direct bearing on the the main idea brought forward in the very beginning of this discussion. At this point there is already a general understanding that there is a raging controversy going on with regards to the interpretation of the greek term “baptizo”.
An error in interpretation will greatly impact the Christian’s journey into maturity in Christ because the foundations of his beliefs are seriously undermined. A new believer who was deprived of the experience – of full immersion in water and rising up from the same – can have a theoretical understanding of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and yet not have a clear grasp of what it actually means. Furthermore, with regards to the charge of the Apostle Paul, that Christians are dead to sin and yet alive to Christ, the new believer has very limited resources in trying to fully comprehend such a profound statement.
It requires a step-by-step process to untangle the mystery and to find a resolution to the issue of water baptism. Resolving this issue requires going to the heart of the matter and to trace the root-cause of the controversy. For hundreds of year theologians from all over the world are splitting hairs and the source of contention is one mere word – baptism. The term baptism is the transliteration from two Greek words, “baptizo” which a verb and “baptisma” which is a noun. The transliteration produced a new English word “baptism” which roughly means the “…
action of washing with or plunging into (literally, surrounding with) water. The issue of the usage of the term quickly turns into a heated debate because the transliteration in effect muddied the waters. It would have been easier if there is a more forceful translation of what Jesus actually meant when he said to go to the ends of the earth and baptizing disciples. There is a need to spend some time pondering why there is such difficulty in extracting the exact meaning of the command. It turns out that there is more to it than a simple case of miscommunication.
The authors of the Gospels are faced with a tremendous difficulty and it is to communicate a concept that is without precedence. This idea is not new. Many had pointed out to the unique ideas found in the Gospel. Even the Apostle Paul comments on the fact that others find the concept of Christianity mind boggling or simply unconventional. The same is true with baptism; it is without precedent and the Gospel is authors are trying to find the appropriate Greek word to describe a new rite of passage based on the teachings of Christ.
In the old way of doing things it is simply the killing of a substitute to cover for the sin of another. In the new paradigm of Jesus Christ a person dies and then resurrects to new life. Since there is already an acknowledgment that there is no perfect human language to capture the ideas of God the next best thing to do is to immerse in an in-depth study of Greek terminologies. It is at this point when the work of those who devoted their entire lives in the stud of Scriptures proves to be very helpful. One of the most respected names in the study of water baptism is Alexander Campbell.
In his opus, Christian Baptism: With Its Antecedents and Consequents, Campbell painstakingly analyzed the work of hundreds of Lexicographers and a multitude of linguists to ascertain the correct usage of the term “baptizo” and its root word “bapto”. The followign discussion is a summary of his conclusions. Campbell Elucidates By way of introduction, Campbell made very effective preparatory remarks when he argued that Jesus will not command anything that will not result in an act that would signify obedience.
Thus, baptism should be understood clearly as an action that must be done to satisfy the commands of God. This simply means that a Christian after a careful study of the Bible will arrive at a correct understanding of what Jesus meant by baptism. Campbell, in the long run, was able to show convincingly that there is no way one can miss the true intentions of the Lord and what he meant by baptism. Campbell made it very clear that the exact term used was “baptizo” and it was derived from “bapto” therefore one ought to focus on the root term to arrive at the correct definition.
Campbell then concludes that since the root word, “bapto” can only mean immerse or dip. It is then easy to conclude that baptism is immersion or submersion into something and not to be poured or sprinkled with something. Pupose of Baptism Now that it has been made crystal clear the fact that baptism should be the immersion of a believer’s whole body into a body of water preferably a running stream or river. But if the only source of water is the swimming pool or the nearby beach then this will do as long as the whole person is submerged and his or her body surrounded by water.
This is a very crucial aspect of the baptism because there are two principles that are being demonstrated each and every time a believer goes through the process of water baptism. The first principle is with regards to the symbolic representation of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As the a person is submerged to water it mimics the death of Christ and when the same rises up exultantly out of the water it is symbolic of Christ’s victory over the grave. Now, the second principle of Christian living that is demonstrated in water baptism concerns the washing of filth through the water of his Word.
Death and Resurrection to Glory The water – which is deep enough to totally cover the whole body when submerged – it acts as a representation of the grave upon which Christ was buried. It now serves as the new believer’s “grave” so to speak. As the person is dipped into the water, the person dies to himself and to the world. And when the person is raised up from the water, this action is symbolic of Jesus resurrection from the grave and therefore the person also rises with him.
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