This past Sunday we considered how baptism is for the Christian a means of growth. We looked at ways in which we can “use” our baptism. The five ways we considered that our baptism aids us in our growth is that it is a sign and seal that:
We are united to Jesus.
We are adopted.
We are forgiven.
We belong to the body of Christ, the church.
We are preserved to persevere in faith.
One of the questions that we did not delve into in much depth was that of the proper way or mode of baptism. There are many of our brothers and sisters in Christ who think that baptism is only properly administered if a person is totally immersed under the water. Let it be said that we affirm that a valid baptism is with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! Our position is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith which says “Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person” (emphasis mine).
That means baptism by sprinkling or immersion is an acceptable mode. Full disclosure: I was baptized by immersion at age 7 having grown up in a Bible church background. My wife and children have been baptized by pouring/sprinkling.
That said, why do we practice baptism by pouring or sprinkling? Quite frankly, it is because we think that mode better fits with the preponderance of the biblical evidence. Here’s why
Some argue that the Greek word for baptize, “baptizo”, is best translated as immerse and for them that settles the argument. Not so. In Luke 11:38, for example, the word refers to people’s washing prior to eating- ruling out immersion. Some also would say that biblical phrases such as “going down into the water” and “coming up out of the water” infer immersion. However, these statements could just as easily refer to people who went to the edge of a stream and then received baptism by sprinkling or pouring. At best, either inference could be made.
Further, there is biblical evidence for pouring and sprinkling as a clear definition of baptism. In Hebrews 9:10, the “sprinklings” of the Old Testament law are called “baptisms.” Christians are said to be “sprinkled” with Jesus’ blood in Hebrews 10:22, 12:24; and I Peter 1:2. Passages such as Acts 2:17, 33 and Romans 5:5 present baptism in the Spirit as “pouring.”
Let’s be clear that godly people who are dear brothers and sisters in Christ disagree on these matters. We don’t want our lines of distinction become walls of separation. We value dearly even those in our own fellowship who differ on this issue. However, you should know that we practice baptism in the mode that is offered because we think the Bible warrants it. It is not because we hold unthinkingly to some tradition of the past.
So- if you are a candidate for baptism don’t worry about having to climb into the baptismal at the front of the sanctuary. Like the Holy Spirit, who blows where He wishes (John 3:8), the water will come to you!
[Help for this article came from John Frame’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief published by P & R Publishing, 2013.]
Paul Bankson is the Senior Pastor of Houston Lake Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Warner Robins, GA. He and his wife, Connie, have three sons. A native of...