Why I Pour (When Baptizing)
October 6, 2014
Here is the first of two posts: "Why I Pour" & "Why I Baptize Babies." They are both roughly 900 words each.
Should we only baptize by immersion, the full submersion of the body under water? Should we argue that baptizo means immerse and get on with it? Isn't Romans six a water-tight case proving immersion?
A lot depends on whether we do our theology by etymology or whether we want to do the hard work of looking at the rich symbolism of baptism in the Scriptures. (For starters, read Hebrews 9 and look up all the OT references that the author of Hebrews called baptisms.)
The NT does not make clear the precise manner in which baptism must be administered. "We may search the New Testament in vain if we are seeking minute instructions how we are to perform baptism" (Warfield). To argue that "to baptize" equals "to immerse" rests upon a "complete misapprehension of the philological facts" (Warfield). He's right.
Baptism is a washing with water (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22). This washing represents our cleansing by the blood of Christ.
The way in which we wash/baptize allows for some degree of latitude on the amount of water used. The Scriptures speak of complete cleansing in terms of just the feet being washed (Jn. 13:10), or the hands only (Mk. 7:2), or being "sprinkled" (Ezek. 36:25). Thus:
"It is not the amount of water which we employ but the purpose for which we employ it that is of [significance]. In Jesus Christ we are washed clean of all our sins. He has given us a sign that our sins are washed away and a pledge that we shall be clean in him. Any application of water which will symbolize this cleansing will serve as such a sign and seal" (Warfield).
Here is the point: baptism "purifies." One does not sink down into water and "drown" to capture this. Paul speaks once of "being baptized into his death." But to reflect on immersion as a symbol of burial is peculiar. You are not buried in water; nor is going under water for a second a reflection of burial. Christ was entombed, not put under.
This is why I am perplexed by the dogged insistence by some that a Christian, who has been washed spiritually, and possesses all that baptism signifies, cannot come to the Lord's table because they have not been immersed. To bar someone from communion because they are sinning against the Lord wilfully in a certain area is one thing; but to forbid a Christian from coming to the table because they did not get immersed (when the evidence for immersion is so paltry) seems absurd.
Plus, "all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all" (WCF).
Warfield was right to say, therefore, "He who goes to the NT in hope of obtaining exact information on how to baptize, is doomed to quick disappointment. And he who affirms any particular way of baptizing, that it, and it alone, is valid baptism, has an immense burden of proof resting on his shoulders." Should we not exercise some moderation and humility (unlike Alexander Carson) in an area where the NT seems to demand for such?
Moreover, those Baptists who hold a hard line on mode - some do not, actually - also need to adequately account for the relation of water baptism to the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is spoken of frequently in terms of sprinkling/pouring: Isa. 32:15; 44:3; 52:15; Ezek. 36:25; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; Zech. 12:10; Acts 2:33; 10:44-45. The words, "You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5; Matt. 3:11) reflect the pouring of the Spirit (ekcheō, Acts 2:17, 33; cf. Rom. 5:5).
Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, the living water from the heavenly places, as he applies his cleansing blood to us. We now have access to the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 10:19-22). Complete submersion does not provide the picture of this event in the way that pouring does. I pour - liberally, I might add - in a way to capture the symbolism of the Spirit being poured out by Christ upon his people.
Luke 12:50 also confirms this point. The baptism Christ undergoes is his death on the cross, where the wrath of God was poured out upon him like a flood (Isa. 51:17, 22; Lk. 22:42; Ps. 88:7). Pouring, not submersion, highlights that when we are baptized, God's waters of judgment are passing over us and we are brought into the realm of salvation through Christ's death.
Finally, if Paul meant immersion by using "baptized," then he did a very good job to confuse his readers. 1 Corinthians 10:2 refutes the contention that baptizo always means immersion, unless the cloud can immerse. Of course, the Egyptians were immersed; and while Noah and his family were sprinkled the ungodly were immersed, too.
Central to Pauline baptism is the idea of incorporation. The Israelites were incorporated (baptized) into Moses; we are incorporated (baptized) into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) by the washing of regeneration (Tit. 3:5).
In theology, the Bible is our primary lexicon. Baptizo means grafted into, incorporated into, and "washed" - our washing is our incorporation. No washing, no incorporation. We are not papists who let classical lexicons rule the day. Otherwise, in Mark 7:4 the couches were dunked.
The mode is determined by the meaning! (Same goes for Christ's ordination, which was undoubtedly a "sprinkling," in order to fulfill all righteousness).
Pastor Mark Jones is re-reading D.A Carson's excellent book, Exegetical Fallacies, looking to see if he discusses the word-concept fallacy with regards to baptizo. Still looking...