Which Baptism is Baptism?

by Tony Warren

    Many legitimate questions have been raised by Christians regarding "what the proper mode of the sacrament of baptism is, and what it does." These are questions which certainly should be addressed by faithful theologians. Especially since there are several Churches which teach that water baptism is a 'required' sacrament for Salvation. However, any such requirement in order to gain (or maintain) Salvation would qualify as a gospel predicated upon our works. And this is an unbiblical if not heretical idea. Baptism in water has no power of it's own, for there is no efficacy in literal water. Rather, water baptism is a token of the baptism (cleansing) of the Spirit which is the real power within Christians. The outward token which we apply in the sacrament of baptism is to 'signify' this inward occurrence. Indeed it is very much like the ceremonial ablutions in the old testament were an outward sign of the cleansing of God. Or as circumcision was an outward sign of a Covenant (promissory) relationship with God. It didn't mean everyone was righteous, but that they received the signification of the people of righteousness.

And just as circumcision made no one righteous, water baptism does nothing to make us righteous. Circumcision was the Old Covenant sign God wanted His people to apply to illustrate something infinitely more important than the literal cutting off of flesh. It was a token of the righteousness of faith wherein through the shedding of blood their sins were cut off. The ceremonial act itself was not that faith, it was the 'sign' of that faith. Romans chapter four touches on this principle as it speaks of Abraham saying, righteousness was not imputed to him by circumcision, for he was already righteous by faith before the circumcision. But his circumcision was the 'sign' of that Faith.

Romans 4:11

And so while we can read passages in the Old Covenant that 'appear' to indicate they were required to be circumcised in order to have the righteousness of faith, we see clearly that this was really never the case. The circumcision was just a sign of the real occurrence of faith. In this exact same way, water baptism is a sacrament that Christians receive as a sign of the real occurrence of faith, which is baptism or cleansing by the Spirit. We must be baptized in the Holy Spirit in order to be Saved, not H²0. Without this true baptismal cleansing of God, we are still unwashed and deep in trespass and Sin. While water baptism is a precept of God (as circumcision was), baptism in the Spirit is the only requirement for Salvation.

This we should know inherently because water cannot save. It will make you wet, it will wash filth from the flesh, and it can be a sacrament and signification that a Christian is under the Covenant of God, but it cannot Save. Just as in Old Covenant times, the blood of sacrificed lambs did nothing for the children of Israel to wash away sin (Heb 10:4), yet was a precept or commandment of God. In the same way as baptism today, it was a sign of the blood of Jesus (The Lamb) that would come and truly wash away that sin. The sacrificing of a lamb is something that they did illustrating by it that it would be by the lamb of the tribe of Juda that true cleansing would come. Likewise, water baptism is something that God commands us to do as a token of the washing by the Spirit which cleansed us. There is a very big difference between a command of God to do something, and a requirement in order to be Saved. Not all understand this as I received a letter from a Christian which stated:

" I believe when it says in the scriptures that we are to be Baptized in water, that it is a commandment, and if one does not follow it, then they do not follow what God has told us, Hence they are lost...."

He is right about what God tells us and what we should do, but his logic is flawed on the last point. Because likewise we are also commanded that in, "whatever we do, do all to the Glory of God." So when we do something that is not to the Glory of God, are we all therefore Lost? We would be if that logic followed through. We are commanded to sin not, so when we have a sinful thought pop into are heads, does that mean we are all Lost? We are commanded to go to Church, if we have neglected going to Church this week, then are we all Lost? Of course you see my point here. And neither are we 'necessarily' lost if we were not baptized. It is a command like any other command of God which should be obeyed, but it is most certainly not a requirement that one must have or we can say they are unsaved. There is a subtle and yet distinct difference, which is illustrated in understanding true Sovereignty and Grace of God.

I gave this person the example of the thief on the cross who was not baptized, and yet was Saved by Christ, to which he retorted:

"..this was on the Old Testament side of the cross, and though he was Saved by the grace of the Lord, we today are to follow the ordinances that have been set forth, and if we do not, then we are lost!"

This sounds like Salvation by Grace has changed, but has it? We are to follow the ordinances of God today, and they were to follow the ordinances of God before the cross also. But they weren't Saved by following it anymore than we are. The Salvation program of Grace has not changed. And for this theory to be true, either the Salvation program changed, or there was one Salvation program for this thief, and another entirely different program with different rules for everyone else. The truth is, the thief, as well as all other old covenant saints, were Saved the exact Same way that we are today. By Grace, through faith. They, looking forward to the finished work of Christ, and we looking backward at the finished work of Christ. Their obeying the command to make animal sacrifices couldn't Save them anymore than our obeying the command to have water baptism.

Hebrews 10:4

We were/are all Saved the same way, which is by Grace. No one today is being made whole by someone's work of sprinkling, dipping, dunking, or splashing. The Salvation program was the same for the thief on the cross as it is for us. The total Sovereign un-merited Grace of God.

If I can make an (admittedly imperfect) analogy, it's very much like when we get married and we exchange wedding rings. Those rings in truth really don't mean anything with regards to us 'actually' being married. Yet we desire to have them as a sign or token of our marriage Covenant. In other words, we are married 'with or without' the rings, but we have them because they are a sign, or a token of our joining in the sacred marriage bond before God. In the same way, when you are Saved, you are Saved with or without being baptized with water. But water baptism is a sign or token of the true Covenant bond. As circumcision illustrated the righteousness of the Covenant bond, so baptism illustrates the righteousness of the Covenant bond. And God tells us to apply that sign just as He told the Israelites to apply the sign of circumcision. Even simple reason tells us that if baptism in water was required to be Saved, then anyone who didn't have the opportunity to become baptized in water, could never be Saved (what a horrible thought). ..else it's not really a requirement. Because we can't have it both ways.

Another error is that some Church groups take great pains in pointing out that the word Baptize [baptizo] means to dip. But in actuality the word doesn't really mean dip (though it is taken from a root word [bapto] meaning to whelm, which is by implication dipping). For example, whelming a pot with water could be done by dipping it in water. However, the word [baptizo] does not mean to dip (despite what your dictionary might say), it is used in the sense of whelming or putting water on something to wash it, as illustrated in the form of the word [baptismos]. For example:

Luke 11:38

Mark 7:4 The words translated "wash" and "washed" there is [baptizo] the exact same word translated baptize. It was translated wash there because that is precisely what it means. To place water on something in order to get rid of dirt. When used in the Christian Baptismal sense, the word signifies the ceremonial cleansing or ablution (not the putting away of filth of flesh, but the washing away of sins). It is a sacrament signifying a Spiritual ablution. It's not the dipping of our sins away, but the washing or cleansing of our sins. Should we read scripture this way: "And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first dipped before dinner?" Of course that would not a correct translation, because what is being said in these verses is that they washed. They whelmed (but by implication) washed their hands before dinner. Obviously the word should be (and was) accurately translated wash. Of all the common translations, not one of them ever translated this dip or dipped. And the reason is obvious, it clearly means to wash. Moreover, the Bible is it's own interpreter and it's own dictionary, and by comparing scripture with scripture we discover how God wants words defined. Again, we see the word used this way in mark:

Mark 7:4

I'm sure no one is going to speak saying, I'm going into the kitchen to dip [baptizo] my tables, or I'm going into the kitchen to dip [baptismos] the cups and and pots. People do not talk like that, and neither did the people of this time. They spoke of Washing their hands and washing their beds or tables, and washing cups and pots. That is why the word is translated correctly, 'washing.' they could not honestly translate it anything else, for that is what it means. [baptizo] means to wash, and only those predisposed to believing otherwise because of Church tradition would argue this a bad translation. Again:

Hebrews 9:10

Would divers dippings work there? No, it wouldn't work here at all. The word [baptismos] is used here to illustrate ceremonial ablution. A sacrament, a ceremonial washing or cleansing, a SIGN of the Spiritual washing God would do for them. This defining as washing is made abundantly clear in other verses, such as:

Acts 22:16

By rule of precedence, context, and common sense, this word baptized [baptizo] means to be cleansed in the washing away our sins, not in immersing away sins, or dipping away our sins. Again, as we just read in Hebrews 9:10 of “various baptisms” [baptismos] or literally 'diverse washings' that were part of the Old Testament sacraments or ceremonies. This baptism most certainly is not entailing dippings? And as we read down a few verses to 21, God makes that abundantly clear.

Hebrews 9:13

Hebrews 9:19 Hebrews 9:21-22 These diverse baptisms (different washings) of the old testament do not in any way mean dippings. It signified cleansing in ceremonial washing. In these cases, definitely sprinkling. This blood sprinkled is the shadow or picture of the death, burial, and resurrection with Christ, by whose blood we are cleansed. It has nothing whatsoever to do with immersion, it has to do with the 'washing' away of our sins in his blood. They weren't immersed in blood. Did the Israelites immerse the Altar or whatever they sprinkled the blood on? Not at all. This cleansing is what the sacrament of these diverse baptisms signified. The baptism [baptismos] in which the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, is sanctification for the purifying of the flesh. The New Covenant is the confirming of the old Covenant by Christ. Christ came not to do away with the law, but to fulfill or complete it. Old Covenant ablution becomes New Covenant baptism. Old Covenant Sacrifice becomes New Covenant Communion. Old Covenant Sabbath becomes New Covenant Sabbath. Old Covenant Israel becomes New Covenant Israel. These were all everlasting laws, continued in Christ. Likewise, Old Covenant baptisms refers to our being 'cleansed' ceremonially, not to us being dipped ceremonially.

Would we say we are 'dipped' with the Holy Spirit? God washes or cleanses us with the Holy Spirit, not dips or immerses. This is the cleaning or washing of God that has everything to do with Salvation. It's about making clean spiritually, not about Church tradition of dipping or immersion. That is not to say that immersion cannot be an acceptable way to baptize, it is to say that it is not the 'only' or 'most Biblical' way to baptize, as unfortunately is so often postulated.

When we consider if water can wash away the sins of anyone, the answer is a resounding, no. And so how could the amount of water used be a qualifier when water is simply a token? Thus a cup, a tub full, or a river is not the point. Water or H²0 is not the Holy Spirit of God, which is the point. As Hebrews 9:21-22, and all through the Bible, it is so clearly illustrated.

Ephesians 5:26

Not dipping of water, but washing of water by the word. Literal water does not cleanse in sanctification, but the washing that cleanses is of something far superior than literal water.

John 3:5

Does that mean water baptism? Not at all! The water we are born of is not H²0, but Pure water which comes from the new birth, whereby we being regenerated are washed clean from the stain of sin. And the truth be known, when we carefully study scripture, we most often see this symbolism of cleansing in sprinkling, not in immersion. For example:

Hebrews 10:22

This is the baptism that Saves and cleanses our desperately wicked hearts, not H²0. That water spoken of there is not literal water upon our body, but pure spiritual water, the cleansing of the Holy Spirit which can only come through Christ.

Again, when Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch whom he baptized, the passage of scripture he was reading from was Isaiah chapter 53, which is introduced by the end of chapter 52:

Isaiah 52:15

This prophesies of the baptizing of all nations in the New Covenant dispensation, and God says He sprinkled. Did the Prophet speak of Himself or some other, and Philip says he spoke of Christ. This is the context of the passages the Ethiopian eunuch would have been reading. That Christ would cleanse many nations (including his Ethiopia), and this is surely what Philip was speaking of when he asked him if he understood what he read, and then expounded unto him beginning at Christ the Saviour.

Acts 8:36

Surely after philip explained to him the cleansing of many nations by sprinkling which the Prophet Isaiah spoke of was of Christ, the eunuch wanted to be baptized.

Acts 8:38

Some theologians say that this proves immersion because it says that the eunuch went down into the water, but this is presupposition. For it doesn't say the eunuch went down into the water, it 'clearly' says that they stopped the chariot, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water. If this meant immersion, then they both were immersed. And God meticulously inspired this language so there would be no mistake. They simply stepped out of the chariot, they both stepped down into the water, and Then it says philip baptized the eunuch. How much clearer can it get? The going down into the water has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual baptism, which occurs after they go down into the water. Likewise, when they came out.

Acts 8:39

You see, both went down into the water, THEN the eunuch was baptized, and THEN they both came up out of the water. So contrary to some wishful thinking, the going down into the water was not the baptism. We would expect that because of the context of Isaiah which the eunuch was reading, they went down into the water, and then Philip sprinkled the eunuch, and then they both came up out of the water. The sprinkling is God's Word of baptismal cleansing (washing) which prophesied of this baptism. How does the Bible deal with the baptismal cleansing throughout scripture?

Numbers 8:7

Ezekiel 36:25-26 Note God says he will sprinkle clean water upon us and we shall be clean from all our sins. God says sprinkle, not immerse. Because of Church tradition, do we retort, 'wrong God our tradition says you must dip or immerse in water as a signification of spiritual baptism?' God forbid, for true baptism or washing is of God and not our denominational presuppositions. These scriptures should preclude anyone from claiming that immersion is the 'only' mode of baptism. In Illustrating spiritual baptism, God uses sprinkling. I believe that sprinkling is the more biblically defensible way of baptizing, based upon my study of the 'whole' of scripture.

Water baptism is not the real cleansing, it is water much efficacious and important than H²0. When God says, repent (Acts 2:38) and be baptized, and you will be Saved, repentance is unto Salvation, but baptism in literal water is not. Baptism in the Spiritual water is. Consider Ephesians carefully as God says there is one baptism:

Ephesians 4:5

Those are God's words. They are faithful and true. The One baptism is baptism in the Holy Spirit. What that 'clearly' means is that any other baptism (water) is merely a sign or token of this one baptism. Anyone who denies that might as well call God's Word a lie, because He says there is only one.

John 1:33

John baptized with water as a sign, but the "One Baptism" which the sign pointed to was this baptism in the Holy Spirit he spoke of that Christ brought. There is no contradiction of these baptisms. Because the Only real baptism (Cleansing/Washing) is the baptism of the Spirit, and water baptisms are simply a 'token' of that One Baptism. We could say the same thing about circumcision. There was one circumcision, and that was the circumcision of the Heart. The circumcision of the flesh was merely a token of that One circumcision.

Colossians 2:11

That's the One Circumcision of Salvation. The circumcision of the flesh was merely a token of this one circumcision of the cutting off of sins. And anyone not of this one circumcision, God says is as 'uncircumcised' to Him. Even if he had been circumcised in the flesh. This is the principle at work here.

Likewise, there is one Lamb of God slain for our sins. Those literal lambs slain in the Old Testament were simply tokens of the One Lamb of God that would be slain for our sins. Can you imagine those of the Old Testament congregation arguing over if the blood used from the lamb slain should be two cups or three? But that is exactly what some of the Church today argue over. It's ridiculous for the Church to argue over how much, or literally, the amount of water used to signify baptism. What is Biblically commanded in baptism is water, and that's all. Any other added requirements are meaningless. So why is the Church today so concerned whether a splash of water should be used in the sign of baptism, or a pool of water, or a river? It is because of their Church traditions. But while they are busy pointing, they are in truth (and ironically), missing the whole point.

And those who even insist that baptism in water is synonymous with baptism in the Spirit are treading on dangerous ground. It is easily proven by scripture that this belief is Biblically indefensible.

Acts 8:15

So here we see that although they had been baptized in water, they still were yet Saved, because they didn't yet have the Holy Ghost. And God plainly tells us, He that doesn't have the Holy Spirit is none of His (Romans 8:9). Proof positive that water baptism does not mean one has been baptized in the Spirit, or Saved.

True Salvation is when God baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. It can happen at the same time or it can happen at different times. But the water is merely a token. While anyone can set a date and time to be baptized in water, no one can set a date for baptizing in the Spirit, but God. So then honestly, rationally, logically and Biblically, how could water baptism mean one is Saved or not Saved? Are we in control or God? We can set a date to have the sign of water put on us but the baptism that Saves us is of the Spirit, and is controlled by God. That is basically what 1st Peter chapter three is illustrating. Water can cleanse our flesh, but it can't bring real Salvation.

1st Peter 3:21

You see baptism does Save us, but NOT baptism in water that can put away the filth of the flesh (washing), but baptism of the Spirit which is provided us by the redemption secured by the death and Resurrection of Christ. Baptism is a figure, a sign, or a token of something INFINITELY more important. Water is the FIGURE of something spiritual, the acknowledgement of a good conscience toward God. A token that we are made clean of our filth (which is sin) by Christ's resurrection. Not washed away by literal water, but washed away by the Spiritual waters of the Holy Spirit of God in the Resurrection of Christ. It is our New Birth where we are born of the water and baptized in this Spirit. And that work was accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ, not by any work of applying literal water.

Titus 3:5

We are regenerated by the cleansing of the Holy Spirit of God. That word regeneration means a spiritual nativity or a spiritual rebirth. We gladly put on the sign of water baptism to signify the true washing that came when Christ entered our lives. John the Baptist baptized with the baptism of repentance with water, but after the cross, Jesus made it so we were baptized with something infinitely more permanent.

Luke 3:16

Again, ask yourself honestly, would John say, "I dip you with water but Jesus shall dip you with the Holy spirit and Fire?" No, because the word Baptize does not mean dip, it means to wash or cleanse. Dip makes no sense. This is the "REAL" baptism or cleansing that will take place. It's by the Holy Spirit, and it's by fire because we have gone through the 'refiner's fire' in Him. Not dipped in it, cleansed in it. This is the One Baptism the Lord talks about.

Acts 11:16

And so, knowing all these things, we know that the 'amount' of water, the position, or the mode of application has no bearing upon the token. Christians saying that you must be immersed in water to be legitimately baptized, are claiming more than scripture will allow. They're adding Church tradition to the Word.

Also, in their insistence that, "to be buried like Christ in death, you should be totally immersed," they are making a personal commentary, not declaring something scripture says. Baptism is a synonym for cleansing or washing. Water baptism is a 'token' or sign of the washing clean of the Holy Spirit, not a token of burial in a tomb. Water cleanses, it does not bury. It's a picture not of the immersing in dirt, but the cleansing which was done inside us by Christ. If God had wanted baptism to be a sign of burial, He would have had us bathe in dirt. On the contrary, baptism is a symbol of washing or cleansing, which is why it is done in water and also symbolized by fire. A refiners fire cleanses, and water cleanses. A tomb or burial does not take away filth.

And even in the only instance in scripture that speaks of dipping in this manner (2nd kings 5:14), it is clearly to illustrate using water to wash and be clean, not to bury.

2nd Kings 5:13

And this is God's representation of baptism, not of being buried, but of being cleansed in water. And the amount is insignificant. Yes it is true that baptism is brought about by the death of Christ, but that is not the picture in water. e.g., wine is a picture of blood, but it's not a picture of burial, a dove is a picture of the Spirit, but it's not a picture of a coffin, bread is a picture of the body of Christ, but it's not a picture of a tomb. Yet they are all related, and surely one could say that the communion bread represents the death and burial of Christ. But that is NOT the picture put forth by using the symbol of 'bread.' Rather, it's a symbol of the food of life that we live by. The Word of God. Neither is using water a symbol of burying anyone, it's a symbol of what we use to wash clean with. Washing of the Holy Spirit. When Colossians says we are 'buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God,' it merely means that it is by this death and resurrection of Christ that we receive the cleansing of the Spirit. i.e., the efficacy in the cleansing of the Spirit is by Christ's work on the cross. Water is not being equated with dirt or burial, cleansing is being equated to be by Christ's work.

The amount of water, the way it is applied, or the position of water does not in any way make the sacrament of baptism valid, or invalid. In other words, to believe that immersion is the only way to baptize (as some do) is nonsense. Again, immersion is fine if that's the way we want to do it. I see nothing inherently wrong with that (2nd kings 5:14), even though I believe sprinkling is the more biblically correct. I'm not condemning immersion, but declaring that it is incorrect for Christians to think that this is the only right way to baptize. Especially with all the scriptures illustrating sprinkling. And this I believe is really the position the Church should take. The Westminster confession of faith, states:

Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person. -XXVIII:III.

In other words, they agree that either mode is a legitimate baptism, but they rightly show the scriptures illustrate cleansing by pouring or sprinkling water. They understand that the amount of water is not the issue. When we think about this coherently, what those who insist upon immersion are doing is putting the efficacy on the amount of water used, 'as if' there is some magic formula in being covered with literal water. That would be like me saying in order for a communion service to be legitimate, the bread wafer must be baked 3 days and nights because Christ was in the earth 3 days and nights. That's not sound biblical exegesis. Or if I said it must be class AAA bread used in communion only, because my Church thinks it's a better quality, or if I said that the wine must be the finest we can get, because Jesus was perfect, etc. Those kinds of man made rules or ordinances miss the mark. We don't have to be buried in water to signify being clean, or have the efficacy of being buried with Christ. That is a man made requirement, but it is not what is God's command.

Let me give you another Biblical example. Remember when Jesus was washing the feet of His Disciples and how brother Peter thought our Lord shouldn't be washing their feet?

John 13:8-10

Jesus is equating the washing of feet with water, with Salvation. He's saying, if I don't wash your feet, you're not a part of Me (Saved). He goes on to say you're clean with this washing of your feet, but not all are clean. In other words, He knew that Judas was still unsaved. He was the one 'Not Clean.' i.e., there was no efficacy in the literal water. Jesus used this washing of those made clean to illustrate being Saved. Now note 'carefully,' Jesus says if He washes just their feet, they are nonetheless clean all over. ..How can that be? Think about it! It can be because there is no efficacy in that water washing. They are not actually washed clean by that water, but by the Holy Spirit. Thereby are they clean all over. There is none of this burial business, Jesus was simply using the water as a 'sign' or token of the real cleansing. That is why only the feet need be washed and not immersing their whole body as Peter might have assumed. Because the water was 'just' a token.

That should be a lesson to us on the principle of the sacrament of baptism. And Jesus gives us the commission. As He washed our feet, so we are to go forth and wash others feet. As He Saved us, we go forth with the gospel to Save others. The great commission to evangelize the world and baptize them into Christ. And when we wash or baptize with water, we need not cover their whole body, for the efficacy is NOT in the water, or the amount of water, but of the Spirit. Judas could have been washed all over from head to toe and from dusk to dawn, and he still would remain unclean. Because it's not in the mode of applying the water or the amount of water. Likewise, a Child of God could simply have his little pinky washed, and is clean all over. For it's not in the literal water, it's in the washing of the Spirit.

And so, Sprinkling can be a legitimate baptism, as can dipping, as can dunking, as can splashing, as can washing, as can immersion. To be buried with Him in baptism, 'does not' mean we must be immersed. It's the baptism of the Holy Spirit (not Water) that Signifies that we had our sins laid upon him, were buried with Him, and we were raised up in His Resurrection. While there is nothing wrong with that way of putting the sign of baptism on believers, it is certainly not called for in scripture, nor does it invalidate sprinkling or splashing.

Unfortunately, sometimes it seems Christians tend to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I think that the principle of Romans 14:15 applies here. If our Brother eats meat, let him eat meat. If he doesn't eat meat, fine, let him not eat meat. Neither eating meat, nor not eating meat is a sin. By the same token, neither NOT baptizing by immersion, nor NOT baptizing by sprinkling, is a sin. Either way can Glorify God. Let each do their baptism to the Glory of God in faith. For whatsoever is not of faith, is Sin. If you want to be baptized by immersion, be baptized by immersion. If by Sprinkling, be baptized by Sprinkling, remembering that it is but a token of what Christ HAS done. The efficacy is not in the ceremony, it's in working of the Spirit within us. But judge not thy Brother in his mode of baptism.

And "May the Lord give us all the wisdom to discern the truth of His most holy Word".



Copyright 1994 Tony Warren
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