“Theologically, baptism may be defined as an act of association or identification with someone, some group, some message, or some event. John the Baptist’s baptism associated His followers with His message of righteousness (he had no group for them to join)” (Ryrie, page 488). John the Baptist’s baptism was a kingdom baptism that identified his baptized converts with the kingdom he was offering (Matthew 3:1-6).
Christ’s baptism also was a kingdom baptism for He was fulfilling all Messianic righteousness by identifying with Israel. Church baptism also means identification. Church Baptism is the first of two ordinances and is the initiatory ordinance. “Christian baptism means identification with the message of the Gospel, the person of the Savior, and the group of believers” (Ryrie, page 489).
Why Should Believers be Baptized?
1. Because Christ was baptized (Mt. 3:15-17). This was Christ’s first public act (1 Pet. 2:21). This was the righteous thing to do (Mt. 3:15).
2. Also Christ commanded the Church to baptize (Mt. 28:19-20; 1 Jo. 2:3).
3. The early Church practiced baptism (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12; 36, 38; 9:18; 10:47; 16:33). F. F. Bruce said “The idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply not entertained in the N.T.”
How Should Believers be Baptized? Belieers are baptized by immersion.
1. The first reason to baptize by immersion is the meaning of the word. The word “baptize” means to immerse. Lexicons define the Greek word baptizo to mean to dip, immerge, submerge. “Consider also the testimonies of three non-Baptist who led the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin, founder of Presbyterianism, declared, ‘The word baptize itself signifies immerse, and it is certain that the rite of immersion was observed by the ancient church.’ In commenting on Romans 6:3-5, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, said, ‘Buried with Him, alluding to the ancient manner of baptism by immersion.’ In speaking of the meaning of baptism, Martin Luther, founder of Lutheranism, said, ‘They ought to be entirely immersed, and immediately drawn out. For this the etymology of the name seems to demand.’ I have always appreciated Luther’s practical theology when he advised the pastor to immediately draw out the person being immersed.
Secular writers used the Greek word to describe a sinking ship. This is how the word is used in Scripture (Lk.16:24). There is a word for sprinkling in Scripture: rantidzo (1 Pet.1:2). There is also a word of pouring in Scripture: ekcheo (Acts 2:17). But neither of these words is used for baptism.
2. Another reason for baptism by immersion is the examples in Scripture. John in Mt. 3:6 was baptizing “in” the Jordan River, not “beside” or “by” or “near” or “with.” Berkhof objected: “Was John the Baptist capable of the enormous task of immersing the multitudes that flocked unto him at the river Jordan” (p. 630). Grudem responded: “Certainly over a period of several days he would have been capable of immersing many hundreds of people, but it is also possible that his disciples (Mt. 9:14) assisted him with some of the baptism” (p. 967). John 3:23 says there was “much water” where John was baptizing. Much water is needed only for baptism by immersion.
3. The final reason for baptism by immersion is the symbolism of baptism. Baptism does have a symbolical meaning (Acts 22:16). Baptism pictures the believer’s identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in Romans 6. At salvation we were identified with Christ’s death (6:3). Our obligation to live in sin is dead; not our capacity. At salvation we were identified with Christ’s burial (6:4a). Our old way of life was buried at salvation (1 Pet. 3:18-22). Baptism pictures a complete break with one’s past life. Noah was delivered from the old sinful world by water. For believers, baptism marks the transition to a new life, a new fellowship of friends. At salvation we were identified with Christ’s resurrection (6:4b).
These are three powerful reasons to baptize by immersion.