Baptist History Homepage
The Eastern Baptist Association of California and Oregon
June 8, 9 & 10, 1883
"Baptism - Its Practical Uses"
Elder J. D. Bonner


We rejoice to have the privilege of meeting you again at our annual gathering. The past year has not been one of spiritual prosperity, although it has not been without some spiritual interest. The letters from the churches indicate an interest in education and temperance, Sunday schools and missions. At our last yearly meeting I was appointed to write a circular letter for the body, there being no subject given on which to write, I selected "Baptism."

Baptism is a divine institution. John the Baptist received it from Heaven and administered it to repenting and believing Jews. John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. It stands at the threshold of the Gospel institutions, and is the door into the visible kingdom of Christ our Savior, who honored it by his example when he was baptized by his forerunner in the river Jordan, and coming up out of the water, the heavens were opened and the spirit descended in bodily shape like a dove and abode upon him; and a voice from heaven saying "THIS is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased, hear him." After his resurrection, when all power was given him in heaven and on earth, he commanded his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost. And, lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world. The baptism of John is the same as of Christ, whatever may be the difference in circumstances; it was intended to represent the same thing as in repentance. We die to sin; by faith in Christ we are raised to walk in newness in life. Our baptism is to represent our death to sin and our obligation to walk in newness of life. Also the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We are buried by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we, also, should walk in newness of life. It is the solemn avowal of our belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as the Savior of the world. He died for our sins and rose for our justification. We practically attest our belief in the same by our baptism. It is the putting on of Christ as the putting on of apparel. The righteousness of Christ, as he said to John, "thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness," not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answers of a good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It appears from what has been shown by the above, that believers only have the right to be baptized; that they must be born again; born of the Spirit in order to see the kingdom, that is to comprehend the obligations pertaining to spiritual life. It is also necessary to be born of water to enter into the visible kingdom, and is a prerequisite to a church relation and to communion at the Lord's table. The principles of believers' baptism, had they been observed, would have kept the church comparatively pure in all ages. The introduction of infant baptism by Catholics, first, and by Protestants, also, the so-called orthodox of many of the popular denominations has polluted the fountain at its head and served to unite the church and state and to introduce the unregenerated into those human organizations called churches of Christ. "Baptists are not Protestants." The time has come when we should contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, as taught by John the Baptist, Christ and the Apostles. We have no evidence that in the days of the apostles any were ever baptized or introduced into the church only those who made a creditable profession of faith in Christ and believed the gospel.

The first sermon that was preached after the resurrection of Christ, on the day of Pentecost, was A MODEL one, and addressed to those who were present at the crucifixion of the Savior. They were commanded to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and they should receive the Holy Ghost; and they that gladly received the word were baptized, and the same say were added unto them about three thousand souls. When Peter preached at the house of Cornelius the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us in the beginning. Peter says, can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, seeing they have received the Holy Ghost as well as we, and he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. There is the most perfect harmony in the scripture teaching on this subject. When they believed Philip's preaching the kingdom of God, they were baptized, both men and women. Mark, if you please, the baptism of the eunuch. Philip commenced at the same scripture and [preached]unto him Jesus ; and as they journeyed they came to a certain water, and the eunuch said to Philip, "See here is water, what doth hinder that I should not be baptized." Philip said, "If thou believest with all thy heart that thou MAYEST." He said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him; and when they were come up out of the water the spirit caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no more, and he went on his way rejoicing.

The baptism of households is no exception to the rule of believers' baptism. The Lord opened Lydia's heart, and she attended to the things spoken by Paul, and was baptized and all her [house] straightway. And they went out of the prison and entered into the house of Lydia and comforted the brethren and departed.

The jailer said, "What must I do to be saved." Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved and thy house, and they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house, and he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his straightway, and rejoiced believing in God with all his house. It is clearly shown that in Lydia's house they were all brethren and that the apostle comforted them and departed; and that in [the] jailer's house they rejoiced, believing in God.

This seems to be evidence sufficient to answer any unprejudiced mind that nothing but believers' baptism is found in the scripture. Having, as we conceive, established the fact that believers' baptism is the only baptism taught in God's word, we notice its design.

Baptism is a solemn profession of the religion of Christ. As believers in His atonement, His death, burial and resurrection, we avow our faith in Him by being baptized in his name, by renouncing the world, and by our obligation to walk according to the rule of the gospel. It is the boundary line between the church and the world. The visible line separating the believer from the unbeliever. In it we declare our allegiance to the king of kings and lord of lords. We say by this solemn act; that we are born again, not of corruptible seed, but by the word of God that lives and abides forever, and having left the world behind us it is our duty to keep all the commandments of God pure and holy; old things are passed away, all things are become new. Baptism is a prerequisite to communion at the Lord's table. History informs us that in the early days of Christianity some young noblemen seeing the administration of the Lord's supper, were desirous of being admitted to partake of the same. The answer was, if you will be washed in the salutary fountain as your noble fathers were you may. It seems by this that whatever may have been the corruptions of the church, the line of baptism was preserved. This has been the practice of Baptists in all ages. None only those who make a creditable profession of faith and are baptized by immersion are admitted to the Lord's table. It seems to us to be necessary to show here what we hold as valid baptism. First, a proper subject; second, a legal administrator, and third, the proper formula. Believers, as already stated, are the only proper subjects. An elder ~ that is one immersed himself and properly ordained by the church ~ is a proper administrator, and the proper formula is given in the great commission in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. We conceive that all the authority rests with the local church or congregation. To judge as to the qualifications of subjects and administrators, these principles have been held by the Baptists in the past and are still more tenaciously held at the present, and has served to keep it pure and separate from the world, and are much more dear to us than gold, yea, much fine gold. We cannot falter now. It is true, we have been persecuted at one time and the other. Our numbers are large and still increasing; probably two and a half million in the United States. Let us continue to hold the simplicity of the gospel in the bonds of peace. May God bless us all. Amen.

[The Eastern Baptist Association of California and Oregon Minutes, 1883. Document was re-typed by Robert Cullifer, Folsom, CA and used with permission. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More California Circular Letters
Baptist History Homepage