Baptism - Why Follow the Original Form?
J. M. Frost, in The Christian Index, Atlanta, Ga.
The original form of baptism is determined by three things, namely, (1) the meaning of the word baptism indicating always an immersion or its equivalent, (2) the significance of the ordinance itself as a symbolic burial and resurrection, and (3) the method of its administration as reported in the New Testament.
The form of baptism as it was first commanded and administered, according to the judgment of the Christian scholarship of the world and of the best scripture exegesis in modern times, was the immersion in water of one who believed in Christ as his personal
Saviour and was baptized as an act of his own personal obedience. There is scarcely a dissenting voice on this subject among scholars and expositors, and they are in agreement with what everyone may see for himself in reading the New Testament. But why follow the original form? Will not some other form do as well? Will not "sprinkling" answer as a substitute for baptism, or shall we walk in the ways of the Lord and keep his commandments to do them?
Baptism as a Christian ordinance is of composite character, the form, though being an essential part, is yet only a part of the sacred rite. There are four elements in the ordinance, namely, form and subject, purpose and spirit. These four elements are essential to the integrity and right observance of the ordinance. The absence of either the right form or subject, the right purpose or spirit, will certainly mar this beautiful gospel ceremony, vitiate or destroy its meaning, and do violence to the high place which baptism holds in the Christian system.
The word form expresses the specific act or describes the particular thing which is done in administration of the ordinance. It is a better word for this purpose, more definite in meaning and more specific for stating this essential element of the ordinance, than the word
"mode" which is more commonly used. The form of baptism is better than the mode of baptism, and, as a casket with its precious jewel, holds the meaning of the ordinance in all its wonderful significance.
The original form for which we plead is the form which was used by John the Baptist as a man sent of God and commissioned to baptize. It is the form in which our Lord himself was baptized in the Jordan when the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the Father spoke that august word of approval and commendation. It is the form which later Christ put into his commission when sending his disciples to make other disciples and baptize them. It is the form which his disciples always used whenever they were baptizing in obedience to their Lord's commandment.
This original form is the New Testament form, has now as at the first our Lord's word of sanction and his word of command, follows his own example of baptism in the Jordan, symbolizes in noble and beautiful figure his death on the cross for sin, his burial and resurrection from the tomb. In every administration of the ordinance in this original form we have the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea; we see the empty sepulcher, behold the place where the Lord lay, and get afresh the glorious resurrection message, he is not here; he is
risen as he said. The great word of the apostles stands true, "We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so also we might walk in newness of life."
Every reason for Christian baptism at all is a reason for baptizing now in the original form, with something of added force and some additional reasons. There is a high sense in which the New Testament must be interpreted in the light of modern conditions; the high sense also in which modern conditions must be interpreted and made to quadrate with the New Testament. We must not fear nor hesitate to follow where the New Testament leads. It is the one standard for the New Testament church, the supreme and authoritative rule for Christian belief and practice. We may differ as to its meaning, here or there or throughout, but we can have no controversy or even question as to its right to rule in the conscience and life of those who follow our Lord. Every question of Christian belief and practice, of church order and ordinance, must be settled by the New Testament.
This applies with specific force to the modern church life and the present day situation as to Christian baptism. The one part of the Christian world follows "sprinkling" as a
form of baptism, while the other part follows immersion in water, as the one form in which to administer the ordinance and as essential to its integrity, holding that the only baptism is the immersion of a believer in Christ as his personal Saviour and as an act of personal obedience to his Lord. At this point of division and parting of the ways in Christian thought and church life, we set the question which heads this article, why follow the original form?
Christian scholarship and scholarly exegesis of the New Testament consider the question settled as to what was the original form. This has always been true, and they unite in almost one voice to the effect, that New Testament baptism, whether of John or our Lord or of the disciples, was in the form of immersion. But over against this plain teaching of the word of God there are many who say "it makes no difference, one form is as good as another." And the issue is drawn at this point, shall we follow the original form or shall we substitute something in its place?
The Baptist view concerning the ordinance as the Baptist message in its behalf, is that we must follow the New Testament in our baptizing as to form and subject, purpose and spirit. We do not adopt immersion simply as a preference between forms, but follow it as
the one original form which was commanded by our Lord in commanding the ordinance. This puts us in line with the scriptures, whether interpreted by learned men or read by the unlearned in simple-hearted way, to find out what the meaning is. Immersion was the original form, and is today, as then, the New Testament form. Our decision as to the form is our disposition of the New Testament and what it requires.
In further settlement of the question which heads this article, some excerpts from my work, "The Moral Dignity of Baptism" (pp. 224-233), are herewith submitted as follows:"That the ordinance was changed from baptism to sprinkling, and was changed by Roman Catholics on their pretended right of church authority, is a common matter of history. . . . Sprinkling for baptism as we have it today is manifestly of the Eomish Church in origin and purpose. . . . Shall we follow Christ, or shall we follow Borne? Shall we take the sprinkling which the Roman Catholics have given to the world, or shall we be true to Christ in his commandments and to the New Testament in its pattern and practice?
"4. We here pass from the meaning of the word to the meaning of the ordinance from its name to its design - from the form of baptism to the symbolic import of baptism. . . .
The form is so essential to the meaning of the ordinance that a change of form takes away its sense and significance - its sign-making power. The meaning of the ordinance (baptism) like the meaning of the word (baptism) requires the form of immersion in its administration. If the form of immersion be gone, then baptism itself with its symbolic import is destroyed and you have no baptism, even though the spirit and intention be retained in other sort of religious ceremony.
"A misunderstanding of the design brought the change from immersion to sprinkling, but the original design requires the original form. Baptism does not effect the new birth; is not 'in order to the remission of sins;' is not 'a condition of pardon,' nor in any sense 'a means of salvation.' Its design and meaning are in its figure of being buried and rising again. Sprinkling has no such power of figure - no such significance or sign-making power. In no sense can it represent a burial or resurrection. "'Sprinkling as a form of baptism' (1) is not like the baptism of Jesus, (2) does not commemorate in picture his burial and resurrection, (3) cannot show in emblem the believer's union with his Lord in those mighty events of tragedy and triumph, (4) nor does sprinkling show the believer's being dead to
sin and buried, nor his risen life with Christ, (5) nor can sprinkling foretoken in form the final resurrection. Nothing but immersion can fill this high office or give this exceptional service. Design or purpose is more important than the form, and yet is inseparable from its form.
"The form of a thing is often essential to the thing, is sometimes the thing itself. The silver dollar must have the form of a silver dollar; the paper dollar must have the form of the paper dollar; and in each case must be stamped with a national stamp as giving it meaning and authority to serve in the money market. The wedding ring must have its form. Not every circle is a wedding ring, and yet you cannot have the wedding ring without the circle; this too must be stamped with a something that marks its authority. Not every immersion is a baptism, and yet you cannot have baptism without immersion. You may break or mar the form, but so far you have broken or marred or lost the ordinance in all its glorious import as Christ gave it to us.
"What is it that makes the national ensign, except certain things set in certain form? There are so many colors and a given material. But these do not make a flag; they must be put into form, definite, specific form. Color is color whether in the shop or on canvas,
whether in the flower or the rainbow. But make the combination into form with red and white stripes alternating, with stars on the blue field, and then you have the national flag. It is the form that makes the Stars and Stripes, and into that form go the nation's life and authority and honor. Baptism is the ensign in the kingdom of God, the emblem of what grace has done and will yet do. But its very emblematic power is in its form; its power of utterance is in its form; its very self is in its form - form that expresses wonderful meaning and has in it the authority of high heaven.
"Baptism as immersion with its corresponding emersion alone fits the pattern our Lord gave us at the Jordan; immersion alone can serve in figure as a monument of the burial and resurrection of Jesus; immersion alone can give the answer of a good conscience toward God, showing in figure the resurrection of Christ by which we are saved; only immersion as baptism sets out in emblem our union with Christ in his redemptive work; only this bajrtism tells of our death to sin, of our new risen life, and of our hope for the final triumph over death. Immersion is full of death, but emersion is full of life and promise, hope and joy. "Scholarship in its several ways of expressing
itself, testifies (1) that the word (baptize) means immerse, (2) that Christ was immersed, (3) that the apostles and early disciples practiced immersion, (4) that immersion was almost the universal practice for thirteen hundred years, (5) that the form was changed from immersion first to pouring, then to sprinkling, (6) that immersion alone agrees with New Testament pattern and practice, and is necessary to the figure of burial and rising again to new life.In following therefore the original form of immersion and insisting on this as the only baptism, Baptists hold the great ordinance as it was in both the commission which God gave John the Baptist in sending him to baptize, and also in the commission which Christ gave his disciples when sending them to baptize in the name of the Trinity. We align ourselves in following this form with the best Christian
"When a person comes, as every thoughtful believer must come, to the place where the ways part, one leading to immersion, the other to sprinkling, what is his individual duty? If he believes in one, he cannot follow the other and lend his influence and support to what he does not believe. Such a course would make him false in this high and sacred service. He must decide; must decide for Christ and truth, and with true and courageous conviction."
scholarship of the times, with the ripest expositors in their latest interpretation of the scriptures, as to what was done at the first when people were baptized. We are but following the New Testament as the supreme and authoritative rule of Christian belief and practice, are loyal to Christ in what he commanded as our Sovereign and to the New Testament as the sole expression of his sovereignty.
In this original form also we hold the original import and purpose of the ordinance as the only symbol (1) of the resurrection of Jesus, (2) of the spiritual resurrection of those who believe in Jesus, (3) of the final resurrection of the dead at the last day when they shall hear the voice of the Son of God and shall come forth.
It is a question not so much of what baptism gives as what baptism contains. Within itself as a beautiful and significant symbol, it holds the very sum and substance, the very heart of gospel fact and truth as to the atonement which Jesus made for sin - his death and resurrection. Dr. William Sanday, one of the fore-most scholars of the Church of England, when commenting on the expression, "buried with Christ in baptism," says of baptism: "It expresses symbolically a series of acts corresponding to the redeeming acts of Christ:
"Immersion = Death,
"Submersion = Burial (ratification of death),
"Emergence = Resurrection."
In like manner Dr. Plummer, an honored Presbyterian expositor, when discussing the ordinance, says: "It is only when baptism is administered by immersion that its full significance is seen." This is precisely what Baptists have always believed and taught. They practice and insist on this form now, because without this form the original purpose of the ordinance disappears from view. Without immersion baptism is meaningless.
Our question, therefore, why follow the original form? resolves itself into simple and primary questions. Why baptize as God commissioned John to baptize? Why baptize as our Lord himself was baptized? Why do what our Lord commanded us to do? What is the use of obedience, anyway? Why baptize and be baptized as the first disciples baptized? Why preserve the glorious picture of the triumphant resurrection of Jesus and of his final triumph in raising the dead from their graves? These questions answer themselves; go to the very heart of this discussion, go to the very heart also of all who love our Lord. We stand where these questions command us to stand, speak the word which they speak, follow where they lead.
Nashville, Tenn., March 3, 1911.
[From The Baptist Message, SSB/SBC, 1911, pp. 146-157. This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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