LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 240

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. These are my personal reflections on this beloved historic Particular Baptist confession of the Christian Faith.


Chapter 29. Of Baptism. Paragraph 4: “Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.”

Baptist theology is clear on this point as to what is fitting. I am certain that other modes of baptism do not in and of themselves disqualify other forms of water baptism, however, I simply cannot understand why any other form of baptism would ever develop apart from the clear biblical one of immersion. It seems to me utterly apparent that immersion was the way people were baptized from John the Witness (AKA John the Baptist) onward. This was the very start of the Gospel itself according to Mark. Mark 1:1-4. They (believers only mind you) went down under the water, and they came back up. This seems what God wishes to continue in Christian baptism in his triune name today. I mean, how plain is it? “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water…” Matthew 3:16a. Jesus was baptized by immersion. A plain reason why John was “baptizing in Aenon near Salim” was “because there was much water there…” John 3:23. I simply need no more than these descriptions to understand the prescriptions given in the epistles. John needed more than a pitcher full of water to sprinkle people. If he was sprinkling, he’d need only about a gallon for hundreds. No. Immersion is just too clear. This method is to typify what “buried with Christ” and “raised to new life” looks like.

Other forms of baptism (by non-immersion) began to develop just after the apostolic age for reasons that sometimes appear rather benign. The Didache (basically an ancient late first century church manual) for example, while clearly calling for believer’s baptism in fasting, allowed for people to have water poured over their head three times if the people could not be baptized by immersion in cold or warm “living” (running) water. See the Didache’s chapter seven. I’ve baptized in the deserts of the Middle East. Water is a scarce commodity there. Perhaps we can understand why some other forms for believer’s baptism came about in such places. Hundreds of years after the time of Jesus, for reasons that cannot be traced to biblical deduction at all, even more forms of baptism came about even with babies. This was most often not done by immersion of the kid. Infant baptism arose perhaps due to high infant mortality rates as some sadly taught that baptism somehow washed away a baby’s original sin before death. Please let me add that I’m so sorry for your loss if you have lost a child. My hope for him or her is in Christ. I pray yours is too with all confidence!) I digress. This is frankly a ridiculous and entirely un-biblical farce. Baptism neither regenerates (sorry Lutherans) nor washes away original sin (sorry Thomists). There is not a scintilla of biblical teaching on such an idea as baptism washing away the original sin of an infant, and so it’s an idea that should be utterly rejected with prejudice. In fact, we can be so sure that baptism doesn’t save a baby that Paul says when he went to Corinth, “Christ did not send me to baptize…” in 1 Corinthians 1:17. Imagine the malevolence of Paul saying such a thing if he could save babies by baptism?! It’d be unthinkable that he’d not baptize people’s kids into safety in the Gentile world if this was in his theology! No saints, baptism is for the regenerate. It itself doesn’t make anyone regenerate. Death bed baptisms in other erroneous views that baptism similarly sort of “wiped the slate clean” and thus was wise to be withheld until death seemed present also sprang up in spiritual ignorance hundreds of years after the Apostles. But none of this is what’s recorded for us in the thousands of baptisms recorded throughout the roughly forty years chronicled in the Book of Acts. The epistles also prescribe baptism by immersion in ways commensurate with the Baptist model of what’s called “credo baptism” or “believer’s baptism.” Sound biblical hermeneutics on baptism should lead us to speak of our salvation as represented by baptism in the same way we call the bread and the cup the things they represent (Jesus’ body and blood) without themselves being the things represented. In this, we avoid creating the irreconcilable contradiction of a salvation by one’s works…and yet by God’s grace alone. This often quickly becomes the crux of the issue with erroneous baptisms. The question and the mode often go hand in hand. Infant baptism is just not a biblical idea. Arguments for the few households baptized in support of family baptisms are not convincing. Not a single infant is baptized or called to be such in the Bible. But I’ll resist further commentary as the section of text here is about mode of baptism.

The word “baptize” literally means “to immerse.” Everyone knows that this is the ordinary use of the term in the ordinance in the Bible. We actually transliterate it from the Greek. Even the great theologian of the Faith, the venerable pastor John Calvin wrote: “Whether the person baptised is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climates, although it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church.” (The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Book fourth, chapter 15, paragraph 19). He knew his history well. We Baptists agree with the meaning of the word in Scripture and also with the practice of the apostolic church and see no need to change it. We also agree with Calvin that churches may practice different modes. For the Christians penning this confession, water was readily available.

Baptismal modes (methods) matter for me for a lot of reasons. There are two main ones I’ll finish with: 1) the biblical model is without question. They always baptized by immersion in the Bible. Period. 2) The symbolism of baptism is of a death and resurrection with the risen Jesus. This is a symbol fitting and most perfectly expressed in immersion. This is something faithful believers in every generation will disagree on. I for one see no reason to deviate from believer’s baptism, and for one by immersion.

Joseph Pittano

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