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Watered-down Baptism

By Allen Webster

religion, articles, christianity

When we water something down, it is diluted, weakened, and made less potent. In the old days, taverns "watered-down" firewater to make it go further. (I've been in restaurants that did the same thing to ketchup for the same reason.) Some medicines are "watered-down" so they will not be too strong for children. If paint becomes too thick while sitting in a shed, it may have to be watered-down before it is usable.

In religion, some things have been watered down. In a decadent age of loose morals, many religious teachers have "watered-down" the gospel to make it more appealing to vice-ridden baby busters (Gal. 1:6-10). We are told:

"It's okay to drink, just don't get drunk";

"Dress provocatively, but don't go naked";

"Gamble if you want, if it's for a good cause, or entertaining, just don't become addicted";

"Sex before marriage is acceptable, so long as it is between 'consenting adults.'"

Thus homosexuality is blinked at, gambling sanctioned, social drinking permitted, immodesty defended, dancing promoted, and adulterers accepted without question (cf. Rom. 1:24-28; Rom. 12:17; Prov. 23:29; Eph. 6:18; 2 Tim. 2:9; Gal. 5:19-21; Matt. 19:9).

Doctrinal matters have not escaped the water bucket either. Change agents within the walls of Zion have "discovered" grace is not only unmerited but unconditional. Since culture has changed, women are not to be denied leadership roles. Instrumental music, once an innovation, is now offered an invitation. Pentecostalism and premillennialism were once debated but are now propagated. The Holy Spirit used to work only through the Word, but now he moves in mysterious ways. (On these points read: Eph. 2:8-9; Matt. 7:21-23; 1 Tim. 2:8-12; Rev. 22:18-19; Col. 2:17; 1 Cor. 14:34; 2 Pet. 3:9; Eph. 6:17.)

You could say the "bucket brigade" is "ashamed of the gospel" (Rom. 1:16).

Baptism, too, has long been diluted in the Protestant and denominational world. No one can deny the importance of baptism in the Bible since it occurs nearly 100 times in various forms in the New Testament. The Bible doctrine of baptism has been "watered-down" in at least three ways.

Baptism by Sprinkling Instead of Immersion

Some have watered down baptism by taking most of the water out! When Jesus was baptized, he was immersed. The text says he "went up straightway out of the water" (Matt. 3:16). In order to go out of the water, one has to be in the water. Further, the New Testament word for baptism (baptizo) means "to dip, plunge, or submerge" (Thayer; cf. Liddell and Scott, and all standard works). John the baptist found places to baptize where there was "much water" (John 3:23). The apostles practiced immersion. Paul called baptism a burial (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2: 12). One who is buried is completely covered. The first historical case of sprinkling is not in the Bible, but comes from church history. It was in AD 251 to a man named Novation who lay sick in bed. It was not accepted, generally until the Council of Ravenna in 1311.

Sprinkling is watered-down baptism. There is not enough left to save.

Baptism "to Show One Has Been Saved" Instead of "to Save"

The purpose of baptism, according to the Bible, is to remove sins. No where in the Bible does one read of a baptism to show the world that one has been saved. Paul explained that it is a kind of re-enactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-17). It shows the world that one has died to sin, that the dead man is buried so a new man can arise and be alive unto God. That does not discount the fact that God removes sins in this act of obedience. Jesus said that it saves (Mark 16:16). Peter proclaimed it "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38) and "commanded" those of Cornelius' house to submit to it. Paul said that it puts one "into Christ" (Gal.3:26-27), where all spiritual blessings are (Eph. 1:3; including salvation, 2 Tim. 2:10). Peter later said that baptism "saves" (1 Pet. 3:21). Baptism "to show you have been saved" is watered down. It has lost its effectiveness.

Baptism to "Obey God" Instead of Understanding Its Purpose

Lately, some have been willing to accept into fellowship those who were not baptized for the remission of sins. They rationalize that one who was baptized knew that he was doing so to "obey God," so that would be sufficient. The only thing wrong with that is it's not true! While it is good to want to obey God, one cannot "obey God" without "understanding God's will." Jesus said, "It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto me" (John 6:44-45). The biblical order in conversion is learning and then coming to God, not coming to God and then learning.

Every religious action in the New Testament has a spiritual meaning behind it. There are no unnecessary rituals. One cannot misunderstand the meaning and still complete the action acceptably. Take the Lord's Supper for instance. Can one eat the bread just to "obey God" and not understand that it represents his body and do so in a manner well pleasing to God? Of course not (Matt. 26:28). And neither can a bath or a dunk in a swimming pool accidentally become a baptism.

Paul found some in Ephesus who had been baptized incorrectly. Though they had been immersed, and had done so to "obey God," they were lacking in their understanding of the Holy Spirit and the coming of Christ (Acts 19:1-6). When they learned that they did not properly understand baptism under the Great Commission, they were baptized again. Notice that since they were taught wrong, their baptism was wrong. No man can be taught wrong and baptized right.

When one is being baptized, he must have faith that God is removing his sins. Examine Paul's words: "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). God performs an operation in the water. He does not cut away a cancerous organ or a diseased limb, but he does remove sin from the soul. We must have faith in that operation and in the Operator for it to be successful.

Frequently in Bible studies, a sincere person who has learned what the Bible teaches about baptism will ask, "Do I need to be baptized again?" The answer lies in the answer to this question, "What did you understand when you were being baptized?" Did you understand that Jesus was the Son of God? If not, you could not be baptized scripturally (Acts 8:37-38). Did you understand that this action marked a change in lifestyle? If it did not signify a break with the old world (repentance), then it could not be scriptural (cf. Acts 2:38). Did you understand that in this act God would forgive you of your sins? If not, then the baptism could not have been scriptural since that is what the Scriptures teach (Acts 22:16). If one has not been baptized properly, he has not been baptized at all, and needs to be baptized rather than rebaptized. If one is sprinkled and calls that baptism, it is not, therefore, baptism. If one is immersed and raised for a wrong purpose, then, no matter what he calls it, it is not baptism in the Bible sense.

Often the person cannot remember what he/she did. This is remedied usually by finding out who taught and baptized them. If it was a preacher for a particular denomination, then one can readily ascertain that he taught whatever that denomination believes. If that group teaches that baptism is unnecessary for salvation, then he would not knowingly baptize one "for the remission of sins." Further, not only would such a one not understand the purpose of baptism, he would misunderstand it. How could he go into the water thinking, "This is not for the remission of my sins since they were forgiven at the point of faith," and then it still be for forgiveness of sins?

Don't settle for watered-down baptism. Get the real thing.


Published September 1996