Water baptism is an accepted form of worship or obedience in most of the Christian denominational systems. If we include water baptism of infants, then those who do not practice any form of water baptism are definitely in the minority.
It is universally accepted that water baptism, either immersion or sprinkling, does not save anyone. We won’t canvass the authenticity of either form of water baptism but focus rather on the ordinance itself and its place in God's purposes.
Water baptism has been so long a Christian tradition that it goes unquestioned as being valid in today’s present dispensation of the Grace of God. A casual reading of the Gospels will show water baptism prevalent in the ministry of John the Baptist, the Disciples of Christ, and the ministries recorded in the Book of Acts. Water baptisms or washings were embedded from the beginning of Israeli history in the Levitical, Temple services, in the daily lives of the people and is featured in prophesy. This Israeli highlight of everyday life continued right through the Gospel and Acts periods. Old Testament or New, water baptism can be found and thus by sheer weight of presence its place in today’s orders of service is affirmed for many.
In the modern Christian era, water baptism is understood as a demonstration of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and is a public confession of an inward act of faith in Him. It is positioned after the confession of faith in Christ for the modern believer. For many, undergoing water baptism is a unifying statement that they are a child of God and is an essential part of denominational (church) membership. It is widely seen as an obedience issue rather than one essential for salvation. As sincere students of the Word we need to know if these rationales are scripturally valid.
As with all Bible topics, the Bible study rules must be observed if we are to fully understand the place and significance of water baptism today. The questions of who, what, when, where and why are important in our examination of water baptism. Likewise we need to note its contexts and of course the wide comparison of Scripture with Scripture are other essential basics to a prudent study. These are all essentials of rightly dividing water baptism; we do not want to be unapproved and ashamed before our Lord on any subject.
We begin our research by first observing the cultural setting of the Gospels and Acts period. What was everyday life like in Israel when the interregnum period closed, that is the 400 years approximately between Malachi and Matthew? What was Israeli culture when John stepped center stage to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand? We begin by taking a passage from John. Once news of his prophetic preaching reached the leadership in Jerusalem, a deputation was sent to make inquiries; And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. Joh 1:19-31
The first question posed to John was concerning his identity, “who are you?” Not once did the delegation ask anything as to water baptism itself as if it were some new and strange feature of public witness. Water baptism was very well known to them, it was an integral part of their religious and social life when John appeared. But even more, they knew that water baptism was to accompany the witness of Messiah, (Ez.36), Elijah (Mal.4:5) and “that prophet” (Deut.18:15-18).
Water baptism was part of Israeli life and accompanied the expectation of Messiah. It spoke to Israel of God's glorious future plans for them. Water baptism in its opening context is in relation to the prophetic coming of Israel’s Messiah and it was seen in the ministry of John the Baptist who heralded that coming Kingdom of Glory. This is confirmed by the questions of the delegation and by John’s first and later explanation; He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. (Isaiah 40) Joh 1:23 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. Joh 1:19-31
Water baptism in an opening context, relates to the coming of Israel’s Messiah to Israel. It was part of Israel’s history, social life and expectation of the coming Kingdom out of heaven on earth.
I add my blessings to Eph.1:3 for you,
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