I remember hearing the preacher(s) say endlessly, especially at camp meetings, revivals, and extra special services, “If you got baptized in the titles (slang for Trinitarian views, Father, Son and Holy Ghost) you just got wet.” The belief was that you had to be re-baptized using the correct baptismal formula, or your faith was of no use. And, this, of course, revolves around the theological question of whether or not Baptism is essential to be a believer, a Christian, and to be saved.
And, this also stems from the Biblical example in Acts 19:1-5 where Paul asked some disciples if they had received God’s spirit since they ‘believed’ (more on this later), and since they had not heard of the Holy Spirit, Paul asked how they had been baptized. When they responded ‘Unto John’s baptism’, Paul rebaptized the disciples. What does this example mean?
I emphasize example in the preceding paragraph because it is a phrase often used by fundamentalists to prove a doctrine or to enforce dogmatic beliefs, which seems ironic for those standing on the legs of literalism. Looking at Acts 19 shows us two things, that the ‘disciples’ were not Christians and that this does not prove rebaptizing is necessary.
It happened that while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the upper [inland] districts and came down to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed [in Jesus as the Christ]?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he asked, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John performed a baptism of repentance, continually telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, [to confidently accept and joyfully believe] in Jesus [the Messiah and Savior].” After hearing this, they were baptized [again, this time] in the name of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 19:1-5 (AMP)
This verse is used continuously as an example text to fortify the belief that the method or formula with which someone is baptized (in Christian faith) determines the validity of the baptism. However, that seems to be taking this text out of context, for these Jews that Paul stumbled upon were not Christian converts, there were followers of John’s message of the Messiah to come. They had not experienced the Gospel.
Indeed, as most commentaries explain, it is believed that these Jewish disciples were in Jerusalem at the time of John the Baptists preaching, and perhaps death, but that they had not received further instructions in the faith after John’s death, during the time of Christ, or thereafter. Some scholars say this event in Acts 19 was 28 years after John the Baptist preached. Thus, when Paul gave them the Gospel, they were baptized into the family of Jesus Christ, finding the promise that they had only heard of from John.
Furthermore – had they heard of Christ, and the whole Gospel message, they would have known what the Holy Spirit was, further enforcing the truth that these ‘disciples’ were not Christians who had been unfortunately baptized incorrectly – they were technically still Jews waiting on the promise of Faith. They had been baptized to John, but John was not the Messiah, nor God. If you have been baptized unto God, that is what matters, not what words are uttered when it is done.
Origins of Baptism
To the Jews, the concept of cleansing by water is very familiar. As highlighted clearly in Leviticus and other Old Testament writings, ritual purification was necessary after defilement by things such as touching a corpse during funeral preparations. The Jews used natural water springs in what is called a Mikveh, to be cleansed. This purification was needed to take part in Temple ceremonies and was also required when someone converted to Judaism.
Cleansing was also required when entering into the presence of Kings and dignitaries. To be pure was a major part of the Jewish tradition, and thus, being a Jew, Jesus made a public show of baptism to ‘fulfill all righteousness’.
The Sikhs, founded 500 years ago also use Baptism as a ritual initiation, as well as Gnostic Mandaeanism which is an ancient religion found in Iran/Iraq. The link to these religions is that Baptism is always a method of cleansing and purification, but only Judaism used the process repeatedly in ritual. In Christianity, it is viewed as a ‘one-time’ confession of faith.
When it comes to baptism, however, Christianity, and Jesus, are seen as the originating factor for our understanding of Baptism. While Judaism has some similarities, Christian baptism is pretty unique in the idea that it washes away spiritual sins rather than physical impurities.
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: – Matthew 3:16
The one commonality in Christianity is that baptism is part of ones ‘conversion’, and while many denominations have different methods or forms of how they baptize, it is still a one-time event. Early Christianity would re-baptize if they felt that the participants original baptism was in error, but it was not for ritualized cleansing over and over again.
Some of the earliest breaks in Christendom where denominations branded baptism invalid was the Anabaptists, who decreed infant baptism was of no effect since the infant could not profess faith and had no sins to be cleansed.
There is also still much debate, as it was in the early first through third centuries, whether or not full immersion was required.
The Formula for Baptism
Some Christian denominations, such as the Oneness Pentecostal background I came from, see Baptism as both essential to salvation, and having a proper method or ritual formula for it to be effective. Other faiths see it as a declaration of individual faith, but not necessary to be saved, and others yet see it as necessary, but do not place emphasis on the formula.
As I started this article with, some believe that if you were baptized using the Matthew 28:19 formula, as most mainstream Churches practice, you just ‘got wet’, and are not a saved, born again Christian. At the very least, your sins have not been remitted and a proper baptism must take place.
This is because in the Book of Acts, most examples (there is that word again) of baptism seem to show the Apostles baptizing in the Name of Jesus, not in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The primary Scripture used to demonstrate the Oneness Pentecostal dogma of Baptism and the tripartite formula for salvation they believe is required can be found in Acts 2:38;
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. – Acts 2:38, KJV
This is interpreted by some as to say; “One cannot be saved, and is not a born again Christian, unless and until, they have completed all three (tripartite formula) of these things, that they have repented of their sins (turned away from the world), have been baptized in Jesus Name (not the titles Father, Son and Holy Ghost) and have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, evidenced by Speaking in Tongues.”
This example (of baptism) is continued throughout the book of Acts where we see followers baptized, such as Acts 16 and the Phillipian jailer. The Jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas responded with, “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Verse 31).
Notice that Paul and Silas did not say to be baptised for salvation, but they did, after washing at the Jailers home, baptize him as a result of his faith.
And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. Verse 33, KJV
Yet, here, in Acts 16, there was no specified formula as some would suggest there is. Acts 2:38 said, “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…” and some say that unless you say those exact words, God will not honor the baptism. Yet, in Acts 16, we do not see that example.
We do however see it again in Acts 19, verse 5, “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So the question becomes, if Baptism is essential for salvation, does the formula in which you are baptized determine whether or not the baptism worked to forgive / remit your sins?
Father, Son & Holy Ghost, or Jesus Name?
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, – Matthew 28:19, AMP
After hearing this, they were baptized [again, this time] in the name of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 19:5, AMP
So the question becomes, do we take the words of Jesus literally, or the examples that don’t always spell out the same formula, or realize the principle of what is being taught?
Look – most Christians agree on this: Jesus IS God. If you believe Jesus is God, and that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are God, then they are One in the same. (I and my Father are one. John 10:30)
And if they are One, why would we, in extreme silliness, make a big deal out of whether or not you say, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Jesus)”, or, “I baptize you in the Name of Jesus (God, Father, Son & Holy Ghost)”, and to further claim whether or not it is salvific based on how you utter the phrase?
The typical response is, “There is power in the NAME. Not a Title. You don’t sign a check with FATHER, you put your NAME there.” And of course, this is true, but we aren’t talking about checks, we are talking about being baptized into the spiritual family of God’s Children, through His Son Jesus.
The Bible does say, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). That means, whatever we do, it should be done in honor of Jesus, or in the Character of Jesus. This doesn’t mean that everytime you do the laundry, you say, “I do this laundry in Jesus Name”. Or when you wash your car, are we to spray the hose saying, “I wash this car in Jesus Name!”?
Of course not! And I know that is a silly statement, but it perfectly highlights what these Scriptures are, and are not saying. That is to say, they are NOT saying that you must incant the name of Jesus evertime you do something.
So what does it really mean?
That reminds me of a classic Oneness Pentecostal song we used to sing in Church, and every time the choir sang it, people would run the isles, jump up and down, spin in circles, clap, shout, worship would break out into a frenzy, because it is the dogma of their belief;
What does it really mean?
What is the name of the Father?
What is the name of the Son?
What is the name of the Holy Ghost?
JESUS JESUS JESUS
And I don’t say that in disrespect, if you want to get excited for Jesus, please do! But something is missing the mark with both this song, and the principle that we are talking about. If we aren’t walking around saying, “I do this in Jesus Name” for everything we do, we are either violating Colossians 3:17, or the real meaning is being revealed.
In all of these cases (examples), when the Scripture says, “In the name of…”, it really means, “In the authority, or character of”. That word ‘name‘ is translated from the Greek on’-om-ah, which means a “name”, but is expressed literally as authority, or character.
From a presumed derivative of the base of G1097 (compare G3685); a “name” (literally or figuratively), (authority, character): – called, (+ sur-) name (-d).
That means when it says, “In the name of Jesus Christ”, that what we are doing is to be done in His Authority alone, and as His Character would do. You COULD safely translate Colossians 3:17 this way;
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything the way Jesus would do it, and with His Authority”.
So do you want to know what the real Baptismal formula is? It is with faith, and humility, and dependence on Christ, and with His loving character, and under the Authority that only He has, are you baptized in Jesus Name, who is God, and one with the Father.
Say it how you would like to say it, because what matters is your FAITH, your Dependence, and HIS authority. No where in Scripture does it illustrate, “Baptize this way or be damned.” I fear some have turned Faith, and Baptism in to a magic spell that must be incanted perfectly, lest it fizzle or backfire. The Bible does NOT teach this, but it does say:
For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God; 9 not as a result of [your] works [nor your attempts to keep the Law], so that no one will [be able to] boast or take credit in any way [for his salvation]. – Ephesians 2:8-9, AMP
As always, I look forward to your comments and to hear what you have to say about this topic! Please leave your comments below.