Spend some time around Christians and you’ll get a sense for just how diverse the communities are around the topic of Baptism. Is it necessary? Does Infant Baptism work? Does it save you? Does it regenerate you? Does it matter how it happens? Does the formula matter? Do the words spoken matter? Do they have to be in the right order? The right words? The right person speaking them?
Look at paragraph one…it’s already a mess. No wonder there is such a major schism in Christianity over this little topic of washing your body in water. And for me, coming from a strict, fundamental Oneness Pentecostal background, where baptism was not only necessary, it was critical that it was done in just the right and with just the right words or you would be forever lost to eternal torment in the lake of fire.
There are even whole denominations built around the conversation and split on this subject. The Anabaptists split from standard Protestant Christianity to reform (again) known as the ‘Radical Reformation’. Why the split? Infant Baptism. The entire schism was created due to the rise of infant baptism and the rejection by some who believed baptism was only effective if the baptized was cognizant of their sin and repentance.
And, this splintered again into what we see now as Baptists, who again are split down fundamental lines or Arminianism and Calvinism. Your reformed Baptists are Calvinist while the fundamental versions are Arminian. And now you can see why there are purported to be thousands (though the 33,000 number you hear a lot is a little misleading) of Christian denominations. They split over Baptism, over Sacraments, over Papal authority, etc.
And then, on top of all of that confusion, you have schism’s within schisms. For instance, Oneness Pentecostalism broke away from the larger Charismatic Pentecostal circles, specifically Assemblies of God back in the early 1900’s. More factually correct would be they were rejected from the Assemblies of God denomination for their new found revelation (Sabellius Take 2) of Modalism, which began with Sabellius in the third century and was rejected quickly as heresy than as well.
Oneness Pentecostalism denies the Trinity, and in so doing, rejects Baptism in the typical Matthew 28:19 formula. This was considered heresy and thus these ministers holding this view of the Godhead had to create their own splinters of Pentecostalism. And within that branch, you now have many different splinter cells again, who differentiate themselves on so-called Holiness standards and other dogmas. And now beyond that, you have New Age Pentecostalism found in the likes of Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn, and some reverters known as the New Apostolic Reformation who think they are now the chosen Apostles.
Right before I left the church I attended for 15 years, the pastor instructed those of us visiting a Louisiana church that belongs to the United Pentecostal Church, International organization to ignore the difference we saw in their dress standards and not think we can bring those back with us. You see, my church left the over-arching organization (UPCI) due to their loose standards on allowing people to wear wedding rings, to watch some videos, and in some circles, women were allowed to trim their hair.
Schisms, schisms, schisms, everywhere there are schisms. So what does that have to do with Baptism?
Well, in a word, everything, and nothing. You see, as I lean closer and closer to reformed theology and at the same time completely and radically deconstruct my faith like a jigsaw puzzle and attempt to put it back together, the blinders of Denomination Lock (blinded by the teachings of your denomination of choice and unable to see/read outside of the box, either by choice or decree of leadership) have come off and I can see the Word for what it says.
In fact, many of my more fundamental leaning readers might fear for my soul when I say one of the best books I have read in 2018 was Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy by John Shelly Sponge. I had already awoken to the realization of the transition of the Gospel from Jew to Gentile in the Book of Acts and started asking the question, (while I identified as a Oneness Pentecostal) are we misapplying much of the Book of Acts to the Gentile Church as if we were Jewish successors and still maintaining much of the Old Testament Law? Was our legalism equal to the Pharisees and Sadducees that John the Baptist called, ‘You brood of vipers!’?
Biblical Literalism is simply this: that we read the Scripture through the naive and uneducated lens of our Gentile heritage (especially in Western Culture) and fail to realize the allegorical method in which ancient Jewish people related their beliefs. And while the book does step into the realm of challenging whether or not certain Biblical characters and stories were literal people and events, the real key takeaway is learning the history of the writers and audience before interpreting the Word for yourself today.
Just think of some of the dichotomy of Scripture, where Paul at once says, “Is grace a freedom to sin? God forbid!” and then doubles back and says “All things are lawful, but they aren’t all profitable.” Well…can we do anything we want or not? If we read these verses autonomously without context and cultural understanding we are lost to private interpretation and moments of head scratching.
The same can be said for the doctrines of Baptism and I’m writing this article as I do an in-depth study of every mention of Baptism in Scripture because it is a must to understand the context of the bigger picture. For instance, one schism on Baptism is whether or not you need to be baptized to be saved and whether or not post-Pentecost, Baptism was by the majority in water, or by Spirit.
Historically, we know that water baptism has been a tenant of Christianity from its earliest writings. In fact, one of the largest lies I was every told by Oneness Pentecostal leadership and Bible College curriculum was that pre 325ad, no one EVER performed baptisms using the Matthew 28:19 formula. Historically, this simply isn’t true and is a statement of either naivety or willful dishonesty.
“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
Yet – what I find to be so much more important than the Baptismal formula, was the command of Christ to go and make disciples of all the nations! He didn’t say, go and schism on how you baptize – he said, to tell people about me, to believe in my gospel, to obey my words! (‘If you love me, keep my commandments’, John 14:15) But instead of making disciples, they splinter and fight and divide themselves amongst denominal baptismal lines.
I also find it fundamentally important to the message of Scripture to note that nowhere does it say, ‘He that is baptized wrong will go to hell.’ It just isn’t in there. We can see a heavy emphasis on certain sins by humanity that would keep them from inheriting the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), but strangely, baptism is absent.
So … why do some fundamentalists divide and schism on Baptism, to the degree of condemning one another to hell over this topic?
Let’s tackle the lie first.
No one pre-325AD (Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed) Baptised using the titles Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Well, my friends, history is not on your side if you wish to tell this fib. There are many available references to historical writings and through them, the first being the Didache, we learn that not only was using the Titles the method of baptism used by the early Church, (by majority) but that immersion, while preferable was not necessary in cases of physical restrictions or the lack of running water (rivers, streams). Sprinkling was even used in the early church. (Heresy I know!)
The Didache says this:
1. Now concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first taught all these things,
baptize ye into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living
2. And if thou hast not living water, baptize into other water; and if thou canst not
in cold, then in warm (water).
3. But if thou hast neither, pour [water] thrice upon the head in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The writings of Tertullian in 211ad (Against Praxeus) suggests that the Matthew 28:19 model was in use, repeating the thrice immersion method;
“After His resurrection He promises in a pledge to His disciples that He will send them the promise of His Father; and lastly, He commands them to baptize into the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, not into a unipersonal God. And indeed it is not once only, but three times, that we are immersed into the Three Persons, at each several mentions of Their names”
Hippolytus wrote in his paper The Apostolic Tradition in 215AD;
“When the one being baptized goes down into the water, the one baptizing him shall put his hand on him and speak thus: `Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?’ And he that is being baptized shall say: `I believe.’ Then, having his hand imposed upon the head of the one to be baptized, he shall baptize him once. Then he shall say: `Do you believe in Christ Jesus . . . ?’ And when he says: `I believe,’ he is baptized again. Again shall he say: `Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh?’ The one being baptized then says: `I believe.’ And so he is baptized a third time” (The Apostolic Tradition 21).
There is more, writings by Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius and others, all pre-325 AD that signify Baptism was certainly done by water, and while methodology could vary, the one thing that remained the same was the inclusion of the titles, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Examples of Scripture
The argument made by “Jesus Only” followers such as Oneness Pentecostals is that to baptize into the model of Matthew 28:19 affirms the Trinity, and thus, must carefully be avoided and explained away. The standard argument sounds like this:
“Grammatically, saying, ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’ means there must be a name that was known by the speaker and audience and inferred in the statement. I wouldn’t say, sign the check in the name of the Father (me, I’m your father) and the Son (Me, I’m my mothers son), and the Spirit (I have a spirit) and you would put Father, Son and Spirit on the check, you would use my name! This is why the Apostles all baptized in Jesus name because Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son and Jesus is the Holy Ghost.”
So when we look at baptismal events in the book of Acts, we do see Peter talking to the guilty Jews of Acts 2 saying, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins…” Thus, this is taken as the Apostolic formula that is acceptable. You MUST say, “In Jesus Name” when you baptize or it is of no effect.
There is also a debate around whether or not the ‘for the remission of your sins’ means you gain remission by being baptized, or if you should be baptized in response to having your sins remitted. Schism #2097.
Question is, why didn’t anyone in the early church do that?
Baptize solely in Jesus name that is. There certainly is value in baptizing in Jesus name, because it was the revealed name of the Son (Acts 4:12), it was God manifest in the flesh (John 1:14, 1 Timothy 3:16) and Christ is our savior. Yet – if we look at history, the early church followed the commandment of Christ in Matthew 28:19, which, as we discussed in the article Does how you are baptized matter? due to the meaning of ‘in the name of’, it means the same thing. They are all names and references to the One, Almighty God.
So why wasn’t the method of using Jesus name only followed? Well, truth be told, we see historically that both methods were used. Early churches used both methods and this became a reverse topic of debate within orthodox and Catholic churches in early history. Looking back at Catholic writings of the day, the major stance among early Christians was that neither method was incorrect, and that either method was fully functional, it didn’t matter if you said “I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ”, or if you said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
So why the schism?
There are many reasons – for some (Oneness) it may be to reject the Trinity. For others, it is to reject infant baptism. One of the most amazing quotes I have read in regards to religion lately is this;
“People are killing each other arguing over what happens to you after you die and they don’t see the irony in that.” (Paraphrased and cleansed)
In my opinion, people just want to be ‘right’. That desire overwhelms common sense. In fact, studying older Catholic materials shows that the Catholic Church condoned both methods and declared that whether one was baptized in “Jesus Name’, or “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost” they were both efficacious.
These Schisms then, to me, are the work of the enemy of our souls. This, like Speaking in Tongues, the Oneness Vs. Trinity debate, or nothing but dividers of the brethren that serves to distract and detract from the real purpose of the Gospel, which was most simply to follow the example of Christ, which was to Love One Another, unendingly.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”