Question: I was told that if I was baptized in the wrong way, or not at all, I cannot have remission of sins and will be lost. What does the Bible say about Baptism?

Answer: Questions to be answered:

  1. What is the proper form of Baptism (sprinkling?, pouring?, immersion?)

  2. Who should be Baptized? (Infants?, Children?, Adults?, etc.)

  3. What is the proper formula for Baptism (in whose name?)

  4. Does incorrect Baptism mean you are not saved?

  5. Should where or how you are baptized exclude you from church activities?

Answer #1.

Baptism is an English translation of the Greek word "baptizo (bap-tid'-zo)" which literally means "to immerse, submerge; to make overwhelmed (i.e. fully wet)". When John the Baptist baptized, people went "in the Jordan River" (see Matthew 3:6). Jesus, who is our example, came "up out of the water" (see Matthew 3:16). In Acts 8:38 "Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him." The list could go on, but the principle is this -- Biblical Baptism was by immersion in water. This also makes sense, in that Baptism is representative of our being crucified with Christ, dead, buried, and raised again to life. (What body is merely partly buried, or a little dirt sprinkled on, etc. Even a body laid in a rock-hewn tomb is completely covered by the earth as the stone above acts as a full covering).

    Romans 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (NIV)

Also, in Mark 7:4, the word translated in English "wash" in regards to pots and pans is the same word! Again, who merely sprinkles a pot or pan to wash it? The people of Jesus' day clearly understood Baptism to mean immersion (or completely covering) in water.

It should be noted that pouring began to be used in some places where there was a lack of water to be immersed. Only when some of the church (going beyond Scriptures) added the idea of Baptizing infants, did they start to use sprinkling. The Bible's standard is the only one that matters, not traditions of man.

Answer #2.

Who should be Baptized...

    Acts 2:38 "Repent and be Baptized..."

    Acts 2:41 "Those who accepted his message were baptized"

    Acts 8:12 "But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women."

    Acts 10:46-47 "Then Peter said, 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.'"

    Acts 18:8 "Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized."

    Galatians 3:26-27 "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."

    Matthew 28:18-20 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

Everyone who has repented of their sins, accepted the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and believed in Him - whether men, women, or children, are to be baptized. Scriptures uniformly presents a bapatism of disciples alone. Baptism is a public profession of faith and act of obedience (to the first of God's commands after salvation). Should infants be baptized? No, they have not believed. Should un-believers be baptized? No, their act is neither a profession of faith, nor an act of obedience... rather it is a lie. Notice that Baptism is not an act that saves, it is a reflection of the salvation that God has already enacted.

Answer #3.

What formula should be used in Baptism...

    Matthew 28:19 "...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."

    Acts 10:48 "So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ."

These two verses are not contradictory. To baptize in "the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" is to baptize in the name of God - having believed in Jesus Christ, who is God. Baptism is in the Name of the eternal God. To reference the Name in the longer form is just as valid as Baptizing in Jesus' name. Actually from the days of the early church, they have used the longer form as found in Matt 28:19 quoting directly from Scriptures. Would it be wrong to baptize "in Jesus' Name"? No, This too is baptizing in the Name of God. Actually, to the Jews God's name was so sacred that they would often not say it directly... only as "The Name"... This is what John was doing in 3 John 7 "It was for the sake of the Name that they went out..." (For an Old Testament example of this practice, see Leviticus 24:11,16)

Ambrose, writing in the late fourth century, said it this way:

He that is blessed in Christ is blessed in the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; because the name is one and the power one. The Ethiopian eunuch, who was baptized in Christ, had the sacrament complete. If a man names only a single Person expressly in words, either Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, so long as he does not deny in his faith either Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, the sacrament of faith is complete; as, on the other hand, if a man in words express all the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but in his faith diminishes the power either of the Father, or Son, or Holy Ghost, the sacrament of faith is void. (Quoted by church historian Joseph Bingham, Origines Ecclesiasticae also called The Antiquities of the Christian Church, Book XI, Chapter III, Section 3, written circa 1708-1722)

 Answer #4.

Does incorrect Baptism mean we are not saved? Never! Salvation is from God and by God (Ephesians 2:8-10). Salvation is God giving us life, whereby we can repent of sin, turn to Him, believe in Him, and then follow Him in obedience. Again, baptism is an outward act that reflects an inward change. The most important Baptism is that of the Holy Spirit, who comes upon all who believe. The Holy Spirit is given as a guarantee of our Salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14), who then leads us into all truth (John 16:13). When Ephesians 4:5 speaks of "one baptism" it is in reference to the greater baptism of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10:44-11:17 Peter points out this difference. His hearers received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit from the moment they believed (-- the moment they were saved), they were then Baptized by water, in obedience (Acts 10:47).

    Acts 11:15-17 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (NIV)

If Baptism was necessary in salvation, you would think that the Apostle Paul would hold it to be extremely important and a part of his job in bringing people to salvation...

    1 Corinthians 1:17-19 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (NIV)

Rather, Paul was called to preach, for it is through hearing the message that people come to believe (Romans 10:14). Baptism will follow as the believer is instructed in God's command to do so as an act of obedience. Is water Baptism important? Yes, every command given by God is important... willful disobedience is not characteristic of a believer in Jesus Christ. We follow our Lord. The thief on the cross, who believed in Jesus and was saved (Luke 23:42-43), died without water Baptism. Would he have been baptized if given the opportunity and the command? Certainly.

The last word is from Peter in Acts...

    Acts 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

The word translated in English as "forgiveness" is the same word elsewhere translated as "remission". God gives us remission of sins (or a pardon) when we believe. Obedience is the next step - an act of faith and love (John 14:15)! (See also Romans 5:1, Romans 10:9-13,17)

Answer #5.

The news of 2008 was filled with various stories regarding the Southern Baptist Church. Why? Because as a large protestant denomination, their international mission board (IMB) had set a policy a few years earlier (2005) that banned anyone becoming a missionary for them who had "not been baptized properly." It had taken a few years, but some within the denomination were now publicly protesting such a policy.

Should a person be excluded from a church activity or mission because of "incorrect baptism"? It's a question that has existed within the church for centuries. For those who see the biblical requirement of baptism by immersion, it has normally been a requirement that someone who was baptized by sprinkling or pouring be re-baptized to become a member of the church and participate in all its activities. This is especially so when the person was baptized as an infant and was not baptized as a believer. This requirement is a logical extension of holding to believer's baptism and a regenerate church membership.

The Southern Baptists have gone beyond this - way beyond. Their issue of improper baptism was not merely over sprinkling versus immersion or infant versus believer. In fact, by one cited example, they would exclude a baptized-by-immersion believer from becoming a Southern Baptist missionary solely because the church they where originally baptized in does not hold exactly to Southern Baptist doctrine (such as "once saved always saved").

Baptism, as we have seen in this article, is a public confession of faith in Jesus Christ, as a visible sign that the participant is part of the church of God. By placing a list of denominational distinctives on accepting ones' baptism, it turns baptism into a local church admission rite, or denominational admission rite, rather than what it was intended to be. There is one church belonging to Christ and all who in faith believe in Jesus Christ are a part of it. Requiring a person to be re-baptized for admittance into a church, or denomination, or an aspect of a denomination, effectively reduces the universal testimony of water baptism by immersion into a sectarian ritual.

If we scripturally believe that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), should not our external ordinance show this?!! To be fair, Southern Baptist churches will allow into local church membership someone who was baptized by immersion in another denomination. But when they can be a member of a local Southern Baptist fellowship but not be allowed to do all that other Southern Baptists can do (i.e. be a missionary), they are being treated as "second class" Christians based on their baptism. It's a completely different issue to exclude someone from teaching ministry based on examination of their beliefs, not a once in a lifetime act in one's past. Baptism is, and must remain, a profession of one's faith and not a denominational statement. My understanding of my faith and its outworking may change and mature over time, but my faith in Jesus Christ - which is celebrated by my baptism - still remains.

For more on Baptism see this related article: click here
For a look at an early church Baptismal Font: click here