Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What is baptism?

Recently, at least one Lutheran (LCMS) congregation has built a baptismal font for immersion (submerging the entire body under water) as their preferred baptismal mode. I think this is a mistake, and I'm going to try to explain why over the next several weeks.

The point which I will be asserting is that baptism in the New Testament was a ritual act of washing which was done by pouring or sprinkling the candidate for baptism with water. I will go further and assert that no one who was baptized in the New Testament was immersed.

I won't be arguing about what baptism does, or about who should be baptized. Those are questions for another time. And I won't be saying that someone who has been immersed was not baptized. (I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, and my baptism was by immersion. What's more, I cherish that act, and those who brought me to faith and to that washing of baptism).

But there's an underlying strain in American life which seeks to say that immersion is the only "real" baptism, that those who were not baptized by immersion are not baptized and should have the act repeated, or that baptism by another mode (sprinkling, pouring or effusion) is invalid. These arguments usually stem from an idea that New Testament baptisms were only done by immersion.

As I pointed out earlier, I think that's an error. And I'll be seeking to prove that assertion over the next few weeks.

I'll seek to cover the following areas of study about this issue: ritual washings in the New Testament, the baptism of John, baptisms on the day of Pentecost, the baptism of the Ethiopian, and the baptism of the Philippian jailer.

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