For the past week my family and I have been considering baptism in our after-breakfast Bible reading, guided by Chapter 49, “Baptism,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). A few days ago I shared from what we read about the meaning of baptism, and in this post I’ll share from what we read about the subjects and mode of baptism. In both posts I occasionally make reference to other systematic theology books which I consulted in preparing for our family reading.
The Subjects of Baptism
In the New Testament water baptism was administered to believers when or shortly after they made a profession of faith. This practice is often called “believers’ baptism.” Here I’ll summarize the arguments made for it by Grudem, the arguments made for infant baptism by Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, fourth edition, 1939, pages 632-42), and Grudem’s response to Berkhof’s arguments.
Grudem makes two main arguments for believers’ baptism. First he refers to several New Testament narratives in which baptism was administered to believers on their making a profession of faith, including:
– “Those who received his [Peter’s] word were baptized” (Acts 2:41).
– “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).
– “Then Peter declared, ‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:46-48).
– “The Lord opened her [Lydia’s] heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And…she was baptized, and her household as well” (Acts 16:14-15).
– “They [Paul and Silas] spoke the word of the Lord to him [the Philippian jailor] and to all who were in his house…and he was baptized at once, he and all his family” (Acts 16:32-33).
Second he argues that Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27, and Colossians 2:12 assume that baptism was a sign on inward regeneration.
– Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
– “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
– “[You were] buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).
Berkhof makes these points in arguing for infant baptism, supporting them with Biblical or (for point 6) historical evidence:
1. The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant, though it also had a national aspect, and of this spiritual covenant circumcision was a sign and seal.
2. This covenant is still in force and is essentially identical with the “new covenant” of the present dispensation.
3. By the appointment of God infants shared in the benefits of the covenant, and therefore received circumcision as a sign and seal.
4. In the new dispensation baptism is by divine authority substituted for circumcision as the initiatory sign and seal of the covenant of grace.
[Berkhof concludes from points 1-4 that just as children were circumcised in the old dispensation they have the right to be baptised in the new dispensation.]
5. [Although] the New Testament contains no direct evidence for the practice of infant baptism in the days of the apostles…the New Testament repeatedly speaks of the baptism of households….It is entirely possible, of course, but not very probable, that none of these households contained children.
6. [Although] the earliest historical reference to infant baptism is found in the writings of the last half of the second century…from the second century on, infant baptism is generally recognized, though it was sometimes neglected in practice.
Grudem responds to Berkhof’s points 1-4 by demonstrating the difference between the “covenant community” of the Old Testament and the “covenant community” of the New Testament. The former consisted of all Jews, one’s becoming a member of it by being born a Jew. Therefore all Jewish males (and even their male servants who lived among them) were to be circumcised. The latter consists of the church, one’s becoming a member of it by having saving faith and being born again. Therefore baptism should be given only to those who give evidence of being born again.
He responds to Berkhof’s point 5 by pointing out that in two of the three household baptisms reported in Acts (the household of Lydia, 16:15, and the household of the Philippian jailer, 16:33) and the epistles (the household of Stephanus, 1 Corinthians 1:16) indication is given of saving faith by all who were baptized–the family of the Philippian jailer (“[Paul and Silas] spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house,” Acts 16:32; see also 16:34) and the household of Stephanus (“you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints,” 1 Corinthians 16:15). The report of the baptism of Lydia and her household doesn’t indicate whether or not the household contained infants and thus must be considered inconclusive.
The Mode of Baptism
Historically the three major modes of baptism have been immersion (dipping the subject under water), affusion (pouring water on the subject), and sprinkling (sprinkling water on the subject). However in the New Testament baptism seems to have been administered just by immersion. Here I’ll summarize the arguments made for it by Grudem.
1. The Greek word baptizo means “to plunge, dip, or immerse” in water.
2. Immersion is appropriate and probably required for the word in several New Testament accounts:
– “All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him [John] and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan” (Mark 1:5).
– “Jesus…was baptized by John in the Jordan…and…came up out of the water” (Mark 1:10).
– “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there” (John 3:23).
– “They both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And…they came up out of the water” (Acts 8:38-39).
3. The symbolism of the believer’s union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection seems to require baptism by immersion.
With Grudem (and with the denomination to which the church which I attend belongs, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador), I think that baptism of believers by immersion is most consistent with New Testament practice.