How Can Our Churches Ensure Scriptural
Soundness and Purity of the Ordinances?
Adopted by the Wiseman Baptist Association 2009 & Read by Elder Jeremy Wilson Pastor of Three Springs Baptist Church Bowling Green, Ky.
We believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth, in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, with its effect in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation; and to the Lord's Supper; in which the members of the church, by the sacred use of bread and wine are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.
Baptism-Mode and Means
In the modern world there are several interpretations of what the Scriptures mean by “baptize.” Over the course of history, there have been many writers who have written that while immersion is the proper meaning of the word, it is permissible to properly baptize someone by other means. These writers have argued that while baptism is best accomplished by immersion, due to the symbolism involved, it is a “desirable” symbol rather than an “essential” one.
In order for us to maintain the scriptural purity of the ordinance of baptism, we must first understand that the bible is clear that immersion in water alone is the mode and means we ought to use. In fact, the overwhelming bulk of modern theological scholarship agrees with the Baptists on this point.
Many denominations admit that baptism by immersion is taught in the scriptures, while at the same time they claim that pouring and sprinkling are more convenient. These apologists miss the point, which is that the mode is essential to obedience to the command. Baptism is a highly symbolic event, and the form is essential to the symbol. The very idea of baptism is destroyed when the form is broken. Ordinances were given with the intention of being unchangeable.
We believe that someone is baptized properly when they are fully immersed in water on a profession of faith. Negatively, we believe that when someone is baptized using any other mode or means, they are not baptized at all. This view is considered arrogance by many non-Baptists, and we are frequently accused of making immersion essential to salvation.
If we expect to reach those who disagree with us, we must be sure we are properly understood, and to make it clear that our stress on immersion is not because we consider it essential to salvation, but essential to the ordinance. Baptism is not essential to salvation, but we insist that, when one is baptized, he should be really baptized. Baptists also feel very strongly the beauty of the symbolism of baptism as a death and resurrection. We are unwilling to see the pictured truth of the ordinance destroyed by the substitution of some other act. Besides, we contend that the command of Jesus cannot be obeyed unless the thing commanded by Him is done.
Early church fathers, Barnabas, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Ireneus, Origen, Cyril, Gregory, Epiphanius, all testified of immersion in water as the proper mode and means of Baptism. Tertullian uses the Latin word "mergito," which means "to plunge."
In the New Testament, our English word baptize comes from the Greek word "baptizo" and more often, "bapto" (the word from which “baptizo” is derived). Both words mean “to dip, to plunge.” Both words are used in figurative expressions also, as all words are. One can be plunged in grief or immersed in cares. The Biblical Greek word for pouring is "ekcheo," and it is never used in the New Testament in connection with baptism. Now the fact that "ekcheo" is used for pouring, as distinguished from "baptizo," shows that "baptizo" did not mean and does not mean pour. Both "bapto" and "baptizo" are used in the Septuagint translation in literal and figurative senses, but always with the sense of dip.
In 2 Kings 5:14, we read of Naaman: "Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan." Here the Septuagint uses "baptizo" for "dipped."
In Luke 11:38 we are told that the Pharisee marveled at Jesus because "He had not first washed before dinner." The word for wash is "baptizo," and refers to the Pharisees rules about ceremonial defilements. To make sure of ceremonial purity, a whole bath was felt to be necessary.
In Mark 7:4 we read that when they come "from market, except they wash, they eat not." Here again "baptizo" is used for wash.
In Luke 16:24 "bapto" is translated dip, "that he may dip the tip of his finger in water." "
The baptism of death, of fire, of the cloud, of the Holy Spirit, all preserved the same imagery of the literal usage. The way to learn the real meaning of a word is not from the metaphor, but from the literal sense. We have seen that the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament "bapto" and "baptizo" mean to dip or immerse in a literal and figurative sense.
Where is "baptizo" used for the ordinance of baptism? John the Baptist introduced the ordinance of baptism in Matthew 3:6, and here we see “baptizo” used to describe the action John is taking in the Jordan River. The act used at the introduction of an ordinance is the original and persistent meaning of the word. The circumstances surrounding the ordinance of baptism naturally suggest immersion. In Mark 1:10, Jesus was “straightway coming up out of the water” which assumes he went “down into the water.” The baptism took place while he was down in the water. If the word "baptizo" elsewhere always means immerse, certainly there is nothing here to make it otherwise.
In Romans 6:4 Paul tells us that baptism is like death, burial and resurrection. The very symbolism of baptism demands going down into and rising from the water. It is impossible to picture burial and resurrection by pouring or sprinkling. Immersion does this, and nothing else does.
The number baptized at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) does not show immersion to be impossible. The water was at hand also, for Jerusalem was well-supplied with large pools, and always had plenty of water. The baptism of the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16:33) is also entirely possible. Jesus was immersed, and the wish of Christians should be to be immersed also. Jesus went all the way from Nazareth to the Jordan to be immersed by John, and we should never hear arguments of convenience to change the method or means of this ordinance.
Col. 2:12 reads “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Our text shows that one baptism is authorized as a continuing ordinance of God. First administered by John the Baptist on direct command from Heaven, it was continued under the direction of Jesus by the disciples, and committed to that same church for administration to the end of the age. Jesus was asked in Matthew 21:25, "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?" The fact that Jesus was being asked assumes that those asking recognized his ability to answer with authority, as we recognize his authority as the head of his church.
Before John would baptize those who came to him, he demanded “fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 1:8). Now, to demand this faith in the person being baptized while denying its necessity in the administrator of baptism is a gross inconsistency.
Certainly the only ultimate and absolute Authority is God Himself, and certainly all Christians will agree in theory that baptism, as well as every other act of Christian service, must be in submission to His authority to be acceptable in His sight.
Differences arise, however, with regard to subordinate authority in administration.
John the Baptist was a man sent from God with authority to baptize (John 1:6, 33), and the first disciples of Jesus got their authority directly from Him (John 4:1-2). When Jesus went back to Heaven did He commit administrative authority to anyone in particular, or did He leave it to be assumed?
Subordinate authority may be explicit, implicit, or assumed. Both explicitly and implicitly Jesus committed to His church the responsibility of making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all His commandments. (Matt. 28:18-20.) Attempts by other persons to exercise this authority are assumption based on presumption.
Practically all Christians have substantially agreed for over 2,000 years that Jesus committed to His church the administrative authority for carrying on His work.
Some have tried to build an argument on the fact that inspired history in Acts does not give details of church procedure in connection with recorded baptisms. So they assume that at least some of these baptisms were administered by individual disciples without church authority. For those who honor God's Word, if we are going to assume something beyond what is written concerning the generally faithful servants of God, let us assume that they were obedient rather than disobedient with reference to service which God approves in His Word.
It is just as easy, and much more honoring to Christ and His body, the church, to assume that all baptisms recorded in Acts with divine approval were performed with church authority, explicit or implicit, as to assume that Philip or Ananias, for instance, acted without such authority (Acts 8:38; 9:10-18) just because the details are not recounted in detail in the scripture.
We are told in Acts 19:1-4 something of baptism without authority. At Ephesus Paul found about a dozen disciples who claimed to have John's baptism. The Bible does not say that these men had John's baptism. The Bible says that "they said, Unto John's baptism." That is, they claimed to have, perhaps they really believed they had, John's baptism.
When these disciples showed their ignorance of New Testament doctrine while claiming the baptism of John, Paul immediately summarized the teaching of John as identical with that of all true New Testament teachers, "saying unto the people, that they should believe. . .on Christ Jesus." New Testament doctrine must accompany New Testament baptism.
So instructed, the disciples at Ephesus "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" that is, under His authority through an official minister of His church. It is always so in a place where Christ is honored, his Word is believed, and his body is respected. The authorized administrator of the baptism is the church that Jesus instituted and that He promised to be with to the end of the age. This is the only kind of church that believes and obeys His Word and so can teach other disciples to obey Him.
In many denominations, decisions have been made to allow anyone to baptize according to the principle that since we are baptized by the authority of the church, any saved person can administer the ordinance. However, these same apologists would have to argue that all denominations have equal authority with Baptists, since there are almost certainly some saved people in every denomination.
To maintain the purity of the ordinance of baptism, we must have the proper mode, means, and administrator. Otherwise, the baptism is not the “one baptism” described in Ephesians 4:5.
The Lord’s Supper
Historic Baptists have believed in, and still believe in restricting communion to those who have made a profession of faith and have followed the Lord in believers’ baptism. Baptists impose upon themselves the same restrictions that they impose on others concerning the Lord’s Supper. Baptists insist that it is the Lord’s table, not theirs; and He alone has the right to say who shall sit at His table. No amount of so called brotherly love, or ecumenical spirit, should cause us to invite to His table those who have not complied with the requirements laid down plainly in His inspired Word.
Should we as Baptists ignore the restrictions made by Jesus? When we hold to the restrictions placed upon the Lord’s Supper by our Master, we are defending the "faith which was once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
The Lord’s Supper Observed By the Church in Church Capacity.
I Corinthians 11:18 says, "When ye come together in the church." This does not mean the church building; they had none. In other words, when the church assembles. “Ekklesia,” the Greek word for church, means “assembly.”
“When ye come together in the church," is when the church assembles. When we say “Church” we mean an assembly of properly baptized believers (Acts 2:41-42). The fact that the Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, to be observed in church capacity, is pointed out by the fact that it is for those who have been immersed and added to the fellowship of the church. No unbeliever, and no non-immersed believer should have the supper. In every case where communion is referred to, or where it may possibly have been administered, the believers had been baptized (Acts 2:42; 8:12, 38; 10:47; 16:14-15; 18:8; 20:7). Baptism comes before communion, just as repentance and faith precede baptism. The Lord’s Supper is never spoken of in connection with individuals. When it is referred to it is only referred to in reference to baptized believers in local church capacity (Acts 2:42-44; I Cor 11:20-26). This precludes administering the Lord’s Supper to individuals in private settings outside the assembly. The individual administration of the ordinance has no Biblical basis, and is only a relic of Romanism. The Lord’s Supper is a church ordinance, and any administration which goes beyond or comes short of this does not have scriptural example or command.
The Lord’s Supper Observed By a United Church
I Corinthians 11:18 is strong in condemning divisions around the Lord’s table. Paul writes, “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.” There were at least four divisions in the Corinthian church. Because of these divisions, it was impossible for them to scripturally eat the Lord’s Supper. Deep division in the local church is reason to hold off observing the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper Restricted by Doctrine
Some churches hold the practice of restricting the Lord’s Supper to only the members of the local body who are assembled at that time, instructing other believers with scriptural baptism that they are not invited. The arguments for this practice are reasonable. Those in the early church at Jerusalem who partook "continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine" (Acts 2:42). Those who do not hold to the truth are not to partake. This means there is to be discipline in the local body. How can you discipline those who do not belong to the local body? You can’t. The clear command of scripture is to withdraw fellowship from those who are not doctrinally sound II Thes 3:6, Rom 16:17, I John 1:3, II Thes 2:15, II John 10-11.
However, the decision for a church to restrict the Lord’s Supper only to the local body or to restrict it to only Baptists should never become a point of contention or fellowship. It is important for us to maintain that we must not sit at one table with those who doctrinal beliefs are not the same as ours, and then continue in our separate church capacities to maintain the differences in our faiths.