Study Committee on Baptism and Membership [2002]

Report of the

Study Committee on Baptism

& Church Membership


          This study committee has met eight times as a whole since the 118th Annual Conference, and numerous times as two sub-committees, to continue our study of the biblical doctrines of the church, baptism, and the proper relationship of the two. The full committee has made an effort to clarify and solidify exactly where we agree and where we disagree, and has issued its final report on the questions of 1) Is immersion the proper mode of baptism? and 2) Should the BFC practice or recognize a mode other than immersion? We are unanimous in our answers of “Yes” to #1; “No” to #2. The full committee therefore presents and is in agreement with pages 1 through 9 of this report, and the appendices at the end of our report.

          Where the two subcommittees differ is in the application of these truths to the life and practice of our body. Both sub-committees are absolutely committed to maintaining the purity of the church in doctrine and practice. Where we diverge is reflected in our alternate endings to this report. We thank our brethren for their prayers, helpful input, and supportive words this past year.

Committee to Study Baptism and Church Membership: Calvin T. Reed, Chairman; John C. Studenroth, Secretary; Carl C. Cassel, Donald T. Kirkwood, Ronald W. Reed, Clayton E. Weber, and Byron Widger.


Should the BFC practice or recognize another mode of baptism other than immersion? That is the question that this study paper will address. In so doing, the committee will seek to answer two questions.

(1) Is immersion the proper mode of baptism?

(2) Should the BFC practice or recognize a mode other than immersion?

Is immersion the proper mode of baptism?

          At this point, the committee includes an extensive citation from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. It is not because the committee understands this work to be the definitive statement on the subject. Rather, it provides a very useful framework to facilitate a discussion that is pertinent to the issues in the BFC.

          Wayne Grudem understands baptism to be the immersion of believers in water. Thus his synopsis of meaning and mode is in keeping with the committee’s understanding of the meaning and mode of baptism. The committee has done much research and is fully convinced in its collective mind that baptism is the immersion of the believer in water. Grudem’s arguments for meaning and mode are in keeping with much material that the committee has come across elsewhere. Though many more works and arguments could be cited, the committee acknowledges that those reference works are commonly available. The committee has looked at source documents and has not just relied upon footnotes from secondary works. However, for the sake of space, the committee has included several appendices to aid the reader in seeing the substantiation for some of Grudem’s claims regarding meaning and mode. The committee included Grudem’s work because the committee deems it to be an adequate synopsis of the kind of material that the committee has seen over and over from numerous sources both on more technical and popular levels.

          The reason that we are citing at length from Grudem’s Systematic Theology is because of his conclusion.

          The Bracketed material is an extensive quotation taken from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

The numbers in brackets represent Dr. Grudem’s footnotes. The footnotes are not reproduced in this paper.

[ The Mode and Meaning of Baptism

          The practice of baptism in the New Testament was carried out in one way: the person being baptized was immersed or put completely under the water and then brought back up again. Baptism by immersion is therefore the “mode” of baptism or the way in which baptism was carried out in the New Testament. This is evident for the following reasons:

          (1) The Greek word baptizo means “to plunge, dip, immerse” something in water. This is the commonly recognized and standard meaning of the term in ancient Greek literature both inside and outside of the Bible. [4]

  (See appendix A)

          (2) The sense “immerse” is appropriate and probably required for the word in several New Testament passages. In Mark 1:5, people were baptized by John “in the river Jordan” (the Greek text has en “in,” and not “beside” or “by” or “near” the river). [5] Mark also tells us that when Jesus had been baptized “he came up out of the water” (Mark 1:10). The Greek text specifies that he came “out of” (ek) the water, not that he came away from it (this would be expressed by Gk. apo). The fact that John and Jesus went into the river and came up out of it strongly suggests immersion, since sprinkling or pouring of water could much more readily have been done standing beside the river, particularly because multitudes of people were coming for baptism. John’s gospel tells us, further, that John the Baptist “was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there” (John 3:23). Again, it would not take “much water” to baptize people by sprinkling, but it would take much water to baptize by immersion.

(The committee believes this to be the weakest of the arguments for immersion. While coming up out of the water does not in the committee’s view absolutely require immersion, it certainly is not inconsistent with immersion.)

          When Philip had shared the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch, “as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?’” (Acts 8:36). Apparently neither of them thought that sprinkling or pouring a handful of water from the container of drinking water that would have been carried in the chariot was enough to constitute baptism. Rather, they waited until there was a body of water near the road. Then “he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:38-39). As in the case of Jesus, this baptism occurred when Philip and the eunuch went down into a body of water, and after the baptism they came up out of that body of water. Once again baptism by immersion is the only satisfactory explanation of this narrative. [6]

          (3) The symbolism of union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection seems to require baptism by immersion. Paul says,

          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, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3-4) Similarly, Paul tells the Colossians, “You were buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12).

          Now this truth is clearly symbolized in baptism by immersion. When the candidate for baptism goes down into the water it is a picture of going down into the grave and being buried. Coming up out of the water is then a picture of being raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. Baptism thus very clearly pictures death to one’s old way of life and rising to a new kind of life in Christ. But baptism by sprinkling or pouring simply misses this symbolism. [7]

          Sometimes, it is objected that the essential thing symbolized in baptism is not death and resurrection with Christ but purification and cleansing from sins. Certainly it is true that water is an evident symbol of washing and cleansing, and the waters of baptism do symbolize washing and purification from sins as well as death and resurrection with Christ. Titus 3:5 speaks of “the washing of regeneration” and, even though the word baptism is not used in this text, it is certainly true that there is a cleansing from sin that occurs at the time of conversion. Ananias told Saul, “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).

          But to say that washing away of sins is the only thing (or even the most essential thing) pictured in baptism does not faithfully represent New Testament teaching. Both washing and death and resurrection with Christ are symbolized in baptism, but Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:11-12 place a clear emphasis on dying and rising with Christ. Even the washing is much more effectively symbolized by immersion than by sprinkling or pouring, and death and resurrection with Christ are symbolized only by immersion, not at all by sprinkling or pouring.

          What then is the positive meaning of baptism? In all the discussion over the mode of baptism and the disputes over its meaning, it is easy for Christians to lose sight of the significance and beauty of baptism and to disregard the tremendous blessing that accompanies this ceremony. The amazing truths of passing through the waters of judgment safely, of dying and rising with Christ, and of having our sins washed away, are truths of momentous and eternal proportion and ought to be an occasion for giving great glory and praise to God. If churches would teach these truths more clearly, baptisms would be the occasion of much more blessing in the church.]

          Since Christendom has been so divided over the issue of baptism, one might wonder just how clear it is that baptism is to be equated with immersion. While numerous scholars could be quoted at this juncture, the statements of two reformers are quite notable in this regard.

          Note the remarks of John Calvin in the Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 4 Chapter 15 section 19 p. 599:

But whether the person being baptized should be wholly immersed, and whether thrice or once, whether he should only be sprinkled with poured water — these details are of no importance, but ought to be optional to churches according to the diversity of countries. Yet the word “baptize”means to immerse, and it is clear that the rite of immersion was observed in the ancient church. (Bold print is the committee’s emphasis)

          Though Calvin does not view the mode as important, and though great controversy was beginning to swell around it, Calvin is clear that he understands the meaning of the word to be immersion.

          Martin Luther asserts the following:

Baptism [German, die Taufe] is called in the Greek language baptismos, in Latin mersio, which means to plunge something entirely into the water, so that the water closes over it. And although in many places it is the custom no longer to thrust and plunge children into the font of baptism, but only to pour the baptismal water upon them out of the font, nevertheless the former is what should be done; and it would be right, according to the meaning of the word Taufe, that the child, or whoever is baptized, should be sunk entirely into the water, and then drawn out again; for even in the German tongue the word Taufe comes undoubtedly from the word tief, and means that what is baptized is sunk deep into the water. This usage is also demanded by the significance of baptism, for baptism signifies that the old man and the sinful birth of flesh and blood are to be wholly drowned by the grace of God, as we shall hear. We should, therefore, do justice to its meaning and make baptism a true and complete sign of the thing it signifies. (Luther, p. 49)

     Though the committee does not agree with the baptizing of infants, the committee deems it noteworthy that Martin Luther acknowledges that immersion is the proper mode and urges that it be followed even when it comes to baptizing infants.

Should the Bible Fellowship Church practice or recognize any other mode of baptism?

     All too often those who are convinced that the word baptizo means to immerse, and that immersion is the proper mode, assert that it is not necessary to practice immersion exclusively. Here Wayne Grudem is illustrative of an ever growing position. Though, he appears to believe that immersion is the proper mode, and that believers are the proper recipients, he calls for the recognition and practice of other modes as well. The committee disagrees with his conclusion. Therefore, we will interact with his arguments as a means of working through this issue. Following is another lengthy quotation from Grudem’s Systematic Theology:

[Do Churches Need to Be Divided Over Baptism? In spite of many years of division over this question among Protestants, is there a way in which Christians who differ on baptism can demonstrate greater unity of fellowship? And is there a way that progress can be made in bringing the church closer to unity on this question?

     One way forward could be for paedobaptists and advocates of believers’ baptism both to come to a common admission that baptism is not a major doctrine of the faith, and that they are willing to live with each other’s views on this matter and not allow differences over baptism to be a cause for division within the body of Christ. [29] Specifically, this would mean allowing both views of baptism to be taught and practiced in denominations on both sides of the question.

     No doubt this would be a difficult thing to do both for Baptist denominations and for paedobaptist denominations, because they have long traditions of arguing for one side or the other on this question. Certainly Christians are entitled to make up their own minds regarding baptism, but it does not seem appropriate that denominational divisions should depend on and reinforce these differences, nor does it seem right that churches require one view or another on baptism for those who wish to be ordained or to function as teachers within the church. [30] Specifically, this would mean that Baptist churches would have to be willing to allow into membership those who had been baptized as infants and whose conviction of conscience, after careful consideration, is that their infant baptism was valid and should not be repeated. Of course, Baptist churches could be free to teach and to attempt to persuade prospective church members that they should be baptized as believers, but if some, after careful consideration, are simply not persuaded, it does not seem appropriate to make this a barrier to membership. What good is accomplished by such a barrier? And certainly much harm can be accomplished in failure to demonstrate the unity of the church and in barring from full participation in the church those whom the Lord has in fact brought into that fellowship.

     On the other hand, those who believe in paedobaptism would have to agree not to put undue pressure upon parents who do not wish to have their infants baptized and not to count those parents as somehow disobedient to the Lord. There might need to be a willingness to have some kind of brief ceremony of dedication of children to the Lord shortly after they are born, instead of a ceremony of baptism, if the parents so desired. And of course both sides would have to agree not to make one view on baptism a criterion for church office or for ordination. [31]

     If such concessions in actual practice were made by both sides on this question, the issue might in fact diminish the level of controversy within a generation, and baptism might eventually cease to be a point of division at all among Christians.]

     In interacting with Grudem’s material the committee questions Grudem’s initial assertion:

Should we come to the conclusion that baptism is not a major doctrine of the faith?

One way forward could be for paedobaptists and advocates of believers’ baptism both to come to a common admission that baptism is not a major doctrine of the faith, and that they are willing to live with each other’s views on this matter and not allow differences over baptism to be a cause for division within the body of Christ. ( Grudem p. 982)

     Dr. Grudem, in his footnote, anticipates an objection to the idea that baptism is not a major doctrine. He writes,

I realize that some readers will object to this sentence and will say that baptism is very important because of what the differing positions represent: differing views of the nature of the church. Baptists would argue that practicing infant baptism is inherently inconsistent with the idea of a church made up of believers only, and many paedobaptists would argue that not practicing infant baptism is inherently inconsistent with the idea of a covenant community that includes the children of believers. (Grudem p. 982)

     It would be helpful at this point to understand what Dr. Grudem means by a “major doctrine” of the faith. Fortunately, he provides a definition for a “major doctrine” earlier in his work.

A major doctrine is one that has significant impact on our thinking about other doctrines, or that has a significant impact on how we live the Christian life. A minor doctrine is one that has very little impact on how we think about other doctrines, and very little impact on how we live our Christian life. (Grudem p.29)

Does baptism have significant impact on how we think about other doctrines?

     Certainly salvation is a major doctrine of the faith. Does one’s view of baptism impact one’s understanding of salvation? One of the difficulties that exists in addressing the issues of baptism is the wide variety of teaching that exists concerning the meaning, purpose and effectiveness of baptism.

Does one’s view of baptism significantly impact on the doctrine of salvation?

The Roman Catholic Church teaches baptismal regeneration.

“The many ritual changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council may lead one to suppose that this reflects also a substantial change in the Church’s faith or even a reversal of Catholic doctrine. Not at all.” (Hardon p.506.)

In the Catholic Catechism the effects of water baptism are listed.

     The following material is a lengthy quotation from The Catholic Catechism by John A. Hardon:

[Remission of Sins. Commonly listed first among the effects of baptism is its efficacy to remit original sin and actual guilt, no matter how grave the offenses against God may have been ( p. 506)

Grace of Regeneration. Baptism does more than remove the guilt and penalty due to sin. It infuses into our souls the life of grace that Christ won for us by his death and Resurrection. ( Hardon p. 508)

Incorporation into Christ. Through baptism we become united to Christ as the head of the Mystical Body. (p. 509)

Right to Heaven. Since baptism confers the life of grace in the soul, it carries the promise of salvation. In the new liturgy, when the person has been baptized, he is clothed with a white garment, the celebrant says: “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.” (Hardon p. 510)]

The Lutheran View:

Concerning the sacraments, Lutherans hold that baptism and the Lord’s supper are instruments of grace. The Word of God added to the water of baptism remits sins, regenerates, and imputes the righteousness of Christ. The evangelical Lutheran O. Hallesby wrote, ‘Baptism is the means whereby the little one is regenerated. From the moment of baptism the child has life in God.’ To avoid the ex opere operato position, Lutherans link baptism with faith. Some maintain that when confronted with the Word pronounced over the water infants actually believe. David Sacer, for example, upholds the reality of ‘infant faith’ and insists that the expression ‘believer’s baptism’ is a fair description of the Lutheran paedobaptist position. Others claim that infants are baptized on the basis of the faith of parents or sponsor. ( Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology Vol. 3 p. 247)

The Presbyterianism or Reformed Church View:

     Is water baptism a sign and seal of the covenant of grace? The Westminster Confession of Faith states the following concerning water baptism:

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in the church to end of the world. ( Chapter 28 sect 1)

     Note that in this understanding baptism is both the sign and the seal of one’s being grafted into Christ, of regeneration, and of remission of sins. Thus, the Presbyterian understanding of baptism significantly impacts one’s understanding of salvation and how God’s grace is communicated. One must keep in mind that the Presbyterian view of baptism is quite different from that of the Roman Catholic or Lutheran view. The Westminster Confession of Faith states:

Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.” (Sect. 5)

     However, one should also keep in mind Charles Hodge’s explanation of this matter.

It does not follow from this that the benefits of redemption may not be conferred on infants at the time of their baptism. That is in the hands of God. What is to hinder the imputation to them of the righteousness of Christ, or their receiving the renewing of the Holy Ghost, so that their whole nature may be developed in a state of reconciliation with God? Doubtless this often occurs; but whether it does or does not, their baptism stands good; it assures them of salvation if they do not renounce their baptismal covenant. (Hodge Systematic Theology Vol. 3 p. 590 )

     The Bible Fellowship Church’s position is that baptism has no saving or cleansing power.

Article. 20-1 BaptismWater baptism, the immersion of the believer, is a visible testimony to the work of regeneration and a mark of identification and union with Christ. It has no saving or cleansing power, but it is the answer of a good conscience before God; hence it should be administered only to those who have, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, realized the forgiveness of sins and possess the assurance of acceptance with God.

Yes , one’s view of baptism does significantly affect one’s doctrine of salvation and thus is a major doctrine.

Does one’s view of baptism significantly affect the doctrine of sin?

Besides the issue of whether or not water baptism has the power to remit original sin, one must address the issue of whether a believer has sinned or not in failing to have their infant baptized.

Note the following two statements from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents are to be baptized. (Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 28 sect. 4

Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated. (Sect. 5)

     Are believing parents sinning by failing to have their child baptized?

One’s view of baptism does significantly affect one’s doctrine of sin and thus is a major doctrine.

Does one’s view of baptism impact one’s understanding of the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit?

     The Reformed or Presbyterian view is that baptism is not only the sign but the seal of the covenant of grace.

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in the church to end of the world. ( Chapter 28 sect 1)

     The scriptural seal of person’s union with Christ and His church is his relationship to the Holy Spirit.

2 Cor 1:21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God,

2 Cor 1:22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.

     One receives that seal not in association with water baptism but in association with faith

Eph 1:13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,

Eph 1:14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

     Baptism is not a means by which faith is conferred but rather is a testimony to faith.

Yes , one’s view of baptism does significantly affect one’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit and thus is a major doctrine.

     The position that one’s view of baptism is not a major doctrine is untenable. Baptism is not isolated from a host of theological issues. It is the core differences of theological issues that has resulted in various views of mode and recipient. The differences of mode and recipient are the expression and manifestation of a system of belief. As D.A. Carson points out :

“…… a devout Presbyterian and a devout Baptist are not going to sort out what Scripture says about say, baptism and church government, simply by taking out a couple of lexical and working over a few texts together during free moments some Friday afternoon. What is at stake, for both of them, is how these matters are nestled into a large number of other points, which are themselves related to an entire structure of theology. (D.A Carson Modern Reformation, July/August 1999)

At this point subcommittees (a) and (b) diverge.

     Subcommittee B does not directly interact with subcommittee A. Much of that material is found in the report of the 1999 Yearbook pp. 173-211. We strongly urge the members of conference to go back and restudy that report. The present report builds upon the foundation of the 1999 report.

Subcommittee B presents the following material:

     Subcommittee b would like to consider the second issue that Dr. Grudem raises in determining whether or not a doctrine is “major”, that is whether or not the doctrine “impacts on how we live the Christian life.”

     “Would allowing differing views of baptism to be taught and practice have a significant impact on how we live the Christian life?”

     Grudem’s suggestion would include the following:

“Specifically, this would mean allowing both views of baptism to be taught and practiced in denominations on both sides of the question.” (p.982)

     What views would be taught? Is it a sin or not a sin to neglect to have an infant baptized?

Specifically, this would mean that Baptist churches would have to be willing to allow into membership those who had been baptized as infants and whose conviction of conscience, after careful consideration, is that their infant baptism was valid and should not be repeated. Of course, Baptist churches could be free to teach and to attempt to persuade prospective church members that they should be baptized as believers, but if some, after careful consideration, are simply not persuaded, it does not seem appropriate to make this a barrier to membership. (Grudem p.982)

     How could Baptist churches be free to persuade individuals to be rebaptized who believe that they are to be baptized only once. How could an elder who believes it is a sin not to have a baby baptized sit idly by as a large number of parents neglect this sacrament to their harm?

     Dr. Grudem goes on to assert: “nor does it seem right that churches require one view or another on baptism for those who wish to be ordained or to function as teachers within the church.” (p. 983)

     In a footnote Dr. Grudem clarifies his position regarding teachers and those who are ordained.

Note that my proposed first steps toward less divisiveness over the question do not include asking individuals on either side to act in a way that would violate their own personal convictions; I am not suggesting that those who hold to a Baptist view personally begin baptizing infants when the parents request it; or that those who hold a paedobaptist view personally begin baptizing those who make a profession of faith and request baptism, even though they had been baptized as infants. (p.983)

     If the BFC were to adopt such a practice it would have ordained men who would baptize infants and refuse to baptize adults who come to faith and actually requested baptism by immersion as an adult. The BFC would also have ordained men who would refuse to baptize infants of believing parents who would view it as a sin to fail to have their child baptized.

     It is difficult to reach Dr. Grudem’s conclusion that “If such concessions in actual practice were made by both sides on this question, the issue might in fact diminish the level of controversy within a generation, and baptism might eventually cease to be a point of division at all among Christians.” It is much more likely that through the de-emphasis of the importance of baptism, and the difficulties associated with administering it, that baptism would cease to be practiced or that Bible Fellowship churches would be divided in its practice. One BF church would be baptizing infants and one BF church would be baptizing only professed believers.

Now we must come back to Grudem’s original argument.

Remember Dr. Grudem asserts:

One way forward could be for paedobaptists and advocates of believers’ baptism both to come to a common admission that baptism is not a major doctrine of the faith, and that they are willing to live with each other’s views on this matter and not allow differences over baptism to be a cause for division within the body of Christ. [29] Specifically, this would mean allowing both views of baptism to be taught and practiced in denominations on both sides of the question. (p.982)

     The subcommittee believes that baptism is a major doctrine of the faith, but what if it were not a major doctrine of the faith.? What if the command to baptize (immerse) was the least of all the commands in the Bible?

Mat 5:19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

     If we were convinced that the word baptizo means to immerse, and Jesus commanded us to immerse, would we be free to sprinkle or pour and call it immersion?

     After listing seven reasons why they are convinced that the meaning of baptizo is to immerse, the authors of Integrative Theology write the following:

The important issue, many still insist, is not the form but the fact of baptism. The seven converging lines of evidence listed above show the scriptural fact of baptism when translated is believer’s immersion. Although we ought not alter the essence of immersion, its forms are not so important. Immersion may be in water that is running or still. A candidate clothed or naked may be dipped forward or backward once or three times. None of these variables alters the fact of baptism. But a change to sprinkling or pouring does alter our Lord’s command. Jesus who did away with scores of ceremonies, asked his followers to observe two simple ones. People who advertise that the Bible’s teaching is their norm of faith and practice are not free to change the Lord’s requirement of immersion. ( p. 290 ).

What about Purity and Unity of the Church

     Wayne Grudem defines purity as follows, “The purity of the church is its degree of freedom from wrong doctrine and conduct, and its degree of conformity to God’s revealed will for the church.” (p. 873)

     Dr. Grudem defines unity in the following way, “The unity of the church is its degree of freedom from divisions among true Christians.” (p.874) He then goes on to discuss how churches can be “more pure” or “less pure.” He lists 12 factors that make a church “more pure.” The first two that he mentions are “Biblical doctrine (or right preaching of the Word)” and the “proper use of the sacraments (or ordinances.)”

But we must realize that not all churches will respond well to influences that would bring them to greater purity. Sometimes, in spite of a few faithful Christians within a church, its dominant direction will be set by others who are determined to lead it on another course. Unless God graciously intervenes to bring reformation, some of these churches will become cults, and others will just die and close their doors. But more commonly these churches will simply drift into liberal Protestantism. (p.875)

     The subcommittee believes that practicing and recognizing the baptism of believers by immersion only is crucial to maintaining the purity of the church. (See 1999 yearbook pp. 204-207)

     God clearly has given this task of guarding the purity of the visible church to elders in each particular church.

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

     How can we expect the elders to do their God-given task if we rob them of the one clearly-ordained means of discerning the regenerate heart? Yes, we can interview people and question them closely about their beliefs. We can observe their lifestyle. All these things are important in receiving new members. But our Lord’s command to first baptize and then to “teach them all things” can hardly be reversed to “teach them all things” and (maybe) later baptize them. We need to trust God’s wisdom above our own at this point. When we are asked, “How can we refuse those whom Christ has received?” We respond, “The very offer of believers’ baptism is the clearest, most obedient, way to receive them.” This is God’s modus operandi for receiving them. We are never commanded to guard the purity of the invisible church, nor could we. God will guard that. But God has commanded us to reflect on earth to the very best of our abilities, enabled by His Holy Spirit, what is happening in heaven. Visible water baptism is the only way given among men to confess one’s assurance and testimony that they have indeed received the Spirit’s baptism.

     Oftentimes a Presbyterian who would come among us would refuse to be rebaptized. The Westminster Standards make it clear that a person is to be “baptized” only once. For that person to be rebaptized would be a repudiation of his\her previous “baptism.” The subcommittee sees an absolute necessity to reject infant baptism and the various teachings that are associated with it. There are a host of different positions that are associated with infant baptism and all of them are inadequate. Karl Barth has said, “There is no getting around that fact, in every attempt, unavoidable as it may be, to think through the relationship between baptism and faith for a given doctrine of infant baptism, that one shall run into the most unhappy dead-end street, since in this question, one obscurity and perplexity conjures up another; one follows another and that by necessity.” (The Doctrines that Divide Erwin W. Lutzer, Kregel, Grand Rapids Mi. 1998. P. 132) In speaking of infant baptism and the communication of grace, Erwin Lutzer writes, “In these matters the clarity of the gospel is directly affected ( p. 138)

     Unlike the Presbyterian, the Mennonite has no qualms about being rebaptized. They understand that the church may baptize by “pouring, immersion or sprinkling in water.” ( Confession of Faith p 48) Further, in their understanding baptism is linked to a particular congregation. “Thus baptism should always be done by the church and its representatives, if possible in the presence of the congregation. It should be public because baptism means a commitment to membership and service in a particular congregation.” (p.48)

Subcommittee B’s Struggle

     The situation in which this subcommittee struggles the most has to do with the believer who is “baptized” as a believer by another mode. For example, the Mennonite. We have much in common with our Mennonite brethren in their Anabaptist position. However, even they have elements regarding the meaning of baptism that are foreign to the Bible Fellowship Church and more importantly foreign to the Bible. Included in the doctrines associated with water baptism is pacificism. The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Continued authorization by the General Board of Mennonite Church Canada and the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA) states: “Those who accept water baptism commit themselves to follow Jesus in giving their lives for others, in loving their enemies, and in renouncing violence, even when it means their own suffering and death.” (p.48)

     There is confusion over what the mode of “pouring” symbolizes. There is also confusion over the age of accountability and the administration of baptism. The Arminian theology underlying the Mennonite tradition is very pernicious at this point.

Infants are part of the human race for whom Christ died. His sacrifice was adequate and covers their sin until they become aware of and responsible to accept Christ’s saving work. Infants are spiritually safe.

In Mark 10:14 Jesus used the example of children to show what the kingdom of God is like. He said, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

When Jesus was asked who might be the greatest in the kingdom, he stood a child before him as an example (Mat. 18:1-5). It is therefore right to give children nurture. It is right to teach them about God and the new life offered through Christ, to teach them that God watches over us, even to teach them that God forgives our sins for Christ’s sake.

But children cannot be evangelized, for they are not lost. As a child grows, the Lord knows when to call that individual to repentance, new life, and commitment to Jesus as Savior and Lord. Readiness for this commitment is often called the “age of accountability.” Mennonite young people are often baptized in their teen years, but always their request. (J.C. Wenger, What Mennonites Believe Scottdale Pennsylvania Herald Press, 1991 by Mennonite Board of Missions p. 48)

     The subcommittee sees wisdom in baptizing our children in their teen years and at their request. However, the subcommittee rejects the notion that a young child cannot believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. And furthermore, the subcommittee would be very concerned over believing that our children are “spiritually safe” until reaching the age of a teen.

Subcommittee B’s Conclusions:

     This subcommittee believes that an individual who has been “baptized” as a believer by a mode other than immersion should be immersed. There needs to be a careful consideration of the teaching that surrounded the individual’s previous “baptism.” In rebaptizing individuals there should be a clear presentation as to the biblical meaning and mode of baptism.

     This subcommittee believes that what is at stake is more the purity of the entire church than the purity of the individual. ( The subcommittee has published other material in addressing the issues of guarding the purity of the church and rebaptism which can be found on pp. 204-211 of the 1999 Yearbook.) In maintaining this position the subcommittee seeks to issue a call to graciousness. We need a spirit of graciousness in ministering to those who come from other traditions to fellowship with us. How shall we manifest a gracious spirit toward those who come to the Bible Fellowship Church seeking membership with us, but who (as believers) were baptized by a different mode? After we have spent time instructing them from God’s holy word regarding what we believe to be the true meaning and significance of this ordinance, and hopefully persuading them of what we understand to be Christ’s own teaching regarding the proper mode and recipient, what do we say? Most likely their prior experience of believer’s baptism was a very meaningful experience for them, truly being what Peter calls “the answer of a good conscience before God.” They obeyed God to the very best of their understanding, according to all the light and teaching available to them. Now they can see that their understanding of believer’s baptism (any mode other than immersion) and some of the surrounding teaching was faulty. But must they now deny the reality of their initial act of obedience to Christ’s command? Was God displeased with their earlier step of faith?

     This subcommittee believes that it is vitally important that we assure the believer described above that God sees their heart, and was and is truly pleased with their desire to obey Him. Our request that they submit to believer’s baptism by immersion is not only for their sake but even more so for the purity of the church. Yes, we are asking them to help us guard the purity of the church.

     In what sense are we asking them to help us guard the purity of the church? In this sense: there is much confusion abroad today regarding this ordinance, its meaning and its significance. This confusion about the symbol ushers in serious theological confusion regarding matters of primary doctrinal importance, even salvation itself! In our desire within the BFC to maintain a high standard of purity in both doctrine and life, we naturally desire to maintain the purity of this ordinance. By allowing themselves to be re-baptized biblically, they demonstrate to all those observing that they are serious in standing with us in this desire to honor our Lord. Imagine the impact on the small children looking on! Believer’s baptism by immersion makes a deep impression on anyone watching, but especially on children. And children rarely forget witnessing an adult being baptized by immersion, but especially if it’s their own mother and/or father! Think of the legacy each obedient believer leaves for the next generation.

     Yes, our generation continues to suffer from an entrenched confusion that has been handed down to us from previous generations. Can we take a loving and gracious stand that will more clearly honor Christ’s great commission and make it easier for our children to follow “in His steps”? Or will we merely transmit the same aura of confusion that presently surrounds this ordinance?

Subcommittee B reaffirms its commitment to Article 20-1 Baptism.

Subcommittee B reaffirms its commitment to Article 202-3.1

Subcommittee B: Calvin T. Reed, Ronald W. Reed, John C. Studenroth and Byron Widger.

Works Cited

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education.

Carson, D.A. Modern Reformation Journal. July/August, 1999.

Demarest, Bruce A. and Lewis, Gordon R. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987.

General Board of the Mennonite Church. Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. Scottdale: Herald Press, 1995.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.

Hardon, John A. The Catholic Catechism. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1975.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979.

Luther, Martin. Works of Martin Luther. Albany: Ages Software, 1997.

Lutzer, Erwin. The Doctrines That Divide. Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1998.

The Westminster Confession of Faith. Escandido: The Ephesians Four Group, 1999.

Wenger, J.C. What Mennonites Believe. Scottdale: Herald Press, 1991.

Sub-Committee A

      All members of the Committee agree that only believers are candidates for baptism and that the mode of baptism is immersion; therefore they unite in supporting those conclusions. This is a re-affirmation of Article 20 in our Articles of Faith. Some members of the Committee have difficulty with the way those conclusions are applied. That difficulty arises from the understanding of the church. Some statements in our Faith & Order create a conflict between our doctrine and our practice.

1. The Harmony of Faith

Our Articles of Faith and some parts of our Order confess all those Christ saves are part of the church.

      Article 14 – Regeneration

             Regeneration is an act of God “whereby divine life is imparted to those dead in sin, making them members of the family of God.”

      Article 18 – The Church

The Church is the body of which Christ is the head. All those redeemed by his blood and born of His Spirit are members of that body. . . .The invisible Church is composed of all those born of the Spirit.”

§202-1.1 – Jesus Christ has established His rule on Earth in the church. The universal church consists of all those persons, in every nation, who make profession of faith in Christ and yield submission to Him and His rule.

2. The Contradiction of Order

      In another place our Order creates a contradiction. We say that BFC retains for itself the right not to accept people as members of BFC who are already part of Christ’s church because they have not been immersed.

§202-3.1 – Anyone desiring to be a member of the BFC shall give testimony and evidence of faith in Christ and the new birth. He shall be in sympathy with the F&O and be baptized by immersion subsequent to salvation, and manifest holiness toward God and separation from the world.

      In the judgment of some members of the Committee, the statement in §202-3.1 is in contradiction to Articles 14 and 18 and §202-1.1. This contradiction arises from Ephesians 4:4,5. Paul there states that there is “one body, . . . one faith, one baptism.”

      The contradiction is created by our stating in one place that all believers are members of the church and stating in another that believers must be immersed to become part of the church.

3. What is the biblical remedy to this contradiction?

      The remedy to this problem is to take seriously Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:4,5: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”

      Our concern is primarily with Paul’s statement that there is “one body…one faith, one baptism.”

      There is “one body.” Without this statement we might assume there are two churches in the NT—the visible church and the invisible church. Paul says there is only one church. This church has both invisible and visible manifestations, but it is one church. We speak of the universal church and the particular church, but it is just one church with one Head, our Lord Jesus Christ. If we divide this church into two churches with different requirements for membership, we have missed Paul’s declaration that there is “one body.” In our Article 18 we state that regenerate believers are part of this body. “The invisible Church is composed of all those born of the Spirit.”

      Christ is building his church. Only believers are members of it; all believers are members of it. God the Father has made Christ the Head, the only one with authority, in his church (Ephesians 1:22,23). “The Head administers the affairs of His body through overseers chosen by Himself and selected by the people” (Article 18-3).

      The church as visible is to mirror the church as invisible as closely as possible. To refuse to recognize regenerate individuals as members of the church as visible because they have not been immersed is to fail to recognize Christ’s work in building His church and to posit another church. This is taking to ourselves authority we do not have.

      There is “one baptism.” Without this statement we might assume there are two baptisms in the NT—Spirit baptism and water baptism. By being baptized in the Spirit we are united in one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); by water baptism we outwardly confess this relationship (Matthew 28:20). However Paul says these are one. Our conviction stated in Article 20 is that water baptism is a symbol. The reality and the symbol are united in such a way that Paul can say “one baptism.” Through the OT there is a refrain: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” The sign of belonging to those people was circumcision. In the NT we learn that out of the ethnic group, the physical descendants of Abraham, came a spiritual Israel. Acts speaks (2:41; 2:47; 5:14) of people being added. Ephesians 2:11-22 tells us who were added and to what they were added. When Peter was explaining in Jerusalem Cornelius’ coming to Christ, he said (Acts 11:16,17): “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” Although Peter does not mention water baptism in his recounting of this experience in Jerusalem (Acts 11), the historical account states (Acts 10:47,48) that water baptism followed. They were added by Christ to the church—the building in which God dwells. Baptism in the Spirit has brought them into this body (1 Corinthians 12:13); water baptism was the outward sign. This is another way of saying that regeneration not only brings life to one dead in sin, but also makes that one part of the family of God (John 1:11-13).

       If we hold that water baptism brings people into the church, then we make it more than a symbol of Spirit baptism. We create two baptisms and divide the church into more than one body. In water baptism and in acknowledging people as members, we are making visible what God in Christ has done.

      In church history baptismal regeneration and infant baptism have created wrong concepts of the meaning of water baptism. Those concepts have given rise to different understandings of the proper candidates and proper mode of baptism. Therefore people come to BFC’s who are truly part of the church as invisible, but have not been immersed. If they are truly regenerate, they are in God’s family and members of Christ’s church. They have the reality; they have been received by Christ. As leaders in Christ’s church, we must not fail to acknowledge what Christ has done.

      This is not to say that water baptism—the symbol–is unnecessary. It is to say that water baptism is an important symbol, but it is a symbol. Careful consideration of the NT data indicate that water baptism was part of a convert’s public confession of regeneration and identification with the body of believers part of confession that he is a member of the church. Both Jesus and Paul instruct us both to believe and to confess our faith.

      There is “one faith.” This faith is the teaching of the NT. We cannot take from it or add to it. We are to guard it and proclaim it. It is that Jesus Christ is Head of the church and the faith of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:14-22). This faith made fellow citizens out of aliens, destroyed enmity and united the household where God dwells.

      Our F&O (§203-4): “All authority in the Church, whether in Particular Churches or in the denomination, is moral and spiritual, ministerial and declarative. It is moral and spiritual, negatively, in that the church is unable to use civil force to compel obedience, and positively, in that obedience is incomplete unless it is inward and real as well as outward and apparent. All authority in the church is ministerial and declarative in that the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and conduct, and all decisions and laws must therefore be understood as being servants of the Word, announcing what the body believes the Scriptures to teach with the constant recognition that ‘councils may err’ through frailty inseparable from humanity.” Our constant and serious responsibility is to bring our belief and practice into conformity to the Scripture. We have no authority to legislate or practice anything inconsistent with our understanding of Scripture.

4. How does this apply to the BFC?

      We struggle with the decision made by the Annual Conference in 2000. That decision was to continue to require immersion for membership. That decision perpetuates the conflict between Articles 14, 18 and §202-1.1 on the one hand and § 202-3.1 on the other.

      On the one hand when a person is regenerated, baptized in the Spirit or received by Christ that person becomes a member of the church invisible. This is what happens in God’s sight. On the other hand such a person needs to confess this inner work of God by being baptized in water and by being recognized as a member of the church visible. We are responsible before God to the best of our ability to cause the church as visible to mirror the church as invisible. Therefore we must not recognize as members any who are not regenerate, but we must recognize as members all who are regenerate.

      Some regenerate people are not ready for water baptism or membership in the church as visible. Such people are anomalies because they are not ready to acknowledge in the ways the Scripture teaches the realities they profess to have experienced. Other regenerate people hear our Lord teaching differently from what BFC teaches. Among other things we hear Him teach the immersion of believers, God’s sovereignty in salvation, rule by elder and His premillenial return. Some who are regenerate saints hearing the Scripture differently from this will not seek recognition from BFC. If they seek recognition with us in the body of Christ, the criterion is regeneration. Other people who are regenerated by the Lord are ready to indentify with His church, but are not ready to be immersed. Among these are those who have been taught differently about water baptism. Because regeneration and the baptism of the Spirit are the realities of the church invisible and because immersion and membership in the church visible are to reflect the realities, we need to change our practice by modifying §202-3.1 to eliminate the requirement that people be immersed subsequent to salvation and prior to visible church membership.

      In 2000 the BFC, by rejecting the motion to delete the words, “be baptized by immersion subsequent to salvation” from §202-3.1, in effect, voted to continue the practice of refusing to accept for church membership unimmersed regenerate saints. By a majority of 80% to 20% we said, “Yes, the BFC can exclude regenerate saints.”

      How would the BFC respond to this question? “Does Jesus Christ receive as members of his body, the church unimmersed regenerate saints?” We believe the BFC would by unanimous vote say, “Yes, Jesus Christ would include all such.”

      By saying BFC can exclude we make it “our church.” Jesus Christ includes them in His church. Why this discrepancy? How does it arise? It is the assumption of another church, “our” church, that allows us to leap from the biblical position of baptism to a non-biblical stance on the church and church membership? Ephesians 4:4,5 is the corrective statement that disallows the positing of another church.

      Bible Fellowship church has an understanding of the Lord’s return (premillenialism) and God’s sovereignty in salvation (election on reasons known only to God), but we do not exclude people who are regenerate and yet differ with our convictions on these issues, do we? Why are we inconsistent with this regarding immersion?  

      A decision to separate prior immersion from visible church membership would not remove all difficulties. It would simply change the location of those difficulties. We would still need to teach people to be immersed in water in obedience to Christ and to identify with the people of God as members of the church visible. We would still have membership rolls and exercise discipline. We would still need to decide whether each one desiring membership is regenerate. We would still teach that immersion is obedience to Christ and the apostles. We would still have members who are not yet ready to be elders or teachers because they have not come to understand Scripture as we do. But that decision would also allow us to receive all those whom Christ has received. Our responsibility is to bring the church visible as close to the church invisible as possible.

5. Which is right?

      Now we separate what the NT calls one body and one baptism into two bodies and two baptisms. Our doctrine and our practice are in conflict. Article 18 states: “The invisible church is composed of all those born of the Spirit.” Article 14 states: “Regeneration, or the New Birth, is an instantaneous creative act of God . . .whereby divine life is imparted to those dead in sin, making them members of the family of God.” We cite Scripture to support this position. §202-3.1 states: “Anyone desiring to be a member of the BFC shall give testimony and evidence of faith in Christ and the new birth. He shall be in sympathy with the F&O, be baptized by immersion subsequent to salvation, and manifest holiness toward God and separation from the world (Acts2:41-47).” The reference cited here does not say that immersion was required for membership. Under the duties of members in §202-3.2 we cite Scripture to support each duty. We cite no Scripture support for requiring immersion for membership. These need to be harmonized. We believe it is right to conform our practice to our doctrine rather than modifying our doctrine to fit our practice. Therefore we believe that eliminating the clause “be baptized by immersion subsequent to salvation” from §202-3.1 to be the right means of harmonizing our Faith & Order.

      Is it not right to accept those whom Christ has received and teach them what He has said?

Sub-Committee A: Carl C. Cassel, Donald T. Kirkwood, Clayton E. Weber

Lexical Work on ‛Baptizo

Appendix A: This is Grudem’s footnote #4 (p.967).

       ‟The Greek word baptizo means ‛to plunge, dip, immerse’ something in water. This is the commonly recognized and standard meaning of the term in ancient Greek literature both inside and outside of the Bible.” (Next comes the footnoted material to this quote.)

       ‟So LSJ (Liddell & Scott & J.), p.305: ‛plunge’; passive, ‛to be drowned.’ Similarly, BAGD, p.131: ‛dip, immerse,’ and middle, ‛dip oneself, wash (in non-Christian literature also ‟plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm”).’ Also Albrecht Oepke, ‛baptobaptizo, etc.,’ in TDNT, 1:530: ‛to immerse . . . to sink the ship’; passive, ‛to sink . . . to suffer shipwreck, to drown (the sense of ‟to bathe” or ‟to wash” is only occasionally found in Hellenism . . . the idea of going under or perishing is nearer the general usage)’ (ibid.). A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, pp. 933-35 gives much additional evidence to this effect.

       ‟Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p.630, objects and gives some counter-examples, but his evidence is unconvincing because he indiscriminately mixes examples of baptizo with a related but different word, bapto. (Passages that speak of ‛bathing’ or washing [in the Septuagint, Judith 12:7, for example, and in the New Testament, Mark 7:4] would most likely involve covering one’s body [or hands, in Mark 7:4] completely with water.)

       ‟If any New Testament author had wanted to indicate that people were sprinkled with water, a perfectly good Greek word meaning ‛to sprinkle’ was available: rhantizo is used in this sense in Heb. 9:13, 19, 21; 10:22; see BAGD, p.734.”

Appendix B: The following material is quoted from Johannes Warns (1874-1937) in his treatise entitled ‟Baptism: Studies in the Original Christian Baptism, its History and Conflicts, its Relation to a State or National Church and its Significance for the Present Time”(1913,1922), translated from the German by G.H. Lang (1957).

p.15 from the author’s preface to the first edition: ‟May each who reads this book come to the persuasion that not fanaticism and want of clearness, not legality or misunderstanding of the outward letter of Holy Scripture, induces us as believers to follow the Biblical form of baptism, but an honest, sober, thorough study of the Scripture, and a love for the Word of God, with a consciousness of the personal responsibility of each in face of this Word. Once there was only one baptism. But the enemy of the truth has used the mistakes of men to make this precious ordinance of the Lord an occasion of strife and division. In this time of ecclesiastical confusion many believers are happily adopting seriously the principle that all questions of doctrine and living are to be decided by the Holy Scriptures alone and not by the traditions of men. It is self-evident that on this account many are beginning to think and to act Scripturally in the question of baptism. Many believers, without distinction of sects and tendencies, have returned already, even in Germany, to the original Christian mode of baptism, and there is no question that in this land, which in earlier days was the starting-place of the powerful Baptist movement, this truth will yet be accepted by many.”

p.42 ‟B. What was the Form of the Original Christian Baptism according to the Original Languages of the Bible and according to its Usage among the Jews?” – By Naphtali Rudnitzky (a learned Hebrew Christian and personal friend of Johannes Warns).

p.43 ‟I am concerned to show that, according to the original languages of the Bible and the usage of baptism in Judaism, baptism takes place only by immersion. This will be shown as follows. The Hebrew language of the Old Testament and its relative, the Aramaic, which the Lord Jesus and His first disciples spoke as their native tongue, have the same words for ‛baptism’ and ‛baptize’. Both branches of the language unite with their expressions the conception of a plunge bath (tebilah) and an immersion (tabal). Whenever in the [Hebrew] Old Testament the verb tabal ( = dip, immerse) is found, in the Greek translation [i.e. the Septuagint] the verb baptein is used, which in the German New Testament is translated taufen ( = baptize).”

[J. Warns cites various O.T. texts to demonstrate the lexical richness of both the Hebrew and the Greek in distinguishing between various modes such as sprinkling, bathing, washing, and dipping or immersing. We omit much of his material and cite merely as one example his treatment of Numbers 19.]

p.44 ‟The nineteenth chapter of Numbers is of positively compelling evidential value for the fact that in the Bible the connected ideas of washing, bathing, and sprinkling are kept strictly separated from each other by the linguistic expressions. The ceremonial law required a washing of the clothing (Heb. Kabass; Greek, pleunai), bathing of the body (Heb. Rachaz; Greek, lousetai, from louein), dipping [immersing] in blood or water (Heb., tabal; Greek, baptei), and sprinkling of the blood or the water (Heb., hisa; Greek, ranei). Compare verses 4,7,8,10,13,18-21. All these details, which belonged to the entirety of the ceremony, were, as already mentioned, linguistically separated, so that one must marvel how anyone arrives at the idea that the verb ‛taufen’ (= baptize) can be interchanged with sprinkle.

       ‟The distinction in the sacrificial operations between dip and sprinkle, wash and bathe, is on this account of great importance and significance, because as a matter of fact they contain a type of Christian baptism and form the foundation for the later development of the practice of baptism [= immersion] in Judaism.”

[Warns, p.45, cites those places in the Septuagint in which the Greek translation shows a deviation from the Hebrew original (in the Masoretic text), and concludes that they are almost without exception ‟an endeavor to render the idea (of immersion) clearer and deeper.” ]

Warns summarizes his studies with this statement:

p.45 ‟If, before going further, we epitomize what has been said, we receive a very clear picture of the expression for baptize used in the original languages of the Old and New Testaments. The result is: 1. It signifies universally an act of immersion. 2. It is strongly distinguished from other ideas associated with washing and sprinkling. 3. It serves in addition to deepen and enhance the idea of the act of dipping.”

[Warns, pp.46-50, then turns his attention to ‟the practice of baptism among the Jews (in Jesus’ time) and its significance.” ]

p.46 ‟In a great number of passages in the New Testament we find references to a practice of baptism among the Jews, which makes it impossible to explain Christian baptism, as regards its outward form, as an innovation. If we did so, it would remain simply incomprehensible how the whole Jewish people and Jerusalem went out to John to be baptized by him. (Matt. 3:3-6, and parallels); or how the Pharisees and Sadduccees, both without gainsaying, drew near to him, and pressed to the baptism (Matt. 3:7). These upholders of the ‛traditions of the fathers’, men rigidly adhering to the letter, would never in such unanimity have tolerated at first the baptism of John (Luke 7:30) if they had not seen in the act something long practiced by and familiar to them.”

[Warns, p.46, examines and discusses the significance of Mark 7:2,3,5; Luke 11:38; Hebrews 6:2 and 9:10; and I Peter 3:21. He concludes here that ‟all these places presuppose an abundant and brisk practice of baptism in Judaism, which is actually the case, as anyone can convince himself who examines the still extant writings of the rabbinical Jews.” He cites passages from ‟the erudite Jews of the Talmud period” and compares them to ‟the testimony of heathen writers and . . . (certain) statements of the Church Fathers” (i.e. Epictetus, who taught in Rome in the year 94 A.D.; Justin Martyr; and Tertullian.]

p.47 ‟The testimony of the Talmud as to the existence of an abundant and brisk practice of baptism by the Jews at the time of Jesus and the apostles, and that the baptism was in the form of immersion (emphasis added), finds confirmation in the testimony of heathen writers and the statements of the Church Fathers.”

p.49 ‟The dictionaries to the Talmud and the Midrashim unanimously render ‛tabal’ by ‛immerse’ (German ‛untertauchen’). Notable is the rendering of the word in J. Buxdorf’s Rabbinical Lexicon. As a non-Jew, Buxdorf felt obliged to explain the word ‛tabal’ by the remark: ‛It signifies to dip the whole body under water.’”

p.48 ‟Justin Martyr (cent. 2 A.D.) applies Jeremiah 2:13 to the many ritual baths of the Jews [of his time]; they take their immersion baths therein, but without profit to the soul, even if ‛their body and their flesh are thereby cleansed’ (Dialogue 14). Of the Jews in Africa Tertullian (about 202 A.D.) says that they bathe daily because they become daily defiled (Concerning Baptism, ch. 15).

       ‟The sects which have issued from Judaism, such as the Morning Baptizers and others, have likewise practiced immersion for their many ritual washings. But ritual baths, for women as well as men, exist down to our times. The sect of the Chassidim in Russian Poland and Galicia even now take a bath by immersion before Divine service.

       ‟What significance has baptism now in Judaism? Here we can be very brief. First of all the fulfillment of a legal precept; then the cleansing of the body from external pollution ‛so as to appear before the Creator with a clean body’ (a Talmudic pronouncement). Therefore we find in the testimonies of the apostles and of the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews a reference to the wholly external nature of the Jewish immersion baths, and emphasis is laid upon Christian baptism, which indeed in its form is based entirely upon the mode of baptism practiced in Judaism, but towers high as heaven above it. John began his work of baptizing with the preaching of repentance, and therefore, as above mentioned, repelled from his baptism as a ‛brood of adders’ those who suppose it to be a new means of avoiding a change of mind. Paul sees in baptism a monument erected by the believer to the freedom appertaining to the status of a child of God conferred upon him (Gal. 3:27). In the form of immersion, as practiced by the Jews of his time and as intended by God, it is to him a wonderful symbol of the work of the Holy Spirit upon the sinner converted to Christ (Rom. 6:3). ‛A fine confession before many witnesses’ (I Tim. 6:12) is baptism, of which one needs not to be ashamed. At the reception of proselytes into the Jewish community there must also be witnesses present.

p.49 ‟Reverting to the grammatical points, let it be very briefly mentioned that all the words occurring in the New Testament which express baptism or to baptize have their foundation in the Hebrew words tebilah or tabal and can mean only ‛to take a bath by immersion’ or ‛to immerse’ (emphasis added). As from the Bible, as shown above, so from rabbinical literature in much richer degree, one could cite examples enough to fill a thick book. But this is quite unnecessary. To confirm my assertion it may here suffice to quote the finding of a scholar (W. Brandt): ‛The simple Greek verb baptein means to dip . . . The later Greek substantives, derived from the strengthened form, baptisis, baptismos, baptisma, signify the transitive action to dip in or under, which some person as baptistes (the dipper) performs on another man or woman, or even on ‛objects’.”

p.50 ‟Thus our restricted investigation yields the following: 1. That in the Old Testament, as also in the late Jewish literature, the word tabal means only immerse; 2. That the religious bath was taken by immersion; 3. That the form of immersion was deemed by the witnesses of Jesus Christ to be an appropriate expression of the work of salvation.”

Appendix C: The following material is quoted from Johannes Warns (1874-1937) in his treatise entitled ‟Baptism: Studies in the Original Christian Baptism, its History and Conflicts, its Relation to a State or National Church and its Significance for the Present Time”(1913,1922), translated from the German by G.H. Lang (1957). Warns is looking at and asking what is the correct translation of Matthew 28:19,20.

p.40 ‟[Translator’s Note. In Matthew 28:19 the principal verb is ‟make disciples,” which is followed by a participle ‟baptizing them.” Some would make this mean ‟make disciples by baptizing them,” thus treating the principal verb and the participle as describing only one action. By this they seek to find Scriptural support for baptizing persons, adults and infants, without prior personal faith in and acceptance of Christ as Lord. They allege that by baptism such receive the status of being disciples. Akin to this is the idea of some to baptize young children [infants] of believing parents, who it is affirmed, acquire thus some standing in grace otherwise denied to them. Our author [Johannes Warnes] replies by showing that Greek usage does not admit of this view of Matt. 28:19, and cites three passages as examples (see ** below).”]

pp.39,40 ‟Disciples are believers, as is seen from John 8:31; Acts 6:2, compare with 4:32, and from 19:9. But faith comes through preaching (Romans 10:14,17). Study of Mark 16:15,16 shows that ‛to make disciples’ is an ‛evangelizing,’ an ‛instructing’, as Luther himself translates the same verb in Acts 14:21. Even the strict Lutheran Professor Althaus admits that matheteuein presupposes a proclamation of the Word, only after which may baptism follow. Perhaps one could therefore best say (and thereby retain an expression of Luther’s): lead to discipleship – baptize – teach. . . . The renderings, ‛in that you baptize them’ (which the ‛Miniature Bible’ of the ‛revised’ Luther Bible reproduces) and ‛by baptizing them,’ are directly false.

       ‟Pastor Bunke rightly says concerning Matt. 28:19,20:

Faith is not, indeed, here mentioned as a condition for baptism, but neither is it suppressed . . . . In the ‛win as disciples’ is included the proclamation of the gospel which precedes baptism. To Jesus (as to the apostles) the normal order was regarded as self-evident, that only those reached baptism who had come to faith . . . . The acceptance of the salvation preached is presupposed in baptism. And this acceptance consists in faith.

‟Anyone who supposes that the Greek participles of the verbs ‛baptize’ and ‛teach’ (ver. 19,20) must be rendered ‛baptizing’ or ‛teaching’ or ‛by baptizing and teaching’, is referred to ** Matt 8:2 and 27; Eph. 6:17,18 (Greek), where it is clearly to be seen that a present participle following a principal verb indicates an action following upon that principal verb, not preceding or accompanying it. One may compare the admittedly excellent Grammar of New Testament Greek by Prof. Fredrich Blass, 2nd ed. 1902. On p.202 it is said:

On account of the infrequent use of the future participle the present participle stands here and there after the principal verb to indicate an action which, in at least its completion, follows the principal verb (comp. Acts 18:23; 14:21 ff; 21:2,3). In the first (passages) the participle is, as it were, joined to the principal verb, in place of using a second principle verb, in order to describe an action following as, by virtue of the purpose and preparatory steps, already beginning to come to pass.

** p.40 ‟[Translator’s Note. In Matt. 8:2 three steps by a leper are shown.

(1)His approach to Christ is described by a participle: ‛Behold, a leper coming.’

(2)On reaching the Lord he ‛worshipped Him,’ that is, he bowed or prostated himself: the principal verb.

(3)He then spoke to Christ, which is indicated by the participle ‛saying, Lord, if Thou wilt Thou art able to cleanse me.’ Clearly it is out of the question to make this mean ‛he worshipped Him by saying, etc.’ The participle is not equivalent to the principle verb but is additional to it, telling of an act consequent upon it but distinct from it. The leper might have come and have worshipped and have departed without saying anything.

‟So also in ver. 27 of the same chapter: ‛And the men wondered’ — the principle verb – ‛saying’ – a participle – ‛What manner of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’ It is equally plain that here also we cannot read that ‛the men wondered by saying, What manner of man, etc.’ Their wonder was not caused by their words, though it caused these. The latter were distinct from the former. They might have wondered yet have said nothing.

‟In Eph. 6:17,18, the principal verb exhorts us to ‛take’ certain articles, namely, the helmet and the sword, and the participles following add the exhortation that we should be constantly ‛praying’ and ‛watching.’ It would simply confuse the picture to read ‛take the helmet and the sword by praying and watching.’ The two actions are distinct though connected. True discipleship is not caused by being baptized, though it causes a man to be baptized” (emphasis added).

‟The same feature is seen in the passages cited by Blass {i.e. Acts 18:23; 14:21,22; 21:2,3.” In the latter, Acts 21:2,3,}‟no one will propose so senseless a sense as ‛We set sail by seeing Cyprus and leaving it on the left.” Equally, no one ought to suggest that Matt. 28:19 speaks of ‛making disciples by baptizing them.’ The construction in Greek is the same.]”

‟Let us also compare the exegesis in Beck’s Ethics: ‛Win to disciples and baptize those won’ (emphasis added). This is the correct meaning of Matt. 28:19,20. This meaning ought not to be effaced by a too literal translation of the verb.

p.42 ‟By his translation ‛Go into all the world and teach (win to disciples) all peoples (heathen) and baptize them . . . and teach (win to disciples) all peoples (heathen) and baptize them . . . and teach them to keep . . . ’ Luther has reproduced the sense of the passage with entire accuracy. The newer ‛improvement,’ adopted on dogmatic grounds, is not an exact translation of the passage but an explanation, and one that is false. [N.B. In the revised edition of Luther’s translation of the Bible a footnote to this passage was deemed necessary, and it states: ‛The words run exactly: ‟Therefore go and make all peoples into disciples, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to keep, etc.”’]

       ‟It is worthy of note that the very same zealous defenders of the Luther Bible, who cannot enough criticize the use of other translations in circles outside the Church, would like to correct Luther’s translation in this one place.

       ‟Luther would answer such critics: ‛I wished to speak German, not Latin or Greek, for I purposed to translate into German. Therefore I must drop the literal, and inquire how a German expresses such things.’”

Appendix D


Jewish Baths for Cleansing:

       During the period of Jesus’ ministry and through the closing years of the Second Temple (to A.D. 70), the Jews were particular about obeying the laws of cleanness. The Jewish Encyclopedia states, “In all cases of ritual impurity it was necessary for the person or object to be immersed in a bath built in accordance with the rules laid down by the Rabbis.” A “mikveh” was the “collection” of water for that purpose.

       The lower threshold volume of water required for the Jewish mikveh was “any collection of water drawn or otherwise. long as it contains enough for a person to immerse himself’”(Encyclopedia Judaica vol11 , 2536). According to the rabbinic interpretation of Leviticus 14.9, the bath must hold at least 40 seahs (268.29 liters, or 250-1,000 liters according to various calculations) (Jewish Encyclopedia, vo1 8, 588). This would be a volume at least a cubit square to the height of three cubits (47 inches). It was specified that the mikveh must have sufficient height to enable a person standing in it to be completely immersed, even though he has to bend his knees (Encyclopedia Judaica, vol 11, 1537).

       Mikva’ot (plural of mikveh) were available around Jerusalem, on the temple mount, on the Mount of Olives, and in the villages of Israel (Encyclopedia Judaica vol11, 1543). In Jerusalem the pool of Siloam was popularly called “the mikveh of the high priest Ishmael.” Archaeological remains of mikva’ot in Masada, Maon, and Herodium are from the Second Temple period. Josephus records that even foreign kings who ruled in Jerusalem understood the obligation of purification in a mikveh before entering the Temple area (Encyclopedia Judaica, vo1 1, 1541).

       The importance of the mikveh to the Jew at the time of Christ indicates that wherever Jews had located there would have been water available for a Christian proselyte to be immersed. If needed, a great number could be immersed in the vicinity of Jerusalem.


       Outside of the New Testament, the early centuries leave few mentions of the mode of baptism. Silence on baptism speaks loudly from the extant writings of subapostolic fathers Clement of Rome (c.90-100), Ignatius (d.98/117), and Polycarp (c.70-155/160).

Sources that survive:

THE DIDACHE –AD. 70-150 –recovered in the 19th century .

7.1 Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” in running water (EV uoa’tt ~rov’tt).

7.2 But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm.

7.3 But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times (EKXEOV Eta ‘tflv KEcpaAflV ‘tpta uorop) “in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”

7.4 And before the baptism, let the one baptizing and the one who is to be baptized fast, as

well as any others who are able. Also, you must instruct the one who is to be baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.

This ancient flow chart outlines the best water for baptism. Cold running water is preferred. Pouring water on the head is allowed if running water is unavailable.


11.8 Blessed are those who, having set their hope on the cross, descended into the water…

11.11 By this he means that while we descend into the water laden with sins and dirt, we rise up bearing fruit in our heart and with fear and hope in Jesus in our spirits.

Not a lengthy passage, yet employing the picture of descending into and rising up from water. The letter is extremely allegorical and its validity is not generally accepted.

IRENAEUS –A.D. 175-195

Adult baptism is presupposed. Few particulars are given except that baptism is to be done with water.


4.3 “Sir,” I said, “I have heard from certain teachers that there is no other repentance beyond that which occurred when we descended into the water and received forgiveness of our previous sins.”

Again, the reference to” descending into the water. ” .


ON BAPTISM.12 …Others make the obviously far-fetched suggestion that the apostles underwent a substitute for baptism on that occasion when in the little ship they were aspersed with the waves; also that Peter himself, when he walked upon the sea, was well-enough dipped. But it is one thing, I imagine, to be aspersed, or to be cut off by the violence of the sea, and quite another to be baptized by the rule of religion.

The incredible conclusion Tertullian reports is that some say the disciples were baptized on their boat by the splashing waves. This may seem to reveal a second century allowance for baptism by sprinkling but Tertullian does not find this anecdotal justification convincing.

To the discussion of if the disciples were baptized, Tertullian continues:

ON BAPTISM.12 …because on them the prerogative, at least, of their original promotion, and thereafter of inseparable companionship, might be understood to confer a by-passing baptism, since they were attendant upon him who promised salvation to every one that believed: Thy faith, he used to say, hath saved thee, and, Thy sins are being forgiven thee, when the man believed but yet was not baptized. If the apostles lacked that, I wonder whose faith is secure.

CYPRIAN, A.D.249-258

EPISTLES 69.12 You have asked also, dearly beloved Son, what I thought about those who gain the grace of God in infirmity and illness, as to whether they are to be considered as legitimate Christians because they have not been bathed in the water of salvation, but sprinkled with it. In this matter, our reserve and moderation prejudge no one so that each one should perceive what he thinks best and should act according to his conscience. We, as far as our poor ability conceives of the problem, think that the divine benefits can in nothing be mutilated or weakened and that nothing else can occur there when, with full and complete faith of both the giver and of the receiver, there is received what is drawn from the divine gifts. Nor ought it to disturb anyone whether the sick are sprinkled or drenched when they receive the grace of the Lord since the Holy Spirit speaks through the Prophet Ezekiel and says: ‘And I will sprinkle ‘ (Ezek 36.25-26) (Numbers 19.8,12,13,19) (Numbers 8.5-7)

…From this it appears that the sprinkling with water is also equal to the life-giving bath and, when these things are done in the Church, when the faith of both the recipient and of the minister is unblemished, everything is present and can be accomplished and consummated through the Majesty of the Lord and the truth of faith.

It was a question that “disturbed” some at that time, that the infirmed might be sprinkled with the water of salvation rather than bathed. Cyprian defends the allowance of sprinkling, and states that the requirement is faith in the recipient and in the minister . ,


BAPTISMAL INSTRUCTION, 11.24 Next after this, in the full darkness of the night, he strips off your robe (the catechumen’s) and, as if he were going to lead you into heaven itself by the ritual, he causes your whole body to be anointed with that olive oil of the spirit, so that all your limbs may be fortified and unconquered by the darts which the adversary aims at you.

.25 After this anointing the priest makes you go down into the sacred waters, burying the old man and at the same time raising up the new, who is renewed in the image of his Creator. It is at this moment that, through the words and the hand of the priest, the Holy Spirit descends upon you. Instead of the man who descended into the water, a different man comes forth, one who has wiped away an the filth of his sins, who has put off the old garment of sin and has put on the royal robe.

.26 That you may also learn from this that the substance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, baptism is conferred in the following manner. When the priest says: “So-and-so is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he puts your head down into the water three times and three times he lifts it up again, preparing you by this mystic rite to receive the descent of the Spirit.

The candidate descends into the water, and puts his head three times into the water .

HOMILY 25 (on John 3.5) When we immerse our heads in the water, just as if in a grave, the old man is buried, and, having sunk down, is entirely hidden once for all; then, when we emerge, the new man rises again. Just as it is easy for us to be immersed and to emerge, so it is easy for God to bury the old man and raise up the new. This is done thrice that you may learn the power of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit performs an this.


The earliest pictorial representation of baptism comes from the end of the second century, and presents John baptizing Christ by pouring. None of the third and fourth century catacomb representations of baptism show baptism by immersion. B.B. Warfield states that from the second to the ninth century the representations that clearly portray immersion are few compared to the near uniform display of sprinkling or pouring (Warfield, 361).

It has been observed that in art it could be tricky to show immersion.


These early church history sources give a patchy picture of Christian baptism by being in water.

Allowances to pour water over the head or to sprinkle are connected to circumstances of need. The evidence supports immersion as the practice of baptism at the time of the New Testament, with divergence increasing in both mode and meaning as time passed.

Works Cited

“Mikveh.” Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971 ed.

“Mikveh.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 1964 ed.

Warfield, Benjamin B. “The Archaeology of the Mode of Baptism.” Warfield: Studies in Theology. Phillipsburg

NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed. 345-386.

[The following resolution was passed at the Fifth Meeting of the 119th Annual Conference:

Whereas, the Study Committee on Baptism and Membership has brought much helpful information to the Annual Conference in order to help the BFC understand the meaning of baptism and church membership, therefore be it

Resolved, that we express our appreciation for its study and declare the committee to have completed its work and further

Resolved, that we reaffirm our current statements regarding baptism and membership…]

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