The “One Baptism” of Scripture
Paul enumerates seven things that we share as members of Christ.
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 (Eph. 4:4-6).
Now, most people in Christendom do not squabble over most of these things. We have a happy consensus that there is one God, one Lord, one Spirit, and one hope. We even say that there is one body and one faith, although in reality we have divided up the body into several denominations, and we disagree on many precepts of the one faith.
But when it comes to the “one baptism,” it is obvious that the Christian world is a long way off from unity. There are innumerable baptisms taught. There are probably as many different types of baptism taught as there are different denominations!
Why does baptism even deserve to be on this list of seven, next to such lofty and fundamental concepts as God the Father, His only Son, and the faith? Because baptism is the means of entry into the kingdom of God, in which all these other blessings reside. Baptism is the God-given method of access into all these other things, adding him to the body, introducing him to God’s grace, bringing him into obedience with Christ, granting him the hope of eternal heaven. The one baptism is therefore as vital to Christian unity as the one Father and one Spirit. It is something all Christians share. It is a treasured moment that all Christians have in common.
It’s too bad many downplay baptism, or suggest that a prayer or decision card could take its place. Could I rewrite Ephesians 4, “one Lord, one faith, one decision card”? No way! Baptism has a well-deserved place in this list of seven experiences of the Christian life.
Let us now look at the one baptism into Christ, and how it differs from the other baptisms often taught.
The Subject of the One Baptism. The subject of baptism is a believing, repentant person. Mark 16:16 says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.” The conjunction “and” connects these two concepts. Belief without baptism falls short of God’s command. So does baptism without belief.
When a baby is baptized at a few days old, he is incapable of believing in Jesus Christ and committing his life to following Him. He has gotten wet, but he has not gotten baptized.
The Form of the One Baptism. Many so-called baptisms feature sprinkling or pouring water on top of the head. But the one baptism is immersion; a burial like Christ’s.
In the first place, the very word baptizo is defined as “to immerse, plunge, or dip.” This is borne out through examples. John selected Aenon to baptize, because “there was much water there” (John 3:23). The Ethiopian eunuch stopped his chariot where there was enough water to “go down into” it (Acts 8:38).
The Medium of the One Baptism. One could be immersed in anything—water, mud, Jell-o. In fact, the Bible describes some immersions that are in suffering (Mark 10:38-39), fire (Luke 3:16), or the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). While these have their purposes, the one baptism into the body of Christ is in water. Though baptism is not “the removal of dirt from the flesh,” it fittingly represents the washing away of sins (Acts 22:16).
The Authority of the One Baptism. The one baptism is into the name of Jesus Christ. While few who baptize attempt to do so in any other name, we still sometimes betray the wrong idea when we give special attention to the one doing the baptizing (as happened in 1 Cor. 1:10-17). Do not wait for a dear old grandpa or a beloved preacher to fly into town to perform the baptism. It doesn’t matter who baptizes. Salvation is bestowed by Christ’s authority, not by the church’s authority or the baptizer’s authority.
The Purpose of the One Baptism. Many denominations minimize baptism and separate it from the plan of salvation. They teach that one is saved by the sinner’s prayer, and then some time later is baptized as a symbol of that salvation that they have already obtained. They have asked Jesus into their heart to be saved; they are subsequently baptized to make them a part of a particular congregation.
The purpose of the one baptism, however, is “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). The Greek participle eis indicates “into” and never indicates “because of.” Compare Matthew 26:28, “My blood … which is poured out … for forgiveness of sins.” One is baptized to obtain salvation, not to recognize that one already possesses it.
Romans 6:4-6 states, “we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Thus, when we are dead in our sins, we are buried with Christ, so that we may be raised up a new creature spiritually alive. If we say that a person is already alive in Christ, and then we require them to be buried with Christ, we wreck the imagery. Clearly, we don’t bury someone who is alive! Baptism buries the dead, so that they may come forth to life. We are dead in sins until we are baptized with Christ. For this reason, 1 Peter 3:21 says, “baptism now saves you.”
So, think back… Was your baptism immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins? Did you have faith at the time? If you haven’t participated in the “one baptism,” you haven’t truly been baptized into Jesus! –John Guzzetta