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The water baptism issue has led to many divisions. Some dunk, some sprinkle, some pour, some (like the Salvation Army) don't do anything at all. Some do it in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; others do it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. If there is only one right way to be baptised then a lot of people are going to miss out on heaven because of some rather trivial technicalities.

This was our first hint that something very fundamental is being overlooked whenever the subject of baptism comes up.

And we saw other contradictions. Why are children encouraged to say salvation prayers, but not encouraged to be baptised? And why is baptism not administered immediately when adults "accept Christ"? Obviously, baptism is only for people who do the kind of works that the baptisers look for in their members. They can't say this openly, since salvation is not supposed to be based on such works, but that is the point of stalling before giving the sacrament to new converts.

The church hates talk of obedience to Jesus... with one exception. In some churches, almost every other sentence spoken during the baptismal ritual includes the word obedience, as though everything Jesus ever said could be summed up in two words: Get wet!

The obvious question was this: Did Jesus command anyone to be baptised with water? It seemed so contrary to his emphasis on a direct link between us and God, a link that does not rely on religious rituals or affiliations.

We found that, though Jesus never told us to be baptised, he did order us to baptise others. But he never mentioned water. Instead, he specifically stated that water was John's mode of baptism, whereas the Holy Spirit was to be his. (Acts 1:5)

Baptise simply means cover. So we asked ourselves whether Jesus could have been saying to cover people with the Holy Spirit. He said in John 6:63: "The words I speak are spirit and life." Could we cover people with the words Jesus spoke? If so, we would be baptising them with his Spirit. Of course, if they fail to receive/believe what we cover them with, they will still be lost; but at least we will have obeyed Jesus, by 'baptising' them.

Both times Jesus told us to baptise people (Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15) he also told us to teach or preach to them. Perhaps teaching and preaching is how we baptise them!

We had already noticed that the religious builders have left Jesus' teachings out of their formulas for salvation. Yet in Matthew 28:20 we discovered that teaching people to obey everything Jesus has told us to do is part and parcel of true baptism. It started to appear that water had been effectively used to draw attention away from the teachings of Jesus, and to put authority back into the hands of a religious system as the 'covering'.

On the other hand, Jesus himself was baptised with water by John. What did that mean? Was the sinless Son of God repenting? Or was he just "fulfilling all righteousness" by letting John baptise him? (Matthew 3:15) We feel he was "fulfilling" (or completing) the righteousness of the Jewish law, which included circumcision as well.

John's baptism represented a Jewish dedication to God, but it did not represent a decision to follow Christ. People who preach water baptism just because Jesus was water baptised, should be preaching circumcision and bar-mitzvah's as well!

John's ministry was the final chapter in the Old Testament. Jesus said John was the greatest prophet that had ever lived up until that time (Luke 7:28) but that the 'least' person in the kingdom of heaven would be greater than John the Baptist. The obvious conclusion is that John's ministry was pre-kingdom of heaven. In Luke 16:16 Jesus says the kingdom of God was not preached until after John's ministry. So if there is only one Christian baptism (Ephesians 4:5) it must not be John's baptism. We believe it is Jesus' baptism (i.e. with the Holy Spirit). (See John 4:2)

The final argument in favour of water baptism is that the disciples practised it. Though tradition causes us to insert "with water" whenever we read the word "baptism", there can be no doubt that Phillip baptised the Ethiopian eunuch in water, and that other apostles dunked people in water. Paul admits he baptised a few people (presumably with water) before God showed him that it was not what Christ had intended (1 Corinthians 1:14-17).

Acts 15 records an historic decision by church leaders in Jerusalem to dispense with the practice of teaching converts to obey Jewish laws and rituals. They were saying that God is bigger than the Bible; he can over-rule the Old Testament. Only two Jewish teachings received endorsement (prohibitions against idolatry and sexual immorality). The Jewish ritual of baptism (like circumcision) did not receive endorsement.

But suppose we are wrong. Suppose God wants you dunked, sprinkled, hosed down, or whatever. Why not go ahead and get "done" just to be safe? Certainly God will not punish you for being water baptised.

And suppose God also wants you to obey the teachings of his Son, and to forsake all that you own to become a Christian. It's a lot more difficult than a splash in the pool, but when dealing with things like eternal life, isn't it better to be safe than sorry? If God might send you to hell for not getting water baptised, how much more angry would he be if you refused to follow the things Jesus clearly did teach?

And if you argue that obedience to the real commands of Christ is "salvation by works" (and thus heretical) then what can you say about obedience to some perceived rules about water baptism?

(See also Christine on Baptism.)

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