This is the story of two Baptists; John (the Baptist) and Jesus (the Christ). It is the story of two baptisms; John’s (Baptism of Repentance) and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
John, first cousin of Jesus, did not baptize into Christianity. It was not a baptism of conversion or initiation. It was not a baptism of salvation. The Jews he dipped came up from the river as they went down—Jews. His primary purpose was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord.’ (Is 40:3, Mt 3:3). He immediately pointed to the coming of the second Baptist, whose power was infinitely superior to his own. He spoke of the second baptism which came through the second Baptist to whom he pointed and the primacy of that baptizer and his baptism.
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, . . .. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (MT 3:11)
Even Jesus submitted to John’s baptism (for repentance). John, who recognized the primacy of Jesus’ ministry, didn’t want to do it. Jesus insisted. “’Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.” (Mt 3:15). When Jesus came up from the water he experienced the manifestation of the second baptism.
. . . he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ (Mt 3:16-17).
Jesus did not require a baptism of repentance or of the Holy Spirit. John certainly did not feel qualified to perform a baptism, but Jesus insisted in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Additionally, if Jesus was the virgin-born Son of God, then there was no need for a Holy Spirit baptism because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The case of Jesus, given who he is, of course is unique. There was no need for a baptism of any sort.
By the Water
There is no need to question the necessity if Jesus’ baptism. He said it was necessary to “fulfill all righteousness.” That is enough for me. The true questions are; what is the importance of baptism for the rest of us and is there even a need for two baptisms? John already spoke of the baptism of the second Baptist as being superior to his own and even said that it would not be with water. Can’t we assume that the second baptism of “the Holy Spirit and fire” was not just superior but actually replaced the need for his Baptism of Repentance?
John was performing a Jewish cleansing ritual called a Tevileh, where the whole body is immersed in “living” (running) water this is an environmental or an artificially constructed device called a “mikveh.” In John’s case, the mikveh was the River Jordan. “Tevileh” and “Baptism” differ only in language. “Baptism” or “Baptize” is in the original language of the New Testament which is Greek, while “Tevileh” is Hebrew; the language of the Old Testament. The meaning is the same and as it was practiced by John and by the Jewish religion up to today is that of a ritual washing. Two main purposes of Baptism (Tevileh) were religious conversion to Judaism and for repentance.
John was a Jew (as was Jesus). When he stood knee deep in the Jordan mikveh he performed a Tevileh for repentance. What do we know of John prior to his introduction as the “Baptist?” He was the son of Zechariah, who was a priest, and Elizabeth, a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The angel Gabriel spoke to Zechariah and told him that John “’will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.’” (Lk 1:15). Therefore we must assume that Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit was likewise filled by the Holy Spirit in utereo.
We are told nothing of his childhood or formal education but his father was a highly esteemed priest and John was later to be a master of the Tevileh so we must also assume that his training was in the priesthood. Jesus, immediately following Tevileh began his ministry. John continued to preach and baptize. Jesus followed his lead and with his disciples began baptizing as well. “Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside . . . and baptized.” (Jn 3:22).
Some of John’s disciples came and, addressing him as “Rabbi,” questioned him about Jesus’ authority to perform Tevileh. In text the word used is “baptizing” but the inference is clear. (Jn 3:25-26). Both John and Jesus carried the ecclesiastical authority to perform this specialized ritual. Both were persecuted during their ministries. John was arrested and executed for sedition against King Herod. Jesus was persecuted by civil and religious authorities—sedition against Rome and heresy/blasphemy for claiming that he was the Messiah. Neither was tried for overstepping the ecclesiastical authority to perform Tevileh.
John became the “voice of one calling,” the penultimate Baptist, and pointed to Jesus, the ULTIMATE Baptist who would baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit. This ultimate baptism would bring not just repentance but also salvation. The second baptism removes the need for the first. Even though it seems that the baptism with water is replaced by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it remains an overwhelming ritual in the Christian Church today. Except for three minor denominations (Quakers, Salvation Army, and hyperdispensationalists), water baptism is the primary sacrament and ritual practice in all Christianity religious activity during the past 2,000 years.
The second baptism removes the need for the Tevileh for Repentance by elevating it to an unsurpassed level. It becomes no longer a temporary cleansing from sin. It becomes an eternal redemption leading to salvation. And Christ, by resurrection and ascension, did it without water. He did it by the gift of the omnipotent grace of the Holy Spirit.
By the Spirit
After the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ, and before the ascension to heaven, he gave instructions to his disciples. He told them to “go and male disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28:19). He also told them what the recipients of the baptism could expect.
In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mk 16:17-18).
He told them, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mk 16:16). These benefits (among others) are commonly referred to as “Gifts of the Spirit” and available to those persons who have been “Baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Of all these gifts the greatest of all is, of course, the eternal salvation that comes as the supreme gift of Love through the Spirit.
The Pharisee Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling religious council, came to Jesus early in his ministry. Addressing him by his ecclesiastical title of “Rabbi,” he acknowledged Jesus’ divine authority as well. Jesus told him that no one could see the kingdom unless they were “born again.” Nicodemus was confused. He asked how anyone could be physically reborn. Jesus replied that there are two types of birth; “of the water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (Jn: 3: 1-6).
The paradigm is infinitely altered. The Messiah, promised to the Jews, is here. Salvation is not only “at hand,” it is immediately available. Repentance is still necessary, but in order to achieve the fullness of the promise of eternal salvation it is essential to believe in the deliverance from sin, given by Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. None of this can be accomplished without the blessing of the internal presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus died and was resurrected to provide the means—his Spirit, the Holy Spirit itself. It required more than death. It required resurrection and ascension. Anyone can die for a cause. Only the Son of God could rise again from the tomb and continue on to paradise from which spot he sends his Spirit back to earth so that any who believed in him and accepted his Spirit can receive a joint inheritance.
The apostle Peter addressed fellow Israelites and opened their eyes to the truth of Jesus and their complicity leading to the persecution, condemnation and crucifixion. He gave witness of the resurrection and ascension. When they heard all this,
they were cut to the heart and said . . ., ‘What shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus . . . and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 2 37-38).
Paul, in his travels through Asia Minor, came to Ephesus and met some new disciples of Jesus. He “asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’” They said that they never even heard of a Holy Spirit! They said that their baptism was “John’s Baptism,” or in other words that they went through a Jewish Tevileh of Repentance. Paul then baptized them “in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul laid hands on then, the Holy spirit came on them.” (Acts 19:1-6).
Here it is seen that the Baptism for Repentance was insufficient, and something vital was now not only available but also necessary—the Holy Spirit. These Ephesians – “there were about 12 men in all” (verse 7) – were disciples of Jesus yet they never heard of the Holy Spirit. They were disciples and probably considered “Christians,” and never received the grace that leads to salvation. Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus. It is important to note that though they may have been “rebaptized” in water, it was only “When Paul placed his hands on them the Holy Spirit came on them.” (verse 6). The blessing of the water may have been ritually and ceremonially applied, but it was not enough. It was only after the expression of belief and the laying on of hands, that the desired effect took hold. They received the Holy Spirit.
It is tempting to conclude that baptism ceremonies using water are unnecessary. Indeed, to the Quakers and a relative handful of others, they are unnecessary and not practiced. To be dogmatically extreme, baptism with water may even be viewed as sacrilegious. Don’t a vast number of self-proclaimed “Christians” who practice water-baptism, consider other self-proclaimed “Christians” who also practice water-baptism, to actually be non Christian and sacrilegious simply because they were not baptized according to their practice and within their denomination?
Were you sprinkled or dunked? What difference does it make? To an unsettling many, it makes a great deal of difference.
Church membership registries are lists of members belonging to a particular denomination of Christianity. Members are recognized as being “Christian.” With the exception of statistically insignificant congregations listed above, ALL churches require a person to be water-baptized to be considered a member of their church and listed on their membership rolls. Additionally, many congregations do not count as valid the baptism of other congregations.
70 to 80 percent of all church memberships belong to denominations that practice infant baptism. This clearly demonstrates the act of water-baptism as a ceremony of initiation. Infant baptism is an extremely useful tool of initiation. A problem is that it stretches the definition of who is and who is not a “Christian” past the breaking point.
Christian initiation is also the goal and end result in adult baptism whether by water or not, but the practice of infant baptism for this purpose illustrates that it is used for initiation to the exclusion of the original and proper purpose, which is to initiate and introduce the celebrant to the Holy Spirit. Baptism of the Holy Spirit is by definition a spiritual goal—first and foremost.
Adult Baptism by water is another story. Any argument against water baptism is not to say that it is invalid or ineffective for spiritual purposes. Far be it from anyone to suggest such a thing. It is merely to say that addition of water is unnecessary. The only requirement is for it to be done in the name of Jesus Christ. The name and the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked. Wet or dry, if the celebrant is repentant and sincerely believes, then the baptism is valid. A spiritual union takes place and the purpose is accomplished.
The tradition of water-baptism in the Christian church will never cease. Indeed to many if not most, it is a sacrament. No doubt about it. Baptism is the only gateway to salvation. The Holy Spirit is present to guide you through. What makes it a sacrament is the invocation, presence and infilling of the Holy Spirit of God through his son Jesus Christ/
Whether you end up with Swimmer’s Ear or a runny forehead makes no difference. The key is your relationship with the Almighty and your eternal salvation into the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Love of God through the gift of his Holy Spirit.
Could you ask for anything more??