Should You Be Baptized?
CLOSE to a million people were baptized by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the last three years. This comes to an average of 824 per day, or 4 persons baptized every 7 minutes. Is this just a copy of the religious fervor of the 15th and 16th centuries?
No, these individuals were not baptized by force, as part of a mass conversion, or as a result of an emotional appeal by some religious orator. They were baptized because Jesus Christ, the Master and Leader of Christians, commanded that this be done. They had followed the steps and procedures that Jesus outlined and that were put into practice by the apostles that he himself had chosen and trained.
After Jesus’ resurrection and prior to his ascension to heaven, he gave his followers this farewell commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) From that time forward, this was the only water baptism having God’s approval.
Accordingly, the Bible tells us that those early followers of Christ became “witnesses of [Jesus] both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) As Jesus had foretold, their preaching and teaching work would result in the baptism of believers who would also be followers of Christ.
The first recorded example of this took place in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. At that time the apostle Peter “stood up with the eleven” and spoke to the gathered multitude about Jesus the Messiah. The account tells us that his speech ‘stabbed them to the heart,’ and they asked what they should do. “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins,” said Peter. The result was that “those who embraced his word heartily were baptized, and on that day about three thousand souls were added.” (Acts 2:14-41) Subsequent accounts confirm that baptism of disciples was preceded by their hearing the Christian message, believing the good news, and repenting.—Acts 8:12, 13, 34-38; 10:34-48; 16:30-34; 18:5, 8; 19:1-5.
In What Manner?
But how were these new disciples to be baptized in water? Was it to be by aspersion (sprinkling), affusion (pouring on the head), or immersion (complete submersion)? What does the Bible record show? Since Jesus left us a model for us “to follow his steps closely,” in what manner was he baptized?—1 Peter 2:21.
The Bible shows that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, a sizable river. After being baptized, he came “up out of the water.” (Mark 1:10; Matthew 3:13, 16) So Jesus had actually been immersed in the Jordan River. He was baptized by John, who, in looking for a suitable place to perform baptisms, chose a location in the Jordan Valley near Salim “because there was a great quantity of water there.” (John 3:23) The fact that complete submersion in water was the standard baptismal practice among Jesus’ followers is seen by the words of the Ethiopian eunuch. Responding to the teaching of Philip, he exclaimed: “Look! A body of water; what prevents me from getting baptized?” Then we note that “they both went down into the water” and afterward came “up out of the water.”—Acts 8:36-39.
Does secular history also point to the practice of baptism by immersion among Christians? Indeed it does. And it is interesting to note that many large baptismal basins suitable for immersions still exist in a number of lands. “The archaeological evidence overwhelmingly testifies to immersion as the usual mode of baptism during the first ten to fourteen centuries,” says the journal Ministry. It adds: “Among the ruins of early Christian structures, and also in ancient churches still in use, the history of Christian baptism can be traced. Paintings in catacombs and churches, mosaics on floors, walls, and ceilings, sculptured reliefs, and drawings in ancient New Testament manuscripts add details to this history . . . This is in addition to the evidence found throughout the writings of the church fathers that immersion was the early church’s common mode of baptism.”
Admits the New Catholic Encyclopedia: “It is evident that Baptism in the early Church was by immersion.” Not surprisingly, then, we find newspaper headlines like these: “Catholics Bring Back Immersion Baptism” (The Edmonton Journal, Canada, September 24, 1983), “Baptism by Immersion Catches On With Catholics Here” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 7, 1985), “Many Catholics Choosing Baptism by Immersion” (The New York Times, March 25, 1989), and “Immersion Baptisms Enjoying Revival” (The Houston Chronicle, August 24, 1991).
For What Purpose?
Why did Jesus require that his disciples be baptized? Well, it was a fitting symbol of their wholehearted dedication to God. The “good news” was to be preached earth wide, and disciples were to be made of “people of all the nations.” (Matthew 24:14; 28:19) This meant that God was no longer dealing exclusively with the Jewish nation, made up of people who were dedicated to him from birth. Cornelius and his family were the first Gentiles, or non-Jews, to accept the truth about Jesus Christ and be baptized.
Being dipped under the water showed that those being baptized had died to a life course that had centered on themselves. Their being raised up out of the water symbolized that they were now alive to the doing of God’s will and were putting it first in their lives, as Jesus had done. (Matthew 16:24) Being baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit” indicated that they had learned and accepted the truth about each of these and recognized them for what they are. (Matthew 28:19; compare Acts 13:48.) Baptism was simply an initial step of obedience to God and submission to his will.
The Scriptures do not support the widely held religious view that baptism is a sacrament, that is, a religious ceremony imparting merit—grace, holiness, or spiritual benefit—to the one baptized. For instance, the papal bull of Pope Eugenius IV quoted in the preceding article went on to say regarding baptism: “The effect of this sacrament is the remission of all sin, original and actual; likewise of all punishment which is due for sin. As a consequence, no satisfaction for past sins is enjoined upon those who are baptized; and if they die before they commit any sin, they attain immediately to the kingdom of heaven and the vision of God.”
However, Jesus was baptized although he “committed no sin.” (1 Peter 2:22) Moreover, according to the Scriptures, remission of sins comes only through the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Ananias urged Saul of Tarsus: “Rise, get baptized and wash your sins away by your calling upon [Jesus’] name.” (Acts 22:12-16) Yes, salvation is possible only by means of the shed blood of Jesus and by “calling upon his name” in faith.—Hebrews 9:22; 1 John 1:7.
What, then, of Peter’s words at 1 Peter 3:21? There he says: “That which corresponds to this is also now saving you, namely, baptism, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request made to God for a good conscience,) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter was comparing baptism to Noah’s experience of passing through the waters of the Flood. (1Pe 3 Verse 20) Noah, showing full faith in God, built the ark for the preservation of his family. (Hebrews 11:7) Similarly, by exercising faith in Jehovah God and his provision for salvation through Christ Jesus, people today can be saved from this present wicked world. They must also act on that faith. By repenting of sins, turning around from a wrong course, and making an unreserved dedication to Jehovah God in prayer, the request is made to God for a good conscience. But it is on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, and his resurrection by which he presented the value of that sacrifice to God in heaven, that sins are forgiven and salvation is possible.—1 Peter 3:22.
What Will You Do?
Are you one who has been associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses for some time? Perhaps you have already made the necessary changes in your life in accordance with Bible principles but have not taken the steps of dedication and baptism. You may want to do God’s will, yet you may fear that baptism will obligate you. Consequently, you may prefer to avoid such responsibility and accountability for a time. Almost 11.5 million people attended the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal last year. However, the peak number of those sharing in the work of preaching the good news throughout the year was less than 4.5 million. This means that about seven million people are showing some appreciation for God’s truth, though they are not baptized Witnesses of Jehovah. Of course, some of these are younger children and newly interested ones. But some of those sharing in the preaching work also are still not baptized. There are many people who have taken in an accurate knowledge of the Bible but have not yet fully availed themselves of God’s provision for salvation by being baptized.
An important point to remember is that it is the knowledge of what God requires of you that brings accountability. “If one knows how to do what is right and yet does not do it, it is a sin for him,” says James 4:17. Ezekiel 33:7-9 shows that a person who is told God’s commandments and instructions is responsible to carry them out. So the question is whether one has a sincere love for God and a real desire to please him. A person who truly has such love and wants a special relationship with Jehovah God would not hold back from freely dedicating his life to him. Baptism is but an outward symbol of that dedication. It is a necessary step toward salvation. Genuine believers get baptized.—Acts 8:12.
The grand prospects that God holds out for faithful, dedicated individuals in the coming new world greatly outweigh any temporary advantages this wicked old system of things may seem to offer. Fear of fellow humans melts away when we consider the mighty hand of God. (1 Corinthians 10:22; 1 Peter 5:6, 7) Truly, this is the time to ask yourself, as the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip: “What prevents me from getting baptized?”
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Like the Ethiopian eunuch, do you ask yourself: “What prevents me from getting baptized?”