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     There is much healthy thinking going on today concerning the meaning of baptism in Scripture and its function as a visual gospel aid in bringing souls to Christ and preparing them to receive repentance, forgiveness and the remission of sins and the blessedness of a life in the Spirit. I have been working some time on the teaching of John Bunyan and his friend Henry Jessey and their reasons behind their warning their brethren not to make a god out of baptism. They also warned those who saw in baptism a passport into a denomination or even the Church. Both men fellowshipped and pastored churches in which different forms of baptism were performed in the name of the Trinity and did not bar any Christian from sharing communion and therefore sharing the Lord, with his or her brethren in Christ. Indeed, early Christians whom we now perhaps wrongly call ‘Baptists’ were often the most open in fellowshipping with brethren of different persuasions on baptism as in the Church of John Gill’s childhood and youth. To them, the amount of water was not a necessary part of the baptism process. Nor was it to early Reformers such as Wycliffe and Tyndale. Nor was it, I may add, to the Early Church. One can also say that the so-called ‘closed communion’ of those who put their local institution before their local church grew up out of the rebellious New Divinity of Andrew Fuller who challenged and altered most central doctrines of divinity and institutionalised a religion after his likeness quite against the advice of his friends such as Carey, Marshman and Ward (the famous Serampore Trio).

     In writing my book The Covenant of Grace and Christian Baptism I dealt mainly with this problem initially moved by Johannes Warns’ book Baptism, so warmly recommended to the English-speaking reader by Warns brother-in-law, Eric Sauer of the famous Wiedenest Missionary Training College. Warns book was the first I ever read on the subject of baptism as it was put forward as ‘the most profound and comprehensive work upon the original Christian baptism that we possess in the German language’. I read it through many times and looked in vain for Scriptural and historical backing for Warns arguments. The way he used Scripture was so highly selective and so narrowly interpreted that I was happy when he moved on to historical and linguistic evidence. However here, he left the Scriptures to prove that the Baptists take their cue from old Levitical purification rites and their alleged baptism of proselytes. The great Baptist scholar-pastor John Gill has shown that we cannot base our New Testament doctrine of baptism on these rites, especially as most modern scholars on both ‘sides’ would question Warns interpretations. Warns showed, too, that his knowledge of Greek and Hebrew did not reach matriculation levels –at least when dealing with baptism.

     So, too, in order to ‘prove’ that the doctrine of baptism is not to repentance but from repentance, Warns argues that John’s baptism is not the same as Christian baptism. Here is not the place to decide that question but I noted that the very aspects of baptism which Warns finds ‘non-Christian’ in John are put forward as centrally Christian in the Gospels, Pauline and Petrine Epistles.

     I would recommend all my readers to read Warns on baptism as also many other standard Baptist and Arian works on Baptism which I list in the biography of my above-named book. Yes, I have read them all.

     As I have been repeatedly asked to speak up on this subject, with permission gained from my publisher, I am enclosing a chapter from my book. It is very obvious that as the dwindling membership of denominational churches continues, many Christians are throwing of inessentials and their institutionalised dogmas and searching for a unity in Christ rather than a unity in order and discipline, most of which have developed via political and social motives which have no say today. The main questions now are as always: What do the Scriptures really say and how should we interpret them?

New Testament Symbolism Regarding Baptism

Baptism points to the Spirit’s work

     Whether we think that John’s baptism differed from Christian baptism or not, both point to the reception of the Spirit. Matthew records how John said:

“I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). This is echoed in Mark 1:8 where Christ is again mentioned as the Coming-One who will baptise with the Holy Ghost. Luke, like Matthew, speaks of Jesus baptising with the Holy Ghost and fire. John relates in his gospel how his namesake baptised with water and saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, abiding on Christ. Acts opens with Christ telling His disciples that “John truly baptised with water, but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). After this blessed experience, we then find Peter preaching, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).

Trouble with prepositions

     Now these accounts do not suit most Baptists, at all as they quite confute their extra-Scriptural view of what a ‘rite’ is. First they will not have that either John or Peter, or anyone else in the New Testament baptised with water. Furthermore, they will not accept that baptism is with a view unto repentance or for the remission of sins as John, Matthew, Peter and other NT authors taught. Nor does the symbol stand for being baptised with the Spirit, they argue. Indeed, as the Word of God stands referring to the agents, instruments and modes of baptism in the King James Version, most Baptists would question the truth in it. What then, for instance, do Baptists make of Matthew’s words, “I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance . . . he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire?” The Baptists’ answer is clear. They would render this passage, “I immerse you into water after the remission of sins . . . he shall immerse you into the Holy Ghost, and into fire.” Now obviously this is grammatically, semantically and syntactically incorrect, besides being totally unclear as to what it means. We presume the Baptists either mean, “I immerse you under water after the remission of sins . . . he shall immerse you under the Holy Spirit;” or, “I immerse you in water after the remission of sins . . . he shall immerse you in the Holy Spirit.”

     Here, it is obvious that the Baptists disagree with traditional Christianity and the great translators of the King James Bible as to the meaning of baptism, repentance, the remission of sin, the baptism of the Spirit and the prepositions used in their application. Indeed, the Baptists’ use of prepositions is not dependent on the meaning of the original text but is dependent on their insistence, according to their selective understanding of pagan Greek, that where baptism is spoken of, the reader should always read ‘immerse’. Now one cannot ‘immerse with water’, nor can one ‘immerse with the Spirit’, so one must use different prepositions which go with ‘immerse’. These are normally ‘to immerse under’ or ‘to immerse in’. So the Baptists choose ‘in’ as the preposition appears to make more ‘Baptist sense’ than ‘under’. Secondly, the Baptist need a translation which will allow them to teach that the rite of immersion must be gone through after repentance, after the remission of sins and, according to many of them, even after the gift of the Spirit. Thus we can understand why Baptists prefer to drop the King James Bible and re-word all passages dealing with baptism radically. This dubious service to Baptists was Conant’s aim in creating his Baptist Bible. In this way, baptism is not seen as a pointer forward to the need of repentance, remission of sin and being filled with the Holy Ghost but back to the fact that one has already received these gifts.

     Now prepositions in any language are tricky little words with a variety of meanings. Anyone striving to find exact equivalents in one language with that of another will find how difficult this is. Furthermore, the same prepositions in one language can take on totally different meanings in dialects of that same language or in different social, cultural, political and religious groups. If we take the English preposition ‘up’ as an example, most learners of Swedish soon identify it with ‘op’ of which it is a variant. However, ‘op’ in Swedish can be, at times, translated not by ‘up’ but by ‘down’. Even in English the prepositions ‘up’ and ‘down’ can be a problem as when a student at Oxford puzzles his Scots father by saying that he plans to come down from college, stay in Lieth for a few days and then go back up to the varsity. Other English-speaking people usually imagine themselves going ‘down South’ and ‘up North’ when travelling. We find something of this linguistic confusion in the verbal phrase ‘to button up’. Most people do not button their shirts or jackets up, i.e. starting from the lowest button working upwards, but they button them down, starting from the upper buttons, working downwards. But we still say that we ‘button up’. So too, countries that have had a quite different language forced upon them by conquest or cultural change or whatever, such as the Jews, often have most difficulty in assimilating words referring to movement and position i.e. prepositions. What happens is that they apply to the new words meanings from their old languages which seem appropriate. Even people in English speaking countries who only speak English provide numberless examples of this change in meaning as they have assimilated usage from Welsh, Gaelic, American Indian, Asian Indian, African or Aborigine languages as the case may be. In many continental languages, use of prepositions varies from one end of the country to another so that when a person from Hamburg meets one from Bavaria, it becomes quite amusing sorting out the different usage of prepositions and also the cases they govern. If no sense of humour or patience is apparent, the two people soon stop conversing as they do not understand or strive to understand each other.

Greek is not always the same Greek

     Now Greek is a changing language itself. If we compare prepositions and cases (which are almost always related) used in Homer’s Greek with Hellenistic Greek, we note many changes. If we compare Hellenistic Greek with Modern Greek we note that many more changes have taken place. We need only compare prepositional use in Old English with modern English to understand that this is a natural development. Furthermore, the Greek spoken in Italy during the time of Christ differed in many respects to the Greek spoken in Palestine as different languages formed their backgrounds. Asian native speakers of English also vary in the way they speak English in comparison to Western English speakers.

     As many Jews spoke Greek as their native language from the time of Alexander’s conquests in Palestine to well into the second century AD we would expect them to have developed local colour in their language. Not only the Greek Septuagint but the Greek New Testament testifies that this supposition is absolute fact. Indeed, if one is to challenge the translation into English known as the King James Version, one needs to have not only an accurate command of the English language which is difficult enough, but also a fair knowledge of Greek dialects and Hebrew. Even amongst the Hellenistic Jews, different dialects of Greek arose and some sandwich[1. Languages such as modern Irish where the original language (Gailic) is layered with a foreign language (English) before being layered again with the original tongue.] dialects such as that of Galilee were markedly different from others. Thus Peter was easily recognised as a Galilean by his local dialect when at Jerusalem. In other words, basing Biblical doctrines on pagan or classical use of Greek words, as is the Baptist practice, could be, and often is, the best way to misunderstand the Scriptures.

Turning language upside down

     Conant, true to his Baptist linguistics which determines his theology thus translates the relevant parts of Matthew 3:11 “I indeed IMMERSE you in water . . . . He will IMMERSE you in holy spirit and fire.”[2. Conant, p. 117.] The capitals are Conant’s as also is his indication that here the Holy Spirit is not referred to but a mere ‘holy spirit’. So here we see that baptism is viewed as John’s immersing disciples into the passive elements of water as a symbol of Christ’s immersing disciples in the passive element of ‘holy spirit’, whatever he means by that. Conant tells us that this is because in Matthew 3:11 the Greek word for baptism with the preposition ‘in’ (en) can only indicate locality where the baptism takes place or the element into which or within which the act is performed.[3. Conant, p. 120.] Again, we see that it is Conant’s use of the term ‘immerse’ which demands the preposition ‘in’ or ‘within’, as he understands the meaning to be merely one of locality and not agency. Thus Conant destroys all comparison to ceremonial cleansing as in the sprinkling of blood and the pouring of oil, or even washing so that he might put forward his theory that ‘to baptise’ ought not to refer to the mode and means of baptism but merely to its locality, i.e. in water or in holy spirit. This is a linguistic tangle in which Conant has wrapped himself, merely because he has rejected the anglicised Biblical Greek word (baptise) for an unbiblical, anglicised Latinism (immerse) which is a phrasal verb of necessity using the preposition ‘in’. The words for baptism in the NT have no such prepositional corsets. The misuse of the word ‘immerse’ has led to further misuses through limiting the action to ‘in’. It is this translation blunder on which many Baptists build their entire doctrine of baptism. Randalls[4. Immersion?. (1998). The author does well to add a question mark.] carries the emphasis on locality rather than agency and purpose even further, translating Matthew 3:11, “I indeed immerse you in water into repentance . . . . . he will immerse you in the Holy Spirit and fire.”[5. Randalls, p. 19.] Randalls claims that this translation is ‘common sense’. Thus water, repentance, Spirit and fire are all seen as localities in or into which the believer is baptised. It is not difficult to accept a baptism in water but to describe repentance and the Spirit as mere localities brings with it many semantic and grammatical problems which Randalls does not deal with, yet they would be necessary to an understanding of what he means. As in almost all Randalls’ arguments, his solutions merely afford him more problems. If baptism is ‘into repentance’, how come that he maintains baptism is only for those who have not only already repented but also believed?

     Once it is seen that ‘immerse’ is not the meaning here but ‘to baptise’ which refers to ‘how’, ‘why’, ‘to whom’ and ‘by whom’ via its prepositions rather than ‘where’, the Baptist bubble bursts. In reality, there are a variety of terms used in the Old Testament which are translated by baptizein and related words. This is especially the case in the New Testament, where the Biblical use of baptizein is quite different from most of the secular Greek usages. Thus, we find words like to pour, to descend on, to sprinkle, to come upon, to fall on, to be filled with, to sit upon, etc.., explain the mode of baptism. All these, of course, quite destroy the argument that the only words which describe baptism are sink, submerge, whelm and immerse as per Conant. Actually, none of Conant’s suggestions come anywhere near to describing the Biblical doctrine of baptism but merely lead the Bible student away from its basic teaching.

     Conant’s method reminds this author of his weaker language students who invariably take the first meaning of a foreign word in their German dictionaries and translated it as such, believing that it must suit their German word in all instances and in all idioms. Thus such constructions as “Er geht mir auf den Wecker” (He gets on my nerves) is ‘faithfully translated’, to use Conant’s claims for his own faulty translation, as ‘He goes me on the alarm clock.’ Thus, for Conant, baptizein in Greek has only one meaning i.e. ‘immerse’ and the preposition ‘en’ has only one meaning i.e. ‘in a locality’. Conant also argues that ‘to whelm’ is also an exact synonym of ‘to immerse’ and uses the word often, though it could scarcely have still been in common parlance even in Conant’s days apart from, perhaps, in poetry. ‘Whelm’, however, just like ‘baptise’ can be used of agency and take the preposition ‘with’ and is not restricted to ‘in’ and mere locality. Furthermore, Conant is always careful to boast that he, unlike others, is going to the root meaning of words and using them in their original connotation, ignoring all subsidiary meanings. More than one can play at this game. The word ‘whelm’ is a development of Old English ‘hwylfan’ which means ‘to turn upside down’ which is a very fitting commentary on Conant’s linguistic methods.

A living, contextual, comprehensive translation needed, not a pedantic straight-jacket

     We have already seen that it is quite impossible to put the meaning of baptise into the straight jacket of ‘immerse’, a term that comes nowhere near describing what baptism means. It is interesting to note that Conant obtains the bulk of his argumentation initially from pagan authors, indicating secular usage. He then turns to late Greek writings and Latin writings of the Church Fathers and later church dignitaries. These belong to Warns’ category of those who believed that baptism must be delayed either until after one has seen the sordid side of life or it must be by immersion otherwise all the sins will not be washed away. Direct Biblical work is minimal and was, indeed, not Conant’s aim. His aim was to “exhaust the use of this word in Greek literature”. As the Bible is Jewish literature, he apparently felt one could leave that out. Though the critical reader might find Conant’s work exhausting, that author has been more than selective in his choice of meanings and more than restrictive in his translations. Conant assures us that, thanks to his examination of secular Greek literature, he has translated his examples “as literary as possible’ and tells us that the reader will now understand the text as if he were able to understand the original. Conant, however, in his “faithful translation”, has merely substituted a variety of meanings by either ‘immerse’ or ‘whelm’, thus providing us with a most ‘unfaithful translation’. Conant explains that he does not wish to use foreign words (i.e. baptize) and has used plain English. However, though ‘whelm’ is good Old English, ‘immerse’ is as foreign a word as ‘baptise’ and came into the English language at a relatively late date. However, the Greek word ‘baptize’ became indigenous many centuries before the Latin word ‘immerse’ was used. Indeed, the Baptists themselves have introduced the word ‘immerse’ as a synonym for baptism in relatively modern times. Until they hit upon ‘immersers’ they often called themselves ‘dippers’ which is not the same thing. Matthew’s account of John’s baptism in the Vulgate does not use the Latin word ‘immergere’ but tells us that John’s disciples ‘baptizabantur’ (3:6.) and John said ‘baptizo’ (3:11.). Even if the old Latin Bible texts had used ‘immergere’, the word means in Latin ‘to in-merge’ which has perhaps as many meanings as baptizein in its secular usage. True, the word ‘immergere’ can also, in a certain context, mean ‘to sink’, but Conant claims that such is the basic and only meaning of ‘baptize’. However, to claim that John ‘sank in the Jordan’, and not ‘John baptised in the Jordan’ is not the Biblical doctrine of baptism.

Etymology of one linguistic background cannot be used as a yardstick for judging another

     The fact is that etymology alone cannot be used as a major criterium in judging what a word means in a given context. This is especially the case in Greek which is an ancient language, modified time and time again long before the birth of Christ. As it was such a widespread language by New Testament Times, local differences in vocabulary, syntax, grammar and meaning have occurred. It is quite true that baptizein with ‘ev’ can refer to locality. We read in Mark 1:4, however, that John “did baptise in the wilderness.” Obviously here, John did not baptise in the element ‘wilderness’. He did not first preach ‘wilderness baptism’ and then ‘water baptism.’ We cannot maintain, therefore, that locality is all that is meant by ‘to baptise in’. ‘To baptise ‘in the wilderness’ must be seen as different to ‘to baptise in water’. The first is obviously the locality, the second the medium or agent. The first answers the question ‘Where?’, the second. “With what?” or “How?” We can thus deduce that the term can be used of locality but also of instrumentality or agency. To baptise in the desert, affirms where one is; to baptise in water, i.e. using water, explains how the baptism takes place. Thus when John 3:23 tells us that John is baptising ‘ev’ (in) Aenon, this is not the same syntactic-grammatic or semantic construction as when we read that John was baptising ‘ev’ (in, with) water. The former tells us where John was baptizing and the later tells us how or with what he was baptising, i.e. not with blood, nor with oil, certainly not with sand, but with water. A further meaning of ‘ev’ is illustrated by Luke 15 where we read that a King is wondering whether he might have a chance against twenty thousand soldiers when he enters battle with ten thousand. Here, the preposition ‘with’ translates the Greek word ‘ev’. Obviously the King does not come in his men but he brings them with him. So ‘ev’ tells us not where the King is but who accompanies him. Furthermore, if baptzein with ‘ev’ did mean immersion in something, it could never be used of places as John never immersed in the dessert sand nor whelmed in the town of Aeon. The fact is that baptizein with ‘ev’ can be used for a variety of meanings, according to whether it is used actively or passively; whether it is used as a phrasal verb, whether the preposition refers to the verb or the object and according to what case follows the preposition. This is not surprising as ‘ev’ itself can be translated as in, with, by, on, at, near, to, before, in the presence of, during, when, while, with the help of, whereby, because, the whole, etc.. In other words, the preposition ‘ev’ has almost as many meanings as the verb baptzein and only the context can determine the appropriate meaning.

     Also the preposition has different meanings according to whether it is in Classical or Semitic Greek. If we take a German phrasal verb like “Er brach auf”, the nearest we could get to that in English, as far as the sense is concerned, would be “He started out”, although one would expect the translation to be, taken word for word, “He broke up”. The latter, in German, referring to a pupil’s end of term, would be “Die Schule ist aus.” This when translated literally would be “The school is out”. The senselessness of translating word for word is made more apparent when we consider the German for “He broke down”, which is “Er brach zusammen”, which verbatim would be ‘He broke together.” So we see that in the Indo-Germanic dialects to which Greek, English and German belong, ‘up’, ‘out’ and ‘on’ are quite interchangeable.

     ‘In’ and ‘with’ are also quite interchangeable in Indo-Germanic languages such as Greek especially when their application is different as in “baptizoon en Ainoon” and “baptizoo en udati”. In the first example, John is in Aeon baptising. He is not baptising into or under Aeon. In the second example, John could be anywhere where water is available but here we are not told that John is in a particular place but what he is doing there and what is promised that Christ will do. Besides, if John were to have understood baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit as referring to Baptist immersion in both, this would hardly be suitable imagery to portray the outpouring and indwelling of the Spirit. The Baptists, apart from the Conant school who argue that to immerse does not contain the meaning ‘emerge’, argue that immersion means to duck in and pull out, which, by the way, is not what immerse means at all and never has done. This might be made applicable to water but do Christians teach that they are ducked in or under the Spirit and then pulled out? We hope not! Surely, the Christian believes that once he is baptised with the Spirit, it is a permanent action on the part of the Spirit and not a quick ducking in and pulling out. Thus, rather than believe most Baptist apologists who see ‘ev’ as merely locative, it is wiser to agree with Bauer (ed. Arndt and Gingrich) when he states “The uses of this prep. are so many-sided, and so oft, so easily confused, that a strictly systematic treatment is impossible.”[6. A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 257.]

The Imagery of Baptism in the New Testament

     Selective arguments referring to Classical Greek or Mediaeval Latin can only have a peripheral utility in understanding the Biblical doctrine of baptism. As Christian baptism is revealed in the Scriptures and takes on an entirely different meaning to the secular usage of the term, it would be folly to strive to define such baptism according to secular or even later ecclesiastical usage. Indeed, this goes for very much of the vocabulary of Scripture which has its own terminology or uses words already coined in a new, specifically Christian, way. The Greek equivalents of grace, Heaven, justification, salvation, holiness, sanctification, regeneration, church, elder, Kingdom of God and many other terms belonging to ‘the language of Zion’ have meanings in the New Testament and Christian literature not found in secular works. They carry unique Biblical meanings. This is also obviously true of the term ‘baptism’. As most Baptist appear to lean on secular and pagan pre-New Testament Greek for their etymology of baptism, it is no wonder that they misunderstand the rite. Indeed, a number of important NT words which describe baptism, such as baptisma and baptismos (as also baptistees = the baptiser) do not occur in secular or pagan literature at all, or at least, such readings are not extant. Thus our yardstick for interpreting Scriptural baptism can only be Scripture itself. The unscholarly method used by most Baptist ‘linguists’ who read secular meanings into Biblical passages is quite irresponsible.

     Even church history does not help the Baptists one bit as invariably, when they do not take their cue from pagan usage, they use the highly sacramental and superstitious views of post-fourth-century writers to prove that baptism in the New Testament was by immersion only and for adults only. This typical Baptist view of history is illustrated by Johannes Warns, as an older Baptist and Raymond Burnish as a more recent writer. Indeed Burnish’ study entitled The Meaning of Baptism starts with the fourth century, arguing that: “The Baptist churches show an unconscious reversion to the fourth century because of a limited number of ways of expressing the truth of baptism to those believers seeking instruction for it.”[7. 7 Op cit. xiv.] Burnish’ work is a comparison between the Roman, Eastern and Baptist churches by which the Baptist minister wishes to work out a “theology of baptism and its catechetical explanation” and a “liturgy of baptism and its mystagogical explanation.”[8. Ibid, p. xii.] Burnish, honestly explodes his fellow-Baptists’ myth that they are entirely anti-sacramental and uncovers the basic sacramentalism and High Church nature of the movement.[9. Ibid, see Chapter 7, Baptist Churches in Britain.]

     What is then the teaching of Scripture regarding the symbolism of baptism? What, according to Scripture does baptism signify?


     We encounter this New Testament word for baptism first in Matthew 3:7 where the Pharisees and Sadducees came to receive John’s baptism. They have been warned by either their inner conscience or perhaps by hearing John’s preaching, or both, that they should flee from the wrath to come. These seekers are told that their baptism is to show them that they are not to rely on mere lineal descent from Abraham but they should bring forth fruit meet for repentance. They are thus pointed to the true nature of the covenant of grace made with Abraham. This baptism does not bring with it the necessary repentance but is a ‘baptism with water unto repentance’, that is, a symbolic baptism which preaches and points to the need for repentance as it also points to the need to be baptised with the Holy Ghost. In Mark’s parallel account (Mark 1:4) we read that baptisma points to repentance and the remission of sins. Repentance, the remission of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit are thus to be the goals of the baptised. Obviously here, it would be folly to claim that the amount of water used in such a baptism is the essential factor and without this arbitrary amount of water being used, there can be no true baptism and thus no true entrance into Christ’s Body, His Church. This would be to obscure entirely the object of baptism which can never be subordinated to a denominational rite. It would be equal folly, one would suppose, to presume that those who have been baptised in a way believed to be Scriptural but not in accordance with Baptist sacramentalism, have thus not taken the further steps of repenting, believing and being baptised by the Spirit. Rather, one might say that their baptism has led them the right way. Many Baptists, however, in their denominational pride would de-church such people and call them apostate.

Baptism signifying the pouring out and the reception of the Holy Spirit

     Right at the beginning of the gospel revealed in the New Testament, we are told that baptism with water signifies and testifies to baptism with the Spirit. Baptism here is seen as a pointer to the fulfilment of Joel’s Old Testament prophecy and the reception of the Spirit at Pentecost. It also points to all that Jesus experienced and taught concerning the Spirit in His life and witness up to the resurrection and His post-resurrection appearances. John foretold that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and in the context of Christ’s own baptism, he says in John 1:32 ff., “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.” John then goes on to relate this to Christian baptism with both water and the Spirit, saying, “And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining, the same is he which baptiseth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God.” Thus what Christian baptism symbolises in reference to the Spirit is primarily the picture of the Spirit descending and resting upon the Saviour and subsequently the Pentecostal experience of the Apostles and the promise of the same to those under the covenant of grace and their children in their preaching. Bearing witness to this is thus part and parcel of the Great Commission which is to be carried out in full.

     At Pentecost, the language demonstrating the coming of the Spirit is most vivid. In Acts 1:8, Christ tells the Apostles that the Spirit will come to them as He came to Christ, that is ‘come upon’ them. Again, here, Christ says that this is a fulfilment of what John promised whilst baptising with water. Sure enough, when the Spirit came on the Apostles, He came down on each of them like a tongue of fire and “sat upon each of them”. We then read that after doing this, the Spirit filled them and gave them utterance. When this event was repeated amongst the first to enter into the covenant of grace on the part of Gentiles, we read that the Holy Ghost “fell on all them which heard the word”, and “on the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.”[10. Acts 10:44 ff.]

     Indeed, this New Testament vocabulary describing the coming of the Spirit is exactly as the Spirit is described in the Old Testament. Isaiah 32:15 relating how the King shall reign in righteousness, tells also of palaces being forsaken, “until the spirit be poured upon us from on high.” Joel 2:28, which foreshadows Pentecost, tells us, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.” Proverbs 1:23 reads, “Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.” Ezekiel 36:25 ff. is very explicit here as it combines ceremonial cleansing with the outpouring of the Spirit exactly as in the New Testament concept:

“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will but my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”

    Here the New Testament doctrine of baptism with water pointing to the baptism of the Holy Spirit is clearly stated, showing the continuation of the covenant of grace throughout the entire Scriptures.

    If, as the Baptists tell us, the symbol must be as near as possible in detail to that which it symbolises, then the idea of immersion, sinking, whelming and submerging could not be further away from the true meaning of being baptised in the Spirit. Here we have to do with a new and entirely Christian term, baptisma, which symbolises not extra-Biblical ideas of ducking, submerging and immersing but descending, abiding, remaining, coming upon, coming down, sitting upon, giving utterance, falling upon, being poured out on and being filled with. This action of the Spirit could not possibly be symbolised in one exact, single counterpart but the pouring of water or applying water with the hand comes far nearer to it than submerging and sinking. Furthermore, in all cases of the Spirit coming down on His people in the Scriptures, His initiative and His action are portrayed. The idea that a person is placed under water to indicate the pastor’s sacramental office of placing the baptismal candidate into or under the Spirit whereby the Spirit is passive, also the idea of the priest thus opening the door of the church for the baptismal candidate by this sacramental action is quite unknown even in Old Testament priestly rituals and certainly quite foreign to the New Testament teaching on baptism.

No sign can absolutely reflect the thing signified, it is a mere pointer to it

     Now clearly, it must be considered an impossibility for a symbol to absolutely and totally illustrate the fact of being freed from defilement so that one may receive the righteousness of faith to which circumcision and baptism points. The only people who can pretend that the symbol is equal to the thing signified are those who contend for baptismal regeneration. As this writer does not believe in baptismal regeneration, he accepts that the symbol which points to such a regenerating act of God must of necessary be different from it. We would not expect it to be otherwise. A signpost to London can never be confused with London itself, nor can the Stars and Stripes be thought of as an exact replica of the United States. Nor does every Englishman look like John Bull or Britannia. Thus there is no necessity whatsoever for the event of believing etc. to be exactly analogous to the symbol, just as an illiterate person’s name cannot be directly paralleled by the mark he places in lieu of it when signing. That the idea of cleansing is not far away from water baptism perhaps ought to remind us that this can be signified by a token water cleansing which does not need at all to be understood as a thorough scrubbing from head to foot or a ‘bathing in a bath of immersion’ or being whelmed, sunk or submerged. The Bible illustrates such ceremonial cleansings by dipping, sprinkling or pouring. One or two passages in the Old Testament, as already observed, may be interpreted as pointing to immersion but they are a mere few amongst many other illustrations and this is nowhere emphasised as being a necessary function of the symbolism. A symbol is a symbol and water is water. They are tokens, not the real thing. With their view of baptism, the Baptists tend to sink the true spiritual meaning of baptism into the dubious linguistics of a single mode which goes nowhere near to describing what takes place in baptism. It is what takes place in a Biblical context that must determine our interpretation of the word ‘baptise’ and not what we feel is its sole, secular, lexical meaning against all other overwhelming evidence.

Baptism associated with the blood of sprinkling

     In emphasising immersion as the only possible mode of baptism, Baptists cloud the issue regarding Christ’s blood atonement. Such an atonement is so often described in the Scriptures in conjunction with baptism that it would be theologically blind to define the mode of baptism without due attention to the symbolism of sprinkling. The plain, blessed fact is that Christ’s shed blood is the basis of the atonement. This shedding of blood is referred to in both Testaments as a sprinkling of blood. The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin and who would deny that baptism points to this glorious fact? Hebrews 9:12 ff. tells us:

“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offereth himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

    It is interesting to note that after saying this, the writer goes on to outline the covenant of grace, starting in the Old Testament and moving through to post-resurrection times coming:

“to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”[11. Hebrews 12:24.]

    Some modern Baptists of the New Covenant Dispensation movement, will leap for joy here when they read the words ‘new covenant’ because they feel this confirms their view that the New Testament presents an entirely new covenant which has nothing to do with the old. However, the entire context here shows that the new covenant is part of the old dispensation going back throughout the Old Testament so that the author can end by saying:

“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight.”

     The Great Shepherd reminds us of Psalm 23 and the covenant of grace into which David was circumcised is just the same as that into which the author of Hebrews was baptised. The mention of good works in Christ shows that the new covenant was always the gracious opposite of the covenant of human works. It was new because it was set in action when Adam broke the covenant he had with God. But the setting up of this everlasting covenant comes from eternity where the Triune God ever works it out. Thus Peter can write in 1 Peter 1:2:

“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace be multiplied.”

    Baptism points to this sanctifying and cleansing but the obvious picture here is certainly not immersion. Christ’s blood was shed or sprinkled for us. Thus the most natural symbol of blood cleansing which would obviously fit the Baptist ideal of having the symbol come as near as possible to the thing signified, would be the sprinkling of the baptismal waters. Baptists claim that those whom they ridicule as ‘sprinklers’ are inconsistent in their mode of baptism. Who is really inconsistent is clearly revealed by these Scriptural passages. Cleansing through the sprinkling of blood as an imagery of salvation is never far from the parallel imagery of being washed with water. So the author of the letter to the Hebrews (10:22) writes:

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

    Just as the Baptists are entirely mistaken in their view that baptizein and its cognates can only mean ‘immersion’, so they are quite wrong in their treatment of rantizein and its cognates. In the case of both these terms, the reason behind the Baptist error is their negligence of the Scriptural accounts. Rantizein and its cognates are used time and time again in God’s word in Greek (LXX, NT) and through its Hebrew equivalents to depict the waters of cleansing which illustrate purification from sin. In Numbers 19:7, for instance, we read:

“And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation (rantizmos): it is a purification for sin”

     We note that this term is used repeatedly throughout the chapter where it corresponds to the Hebrew word niddah[12. There are at least six other Biblical Hebrew words which cover a range of meanings which are translated by rantzein in the LXX.] which denotes a separation from uncleanliness. Here, as in baptism, the meaning is emphasised rather than the mode which is merely symbolic. This term is even used to denote a gushing out of water mixed with blood as was the case when Christ shed His precious blood for our sins. Indeed, this is the very form that is used in Hebrews 12:24 and 1 Peter 1:2 quoted above. Such an exact picture of the symbolism of cleansing from sin cannot be found outside of the Scriptures just as the meaning of baptism on the whole is not to be found other than in the Word of God. This means that just as the Baptists are wrong in limiting the meaning of baptizein and cognates to ‘immersing’, so they are wrong in limiting rantizein and cognates to sprinkling. Indeed the LXX alone uses rantizein to express not only niddah (water of separation), but also ghahtah (piel. wash, cleanse etc.), nahzah (sprinkle), nahkohd (speckled), gahkohd (ringstraked), bahrahd (hailstones covering an area), tahlah (many coloured, spotted, patched), amongst the more usual Biblical meanings. Of note is that when Isaiah speaks of the pouring out of the ‘Spirit from on High’ in Isaiah 32:15-20, he uses the term rantos to describe the blessings which hail down on the forest. Indeed, the rantizein group of words has almost as many meanings as baptizein but the Biblical meanings are developed independently of narrow secular semantics which Baptists would thrust on them.

     In spite of this, Baptists insist on confusing mode with meaning and argue for the mode of immersion as solely picturing all that baptism indicates and therefore worthy of being used as a synonym for baptism, or rather as the true word for baptism. Abraham Booth in his three volumed work on baptism set the standard for modern Baptist apologetics by arguing:

“When our Lord exclaimed, I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straightened till it be accomplished;” he did not mean to represent his great sufferings under the idea of a few drops of water sprinkled on him; – an idea which corresponds neither with the impassioned language here employed, nor with the sufferings themselves which he had then in prospect. To render his words, “I have a sprinkling to be sprinkled with, and how I am straitened till it be accomplished,” seems to degrade the character of the Saviour. The affectionate Christian cannot bear so cold a translation; it is almost enough to freeze his blood.”[13. ‘The Principles of Antipaedobaptism and the Practice of Female Communion’, appendixed to Paedobaptism Examined, Vol III, pp. 376-377.]

      Apart from the fact that this melodramatic ‘translation’ is purely Booth’s own badly-informed fantasy, none of his self-chosen opponents, as far as this author can make out, would offer such a translation as it confuses the message of baptism with the mode as if symbol and thing symbolised were the same. One can easily turn such an empty argument around and use it against Booth. Granted that few Christians indeed would use sprinkling as a synonym for baptism, nor would they be foolish enough to translate Christ’s words, “I have a submerging to be submerged in” or “I have an immersing to be immersed in” or “I have a whelming to be whelmed in” or even “I have a dipping to be dipped in”.

     Christ is obviously not speaking here of the rite of water baptism but what it signifies. The mode of baptism was never designed to point to itself, like a puppy chasing its own tail, or a peacock displaying its own plumes for its own satisfaction, but to signify what it represents. Jesus was speaking of His vicarious sacrifice and substitutionary atonement. His baptism was our salvation. Yet how do the Scriptures depict the working out of this salvation? They certainly do not say, “For if the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of an heifer IMMERSING the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offereth himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Nor do they say, ““Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and IMMERSING of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace be multiplied.” And they certainly do not say, “to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of IMMERSING, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” These passages of God’s holy Word tell us that Christ’s blood was sprinkled for our sakes. The word ‘sprinkling’ in the original texts as seen above, does not mean to let a few drops of water fall according to Baptists’ semantics but it refers to a purifying drenching. The Baptists thus not only misuse the term ‘immersion’ but also the term ‘sprinkling’. This is seen when viewing translations of rantizein in other languages such as the German ‘benetzen’, or the Swedish ‘beströ’. As the Baptists have taken their word for ‘baptism’ from former Roman Catholic cult language and practice and not from the Bible, it might interest them to know that rantizein is translated in Latin by aspergere (sprinkle) or inspergere (sprinkle on) which do not express Booth’s Baptist version of ‘sprinkle’ but can mean to drench, to scatter upon, to revive, to refresh, to set apart for a purpose and even to join one thing to another.[14. See Vulgate, I Peter 1:2 “in oboedientiam et aspersionem sanguinis Iesu Christi.” See extensive entries in Andrew’s edition of William Freud’s Copius and Critical Latin-English Lexicon, 1870, p.] Besides, though the Baptists have abandoned the Biblical Greek word for ‘baptise’ and taken up the Latin term ‘immerse’, they must note that the word does not only mean to plunge into the deep but also to bog oneself down in a problem and become stuck fast in an impossible situation like a fly in honey. There is obviously a linguistic moral to be learnt here, too, for Baptists.[15. Copius and Critical Latin-English Lexicon.]

Baptism with reference to Noah and his ark

      Whilst dwelling on Peter’s doctrine of the sprinkling of blood, we find, as expected, that the apostle goes on to speak about baptism and then uses a further piece of imagery. In 1 Peter 3:20, after speaking of that most difficult passage concerning Christ’s speaking to the imprisoned spirits, the apostle says:

“Who sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a-preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

     Here we have a simile which puts to flight the Baptist theory with two irrefutable arguments. The first is that the eight who were saved in the ark did not put as much as a toe in the water. The ark saved them from the water because the Ark did not sink. Thus to claim that immersion best explains this figure is to claim that one has totally ignored this Biblical explanation. Secondly, in their sacramental zeal, Baptists maintain that only immersion fully satisfies the demands of a ritual which uses full bodily cleansing as a picture of full spiritual cleansing. Here, however, we are told that it is not a question of using a figure demonstrating the putting away the filth of the flesh but it has to do with the receipt of a good conscience. Now, admittedly, sprinkling exactly pictures the escape in the ark as little as immersion but few would make the sacramental claims for sprinkling and pouring that the Baptists make for immersion. For the sprinkler, in general, the amount of water is not an issue, for Baptists it is the all-deciding sacramental factor. Here, none but the sinners were sunk and perished, the saints remained dry and were saved. We also note that this promise of salvation was given to Noah but it was expressly stated that his children were included in the promises, even those who did not actually come to faith. Promises do not save, they point to salvation. Noah had the same relation to his children as Abraham had to his and Christian parents have to theirs.

     I was most curious to note how Baptists would take this Old Testament account of baptism and relate it to immersion, so I turned to Andrew Randalls. In his booklet on baptism, he states concerning 1 Peter 3:20:

“Baptists need much water to baptise Scripturally and symbollically! Noah’s Ark needed much water to rise above the flood which was ‘like a figure’ of baptism portraying salvation ‘by the resurrection of Jesus Christ’.

Here, in the light of Scripture, Randalls has suddenly abandoned all thought of immersion as he finds those baptised floating on the top of the waves. Nobody would quarrel with Randalls here if he is merely saying that baptism is a sign of salvation but Randalls gives this top-of-the-waves experience as evidence to prove that he has vindicated the notion that New Testament Baptism is by sinking.[16. Immersion?, Chapter Two, New Testament Baptism by Immersion Vindicated, p. 17.] However, the whole point about the ark is that it did not sink!

     Warns way of commenting on the meaning of I Peter 3:20 is also most novel. In his chapter ‘Does the N.T. know Infant Baptism,’ the author cites this verse, commenting that Noah and his family were saved by means of water. So one would think that he would accept this as ‘a like figure’ to show that as Noah and his family were ‘baptised’ in the Old Testament, so believers and their families are to be baptised in the New Testament. Warns says ‘No’. This cannot be, he argues, because the passage is Old Testament and also allegorical. Warns then tells us that we cannot learn anything from allegory based on the O. T. unless it has a direct interpretation given in the New Testament by the Lord, or one gained from the records of the practice of the Apostles or from an Apostolic instruction. He concludes that no instruction of this kind is to be found in the New Testament, therefore we cannot accept this Old Testament passage as indicating anything of doctrinal value in the New. However, the story of Noah is historical truth and the instruction gathered from it is New Testament and Apostolic thus all Warns’ conditions are met. Warns does not think so and argues that one cannot “produce from Scripture evidence which the New Testament denies.” The reader waits in vain, however, for Warns’ interpretation of what New Testament instruction is to be gained from Peter’s words. We are to be satisfied with Warns’ statement that if any Apostle practiced the baptising of believer’s children he “would have contradicted his own conception of faith”. Perhaps it would be fairer to interpret Warns as meaning, it would have contradicted Warns’ own conception of faith which sadly rejects such gospel teaching.

Baptism and the crossing of the Red Sea

In 1 Corinthians 10:1 ff,, we read:

“Moreover, Brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

     Here the picture is of the miraculous deliverance of the Jews from the Egyptians when the Red Sea opened its waters to allow the Jews to cross over dry-footed. Exodus 14 gives a vivid description of the crossing. The angel of God went ahead, the Jews walked on the dry ground with the waters standing to their left and right sides like walls. As the Israelites moved on, the cloud brought them light but the same cloud brought the Egyptians darkness. The usual Baptist interpretation here does not pay due regard to the text. A scenario is painted whereby the Israelites are immersed in water, through the walls of water being on both sides and a supposed cloud of water being above them. Thus, with a good deal of imagination, we might argue that the Israelites had a Baptist baptism – they were submerged. But what exactly happened? As the Israelites, like Noah in the ark, did not get so much as a foot wet, the idea of immersion in water cannot possibly be applied here. On the contrary, the passage shows that it was the Egyptians who were immersed in the water – and they all perished. The Bible account relates:

“and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them. But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea.”

     Furthermore, the text says nothing of a rain cloud but of a cloud that gave the Israelites light. Moreover, the cloud is described as a pillar which led them and not as a roof which covered them. Just as the Israelites never entered the water, they never entered the cloud. Thus, although the imagery of baptism is used, that imagery is obviously the very opposite of being submerged. Moreover, we note that here there is no reference whatsoever to adult or believers’ baptism only but all the members of the covenant families were thus baptised, i.e. from babes in arms to the old and invalid. This passage as a picture of baptism clearly teaches that infants are baptised with their parents as a sign of God’s faithful promises. Interpreting Paul’s words to mean the reference to baptism in Exodus 14 is to adults only is to deny the entire story of the rescue of the Israelites – every man jack – from the hands of the Egyptians. Furthermore, though this passage obviously illustrates Biblical baptism because the Scriptures say it does, it cannot possibly carry the Baptists’ faulty view of baptism that it must of necessity come after all the blessings to which it points as all those adults who were thus baptised whilst crossing the Red Sea failed to enter the Promised Land because of unbelief. Their children, however, were able to occupy the Land and the seed of Abraham was preserved to carry on the covenantal promises.

     Actually, the use of the word ‘baptise’ here does not refer to a particular mode at all but to spiritual realities showing that Christ was always guiding His covenant people. What this passage does prove is that Christ is as much a Saviour in the Old Testament as He is in the New and rather than being a Saviour in a New Testament covenant only, He is the Saviour in the eternal covenant of grace witnessed to in both Testaments. Indeed, here we have a picture of the New Testament gospel as revealed in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:2-4:

“And were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat: And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”

Furthermore, in this Old Testament reference, we note that the Israelites as God’s covenant people, all shared in the temporal blessings of the covenant but all did not believe after they had received the sign of circumcision. 1 Corinthians 10:5-9 tells us:

“But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they lusted. . . . . neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.”

Though many modern Baptists may deny the presence of Christ with His people in the Old Testament, Paul affirms it. He also shows that the new Baptist dogma that God’s Old Testament covenant was merely with a natural people and not with a spiritual church is unfounded. Christ always looks after His own and spurns those who spurn Him whether they be Jew, Anglican, Presbyterian, Congregationalist or Baptist.

Baptism as illustrated by Christ’s burial and resurrection

      It is a known practice in debating societies and the like that one must give most attention to one’s weaker arguments and give these particular emphasis to convince others of their quasi-importance. It is thus not surprising that of all the Christian doctrines which clearly refute the submerging, whelming, immersing, sinking ideas of the Baptists, gained from pagan literature, they should take the burial of Christ as being most fittingly represented by their own practice. Does not Romans 6:3 state, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death”? Does not Colossians 2:11-12 read, “Buried with him in baptism”? Does not immersion alone adequately reflect the idea of dying and being buried? These are the questions Baptists ask rhetorically as if no one ought to answer any of them with ‘No’. It is a fair jump from being buried in the soil to being sunk in water, but Baptists get over this by reverting to seaman’s jargon, referring to baptism as ‘the watery grave’. This is the starting point of Baptist theology and the hub from which all Baptist theology radiates. It is their raison d’être which has led them to split off from main-line orthodoxy. The various interpretations of what this entails has also led to the myriad of splits in the Baptist denominations. Thus, in the various ‘Baptist Translations’ propagated since the time of the radical revisionists of Conant’s days, we find “Buried with him in baptism” translated “Buried with him in immersion”, a translation which quite buries and hides the true significance of this passage.

     We must look at the passages in Romans and Colossians in greater detail. Romans 6:3-4 reads:

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

      The passage, however, goes on to refer to baptism in relation to burial, planting, resurrection, crucifixion and becoming free from sin. In considering the one piece of imagery, one must consider all the others.

     Colossians 2:11-12 in context reads:

“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”

     Here, there are a variety of analogies and imageries which go far beyond the sombre symbolism of sinking and which the term ‘immersion’ does not cover at all. Baptists, therefore are guilty of special pleading when they pick out one of very many pieces of metaphor which suits their theory of immersion best and then claim they can prove immersion from Scripture. I have just received a two paged letter from a Baptist pastor, insisting that immersion depicts burial, though he does not spend a word on all the other Christian traits baptism depicts. Such a stratagem is mere empty rhetoric.

     Baptism, here, obviously refers to Christ’s manifold use of the word to describe his active and passive work in making Himself subject to the law and to the wrath of God on sin on our behalf. This was the work of Christ and only He could do it. After his water-baptism, pointing to the work of righteous grace to come, Christ confessed, “But I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished” (Luke 12:50). It is of great significance to note that Christ not only used the term ‘baptism’ to explain His sufferings but also the word ‘cup’ (Mark 14:36), so here we have a further reference to the symbolism of the two ordinances pointing to Christ’s death and resurrection and His coming again. All of which His elect shall enjoy and all of which baptism signifies.

      Now the term baptism, in Greek, with its wide variety of meanings, can fully describe all that Christ’s sufferings and vicarious work entail from the shedding of blood; sprinkling of blood; washing of regeneration; outpouring of the Spirit: coming down of the Spirit; putting on of Christ; being clothed with Christ; being crucified with Christ; being buried and resurrected with Christ and all the other analogies used in the Scriptures to illustrate Christ’s saving work. Yet if we were to interpret Christ’s statement in Luke 12:50 in the hedged-in, cut-down, misleading Baptist way, using the word ‘immersion’ (incidentally, borrowed from Roman Catholicism at the height of their sacerdotalism), by making Christ say, “I have an immersion to be immersed with; and how I am straitened till it be accomplished”, we would quite lose the deep significance of Christ’s gospel that is revealed in Christ’s true words.

      Furthermore, to be buried with Christ is to accept the fact that Christ took upon Himself our deadness and its consequences. We are baptised into His death, not into ours. He bore the penalty of the sin of those who were dead and buried above ground. Christ did not merely take on human burial, this is not the Scriptural point, but that which causes burial, namely death. The sinner is dead and buried while he lives in Adam. Just as Christ was not buried under the earth but above ground, the sinner bears his corps in his earthly grave, his fallen body. Christ’s body was marred because of our deadly sin before His burial in the tomb. Amongst the writers of non-canonical literature, no one perhaps expressed this horrible fact of being dead and buried above ground in sin than the poet William Cowper. When the hell-bound terrors of his own sin fell upon him in that horribly expressive poem Hatred and Vengeance, Cowper wrote in nigh delirium:

“I, fed with judgments, in a fleshly tomb, am

Buried above ground.”

    When Cowper was blessed with conversion faith, his deep despondency came back on him at regular ten-year intervals but then he could look from being buried above ground to his deliverance from this in the saving work of Christ and could thus write in The Welcome Cross:

“Let me not angrily declare

No pain was ever sharp like mine;

Nor murmur at the cross I bear,

But rather weep rememb’ring thine.”

     The death and burial portrayed by baptism thus points to the fact that Christ chose death because of sin rather than the fact that Christ is dead to sin, though the later is none-the-less true. Thus the illustration in baptism of dying with Christ, refers to Christ’s taking on our penalty of sin and dying on our behalf. The rite is thus purely Christo-centric and Christ-orientated with reference here to His atonement. It has nothing to do with the subjective idea of the Baptists who see in their sacramental view of baptism, their own testimony that they have died to sin. Biblical baptism points to the objective fact that the wages of their sin were paid for by Christ.

     For Baptists, however, death and burial as represented in baptism, merely signify that the candidate believes he has died to sin and testifies to this fact in the rite. Thus Baptist Burnish, referring to R.E.O. White’s Invitation to Baptism, after quoting the author’s conviction that in baptism “Christ receives the baptized into fullest fellowship and union with himself””, says:

“Developing more fully the concept of baptism into the death of Christ, he indicates that ‘something in us must die if the Christ-life is to survive and flourish. Essentially this is just a restatement of the truth of repentance, but the concept is strengthened by the addition of the element of identification with Christ, and of the transformation in Paul’s thinking of the baptistry from a pool of cleansing to a tomb.[17. Romans 6:1-11.] Thus following baptism, the neophyte is pledged with Christ to oppose all evil, and to be dead to everything to which he died.”[18. The Meaning of Baptism, p. 156.]

     It is faulty hermeneutics to view the baptistry as a tomb signifying that the believer has died to sin. This is stretching the imagery beyond the Scriptures. The believer can only die to sin because Christ has died for the believer’s sins, and it is this fact to which baptism points. Romans 6:1-11, the text used questionably by White and Burnish here, emphasises rather what Christ has worked out in His baptism of sufferings and not the religious experience of the baptismal candidate in his bath of submergence. The whole emphasis is on the antitype and not the type. Here Paul is talking about the real baptism of Christ and His Spirit, which necessitates a walk in newness of life for Christ’s people. Paul’s entire account here refers to the believer as being passive whereas for the Baptist, or at least those in the British Baptist Union exemplified here, baptism is the active deed of the candidate.

Baptism described in terms of circumcision

     Baptismal imagery often used is the comparison of baptism with circumcision, which one would also expect as Christian baptism continues and extends in New Testament times the role of circumcision amongst the Jews. Paul makes this clear in Romans 4-6 where he describes circumcision in conjunction with the righteousness of faith which is the imputed righteousness of Christ. After explaining that these covenant blessings were not only for the circumcised Jews but also for those of the un-circumcision, he explains that baptism now points to the experience of becoming instruments of righteousness just as circumcision did. This theme is hardly ever left throughout the entire epistle and is further emphasised in Romans 9 where we see the extension of the covenant of grace from Abraham through his family to be finally spread throughout the Gentiles, just as the Jewish prophets had foretold.

     In Colossians 2:11 ff., Paul links circumcision with baptism, explaining what both point to, i.e. the same blessings and experiences. Baptism, for Paul, takes over the true function of circumcision, emphasising its intended meaning – the circumcision of the heart.[19. See also Romans 2:25 ff. Paul is speaking to the Jew as a “teacher of babes” and his admonition ends, after outlining the covenant with Abraham, in the comparison of circumcision and baptism] Paul says thus:

“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”

     This close allying of the symbols of circumcision and burial should rather have us interpret baptism in the light of both and all the other imageries used and not merely in the weaker light of one emblem. Baptism is like a prism of many colours. The Baptist insistence on immersion as the only mode is to cut down all the prisms colours to one sombre shade, which has its rightful place but not at the cost of all the bright colours.

No abrupt break with the Old Testament

     It is a conundrum indeed why so many modern Baptists deny any connection whatsoever between circumcision and baptism though where the former is mentioned the latter is never far away in the minds of the New Testament writers. Obviously, if the Baptists owned up to a connection, they would have to admit the obviously Biblical and logical conclusion that as circumcision embraced covenant children, so does baptism. There are a few modern Baptists such as David Kingdon who do see the relationship between circumcision and baptism but nevertheless deny that there is a direct continuation here of the covenant of grace from Abraham through all time. There is an abrupt break for Kingdon at the beginning of the New Testament although it is here that the Scriptures themselves affirm most strongly there is no such break. The covenant, for Kingdon, has been entirely re-planned, reshaped and redeveloped. If this were the case, we would hardly expect Zacharias, Mary, Stephan, Peter and Paul to express total ignorance of this in their testimonies and preaching and argue, moreover, that the Abrahamic covenant is still very much intact.

     Now what imagery can we associate with baptism in its New Testament comparisons with circumcision? That immersion or sinking is a direct Scriptural picture of the circumcision of the heart one would think nobody could hold. Yet both baptism and circumcision according to Scripture point to such a heart experience which is pointed to in baptism. According to Genesis 14:1-4 ff., circumcision portrays the covenant with believing Abraham and his children whether they are born or still to be born. This is also New Testament teaching concerning baptism. Circumcision is also seen in Leviticus 19:23; 26:41 and Jeremiah 4:4, 6:10, and numerous other passages in the Old and New Testaments as a sign of the removal of defilement and the promises of a divine blessing, just as baptism is in the New. Circumcision according to the teaching in Romans, Colossians and Philippians mentioned above, like baptism, point to the righteousness of faith. Furthermore, circumcision, the Old Testament sign of the circumcision of the heart, is the very picture Paul also uses when speaking of baptism. What is more, Paul obviously looks upon the Christian as the true Jew and one who has received that which physical circumcision points to.[20. See Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6; Philippians 3:3; Romans 2:25 ff.] This he also explains in Colossians 2:11-12, quoted above where the covenant promises displayed in circumcision and baptism are linked in one. Here, circumcision is seen as the forerunner of baptism as a sign of the covenant and of cleansing from sin and reception of faith in Christ according to God’s own operation.

     Paul in Colossians 2 uses not only burial symbolism to express the meaning of baptism but also, as so often in his works, he draws very close parallels with circumcision which opens the way to the burial imagery. Verse 11 reads:

“In whom we are also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.”

     The words ‘circumcision of Christ’ carry the meaning ‘Christ’s circumcision’ or, one could say, ‘Christian circumcision.’ Just as Abrahamic circumcision points to faith in the Imputer of Righteousness, so is Christ’s baptism a pointer to all that must be done for righteousness’ sake so that it might be imputed to New Testament believers also. Abrahamic circumcision pointed to the faith such as Abraham had, which he received from Christ. In the New Testament, we have more direct access to and more revelation concerning the way of salvation and baptism, here described as ‘Christ’s circumcision’. Instead of looking to the father of the seed which was to bear Christ for our example, we can now look directly at the fulfilment of the seed promises in Christ. Immersionists will look in vain for direct parallels between circumcision and immersion, indicating how futile and even superstitious is their idea of producing an anti-type which is a physical reflection of their unfounded view of the type. Symbols are meant to symbolise and point to the anti-type and not reproduce it. This is the great sin of Rome who looks for salvation in the types. Are Baptists, however, far off from this superstition when they teach that without their own display of faith in baptism, there is no entrance into the Body of Christ, the Church? This might satisfy a Free-willer but can it satisfy those who believe, “By grace are ye saved . . . . . Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)?

      Obviously the Colossians, as all other Christians at the time, were wondering about the relationship of circumcision to baptism and how the latter took over from the former. Here, they are pastorally told that circumcision was a pointer to the circumcision of Christ which is now depicted in the baptismal waters, “Putting off the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” It could not be stated plainer that what was circumcision to Abraham’s seed (plural), depicting unity of faith with him, is now baptism, depicting unity of faith in Christ the fulfilling seed (singular).

Baptism associated with Christ’s crucifixion

     The death and resurrection portrayed by baptism as depicted in Romans 6 is also illustrated by the picture of crucifixion (v. 6). We find our unity in Christ even in His crucifixion which occurred on our behalf. By no stretch of the imagination can one find an absolute and parallel analogy between immersion and crucifixion. Nor, as Baptists are quick to point out, does washing, sprinkling, or pouring provide such an analogy. This has never been a point of debate amongst covenant Christians, who do not see the amount of water as bearing on its symbolic function, though Baptist sacramentalists do. Baptists, however, claim that immersion alone is an adequate analogy, therefore we must challenge them to demonstrate why. They must show that crucifixion is best-illustrated by immersion in water. Andrew Randalls makes such an effort and states, “To be ‘immersed into Christ’s death is to be ‘united’ to him in his sufferings for us at Calvary, as the Apostle Paul knew experimentally, ‘I AM crucified with Christ’ Galatians 2:20).”[21. Op. cit. p. 6, capitals are Randalls.] This statement, however, still begs the question as to why the Baptists insist that immersion best depicts, and must depict, crucifixion. Randalls maintains that Psalm 69:2 where the Psalmist says, “I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me,” refers to Christ’s sufferings, i.e. crucifixion, and to immersion. David, however, is using a large number of water analogies in these psalms and Randall has merely selected one of them which might serve his purpose best, thus clouding the issue and ignoring evidence which would serve to fully illustrate the function of baptism. David begins this lamentation by declaring that the waters of trouble have come in unto his soul (69:1). He continues by saying that the King’s Son comes down like rain upon the mown grass and speaks of showers that water the earth (72:6) and of the waters of a full cup being wrung out (73:10). The Psalmist speaks further of hearts being cleansed (73:13), waters and fountains divided (74:13, 14), cups being poured out and last drops being wrung out (75:8). Indeed almost every possible way of using water is mentioned in these chapters to illustrate the sorrows and triumphs that will fall upon the Lord and His Israel. To choose out one only of all these water images and say that this depicts immersion and immersion depicts baptism and baptism depicts Christ’s sufferings and thus conclude that we have Biblical proof for Baptist immersion would be to make a mockery of sound Biblical exegesis. Besides, there are many other analogies in the Psalms dealing with the suffering of the righteous similar to those in the New Testament such as planting a vine or putting on a garment which have nothing to do with water. Interesting enough, Randalls gives Isaiah 43:2 as further evidence for immersion, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, etc.” but it has obviously escaped the Baptist apologist that the verse goes on to say, “”they shall not overflow thee”. This would suit the non-immersionists best![22. Randalls also gives Isaiah 31:20 here as a source though the chapter has only nine verses.] Here, we are reminded of the crossing of the Red Sea which is a figure of baptism but none of the Israelites were immersed. In the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah, much imagery is also used which is similar to that of the New Testament references to the meaning of baptism including the pouring out or the putting on of the Spirit (32:15; 42:1).

The introduction of Gentile children to the covenant

     The passages mentioned immediately above deal very much with the children of covenant believers and after stressing the world-wide outreach of the covenant, Isaiah 49 tells us of a banner being set up amongst the Gentiles, which John Gill interprets as Christ. The Gentiles enlist in the covenant and the Jews, who have been most concerned about their children, see their little boys in the arms of the converted Gentiles and little girls being carried on their shoulders. Here, we certainly have Old Testament evidence that not only infant boys but also infant girls were seen as fitting children of the covenant. It is here that I cease to follow my usual wise monitor, John Gill. The famous Baptist theologian refuses to believe that children were ever part of the covenant of grace. In his Exposition of the Old Testament, Vol. V., Gill does regard Isaiah 49 as a prophecy of the covenant gospel coming to the Gentiles but he is obviously embarrassed at the reference to little boys and little girls. He therefore declares, quite contrary to his normal exposition of Isaiah, that these references are to be understood merely figuratively. The boys, he tells us, symbolise new converts and the girls (yes, dear young ladies, Gill actually says this) symbolise ‘weaker converts’. He then says that these new and weak converts are carried “with as much ease, care and attendance, as young children are carried on the shoulders of their parents or others.” Thus we are to believe that these little children are not little children but grown-ups who are new to the faith or are weak in it and must be put under special care as if they were children. Thus this passage does not inform us that children are brought within the covenant and it does not inform us that the covenant is equally for boys and girls. If, however, adults are treated as if they were children, would not this obviously place children on the level with these covenant adults as the text most clearly teaches verbatim? Here we have the Baptist dilemma of Matthew 19:14. We are told that the real children brought to Christ are only to be viewed figuratively to show that adults must become as real little children to enter the Kingdom. If adults enter the Kingdom by becoming as real children, one would think that real children would have an even better claim to the Kingdom. Indeed, this is a claim which Christ obviously makes. A Bible text which claims that adults are given certain rights on becoming like children and real children are blessed by Christ to prove it, teaches automatically that the gown-up, would-be children must follow the example of real children in order to possess those rights. Ironically enough, Baptists are willing to baptise adults who become like children but unwilling to baptise the children whom the adults have taken as their mentors!

The real covenant with real adults and with real boys and girls

     Gill’s interpretation cannot hold as the whole passage is obviously dealing with real grown-ups both Jewish and Gentile, and with real children, called from real wombs and placed in a real covenant. The Gentiles are described as entering into the covenant whilst bearing the children in their arms and on their shoulders. The Gentile adults are the new converts, clearly mentioned as such, and it is the children of God’s true Israel that they are bringing. If this chapter is merely figurative, how are we to interpret the Jews mentioned and the Gentile adults? What about the servants, rulers, kings and queens mentioned? Furthermore, the chapter tells us of the work of the Holy One of Israel within the covenant. Are both covenant and Covenant Keeper figurative, too? Who determines here who is real and who is fictive? When God asks in this context (50:2), “Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver?” is this all some sort of imagery that is left to anyone’s guess as to what it symbolises? Or how are we to interpret Acts 2 where the Old Testament prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit refers to sons and daughters who shall prophesy? Is this not a sign that the covenant of grace is for real sons and daughters and not just a vague reference to ‘regenerate’ and ‘weaker converts’ which would quite destroy the meaning and context of the passage besides being quite sexist? Although I have defended Gill constantly in my publications on matters outside of eschatology and baptism, two subjects on which I believe Gill loses his otherwise strong exegetical powers, I must view this Baptist explanation as being a dubious way out of a self-made, Baptist dilemma. It is noteworthy that usually Gill discusses every alternative interpretation in a passage open to such. Spurgeon found this an exaggerated and superfluous task and joked about Gill’s thoroughness.[23. Commenting and Commentaries, p. 15.] Gill gives us no such thorough exegesis, however in Isaiah 49 ff. and merely declares dogmatically that the passage does not mean what it says. Randalls’ way of finding Old Testament evidence for immersion as being the only mode of baptism, is also highly questionable on four counts: first the OT passages sited have nothing to do with baptism; secondly, one water-analogy is taken out of a context of many and used wrongly to sum up them all; thirdly, other analogies which the New Testament uses and are present in the OT contexts which Randalls gives are ignored; fourthly, the New Testament passages which Randalls sees as teaching modes do not refer to such at all but relate to what baptism signifies.

Baptism signifying being planted together in the likeness of Christ’s death and resurrection.

     Here Paul’s argument is that through Adam’s transgression “many were made sinners”, yet through Christ’s obedience “shall many be made righteous.” It is through not only being identified with Christ’s overcoming of sin but also being put in union with Christ that his death, burial and resurrection become ours. Through Christ’s righteous obedience unto death and triumphant resurrection His elect are “made righteous”. The picture here is paralleled and explained in 1 Corinthians 15:36 ff., the classical passage where Paul is speaking of the believer’s sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection. Here Paul likens the resurrection to a grain of wheat being planted which will not quicken unless it dies yet even then such seed only produces further grain. However, God gives a resurrection form to every seed as it pleases him, and in the Christian’s resurrection it far transcends the still corruptible plant that emerges from the grain of wheat. So Paul can say:

“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.”

     Since the days of John A. Broadus, many Baptists do not speak of ‘mode’ when they refer to baptism as they claim that immersion is not the mode of baptism but it is baptism itself. As immersion is obviously a mode and cannot be regarded as synonymous with baptism because of baptism’s manifold meanings whether in secular works or Scripture, Baptists search for other expressions such as ‘action’. In Tom Nettles book Teaching Truth, Training Hearts, the Baptist author reprints Broadus’ catechism where he asks, and answers, the question :

“A. What is the action performed in Christian baptism?

B. The action performed in Christian baptism is immersion in water. (Mk. 1:9, 10; Acts 8:39).”

      As neither Mark 1 nor Acts 8, given as evidence by Broadus, refer to an immersing action, it would appear that whether the Baptists call immersion a mode or an action, or whatever, they attribute the wrong meaning to baptism. Furthermore, so bent are the Baptists on discovering the mode of baptism as being immersion, they seek it and claim they have found it in passages which do not deal with modes at all. Here, in Romans 6, Paul is obviously not describing what baptism’s mode or action is but what baptism signifies. What is the analogy used? It is that of a seed being planted which produces a new growth which transforms the former state. It points to the fact that believers, like seed, are planted, not into soil but into union with Christ and are transformed into Christ’s likeness when saving growth ensues. “A bath of immersion”, or a ‘sinking’ are hardly fitting analogies here. Nor is such an analogy indicated. As the imagery of planting is found throughout the Bible, it is of interest to note how growth is obtained in such cases. The imagery of immersion is not used but we read that such as Paul planted and Apollos watered but God gave the increase (I Corinthians 3:6). Thus, if we must find an indication of mode here, we would expect the analogy of water baptism to be connected to the principle of watering tender plants which is quite in keeping with the covenant baptism of children but not Baptist baptism of immersing adults.

     This writer remembers an ardent conversation with a learned Baptist who would not budge from the idea that planting, in this passage, is used synonymously for immersion in water. He explained that ‘to plant’ is to ‘submerge in earth’ just like ‘to immerse’ is ‘to submerge in water’. I explained that I could follow him so far, but if the candidate were merely immersed in water, it might, with a great stretch of the imagination, picture the seed which dies, but it certainly would not be an exact or fitting analogy of the union with Christ that goes with it and the new plant which grows from it. Any feasible analogy, if we maintain as the Baptists that the symbol must be an exact parallel to the symbolised, must indicate that death and burial is only the beginning of the thing symbolised and not the end. All die – but it is the new growth through Christ’s death which is emphasised and which can only be claimed within His covenant and illustrated by baptism. To claim that to sink, submerge, whelm or immerse covers this meaning is to claim what one cannot demonstrate. Thus it must be seen as presumptuous indeed when a Baptist catechism seeks to have their candidates for church membership accept blindly, as in the example from Broadus, what cannot be possibly proven and is, furthermore, most inapt. Whatever one has against analogies based on the sprinkling of blood, watering or outpouring or anointing of the Spirit, they point to a far more glorious future and are thus far more applicable to the Christian’s situation than been sunk in a grave and left sunk.

Baptism signifying being one in Christ in one body by one Spirit

      I Corinthians 12:12-13 reads:

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink of one Spirit.”

     It is clear that the element referred to in this passage into which we are baptised is not water but the Holy Spirit, poured out upon us. Here we also have the picture of drinking, often used in the Old Testament, when referring to great sorrows or blessings which overcome the believer. Christ explained His own sufferings in such terminology but also his triumphs (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:25). The symbolism used is to demonstrate the unity we have in Christ by virtue of the work of the Spirit in our lives. Obviously, there is nothing here to indicate that all this is best symbolised by immersion. Nevertheless, Andrew Randalls, following main-stream Baptist apologists, claims that there is every evidence here to justify immersion. He explains:

“Baptism is the only entrance into a local, visible assembly of believers and to the Lord’s Table. Gospel churches only receive regenerate believers who are baptised by immersion. Many professors are baptised today without any direct leading from God or a real grasp of this church truth., ‘For by one Spirit we are all baptised into one body’ (1 Cor. 12:13). William Tyndale translates this verse, ‘For in (en) one spirit are we all baptised to make one body.’ This speaks of uniting and being one with a particular church in which a member can say with Ruth, ‘Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go: and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me’ (Ruth 1:16-17). These words remind us that as Ruth forsook her nation Moab, and was identified with God’s people Israel, so in water baptism there is a public confession of forsaking the world and sin and uniting with God’s people in a Gospel church. In this sense baptism is forsaking ‘father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also’, and being united to God’s people (Luke 14:26).”[24. Immersion, pp. 7-8.]

The universal spiritual unity of believers in Christ confused with a local, visible denomination

     Here Randalls interprets 1 Corinthians 12:13 on quite different lines to those expressed by Paul. His subject matter is quite different and most of what he says has no direct connection with either baptism or the text given. The subject is not how one must take up the initiative and join a local church but the unity of all Christians, through the Spirit, who have been given various gifts, irrespective of race and social status. Nor does Paul tell us that a church of immersionists is synonymous with one of regenerate believers whereas other churches are merely ‘professors’ who have no direct leading from God. Nor does Paul give any hint whatsoever that he is not speaking of the one body of Christ but merely of a local denomination or gathered assembly. He is certainly not speaking about visible professors in local assemblies and the testimony they need to make to become local members. Besides, Ruth’s testimony has nothing to do with a confession before baptism in accordance with local church rules. Her fine testimony is totally misapplied. Yet, Randalls, in his chapter ‘Why a Baptist?’ claims, throughout that the Body of Christ refers only to the local visible assembly and that immersion is the gateway to the local church. The application of baptism and the union in Christ ordained from eternity through the Spirit to the entire church of God, so particularly stressed here by Paul, is not even given a word of consideration. Surely Andrew Randalls cannot be applying the words ‘by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body’ merely to his own little congregation at the corner of Presumption Street which has probably left the ‘Mother church’ as ‘apostate’ because they have accepted a new hymn book? Such churches that Randalls defends as ‘Bodies of Christ’ might be as ‘mixed’ in believers and ‘professors’ as any other. The very idea that Christ founded ‘Bodies’ as His Bride and not ‘a Body’ appears blasphemous to many a non-Baptist. Surely Randalls cannot be saying that other congregations who do not accept his formalities for membership are not true churches? Judging by Randalls’ argument in ‘Why a Baptist?’, this would seem the case indeed. However, all that Randalls writes on the subject is concerning what the would-be church member must do to be accepted by those already inside the local gathering and thus become ‘one with a particular church’. This is bringing the Church down to club level.

     This is not what Paul is saying. Paul is expressing what Christ and the Spirit have done to make the elect one with Themselves. The united organism of believers presented by Paul is quite different to the gathering of individuals through individual enterprise which Randalls recommends. Unity within a denomination or even unity with a local, visible church can never replace the unity that Paul is speaking of, namely unity in Christ. Besides, the teaching that all believers have been baptised into one body (not separate Baptist churches split by myriads of denominational differences) is quite foreign to the notion of immersion presented by Randall. It would appear that stubborn identification with a mode as a key to unlocking a local organisation’s door, be it called a church, chapel or mission-hall, and however worthy those people might be, it is no substitute for and testimony to the unity which all believers everywhere have in Christ. If believers are in Christ, they are automatically partakers with Him in His Kingdom, Church, Brideship, resurrection and glorification. Local, visible churches as local Christian organisations are set up when such Christians come together. The unity must be there first, they are not united in Christ by becoming united in a local church entered into by an immersionist ceremony. Furthermore, if such a local church could see themselves in the mirror of Scripture, they would accept that they will most likely have tares amongst them until those tares are separated at the Day of Judgement. A declaration of denominational faith sealed by denominational baptism guaranteeing local denominational church membership thus cannot be looked upon as being God’s way of choosing out His elect. Either they have been set in union with Christ from all eternity or not at all. It is when we experience this unity in Christ that we must turn our backs on all that bound us to the world mentioned in Luke 14, although Randalls makes a great deal of the idea that it is his professing immersion to be the sole mode of baptism and church entrance which alienates the world from him. He does not consider that he may be thus alienating not the world but the Church of God.

     In concluding this chapter it is apparent that the Baptist definition of baptizein and cognate and equivalent words and the imagery used to explain the rite in Scripture cannot possibly be seen as justification in enforcing the narrow, secular meaning of ‘immersion’ on baptismal practice as a sole mode. Indeed, to force the symbolic nature of baptism into such a linguistic straight-jacket would be to rid baptism of the gospel it expresses and thus present another gospel and a religion not founded on God’s Word.