By Philip Harrelson
We continue on with the doctrinal series concerning baptism. The last issue of the Focus was about repentance. That was the first command that Peter preached to the hearers in Acts 2 at the birth of the church. Repent! The second command that Peter gave on the day of Pentecost was to be baptized. He instructs them that they must be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). Some have made baptism an optional process and state that water baptism is not necessary for salvation, declaring it is nothing more than a Christian ceremony that is demonstrating a public profession of faith. However, we as apostolic believers hold that baptism is essential for salvation. Just as circumcision was a requirement for the Old Testament Israelite males as a sign of the covenant relationship with God, so also can water baptism in the New Testament be understood in the same manner (Col. 2:11-12).
Within this command to be baptized there are two immediate conditions that are placed on the hearer. They must be baptized in water by immersion. The word in itself BAPTO gives a clear meaning that the candidate must be totally immersed in the water. David Bernard lists several points concerning the mode of baptism in the book, The New Birth, under the heading, “Does Baptismal Mode Matter?” (Pp. 128-129.) They are listed as follows:
- Baptism is a biblical command, so we should follow the biblical mode. In view of the importance the Bible places on water baptism, we should perform it exactly as the Bible describes it.
- Jesus was immersed as an example for us to follow. If He, who did not need baptism, submitted to immersion, how much more should we? If baptism is worth doing, it is worth doing the way Jesus and His apostles did it.
- Other modes of baptism came from non-biblical tradition, and tradition is a poor substitute for biblical teaching. Jesus condemned tradition quite strongly when it caused a deviation from God’s Word. He told the Pharisees, “Laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8), and “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:6).
- The only advantage sprinkling has is convenience, which is also a poor excuse for not following the Bible. What right have we to insist on a more convenient method than Jesus and the Early Church used? Certainly it would have been more convenient for John to have sprinkled the multitudes, for the apostles to have sprinkled 3000 at Pentecost, for Philip to have sprinkled the eunuch in the wilderness, and for Paul to have sprinkled the jailer at midnight; yet they chose to immerse. Why should we deviate from this pattern on grounds of convenience, especially since the baptismal practices which made sprinkling so popular are themselves non-biblical?
- Immersion demonstrates obedience to God and respect for His Word. Why invent an arbitrary mode and try to justify it? Why debate whether various man-made alternatives would be acceptable? True respect for God and His Word will cause us to be content with the biblical mode; instead of ignoring or refusing it, we will obey it.
- Only by immersion do we retain the significance of baptism as a burial with Christ.
- Because one believes, he is baptized. Behavior always follows true belief. This behavior motivated by belief (faith) creates a connection between the saint and Jesus Christ. This is what Paul hinted at in Romans 6:3-4.
Romans 6:3-4 ICJV Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
When a person is baptized, he is identified with Jesus Christ in his death. Therefore we may conclude also that if we are baptized with Him in death then we are also partakers of the resurrection that accompanied the death of Jesus. A true saint will treat and judge his life as having been “crucified with Christ, nevertheless living, yet not himself, but Christ living in him” (Gal. 2:20).
Also in this command is the imperative that determines that the candidate has to be baptized in the name of Jesus. The formula of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost has no capacity to forgive sin. It is in the name of Jesus Christ that we are saved by baptism. In fact, the blood of Jesus that was shed at Calvary is the only prescribed atoning blood for the forgiveness of sin (1 John 1:9; 1 Tim. 5:24).
The word for forgiveness is APHESIN which means to send off or send away. The wrong is cut out, sent away from the wrongdoer. Every man needs forgiveness because of sin that is in his life. There is guilt and the penalty demanded for such sin (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; 8:1). While it is difficult for man to understand this forgiveness is a total forgiveness (Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 4:5-8; Isa. 44:22) pre-empting the need to be baptized again and again, the only thing necessary for the saint to do is to confess his sin (1 John 1:7; 1:9). Furthermore, forgiveness of sin maintains a sense of fellowship with God. When a man does wrong it hinders his relationship with God and the necessary aspect of restoring fellowship is confessing and forsaking that sin which is involved in the continual need for repentance (Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:13; Luke 3:3; 24:47; 1 John 1:7). Forgiveness also releases man from the guilt of his sin. Only God can remove the guilt that sin has created (Ps. 51:2; 51:7-12; 103:12; 1 John 1:9; Isa. 43:25; 55:7; Micah 7:18; Jer. 31:34; 33:8).
In the book of Acts there are five examples of baptism that are given and all use the baptismal formula set forth by the precedent in Acts 2 by Peter. Again, David Bernard sums up the biblical record of baptism in The New Birth (pp. 156-158).
- After the first sermon of the New Testament church, Peter commanded baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ” with the support of the rest of the apostles (Acts 2:14, 37-38). Those who accepted his message were baptized according to this commandment—that is, in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:41).
- After the Samaritans believed Philip’s preaching concerning “the name of Jesus Christ,” they were
- baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:12, 16).
- After Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles received the Holy Ghost, Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48). The most ancient Greek manuscripts contain the name “Jesus Christ” in this verse, as later translations indicate: “So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (NW); “And he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the Messiah” (TAB).
- When Paul met certain disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus, he asked about their baptism. When he found out they had only received John’s baptism, he baptized them again, this time “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5).
- Paul himself was baptized in the name of Jesus, for Ananias told him, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the
- Lord” (Acts 22:16).
- In addition to these five accounts in Acts, I Corinthians shows that the Gentile believers in Corinth were baptized in Jesus’ name. The church there was full of divisions, with various groups claiming to be followers of Paul, Peter, Apollos, or Christ. When Paul rebuked them for their divisions, he asked, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Corinthians 1:13). The obvious answer to the last question is, “No, we were baptized in the name of Christ.” Since the Corinthians were baptized in (literally, “into”) the name of Christ, not Paul, they belonged to Christ, not Paul. Paul was saying this: Jesus died for the whole church and the whole church was baptized in His name, so the church should unite in following Him. If the Corinthians were not baptized in Jesus’ name, Paul’s argument makes no sense.
- We conclude from these six passages that the apostolic church always baptized in Jesus’ name. All believers—Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles—received baptism in the name of Jesus.
While there is much more that could be added to this study concerning Jesus name baptism by immersion, I trust that you will concur that even further study will affirm that the apostles all practiced in this manner. I would encourage you to read the following books by David Bernard: The Oneness of God and The New Birth all of which are available through the Pentecostal Publishing House, 8855 Dunn Road, Hazelwood, Missouri 63042.
Rev. Philip Harrelson is Presbyter of Section 8 and also serves as Pastor at the Pentecostals of Dothan in Dothan, Alabama.