Summary: There are 1000s of different churches with their various views on baptism. Can they all be right? Probably not, but why aren't they all "right"?
There was an antique collector passing through a small village when he saw an old man chopping wood with an ancient ax. “That’s a mighty old ax you have there,” he remarked. “Yep,” said the villager, “it once belonged to George Washington.” “George Washington??? Not really!" gasped the collector “That’s hard to believe!” The old man grinned and said: “Yep! It belonged to George Washington alright. But, of course, it’s had three new handles and two new heads - but this is his ax.”
Now, did that ax actually belong to George Washington? No! When you change the handles 3 times and the heads twice… well, it’s no longer the same ax. And over the years… people have done the same thing with Baptism. Folks have changed the handles and heads so often that it no longer looks the same. They may call it by the name “baptism” but it’s not anymore.
Catholicism was the first to make changes: According to “The Catholic Biblical Encyclopaedia” (Pg. 61 Paragraph 2) “Immersion was oldest method employed. Buried in baptism. Romans 6:4.
A Roman Catholic priest named Brenner made the following statement: "For thirteen hundred years was baptism generally and regularly an immersion of the person under the water, and only in extraordinary cases a sprinkling or pouring of water; the latter was moreover, disputed as a mode of baptism, nay even forbidden" (Historical Exhibition of Administration of Baptism. Page 306.)
And a Catholic Cardinal named Gibbons, (1834-1921) stated: "For several centuries after the establishment of Christianity, baptism was usually conferred by immersion; but since the 12th Century the practice by sprinkling has prevailed in the Catholic Church, as the manner is attended with less inconvenience than baptism by immersion."
There’s a couple of stories that relate what prompted the Catholic Church to begin changing the practice of baptism by immersion - but the fact is, they did make that change. Catholics will still immerse you if you ask, but as Gibbons points out it’s less inconvenient to sprinkle or pour water on someone than to bury someone in a watery grave.
ILLUS: As we pointed out in a previous sermon, Romans 6 compares baptism to burial. So, let’s say someone dies. We have a big funeral for them, and then we take them to the cemetery. Do we sprinkle some dirt on them and call it a day? Or do we pour a shovel of gravel on their casket and say they’re buried? Of course not! If you’re going to bury someone, you put them UNDER the ground. And baptism is the same idea - to bury them in baptism, we put them UNDER the water. But why do we do that? Why put them under the water? Because that’s how God (not a church or a theologian) said its done!
For example, in Acts 8 we’re told the story of an Ethiopian Eunuch. In that story, we read about a Christian named Philip who witnessed to a Eunuch as they’re traveling along in a chariot. The Eunuch was so convinced by what Philip told him that “… as they were going along the road they came to some water… the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36) And then we’re told “(the Eunuch) commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down INTO the water… and (Philip) baptized him. And when they came up OUT of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.” Acts 8:38-39
They went DOWN INTO THE WATER and CAME UP OUT OF THE WATER! So, why would they go down into the water and then come up out of the water? Because that’s what Biblical baptism looks like. If all the Ethiopian Eunuch needed was to be sprinkled… why stop the chariot? They could have done the job by just pouring water on his head from a canteen.
But, why would Catholicism change that? Because they could. They started with the right ax, but they changed the handle and the head. They substituted what THEY felt was OK, because they’d gotten used to playing God. They changed God’s written word to fit their thinking… and that’s never a good idea.
Centuries later, people changed baptism again, but this time they didn’t change HOW it was it done - they changed WHY it was done. They said baptism wasn’t that important, and they replaced it with something called the “Sinner’s Prayer” or “Asking Jesus into Your Heart.”
We’ve talked about this before a convert is asked to repeat a prayer like this one: “Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe that you died for my sins, and that you rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and ask you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow you as my LORD and savior. In your name Amen.”