Summary: Does the mode of baptism matter? If Scripture is our guide, how we are baptised, as well as why we are baptised, is extremely important.
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Undoubtedly, during these past weeks, I have explored the issue of baptism more thoroughly than some will think wise. Modern sensibilities argue that we should avoid addressing issues that discriminate or that may cause personal discomfort. Insisting upon immersion as the biblical model for baptism does undoubtedly discriminate between Christians and does cause discomfort. However, I do not seek artificial unity based upon the avoiding disagreement; rather, I seek unity growing out of the shared commitment to the Word of the Living God. As I speak week-by-week, I do not seek the approval of man; rather, I seek the approval of Him who appointed me to this service of teaching and preaching His Word.
Whenever I address the subject of baptism, I know that I am addressing some who hold to hoary traditions held dear by their parents, and by their parents before them. It is fair to say that much, if not most, of Canadian Christendom performs initiatory rites that are at considerable variance with Scripture. The traditions of most communions in Canada consider baptism to be a sacrament—an act that conveys grace. Most communions practise a rite for infants that they identify as baptism. Most communions speak of sprinkling water, or of pouring a small amount of water onto the head, as the initiatory rite of the Christian Faith. However, naming an act “baptism” does not legitimatise that act or transform the act into what is presented in the Word of God.
Paul penned a polemic to confront the error of false teachers (probably Gnostics) that were infiltrating the churches of the Lycus Valley at that time. That letter, which we have received as the Letter to the Colossians, endeavours to equip Christians to stand firm in the Faith of Christ the Lord. Especially does this letter address the error of believing that human tradition can or should supplant the will of God.
In one place in the letter, as the Apostle confronts an insidious error that attempted to substitute human tradition and philosophy for the teaching of the Spirit of God, he refers to the act of baptism. Though he mentions the rite in passing, the manner in which he speaks makes it apparent that he expected that his readers would be in full agreement with the intent of the ordinance. Join me in studying COLOSSIANS 2:8-14.
TRADITION CONTRA SCRIPTURE — “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” As members of this fallen race, we tend cling to what is familiar and comfortable, regardless of truth. Error, once it has become entrenched, is comfortable. Even a little bit of error can become so familiar that at last it is so thoroughly entrenched that it cannot be removed.
The Apostle was concerned lest his readers slip into error through embracing human tradition in the place of godly teaching. The finest human philosophy cannot ascend to the heights of divine revelation. Whenever someone speaks of matters that affect my eternal welfare, I do not want to hear their fatuous fallacies; I want to hear from one who is able to inform me of the will of God. Christ died for our sins; He was buried and He rose from the grave for my justification. If I listen to anyone, let it be the Risen Son of God who speaks to my heart and not human tradition.
Traditions can serve to connect us to generations that preceded us, or they can move us toward ever more serious error. In the Word of God we see either situation on several occasions. Jesus excoriated the Pharisees whenever He exposed their hypocrisy. He charged, “for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God” [MATTHEW 15:6]. The reason for His condemnation was that they had let go “the commandment of God,” choosing rather to “hold to the tradition of men” [see MARK 7:8].