Summary: Exploring the reason for Baptist insistence on immersion of believers as baptism.
“An angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.’ So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
“And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptised?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptised 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. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”
“Water wars!” That would be an appropriate description of the continuing controversies surrounding the issue of baptism—the mode, the motive and the candidate. These controversies have continued since shortly after the Apostles passed off the scene. Unless seeking to stir controversy, why would a preacher present a message on the “mode of baptism?” Perhaps you think the issue to be irrelevant to this day. However, the practise of the churches and religious societies that constitute Christendom is far more important than one might imagine.
At issue is far more than the performance of a mere rite or the form of a ritual. The manner in which the ordinance is conducted expresses much about the belief of those performing the rite. What is pictured is significant, and the mode of baptism must not be casually dismissed as unimportant. What is important is not whether the ritual is performed; rather, the truth that lies behind the act of baptism is of utmost significance.
In a previous message, I observed that it is inaccurate to speak of “modes” of baptism. If the Greek term used in the original manuscripts means “sprinkle,” then we may speak of modes of “sprinkling.” If the word baptizo means “pour,” then we may properly refer to modes of “pouring.” If the word carries the meaning, in the Greek tongue, of “immersing,” then we may speak of modes of “immersing.” However, we cannot intelligently speak of “modes of baptism,” as such a concept is meaningless by the rules of language.
I am convinced that baptism is important. Though baptism by immersion is not the raison d’être for the existence of Baptists, it does nevertheless express our passion for evangelism and our desire to be obedient to all that is written in the Word of God. Baptists are insistent that we do not baptise in order to transform sinners into Christians, but rather we baptise because God has already saved the sinner and that redeemed individual is called to identify openly with the Master in His Passion and in His Resurrection. Consequently, whenever we witness baptism, we rejoice because the baptism we witness is a declaration that the one baptised has been redeemed through faith in the Risen Son of God—if we hold to the biblical model and precept.
There is more than a suggestion of this glorious truth in the account of Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian official. Turn to ACTS 8:26-40 for the scintillating account of this drama in the desert. Join me in exploring the Word of God to see the reason we insist upon immersion in water as the only valid expression of faith commanded by God.
PHILIP’S OBEDIENCE LED TO EFFECTIVE SERVICE — “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place. And he rose and went.” Philip received appointment as one of the first seven deacons serving the Jerusalem congregation. When the disciples, with the exception of the Apostles, were scattered as result of the persecution precipitated by the murder of Stephen, Philip went down to the city of Samaria [see ACTS 8:4, 5].