“Look! Water!” A brief review of the New Testament practice of water baptism.
When one looks into the NT practice of baptism you see an urgency that is sadly lacking in the western church. In Phillip’s case, we see that in his preaching the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, it was inherent that the subject of water baptism came up! Hence, as the eunuch came into contact with the Holy Spirit in New Life, there was an instantaneous thirst for water (pardon the pun).
As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)
Nothing prevented the eunuch from being instantly baptized in water as long as he believed and confessed that Jesus was Lord of his life. Evidently, “hardwired” into Philip’s Gospel message was water baptism — to a much higher degree, I believe, than we know today!
Let’s remember that on the day of Pentecost, on that same day, 3000 souls were baptized in water. If there were 50 believers (of the 120) doing the baptisms, then they each baptized about 60 people that day… and thus the early church was birthed and their DNA established.
Repent – Believe – Be baptized and Receive
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)
The western church has been strong on repentance and believing for centuries. Unfortunately, we have been much weaker on baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. I think it did not help too much that Luther and Calvin – not to mention the Catholic Church – continued infant baptism and persecuted to the death those who stood for “believer’s baptism” such as the Swiss Brethren (Anabaptists).
The modern church does have a healthy theology on “believer’s baptism” but is poor on the practice end. It seems that many new believers are left-on-their-own to find their way to baptism. It doesn’t appear to have the urgency, “hardwiredness” or the universality of the NT practice.
For me, a classic example of the these three — urgency, “hardwiredness”, universality — is the midnight baptism of the jailer in Acts 16.
Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for preaching the Gospel in Philippi. Around midnight, as they sang hymns and prayed, the doors to the prison flew open and everyone’s chains fell off. The jailer, running into this scene of all his prisoners standing about free, was about to kill himself! But Paul, however, stopped his suicide attempt and preached Jesus Christ to the jailer and his whole family!
Here is were it gets real interesting, and quite the opposite to the modern church:
And he [the jailer] took them [Paul and Silas] that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. (16:33)
Pausing just long enough to administer healing to the wounds of the two battered and beaten apostles, the jailer followed the New Testament model and practice and, along with his household, immediately “got wet”! At 1 or 2 in the morning, he did not need, apparently, a new believer’s class, but he qualified as per the apostolic instruction!
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
Nothing can be clearer in my mind that this is the way of the early church. This was the way of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. This was the experience of Paul. When the scales fell off his eyes, the Bible says “he rose and was baptized” (9:18) Later, Paul would teach and preach this same experience throughout the Roman Empire. It was a part of what he called “my ways”.
For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Cor. 4:17)
In other texts Paul called them “the teachings” (2 Thess 2:15) or “the traditions” (1 Cor 11:2). In order to return to the apostolic traditions “just as [Paul] delivered them”, which I believe should always be our desire, we must hold carefully and faithfully to the matter of immediate and urgent water baptism!
One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4: 5-6)