Question: The scriptures clearly state that baptism by immersion is the only way. So if good people, that live a repentant life and live by the word of god are not accepted in the kingdom of heaven if they were not baptized in the proper way? Example: Catholics baptize the young baby by sprinkling, that counts them out?
Answer:When Jesus was asked how to be saved, His answer excluded any mention of baptism at all: “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:18-22)
We see that when Christ was asked how to be saved, he answered by first quoting most of the last half of the Ten Commandments dealing with our responsibilities to our fellow man; specifically, the fifth through ninth commandments from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. His questioner replied that he already did all of this, whereupon Christ remarked that the man needed just one more thing: to obey the Tenth Commandment concerning covetousness. That is not the answer you would receive from a modern minister; most churches today teach that the Old Testament moral laws are all abolished!
During my now forty years of pastoral ministry, I have received several letters and emails asking essentially, “Can I be baptized at your church? I do not want to worship with you or join your congregation, just want to receive baptism.” My answer is no! If you do not want to obey the fourth commandment and keep the Sabbath Day holy, nor worship your Heavenly Father, then you are not ready to be baptized! People today wrongly equate baptism with salvation, but that is not what Christ and the apostles taught. I believe that far too many people are baptized without being qualified or without receiving proper instruction. No, baptism will not save you; a pagan who is baptized is just a wet pagan!
It is also wrongly thought that baptism was a New Testament invention. To the contrary, the Jews already practiced it by its Hebrew name, mikva. Yet Christ excluded that as necessary for salvation. So did the Apostle Paul: in Acts 16:28-32 we read of the Apostle in prison when an earthquake struck frightening the guards. “But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” Although Paul certainly encouraged baptism, he was correct to state that salvation is based solely upon faith in Christ.
In the Book of Acts we are instructed that salvation is not due to the physical water of baptism, but due to the infilling of the Holy Spirit (KJV: Holy Ghost) when a person becomes a believer: the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. However, because the Holy Spirit is invisible to the eye, the water of baptism is utilized to demonstrate to the fellow congregation of believers present what has invisibly taken place in the heart: “And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 11:13-16)
Regarding infant baptism, in the Bible, babies were dedicated by their parents to the Lord, and baptism was for believers.
Now, concerning the “proper” mode of baptism, I believe that far too much emphasis is placed upon the “proper” way of doing rituals and sacraments, and far too little emphasis upon the meaning of what we are asking people to do. The Pharisees (and by implication others today as well) were condemned by Christ for the error of thinking that the proper performance of the sacred rituals was what really mattered and they had to be done exactly right to avoid God’s wrath. (See Matt. 23:23, etc.) However, for the sake of argument, if we want to exactly follow the apostolic example, we would baptize in a river of flowing water just as the apostles did. The Revell Bible Dictionary says: “Baptisms took place in river pools (it is more than probable that where we find the names of local saints given to pools in rivers, those places were their favorite places of administering the rite).” The river water symbolizes the Holy Spirit coming upon a person, washing away their sins, and carrying those sins away. This symbolism does not hold for a baptism in a tank of standing water! The New Testament Greek word for (eternal) life, zoe, has a double meaning of both life and movement. It is no accident that the famous early first century writing (by disciples who had sat at the feet of the apostles), the Didache or “Teaching of the Twelve,” also advises to baptize in a lake or stream. In our own church, we have not used our baptismal tank in quite some time. Instead, we have conducted baptisms in a spring-fed lake at a beautiful county park during our summer church picnics, and this year a new church member offered use of her home with a beach on a private spring-fed lake for our annual picnic and baptisms.
Not everyone has a clean river or lake available to use. Will God be angry or withhold salvation if the baptism ritual is done another way? Absolutely not! Interestingly enough, the aforementioned early church Didache states, “Now concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first taught all these things, baptize ye into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, in living [i.e., moving] water. And if thou hast not living water, baptize into other water; and if thou canst not in cold, then in warm [water]. But if thou hast neither, pour water thrice upon the head in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “The water to be preferred is “living,” i.e., running water, water in a stream or river, or fresh flowing from a fountain…true and natural water (aqua vera et naturalis).” (ISBE, I, 419) Again, that method is to be preferred, not required. God looks upon the heart!
Lastly, I am well aware that there are many theologians who insist that the Greek words for baptism, bapto and baptizo, strictly mean to immerse completely, yet other scholars disagree. Even today, we “baptize” or “christen” a new ship or vessel by the ancient Greek symbolic method of pouring a liquid over it, not by immersing it. There are other examples from ancient Greek usage I could give, but that would miss the whole point that God is much less concerned with how we practice a ritual or sacrament than He is with what our heart attitude is while doing it.