Afternoon Sermon: How Is Baptism Rightly Administered?, Baptist Catechism 100, Acts 8:26-40

Baptist Catechism 100

Q. 100. How is baptism rightly administered?

A. Baptism is rightly administered by immersion, or dipping the whole body of the party in water, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, according to Christ’s institution, and the practice of the apostles, and not by sprinkling or pouring of water, or dipping some part of the body, after the tradition of man. (Matt. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38,39)

Scripture Reading: Acts 8:26-40

“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. 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 baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he 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. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:26–40, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

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The question before us today is, “How is baptism rightly administered?“ In other words, how is a baptism properly done?

You know, in some traditions baptisms are administered by the pouring or sprinkling of water. And the question is, is this right or proper?

Our catechism is quite direct, isn’t it?  At the end, it says, “not by sprinkling or pouring of water, or dipping some part of the body, after the tradition of man.” In our opinion, this practice of sprinkling, pouring, or dipping some part of the body into the baptismal water is not from Christ, but is the tradition of man. 

Where did this tradition come from?  Well, I have not studied that question in detail, but I wonder if it did not develop along with the tradition of applying the sign of baptism to infants and to those on their deathbeds. Sprinkling, pouring, or dipping only a part of the body in situations like these would certainly be more convenient. 

However the tradition developed, we are saying that it does not emerge from scripture. It is the tradition of man, and it is to be rejected. 

Notice again that the question is “How is baptism rightly administered?“ In other words, what is the correct way to do it? 

As is usually the case, it is helpful to compare our catechism with our confession to gain a fuller understanding of the doctrine being presented. As I understand it, our confession teaches that those who have faith in Christ are the only proper subjects of baptism — never should those who do not profess faith be baptized, and this includes infants. Infant baptisms are invalid baptisms, therefore. Water is always to be used. And those baptized are always to be baptized in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism’s laking these things should be considered invalid. But our confession says in 29.4 that “Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.” In other words, the right way to do it is by immersion. But what about those who have been baptized as believers, with water, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but by sprinkling, pouring, or dipping only a part of the body into the water. What should we think of the baptism? Was it valid?

This is a question that comes up from time to time even today, but it was a very common question for the Particular Baptists living in the 17th century. They had to wrestle with the question, should we receive the baptisms of those who were baptized as believers in the presbyterial and reformed traditions, but by sprinkling. Many thought yes. Though their baptisms were improperly done, they were to be considered valid.  And that is why 29.4 of our confession says that “Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.” 

Would we consider an infant baptism valid? No, never. For that one was not baptized upon profession of faith. The one who was baptized as an infant was not really baptized. They should be baptized properly as a believer now, and thus say to God and to the world, Jesus is Lord. 

Would we consider Roman Catholic, Mormon, or a Jehovah’s Witness baptism to be valid? No, never. For those are different religions with different conceptions of sin and salvation. In the case of Mormon and JW doctrine, their view of God and Christ is fundamentally different too. Those who were baptized in these religions were not baptized into Christ, but into something else. 

Would we consider the baptism of one who was sprinkled with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit upon profession of faith in a Reformed or Presbyterian church to be valid? Yes, I think we would. Our view would be that it was improperly done, but is valid. 

So why do we say that “[b]aptism is rightly administered by immersion, or dipping the whole body of the party in water, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” Why is this the right way to do it?

The answer is rather simple. One, this is what Christ taught. Two, this is what the apostles did. In other words, it’s what we find in scripture. 

Read the New Testament and see. Baptisms were performed in bodies of water —  rivers, ponds, and such. People “went down into the water” to be baptized. 

The passage that I read from Acts 8 regarding Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is a good example. Philip preached the gospel to him from Isaiah the prophet. The Ethiopian believed. And after believing he said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he 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.”  

If ever there was a time for baptism by sprinkling or pouring, it was here, for they were in a desert region. But baptism was made possible by the body of water. It was large enough for them to go down into it and to come up out of it again. Read the New Testament and see that this is always the case. It is always baptism by immersion that is described. 

Add to this the symbolism of baptism. Baptism signifies cleansing. It signifies our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. Through immersion, the who body is washed. Through immersion, our death in Christ, and our resurrection in Christ are signified as we go under the water and come up again. Baptism by pouring or sprinkling doesn’t quite capture this, does it?

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Conclusion

And this is why we say, “Baptism is rightly administered by immersion, or dipping the whole body of the party in water, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, according to Christ’s institution, and the practice of the apostles, and not by sprinkling or pouring of water, or dipping some part of the body, after the tradition of man. (Matt. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38,39)

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