Please give serious consideration to our appeal. After all, this is really not our appeal. It is God's. Please have the strength and courage to abandon man-made traditions and doctrines so that we may be united in our service to God. As we discuss in other studies, don't accept the excuses given for failing to follow God's guidelines. We are expected to obey God's instructions as they are recorded in the New Testament. The Bible is not a human invention, and it has not been contaminated by human biases or interference. God's will does not evolve to keep pace with changing times. God is specific in His instructions about religious authority. And the Bible is clear in its unchanging doctrine concerning salvation.
What did the first Christians believe? What did the early church practice in regard to salvation? Most importantly, what does the Bible instruct about this critical subject? Contrary to the array of current practices, the biblical teaching is simple and clear. And the first-century Christians followed these teachings. To evaluate the practices of the early church, though, we will also be examining statements from a variety of sources outside the Bible. None is an authority on spiritual matters. We are only looking at what has been said as a result of study of history and the Greek language as well as the Bible. Only the Bible can be our guide for spiritual matters.
Baptism is, justly, a focal point of most discussions dealing with salvation. There are three things that we must consider concerning the views of the early church toward baptism. Who was baptized? How were they baptized? Why were they baptized?
"It can not be proved by the sacred Scriptures that infant baptism was instituted by Christ, or began by the first Christians after the apostles," Martin Luther responds to the first question (Brents, 1977, p. 315).
Indeed, the New Testament requires that a person believe before being baptized. The concept of a person being baptized and then taught as he or she grows up is totally contrary to the Bible.
"He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved;" Jesus instructs in Mark 16:16, "but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."
"How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?" Romans 10:14 asks. "And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?"
"So faith {comes} from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ," verse 17 adds.
"And Peter {said} to them," we read in Acts 2:38, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"
"But what does it say?" Paul asks in Romans 10:8-10. "'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' -- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus {as} Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."
"And corresponding to that," 1 Peter 3:21 notes, "baptism now saves you-- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Hearing, believing, repenting, confessing and being baptized are all associated with salvation. There is no question that an infant can do none of the first four. It is ridiculous to isolate baptism and take it out of the order assigned in the Bible, giving to the water some magical power to function outside the sphere of hearing, faith, repentance and confession. In addition, children don't even need to be baptized, since they have no sins. The idea of original sin did not exist in the early church and was added much later in an attempt to validate other incorrect doctrines.
In the early church, baptism was limited to adult believers.
How were these adult believers baptized? The Greek language requires that it be by immersion, since this is the correct translation of the word.
"The term baptism is a Greek word," Martin Luther observes, "it may be rendered into Latin by mersio -- when we immerse any thing in water, that it may be entirely covered with water" (Brents, 1977, p. 222).
"Nevertheless they ought to be wholly immersed, and immediately to be drawn out again," Luther adds after mentioning the custom of sprinkling which was common by his time, "for the etymology of the word seems to require it" (Brents, 1977, pp. 222-223).
"The word baptize signifies to immerse," John Calvin recognizes, "and the rite of immersion was practiced by the ancient church" (Brents, 1977, p. 223).
"Buried with him," John Wesley writes in his commentary on Romans 6:4, "alluding to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion" (Brents, 1977, p. 266).
It is little wonder, then, that history confirms the exclusive use of immersion in the early church.
"The disciples of our Lord could understand his command in no other manner than as enjoining immersion," Storr and Flatt's Theology states. "Under these circumstances," this book adds, "it is certainly to be lamented that Luther was not able to accomplish his wish with regard to the introduction of immersion in baptism, as he had done in the restoration of the wine in the eucharist"(Brents, 1977, p. 222).
"'Buried with him in baptism,'" the Westminster Assembly of Divines notes in reference to Romans 6:4. "In this phrase the apostle seemeth to allude to the ancient manner of baptism, which was to dip the parties baptized, and as it were bury them under water" (Brents, 1977, p. 269).
In the early church, adult believers were immersed.
The first-century practice was to immerse adult believers.
"It is noted," a Catholic writer observes, "that in the first three centuries baptism was administered to the adults by immersion. It was a real disappearing in the water, that made (one) think about a burial, while the coming out of the water could have been considered a return, and not without reason could have been called a resurrection" (deLeeuw, 1970, p. 411). By the way, this book, Modern Man Before the Bible, is not written by a rebel and is published by "Edizioni Paoline," the Catholic press in Rome.
"The oldest method to baptize is that of immersing the person being baptized in the water," Bernard Bartmann writes in Theological Dogma published by "Edizioni Paoline" (Bartmann, 1957, p. 105)
"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" Paul points out in Romans 6:3-7. "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with {Him} in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also {in the likeness} of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin."
The Expositor's Greek New Testament, a highly respected resource for students of the Bible, examines the death to sin mentioned in verse three.
"When, it may be asked, did this all-important death take place?" this source wonders. "The answer," it continues, "is: It is involved in baptism. ...The only alternative to accepting this argument is to confess ignorance of the meaning of the rite in which they had been received into the Church" (Denney, 1983, p. 632).
"There is no argument at all," it adds a little later, "unless all Christians were baptized" (Denney, 1983, p. 632).
"Therefore we were buried with Him (in the act of immersion) through that baptism into His death - burial being regarded as the natural sequence of death, and a kind of seal set to its reality," The Expositor's Greek New Testament states in reference to verse four (Denney, 1983, p. 632).
In the beginning, adult believers were immersed for the forgiveness of their sins. As we see in the passage from Romans 6, it parallels the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
"The plunging into the water signifies that we die and are buried with Christ," William Tyndale states, "...and the pulling out again signifies that we rise again with Christ in a new life" (Brents, 1977, p. 269).
"Baptism is a sign of both death and resurrection," according to Martin Luther. "Being moved by this reason," Luther continues, "I would have those who are to be baptized to be altogether dipped into the water, as the word doth express and the mystery doth signify" (Brents, 1977, p. 268).
"As we be buried with Christ by our baptism into death," the Church of England comments in the Homily of the Resurrection, so let us daily die to sin, mortifying and killing the evil motions thereof. And as Christ was raised up from death by the glory of the Father, so let us rise to a new life and walk continually therein" (Brents, 1977, p. 269).
These are just a few of the sources which affirm that, in the early church, baptism involved immersion of adult believers for the forgiveness of their sins. This is the unquestioned truth. Will you join us in defending this truth against the attacks of man-made doctrines? After all, only the truth can set us free.
Bartmann, Bernardo (1957), Teologia Dogmatica, trans. Bussi, Natale (Alba: Edizioni Paoline), Vol. III.
Brents, T.W. (1977), The Gospel Plan of Salvation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, reprint).
DeLeeuw, Venantius (1970), L'Uomo Moderno di Fronte Alla Bibbia (Rome: Edizioni Paoline).
Denney, James (1983), The Expositor's Greek New Testament, "Romans" (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), Vol II.