A Question of Mode

(The following is a continuation of my journey from the life as a Southern Baptist pastor to life as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.)

Being a Baptist for almost fifty years carries with it a certain bias about the mode of Baptism. As I had often said, “The word ‘baptism’ was used by secular Greek writers to describe a sunken ship.” While that statement is true, the word group (bapto, baptismos, baptize) does not just mean “to immerse” but it is often used to describe dipping, sprinkling, or pouring. In Hebrews 9:10-21 we see the word “baptismos” being used to describe the sprinkling of water, oil, and blood for ritual cleansing in the Old Testament.

When one looks at the picture of justification given in Titus 3:5-6, it speaks of the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost,” which clearly points to Ezekiel 36:25-27 where God promises to “sprinkle clean water on you” and “to give you my spirit.” The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) also alludes to the cleansing meaning of baptism, and when Peter described his experience with the conversion of Cornelius by saying, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.  And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:15-17), we see baptism describing the “falling” of the Holy Spirit which would be pictured best by pouring.

We also see a picture of the word “bapto” in Leviticus 14 (in the Septuagint, of course) where one bird is “baptized” in the blood of the second bird, which could not possibly have been immersion. There are also places in the Scripture where baptism by immersion would have been difficult, if not impossible, such as the Ethiopian eunuch in the desert in Acts 8, and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33) in a prison where no pool of water would have probably been available. One last example of sprinkling instead of immersion can be found in Mark 7:4 where it says the Pharisees “baptized” cups, plates, tables, and some translations say “dining couches” which make immersion improbable at best.

Moreover, historically, some of the earliest Christian art in the catacombs of Rome picture people kneeling in water, with a pastor pouring water over their heads. While it is true that Colossians 2 has been sited as a proof text for immersion because it speaks of being “buried with Christ in baptism,” one can see by the other texts that I have mentioned, there are other pictures present in Scripture which would point to pouring or sprinkling. These are some of the reasons why I have come to the point where I heartily concur with the Westminster Confession of Faith which states, “Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.” (WCF XXVIII.iii)

My next post (Deo Volente) will wrap up this “Blog Biography” (to the joy of many) by discussing how I came to be set apart as the Associate Pastor at Reformed Presbyterian Church. (To be continued)

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5 Comments

  1. Joel Campbell said,

    August 4, 2009 at 7:25 PM

    Clifton, thanks for giving us the history of your journey. I Iinked to this blog from your FB profile, and just got up to speed. I had been secretly wondering what your story was since I got on the RPC web site a while back and saw some of your early sermons. Thanks for the influence you had on the beliefs of me and my family, however brief, when we were in Beaumont. I am glad God has given you such a great church to minister in.

    • cliftonr said,

      August 4, 2009 at 7:31 PM

      Thanks for your kind words. The interaction with your family was always a joy. And, I really agree with your last comment that “God has given [me] such a great church to minister in.”

  2. Charlotte said,

    August 4, 2009 at 10:49 PM

    Enlightening. Thank you.

  3. George said,

    August 5, 2009 at 1:10 AM

    Clifton, You have always amazed me. You have always sought God’s direction in your life. Keep on the firing line my brother. Love ya

    • cliftonr said,

      August 5, 2009 at 2:36 PM

      Thanks for everyone’s kind words…God has truly been gracious to me.


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