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Is Water Baptism Obsolete?

Is Water Baptism Obsolete?

Water Baptism seems like a harmless topic. Yet the Roman Catholic church of old weaponized it. Anyone disobeying their decrees on baptism, committed a capital crime, punishable by death.

Traditionally, the Roman Catholic church used infant baptism to record new church members for the tax rolls. To force compliance, the church taught that if you hadn’t been sprinkled, you were going to hell. This power play kept the people fearful and obedient.

In the 1500’s, a group called Anabaptists, rejected infant baptism and chose to baptize only upon confession of faith. Then all hell broke loose. Rebaptizers were captured and burned at the stake. Protestant reformers like Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Luther joined the fray. Thousands were exiled, tortured in dungeons, drowned, beheaded, and burned at the stake for refusing to baptize their babies and for baptizing adult believers.

Even today, is there any other topic more hotly debated by the institutional churches than baptism? Have you been baptized with water? Sprinkled? Dunked? Infant or Adult? If this isn’t enough controversy to rip the church apart, we present yet another view on baptism. Could water baptism be obsolete and fading away? Did Jesus bring us a better baptism - baptism by the Holy Spirit and by fire?

A casual reading of Mark 16:16, seems to clearly say that baptism is necessary for salvation.

He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

But there’s a keyword missing in this passage. That word is water, specifically water baptism. We’re assuming baptism means water baptism, but is that true?

When we start reading the other scriptures about baptism, a new picture emerges. Not all baptisms are water baptisms. The Greek word for baptism “baptizo” literally means to “dip” or to “immerse.” Could there be a baptism, or an immersion, that is spiritual, not physical?

Let’s start by looking at water baptism.

In all four gospels, John the Baptist, makes a precise statement about baptism. The Gospels are clear that John is talking about “water” baptism. He is busy baptizing people with water for repentance. He is preparing the way for the New Covenant.

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16, Mark 1:8 (leaves off fire)

John’s gospel says it this way:

I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. John 1:26-27

Then he identifies Jesus as the One who baptizes, not with water like John does, but with the Holy Spirit:

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” John 1:32-34

If only the institutional church had examined more carefully these passages about water baptism. John the Baptist clearly states that something greater than water baptism is coming. Through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we are baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. Yes, the Holy Spirit leads us to all Truth and as we obey, we go through the fires of persecution.

John’s baptising with water prepared the way for the New Covenant and a new baptism, not of water, but of the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus said there was no greater prophet than John the Baptist. But those who are the least in the Kingdom of God are greater than John. Why? Because John was still part of the Old Covenant and the old method of baptizing with water. See Luke 7:28.

Shortly before ascending to Heaven Jesus commands the disciples to wait for the Promise of the father. Jesus differentiates between John’s water baptism and the upcoming baptism with the Holy Spirit:

For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. . . You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. See Acts 1:5,8

Peter and Paul On Water Baptism

Remember when Peter received a vision that he should call no one impure or unclean? He understood that God does not show favoritism, but welcomes those from every nation who fear Him and do what is right. Then he went down to Caesarea to preach to a group of Gentiles. While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. This amazed the circumcised group who were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit could be poured out even on Gentiles. Peter then commanded the Gentiles to be water baptized. But did they really need to be water baptized after receiving the Holy Spirit? (See Acts, Chapter 10).

Later, Peter was criticized by the circumcision party for going to these uncircumcised men and eating with them. Then Peter began explaining his vision, and added a detail that was not previously mentioned.

As I began to speak, (to the Gentiles) 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.’ Acts 11:15-16

Was the Lord reminding Peter of the greater baptism? These particular Gentiles had already received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But Peter commanded that they also be baptized with water. Did poor bungling Peter realize after the fact that he did not need to keep baptizing with water?

It appears that Apostle Paul also had a revelation about water baptism not being necessary.

Paul states that “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius . . . For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” 1 Cor 1:14, 17 If water baptism is necessary for salvation, wouldn’t Paul be negligent if he preached the gospel, but did not water baptize?

In the case of the penitent woman (Luke 7:37-50), the paralytic man (Matthew 9:2), the tax collector (Luke 18:13-14), and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) all experienced forgiveness of sins apart from water baptism. Wasn’t it receiving the Word of God, not water baptism, that cleansed them?

The denominational churches that debate about water baptism are off point. They argue for and against infant baptism and whether to sprinkle or dunk. But do they ever consider whether or not they should be water baptizing at all? Is water baptism a ceremony best left behind in the old covenant?

When Jesus talks about having a baptism to be baptized with, He is not talking about water baptism:

I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Luke 12:49-50

When Paul was in Ephesus, he discovered some disciples who had not heard of the Holy Spirit. They were still water baptizing and he showed them a better way:

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Notice, he didn’t ask, “Were you water baptized?")

And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all. Acts 19:1-7

We need no mediators between us and God to be saved. We don’t need to find someone to water baptize us. Open up the four gospels and find out what the will of God is. God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. Acts 5:32

Once you start obeying, then the persecutions come and you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit and fire.

All will hate you for your allegiance to me; but the man who holds out to the end will be saved. Matthew 10:22 NEB

May His Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.

Wake up and repent. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.