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And How Should We Baptize?

Have you ever heard someone say (or maybe you have said it yourself): "I don’t really get into all the different denominations, I am just a Christian." Choosing which denomination/church to join can be bewildering. In reaction to this some churches have even decided not to be part of a denomination.

But really, why are there so many denominations? A clue to this puzzle comes from examining baptism. Putting aside the issue of when to baptize—some churches baptize infants, some only teenagers and adults, and some will baptize early elementary school-age children—let’s look at how to baptize.

Looking at the many churches today, how many different ways of baptizing do you think there are? These are the ways I have run across: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. But wait, there are two different ways to immerse: most churches which immerse do so with a pastor leaning a person backwards into the water, but the Church of the Brethren baptizes by the person going face-forward. Plus, the Church of the Brethren practices going face-forward three times. Why? In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Also, I ran across a Greek Orthodox Church which baptizes infants by immersing them three times as well. So, what we have is sprinkling, pouring, immersing once, and immersing three times. In addition, Quakers do not physically baptize, instead taking this command to baptize as a spiritual one. OK, but what is the right way?

One way to unlock this issue is to look at how the Christians in the early church period baptized. Fortunately we have a church manual from within 100 years of Jesus: the Didache means "teaching" in Greek, and most scholars believe it was written in the late First Century or early Second Century (anywhere from 60-120). And in this book is the answer to our question, "How are Christians to baptize?", because the Didache tells how the Christians baptized in that time period.

So what is the right way? Here is the quote from the Didache (From 7:1-4): "But concerning baptism, baptize in this way: having first recited the Christian precepts, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water; but if you do not have running water, baptize in some other water [meaning still water], and if you cannot baptize in cold water, then do so in warm water; but if you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. But before the baptism, let him who baptizes and him who is baptized fast previously, and any others who may be able. And you shall command him who is baptized to fast one or two days before."

So there you have it. The right method of baptism?  In those days there was no one set way.  If you read the quote carefully, you will see that it mentions one method which no one today (as far as I know) practices: pouring three times. Plus it states that the baptizer and the one being baptized is to fast (go without eating); I know of no church which practices that.

So, why are there so many denominations? Well, in this one case, because the Bible is not crystal clear on how to baptize. (Matthew 3:16 does state that Jesus "went up out of the water," but if you are kneeling in water and someone pours water on you, then you will stand up and come up out of the water; it doesn’t state that Jesus was immersed.) So what we have is a bunch of people (namely the billions of Christians) who are reading and interpreting the Bible differently, but are doing the best that they can.

©2005 Mark Nickens

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