What is the right way of baptism?

In Christianity, most denominational groupings consider baptism an important ritual to manifest a person’s commitment to the new way of life. But to whom would the person be manifesting that reality? John is attributed for water baptism, as recorded in the Bible.

But John specifically stated that Jesus would not use a similar method to baptize the converts (Matthew 3:11). This viewpoint should also address the question of whether Jesus specifically instructed His disciples to use water baptism.

There is no record of Jesus ever baptizing anyone of His disciples. Some of those disciples may have been baptized by John, before Jesus. However, there is no record showing that Jesus considered their baptismal record, before calling them into His ministry.

For instance, Matthew was a tax collector, who may have not been a convert to John’s preaching. Similarly, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were businessmen, engaged in fishing, without time to attend to John’s baptismal ministry.

Baptism was adopted as a tradition, commonly practised, as having been initiated by John. It can, therefore, not be surprising that the disciples viewed water baptism as necessary for the converts. But the only well-pronounced water baptism was by Philip when baptising the Eunuch. Although the consideration of baptism was initiated by the Eunuch, Himself, and not by Philip.

As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea (Acts 8:36-40 NIV).

The Eunuch may have been familiar with the baptism of John. He knew that a person having accepted conversion needed to follow the tradition of baptism. Philip complied, possibly as a matter of tradition, and not necessarily as a matter of principle. Paul also showed that the tradition was commonly practised without showing how it was conducted.

“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 13-17 NIV).

Jesus instructed the apostles to teach others, everything He had commanded. We have a clue of what Jesus commanded them, as recorded in the four Gospel Books, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. But the baptismal method remains not clarified.

Jesus had started by declaring that all authority had been given to Him. This meant that the converts had to look to His teachings only, without deviation. But the meaning of baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, is not clarified.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV).

Others practice the immersion into the water, as was practised by John the Baptist. But what did Jesus mean by baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit? John’s baptism was not in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

For anyone to receive Salvation; repentance and baptism are the prerequisites, in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. The significance lies in understanding that the Father is the source of life. The Son provides necessary information for Salvation.

The Holy Spirit leads and protects a convert out of sin. Both the Father and Son are embraced in the Holy Spirit. They are inseparable, just as the Holy Spirit cannot be quantified. A truly baptized person is included in the seemingly triune relationship. But the same person is not confused, about God’s nature.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:18-21 NIV).

It is necessary to dissect the significance of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. But let us focus on the Holy Spirit, whose component is most misunderstood. The Holy Spirit is God in every sense of God’s nature. Father and Son are parabolic, as only applicable in our earthly language.

It is impossible to differentiate Father and Son, both dwelling in a baptized person. That baptism infuses the person into oneness with Father and Son. Suffice to say that person becomes one and not different from the Father and Son.

The aspect of the Holy Spirit remains bothersome to Bible students. Language has its limitations. It is very easy for anyone to be misinterpreted, or misunderstood due to language limitations. Vicious wars have been fought and marriages wrecked, due to language limitations, or misunderstood words.

Human language does not cater for the Father and Son; dwelling in different people simultaneously. The deity’s presence cannot be separated from the individuals concerned. John intimated that one cannot love God, whom one has not seen, when not loving a brother (1 John 4:20).

Exodus 20:4 states that God cannot be likened to physical things. The other name of Jesus, as prophesied by Isaiah, is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”. But, if Jesus was God, does that mean the Jews managed to crucify God on the cross?

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32 NIV).

Blasphemy against the Spirit is similar to the Third Commandment. Cursing Jesus did not attract blasphemy, as long as one would be unaware of that foolishness. At the time of issuing the Ten Commandments, the deity was not referred to as separate units.

 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:4-7 NIV).

The name of Jesus is not sacrosanct, hence Jesus said; “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32 NIV). When stating those words to the irritated Jews, Jesus was guided by the Third Commandment (Exodus 20:7 NIV).

Those Jews could not have crucified the Holy Spirit. But they crucified Jesus, who referred to Himself as the Son of Man. To nonbelievers, Jesus always referred Himself as the “Son of Man.” The moment one touches the Son of God, unseen by physical eyes, one would be fiddling with the Holy Spirit.

The Father and Son are spiritual, and cannot be seen by ordinary humans. Similarly, after receiving the Holy Spirit one becomes God’s child but is not identified by ordinary humans. “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20 NIV).

Let us take time to describe the one having received the Holy Spirit. That person realizes that Jesus is in His Father, and he (the convert) is in Jesus. That systematically throws away the idea of the Trinity. The composition is that of one God, but inclusive of the convert, not known by those of this world.

The demonstrated vicious anger by the Jews, against Jesus, was against God, but those Jews were on the safe side, regardless of their ignorance. Even today, there are people who, in their ignorant zeal, assuming to know better, behave similarly, but unknowingly.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason’” (John 15:18-25 NIV).

Just in passing, it may be necessary to mention some unsolicited truism. If feeling irritated by someone you assume to be wrong, you may probably be in the same category as the Jews. There is no substitute for humility, for God’s people. One can be angry on behalf of God, but there is an aspect of being absolutely certain of being correct than incorrect.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14 NIV).

It is very easy to be zealous for God and be stupid at the same time. The entire chapter of Romans 14 can be very helpful in keeping a believer in check. There is no need to assume that being baptized in a particular way makes a person better than those baptized differently.

The answer to the question: “What is the right way of baptism,” ought to be left to the individuals concerned. God convicts different people to understand in ways not necessarily understandable by other people, except God.

The most important datum is that a convert is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. None else is involved. The chemistry of how God convicts one; remains to be God’s prerogative.

However, this does not mean one cannot communicate with others, according to his/her own understanding. A humble person is the one willing to search all things and hold fast to what is considered true (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Willingness to change, when proven wrong on some point of doctrine, is the only necessary factor that makes one God’s child.

Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope.

The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99

Also available as an e-copy at Lulu.com  for $6.99