Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Baptism of Water and Fire

There is considerable debate amongst Christians about the need for baptism. Some feel that baptism by water is necessary for salvation. Others interpret the Bible to teach that only a verbal confession of Christ is needed for salvation. In the following post I seek to review some of the more pertinent scriptures which address this issue.

Matt. 3: 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

John the Baptist was of priestly lineage and in line to serve as the High Priest as his father had done. However, John recognized the corruption and apostate state of the Jews and was forced to teach in the wilderness outside the current Jewish convention. John preached a preparatory gospel foretelling the coming of the Messiah who would not just baptize with water but would baptize with fire or the Holy Ghost. John baptized believers in the wilderness as a sign and token of their covenant, commitment, and acceptance of the coming Christ.

John 1: 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

John the Beloved writes that he was taught by John the Baptist himself that he would recognize the coming Messiah by seeing the Spirit descend upon him and remain upon him. We are later told that when Jesus of Nazareth came to John the Baptist to be baptized by water; there was some kind of heavenly manifestation where the Holy Ghost was said to have descended upon Jesus Christ "like a dove."

Matt. 3: 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

Whatever the sign was, it was enough to convince John the Baptist and others that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and Christ he and his followers had long been waiting for.

Luke 7: 20, 28 When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? . . . For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
These verses sound as if John hadn't yet accepted Jesus as Messiah. However, it is more likely these men were sent from John to question Christ for their benefit and not his. In the second part, Jesus calls John great but less than the least in the kingdom of God. Was Christ condemning John the Baptist to Hell? No, Christ is telling these men that the baptism of John alone is not enough to enter into the kingdom of God. Christ will teach us again and again that both the baptism of water and fire is necessary to enter God's kingdom. But there is another important implication here. This passage suggests a distinction between heaven and God's kingdom. A follower of John the Baptist who had been baptized by water only could be promised salvation from hell, but that does not mean they would merit entrance into God's kingdom and exaltation.
John 3: 3, 5 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ taught Nicodemus that both baptism by water and the Spirit are necessary for entrance into the kingdom of God. Birth requires a body, blood, water, and spirit. Being born again also requires these 4 elements: the body of the individual making the covenant, the blood of Christ's sacrifice, the water of baptism by immersion, and then the reception of the Holy Spirit which is the baptism by fire. Without any one of these element, the birth or rebirth would be stillborn (1 Jn. 5: 5-8). So far, this suggests that water baptism is still a required element necessary to show ones acceptance of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Matt. 28: 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Before Christ's ascension into heaven, Jesus charges his disciples to baptize all nations. Although not specifically stated, there is no reason to believe that water baptism and spirit baptism are no longer a requirement.

Acts 2: 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

In fact, at the Day of Pentecost when the Gift of the Holy Ghost was fully manifest upon the Apostles, Peter invites those in attendance to enter into water baptism. Acts 2 goes on to say that "they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." There is no reason to believe that it was not water baptism that the 3000 received that day in addition to receiving the baptism of fire.

Acts 8: 36-38 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

Acts 8 clarifies the practice of water baptism further. The Bible clearly describes Philip going down into the water with the eunuch and water baptizing him by immersion after the eunuch confesses his belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

Acts 19: 1-6 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them;

Here Paul finds a group of believers in Ephesus and asks if they have received the baptism of fire. The group confesses they hadn't heard anything about the Holy Ghost after which Paul asks them who baptized them. The group tells Paul that they were baptized "Unto John's baptism." But Paul knew that John the Baptist hadn't really baptized these people, because had he actually done so, John would have told them to look forward to the Messiah and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost which they knew nothing about. So, Paul baptizes these people again with water in the name of Jesus Christ, and then bestows upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. This is one of several places in scripture that describes how the baptism of fire is conducted. Other scriptures include:
John 20: 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
Acts 8: 15, 17 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: . . . Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
Acts 10: 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
When one with authority bestows or confirs the Gift of the Holy Ghost on another, he does not just give the Holy Ghost. Rather, while laying his hands on the person, he invites the person to "receive the Holy Ghost." The reception of the Holy Ghost depends on the application of Christ's atonement, desire, repentance, humility, righteousness of that individual to conduct his life such that the Holy Ghost can dwell within him.
1 Cor. 3: 16-17 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
Rom. 6: 3-4 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Paul reiterates the symbolic importance of the baptism by water as a sign and token of our covenant with God and acceptance of Jesus Christ by saying that being immersed under the water symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as our own rebirth as a disciple of Christ.

Now, after all this scriptural evidence supporting the need for water baptism and fire baptism, where does the doctrine come from that confessing that Jesus is the Christ, or accepting Jesus as your personal Savior is enough alone?

Rom. 10: 9-10 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

That's it. Romans 10 is the only place. Paul does say that if a believer confesses that Jesus is the the Christ and that he was resurrected, that he "shalt be saved" from hell. But he doesn't say that the believer would necessarily enter into the kingdom of God or be exalted or dwell with God forever. Remember, there is ample evidence that the Bible makes a distinction between mere salvation from hell vs. exaltation and entering the kingdom of God. Yes, confessing Christ is enough for salvation from Hell. But not going to Hell isn't the goal; entering into the kingdom of God is. According to the LDS interpretation, these verses do not contradict each other. On the other hand, to accept the popular and prevailing Evangelical Christian doctrine that water baptism is not necessary, forces one to disregard a good chunk of the New Testament and many teachings of Jesus Christ himself. Of course, as my wife points out, a good reason to get water and fire baptized is because Jesus Christ himself did. And as disciples of Christ, shouldn't we follow in his footsteps?
In closing, I don't want to mislead anyone into thinking that water baptism and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands alone is enough. It is how a believer becomes a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and enters into the kingdom of God. But spiritually being born again and the baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost is not an overnight experience. It requires daily striving, prayer, fasting, devotion and enduring to the end. And of course, without the Atonement of Christ, both the water and fire baptism would be worthless and dead. Remember that the blood of Christ is a necessary element in the process of re-birth and without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, none of us would be able to "work out [our] own salvation" (Philip. 2: 12).


Alan and Shelley said...

I like your blog and appreciate your efforts in helping explain the doctrine.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your blog. I would like to point out one correction. You did interpret Luke 7:28 differently that the Prophet explained. A good reference is here:

It explains that "Jesus was looked upon as having the least claim in God’s kingdom, and [seemingly] was least entitled to their credulity as a prophet; as though He had said—‘He that is considered the least among you is greater than John—that is I myself.’ "

It appears that many considered Jesus to not be a Prophet and "least" of any among them - therefore he is in some ways using their own words...