A Letter to an “Immersionist” Minster About: Baptism

Dear Frank:

You say Calvin admitted the mode of immersion, and then ask, do I know more than Calvin?  Now, brother, merely because I may, and on certain points do, differ from Calvin, the necessary conclusion is not that I assume to know more than he; not any more than supposing I should agree with him on everything, that the necessary conclusion would be that I  assume to know as  much as he!  But although I do not regard immersion as the Scriptural mode, I would go so far as to say that immersion may be a valid mode.  That is, it could be valid, inasmuch as in the process of the immersing, sprinkling and pouring would be accomplished.  For immersion is not the only mode, nor, in my estimation is immersion the mode indicated by the baptism of Christ on the cross, or the baptism of church with the Holy Spirit.  Yet however, that may be, your reference to Calvin is not quite accurate.  The same inaccuracy is to be noted in a tract published by Berachah Church, of our old home town, Philadelphia, which is entitled, “Baptism:  Its Mode of Importance”  There Calvin is (misquoted), “The very word baptize, however, signifies “to immerse,” and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the ancient church.”  (Institutes, 4, 15, 19).  I furnish this reference, as the tract in question does not give the reference to locate the passage.  But it is only fair to let it be known what Calvin had to say immediately before this quotation:  “whether the person who is baptized be wholly immersed and whether thrice or once, or whether water be only poured or sprinkled be wholly immersed, and whether thrice or once, or whether water be only poured or sprinkled upon him, is of no importance; churches ought to be left at liberty, in this respect, to act according to the difference of countries.  The Berachah Church tract does not include the above quote.  Why is it Baptists omit this part of the quotation?

Now as to the matter of supporting some of our (Reformed) contentions by inference:  an inference, you will agree, is not a mere implication, but is a logical and justifiable conclusion which we reach in our thinking based on Scripture.  It is the conclusion of Scripture itself.  Now I realize that you as a Baptist do not like me to gather infant baptism by inference.  Yet, as I pointed out to you, you infer (conclude) that the Lord’s Supper was administered to women.  And that is all that you can do on that point.  I Corinthians 11 furnish only the inference to this idea.  There I read such expressions as “he” “man” and “brethren.”  You must infer that women were included.  In the first part of the chapter Paul had much to say about woman in another connection.  However, you do make this desirable inference; and I am glad that you do.  But why not grant me the same right to infer my inferences?

I find it more than a little difficult to believe, with you, that the households that were baptized had no children or infants; or having them, that they were not baptized.  It is more probable to infer that they had them and baptized them, then to assume they had none, and did not.  But let that go.  Take those Jews at Pentecost.  They were there with their little ones.  The little ones had had the symbol (sign) of the Old Covenant, circumcision, applied to them.  But on the occasion the parents heard the preaching of the New Covenant.  They see that by election and redemption God’s people are in that covenant.  But they do not suffer any amazement over the fact that there is no N.T. sign of the covenant to be applied to them and their children.  For there was such a sign (baptism!).  They knew that in the old covenant the children were always included.  They did not expect, now were they led to expect, anything different under the new covenant.  They needed no (new) warrant to include their children by visible sign in the covenant.  There was nothing to the effect the gracious privilege of wearing the covenant sign had been revoked.  The covenant sign, therefore, continues, although circumcision in the flesh no longer does. So, a new and formal command to include the children in the new covenant with its sign would have been altogether superfluous.  This was of long standing well understood, so that it would have been completely out of place to contend that a change was to be expected at this point.  Rather, the new covenant so far from withdrawing or limiting covenant privileges, only multiples and extends them.  For this reason Peter says, “For the promise is to you and to your children.”  As a Calvinist you will agree that the promise is made only to elect children – “Even to as many as the Lord our God shall call!”  This shows that the promise, faith, and baptism are all based on election.

To return to the matter of the baptism of households, it is, of course, true that there are only about five instances of it in the New Testament.  Nevertheless, this is a good percentage, for there are only about 12 separate instances of baptism on record in all the New Testament and 5 is a pretty good percentage of 12.  And mark, in all of these 12 instances of baptism, you never once read anything of leaving the children UNBAPTIZED until such time as they make a confession of faith for themselves.  With this in mind, I would have you answer the following questions.  (1) Can you show that children were left unbaptized?  (2) Can you produce one single example of where Baptists make it their practice to baptized whole households or families?  That is a New Testament practice; but why do not Baptists practice it?  (3) Can you show anywhere in Scripture one single example of an adult person, baptized as an adult, who comes of Christian parents?

Now, I still contend that the instances of baptism in the New Testament do not provide us with any material from which we could deduce any mode of baptism.  Neither you nor I can prove mode from any or all of these cases.  You have now agreed to this in your list.  So you should not have asked me to prove sprinkling from any of these cases.  For I refer to none of the New Testament instances for mode.  We should be completely agreed that cannot be done!  This raises more questions:  Then where will you go for proof of immersion?  Where is the Scripture support for mode?  You apparently get the idea of your mode from the preposition into (eis), and every instance of its appearance in Scripture take it to mean only into.  I find from my concordance, however, that certain” repented at (eis) the preaching” (Matthew 12:41); that Jesus told one, “Go home to thy friends;” that certain “bowed down their faces to (toward) the earth” (Luke 24:5) and “she goeth unto (eis) the grave (John 11:31).  These three occurrences of eis (an indefinite preposition) are a preposition of relation.  John 11:31 shows its oldest and commonest usage.  There it is a preposition of place.  So with 11:32, “fell down at His feet”; Jesus cometh to the grave” (11.38), but no one believes He went into it.  In John 20:1, …cometh Mary . . . unto the sepulcher,” it is here taught that the action of coming unto it was accomplished before any going into it. (cf. Mark 16:2)  Also in this same text is the little word ek (out of):  “seeth the stone taken away from (ek) the” tomb.  From, not out of.  The body of Jesus was in the tomb; the stone was not.

But eis is also a preposition of end or purpose:  “created in Christ Jesus unto (or for) good works” (Eph, 2:10); “to will and to do for (eis) His good pleasure:  (Phil. 2:13).  Therefore, I do not; as you do appeal to eis an ek in order to prove what I believe to be the mode of baptism.  But why do you say that it would be foolish to go down into the water and get wet if only a handful of water at water’s edge would do as good?  For in the light of the manifold usage of eis and ek (as shown above), what does the Bible mean by “going down into the water”?  Eis, as shown, doesn’t always mean into.  The foolish thing lies in your reference to Acts 8:38f to prove immersion.  For the foolish thing is that if the going down into the water means total immersion, then Philip immersed himself as well as the eunuch, for “they went down both in (eis) the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”  Rather foolish for both preacher and subject to be simultaneously or together immersed!  The passage (8:31) does say that the eunuch desired that Philip “would come up and sit with him” in the chariot.  Then in the chariot they came upon (epi) certain water (v.36).  Here the chariot stood still (v. 38).  Now the next thing they did was not to step out of the chariot, and walk over to the water, then wade out into it waist deep.  But rather the text says after the chariot stood still they “went down both into the water.” That is stepping down out of the chariot they stepped into the water.  They did not let themselves down into it, nor wade into it, much less, plunge into it.  They stepped into it!  Then when they “were come up out of the water,” the eunuch was back his chariot was upon or at (epi) the water.  But claim that this instance of baptism teaches mode (immersion-mode) and you teach that the convert and preacher were both together immersed!

When the Church was baptized with the Holy Spirit, it was not by immersion, not by the Lord putting them into something, but by the Lord putting them into something, but by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon them.  “The Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10”44).  How was this “falling on” of the Holy Spirit in baptism accomplished?  Thus:  “on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit” (10:45).  Peter confirms this:  “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning.  The remembered I . . . “ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (11:15, 16).  This is the true baptism, the baptism with the Holy Spirit, of which water baptism is the sign.  Peter also referred to this when he quoted Scripture, “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.” (Acts 2:17ff.)  Peter must have baptized according to “what the Spirit saith unto the churches!”