Is the mode of baptism inconsequential?

Question: In your doctrinal statement in the section titled “Justification by faith and the imparting of the divine nature to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord,” in #4 it says “The mode of baptism (sprinkling or immersion) is inconsequential.” Why do you believe that the mode is inconsequential?

I have done some research and found that the Greek word “baptidzo” means “to immerse in water.” I believe that baptism is an act of obedience that identifies me publicly with Christ. I think it should follow the example Jesus set in the Bible in Mark 1:9-10, “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” Verse 10 says “as Jesus was coming up out of the water,” which obviously means He was immersed under the water.

The method of baptizing is also important because of what it means. Romans 6:3-4 talks about being buried with your old habits and sins and then raised to walk in a new life just as Christ was resurrected. Baptism by immersion is a symbol of dying to self and being raised to live in Christ.

It seems to me, based on the Bible, that we should follow Christ’s example of baptism by immersion. I am just curious as to why you believe the mode of baptism is inconsequential.
Answer: I am in general agreement that immersion best represents the meaning of baptism for Christians. However, because I also believe that baptism is not essential for salvation (the thief on the cross did not need it, for example, and there are other exceptional situations when someone might not be able to be baptized, at least not by immersion, such as when a person is exceptionally ill or in a place where they would not be allowed to be baptized), it also seems unnecessarily combative and potentially disruptive to the unity of the body of Christ to insist that everyone believe in only one mode of baptism. Sprinkling has a long history of acceptance in the church and those who will argue its merit biblically (check out this article).

The most important thing is that we be baptized, if possible, and thus demonstrate our faith (the thing that actually saves us) in Jesus Christ. Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 that he was glad he baptized only a few of them, because Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel. Paul was not diminishing the value of baptism, but was showing the relative unworthiness of wrangles over how it was done (or who did it, in this case) as opposed to a focus on the gospel. He was able to separate baptism and the gospel. As Christians there are many things we may disagree on, but the essentials must be agreed upon. The gospel is the essential; baptism and its mode is not.

Randall Johnson


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