Denise and I are unique when it comes to baptism; we are baptized three times. Our first baptisms were in our home churches, Denise in a Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn, and me in a Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Our second baptisms were in a Mennonite church where the pastor sprinkled us over the head, according to the tradition of the Mennonite church, but ironically contrary to their Anabaptist roots. (More on that, later)

Our third baptism was in a Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church offshoot, a Bible Fellowship Church in West Philadelphia. I studied at Reformed Episcopal Seminary, located in West Philadelphia, so the fundamental church was a good fit with what I learned in seminary. Most of the Protestant churches in that area were mainline and liberal.

That church insisted that the best, Bible-based baptism was full immersion. It was also a reflection of their Anabaptist heritage. Literally, the term means “Baptized again” and we have the group we call the Pilgrims to thank for bringing it here, and teaching it to the English people They became the Baptist Churches after they escaped persecution in Holland.

Why did they go to Holland? Originally, this group called “Puritans” because they wanted to break away from the control of the English state church, which regulated all churches in England since the Second Century. The English Reformation, which is a result of the aftermath of King Henry VIII messy annulment.

Their theology is Reformed (Calvinistic).

In Holland in the early 1600’s, church leaders (Lutherans, and Catholics alike) taught that adult baptism was a heresy, punishable by death. In a particularly nasty parody of baptism, the guilty died through death by drowning. The execution method tied the guilty persons to something, preventing escape and tossed into a lake or river.

The Pilgrims were also concerned that they might lose their cultural identity [and their lives] if they remained in the Netherlands, so they arranged with investors to establish a new colony in America. The colony was established in 1620 and became the second successful English settlement in America[1]

This short history lesson helps us to say that if your current church started close to the Reformation, most likely, had infant baptism. If your church began after the Reformation, you were either sprinkled or fully immersed.

Here are some facts from Scripture upon which all or most Christians can agree:

  1. The word “baptism” is the Anglicized form of the Greek baptisma, or baptismos.
  2. The Greek words from which our English “baptism” has been formed are used by Greek writers, in classical antiquity, in the Septuagint and in the New Testament, with a great latitude of meaning.
  3. Scripture occasionally alludes to Christian baptism without employing the regular term. Thus in Tit 3:5, and Ephesians 5:26 we have the term, “washing,” instead lent terms of baptisma. From this term the Latin church derived its lavacru m (English “layer”) as a designation of baptism. In Hebrews 10:22 we have the verbs, “sprinkle” and “wash”; in Ephesians 5:26 the verb, [catharsis] “cleanse”; in Corinthians 6:11 the verb apolouo, “wash” are evidently synonyms of baptizo, and the act has been so denominated from its prime effect.
  4. Scripture admits to other figurative baptisms not involving water: Holy Spirit, Acts 2 among others [2]
  5. Baptism is an ordinance, meaning it is a command by Jesus for all Christians (anachronistically speaking)
  6. Thus, it is an act of obedience having nothing to do with salvation; the saved, who are able to make decisions ask to be baptized.
  7. Baptism is only for the person baptized; it is not substitutionary.

Which method is correct? Your church determines that, and that is how three different churches baptized Denise and I three different times.  As a side note, there is one unnamed Protestant church insisting that all other baptisms are invalid unless done by their pastors and in their churches.

In a broad sense, the history of the Reformation is critical to understanding baptism, and that is why the history of the Pilgrims is so important to the study of baptism, as I mentioned earlier. It is not an American issue, but an issue of how theologically close the denomination was to Rome before it broke off.

It makes sense that the Lutherans, Presbyterians (Calvinistic) and Episcopalians practice infant baptism because they are direct descendants of Rome. For them, the act of infant baptism is a New Testament adaption of the Jewish Bris, or rite of circumcision where the boy entered the Abrahamic covenant eight days after his birth, and then given a name (See Luke 1:59-66)

Another reason for the differences relating to the practices of baptism is found in the “higher churches”. That includes those above, plus the Orthodox and Roman churches. They tend to view their churches as the “dispensers of salvation” to those who attend their churches; in those churches, its rites grant salvation to the faithful, and that is independent of unmerited grace.

In those churches, God speaks through the words of the Bible, and Bible is God’s instrument of revelation, of which they are the sole custodian

Evangelicals believe differently: God speaks in the words of the Bible, and those words are both inerrant and infallible,

In a previous blog, I mentioned that Denise and I were spiritual nomads, so we searched for the truth. None of you needs three baptisms, but all of you need to make an effort to discover where to find truth.

Is truth found in those historic, higher, ritual-bound churches, or is it found in in God’s word alone? Only one choice is correct due to truth being non-contradictory, and that is why I place trust in the Bible to be accurate, and to tell me how to get to heaven.

[1] “England, Church of.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Deluxe Edition.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.

[2] W. H. T. Dau    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) 1901 edited for simplicity