In our studies about baptism, it’s important to take a moment and look at what baptism looks like. Growing up in the church, I learned about the necessity of baptism long before I knew how you actually go about getting baptized. I knew the why, but I didn’t know the how — which is pretty important. Could you imagine teaching your children about the importance of taking notes without helping them learn to write? Yet that’s the experience I’ve had with baptism in Christ’s church — knowing the importance without really knowing what it entails.
What Does Baptism Look Like?
In Christ’s church we practice baptism by complete immersion. Over the centuries, there have been lots of debates over whether baptism can be by pouring or sprinkling as well, but most faiths today practice immersion baptism. For the most part, you’ll see immersion baptism in about any congregation unless they are practicing infant baptism, and we’ll be touching on that in our next lesson.
To facilitate immersion baptism, most congregation have baptistries installed — miniature pools large enough for a couple of people to occupy — but they don’t have to. Baptisms can be indoors or outdoors. Baptisms can take place at lakes, ponds, rivers, and beaches. Baptisms can occur in swimming pools, front-loaders, or any other container large enough to submerge a person.
There are several examples of baptism in the new Testament, but few focus on where the baptisms took place. In Mark 1:9-11, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. Also, the eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 asks about being baptized when he sees a body of water along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Lydia is baptized at the riverside in Acts 16:11-15.
Why Do We Immerse?
So why do we believe in immersion baptism as opposed to anything else? It’s pretty simple really. The word Baptizo, from which we get the transliterated word baptism, means to dunk, to submerge, to immerse in water. When Peter says, in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized…” in English, he was really saying, “Repent and be submerged…” in his own language. The only reason there’s ever been any confusion over the nature of baptism is because the earliest English translations chose to transliterate the word rather than define it.
Moreover, in those couple of instances where we see a location recorded, we see the baptisms occurring where there is a lot of water. Jesus goes down into the Jordan River to be baptized. When the eunuch is baptized in Acts 18:36-38, he and Peter go down into the water. If these people weren’t planning on being immersed, there’d be no point in going down into the water.
I think, however, the best reason is found in a couple passages that talk about baptism. In Colossians 2:6, Paul begins a discussion about being separate from the world in Christ, and he talks about being buried and raised in baptism (verse 12). Paul also touches on this in Romans 6, when he’s talking about being dead to sin and alive to Christ. Starting in verse 3, Paul says we are baptized into Jesus’ death, that we are buried in baptism to raise again to newness of life.
Buried with Christ
Paul is painting a powerful picture that, when we are immersed in baptism, we reenact our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection. Christ was put to death, was bodily buried, and then rose from death to live again. When we’re baptized, we put our sinful selves to death, and then we’re buried under the waters so we can rise to new life in Jesus. Pouring some water upon my head buries me no more than pouring a bag of dirt atop a body buries it. If I’m going to be buried with Christ, then I humble myself to the point of complete immersion under the waters.
lesson by Robert Smelser