Is Immersion Necessary?

A denominational friend of mine recently authored a devotional piece on the action of baptism. In one excerpt he observed:
“… Immersion is commanded and while it should be a pool of flowing water sometimes it is not possible. If that is not available it can be a still pool, or if not available a small waterfall, or if not available a cup of water, or if not available two people’s sweat or spit, as often (such as in prison) is used in baptism since there is no other source. Full immersion should be done but if it cannot be for a reason, or if it is not available at the time of accepting the Lord, then a sprinkle of water will suffice …”
At the conclusion of his treatise, he asked me to evaluate his thoughts in light of the Bible (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15,16). In keeping with his sincere request, I offer the following affirmations:
1. Baptism in the first-century was always performed by means of immersion. Consider the testimony of religious scholarship on this subject (cf. Acts 8:38,39; Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10): “Baptism by immersion was undoubtedly the apostolic practice” (Bower — Church of England). “The word ‘baptism’ signifies to immerse. It is certain that immersion was the practice of the primitive church” (Calvin — Presbyterian). “Baptism was … administered by immersion, the convert being plunged beneath the surface of the water to represent his death to the life of sin, and then raised from this momentary burial to represent his resurrection to the life of righteousness” (Conybeare and Howson — Church of England). “Baptizo in the N.T. always means to baptize by sub-mersion” (Holsten — German Lutheran). “Baptism … consists in washing, or rather, immersing the whole body into water, was customary in the primitive times” (Limborch — Dutch Arminian). “There can be no doubt that the term, in its primary acceptation, denoted dipping, merging, mersing, whelming; this should never be disputed” (Morison — Presbyterian). “Baptism was originally administered by immersion” (Proctor — Church of England). “The regular mode of baptism was by immersion” (Smith — Congregationalist). “… We read nowhere in scripture of anyone being baptized but by immersion” (Stackhouse — Church of England). “Immersion was … for certain the way by which the ancient [people], received their baptism” (Wall — Episcopalian). “Buried with Him in baptism alluding to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion” (John Wesley — Methodist).
2. The New Testament teaches that baptism is a BURIAL. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). “Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). Baptism not only requires water, it requires “much water” (John 3:23) — enough for a burial. As one student notes: “Jesus died. Sinners die [to self]. Jesus was buried. Sinners are buried. When the old person of sin dies, he must be put out of sight. Instead of a burial in the earth, he is covered with water. Sprinkling and pouring (as practiced by some religious groups) does not fit the design of baptism. These are not burials. Christ was not sprinkled with dirt. He was encased in a tomb. Jesus was raised from the dead. Christians are raised. This occurs when they come forth out of the waters of baptism (2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:10-16), and begin a new life” (Allen Webster, “Baptism in 3-D.” The Words Of Truth. July 2, 1993, p. 4).
3. Questions: In what way does sprinkling a few drops of water from a cup picture the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (cf. Romans 6:1-4)? How can one be resurrected from a sprinkling? Since Jesus, in fact, commanded (Matthew 28:19; cf. Acts 10:48) baptism, and baptism [Greek — baptizo] means “to plunge, to immerse, or to dip,” by what authority (Colossians 3:17) can we employ any other mode such as pouring or sprinkling (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13)? I have not been able to find in the Bible where flowing water, as opposed to a still pool, is required. Why wouldn’t immersion in the waters of a church baptistery be just as valid as the waters of a local creek since in both cases immersion takes place (Romans 6:17)? Can you find a single example in Scripture of where the Lord permits us to employ a substitute for that which he has explicitly commanded? There are three distinct words employed in the Greek for sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. The word for “sprinkle” is rantizo. The word for “pour” is keo. The word for “immerse” is baptizo. Which word did the Holy Spirit choose when he wanted us to know how to put on Christ (Galatians 3:27)? Since there is no question as to form used in the early days of the church — under the authority of the apostles who were guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit — (Luke 10:16; John 16:13), then how can we alter the form of baptism today?

Share your thoughts: