Is baptism really necessary? Can't one just be sprinkled?
"I am trying to convince a friend that he must be baptized, not sprinkled to be saved. He says it is the same thing. I have told him to read Acts 2:38 but he isn’t convinced that that isn’t just a symbol but not a prerequisite to being saved. Sprinkling or pouring is baptism to him. Also in Acts regarding the Ethiopian eunuch it says they went into the water and came up out of the water but he says that’s only because the water was there that they used 'much water.' Any other scriptures that you can name for me that may be more convincing? I know there are many others but I can’t read and find them all today!"
All scholars of the New Testament, be they lexicographers, historians, or theologians, admit that New Testament baptism was by immersion. Having made that admission some will argue that it makes no difference, that the church can change the mode but not the meaning, or that climate or other matters justify it. The earliest use of sprinkling (affusion) was in the third century and was referred to as “clinical baptism.” It was used only in dire cases, i.e., when the convert was so ill that the administrator concluded that immersion would probably kill the convert. Even then, the convert was neither sprinkled with a little water nor was a small amount of water poured upon him. The convert was literally soaked with buckets of water, thus coming as close to immersion as possible. The first recorded instance seems to be the affusion of one Novatian around 251 A.D. See, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, (Baker Book House, third printing, 1956) vol. viii, p. 199.
A good illustration of modern attitudes is found in The Standard Manual For Baptist Churches by Edward T. Hiscox, p. 22: “It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was by ‘one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,’ and no differing denomination existed, that baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, ‘baptism was the door into the church.’ Now is it different. . . .” A good question is, “By what right and by whose authority is it different?” It cannot be by the authority of Scripture because Scripture reads the same now as it did in the First Century. It must, therefore, be by the authority of man. What man or group of men have the authority to change Scripture? None! For an excellent review of what Scripture teaches relative to the mode and purpose of baptism, listen to N.B. Hardeman’s sermon on “Baptism” available here. No one can read the Scripture with an open mind and reach any conclusion other than that baptism is by immersion for the remission of sins. Unfortunately, many then proceed as a radio preacher once did who declared after having read Acts 2:38: “If you just read that you would think that baptism is essential to the forgiveness of sins, but now let me tell you what it really means.” Put another way, man needs some expert help to misunderstand the Scripture.
It is true that Webster’s Dictionary defines baptism as being sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Those who appeal to Webster should remember that Webster gives modern usage, not New Testament usage. More importantly, to paraphrase Paul, “ Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” 1Cor. 1:13. If Webster be Lord, follow him. If Christ be Lord, follow Him.
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)