Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 9, 1961
NUMBER 14, PAGE 5,13b

The Elements Of Baptism

Donald P. Ames

In Matt. 3:11-12, contrasting his own limitations with the greatness of Christ, John the Baptist says: "I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff will he burn with unquenchable fire." Using this passage as a basis, many in the religious world today affirm that the baptism of the new covenant is therefore a baptism in the Holy Spirit, while others (Mormons, etc.) even go on and contend it is a baptism of both the Holy Spirit and fire.

In this short article, attention shall be given to the actual element of baptism, whether it be in water, Holy Spirit, fire, or a combination of some of these. Since Paul affirms that there is but "one baptism" (Eph. 4:4-6) we must be concerned not only that the baptism we are administering is right in action and purpose, but also right in element.

The Baptism Of The Holy Spirit

The baptism of the Holy Spirit was never designed as a universal act as part of the commands of salvation. In fact, It is not even a command, but rather a promise. This is noted both in the language of John the Baptist above and also in the record of Luke as Christ was about to depart into heaven: "And, being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: for John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence." (Acts 1:4-5)

This promise, Christ had earlier mentioned, is found again in John 14:26 and John 16:7-15. Here Christ points out that He must depart unto the Father, but He would send the Holy Spirit unto the apostles. The Holy Spirit was never promised even to mankind in general, but rather, as we see in both John 14, 16, and Acts 1, the promise was limited only to the apostles. The purpose of the Holy Spirit was to guide the apostles into all truth and to bring to their remembrance all Christ had taught them. (John 14:26; 16:13) Thus, even the purpose of the Holy Spirit is not in accord with the commands of salvation. This promise was fulfilled in Acts 2:1-4 on the day of Pentecost, as the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The only other occurrence of such an event is recorded in Acts 10, in the case of Cornelius. Even here, we note that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was not given to save Cornelius, but rather to convict and rebuke Peter and those with him for hesitating to admit the Gentiles Into the fold of God (study closely Acts 10:45 and 11.1518) This being the case, we can but conclude that the purpose and promise of the Holy Spirit baptism is certainly not in accord with the conditions of salvation.

Yet, there is still another point to give consideration to. In Matt. 28:18, in giving the great commission, Christ told the disciples: "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them.... teaching them to observe all things...." The command to the apostles was (1) go, (2) make disciples, or instruct, (3) baptize, (4) teach some more. In this we note that it was the apostles who were to do the baptizing. Since the baptism of the Holy Spirit can be administered only by the Lord Himself, we therefore know beyond any doubt that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not the baptism of the new covenant.

The Baptism Of Fire

Some have the mistaken idea that since the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of fire are mentioned In the same verse (Matt. 3:11), they are therefore one and the same. They then go on to conclude that as there is mention of " as of fire" appearing unto the apostles when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), that these two elements (fire and Holy Spirit) were both given in one baptism. However, there are several false assumptions involved in such reasoning. First of all, there was no fire that appeared on the day of Pentecost. The tongues divided asunder "like as of fire." There is no mention of any literal fire in Acts 2. Not only is that true, but there is no mention anywhere by Christ in promising his disciples the Holy Spirit that there would be any fire connected with it.

A second objection to the above assumption is involved in the very passage under consideration. (Matt. 3:11-12) To be baptized in fire would involve a complete overwhelming or engulfing or burial in fire, which the very word baptism means. However, there is no mention of any such event taking place on the day of Pentecost, or any other time during the life of the apostles for that matter. So, with this information before us, we know that Pentecost did not give a fulfillment of John's statement in Matt. 3:11-12. Nor can this be the baptism mentioned as that binding upon us today by Paul (Eph. 4:4-6) for the simple reason this too would have to be administered by the Lord, but Christ had given the instructions to the disciples. (Matt. 28:19-20)

But, then, the question is raised, what does the baptism of fire have reference to? First of all, a careful reading of Matt. 3:11-12 will reveal a division among those present into the good and the bad. The bad were to be "burned with unquenchable fire." This clarification, plus the fact a baptism in fire would be a burial, overwhelming, engulfing in fire, clearly points to but one time for such an event to occur — the judgment day. (c.f. 2 Peter 3; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Rev. 20:11-15, etc.) Thus, like the baptism of the Holy Spirit, its very nature eliminates it from consideration for us today.

The Baptism In Water

This then brings us to the final consideration for the element of baptism — baptism in water. Can this be the baptism of the great commission, or must we continue to seek for still another? Note some of the following passages in answer to this question: it was to be, and can be, administered by the disciples (Matt. 8:36-40); Peter asked if any could forbid water that the Gentiles should not also be baptized (Acts 10:47); Ananias told Paul to arise and wash away his sins (Acts 22:18); and Peter compares the salvation of Noah by water to the salvation we have today through baptism — obviously by the very context to have reference to water also, as he even points out not by washing away the filth of the flesh. (1 Peter 3:20-21)

Since Paul affirms that there is but one baptism today, and since the New Testament examples and teaching all clearly point out a baptism that is in water, eliminating baptism of the Holy Spirit or baptism of fire for the great commission, to abider within the written word of God (2 John 9, 1 Cor. 4:6), we must also accept the above as the only acceptable element today. One waiting for a special baptism of the Holy Spirit is out of luck — the Holy Spirit has accomplished its purpose, as we have the New Testament to verify. One waiting for a baptism of fire will not enjoy it when he learns what it actually is. One desiring to obey the Lord will follow the examples of the New Testament, be buried with his Lord in the watery grave of baptism for the remission of sins, and be raised to walk in a newness of life. (Rom. 8:1-7)

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