Water Baptism

Baptism – what is it? My dictionary is “The Random House Dictionary of the English Language.” It defines baptism as follows: A ceremonial immersion in water, or application of water, as an initiatory rite or sacrament of the Christian church.”

This is hardly a Biblical definition, but I was born into and raised in a home where we had virtually no exposure to the Bible, and the word baptism never came up.

It wasn’t until I was in college in Glendale, California, far away from home, that I became aware of baptism. A fellow student asked me to go to church with him one Sunday, and out of courtesy I went. It turned out to be the First Baptist Church of Glendale. I was unimpressed, not curious about what a Baptist church was or anything else that went on. I forgot all about that or any church.

After graduation I began working as an aeronautical engineer at a small, local aircraft firm. One of my engineering buddies conned me into going on a blind date. I and my date would go with him and his girl-friend on a double date. His girl-friend’s parents would not allow him to go out alone with their daughter. I was nervous about it, but decided to take a chance.

The Friday evening of the date my buddy and I pulled up at a nice house at 701 Burchett Street in Glendale. With considerable trepidation I approached the door and rang the bell. The door opened to reveal a lovely young lady, Alva Joan Sawyer. I instantly felt that this was going to be a good evening.

After we introduced ourselves, she led me in for an inspection by her parents. We exchanged a few words, I got the okay, and we were off to get my buddy’s date, who was Alva’s best friend.

We hit it off right away and started dating to the extent her parents allowed. That was mainly at church services and church related events. The Sawyers were prominent members of, guess what? The First Baptist Church of Glendale, the place I had attended one time, but instantly forgot. I was still indifferent towards the church, but it was the key to my being with Alva.

Alva and I were getting along very well. Her Mom took a liking to me because I was quiet, polite and attentive to her. Her Dad liked me because I had completed my college and had a good job and because I listened to his stories. But there was a problem. They could see that we were getting pretty serious about each other, but Alva was a serious Christian, and I was not.

They asked Alva why I hadn’t joined the church (gotten saved) and when was I going to? They felt the need to stop our dating if this issue wasn’t resolved soon. I didn’t know this as Alva hadn’t told me about it.

She, of course, was hoping for the same thing, wanting me to become a Christian, so she felt under pressure from them and from her own heart.

One Sunday morning we were sitting together about half-way down the center aisle, with me on the aisle seat and Alva to my left. The Pastor had finished preaching and was giving the invitation, urging anyone who wanted to become a Christian to come to the front where the deacons would assist in the process. I was sitting there, minding my own business, anticipating getting out and spending the afternoon with Alva when she leaned over and hissed into my ear, “Aren’t you ever going to go forward?” Then she gave me a vicious elbow that propelled me out into the middle of the aisle (only slightly exaggerated). What could I do? I dutifully walked down the aisle and “joined the church.” I professed to receive Christ, and was baptized at the next baptismal service.

Okay, I get it. This is a Baptist Church because they baptize people as a rite of initiation. I really knew nothing about the Bible and church matters. This was my first awareness of the word baptism, and the whole process didn’t make much impression on me personally. I really didn’t understand what it was all about. I didn’t get an appetite for Bible study or prayer.

But it made a great difference in Alva and her parents. All systems were go. I courted Alva seriously, we married, lived through World War II and became parents of Susan and David.

In 1947 an engineering buddy of mine and I went into the lumber business together, trying to cash in on the shortage of lumber after the war. We located in Twain Harte, bought and sold lumber, and hauled lumber from a local sawmill to drying yards or to a planning mill.We were there till the summer of 1949. While we were there notable things began to happen:

  • Alva met Pastor Will J. Callahan on the way to the market. He was the Pastor of the Standard Community Church;
  • He invited her and the family to attend Wednesday evening Bible studies that he was conducting at the Twain Harte Clubhouse;
  • We began to attend those meetings and also the Sunday services at the Standard Community Church. We were thrilled by the teaching, preaching and fellowship;
  • I came under conviction about my status as a ho-hum nominal Christian, and truly gave my life to Jesus. I became a know-so Christian who loved to pray, worship, read and study the Bible;
  • I joined Pastor Callahan and several other Christian men to take the Gospel to the county hospital and jail every Monday evening;
  • I thought I had died and gone to heaven! Alva really appreciated the change in me, as you can imagine;
  • I had the joy of leading my business partner to Jesus, the greatest spiritual high I have had to date!

Our business failed, and my partner and I went back to engineering: George as a Sales Engineer with Lockheed in Sunnyvale, I as a Design Engineer at North American Aviation in Inglewood, CA. After we left Twain Harte, the Wednesday evening Bible study became the Twain Harte Community Church aka The Chapel in the Pines, with Rev. Will J. Callahan as Pastor. During the next six years:

  • I worked as an engineer;
  • I studied the Bible every spare minute;
  • Alva and I headed the Junior High Sunday School department at Tenth Avenue Baptist Church for three years;
  • We headed the Senior High Sunday School department and Youth Group at Del Aire Baptist Church for three years;
  • We were thus well grounded in the Baptist position and practice regarding water baptism. More about this later;
  • We had two more children, Steve and Janet;
  • We went up to Twain Harte every vacation and whenever else we could.

In late 1955 Pastor Callahan retired, and in due time the congregation of the Chapel in the Pines called me and Alva to succeed Pastor Callahan. We began that ministry on the first Sunday in October, 1955.

Because Pastor Callahan’s background was in the Quaker (aka Friends) denomination, the Chapel mirrored that group. The Chapel government consisted of the Pastor and a five man Board of Trustees (required by state law for corporations). The Chapel did not baptize converts or observe Communion, as the Quaker position is that these “Ordinances” are spiritual, not literal.

I slowly began to teach the New Testament principles for church government and practices, and as the congregation studied the Bible about these matters they voted to implement needed changes. To the church government were added Elders and Deacons. Baptism and Communion became Chapel practices. New converts were baptized, older Christians who had not been baptized in water obeyed the scriptures and were baptized. God sent blessing and joy to them.

Baptism was for believers (not infants or young children) and was by immersion. The theology and scriptural proof will be given later. Since we didn’t have a baptistry, we used other churches’ baptistries, swimming pools or local rivers, which wasn’t too satisfactory. So one of my first building projects as Pastor of the Chapel was to install a baptistry. Quite a job, since it had to hold enough water to immerse a large grown man, have enough room for two grown people, and have a system to heat the water. The baptistry opened up to the platform with a large window, so the congregation could see and hear what went on.

I baptized many people through the years in this facility. Baptisms, whether of new converts or older Christians who had somehow missed being baptized, were precious, sacred events. Many unique things happened in that baptistry, a few of which I want to share with you.

There were two Protestant churches in Twain Hare, a Christian Reformed Church where the Twain Harte Bible Church now meets, and the Chapel. Both churches had enthusiastically embraced the Charismatic Movement, so Pastor Chuck Edwards, of the Reformed Church, and I were real buddies.

One outgrowth of the Charismatic Movement was that each Christian who was filled with the Holy Spirit (more about this later) had a wonderful new appreciation for the Word of God, the Bible, and had a burning desire to read, study and obey it. One day Pastor Chuck came by and wanted to talk to me about what the Lord had laid on his heart.

He had been raised as a Presbyterian, and thus had been baptized as an infant by being sprinkled with water, exactly as is done in the Reformed Church. He had been reading the account of Philip ministering to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:29-39, Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He (Jesus) was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. and the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.Through this scripture the Holy Spirit had convinced Pastor Chuck that:

  • Baptism was for believers only;
  • Baptism was very important (because Philip had included it in this brief encounter, and the eunuch was anxious to be baptized);
  • The mode of baptism is immersion in water. The Greek word translated into English as baptism, means to dip. There are other specific Greek words meaning sprinkle, or pour. They went down into the water, and came up out of the water. If sprinkling or pouring were the mode, they would not have needed to go into the water and get all wet.

So, Pastor Chuck was convicted that his infant baptism was not valid, and he wanted me to baptize him as a believer by immersion. Guess what? I was immediately convicted that my own “forced” baptism was not valid either, as at the time I was not a true believer. So we agreed that we would baptize each other and both get it right. Can you believe that? So a baptismal service was scheduled at which the family and friends of both pastors could attend. Pastor Chuck explained his decision to all present, I explained my position to all present, and we both got into the baptistery and baptized one another. We both rejoiced and felt that the Lord was pleased about it too!

A couple of years after he graduated from college our son, Steve, became our Youth Pastor. With his Bible College degree and his history with the Frank Gonzales Evangelistic Association, he was a good fit.

Each Wednesday our Youth Group met and was joined by a bunch of youth from the Order of the Lamb (A local part of the Jesus Movement, one member of which was Steve’s future wife, Debbie).

They packed the kitchen/dining/living room of the parsonage like a bunch of sardines. It was in the prime of the Charismatic Movement, and as the Holy Spirit moved there was incredible spiritual excitement and many new converts, whom Steve promptly baptized. Steve took the Romans chapter 6 teaching about baptism seriously, and held each candidate under water until he felt their old man (sinful nature) was dead. Sometimes we wondered if the whole man/woman was going to be dead before he raised them up! The Chapel prospered and grew, and though we remodeled the sanctuary to increase its capacity, by 1984 the services were absolutely packed out. We needed a new building! It was at this point, after I had been Senior Pastor for 29 years, that I suggested that the Chapel should get a new Senior Pastor who was younger and had more vision
than I had, and I would continue on as an associate pastor and could take on the new building project. After thought and prayer the leadership and congregation agreed to these sweeping changes:

  • Steve was chosen to succeed me as Senior Pastor (I had not suggested or pushed for this), taking over my duties as shepherd of the flock;
  • I would remain on staff as Consulting Pastor;
  • A new building was authorized as a faith project, of which I would be in charge;
  • We had a number of building contractors and tradesmen in the Chapel, so we would build it ourselves by voluntary labor;
  • We had no building fund but would depend on the Lord to supply the funds on a pay-as-you-go basis.

I continued to share the pulpit with Steve every third week, but all the rest of my time was devoted towards the new sanctuary building. I spent 1984 determining what we wanted and where we would put it (in consultation with all the leaders), drawing the plans and getting the building permit. Then I spent two years supervising the construction (many from the Chapel congregation worked every Saturday, some two or three days during the week and I worked every day except Sunday).

God was faithful and we had the dedication service on the first Sunday of January, 1987. We had a new 700 seat auditorium with eight new classrooms underneath, and it was debt free-Glory!

We had decided not to hide the baptistry behind the platform. Instead we bought a portable unit which is set up at front center of the platform. That brought the whole process out in the open. The pastor didn’t have to get in the water with the candidate. The family and friends could be around the baptistry on the platform, watching and taking pictures without restricting the congregation’s view.

A number of candidates for baptism had accumulated, waiting to take part in the first baptism in the new building. It took place at an evening service and was to use up the entire time after worship. As the worship ended, the lights were turned down so that only the area around the baptistry was lighted. The Spirit of God filled the place with joy and expectation.

Steve began with the children, boys and girls, who gave their testimony and told why they wanted to be baptized. Everyone would clap and shout encouragement. The candidate would ascend three steps and then down into the water and sit on the built in seat. Steve would use our standard baptismal formula, “John/Jane, upon your profession of faith, and in obedience to God’s command, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ), and of the Holy Spirit.”

He then bent them over backwards, still seated, until they were entirely under water, and after giving time for the old nature to die, he would raise them up to the sitting position. They sat there overwhelmed by the presence of the Lord, sometimes with hands raised, sometimes crying, sometimes praising and thanking God. Often Steve or someone else would have a prophecy, would lay their hands on the candidate’s head and speak it out. Everything was recorded by many cameras. Oh, the Glory of it!Back in those days of film, it took a while to get your prints back. As the pictures of that first baptismal service started to arrive, we could not believe what we were seeing! Steve, the candidate and the baptistery stood out against the dark background along with streaks looking exactly like lightning bolts! Bolts coming down from the top of the picture and hitting Steve’s head. Bolts from Steve’s hand to the sitting candidate’s head. Bolts from the top of the picture to the candidate’s head. Or various combinations of these. Incredible. A number of different families had this happen. We had a professional photographer in the congregation, and he said it was only the streaking of chemicals used to develop and print the pictures. I said that was impossible for several reasons:

  • On a single roll of film there would be pictures in both vertical and horizontal format, but the streaks would always be as described;
  • The various rolls of film were processed by different stores, but the streaks were always the same, not random streaking;
  • Why would a number of different stores all have malfunctioning of their processes at the same time?

No, it was the Lord. No one saw these lightning bolts at the meeting, but they were there for all to see on the photographs! God just showed us in a supernatural way that He was present and pleased. What a blessing. I failed to obtain copies of these prints for the Chapel archives, and have been unable to find anyone still in possession of them. How about you?

This lightning phenomenon never recurred to my knowledge, but the baptismal services continued to be greatly blessed. The candidates had opportunity to confess their faith publicly, and be reminded of the great significance of water baptism as described in Romans chapter six. Some came up out of the water speaking in tongues, having also received the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Thus far my musings about baptism have been about water baptism from a personal standpoint and largely focused on its place in the church life of the Chapel in the Pines.

Before going on to the next major division I want to discuss the interaction between Paul and Silas and the Philippian jailer, which will strongly reinforce what we learned about water baptism in the story about the Ethiopian eunuch. Acts 16:29-34, The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house (no infants). At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family. Portions of this passage are underlined to show what was going on:

  • Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer and all the others in his house (there were no infants, they were able to speak the word of the Lord to all);
  • The jailer and all his family believed;
  • The jailer and all his family were baptized (the use of the word baptized indicates it was by immersion);
  • Baptism is for believers and is to be by immersion in water.

Baptism-A Larger View

Water baptism is not the first baptism a believer encounters. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free — and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.”Let us follow the steps leading up to the baptism underlined in the passage above:

  • John 12:32, “But I (Jesus), when I am lifted up from the earth (crucified), will draw all men (people) to myself.” He was crucified, and He explains further;
  • The Father has a part in this drawing process, John 6:44, “”No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day;”
  • The person being drawn has a part in coming to Jesus, John 1:12, “But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name;”
  • Upon this action the Holy Spirit baptizes the person responding to Jesus into the body of Christ, which makes them a child of God, a born-again Christian (refer to 1 Cor. 12:12-14 quoted above). This baptism must occur before the person is eligible for water baptism;
  • The Holy Spirit continues to indwell the believer: Romans 8:9, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Compare with Hebrews 13:5b, “For He Himself (Jesus) has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
    So, the First Baptism is the baptism by the Holy Spirit of the believer into the body of Christ.

The Second Baptism, already covered, is the baptism by a mature Christian of
a yet un-baptized believer by immersion in water. The Third Baptism is the baptism by Jesus of the believer with or in the Holy Spirit:

  • Matthew 3:11, “I (John the Baptist) indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire;”
  • Mark 1:8, “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit;”
  • Luke 24:49, “Behold, I (Jesus) send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high;”
  • John 1:33, “I (John the Baptist) did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit;’”
  • Acts 1:4, 5, “And being assembled together with them, He (Jesus) commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’”
    This third baptism, which was restored to the practice of the Church in the Azusa Street Pentecostal Revival of 1906 and the Charismatic Movement of the 1960s, deserves a separate, thorough study, as it is beyond the scope of these musings. But wait a minute, Russ,” you might say, “Ephesians 4:5 says, ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism.’  So it does:
  • One Lord – Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
  • One faith – One true belief, held by multiplied millions of individual born-again Christians;
  • One baptism – Three individual steps comprising one baptism. The New Testament norm during the first few centuries of the Church was that all three steps would occur in quick succession: Belief in Jesus/baptism by the Spirit into the body of Christ; water baptism as soon as arrangements could be made; baptism with the Holy Spirit coincidently with water baptism or by subsequently laying on of hands.

If one hasn’t experienced the third step, one is not a fully empowered Christian. If one has not experienced the second step, one is a disobedient Christian. If one has not experienced the first step, one is not a Christian at all.