The message of “one baptism,” is the message of unity. God desires in these last days that all believers would be united by one gospel, and one baptism, according to the example of Christ: “in like manner.” This is one of the seven “ones” we find in Ephesians 4:4-6; these seven ones representing perfect unity, the desire of Jesus’ prayer, “may they be perfect in one.”
We begin our path, as we would end it, in the imitation of Christ. We follow His example “in like manner” in baptism, the washing of feet, and remembrance of His death, as did the Apostles.
“These things the Son also does in like manner . . .” (John 5:19).
The example of baptism Jesus gave his followers is the only method of baptism to which the Holy Spirit testifies. The experience and joy of a new believer in the imitation of Jesus’ baptism is indescribable. Through His baptism, we become like Him; we become a true Son of God.
Our baptism is not only the expression of our desire to become like Christ, it is the washing away of our sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16), just as we read earlier: “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 6:11; Acts 2:38; 8:12; 10:48; 19:5).
The authority to wash away our sins comes from the sacrifice of Jesus Himself on the cross, and from the Holy Spirit. The Apostle John writes, “There are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood” (1 John 5:7-8).
It is also important that the one who baptizes us has spiritual authority. Just as John the Baptist was given spiritual authority through the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples also received the authority of the Spirit to remit sins when Jesus breathed authority into his disciples, saying, “receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (John 20:22-23).
The Method of Baptism
The Apostles broke unleavened bread, “in like manner” of Jesus in remembering His death, and they baptized with living water “in like manner” with His baptism. The method of baptism instituted by Jesus carries several spiritual meanings that are fundamental to the Gospel message. But before we explain those meanings let us first be fully convinced that the Apostles really did baptize in living water.
In 1873, a version of a first or second century writing called “the Didache” was found. This manuscript version, written in 1056 AD, presents a very liberal view of baptism, saying that “living water” was preferred but pouring warm water three times on the head was also acceptable. Whether this manuscript is genuine, or whether it was altered like many late first century writings, is unknown.
We question the authenticity of this manuscript, because such a casual view of baptism is not supported by the Bible, or by any of the earliest universally accepted Christian writings. It is well known that the earliest Christians knew baptism was necessary for the washing away of sins and receipt of the Holy Spirit. They exercised the practice of baptism very seriously.
The imitation of the baptism of Jesus by the early Christians in rivers was well documented in 1881 by the Catholic expert Jules Corbert.1 He told us that early Church fathers such as Justin, Clement, Victor I, and Tertullian remark that seas, lakes, and springs are equally proper sites.
Of the authors that Jules Corbert cites, only Justin Martyr predates the departure of the Spirit of truth from the Church. Justin Martyr, told us that baptismal candidates were baptized in living water, “in like manner,” using the same manner that was followed by all:
Later, when we discuss the Spirit of truth, we will explain how the early Church understood that “the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” was Jesus.
Justin’s description of “a place where there is water” was similar to the description we find in John’s gospel: “Now John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim because there was much water there,” (John 3:23) and “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went to Him” (Matthew 3:5).
The spiritual significance of living water and its connection to the Holy Spirit goes back to the writing of Jeremiah: “for My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn for themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:18). Here, God distinguished the water that exists naturally, and the water that is held by man’s cisterns. The spiritual meaning is that we do not go to man’s source, but God’s. The prophecy of Micah was that God would wash away our sins through baptism in natural water: “He will cast all our sins into the depths of the ocean” (Micah 7:19).
Through baptism, we do not enter a religion made by man, but by God, so we go to a river, lake, sea, or spring because we seek “a pure river of water of life” (Revelation 21:6, 22:1; Ezekiel 47:1), which is the power of the Holy Spirit.
Only living water produces life; our baptism is a rebirth, our baptism brings life. Jesus came to bring life and life abundantly, and promised that if anyone would follow Him, “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
Though we follow the example of Christ in the method and elements of baptism, and remembrance of His death, it makes no difference where (John 4:21) or when (Galatians 4:9,10) we do this. The Apostle Paul tells us, “you died with Christ (through baptism) from the basic principles of the world . . . and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 2:20; 3:3).
Through baptism we die with Christ to sin, and mortal life in this world. So we enter the water, as Paul wrote: “in the likeness of His death” (Romans 6:5). As Jesus bowed His head (John 19:30) when He breathed His last, we bow our heads when we enter the water in the imitation of His baptism. We shall also be resurrected “in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5) when Jesus returns.
The Deception of the false prophet
The early Church knew that it was necessary to be baptized correctly to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2-4).
Jesus explained His meaning of “born of Spirit” in John 3:8: “you hear the sound of it. So is everyone who is born of Spirit.” It is the effect of the Spirit on the believer, not the water! The evidence of the tongue emitting sound is the evidence that one has been “born of Spirit.” Therefore, Irenaeus, in “Against Heresies” said that one needs to receive the Holy Spirit as evidenced by the tongue emitting sound for one’s salvation to be made “perfect” or “complete.”3
But, later in the second century, when the Spirit of truth departed, the Church made a new explanation of being “born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5) to say that one was born of Spirit because the Holy Spirit sanctified the water in baptism. And it appears that Irenaeus changed his position. In the lost fragments of Irenaeus, we find this statement: “we are made clean…by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord. We are thus regenerated as newborn infants, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven.'”4
Tertullian, a lawyer, used the new “born of Spirit” theology to argue that any water could be used to baptize.
“it makes no difference whether a man be washed in a sea or a pool, a stream or a fount, a lake or a trough; nor is there any distinction between those whom John baptized in the Jordan and those whom Peter baptized in the Tiber, unless withal the eunuch whom Philip baptized in the midst of his journeys with chance water, derived (therefrom) more or less of salvation than others. All waters, therefore, in virtue of the pristine privilege of their origin, do, after invocation of God, attain the sacramental power of sanctification.” 5
In the last sentence, we can see the force of Tertullian’s argument was the belief that the Spirit sanctified the water, and not that the believer was sanctified by receiving the Spirit, after being baptized correctly (Acts 19:2-4).
Tertullian, in 200 AD, was close to the hearsay and understanding of the acts of Apostles, even mentioning that Peter baptized in the Tiber, which is not recorded in the Bible. He could not deny that the Apostles only baptized in a natural source of water, and indeed he would have, if he could, for this would have helped his argument. Therefore, the Catholic baptismal historian, Jules Corbett, could only come to the conclusion that the early Church only baptized using a natural source of water, “in like manner,” to the baptism of Christ.
Irenaeus identified “Lateinos” as the very probable solution to 666 (Revelation 13:18). Tertullian, who was possessed by the evil spirit of the “New Prophecy Movement” is “the Father of Latin Christianity.” He was not only the first to speak against the significance of living water, but was also the first to propose the Trinity (the image of the beast), and Sunday rest (the mark of the beast).
The restoration of the true gospel and the one baptism of Christ go hand in hand.
- Histoire Dogmatique, Liturgique et Archeologique du Sacrament de Bapteme, Vol 2 ↩
- First Apology Chapter 61, Translation by Thomas Fall D.D., “The Fathers of the Church” Volume 6, Catholic University of America, 1946. With additional of “themselves” that appears in the Greek. ↩
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 6, paragraph 1 ↩
- Irenaeus, “Fragments From Lost Writings”, no. 34, (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pg. 574). ↩
- Tertullian, On Baptism, Chapter 4. Translated by S. Thelwall. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0321.htm> ↩