In Hebrews 6:2 Paul lists as one of the doctrines of the church “the doctrine of baptisms.” When most people think of baptism they think of either immersion in water or sprinkling as part of a ceremony initiating the individual into a religion. In the above verse the word is plural, meaning more than one baptism. What is the doctrine of baptisms? How many are there and are they important for us to understand? In II Timothy 3:16 Paul reminded Timothy that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness….” Using the bible as our guide we can know what the doctrine of baptisms really is.
Probably the first baptism most people think about is baptism by water for the remission of sins. Notice how God used John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ: “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins (Mark 1:4–5).” From this account we can see that John did not sprinkle them, he took them out into the Jordan River. Jesus Christ set the example for us in verses 9–10: “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him….” Christ went under the water when he was baptized. Today one of the most popular ways baptism is performed is by sprinkling. In Revelation 12:9 we see that Satan has deceived the whole world, and this is one of the areas he has been successful. The Bible does not teach that we are to be sprinkled but that we are to be put into the water, fully immersed, just as Christ was who set the example for us. There are other examples in the New Testament that show this was the way it was done. Consider the example of Phillip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch by going down into the water (Acts 8:35–39). It would not be necessary to do that if baptism only required sprinkling.
Baptism is a requirement for salvation. In Mark 16:15–16 Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Peter instructed that repentance must precede baptism (Acts 2:38). Repent means to turn around, begin to live differently—in other words to begin to obey God. Baptism is symbolic of the fact that we have forsaken our old way of life, going contrary to God’s way, and we have made the commitment to bury the old man and walk in newness of life.
Baptism of the spirit
Another baptism that we see in the Bible is found in Mark 1:8: “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (NKJV). Herbert W. Armstrong, in Mystery of the Ages, points out that it should more correctly be translated baptized by the Holy Spirit (pp 227–228). He quotes I Corinthians 12:13: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” The body Paul is referring to is the church (Col. 1:18). When we repent and are baptized we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Before we were given this gift, we were not a part of the body, the church: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). It is plain that when we receive God’s Spirit, we are put into—baptized into—the church of God. We are then given the opportunity to grow and change with God’s help, and if we endure to the end, we will be born again into the family of God. The church is where we will get the spiritual nourishment to grow. Christ wants the church to be “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). This of course takes time, just as when a baby is conceived, it takes nine months of being nourished in its mother’s womb until it is ready to be born.
The baptism to avoid
The last baptism we find in the Bible is actually one that we don’t want to be baptized with. In Matthew 3:11–12 we read, “I indeed baptize you with 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 with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” The fan in verse 12 refers to a wooden shovel used for tossing grain into the wind in order to blow away the lighter chaff, leaving the good grain to settle into a pile. The chaff would then be swept up and burned (Nelson King James Study Bible. 1988). The baptism of fire is when those who have been given a chance to choose God’s way instead refuse to repent and are cast into the lake of fire never to live again: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14–15). Paul makes it clear in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God will give everyone who has ever lived a chance to know the truth and to choose the right way. For more information on this you can listen to the series Is This the Only Day of Salvation? Parts One and Two.
The Bible makes it plain that when we come to understand the truth of God’s way, we must repent of going the wrong way—of sinning and being a sinner—and then be baptized with water for the remission of our sins. At that point God baptizes us by the Holy Spirit, putting us into his church so we can grow and overcome and be nourished spiritually. Those who endure to the end will be born again into the family of God to live forever. Those who will not choose that way and refuse to repent will be baptized by fire, cast into the lake of fire and mercifully put out of their misery, never to live again. Understanding the Biblical doctrine of baptisms should focus our attention on partaking of the blessing of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we will not be one of those baptized by fire in the second death.